Frames from Tech4Learning


At NECC 09 in June I was lucky enough to pick up a CD of Tech4Learning's software.  While I have played around with Pixie and enjoyed in immensely, my new favorite product of theirs is Frames.

What makes Frames so great?

Well, for starters it's kid-friendly.  The icons are fun and simple as well as the editing features.  While it is simple, it also holds enormous opportunity to create sophisticated movies.  Depending on the level of the user, Frames can be used to create anything from a simple slide show to an animated movie.  Like Power Point, students can animate text and objects, and like Adobe Flash, they can create a timeline of events.  They can also layer objects like one would in Adobe Photoshop.  Projects created in Frames can be exported as a podcast, a QuickTime movie, a Flash movie and in some cases an animated GIF file.

I just started a project with my 2nd graders using Frames to create a slide show about the life of a pumpkin.  We read a book about the topic and then they wrote their stories.  They will be creating their slide show based on their stories.  This has given them much needed experience writing non-fiction text as well as story planning.

Here is my example I made so I can better teach my students what Frames can do.  I find it is always a good idea to try out a product yourself before putting it in the hands of your students!

In addition to creating great software, Tech4Learning also provides free, copyright-free images for teachers and has an online community for teachers who use their products. - free images for educators
Recipes4Success - online community for users of Tech4Learning products
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Google Wave: First Impressions


This Saturday I received my invite to Google Wave.  I could hardly contain myself--what was all the hype about?!

After clicking on the invite link in my email, Wave automatically created my account using my Google account profile information.  My picture automatically loaded as well as my name.  All of my Google contacts who also are on Wave were automatically loaded into my contacts.  You gotta give it to Google for how well it links its many applications and services!

So what IS all the hype about?

Here is a short video explaining the purpose behind the service:

The Google Wave layout only takes up one page, with columns like iGoogle has for different settings and services.  There is a column containing your Navigation information and your Contacts, a column for your 'inbox' of Waves and a column for the Wave you are editing or viewing:

I spent over an hour with Andrew Forgrave and Doug Peterson playing around with Wave's features and sharing tips and tricks that we had discovered.  All LIVE! Probably the most exciting thing that happened at first was when I noticed that I could watch Andy and Doug typing their responses and ideas in REAL TIME!  I could see them correcting their typing as they went along as well as changes in their word choice and sometimes even changes in their thinking.  At the same time I was on a different wave with Michael Kaechele playing around with what Wave could do.  We discussed etiquette for Wave.  Since it was so easy for us to type at the same time, we found ourselves typing responses to each other before the other had even finished his/her thought!  This is the online equivalent of interrupting someone mid-sentence.  While this is considered very rude in spoken conversations, we mused about whether it was a big deal in the Wave format.

Here were some drawbacks I noted that I'm sure Google will address.  I kept having to remind myself that this is a preview/beta version released with the purpose of collecting feedback to improve the product.

  • Wave requires a lot of bandwidth and it takes a toll on your computer.  You basically can't run ANY other program at the same time or risk crashing your browser.
  • Once wave participants begin replying to each other, it can get confusing to follow the conversation.  There is no way to know where someone has added something new.  The only way to know if there is a new addition to a wave  is when it becomes bolded in your inbox and shows a green box stating that there are a certain number of additions.
  • If people are editing waves in an asynchronous way, where do we draw the line in who owns the content.  What if someone changes your wave contribution when you are offline and you are not aware of it?
  • This is one pointed out by Michael.  What if a wave contributor invites someone to the wave without asking the other contributors? When working on a private collaboration this could be problematic.
  • When there are over 200 collaborators on a wave, how do you know who's reading your contributions to the wave--including photos or documents?  You can look at the list of people, but it can be a daunting list!
  • There is no way to search for users. You must know someone's address to find them.  Of course, the innovative members of my PLN immediately created a wave and a wiki to make a searchable list of "Waving" educators.  There is also Google Wave Educators group on a new Ning (social network)-The Educator's PLN
Ok, so it's not all bad.

Here are some great features and possibilities that Google Wave has to offer:
  • Unlike a wiki, many people can edit a wave at one time.
  • Every wave can be 'played back' in the order in which each component was added.  This allows for newcomers to the conversation to catch up and for collaborators to view additions made while they were away from the wave.
  • Since each wave collaborator's photo is displayed next to his or her contribution it is easy to know who is saying what and for a teacher it makes grading easier for group work easier since it is obvious how each group member contributed to the project.
  • Both images and documents can be added to a wave fairly easily and there is an option to download all images or documents in a wave.
  • Waves can easily be edited and deleted.  Deleting old posts to the wave that are no longer relevant to the conversation could aid in making the wave easier to follow.
  • Gadgets such as clickable maps and polls can be easily added to a wave. While I have tried these, the one I am eager to try is a video conference gadget that can be embedded in a wave. Jo Hart, Andrew Forgrave and myself started a wave with the gadget but have not been able to find the time to try it.  Something amazing to think about: Jo is in Australia, Andrew in Canada and I am in Philadelphia. 
I'm sure others can come up with many other ideas for using Wave in education and for collaboration, and I'm sure others have things like about the product that I didn't mention.

One thing I noticed in writing this reflection is the fact that Google Wave will require us to build new vocabulary for the product.  On Twitter, we 'tweet.' On Facebook, we 'comment.'  On blogs we 'post.' On Google Wave are we 'waving?' When we add to a wave is a comment or a post? 'Contribution' seems like a long word for a short action.

I look forward to finding new uses for Wave as well as using it as a way to converse with some of my Twitter friends and blogger friends in more than 140 characters and outside the realm of commenting on each other's blogs.  It holds real opportunity for some wonderful movers and shakers to collaborate!

For more reflections on Google Wave, check out Doug Peterson's post: Learning About Wave.
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Every Student Needs to "Get Outta Dodge"


This past Friday the school counselor and I took 10 students on a trip to the Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania.  We've been working on a history project based around the fact that our old building, which stood for 100 years, is being torn down.  (For more on the project, check out our blog.)

The exhibition was of 14 paintings by David Kennedy (who I can't provide a link to since he is fairly unknown), a Scottish immigrant who painted highly detailed watercolors of paintings around Philadelphia.  The 14 paintings featured in the exhibit were all of West Philadelphia, the part of the city in which our students live.  The trip involved a self-guided tour of the paintings, an informal discussion of the works as well as a wonderful and engaging performance and a lively scavenger hunt.  Our students were excited by the paintings and provided thoughtful and intelligent discussion about them.  I was bursting with pride.

While the exhibit was the focus of the trip, our students learned exponentially more just through the experience of leaving the school and leaving the neighborhood.  As we climbed onto the trolley, I was amazed to hear that a few of my students had never taken any of the trolleys, whose tracks snake all over West Philadelphia and which are considered the way to get around this part of the city.  After we left the gallery, we took the students on a walking tour of the Penn campus, which was full of students of all shapes, sizes and colors.  We were able to discuss college with our students in a real way and show them what a college campus looks like. 

The most memorable moment was when a large group of non-English speaking Chinese business people visiting Penn's Wharton School of Business, started snapping pictures of our students as they posed in the Button sculpture outside of Penn's main library.  One of our students went over to the group, who were at that time posing for a group picture with a sign written entirely in Chinese, and asked them where they came from and what the sign said.  Eventually, our students became rock stars, taking photos with the visitors and posing in pictures with them and a statue of Benjamin Franklin.

Afterward, as we searched for help finding the entrance to the Westbound trolley, one of my students saw an Asian person and said, "They don't speak English."  I had to explain that people of all races and backgrounds speak English and that we couldn't just assume that they don't speak English because of the way they look.  In fact, I added, many people in other countries learn English from a young age even if they've never been to the United States.

Sitting on the trolley ride back to the school, we sunk into the chairs--it had been a long day!  I was sitting next to an older gentleman who, seeing that I was a teacher, began to tell me about the volunteer work he does with children, pulling a beautiful ceramic masquerade mask he had bought for the children from a bag on his lap.  He also began to tell me about his experiences in the hills of India while he was deployed there.  As I wished him well and stepped off the trolley I realized that I, too, had learned something on this trip: You never know what people's stories are and where they've been or what they've seen.

While the counselor and I slightly regretted letting our students jump into pictures with complete strangers, we agreed that it was a great experience for them to have a positive interaction with people who don't look like them and who don't even speak English.  The Chinese visitors, we agreed, may have never spoken or interacted with an African-American before, so our students made a positive impression for them to take back to China with them.

If we isolate our students in a classroom and limit their trips to closed in places, we limit their learning experience.  Very few of our classes go on trips--mostly due to 'behavior issues'--but our students are the kind of population that need this kind of experience the most.  Many children in urban neighborhoods don't get to venture outside their neighborhood or outside of their comfort zone.  Perhaps that means that we, as educators, need to step outside our own comfort zones to give our students a meaningful experience.
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Education in America: What's holding us back? (cross posted from Teacher Reboot Camp)


This post was originally posted on Shelly Terrell's blog, Teacher Reboot Camp.

When Shelly honored me with the opportunity to write a guest post about teaching at-risk youth in the USA, it took me a while to gather my thoughts. What could I share with the world that hasn't already been on National television or the BBC? Slowly, I came to the conclusion that my viewpoint may be a bit skewed by the fact that I live in the USA. At the NECC conference (a gigantic conference of all things related to Educational Technology) last June, I discovered that even educators in Canada, our closest English-speaking neighbor, were fuzzy on education policies and practices in the US.

US-DeptOfEducation-SealI currently serve as a Computer Lab teacher and Technology Teacher Leader (TTL) at a large (about 600 students) K-6th grade elementary school in West Philadelphia, PA. Our school has made AYP once since President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, which classifies us as a 'failing school.' If you are a bit fuzzy on this legislation and AYP, it will be addressed later in the post.

Education as the Great Equalizer

One aspect of our system that separates us from many parts of the world is the fact that education from age 6 to age 18 is free for everyone. This freedom ties in perfectly with our Democratic ideals that state that- theoretically-anyone can be anyone they want, attain anything they want and anyone can even be President. In fact, education is not only free, it's mandatory until age 16. In addition-in theory-both girls and boys, whether black, white, green or purple, are educated equally and provided equal opportunities to achieve. As a woman, I could not imagine being denied the simple right to an education, or imagine risking my life to attend school as some girls do in countries like Afghanistan. Even famed author Frank McCourt believed, as a young man, that a good education in the US would pull him up in the world and away from his poor, troubled Irish roots. By the way, if you have not read his book Teacher Man, do it. As soon as possible.

Of course, this is all in theory.

The purpose of this post is not to pick apart the Education system in the US for all of its inequalities and shortcomings that deny many children the opportunity to succeed and achieve their dreams. For that, you should pick up a copy of Jonathan Kozol's revolutionary book Savage Inequalities or read his account of teaching in a Boston public school in Death at An Early Age. Reading Kozol's books before I moved to Philadelphia in 2002 and during my early years in the public school system here prepared me more than any course at any university for what I would encounter.

This is a quick video that describes the conditions in many urban public schools.
I have blogged about racism, segregation & education and about the conditions in which my students learn here and here.

No Child Left Behind: an overview

For those of you not graced with the privilege of knowing what No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is all about, here's a quick overview.

NCLB is a piece of legislation created by former President George W. Bush in 2001 with the goal of making drastic changes and reforms to the broken and failing American education system. The legislation has four 'pillars':
  • Stronger Accountability: President Bush's main goal with NCLB was close the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their wealthier counterparts. This translates into schools being required to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in order to maintain their autonomy. Usually this AYP is decided by comparing the percentage of students scoring 'proficient' on state standardized tests from year to year. Should a school not achieve this stated percentage for 5 or more years, it may be restructured. As an example, my school must have 47% of our students reading at a proficient level. As of our test scores from last spring, 17% of our students currently do. If we do not make enough gains (based on the standardized test in the Spring) we may be completely restructured (again).
  • More Freedom for States and Communities: Under NCLB, state and local governments were given more control of how Federal money is distributed. Schools and districts with a large population of underserved, "disadvantaged" students can use additional money, called Title I funds, on Professional Development, after school programs, Educational Technology and other school-based or district-based needs. Most schools in Philadelphia (not all) qualify for these extra funds.
  • Proven Education Methods: President Bush felt it very important to ensure that districts and schools employ scientifically proven methods to increase student achievement. This often means that schools cannot find funding for alternative interventions unless they fit this definition. When searching for and indicating interventions for, specifically, Special Education students, teachers can only use those programs that fit the 'scientifically proven' classification. The result has been a huge influx of companies releasing these kinds of products and marketing them to schools. This is not to say that these programs don't work, but it can be limiting.
  • More Choices for Parents: A new aspect of NCLB, this pillar allows parents whose children attend a low or under-performing school to transfer their child to a better school. My school is required to release a list of available schools every year where parents can choose to send their children instead of our school. By law, the district must pay for the child's busing to their new school. The result--a failing school loses its best students and families to other schools and continues failing, and money is diverted from schools to bus companies. This pillar has also created a huge debate over the school voucher program, through which parents at failing schools can use public funds to pay for their child to attend any public or private school of their choice.

What About EdTech?

So what implications does NCLB have for educational technology and student achievement?

The accountability aspect of the legislation has placed a huge focus on standardized testing, since these are the tools for measuring AYP. The result has been a change in teaching and learning. You have probably heard the phrase "teaching to the test" a million times. Teachers often feel they don't even have time to teach enough reading and math to prepare students for the tests, so you can imagine the stress of trying to learn a new tool or experiment with new methods of teaching in the classroom, nevermind taking the time to do Project Based Learning with technology.  The biggest winners in the accountability pillar?  The testing companies.

While freedom with Federal dollars has definitely help districts, this does not change anything about the gaping chasm between local funding in rural or urban schools and suburban schools. Most schools in the United States are funded through local property taxes. In states like New Jersey, with some of the highest property taxes on the East Coast, it's no wonder that schools in New Jersey are performing above and beyond schools in neighboring states. This is not to say that Philadelphia public schools do not have technology available to their students. There are many schools with every classroom equipped with an Interactive White Board (IWB) and many Middle/High Schools have access to laptop carts with enough computers for a whole class. Just having the technology, however, does not ensure student achievement or successful integration. "Teaching to the test" does not allow for the creativity that these tools can foster, and many teachers lack proper Professional Development for these tools due to funding and planning. Often these tools are installed or introduced with little or no training on how to use them.

Since many cutting-edge technologies and/or instructional programs have not been scientifically tested, the kinds of technologies that are used as interventions to differentiate instruction are drill-and-practice software like Read 180, Fast Forward, FASTT Math, or Quick Reads, or web-based programs like First in Math and Study Island. Many software companies have been raking in cash due to the high demand for these kinds of softwares. I often joke that "I'm in the wrong business," because the real money is in intervention software for schools! While these programs have been proven to increase student achievement on standardized tests, they do not support technology integration into the curriculum. Many teachers mistakenly believe that they use technology in the classroom effectively just because they stick a kid on the computer to use one of these programs.

By giving parents the option to pull their child out of a failing school, it sends parents the wrong message. "Don't try to make things better, just let the school fail and get your kid the %&# out of there!" Not only does this practice pull money away from schools to pay for busing these students, but the schools will not get better without parent involvement and advocacy. If you make it a habit to move students out and close schools, it will also burden the receiving schools with higher enrollment. In Philadelphia, our School Reform Commission (we have no School Board) and our Superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, plan to close failing schools and re-open them with all new staff. The idea is, if you continue to fail, you do not deserve Federal dollars, you deserve to close. With these kinds of clouds looming over schools' heads, who has time to focus on technology integration and Professional Development?

Give EdTech a Chance

The worst thing about all of this? The achievement gap is not closing. Sure, test scores are going up, but do test scores prepare our students for college and/or the job market?

I worry:
  • "Will my students know how to send and receive email?"
  • "Will my students know how to create an online identity that will not damage them later in life?"
  • "Will my students have the basic word processing skills to correctly type that paper or resume?"
  • "Will my students know how to use social media to collaborate with others?"

Many of my students do not have a home computer, and many do not have an email account. They only know how to use the internet for watching videos, listening to music and playing games. My 6th graders do not know simple typing rules like using Shift to make a capital, making quotation marks or putting two spaces after a period. This lack of skills counteracts any gains that students make on standardized tests.

A teaching model that effectively integrates technology into teaching and learning can both prepare students for the real world and standardized tests to boot. Here are some examples of how technology can help close the achievement gap on standardized tests without "teaching to the test":

  • Teaching good writing skills through quick and easy editing and publishing.
  • Teaching various reading skills through reading classmates' blogs and comments.
  • Giving students a love for reading and writing by creating a truly authentic audience.
  • Engaging students through differentiated instruction by using various technology tools to teach to students' strengths.
  • Engaging students with Science and Math through collaborative projects and authentic projects using real-time data.

In closing, I hope that those of you who may be from other corners of the world have a better understanding of the American education system (for better or for worse) as well as how this system aims to help close the achievement gap among our Nation's schools, how it has succeeded and how it has failed. In addition, I hope that you have a better understanding of how a nation with so many resources still manages to deprive many of its children with the necessary skills to succeed and compete in the global economy and in a world that is shrinking more every day.

I am proud to be a public school teacher here in Philadelphia. I am not a martyr, I am not a hero. I am, along with my esteemed colleagues, a career professional entrusted with preparing my young students for successful and fulfilling adult lives. A system as large as ours here the US will never be perfect. We must do what we can with what we have and be advocates for our children and their families.

US Dept. of Ed image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
All NCLB information from US Dept. of Ed website
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Parent Night


At Back-to-School Night, I announced that I would be having an Internet Safety Parent Workshop.  I gave out flyers, I put it on the monthly calendar, I announced it on our school's homepage.

I had one parent come.

Fortunately, this parent and I have an existing relationship--I have been teaching her children and grandchildren for 5 years now--so it was not awkward.  Despite the fact that it was just the two of us, I learned so much about how to have a discussion with parents about Internet safety, about a parent's perspective, about the kind of information parents want.

I gave her 2 parent/child contracts: one for grades K-5 and one for grades 6-8.  I found these contracts at  We reviewed their content and discussed how the topics applied to the situation in her house.

Here are some tidbits of the conversation:

  • She described monitoring what her children were doing on the computer, which I commended her on.  
  • She described her children constantly asking for her email address to sign up for game sites.  I gave her a few sites where she could set them up with a safe and secure email account that she could monitor easily. 
  • We discussed the importance of a "healthy balance" of time online and offline.
  • When it comes down to it, web surfing habits, password-protected accounts and use of the computer all fall into the parental domain.  After all, parents own the equipment, not the children.  Even if it was a gift, if a child is under 18 they should expect parents to have certain rules in their house.

I was struck at how easy the conversation was, how much she thanked me and truly appreciated the information I gave her.

While the turnout was not what I wanted, it still brightened my day to see the possibilities for discussion and the interest that does exist.  From our conversation I could tell that she was not the only parent looking for information.  Hopefully, I will have more attendees next month.

If you have not yet had such a night for your parents, I highly suggest you do.  With parents as our partners, we can ensure that our students are protected from things like cyberbullying or identity theft and that parents are well-informed enough to have meaningful conversations with their children about what they do online.

For more information, check out these resources: A site for parents, educators, and kids that serves as a place for learning about responsible use of all kinds of media as well as how to talk to your kids about what they see and hear on TV, the radio, etc.....  There are also free resources for teachers and schools to hold their own parent workshops. a site for parents, educators and kids for all things related to Internet Safety.  The kids site has wonderful videos, games and songs to teach children how to be smart when using the Internet.

CyberSmart: A curriculum for teachers and a great resource for homeschoolers.

iSafe: A wonderful resource for parents and educators, this site and this organization offer iSafe certification for educators who want to become experts in teaching Internet safety and responsibility.

Kidoz: a free internet browser for non-readers or new readers that automatically filters sites and allows access only those sites approved by Kidoz or you, the parent/teacher.  I reviewed it here.

Email services for children and families

Zoobuh: Create managed email accounts for your children.  $30/year per child. Create managed email accounts with the option of a 'Younger Child' account or an 'Older Child' account.  Requires a registration fee after 30 days. Create managed email accounts for a nominal fee after 30 day trial period.

KidSurf: Create a free email account for your child.  Friends can only send and receive messages from people on their friend list.

Zilladog: Free, managed email accounts for children.  This service is endorsed by iSafe and CommonSenseMedia (see above).

photo courtesy of House of Sims on Flickr
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