Category Archives: Technology

Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom

Next November, I will be presenting a session on using blogs and wikis in the classroom at the annual GISA conference. I will fully admit that I’m no expert, though I’m the only teacher at my school currently doing anything with blogs or wikis. It made me think perhaps not too many Georgia teachers know what’s out there or how to use it.

One of the things I want to do for next year is make blogging/using the wiki a requirement in my class. Perhaps students should select one piece of writing from their portfolios that they are required to post? I was also thinking of posing questions for discussion. I think perhaps my current students don’t get much out of the blog/wiki I have because they are not required to use it. There are a handful that enjoy having the tool at their disposal. I think my classroom blog could be much better, though. I will say that posting assignments has been great for me in terms of communicating with students and parents. No excuses!

I have been keeping up with a lot of you who use blogs or wikis with your classes, but I am certainly open to suggestions. I want to have some good ideas to present come November. Please leave comments!

School Websites

I just visited a school website (I won’t link it) looking for an old colleague of mine, and I have to say there is just no excuse in 2006 for a school to have an awkward, poorly designed, clunky website.  There are a plethora of resources available to schools.  In fact, in many cases, I’d be willing to bet their students’ Xanga blogs and MySpace sites are better looking (well, maybe not MySpace, but you get the idea).  Why not tap into their talent?  There might be business owners in the area who would be glad to sponsor a website redesign.  In many cases, the first impression a prospective student or teacher has of the school is the website.  I know that’s the first thing I have checked out in the past when I’ve been up for an interview.  And a poorly-designed site has always put me off because it tells me that the school does not take its presentation to the public seriously.

Wikis for Book Discussion

I am showing my students Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, which I highly recommend.

However, I noticed that due to a strange confluence of events (or possibly lack of thorough planning), we wound up finishing novels in two classes right in the middle of viewing the film. I was scratching my head, wondering what to do about that when I remembered I have a website.

I asked the students to discuss the novels on the class wiki I set up.

If you want to peek in on the discussion, here are the links:

I think they’re still trying to figure out this technology. It comes more naturally to some of them than it does others.

In other news, my article describing a project that integrates a study of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography with Judaic concepts will be published in English Journal this coming July. I’m very excited; I just received the acceptance today.


In terms of my website, I have had a most exciting week. It really opened my eyes to the possibilties for collaboration among teachers. I keep track of my site statistics, and I was so excited to see that two different school systems were accessing two of my online activities for students. One is a Romanticism project that I designed myself with the germ of an idea from an conference I went to about a year ago. The second is a Great Gatsby webquest that I almost complete lifted (with a few tweaks) from Valerie Arbizu. I am so excited to see 30 or 40 computers logged in at the same time, accessing these activities. That means to me that the teacher simply directed them to that URL. That means something I came up with was useful enough to another teacher that he/she simply assigned it.

I have also had the opportunity to feel helpful to a colleague in North Carolina. Waterfall and I talked on the phone last night about writing research papers. In fact, I need to e-mail her some documents I promised. I felt very excited about being useful. You may think that sounds silly, but sometimes, I think all teachers wonder if they’re being of any use to anybody.

This made me start thinking about the potential we have for sharing our expertise. We can seek out teachers in our own schools and we have the world opened to us through the WWW. It is a very exciting time to be teaching, I think. Suddenly the teachers’ lounge just got a whole lot bigger.

So Many Resources, So Little Use

As you may recall, I have been considering the question of how to get my students to utilize the class blog and wiki I’ve set up for them. I have bounced the idea off colleagues, and it seems to me that the most common response is to require it. My students all have access to the technology at home. Even if they didn’t, they have access at school during our long lunch period, breaks, and study hall time. There is little reason why they might not be able to fulfill a requirement to check and/or post to the site or wiki.

I decided to bounce this idea off the education blogosphere. What exactly would be considered in my requirement? Should I, for instance, require students to make a certain number of posts? What sort of posting? My blog is not a classroom blog in the vein of Mike Hetherington’s or, I’m sure, of other similar classroom blogs.

Also, what suggestions do you have for engaging students more actively in discussion in the blog or on the wiki?

I actually became so frustrated with the work I’ve done on the blog (with so little use) that I didn’t update yesterday. No one noticed or said anything. I did a catch-up post today, but it bothered me. I think I have gotten past any issues I may have had with requiring students to use the technology. I’m ready to do it. Suggestions?

If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

I wanted to thank my friend Roger for the kind mention in his blog. Roger wonders “how many teachers are using blogs and wikis”? Well, I know of at least three wikis:

I’m sure there are others. I haven’t even tried podcasting, which seems to have a lot of promise. My students aren’t really blogging, either. However, invariably my colleagues and even some students react to this technology with the standard “What is that? I feel frustrated by the fact that my students have not yet tapped the potential that exists in all this technology I provide for them. It isn’t any good if it isn’t accessed and used. I think that I need to start requiring that students post content. Next year, I can just make it a clear part of my course expectations in the syllabus, I suppose.

Roger says my students are lucky that they have a web savvy teacher. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I agree. I’m pretty much alone in that regard at my school, with the exception of our technology specialist. I think I would really have liked to have all this “stuff” I’m providing my students. In my day (listen to how grizzled that sounds), we didn’t have computer labs. We were lucky if we had old Apple IIe’s around. I took Typing class and thought it was snazzy to be able to use an electric typewriter. I used a word processor in college and thought I was really something. I keep telling my students how lucky they are to have all of this technology at their fingertips. I tell them stories about having to retype entire pages after making one mistake — of having to draft essays on notebook paper with pen or pencil (horrors!).

But what good is all of this technology if the students don’t use it? Isn’t there anything else we can do besides IM friends and update Myspace pages?

Wikis for Teachers

Wikis are “Web pages that allows users to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also permits others (often completely unrestricted) to edit the content. The term wiki also refers to the collaborative software (wiki engine) used to create such a website (see wiki software).”

Many of you may have discovered the wonder that is Wikipedia, a wiki encyclopedia that has entries on everything you can imagine, completely created by people like you and me. And the content is actually very good, based on entries I’ve read in which the focus is an area of my own expertise — literature, some history, for example. Of course, allowing anyone to add content has created opportunities for some folks to vandalize wikis, but most of the time, it is caught right away. I saw such an instance of vandalism on a wikipedia article once — by the time I had logged in to correct it and went back to the article, it was already gone. In many ways, having so many editors helps to ensure the integrity of the content, and when there are disagreements, panels work them out on Talk pages until a decision can be reached. My major contributions to Wikipedia have mostly been editorial — fixing grammar, spelling, wording, etc. I did, however, write a very short article on American poet Edward Taylor, which has been revised several times by others (and, in fact, grossly vandalized and then rescued by others).

Several months ago, I discovered the Teachers’ Lounge Wiki. I thought then that this sort of portal for teachers to share and retrieve lesson ideas had great potential, but I didn’t realize at the time that a wiki is something that, well, just about anyone can create — no real expertise in programming or fancy computer languages is required. In the past couple of weeks, both Tim Fredrick and the Reflective Teacher have created wikis using PBWiki. I really wish I had known about PBWiki when I created this website, because it sure would have made it a lot easier. In about two minutes, I just created a wiki for my own class using PBWiki. I have also set up a wiki for my own lesson plans.

Like any new technology you use with students, if you are the administrator, it’s up to you to monitor content and make sure they’re not being goofy (vandalizing pages and the like), but that should be something fairly easy to do.

I think wikis are potentially exciting in terms of uploading and sharing content. I’m looking forward to giving it a try in my own classroom, and I’ll keep you posted on the results — and thank you to Tim and the Reflective Teacher for the excellent idea.

Power Point Jeopardy

First of all, thanks for the good feedback on my instructions for a comparison/contrast graphic organizer. I have used this particular graphic organizer many times since I learned how to make one, and after I’ve taught it to the students, all I have to do is instruct them to make a comparison/contrast organizer. Some of them even do it on their own without prompting if they think it will help them with their assignment. Also, students have reported using them in other classes.

When I taught middle school, I had a colleague that taught us how to create a Jeopardy game using MS Power Point. It was extremely useful, especially for middle school. I thought I would share this “how to” with you. I think it can be adapted for any subject.

  1. Open MS Power Point.
  2. Select the blank slide format.
  3. Choose your color scheme. I went with our school colors.
  4. Go to “Insert” and select “Table.”
  5. Make a table with six rows and five columns.
  6. Drag the corners of the table until it is the size you want it to be.
  7. On the top row, type the names of your categories.
  8. In each row underneath, type the point values. Your slide should look something like this (click for larger view). Don’t worry if your point values are not underlined. This will happen when you hyperlink your slides.

  9. Select “Insert” and choose “New Slide.”
  10. Create a text box by selecting “Insert” and “Text Box.”
  11. Type the question for the first category and point level.
  12. Repeat steps 8 through 10 until you have exhausted questions for the first category.
  13. Repeat steps 8-11 for each new category until you have written 25 questions.
  14. Go back to slide two, which is the first question for the first category.
  15. Select “Insert” and “Picture.” Select “AutoShapes.” Choose the shape you like. I use the little house, because it reminds me to click it to go back “home.” Your slide should look like this:

  16. Select the picture. It should have a little square around it with round dots at the corners and edges — dragging the corners or dots will help you adjust the size of the picture if you like.
  17. Select “Insert” and “Hyperlink” or press CTRL-K.
  18. Select the radio button that says “Hyperlink to” and select “First Slide” from the drop-down menu.
  19. Copy the button by pressing CTRL-C or right-clicking the button and selecting “Copy” or selecting “Edit” and “Copy” from the toolbar.
  20. Paste the button on slides 3 through 26.
  21. Now go back to slide 1.
  22. Select the text for first point value in the first category.
  23. Select “Insert” and “Hyperlink” or press CTRL-K.
  24. Select “Place in This Document.”
  25. Select Slide 2.
  26. Repeat steps 22 through 24 for each slide; be sure to link the point values to the correct questions. For example, your third slide should be linked to the second point value in the first category.
  27. Test your slide show by selecting “Slide Show” and “View Show” or pressing F5. Make sure your point values are linked to the proper questions and make sure each AutoShape links back to Slide 1.
  28. You’re done!

Unofortunately, you’ll need to keep a paper with the answer key near you or else making this game will be a lot more complicated than it already is. I would suggest that when you need to make a new Jeopardy game that you just open your first game and edit it. It will save time. You can download a sample game I created to play with. It isn’t editable, but it will give you an idea of how the show should function and look. Of course, it goes without saying that this is great for test review — and it’s fun.

If any of the instructions are unclear or if you need help, just contact me.

The Classroom of the Future

This past week, our technology coordinator invited me to a demonstration of some new technological equipment he is considering for purchase. I have seen Smart Boards in action — one of my colleagues uses one in his classroom. I haven’t played with it, but it looks really cool, and as much as I like to use web-based information and Power Point demonstrations, I think I could use it. The technology demonstration mostly centered around a wireless slate that can be used with a computer in order to access software applications — you’re not tied to the computer. I didn’t try the slate, but I was told it was sensitive and would take some getting used to. I still think I want one. There were some very interesting software programs incorporated into the Smart technology that could be useful in the classroom. The wireless slate will also work with a Smart Board. Right now, there are several of us who frequently use the laptop and projector, and this technology would make it much easier to access software or web sites for classroom display. We wouldn’t need to have the Smart Board in order to use the slate, but it looks like I’d get more out of the slate if I had the Smart Board, too.

I had a Smart Board on my wish list… here’s hoping!

In addition to Smart technology, I would also like a permanent TV with a VCR and DVD. I can usually get a TV when I need one, but it would be nice if I had one to myself so I didn’t have to worry about it.

What would you like in your classroom? What technology do you already use? Bud uses podcasting quite a bit. What do you think of that? Of what value is that to your classroom?

Teachers and Technology

How do you use technology in your classroom? According to an article by eSchool News online, approximately 86 percent of teachers say computer technology has changed their teaching methods “at least some,” while 55 percent reported that it has changed instruction “a great deal.”

The perception among many students is that they know more about technology than their teachers. This perception is not entirely unwarranted. Gone are the days when teachers can ignore technology, and teachers that do, do so at their peril. Students can and will easily plagiarize any among possibly thousands or millions of (usually poorly written) essays. Students can easily throw together a web site or Power Point demonstration with minimal effort and a few snazzy elements, unduly “wowing” the technologically naive teacher.

For the past four years of my career, I have been required to use gradebook software to send attendance and report grades. E-mail has become a dominant form of communication. My home state of Georgia has a technology requirement for teachers who plan to renew their teaching certificates. A teacher must take a class, assemble a portfolio, or take a test to meet the requirement. The Internet offers a wealth of information I would have coveted as a first year teacher, but which was unavailable back in 1997 when the World Wide Web was a smaller place.

I am very excited about the prospect of using blogs as classroom tools. My classroom blog is still just getting off the ground. I have asked students for feedback on using the blog. Frankly, they’re new to the idea of a class blog, too, and I’m not sure what they think. I have found Power Point demonstrations to be an entertaining way to convey information. A peer taught me how to create a Jeopardy game for test reviews using Power Point, and students have had a lot of fun with that when I’ve used it. One of my favorite uses of technology has been creating scavenger hunts or other web-based lessons for my students. Here are a few samples:

However, using technology takes a great deal of time. On the one hand, teachers have access to information at their fingertips, and I’m sure not as much library/book research is required for planning lessons; however creating web sites, Power Point demonstrations, and the like take much longer than planning other types of lessons. I think some teachers, particularly those intimidated by computers, conclude that it just isn’t worth it.

I think our peers — other teachers — are best at teaching teachers how to use technology in the classroom. We can show each other real-classroom applications and break it down in a way everyone can understand. For me, the importance and, if you will, “rarity” of what I do was underscored by two students. I was showing my Hemingway Power Point to students, and it was easier to access from my web site rather than try to locate the file (I was a bit scattered, as I didn’t have time to set up the laptop and projector — this time, it wasn’t my fault). When I pulled up the site, a student remarked, “You have a website?” I laughed and reminded the student (as did several of his classmates) that I had told them about the site the first day of class and it was on the syllabus. He said, “Yeah, I know, but when teachers say they have a website they usually mean a School Notes page or something.” I said, “Yeah, I know. My website’s COOOL!” I don’t mean to sound like I’m knocking School Notes. I do think that if you want to branch out — hosting files, really playing with the site’s appearance and content — School Notes is a bit limited. Another student, upon hearing about my site complimented my computer skills. To me, what my students get out of the technology I use is the bottom line.