Google Custom Search


Yesterday, I attended a Classroom 2.0 and Future of Education webinar called "Google Research and Google Web Search Curriculum," presented by Lucy Gray, Cheryl Davis, Kathleen Ferenz and Dan Russell.  It was like a crash course in best practices for searching Google, and the session was extended by about 30 minutes to include a quick overview of Google Custom Searches

As soon as the session ended, I went right to Google and created my customized search engine

I do a research project with my students every Fall.  The project incorporates many different skills, including:

  • using keywords
  • good sites vs. bad sites (does a site offer the content you are looking for?)
  • copyright/fair use
  • word processing
  • idea mapping (using Inspiration software)
  • PowerPoint

Many of my students lose precious time (I only see them for 45 minutes once a week) sifting through Google results that are often irrelevant to their topic.  Here is where my custom search engine comes in.

When you create your search engine, Google allows you to list all of the sites you want to come up in the search results.  This would be helpful if students are researching a specific topic---you can simply plug in a list of sites where they can find information on the topic.  I decided to enter the URLs for kid friendly search engines that I am familiar with and other sites like, Time for Kids, National Geographic and Wikipedia and other encyclopedias that will yield more relevant results than a general Google search.

That's not all!

Google also provides an embed code, so I can also embed a search box into my classroom wiki so my students can do a search through my search engine, right on our homepage!

This tool is one that every teacher should give a try!
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Twitter Educators: How Would You Describe Your School?


About a week and a half ago, I sent a twtpoll (Twitter poll) around my Twitter network asking educators on Twitter how they would describe their school.

To be honest, it was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing.

What spurred the poll were the last few weeks' #edchats on Twitter.  (For an explanation of what #edchat is, see this previous post or this post by my friend Shelly Terrell).

One of the great things about the discussions on #edchat is that you can connect with educators from all over the world who teach in many different kinds of schools as well as non-educators with technology integration roles or an interest in education who come from many different backgrounds and viewpoints.

This causes some healthy debate at times.


With so many people coming from so many backgrounds, countries, schools and mindsets, we are bound to have disagreements along with our shared values about education and teaching children.  While it's fairly easy to see where someone is from as well as their mindset (aka their tweets) through Twitter,  I began to wonder about what these varied backgrounds and schools looked like.

How representative are we of teachers as a whole?

I had so many assumptions about my fellow teachers on Twitter. From the conversations I've had, I assumed that most were from small or average-size suburban schools with a good amount of resources. I have found a few teachers who are urban teachers, a few teachers who work in districts with limited resources, as well as some teachers who work in rural areas. This variety of people has taught me a lot, but those assumptions were still there.

Hence, the poll.

Here are the results:

(if the graphic doesn't load well, try this link to the poll)

It turns out that many of my assumptions were true.  Most of the 122 teachers who participated were from suburban schools of average size with moderate resources. What really surprised me was that very few (5%) of the teachers came from private schools, and that even fewer (1%) came from charter schools.

This was the most striking part of the poll.  I began wondering what this implies about how technology is or isn't being used in these kinds of schools.  Or is this merely due to the fact that these schools make up a smaller percentage of the overall school population?  Still, with five out 122 educators stating that they work in charter schools, there has to be some kind of implication there.  After all, charter schools are popping up everywhere and have been touted by Arnie Duncan as the "wave of the future."

Perhaps those who work in charter schools are more isolated by nature?  They are made up of a small community focused around a particular theme or goal, so maybe educators in these schools are not exposed to educators outside of their small network as often.  Or perhaps, with fewer initiatives shoved down their throats, they are less exposed to new trends and fads in education like other, larger public schools (like mine).

The fact that most Twitter educators work in suburban schools with moderate resources also has implications.  Can this gap on Twitter be aligned with the achievement gap that exists between urban or rural schools and suburban schools?  Are teachers in suburban areas provided with better professional development?  Does this disparity have to do with leadership in these schools? 

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment!
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Why Everyone Needs a Great PLN


I'm not going to lie.  

Today was tough.  Really tough.  My kids were, for the most part, great.  Honestly, most of the time it's not the kids that drive me nuts.  Kids will do what they can get away with, after all.

My school has been relocated for this year while a new school is being built.  As such, our kids are being bussed to our new location (about 10 minutes away by car), with 6 buses making 2 trips to move 600 children from our old neighborhood to our new one.  Let's just say, admission took 1 hour (all the kids have to be fed because nearly 100% of them qualify for free/reduced lunch) and dismissal also took 1 hour (imagine Ellis Island after a boat came in without the organization and with everyone speaking English).  It didn't have to be like this, but, alas, I was not surprised.

I often feel powerless at my job.  I feel as if everything is happening to me, not with me or because of me. I crave collaboration and intelligent conversation about education, but I don't get a lot of it at my job. Whenever I feel alone, in steps my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network).

Side note: if you don't know what a PLN is, then check out the links at the bottom of this post.
After a long, frustrating day at work, I sent out a tweet:

Within minutes, I received encouraging words, many from people I have never even met in person, but with whom I have exchanged wonderful resources and conversations.

I felt--no joke--all warm and fuzzy inside.  

These are big-thinkers, lifelong learners and people like me, who seek out knowledge for themselves and have a passion for sharing that knowledge with the world.  Sadly, my face-to-face PLN is lacking such energy and passion.  Or, perhaps, this energy just hasn't been released, or maybe it hasn't been given the opportunity to flourish.  Twitter provides that opportunity for me.

So, my questions are:

  • Have you ever wanted to discuss that new issue of Educational Leadership, only to find you're the only one with a subscription, or you're the only one who read it?

  • Have you ever heard a story on TV or the radio or read a great book and been just dying to talk to someone about it, only to find that people want to talk about Desperate Housewives or The View and have never heard or read the story and/or have no opinion about the topic? (No harm meant to those who enjoy those shows!)

  • Have you ever had a question that no one seems to know the answer to?

  • Have you ever wondered how someone else does something?
  Sounds like you need the support of a good PLN!  

If you have a network of friends/fellow educators already, then you should feel like the luckiest person in the world.  If not, then you need to get one!

A supportive and innovative PLN will help you grow in your career, help you grow as a person and give you a place to bounce new ideas around, ask simple questions or get help when you need it.  It can also be a place of comfort and belonging when you feel isolated or alone.

How can you just up and 'get' a PLN?  

  • Give in to the fad and join Twitter.  (See links to posts below on how to do this.) 

  • Join a Ning (social network) that is related to your area of expertise. 

  • Join Diigo and start sharing links with people or join a Diigo group.

  • Listen to conversations in your workplace and seek out those people who share your interests or whose company you enjoy.  A good PLN does not have to be virtual--it can be right under your nose!

Best wishes to everyone with the new school year and thank you to all of the valuable members of my PLN that keep me going every day!
Helpful links for building a PLN:

'Creating a PLN' Wikispace

What is a PLN, Anyway? from Teaching Village (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto)

The Innovative Educator: 5 Things You Can Do to Begin Building a Personal Learning Network

How to Build a Personal Learning Network from Free Technology for Teachers (Richard Byrne)

Oh, the Adventures You'll Have if Only... from Teacher Reboot Camp (Shelly Terrell)

How to Become a Twitter Teacher in 23 Steps or less by Kapil Bhatia

Why You Should Start Tweeting by Jason Renshaw

Examples of Online Communities (these are all technology & education related)

Classroom 2.0

Philly Teacher Techs (OK, a plug for my own Ning, but it's the closest I've gotten to starting a local PLN)

ISTE Community Ning

school bus photo courtesy of

frustrated face photo courtesy of tuppaware_001 on Flickr
Read On

It Takes a Village......


Those of you who may have read my first few posts (found here and here) about the school I worked in for the last 4 years, know that I worked in a school that was 100 years old and falling apart at the seams.  Finally, the district moved forward with plans to build us a new school.  As a result, we are now relocated to a temporary location at 59th and Baltimore Streets, about 10 minutes away from our former location.  We are now situated in Southwest Philadelphia, and as a result, I now have a new commute to and from work every day.

On my drive home today, I passed boarded up houses, empty lots, burned out houses and abandoned properties.  While the scenery is not too different from the old neighborhood my school was in, it seems there is more blight here than in our former location in West Philadelphia, about 10 minutes North on 58th Street.

As I was coming around the curve that Greenway Avenue takes as it meets Grays Ferry Avenue, I saw an amazing sight.  On a lonely field, across from a car repair shop, adjacent to dilapidated rowhomes and bordering the main avenue that leads towards the Greys Ferry area--a neighborhood in Philadelphia rife with racial tensions and violence--I witnessed a baseball game.

The players were gathering around home plate and throwing the ball around to practice, while a player used a relic of a lawnmower -- imagine the square kind with a ripcord and no bag, though at least it had a motor!--to mow the field before the game.  The players had obviously decided to clean up the field in order to use it.  In my 3 weeks of driving past the field, I had not once seen any sign of human life anywhere on the field until today.

In my neighborhood in South Philadelphia, there are a few baseball fields with advertising placards and local teams competing weekly.  This field was nothing like the fields in my neighborhood.  All I could think was that it really does come down to how we want our world to be.  Why let a perfectly good baseball field go to waste when all it takes is a handful of players and a lawnmower to play a game?  Sometimes we have to step in and take care of things ourselves to make our neighborhood and quality of life better.

Which brings us to the title of this post.

I thought about the phrase with which we are all familiar: "It takes a village to raise a child," an African proverb made famous by Hillary Clinton.  Really, I thought, "It takes a village to raise a village." Only WE can raise ourselves up, to keep our lives safe, happy and fulfilling.  No one else is going to do it for us.  From Block Captains, to Neighborhood Watch, to schools and Community organizations, we raise each other.  We don't work in isolation (and if we do, then we don't really 'work').  We are not only concerned with raising our children, but also we should also be concerned about the environment in which that child will live and grow.  This environment is ours alone, and it is our children who will care for us when we are no longer capable of doing so.  Our village can be either self-sustaining or self-destructive. It's our choice.

Lawn Mower Man photo courtesy of viking_79 on Flickr 
Baseball field photo courtesy of MISSNAP on Flickr
Philadelphia rowhomes photo courtesy of Bob Jagendorf on Flickr
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Save Trees: Don't print me!