Saturday, March 28, 2009

Assessment of Blogging In the Classroom

A few months ago if someone had asked be about evaluation of blog writing in my classroom, I would have given them the same look that my son did this afternoon.

It's my son at our latest outing to a 3D movie, but that's exactly the deer-caught-in-the-headlights kind of look that I might have given. Blogging in the classroom is one thing, but blogging with a purpose was something quite alien to me. Not to say that there wasn't a purpose, but I was using blogging solely as discussion starters and getting through writers block with my grade 9's. This was working very well, but as I got a new set of students in semester 2, I wanted to take our blogging to the next level. 

Thanks to my growing PLN I have worked to develop the first of 3 types of blog posts based on the grade 9 Alberta Language Arts curriculum (this link opens a PDF document). 

 A special thanks must be given to Neil Stephenson for his revisions and especially Deana Senn for her time, patience and guidance with this!

The first type of blog post that I created is called a "Discovery Blog". I pose an issue based question that students must take a side on and then must investigate further. After introducing the rubric (linked below) I realized that I was going to have to get them to practice this type of writing to gather exemplars, because I had none. We looked at several blogs (from many of you out there) and talked about the formats, and how most blogs include links to supporting sites and details. They then wrote about the journey of Chris McCandless, and I asked students if they thought that the publicity in print and on the silver screen would bring about copycats. This was their practice blog. At the end of the week they responded to the question of whether or not Chris McCandless cheated his family and friends by leaving it all behind, which I am going to evaluate this weekend. 

The Discovery Blog has 3 main components that are evaluated:

1. Defending and supporting your own opinion (with links to relevant articles, 
posts, etc. on the web)

2. Acknowledgment of the opposing viewpoint and identifying possible support details. 

3. Reaching a personal conclusion/reflection as to whether or not your opinion has changed after looking at both sides of the issue.

Here are the guiding statements that accompany the rubric:

Justification your opinion/point of view 

- Support with examples from personal experiences and the experiences of others.  

- Keywords are linked to sources that support your opinion on the issue. 

Shows consideration of other points of view 

- Examine the issue from an opposing point of view, what are the pros to their arguments? 

- Ask yourself, how do others' opinions affect your point of view? 

- Explore the differences in your opinions further. Where can you get more information on the issue/topic?

- What do you now know that you didn't before you started the process? 

- Provide evidence of your consideration and link to it in your blog post. 

Shows deeper understanding (reflection) of the issue and draws conclusions

- After considering the sources and listening to others, how do you see this issue?  

- Do you see it in another way? How has listening to others and considering other sources affected your view 

on this issue? Why did it change/not change your mind? 

- Communicate your understanding of the topic by responding to other's blogs.

The rubric for evaluation is as follows (email me: - and I will send you a word document so you can amend it as you please):

The students used this to practice with the first topic of publicity causing copycats. I used this first submission from their writing as exemplars. Here are two samples of their writing of varying levels. Take a moment or two and click on the large size to really read their writing. 

So, it's off to develop blog assessment #2 and #3. I'll finish them up in the week ahead to share with you, and I'll post some exemplars from the final drafts of my students writing for the Discovery Blog. PLEASE comment on what I have developed and make suggestions via email or on this blog. If you would like I can also "share" the original Google Document with you for even easier editing!

Hopefully you can now take a look at how you are using blogging in your classroom. With some work you can help take something that is still "Alien" to your students and wake them up from what can become a writing slumber.

(the popcorn and movie in 3D meant a much needed nap on the ride home from the theatre!) 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Could you take a break from technology?

I had posted on Facebook and Twitter that I was going to take 48 hours off from technology (that related to teaching and learning, that is). Now, 2 days later, I'm catching up on reading all of your blog posts, links and tweets! 

Admittedly I am addicted to technology. But what I think I'm really addicted to is the connectedness to other like minded people that technology has afforded me. However not checking email or my Google Reader or Twitter or adding to my Delicious account or Facebook.... was enjoyable for the weekend. My wife certainly like the idea. She even tempted me a few times by checking her blog roll with my iPod Touch that I had handed over to her! Now, thanks to advice from Terry Kaminksi and my wife, I'm putting the laptop and iPod touch away by 9pm to give my brain a break. 

This year has been a blur with new connections and learning for me and my students. I must say it was nice to take a break for a short amount of time (even though it was a weekend during our Spring Break). It's no wonder why many hotels are now offering technology packages where they take your Blackberry and laptop away for a period of time. I recommend that every teacher who uses technology as much as I do take some time off to refocus and then come back with a fresh perspective on teaching and learning.

Could you take a tech time out? Let me know if you are considering it or have done it!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Google Maps in the Classroom

I've now created my first Custom Google map! I know this isn't new, but it's pretty awesome! Our class has just read the first chapter of Jack London's famous tale The Call of the Wild, and John Krakauer's tragic tale of Chris McCandless who goes Into the Wild. Using the easy interface of Google maps I added the approximate location of the farm where Buck the dog lived in the Santa Clara Valley. Next, as Chris McCandless' journey was described, I put 3 more locations on the map in Alaska on the Stampede Trail, the Teklanika River, and the exact location of the famous bus where he perished. Here is the map.

There was already a link on Google Maps to several pictures of the Fairbanks bus-turned-outdoor-shelter, so I added the link to my 'pin' on the map. Embedding the map was easy, and within a few minutes while students read their novels, I had the map on our class wiki. Students then listened to the audiobook of Into the Wild and they used the map to zoom in on the harsh wilderness that Chris travelled through, observing photos of the bus and its surroundings.

That's when the REAL in REALity set in for the students. Many of them hadn't connected that the story of Alexander Supertramp was real, and it really hit home while looking at the photos at the same time as listening to the novel being read. Their faces said it all, and I knew I had them hooked. 

I gave them a link on the wiki to our class blog and asked them to read a blog post of a group of guys who spent the night in the famous bus. Using, I then asked them to tell me if they would spend a night in the bus, and again I embedded the results on our class wiki which updated live as each student voted. So far, only 25% of my class said they would spend the night for various reasons. The @ replies on this issue were also very interesting as I challenged each student to acknowledge one post of a peer whose opinion was different that their own. 

Tonight I rediscovered, and thanks to Mr. Thomas Cooper's students at the Walker School in Georgia, I was able to download and amend my custom Google map that they have completed of the travels of Chris McCandless. Anyone interested in creating a Google map for a novel study, for a history related unit, or for a virtual field trip, I highly recommend you use this tool. You can drop pins, customize the look of the map, add photos, links and so much more. 

Also, look around the web and install a KML file that someone else has created and import it into your map. You may not have to reinvent the wheel. I will share my custom map when it's done for The Call of the Wild for others to use. 

What would you do? Would you spend a night in the bus? Visitors please use the window below to vote. I will share the results with my students, by embedding the results on our class wiki. Thanks for your participation!
Create your own sms poll at Poll Everywhere

Happy mapping!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Using Voicethread in the Classroom Part 2

So now that Voicethread was used successfully with our last project, what do the students think? I asked for their feedback about their first VT experience. Take a couple moments to peruse their advice on our class blog.  

I have been in the habit of asking students to give me their feedback on the use of technology and web tools in the class, as well as the structure of our projects. Their insights help me improve the projects for the next time, because they are often the guinea pigs when it comes to using technology in my teaching. I was impressed at what one student wrote about our Waiting on the The World to Change project (she actually mentioned curriculum!): 

Overall, they enjoyed it, and most comments positively about the interface and the idea of provid
ing voice, text and video feedback. No students in my class used the video feature. Negative comments were about the quality of the video, how text and titles are not displayed very well, and some students even pointed out how others could leave negative feedback, which would derail the feedback process. 

The peer feedback and self evaluation were the real stars of the project for me. Following what Neil Stephenson has developed, I wanted a quick and easy way to aggregate the feedback that student gave each other, as well as their self evaluation. Enter Google Forms. This incorporation of another part of the Google suite proved invaluable for me as an educator, and gave the students access to timely
 feedback from their peers.
Instead of using a paper copy, students accessed an online form that I had set up within minutes. I was just about to print a whole bunch of peer feedback forms, and I thought, "there must be a better way." Having no previous experience with Google Forms, this is what I created. Students went to the URL which is created automatically by the form, and they copied and pasted the form into their own Google Doc.

This is the one hiccup of the process. If they hadn't copied the form into another Google Doc, when they submitted the form online, I would be the only one who gets a copy. (I need to figure our a way that the student giving the feedback can enter an email address so the form could be sent to their peer, so if you have an idea, let me know!) The submitted feedback form then is added into a spreadsheet, allowing me to easily see all feedback given to each student. This is a sample where Neil had some fun with the form. It is great that each time a student enters something on the form, the submission is time and date stamped!

To wrap up the project, I asked the students the next day to evaluation how well they gave feedback to their classmates. I again used a Google Form for this which proved very successful. This time because there was a self evaluation, I used the checkboxes feature so students could select the appropriate mark. Thinking that students would automatically give themselves full marks in all categories, I was delightfully surprised to find the exact opposite. The majority of students where brutally honest about the feedback the gave, and I found that I had to increase the mark of many of their self evaluation which told me that they were deeply engaged in the feedback process and were thinking about thinking! 

Now I use Google Forms to gather information from students, as a sign in sign out form for my multimedia equipment, and I'm sure there will be many more uses in the future! Give Google Forms a try and let me know how it works for you. I would be happy to share any forms I have created with anyone, just drop me an email:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Using Voicethread in the Classroom Part 1

There have been many reviews about VoiceThread out there, but I wanted to give everyone a "from-the-trenches" look at the power of this 2.0 app!

Our Global Issues Project is the culminating activity from my digital literacy unit in Language Arts 9. Students are challenged to look at their position in the world, their perceived power, and what they as teenagers can do to change things. The song Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer is the jumping off point for this project. 

Students listen to the song, then blog about the meaning of the song. They then listen to the song and again respond in the blog about the meaning of the lyrics. Finally, they watch the music video several times and pick out all of the keywords, imagery, and allusions they can. This is done with a graphic organizer in Google Docs which they share with each other. I'll share another awesome use of Google Docs later this week!

Students then must pick an issue that is important to them, create a video essay depicting the issue, and choose complimentary quotes to display in their video. We use iMovie to complete the videos because of the ability to use the Ken Burns' effect with images. Just a small amount of movement and zoom can provide a lot of interest and depth to already powerful images. 

Note: There is a teachable moment here that you should incorporate. We talk about digital citizenship a lot in class, and the use of creative commons and copyright, so I have my students select photos that they have permission for, which they then have to include in a photo bibliography complete with links to the source of each photo. 

Where does VoiceThread fit it to all of this? 

If this was last year's class, the project would have ended with the completed videos and students handing in their accompanying written materials. I've seen VoiceThread and had already signed up for an account last year, but never thought I could use it for this project. Connecting with other like minded people (Thanks Neil and Deana) has taken this project to the next level. No longer do students just simply hand in the project. We now use VT as a powerful peer and self-evaluation and reflection tool. 

Neil Stephenson's work with VT was the starting off point for me. His approach fit what I wanted to do to a "T". It took a while, but I figured out how to upload a custom CSV file I created in Excel, which gave each student a username and password based on their email account. Next I signed up for a class subscription in VoiceThread, which was the best 60 bucks I've spent for in my class for a long time! Students logged in and within 10 minutes we had exported from iMovie as "web quality" onto their accounts. 

Here's where we hit a snag. One student's videos would not post. Our technology integrator Terry Kaminski was in the room observing and he spent half the class converting this poor student's video in various formats. Meanwhile, the rest of the students had finished their uploads, but I couldn't seem to add them all to the class account, some were complaining about how grainy their videos were, it was going downhill fast! Will there be VoiceThread HD? I have 3 or 4 students who already want it! 

I pulled something special out of my special place, and within 30 minutes of starting, we could see each other's videos, and the power of VT became very apparent. Students used guiding questions to comment with voice and text on each others videos (Thanks again Neil). They gave feedback to their classmates about what images where most powerful, what they were most proud of in their own videos, and what their peers could improve on. 

The best part of the peer assessment was how well the students responded to the feedback when it was done through the web. It was interactive and was constructive and all students were very pleased to use the feedback to improve their projects before submitting them. I also asked students to include a personal reflection on their videos (only a few did). This will be more integrated next time around. 

I will certainly be using VT often in my teaching. I'm just scratching the surface of using this technology as an assessment for learning tool. Anyone else using VT? How does it stack up to using Youtube's Annotations? I'm thinking of creating a private channel and trying it out that was as well. Have you used Youtube for this purpose?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Reflections From a Rookie ADE

"Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey."

This past week I received an email telling me I had been selected as an Apple Distinguished Educator, class of 2009! After a lot of hard work, (although admittedly I've only scratched the surface) the efforts I have put into integrating technology into my classroom and in my school has resulted in this amazing opportunity. 

A couple weeks ago I had commented to my colleague Terry Kaminski that while I would be disappointed if I wasn't selected, the process of application was a powerful learning experience. So the journey of reflection began and I set out to apply to be an Apple Distinguished Educator. 

I owe this opportunity to my students who have become my guinea pigs when I get crazy ideas for teaching with technology. My colleagues "in house" have given me invaluable advice and a place to talk my ideas through. To Twitter, Google Docs, RSS, Voicethread, Animoto, and all of the web 2.0 tools: thanks! To the new colleagues I have joined to create powerful learning opportunities for my students in Language Arts and Multimedia,  your contributions have been invaluable. 

Mostly, as many out there have already commented, it is the interconnected HUMAN interactions across the globe which make us better teachers. They remind us that that the internet and web 2.0 tools are just pencils and hammers that are useless without proper application in the hands of students with solid pedagogical foundations. It takes the creative teacher to find ways to incorporated it seamlessly into their teaching and to make it meaningful to students.  

Here's to the unlimited realms of learning that will, and to the new additions to our personal learning networks that happen every day.  I am very excited to have a new cadre of people within the ADE Group to share and learn with.

Photo Credit

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Addicted to the Blogosphere

So, It's 11:30 pm, and this is how my night has gone so far...

7-8PM: shovel my grandparents' driveway

8:03- Check my blog roll
8:20- Do the dishes
8:40- Check my blog roll
9:00- Check email and then read more blogs
9:30-10:00- Snuggle with my 3 month old daughter and skype with a friend (while keeping an eye on Google Reader)
10:00-10:15- Search for the latest copy of L&L magazine I have misplaced
10:15- 10:30- Check and read blogs
10:30- Go to bed
10:31- Read more blogs on my iPod touch.
11:25- Turn off the light
11:30- Tet up to blog because my mind is racing about many of the great posts I have read this weekend! I need to post!

I guess the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem.

David Warlick's article about PLN's in the latest edition of L&L is a great guide to helping newbs to the world of blogging but it also provides sound advice to us addicts. I will be sorting my blog roll more effectively as of tomorrow morning! I really like his categories of Daily, Weekly and Monthly reading. 

The problem is- oh sorry I have 17 new blog posts to read, I'll be right back.

The solution to this is organizing my blog roll into an informative and effective content delivery system. Warlick also suggests loading up on blogs and using RSS feeds to gather information you are currently interested in rather than just adding things haphazardly as I often find myself. This is also a by-product of my late entry into blogging. 

Currently, thanks to my fellow ADE Neil Stephenson, I have been trying to take my projects to the next level with more self and peer assessment with feedback loops. In his recent post about peer feedback Neil comments:

Students should have as many opportunities as possible to share their work, hold it up to standards and rubrics, receive feedback from as many voices as possible, and then have time to revise and improve. I think this final step is so important. If we value student feedback and self-assessment, we must honour this by providing time for students to improve their work after receiving suggestions for improvement.

This comment came at exactly the right time in my teaching, which is another plug for the power of blogs in teachers' lives. I am in the middle of my digital literacy unit and we do a global issues project using iMovie and flickr images to help students discover the power of images. I start the unit with the song Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer. They also have to blog daily responses to images, video clips and current issues. (Don't tell them that it is a writing unit in disguise!) The missing piece of my global issues project was the peer feedback piece. I dove in head first after advice from Neil and introduced Voicethread. I will also be giving students 3 more classes this week to improve their projects after receiving feedback from myself and their peers with the project rubric in hand (on our class wiki). Tomorrow's class blog post will also ask students what they thought of Voicethread, because I asked them to bear with me as they were effectively technology guinea pigs last Thursday in my class. 

More reflections on my class' Voicethread experience to follow.

I've just completed the blogging addiction test. Which you should take as well. It says I'm 77% addicted to blogging. A pretty fair assessment. How addicted are you? How has reading blogs or blogging changed your teaching? 

It's now 12:14- I'm going to check my blog roll one more time...:)