Category Archives: Professional Development

The NECC Buffet – Part 1

I attended NECC for the first time this year. While many attendees have already blogged about their experiences – as I write this Technorati already has over 500 blogs tagged “NECC2008″ – it’s taken a while for me to process everything and gather my thoughts enough to put text to screen and share my impressions.

To say NECC is big doesn’t quite capture it. My thesaurus suggests words like monumental, immense, ginormous, and elephantine, but those don’t seem to paint an accurate picture either. For me, NECC was a chance to attend the worlds largest most extravagant buffet for the very first time. I wanted to load my plate with a little of everything. Not knowing if I would ever make it back, I tried to devour as many small morsels as I could but quickly discovered there was no possible way to digest it all without making myself sick. In the end, I had to make choices. I’ll leave it up to you to determine the wisdom of my decisions.

Part 1: The Salad Bar

The salad bar contains all that stuff that’s healthy for you. It’s not the real reason you came to the buffet, but you feel obligated to partake because it helps you balance out the guilt you feel for indulging in the next two courses. The concurrent sessions at NECC were my salad bar – and what an AMAZING salad bar it was!

  • Ian Jukes is one of those “sit down, fasten your seatbelts, and hold on” presenters. I love his energetic, in-your-face style and powerful visual images. While his session about Learning in the Digital Landscape did not give me anything I haven’t already heard, nobody preaches it and gets you fired up to teach “digital kids” like Ian Jukes.
  • I’ve been a big fan of Lego Mindstorms for years and used them at my previous school so I was anxious to hear Mitchel Resnick speak about some of the new technologies they’ve been developing at the MIT Media Lab. Thanks to Wesley Fryer for taking such copious notes – Grassroots Creativity: Helping Everyone Become a Creative Thinker.
  • Rushton Hurley has a wonderful presentation style and his now famous “Who Can Make a Video in 10 Minutes?” session gave me many ideas that I hope to incorporate into future staff trainings. His non-profit NextVista for Learning web site promotes student and teacher made instructional videos and seeks to encourage global understanding through digital media. He also gave me the challenge to contribute some video to his site. (If you’re reading this blog you can help keep me accountable to do this!)
  • Finally, what can I say about Hall Davidson that hasn’t already been said? From exploding bottles of Dr. Pepper to his “I’ve never tried this before, but do you want to see if it works?” style, it’s clear that Hall is a guy who doesn’t play by the rules. His “HTML for Non-Wizards” presentation was just what my inner tech-geek needed, plus it gave me some extra techie tid-bits to feed to my middle schoolers who like to push the limits. (Click here if you’d like to download the 36MB pdf version of his presentation.)

NOTE: Several of these sessions and a few that I missed are now available at the NECC Webcast site. Here you can see presentations from Chris Dede, Mitchel Resnick, Hall Davidson and several other NECC Spotlight speakers. You need to register with an e-mail address to view the webcast but you also get to join the chat with anyone else who happens to be watching it with you.
Hmmm. Want to train your teachers how a back channel works? This might make a good practice playground.

NEXT POST: Part 2 – The Entree

Professional Development Meme

I’ve been tagged! Normally the introverted rebel in me tends to ignore these Meme challenges, but I couldn’t let this one go unanswered. Why? First, because this challenge comes from well respected colleague and friend Jen Wagner (who I know will check up on me to make sure I do it.) Second, it forces me to practice what I preach. Lately I’ve been leading a lot of professional development to prepare our middle school teachers for our 1 to 1 program which starts with 6th grade this Fall. I’ve been having them do a lot of project planning and goal setting. This is a good way to keep me accountable to do the same. So here goes…

Section 1: The Obligatory Posting of the Meme Rules

  1. Pick 3 professional development goals and commit to achieving them this summer.
  2. For the purposes of this activity the end of summer will be Labor Day (09/01/08).
  3. Post the above directions along with your 3 goals on your blog.
  4. Title your post Professional Development Meme and link back/trackback to
  5. Use the following tag/ keyword/ category on your post: pdmeme.
  6. Tag 8 others to participate in the meme.
  7. Achieve your goals and “develop professionally.”
  8. Commit to sharing your results on your blog during early or mid-September.

Section 2: My Goals

  1. Learn how to work with SQL Queries. Our Angel VLE is built on SQL tables. Knowing how to find and manipulate data with this powerful tool will make my life significantly easier.
  2. Take one new idea from both NECC and the Discovery National Institute and make a plan to implement it sometime this school year.
  3. 2:14 it! Putting a Tablet PC in the hands of every 6th grader poses some significant new challenges this summer. My final goal is to keep a positive attitude and “Do everything without grumbling or complaining.” (Philippians 2:14).

Section 3: Tag! You’re It!
If you see your name below, you know what to do.

  1. Bridget Belardi
  2. Rob Jacklin
  3. Genny Kahlweiss
  4. Alan Lutz
  5. Jonathon Orr
  6. Martha Thornburgh
  7. Tom Turner
  8. Trevor VanBlarcom (Maybe this will encourage you to start your own blog. You KNOW you want to.)

CUE Thoughts

It’s Monday morning. I’m back at school, and while I’m mentally exhausted from last week’s CUE Conference (and still adjusting to the time change), I need to post some of my thoughts and reflections while they are still fresh in my mind. This year’s event was probably one of the best CUE experiences I’ve had, not just because of the sessions and presenters, but also because it provided an opportunity to connect and converse with some brilliant and talented educators, many of whom I had never met.

Most of these conversations would not have occurred had it not been for the connections I started making last summer at the Discovery National Institute. That experience really helped me jump in and start networking with people across the country and the world using online tools like Twitter, Skype, and Google Reader. It’s amazing how my learning network has grown in the last 9 months. As a result, I was able to have some great conversations with people that I would never have known, and would not have approached had I not been following them online.

Wednesday – EduBloggerCon West
Thanks to Steve Hargadon (Classroom 2.0)for organizing this and to Mike Lawrence & CUE for providing rooms and wireless Internet. Those of us fortunate enough to participate in this “un-conference” got to share some great ideas and participate in some wonderful discussions. In addition to Steve, I was also able to meet several people I’ve been following online, but had never met in person including Jen Wagner and Sylvia Martinez. I also added a few new names to my network:

Rushton Hurley is creator of Next Vista for Learning, a free site for viewing and downloading videos created by teachers & students. Videos focus on Learning, Global Understanding, and Community Service. Rushton is also a dynamic presenter and one of the CUE spotlight speakers. I’ll be blaming his Google Tools presentation for all my hours that will be eaten up playing with Google Sketch-Up.

My “serendipty” moment of the conference came during our round table discussion on Project Based Learning. Sylvia Martinez was leading the discussion. I reached in my bag and pulled out the ISTE book we’ve been using for our middle school teacher training, Reinventing Project Based Learning. When I praised it as a great resource a voice from across the table replied, “Hey, I wrote that book!” It was Jane Krauss, one of the authors. Of course, I had her sign my copy.

Thursday – DEN Pre-Conference

A room full of Discovery Educators was a great way to kick-off the CUE Conference. Scott Kinney gave a terrific presentation on the role that media plays in our student’s lives. This event also ended up being a mini-reunion of National Institute friends. We had 8 “Academic Excursion” attendees together in the same room. Good times. Most of us got together for dinner at Las Casuelas that night.

Friday – Conference Sessions & Party Time
I’ve been following David Jakes on Twitter and on his blog for some time, but never had a chance to meet him until today. His presentation on Digital Storytelling opened my eyes to some new possibilities for using these with my students.

David Jakes presenting at one of the “CUE-Tip” mini sessions.

Jeremy Davis shared advanced Google searching and revealed some hidden Google tools – like calculator, dictionary, and custom searches.
Frank Guttler & Mitch Aiken from the American Film Institute shared their screen-education curriculum for students and gave us a sneak peak at their new AFI ScreenNation site – a place for students to post and share their videos.

After the sessions, it was party time. Since I volunteered at the registration booth this year I was invited to the Volunteer Reception at the Wyndham Hotel. That was followed by a reception for our Orange County CUE affiliate where we were introduced to our new affiliate president Lainie McGann. The night was capped off by a Discovery Education Celebration. Kudos to the Discovery folks for throwing a great party. They rented out Boomers in Cathedral City so we had the whole place to ourselves and we had a terrific time. I was one of about 200 Discovery Educators who reconnected with their inner-child as we played in the arcade, pounded down pizza & soda, and raced each other around the go-cart track. Thanks DEN!

Saturday – Wrapping it All Up
In addition to Rushton’s enthusiastic Google Earth and Sketch-up session, I got to sit back and listen to David Jakes one more time before he had to fly back to icy Chicago. His 21st Century Cartography session had our heads spinning as he showed the magic that you can add to your blogs and wikis using embeded code. With a “simple” copy & paste you can bring your pages to life with podcasts, maps, street-views, and virtual tours.
In my last session of the conference I got to give back a little as I presented some of my own cool tips and tricks with other Discovery STAR Educators in their “Stealing from the STARs” session. I shared how to make PhotoStory-like movies using iMovie08 and Voicethread.

Cool Web 2.0 Tools

  • PicLens – Use this browser plug-in to turn your picture searches into an infinite photo-wall. Works with most image searches and Flickr.
  • MeBeam – Probably the easiest way yet to video conference. Reminds me a lot of the Brady Bunch.
  • Next Vista for Learning – Rushton Hurley’s online library of free videos for learners.
  • AFI ScreenNation – The final piece of AFI’s Screen Education curriculum. Coming soon!
  • GabCast – Record & post your podcast with your cell-phone. Evoca is another tool that does the same thing.
  • Google Sketch-Up – Design 3-D buildings and objects and drop them into Google Earth. (This is just too much fun!)

PHOTO CREDITS: Thanks to Mark Pennington & Jen Wagner.

Tech Tips from the Bahamas

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was honored to be a part the Discovery National Institute last week. Fifty talented educators from 17 states spent a week together on the Carnival Sensation cruising to Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas. But don’t let the words “cruise” and “Bahamas” mislead you – we worked! There were training sessions, group projects, and lots of networking and idea sharing.

What follows is my attempt to list of some of the ideas and resources shared by these amazing teachers, tech trainers, and media specialists.

Note: If anyone from the cruise is reading this, please add a comment to include any great ideas or resources I may have missed.


Stellarium (
From Amy L., Bend, OR
Think of it as Google Earth for the sky. Put in any location and see the night sky and constellations visible from that spot at that day and time. You can also project forward or look backward in time. Requires you to download and install their free application. Versions available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The Rock Dating Game (see previous post)
From Howard M – TX, Marty G – MI, Chris P – FL, Dave K – CA, and ME!
Good for 6th Grade Earth Science. Compare and contrast Metamorphic, Igneous, and Sedimentary rocks. Includes an Inspiration graphic organizer and a Unitedstreaming writing prompt.

Language Arts & Writing

Knight Cite (
From Rachel H., WI
An online tool for creating proper MLA, APA, and Chicago style citations.

Math/Social Studies

Dollar Around The World
From Rachel H – WI, Diana L – AZ, Kim R – CA, Jennifer D – PA, Tanya G – KS
Learn about other countries and currency conversion as your students investigate the value of a dollar around the world.
Assignment directions and web resources (Word File)
International Currency Factsheet (PDF)
Student Notebook (PDF)
Unitedstreaming Assignment

Social Studies/Geography

Where in the World? (
From Jennifer G – OR, Carole G – FL, Beverly P – NJ, Dedra S – OK, Donna T – SC
Remember Carmen Sandiego? This project has students taking video clips from Unitedstreaming and breaking them into little “clues” that their classmates have to solve in order to guess where they are hiding. The project includes a writing prompt and quiz on Unitedstreaming and an Inspiration template with project guidelines.

CommunityWalk (
From Amy L., Bend, OR
This site lets you or your students create a “tour” by adding placemarks to a map. Each placemark can contain information, links, and/or pictures about that location. Possible uses include mapping out specific landmarks along the Oregon Trail, or creating a virtual tour of local historical sites in your hometown.

Library, Media, and Teacher Tools

Good Reads (
From Bridget B., PA
Read any good books lately? Write a review and post it here. This site is great for connecting you with others who have read the same book and have similar tastes. Use it to create literature circles among your staff or with your students.
Bridget was also involved in the creation of this great video promoting their school library – a must see! ( Requires Windows Media Player.

Teacher Tube (
From Jennifer G., OR
This is basically YouTube for teachers. It contains online video tutorials, student and teacher created projects, professional development, and more. Teachers can create a free account and use it to host their own videos. Make sure your school doesn’t block this one! (You might even win a laptop computer.)

Inspired Learning Community (
From Jennifer G., OR
Have you created a great Inspiration or Kidspiration lesson? Post it here. Looking for a good one? Search for it here. This is a huge library of teacher created Inspiration and Kidspiration templates searchable by grade level and topic.

Flickr Toys (
From Jeanine B., WI
So you’ve posted your pictures to Flickr – now what? This site of full of toys to enhance your Flickr experience and have fun with your photos. Make motivational posters, trading cards, movie posters, mosaics, calendars, and much more.

Flip Video (
From Katie K., VA
This $85 video camera holds 30 minutes of 640×480 video on its 512MB of internal memory. Video is saved in AVI format and can be transferred to your computer using the flip-out USB connector. You can also watch video on your TV using the supplied video cable.

FMO: For MAC Only

3-2-1 Countdown Widget (
From Amy L., OR
A great little classroom management tool. Add this to your OSX widgets and use it in your classroom to countdown to recess, free time, or to time a test.

Bluetooth File Sharing
From Howard M., Austin, TX
Howard showed me this impressive little trick to wirelessly transfer files to and from Mac via bluetooth. No WiFi connection necessary.
1) Make sure Bluetooth is turned on and both machines are discoverable.
2) Go to the Utilities and open Bluetooth File Exchange.
3) Select the file you want to send to your friends Mac. Click SEND.
4) Select the name of your friend’s computer from the list of available devices. Click SEND.
A windows will pop-up on your friend’s computer telling them that you are sending them a file. All they need to do is click ACCEPT. The file will be saved on their machine. Is that cool or what?!

Don’t Take Him for Granite

Sometimes the best way to discourage plagiarism among your students is to come up with an assignment that forces them to take information and present it in a whole new way.

In this project, developed by a team of top educators at the Discovery National Institute, students compare and contrast three similar, but different people, places or things. The three things appear as bachelors on a dating show. The bachelorette asks questions of the bachelors and they must answer in character using the information they compiled while researching their person, place or thing.

It will work with just about anything. Imagine a lovely young lady asking questions of Columbus, Magellan, and Cortez. Or what about Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon? With a little creativity you could even give personality to inanimate objects – like rocks.

Here’s a fun example of what such a project might look like for a science class. In it we compare the properties of metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary rocks.

At the end of the project students need to fill in a graphic organizer. This one is just a basic Inspiration template that has been modified slightly.

Graphic Organizer Link (Requires Inspiration Software)

Finally, students are asked to synthesize what they have learned using the writing prompt. Their task is to write a letter to the lovely bachelorette encouraging her to choose one of three rocks, using their research to support their choice.

Writing Prompt Link

Who are these ‘top educators’ you speak of?
What did you do on your summer vacation? Well, if anyone asks I’ll say I got to go on a cruise with 50 of the most amazing and talented educators this country has to offer. This National Institute was sponsored by the Discovery Channel. I can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard and had so much fun at the same time. For more info about the DNI Bahamas Cruise, check out Joe Brennan’s blog.

This Dating Game project was a collaborative effort that combined the creative talents of five teachers from four different states. (We’re all listed in the end credits of the video.)