Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Celebrate National Newspaper Week

National Newspaper Week Logo National Newspaper Week is October 5–11 this year. Sponsored by the Newspaper Association Managers, the 68-year-old celebration draws attention to the role that newspapers play in daily life. This year’s theme, “Public Notice—Good Government On Display,” focuses on how governmental notices in newspapers keep the public informed and involved in government.

Use the National Newspaper Week Kit to explore this issue further with students, or try any of the ReadWriteThink lessons for additional ways to explore and celebrate newspapers:

You’ll also find useful classroom and teaching resources on these websites:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TiddlyWiki: Your Own Portable Wiki

Wikis are a great way for small groups and classes to create collaborative web-based documents. They’re meant to be highly hyperlinked documents and their content history and open editing tools allow groups to compose together as the wiki grows organically.

There are times though when you need something smaller—the structure of a wiki is fine, but you need something more individual and better suited to smaller topics. TiddlyWiki is a simple, personal wiki that offers a lot of benefits for the classroom with a tight technology budget:

  • No Internet access required for the writers or readers.
  • Free, open source tool.
  • Works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • No server needed.
  • Customizable using a variety of plugins.
  • Do everything within a standard Web browser.
  • Built in support for searching and tagging.
  • Translations available for Spanish, and other languages.

The technical profile is great, but what about pedagogy? TiddlyWiki supports process-based writing—students can write, revise, and edit as needed, and basic text formatting (like bold and italics) is supported. The TiddlyWiki Timeline keeps a list of all the chunks of text (tiddlers) that have been changed, in reverse chronological order (e.g., most recent changes first).

The built-in features in TiddlyWiki make it a rather simple tool to use. All content is saved in a single HTML file. Students can save their files on jump drives, CDs, or a local or school hard drive. Files can also be emailed as attachments or uploaded to a web server.

Students would need to know a bit about how wikis work. Knowledge of simple HTML formatting would be ideal as well. After a bit of experimentation however, most media-savvy students would be able to use the tool.

That brings us to how you might use a portable, personal wiki in the classroom. TiddlyWiki is described as a microcontent tool. It’s ideal for shorter, focused kinds of writing. While a regular wiki would be useful for a class encyclopedia, TiddlyWiki is great for a single encyclopedia entries or a collection of related entries.

Students might use a TiddlyWiki for any of these projects:

  • Book reports—compose different sections of the TiddlyWiki for characters, setting, plot, themes, and so forth.

  • Literary analysis—break out different aspects of any literary element (or compare several elements).

  • Research journal —create a page with notes and bibliographic information for each primary and secondary source.

  • Reports—make the standard sections of a research, lab. technical, or business report into pages in a TiddlyWiki .

  • FAQs—publish frequently asked questions, as part of a research project or book report alternative.

  • Class Notes—take notes for each class session on a new page in a TiddlyWiki.

  • Journals and blogs—make a new page for each journal or blog entry for an electronic option that requires no Internet access.

That’s just a start. Once you try TiddlyWiki, you’re bound to think of other options—as well as ways you might use it as a teacher. You might use the tool as a paperless option for sharing class assignments and handouts for a specific unit. By customizing the basic TiddlyWiki file, you could create a template for a project that students might use to publish their work or as a prewriting organizer.

Here’s what you need to get you started with TiddlyWiki:

TiddlyWiki Site
Homepage for the tool. You’ll find the download file, examples, additional tools, and help files.

The site for TiddlyWiki plugins to change the appearance and navigation as well as to add tools.

A great resource for tips, suggestions, and tutorials for TiddlyWiki.

A customized, simpler version of TiddlyWiki.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dropbox: Your Online Filing Cabinet

Dropbox logoEver in the classroom and realize you want a computer file that’s at home? I know it’s happened to me. Dropbox provides a fast, simple solution that can help you and students.

Dropbox, which went public last Thursday, bills itself at “the easiest way to share and store your files online.” So far, they live up to that reputation for me.

What Does Dropbox Do?

  • Provides you a free 2GB Internet storage folder.
  • Works just like any file folder on your computer—you can drag, drop, copy, delete, and so on.
  • Keeps all your files up-to-date automatically on multiple computers.
  • Lets you access your files from any Internet or mobile browser (yes, from your cell phone).
  • Includes public and shared folders, so you can share files with everyone or just the people you identify.
  • Keeps other files hidden from the public.
  • Organizes photos in simple galleries for sharing.
  • Works on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

How Does Dropbox Work?
View the Dropbox Screencast for a fast video overview or walk through the webpages on Dropbox’s features for all the details.

It’s really simple:

  1. Download the Dropbox application.
  2. Create a login.
  3. Start adding files to your Dropbox folder.

Really. That’s it. If you want to access the files on another personal computer, you can download the application and simply sign in.

Or just use the Web interface. That’s right. No download is necessary once you’ve set the program up on your personal computer.

How is Dropbox Helpful to Educators?
Once you try Dropbox, you’ll have no trouble thinking of uses, but I’ll brainstorm 10 ideas to get you started:

  1. Store handouts and assignments in Dropbox at home, and you can get to the files when you’re on a computer at school. Change a file at school, upload it to Dropbox, and you’ll have the fresh file at home.

  2. How about uploading your convention presentation so you have a ready backup?

  3. Place copies of files in public or shared folders and give students the URL. No excuse for lost or missing assignments when everything is available online.

  4. Have students sign up for their own Dropbox, if your school's Acceptable Use Policy allows. They can easily move their files between home and school computers too.

  5. Need an online portfolio space? Have students create a shared portfolio folder for their work. Set it up so that only peer group members and you can access the files.

  6. Work on more than one platform? Have both a Mac and a Windows machine? No more nuisance moving files back and forth on CDs or USB jump drives. Just drag a file to the Dropbox on one machine, and you can get to it on the other machine. Platform doesn't matter.

  7. Upload a collection of photos students need for a project, and you have a ready gallery to share (without having to worry about the problem files on Flickr).

  8. Collaborate with a colleague on an article about a teaching strategy you both use. Store your files in a shared Dropbox folder and you can both access the files easily.

  9. Compare different versions of a document, as a writer yourself or with students’ drafts. Dropbox keeps an archive of changed files, so you can easily step back to an older version.

  10. Have a certain set of files or tools you like to use? Maybe specific extensions for Firefox? Save them on Dropbox and it’s easy to keep your different machines synched. You don’t have to be all scholarly about it. The Dropbox folks report that some people use their folder for mods and customizations for games like World of Warcraft.

Have another idea?
Please share. Dropbox has a lot of potential. The 2GB size is limiting, but if you are careful and only place current files on the system, it should be a nice way to keep things available, no matter what computer you’re sitting at.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Finding Safe Videos for the Classroom

Video and film play a vital role in the 21st century classroom, and online access makes them easy to find and use. This 11th grade modernization of Snow White on YouTube demonstrate readers theater and could be used before students composed their own modern readers theater versions of fairy and folk tales:

My very favorite Schoolhouse Rock short, Conjunction Junction, is available on YouTube anytime I want to do a mini-lesson on conjunctions work “hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” If I’me teaching Hamlet, a quick search on YouTube will turn up Sir Laurence Olivier’s performance of the “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy, ready to share with the class.

The problem with YouTube, as I’m sure almost everyone knows, is that there are also a lot of very inappropriate videos on the site. It’s a difficult site to turn students loose on because of the amount of guidance needed. In many districts the site is banned outright by network firewalls.

This is where sites like TeacherTube and Teachers.tv come in. Think YouTube for teachers, and you have the idea. Teachers upload student-created videos, their own instructional videos, tutorials, in-service and conference presentations, and demonstrations. TeacherTube has an American feel. Teachers.tv is the UK spin on the idea.

You’ll find resources like a book talk on the 2008 Newbery Award winner, a promotion for book clubs, and the Alphabet in American Sign Language on TeacherTube. And you’ll find a collection of videos for English and media instruction on Teacher.tv.

In addition to these two general sites, there are some specific online video collections that can be used in the classroom:

Here are some final tips to help ensure that everything goes smoothly:

  • Always, always, always preview the entire video before sharing it.
  • Be sure that you’ve obtained permission from families and your administration.
  • Watch for “related” or “popular” video links that may appear near the video you plan to use.
  • Embedding a video can avoid some problems, but remember that sites like Google and YouTube include links to “Related Videos” in the video screen as well.
  • Check the comments that accompany a video. The video may be suitable, but spammers and trolls may have filled the comments with inappropriate language or links.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Social Networking: The Ning’s the Thing

What’s a Ning? What’s a social network for that matter? And how can a teacher use them? All important questions. I’ll start with the most general and move to the most specific.

What’s a social network?
You have lots of social networks, even if you are rarely online.

  • You might have a group of friends from college you stay in touch with.
  • Maybe you participate in a local book club that gets together every month for discussions.
  • The colleagues you teach with may work with you in a teacher-study group.

All of those scenarios describe social networks. Online, social networks connect people who share common goals or interests. Facebook and MySpace are general social networks. Specific networks might connect family members, fans of a television show, or people who have the same hobby.

The Common Craft Show video on social networks, which I mentioned last month, is a must-see if you’re unfamiliar with social networks and how they work:

So how does all this connect to Ning?
Ning is an online social network platform that allows you to create your own customized social network.

You can decide on who is invited, what they can see, and what they can do. You can create a Ning site for anything. There are a number of features available, and a basic site is free.

NCTE has created a Ning site for the 2008 Annual Convention. You’ll see the NCTE logo, links to the convention website, and information from NCTE members. There are videos, photos, and podcasts.

If you join the 2008 Annual Convention Ning, you can post information about your presentation, chat about sessions you want to attend, and connect with friends before you arrive in San Antonio, during the convention, and after convention is over.

So Ning is just another social network, like Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. What makes it different is the ability to customize the features to meet the needs of a specific group of people.

How can a teacher use a Ning social network?
Use a Ning to connect students in a private social network! What could you do for language arts, writing, and literature classes?

  • Set up discussion forums based on literature circles, peer writing groups, different class periods, and so forth.
  • Create groups based on student interests—book clubs, favorite genres, other content areas.
  • Upload alternative book reports created as podcasts, videos, or photos.
  • Ask students to write their reading logs or journals online, using their own personal blogs.
  • Post information for students and their families in a shared space.

And unlike Facebook, a Ning network can be set up so that it is private and open only to invited members. Using the network tools, you can invite only the students in your classes. You can monitor the members in the administrative tools on your Ning network. The network can also be set so that you can approve people before they join.

That’s not all. You can control many of the features, so that the social network meets the needs of your students. You can do all of the following:

  • Create all groups yourself, or leave it open to members
  • Approve groups, so that nothing off-topic shows up
  • Approve all photos and videos before they are posted
  • Delete any groups or discussions that are inappropriate
  • Ban members from the network if necessary
  • And reverse any of these decisions with a click of a checkbox!

In some scenarios, you can leave the site more open. It’s nice to know, however, that you can lock things down if you need to. Try to do that on MySpace!

Join in and Explore the Options
If you want to see more, please join us on the 2008 NCTE Annual Convention Ning. Whether you plan to go to San Antonio or not, you can sign up and join in the discussions! If you have any questions, my member name on the Ning is tengrrl. So logon and friend me!