Sunday, May 31, 2009

Practically Impossible

Thinking a lot lately about the parallels among and intersections between the arts and education.

As an artist who teaches, this is one of those things that comes up often in conversations with colleagues in both fields. Some of those conversations are pretty funny... like the one where a new high school art teacher was asking me if I thought she should remove her nude self-portraits from her website.

But some of those intersections can be quite gentle and inspiring as well: like the time a very great, but very troubled artist friend of mine living in a far off place made a short video for one of my students -- considering a career in the arts -- telling her quite honestly and powerfully about what it takes to make it in art school and in the art world on your own terms.

It is humbling to be one of the lucky few whose life and work bridges art and education. And so, as I'm just finishing up a new website where for the first time I am trying to bring into full view both aspects of my life, I of course thought to myself that one of the things that would make the site most meaningful to me would be a forum where artists and teachers could share ideas, observations, and stories both humorous and telling of the difficulties of each vocation -- and the links between them.

The new site is called Practically Impossible (it's still in beta form... not that it won't always look like it's in beta form given my challenges with graphic design) and it'll serve sort of as the nerve-center for all of my work in the arts, organization, and education.

TeachPaperless will continue being a daily blog -- you don't have to worry (or do have to worry) about that. But the Practically Impossible forum I see as both a meeting place and a place to post responses to life's most vexing questions as well as a place to take many of the great questions and conversations that pop up here via reader comments as well as in the Friday Chats and continue them in a forum accessible to everybody.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Next Friday Chat on June 5th: Digital Plagiarism

June 5th at 1PM EST: The Friday Chat will be on the topic of Digital Plagiarism

A topic dear to the heart of any classroom teacher: plagiarism -- and methods of both discovery and prevention -- has become a fresh challenge in the Digital Age. Join us for informal discussion on June 5th.

June 5th at 1PM EST

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wordle of the Friday Chat: Assessment in the Digital Age

Today's discussion at the Friday Chat was invigorating as usual. Thanks to the folks who stopped by. Here's a Wordle of the chat.

It's always interesting to run discussions through Wordle. Makes me think of Merleau-Ponty's observation that we speak and what we say tells us what we think.

Image from

Reminder: Today's Friday Chat about Assessment and Grading in the Digital Age

If it's Friday, it must be the day for the Friday Chat!

Today's Topic: Assessment and Grading in the Digital Age

We'll talk blogging as formative assessment, alternatives to traditional tests and essays, online gradebooks, use of social media in assessment and more.

Friday May 29th, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Great Teachers of the 21st Century

The blocking woes continue:
"How can I be a great teacher in the 21st century when the majority of the great tools are blocked?"

asks Reader Knaus.

And his great crime?
I'm actually pretty proud of myself. I single handedly got Vimeo blocked in my district. I uploaded 4 short video files to Vimeo during my lunch hour for a grad class I teach. The next day, the site was blocked.

What were the videos? Porn? No.

E-portfolio 'help videos' created using Screen Flow. Block someone who is creating helps for students and future teachers. Nice!

Knaus, you do realize that we are but the foundation blocks of 21st century education? Heck, we aren't even the foundation blocks. We're like the mix they use to make the foundation blocks.

Folks were still riding horses in 1909. Baltimore to D.C. by train was a five hour trip (I exaggerate... but, really now!).

We are in the early stages.

And so, there are going to be innumerable difficulties. After all, it's not just tools and sites we're trying to get unblocked. It's attitudes and preconceptions that we're trying to unblock.

Fight on. Because in doing so, you not only help form that foundation, you also inspire your students.

And they are the ones who will be the great teachers of the 21st century.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Makes a Great Teacher a Great Teacher in the 21st Century

Classrooms are not idle places. Sure, they may look bare in the bleary 7AM morn and eerily desolate come 7PM. But they are places full of spirits -- spirits of students and teachers past, present, and future.

Education doesn't happen because those rooms are filled, education happens because those spirits are fulfilled.

And those spirits are ever in flux between states of known and unknown. Even the occasionally insolent ones can turn on a dime and suddenly become stars given the right tools and proper motivation -- the knowledge not of encyclopedic histories and perfected answers, but of the courage and understanding of how to light one's own supernova.

And that brings my mind to experimentation and educational technology and what makes a great teacher a great teacher.

When it comes to educational technology, the great teacher isn't the one who merely uses technology in education. The great teacher is the one who experiments and who teaches the spirits within students to experiment. The great teacher doesn't follow the rules. The great teacher doesn't go along with the program. Like a gleeful hacker, the great teacher turns Twitter into a reference library, chat rooms into exit tickets, Skype-casts into global awareness sessions, Wikimedia into a living breathing history of human events, and Pandora into the clothes of sound that wrap around culture and keep us warm on darkest nights.

Great teachers don't follow corporations and their politik of textbooks and proprietary courseware to a best-of-all-worlds dead-end. Great teachers have read their Voltaire. They know a con when they see one.

Great teachers recognize that the real thrust of Web 2.0 is not in getting students to understand the material but in getting students to engage the hidden material within themselves and to thus have body and soul to tear into the heart of human content with such intellectual ferocity that the wolves and beasts both of moonlit night and boardroom conversation quake in the wake of a mighty woken mind.

And in this Digital Age -- an age that will see not the eternal content and themes of humanity disappear, but the methodologies and shrill mechanics of the bygone 20th century and its still-birthed assessment of the almighty bubble shrivel up and fade away -- great teachers will turn again like Socrates to the colluded crowd and in this, our "doomed fad", smile the smile of the blessed.

Facilitating Interactive, Multisensory Grammar Review via the Back-channels of Today's Meet

Have been using the back-channels of Today's Meet as a forum for our Friday Chats here on TeachPaperless and I like it quite a bit.

I got the idea that it might be something useful in the classroom, so today I tried it out for grammar review with my Latin I class.

They loved it.

Here's the deal. I set the students up in a circle with each of their laptops open to our Today's Meet chat. We projected the chat onto the wall simultaneously. Each student then had a series of verbs to parse.

1) One student would post one of his or her parsed verb to the chat.
2) We discussed the parsing together as a class and decided if changes were needed.
3) We posted the fixes as the subsequent post in the chat under my name.
4) And then we go on to the next student.

We kept it lively and quickly-paced, each post-and-check only lasting five to ten seconds. Because each student was able to prepare their post before their turn, even the quiet kids and the kids who generally need more time to work were able to participate fully.

I see Web 2.0 chats as having great potential for handling authentic differentiated instruction and I see best practices in a chat-enhanced classroom as having great potential for addressing issues of multi-sensory learning. The projected chat has all the benefits of being both visual and textural, and because we are talking about the material the entire time, the students are also using auditory and analytical skills. Not to mention the interpersonal skills necessary to take part in such a program.

Perhaps best of all, at the end of our session, students can copy-and-paste a complete transcript of both the correct answers and the common mistakes into their digital portfolio for later review.

So, you are asking yourself, what makes Today's Meet any different than IM or Skype?

Personally, I find it to be of great use in the classroom because it is both interactive and simple. Both IM and Skype are great, but the kids often get sucked in by the bells-and-whistles of creating avatars, personalizing greetings, etc. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But specifically for in-class grammar review, the beauty of Today's Meet is in its simplicity, straightforwardness, and utilitarian display. Without overwhelming the students -- in what can sometimes be the rather daunting and overwhelming task of grammar -- it makes the chat easily and accessibly pertinent to the rigors of intricate review sessions.

And when's the last time your students begged for more grammar review?

Furthermore, unlike traditional IM sessions where students are able to DM each other, in a Today's Meet chat everything is public to the entire room. Furthermore, the students aren't able to connect to friends in other classes as they would if we used a basic IM. Cuts down on silliness and the students figure that out pretty quickly and therefore realize they have to keep on task.

Merging best practices with meaningful digital interactivity in the (often otherwise dull) process of grammar review may now prove to be a much easier task. And with no subscription or user ID necessary with Today's Meet, as well as the ability to instantaneously create new rooms easily closed to the world outside of your classroom, this is a back-channel that the savvy teacher can really put through the paces.

Don't Block: Educate

A reader writes:
Went through a painful time getting the school's ISP to unblock Wetpaint. They were blocking it because there were some pages with inappropriate content. Hello! The internet is full of inappropriate content, as is T.V., the movies, books, and the sleazy person down the street. Parents' and teachers' jobs are to educate the students about how to deal with it...

Here's a plan: have a parent night at school.

Put all of the parents in a room and ask them: Would you rather your child occasionally run into questionable content on the Web, or would you rather your child have little to no chance of managing their life and future career in the real world of the 21st century?

Follow up with this one: Would you rather your child encounter questionable content alone in their room or in a classroom mentored by a trained professional?

We are educators. Nobody said education was going to be comfortable.

Don't block: Educate.

Don't be afraid to talk openly to your parents about social media

I know, one of these Tweets ain't like the others... but check out this very interesting line of discussion we were having last night re: blocking.

I'll re-order it into transcript form here:
MissMarista: @TeachPaperless how do u make sure kids don't access inappropriate content on twitter?

TeachPaperless: @MissMarista I'm sure they do occasionally. But we talk about it openly. And in class I follow their feeds and do random spot checks.

MissMarista: @TeachPaperless parents don't complain?

TeachPaperless: @MissMarista No. In fact I've had a couple of parents thank me for being the first teacher to talk w the kid honestly about the Internet.

MissMarista: @TeachPaperless gosh that's open minded. a parent at my school complained to admin after colleague showed movie containing word "damn."

TeachPaperless: @MissMarista I don't mind if they complain: it means I've got their attention. Parent complaints are opportunities for community education.

bethstill: @TeachPaperless I have had the same response from parents. They appreciate honesty!

Moral of the story: Don't be afraid to talk openly to your parents about social media.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Art Teachers take note: New Yorker adds Brushes App Illustrations

The New Yorker is leaping into the future with considerable cosmopolitan aplomb.
Jorge Colombo drew this week’s cover using Brushes, an application for the iPhone, while standing for an hour outside Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Times Square.

Time to break out those iPhones in art class? For the doubters among you, consider that this isn't just some novelty act:
Colombo’s phone drawing is very much in the tradition of a certain kind of New Yorker cover, and he doesn’t see the fact that it’s a virtual finger painting as such a big deal. “Imagine twenty years ago, writing about these people who are sending these letters on their computer.” But watching the video playback has made him aware that how he draws a picture can tell a story, and he’s hoping to build suspense as he builds up layers of color and shape. And so are we: look for a new drawing by Colombo each week on

Fine Arts departments have all of the advantages of technology at their disposal. Are they willing to make the leap?

Certainly there is great value in learning to draw by hand. My wife is an architect and a regular complaint I hear from her is that folks coming out of architecture school by-and-large can't draw and therefore they often have trouble communicating 3 dimensions by hand or in the ordinary situations an architect will often find herself in.

But, this new app isn't AutoCad. It doesn't render 'for' the artist. Rather, this looks like the best natural extension of a sketchbook into the digital realm that I've seen. You still have to draw. The difference is that now you are drawing onto a medium that can be shot around the world, remixed, and shared in real-time.

My traditionalist friends and colleagues in arts education, please check out the video that accompanies the piece before you dismiss this one out of hand. And imagine the advantages of being able -- without destroying the original work -- to break down and analyze a student's drawing stroke by stroke and make alterations -- after they've completed it.

Friday Chat: Assessment and Grading in the Digital Age

As has become our custom here at TP, Friday is the day for the Friday Chat!

This week: Assessment and Grading in the Digital Age
We'll talk formative and summative assessment, alternatives to traditional tests and essays, online gradebooks, use of social media in assessment and more.

Friday May 29th, 2009

Digital Health

A reader writes:
students should learn about social technologies. If not, their safety and reputation are at risk when they try to work these things out for themselves later. It's as important as teaching proper grammar and ensuring they know not to get into cars with strangers.

I'd say it's as important -- if not directly analogous to -- health class.

And something tells me that the next fight in the schools will be over precisely this issue. And it will be led by the same folks who don't want our kids learning about certain things in health class.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Making the Case

A reader makes my day:
Thank you for providing the details of how you make Twitter work for your students. My district still blocks it, and I'm campaigning to have it unblocked. This post provides one of the strongest cases yet for using social media in the classroom.

One post at a time, one teacher at a time, we will bring the classroom experience of our children into the 21st century.

Thanks to all of you readers and teachers who have posted comments and sent Tweets and emails over the last four months since this blog began. You are a great inspiration and I am often humbled by your wisdom and educational expertise. I am always humbled by your fearlessness.

The time for a Digital Revolution in the classroom is now. The future of our kids and the future of our profession is depending upon it. Let's make the case and get this thing rolling!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

TED for ED

Dangerously Irrelevant has put together a fun and thought-provoking list of TED lectures every ed admin needs to see. Check it out.

Blocked Sites = Blocked Minds

We need to talk openly with the communities we serve about the role of social media and Web 2.0 in the classroom. We need our admins and tech departments to understand how and why we use participatory media. Otherwise, you wind up with situations like this.

And this isn't to speak poorly of Bill Ferriter. He's working his tail off.

Rather, it's to suggest that the fear that compels admins and districts to block sites is in direct proportion to the lack of an authentic and large-scale outlet for communication between tech savvy teachers and the communities and families they serve.

We need to talk.

Because blocked sites equal blocked minds.

Let's get beyond this. There's real work to be done. Good luck, Bill.

In a dream I was floating through space...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Flock You?

ReadWriteWeb wonders why you don't like Flock, a Mozilla-powered social web browser.
...this browser should be the epitome of everything we love about the social web and yet the company has seen only moderate success. Flock has been downloaded 7.5 [million] times but has just 1.1 million active users. (Compare that to Firefox's 175 million). Is Flock doing something wrong here? Or is the product just too niche to ever see mainstream success?

Go check out Flock; take a look then come back here. Really, go ahead; I'll wait.

Ok, now. You tell me: why aren't social web users using Flock?

Hmm. Could it be that most of us social web users aren't actually the 20-something hipsters pictured cruising on Flock's front page?

That imagery conveys to me the sense that Flock's users are young, hip, and of impeccable taste in eyewear. If I were trying to get a better understanding of what the term 'social media' meant and I took a look at the 'sell' page of this social media browser, I'd think it was about all of the things that the philistines swear it's about.

So, what is the social media thing and who are the hipsters using it? Well, according to reports, Facebook alone saw a 276% increase in users between the ages of 35 and 54. And the numbers for folks older than 54 doubled. In fact, as of the beginning of 2009, about one million Facebook users were over 54 years old.

I'm a blogger. And a teacher. And a teacher who blogs to teach. I use social media daily for work. As regular readers of this blog know, I run all of my classes -- everything from student classwork to tests and exams -- though blogs, wikis, and social media. So I don't see the Web as a social getaway; I see it as a way to get... in my case to get results in the classroom. For you, it's what ever you make it. In fact, that's sort of the point: social media is whatever you want it to be.

If you use social media to get dates, find cool eyewear, and book cruises, all the more power to you. But I just don't need the pictures of pretty people selling me social media as though that's the point of it.

And I'm sure that it only encourages a one-sided view of the purposes for social media in the mind of many of the folks who are living in a state of constant fear over the flummoxingly rapid growth of participatory culture online.

In terms of Flock, it's the 'over-sell' that just ruins it for me. Seems tone deaf. Sort of like all those former execs in the music industry who just didn't get it.

Maybe I'll be proven wrong. Heck, I'm enough of a hypocrite that I'm happy to take Flock out on a test drive across the Web. But I've already bought into social media. Think of all those folks who've yet to even step onto the lot.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nothing to Fear: Communicate Your Way through the Blocks

Reader Knaus Tweets:
IT services wants me to talk with them about unblocking Twitter & uses: school page, prodev, parent contact, homework posting. Other ideas?

This is the key to unblocking social media: talking.

I've noticed lots of teachers complaining about admin and school and district rules blocking student access to social media. Questions came up earlier today in the Friday Chat.

The only thing I can say is that creating free access to social media in school is absolutely vital to running an authentic classroom and broader educational environment in the 21st century. I've given countless reasons why in previous posts. Now what I'd like to do for a second is just to describe what's happened with the process here where I am.

First of all, it's not as though teachers and admins here have always been accepting of social media. As I recall, our first introduction as a school to the matter came years ago under the banner of the 'dangers of MySpace' and 'threats on the Internet'. We were moving to a 1:1 computing environment, and, as a high school, fear of anything described as 'social' was part of the territory.

Well, that was indicative of the time. Very few of us in education knew much of anything about MySpace five or six years ago. And to believe the media, it was primarily a site where perverts stalked teenage girls.

That was then.

Social media today is working within a changed paradigm. Everybody and their grandpappy has a Facebook page. Photos of families and school events are shared on Picasa and Flickr. We now get our music via Pandora and and Blip. And YouTube? Hulu? Not to mention the amount of news and opinion we devour from blogs.

And there ain't an industry on earth that isn't experimenting with Twitter.

That's the reality of today. Yet so many folks in charge of running schools still, for myriad reasons, harbor the idea that social media is still that scary thing that the speaker from the police department warned us about five years ago.

I've been happy to see that things can change. Our admins, who have been the ones who had pushed us towards tech from the start yet who were wary of social networking, opened up to the idea of blogging and Web 2.0. They saw how well students responded to interactive tech no matter what academic discipline.

Furthermore, our IT guys and gals are in favor of experimentation; I just talked to our lead tech guy yesterday and he told me about being at a meeting of educational IT coordinators and the amazement with which many of them puzzled over how Skype could possibly be used in a classroom. This after he had received word from PARENTS thanking him for be ahead of the curve.

Things are changing.

We don't hear about fear of the Internet so much anymore; now, we're more used to Oprah embracing it. And, street cred be damned, that's a good thing. Because Oprah and other media bigshots have the power to change culture. And that's the key: if you want to get your admins and faculty on board with social and participatory media, you have to help them understand and become part of the culture of social and participatory media.

You need to arrange meetings with your admins and tech departments and present the facts to them. Demonstrate to them why it matters that the kids in their school be allowed to connect to the world. Get them Twitter accounts.

You need to talk to parents. They are such an untapped force for potential change in schools. Demonstrate to them the value of Web 2.0. Heck, many of them will probably be able to show you even more than what you now know!

Most importantly, talk to your fellow teachers and talk with the students. They are the ones who make up the living thrust of what education is all about. Teach them what this is all about. Explain why it is so important. And give them a fair opportunity to explore and experiment on their own. Give them the tools and then give them the autonomy to use them.

That, in my experience here at school, has been the source of all of our innovations. When teachers and students are given the opportunity to experiment, they produce brilliant results. And culture begins to change.

And it's the reason I am so happy to drive into the faculty parking lot each morning.

Friday Chat: Partial Transcript of 'Listening to Students about Tech'

Interesting Friday Chat today. This is a new tradition here at TP. Each Friday at 1PM EST, I open up a chat at Today's Meet. You are welcome to join in.

This week, the topic was 'Talking to Students About Technology'. We covered everything from the ways in which students perceive the uses of technology to the ways in which blocking student use of technology can actually be harmful.

Here are some highlights. I haven't corrected any spelling, but I have moved a couple of things around to make sense in this post-chat format. The original chat will be archived at Today's Meet for 12 hours if you want to scour the whole thing.

The chat started with a discussion of using Twitter in the Classroom. In my own experience running Twitter-enhanced high school classes for the last month or so, I've seen the students respond in tremendous ways.
I ran a twitter-based review session today for our final exam and the students responded very well. I'll definitely do that more next year. Nate at 1:10 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I've been using Twitter daily in class for about a month. Been using for general back-channel as well as primary assessment. Shelly at 1:10 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Like to hear a little more about the twitter-based review Joanne at 1:11 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I'd say 95% of my students are 100% crazy about using Twitter in class. Skype also for review and collab work. Shelly at 1:11 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Twitter-based review: two styles... 1) students in Latin class parsing verbs can use TW as a 'lifeline' to their peers. 2) Collab assesmnt. Shelly at 1:14 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

In collab, we use Twitter and Twitter Search to facilitate making wikis and online bibliographies. Shelly at 1:15 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I primarily used Twitter today for the students to get feedback on potential essay questions. They posed their question and peers responded Nate at 1:16 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

We used hashtags today to run a feed of each class's discussion. If you're interested they're #WHDP and #WHEP Nate at 1:18 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Nate, good thinking. I've had them do a similar, but they were required to cite sources in the feed. Then we collected the hashtaged sources Shelly at 1:17 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Most of the critiques were very constructive and on point. Hopefully the students saw how they needed to improve/refine their questions. Nate at 1:16 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

One of my colleagues followed along and even interjected a few comments about the students' progress. Nate at 1:18 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Discussion then turned to the day's topic:
Now, to the purpose of today's chat. What are some things that you've learned from your students about tech? Shelly at 1:19 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

That they're quite receptive to it, are fast learners, and certainly prefer communicating via it than other means. Nate at 1:20 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I had a student yesterday during student interviews who told a funny story about a party where all 30 kids there at one point were texting.. Shelly at 1:20 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

.. kids who weren't. Shelly at 1:20 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Gives a bit of insight into the idea of 'presence' our kids understand. Shelly at 1:20 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Tech in general. They liked Twitter today (and realized its utility), but they also like Edmodo and Wikis. Nate at 1:23 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I think the kids break down tech into three areas: instant communication / grouping; search; and visual/audio. Basically all forms... Shelly at 1:23 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

... fit into those three. Shelly at 1:24 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I think we'd be wise to understand the implications in terms of what they then think is important and worth 'keeping' from classtime. Shelly at 1:24 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I don't remember if you said what Edmodo is. Ann at 1:24 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

It's a self-contained micro-blogging, social network designed specifically for education (e.g. privacy of students) Nate at 1:24 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Thanks. Ann at 1:25 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

In terms of IM: kids now are perhaps more accepting of collaboration. It's not an 'auxilary' form of learning. It's a way of life. Shelly at 1:25 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

IM itself has become, esp SKYPE, collab conferencing. Shelly at 1:26 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

In terms of search, with Wolfram and Twitter Search -- that is computational organizing and real-time info, we're into new territory. Shelly at 1:26 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I also think its important for students to understand the nuance between acceptable collaboration and plagiarism/copying. Nate at 1:26 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I've actually had less plagiarism the more I have students online. Shelly at 1:27 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

When I started teaching it was a real problem. But now, in the right classroom approach to tech, students are more apt to take ownership. Shelly at 1:28 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Plagiarism becomes lame. Shelly at 1:28 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

And that fits into their views on multimedia Web 2.0. Shelly at 1:28 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Like Pixton, xTranormal... Shelly at 1:28 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

That's a really interesting finding. I think many educators fear that the exact opposite will happen (largely due to underlying technophobia Nate at 1:28 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Web 2.0 is all about 'ownership' and 'customization'. These are kids growing up on MySpace and WoW. They understand the value of identity. Shelly at 1:29 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

They might look like we did back in school, but they are experiencing culture in a fundamentally different way. Shelly at 1:30 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Conversation turned to the results of students' use of technology.
I had a student tell me a while back that studying for 'vocab quizzes' was impossible until he was introduced to Shelly at 1:31 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Now he studies by making short comic-book stories using the vocab words. Shelly at 1:32 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

An he trades them with friends and they remix them. Shelly at 1:32 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

In real-time. Shelly at 1:32 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

That's pretty cool. Ann at 1:32 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I have another student who didn't start to bloom until we got his class on Skype. Now he's studying with friends and isn't scared of quizzes Shelly at 1:33 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

As ed tech discussions often go when talking about students and social media, ours turned to blocking and filtering. I think it's really important to understand filtering from the student's point of view and think about what kind of message filtering sends. After all, it's sort of cruel to sit a kid in front of the most powerful tool humanity has ever produced and tell the student how great it is and then not let the student use it.
I got stuck in a techless space this yr. and that's what's making me realize how much I wanted more tech integration into my class... butwait at 1:38 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Starting working with, but was blocked after first week. John at 1:38 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Hmm. We've talked about this before, but what were the reasons you were given for blocks? Shelly at 1:39 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I had a situation when we started using Twitter in class where a student said her mother would be angry if she knew we were using TW... Shelly at 1:39 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Only then to find out mom used Twitter and was hugely supportive. Shelly at 1:40 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

But I think Twitter and social media in general is actually going to quickly become as common (and at times as much a bother) as the phone. Shelly at 1:41 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Comes down to the 'use' of the technology and not the technology itself. Shelly at 1:42 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I had one student, as I've been doing student interviews, who said she was 'shocked' when she found out Twitter was not an 'education' site Shelly at 1:43 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Because the only place she'd used it up to that point was in my classroom for Latin. Shelly at 1:43 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Shelly - Is your school progressive in terms of using technology? John at 1:46 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

John, that's a loaded question isn't it! Ha! Shelly at 1:47 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Let me put it this way: our admin fully supports our use of Twitter and Web 2.0 in a 1:1 setting. Shelly at 1:48 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

That said, let's just say that keeping on top of getting sites 'unblocked' can be work intensive. Shelly at 1:49 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Our tech folks have been very very helpful in unblocking sites. I'm lucky to have them on my side. My biggest problem is just how many... Shelly at 1:54 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

...sites the filtering software automatically blocks. Shelly at 1:54 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

But, it's been a process over the last four or so years. And I really can't complain. Shelly at 1:54 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

I know. For a long time anything categorized as a blog was out of reach. John at 1:55 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Funny... blogging is my primary form of assessment. Without blogs, I wouldn't be able to function. Shelly at 1:56 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Even had one student who swore her college admission was in direct relation to her blogging. Shelly at 1:57 PM, 22 May 2009 via web

Thanks to the participants in the chat and I hope to see more of you each Friday at 1PM EST.

Where are You?

Here's two screenshots of my school's location via Google Maps. Interested in knowing where all of you teach...

Comment away!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chatting About Students Chatting About Technology

Just a reminder that The Friday Chat (a new tradition here on TeachPaperless) goes live tomorrow Friday, May 22nd, at 1PM EST on

Our topic for discussion is: Listening to Students About Technology

Chat with you then...

My Situation

A reader writes:
I've followed your blog for some time now and really enjoy it. I've finally gotten the nerve to ask what, to most, are very obvious questions. Do your students have their own laptops?? Does your school supply them?? How does it work?? Surely they don't all pull out cell phones and starting Twittering Latin for 50 minutes do they?? Just wondering.

Glad to have you take part in the discussion!

I've written about this before, but realize that blogs are more broadcasts than anything else, so here's some info about my classroom situation for new readers.

I teach four sections of Latin (Level I through AP Vergil), one AP Art History class, and a couple sections of Digital Audio Production at the John Carroll School -- an independent Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore serving both rural and suburban Harford County MD. I also help out with tech for our Senior Project program and have become the go-to Web 2.0 guy for the Fine Arts Department.

We've been a 1:1 computing school for about four years and I've been running paperless for about two. Students and their families lease Tablet PCs through us and we've got our own in-house tech and computer repair department. Most of our classrooms have mounted LCD projectors and screens and we've got wireless running throughout the building. I'm also lucky to have a very unique workspace to call home: namely, a large studio space with TV broadcasting capability, a small Mac lab, and an audio-video digital editing room.

I like to think of my situation as being a mad tech-scientist in his laboratory, though I see it only as a matter of time given the accessibility and falling prices of netbooks and Wi-Fi before what's sort of 'experimental' in my classroom will be the norm in most all classrooms. In fact, that's something I've dedicated myself to. Because I myself am a public school parent: my own three children are all students in our town's public elementary school. So in wanting the best 21st century education for them, I have an added incentive as it were to see that all public education matches the tech capabilities, resources, and -- most of all -- the understanding of the structure of the new digital paradigm that I've got to work with in my own classroom.

Once again, thanks for posting your comment. We've got an engaging readership here who regularly takes the conversation in new directions. Comments and questions are welcomed. I try my best to respond and keep those conversations going.

[AD -- May 21, 2009 8PM -- Within minutes of publishing this post, a colleague replied: "So you don't think public school teachers can be innovative?" A well placed 'gotcha', huh? In fact, I think it's a bigger and more tremendous question even than that. The real question is: "Do you think teachers -- public or private -- have the autonomy necessary to innovate?"

Because of my situation, having feet in both the private and public realms, I get to see the realities that destroy the myth that one form of schooling is necessarily 'better' than the other. The thing that really matters is the question of autonomy. There are private schools that shun autonomy just as there are public districts that shun autonomy. And that's a shame. Because the reason I describe my classroom as a 'laboratory' is precisely because the powers-that-be have given me the autonomy to do as I see fit -- whether we're talking about designing my own curriculum or opening up social media in the classroom. Autonomy allows for experimentation. Experimentation allows for creative reflection. That's the stuff of real teaching and learning.

What I want for my own kids is an educational experience that doesn't crush their sense of autonomy, experimentation, and creative reflection. And that begins with teachers whose own sense of autonomy, experimentation, and creative reflection isn't crushed. This is what I want for my own students. It's what I want for my kids' classmates. And it doesn't cease to be a priority beyond the walls I'm most familiar with. Because, despite all the business of testing and top-down authority and fear of the unknown in schools both public and private, it's my conviction that the only thing that's really going to save our collective future is a world comprised of adults who didn't have their autonomy, sense of experimentation, and creative reflection crushed by the best intentions of educational institutions.]

A Student's Voice

This was a random comment I found while reading through my students' blogs this morning:
The Caesar test we just took made me very worried at first. But, as a class, we all learned a lot. Using Twitter really helped with this test, and it turned out to not be as bad as I thought it would be. Everyone did a great job - keep up the good work : )

We adults often think about digital technology in terms of fear. But for the kids, as demonstrated here, it's often technology that removes fear from the equation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Collection of Posts about Twitter in the Classroom

A reader writes:
I just started reading your blog. I am a Spanish teacher. I am interested in how you use Twitter for lifelines during tests. Sorry, I'm sure you posted the details already. Do students just get to use it once? Do they get to ask for help once and receive it once? How else do you use twitter besides for tests?

A bunch of folks have asked me recently to highlight somewhere on the site a series of Twitter-related posts.

Well, I've done it. Now available on the sidebar of, right below the 'Most Requested Posts' is a series of posts related to using Twitter in the classroom.

Security and Monitoring of Online Tests

A reader asks about security issues related to giving Twitter-enhanced (or for that matter online) tests:
Do you monitor the student's laptop screens with an application like Altiris Vision to prevent students from using tools that are not allowed on the test? What prevented a student from finding a complete English translation of In Taberna on the web and then uploading bits of "translated" text to the twitter feed and ultimately the blog without ever doing any real translating at all?

Great question.

Low-tech answer: I have students clear the browser cache before starting an exam. Then they open only the 'allowed' sites as tabs in a single browser. I can either do random spot checks where I look at the browser history / recently closed tabs or when the students submit their tests, I could have them submit a screen shot of their browser histories showing the time the test was turned in.

Either method just takes a moment of time.

In terms of pre-loading things to Twitter: I'm following the feed myself and have access to all of their sends. I also do random DM checks to make sure they haven't used that feature to crib notes.

All that said, I really haven't had a problem.

Early in the year I caught a bunch of kids doing something inappropriate online regarding something they had actually put on their blogs. And so, before class one day, I projected the offensive item up on the wall and left the room. By the time I got back a few minutes later, all of the students had come in and were sitting at their desks silently. I pulled the projection and started class.

Never said a word about it again, and haven't had to deal with inappropriate messages on blogs again.

I'm generally against the use of spying software. I tried out SynchronEyes, but quickly found a simple hack around it. Seems like you could throw all the money you wanted to into any of that sort of software and someone will find a hole. Even more importantly, however, I think that sort of software sends the wrong message. I don't want my students to think of me as Big Brother. My classroom is built on trust. Where's the trust in that?

There are plenty of human options for cutting down on cheating. It's really all a matter of how you run your class.

The kids think they know whether they can pull one over on you or not. So in my class, I demonstrate to them all of the ways to pull one over on me. And then I demonstrate to them exactly how I catch those things.

I guess it's a matter of transparency.

Don't Be Scared of the Stream

NPR has published yet another ridiculous essay about how we should fear the Internet.

In this one, Eyder Peralta compares the rise of the 'stream' paradigm online to the plight of Edmund Andrews, the guy whose story about losing his house to love (and lack of financial tact) was published in the New York Times Magazine.

As Peralta writes:
In the near past, in my parents' time, Americans toiled in the now to save enough to buy a house in the future. In the New York Times Magazine this weekend, Edmund Andrews, wrote that his personal financial disaster started when he wanted a house now to make his marriage better, to make his family better -- now.

But, Edmund Andrews is a TERRIBLE example. Most Americans did NOT do what he did. Most Americans have been relatively responsible through this financial and housing crisis. The case of Edmund Andrews hardly amounts to a symbol of how the 'stream' paradigm is ruining our ability to deal with life in responsible ways.

What's really going on is that the democratizing aspect of the Web -- the use of social and participatory media, for example -- is finally being uncovered/discovered by the masses (and by the mass media). Some of us (ok, a few tens of millions) have been using this stuff for years and haven't fallen into a state of disaster on account of it yet.

Stop with the scary-business already.

Friday Chat: Listening to Students about Technology

The Friday Chat (a new tradition here on TeachPaperless) goes live this Friday, May 22nd, at 1PM EST on Make it an end-of-the-week habit to stop by and join in the discussion. The discussions are archived on Today's Meet for 12 hours after the chat closes, and you are welcome to check out those archived editions and share.

This week's topic will be: Listening to Students about Technology.

Here's a link to a short video my students and I made related to their feelings and my observations about working in a paperless classroom. Might be a good starting point for discussion.

See you there!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Age is Arbitrary!

Important post by Dean Groom on the reality of laptops in the classroom. It's a well thought out list of the top 23 things a teacher needs to know. Here's a highlight that I think especially needs to be stressed:
I don’t know how, I don’t like to, No one has told me … expect that some teachers really do believe that schools never change and will refuse to change their teaching approaches. You won’t get 100% buy in – even if they nod politely in staff meetings – asking for help is challenging for some – and age is no indication of belief and attitude.

Yes! Yes! Yes! We've got to get over the idea that age is everything here.

Hands-down one of the most innovative teachers we've got here on the faculty is a guy who's already retired from a full career in public education.

And come to think of it, many younger teachers may well not want to take their students into the digital landscape for fear of what the students might wind up finding out about the teacher! After all, many of the folks going into teaching now at 22, 23, 24 years old are the same folks who just a few years ago were posting FB pics from college parties.

We've got to get over our assumptions of who 'is' and 'isn't' digitally proficient. There are all sorts of reasons folks either feel comfortable or uncomfortable with technology.

Age is Arbitrary! (if you want it).

High School Sophomores Weigh in on Using Twitter in the Classroom

Here are the views of a handful of my high school sophomores in Latin II talking about the use of Twitter in class. Leave it to kids to give you perspective.
Overall, I think Twitter is a great way to connect to each other in the classroom.... Twitter and other technology makes me feel more connected to the rest of classroom than I do in old-school classrooms. It makes the class more of a collaborative process than an individual one.

As a social networking site... not really my thing. But as an education tool, i think Twitter is a very helpful and useful site for the things we do in class, like lifelines on tests and class discussions. Overall I think that is a good tool for the classroom and we should keep using it.

I like using twitter on tests. It's helpful when you're stuck on a word or a phrase. I feel like I understand the translation better after someone helps me with it.

I personally like Twitter a lot. I think it's helpful on tests with communicating to each other about words we don't get. I like also using it outside school also for talking to friends and others, but in the classroom I find it extremely useful. I have heard of other teachers have started using this in class and I think it's great that they have used this innovative way of communicating in the classroom. I think next year we will also start to see more and more of teachers using this.

Twitter has some very good uses in the classroom. It allows us to constantly connect to each other like a giant classroom, but without the loud and constant noise [Ed -- The teacher next door might disagree re: the volume level of our noise!]. It also allows instant access to be able to help each other as well. The only problem is that it has a mind of its own. If it was a human being it would be bi-polar.

Twitter is sometimes really hard to follow. Everyone is constantly updating, and it gets a little chaotic. When you refresh the page, there are so many new posts and it gets really confusing.

I have to say that I like it. I was skeptical of it at first, but I think it could really help all of us in class. When it works, it is an easy way to connect with the other people in class. During our test last week, there were several times when I got stuck on part of my translation, and someone on twitter helped me out. I really like the idea of using Twitter as a lifeline, and I hope we will be able to use it on the final exam. I think it is cool that we are using Twitter, which is on the edge of the latest technology, for translating and understanding Latin, the language of the ancient world. This relationship shows that we can look to the future while still keeping in touch with the past, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do in today's modernized society.

Monday, May 18, 2009

No Going Back

Reader Magistra M points 21st education straight into the reality of the Recession:
I think it is important to point out that this 21st century skills thing isn't just about preparing our students for the "new" jobs that are being created. There are many jobs that no longer exist, or will soon cease to exist, because of the changes in technology, our economy, and a global society. As the adult unemployment lines get longer, it is hard to argue with the need to provide our current students with the most innovative and comprehensive education possible.

Anonymous Reader Claims the 21st Century is Not Happening!

An anonymous reader comments on a previous statement made here on TeachPaperless:
"C'mon: most of the jobs our elementary and middle school kids will be taking haven't even been invented yet."

I've seen this claim made over and over again by educrats, and I haven't seen the slightest shred of evidence for it.

Can you name a single job that exists today that didn't exist in 1999? I can't think of a single one.

Sorry anonymous reader, you must not get out much.

I'd start with anyone involved in the Wi-Fi industry. Then might add those crazy folks who make iPods. Add indie Web 2.0 developers and MMOG game masters into the mix. Sprinkle in an engineer or two working in Augmented Reality. And plop in a few professional bloggers.

Oh, and how about social media specialists (like the ones who ran with the Obama campaign)? And the entirety of the digital music distribution world (iTunes, etc...). And Green technologists and LEED leaders.

And don't even get me started on Homeland Security.

So, anonymous reader, thank you wholeheartedly for lumping my statement in with the claims of 'educrats', that means a lot coming from someone who apparently missed an entire decade.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

You Can Stop Partying: It Ain't 1999

I think some folks are still partying like it's 1999.

I remember that night distinctly. My wife and I were living in Boston. For the big night of celebration and potential chaos (for the kids in the readership, there was this little thing called Y2K...) we decided to go down to the Public Garden to the main party.

Only there wasn't much of a party there.

Turns out that no one bothered to tell the assembled crowd that the fireworks and music were happening across town. So there we all are -- several thousand folks in a field -- all staring up at the sky at midnight. And nothing happens.

I feel like that field must have been full of folks in education. Because when those fireworks failed to go off, they just figured to themselves: "Huh. Guess we'll just keep doing this 20th century thing."


Went back today and read a post Alec Couros wrote on the Open Thinking blog back in March 2008. In the post, Couros takes a look at a statement by Bob Cringely of PBS:
There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven’t yet notice. It is a war not about technology but because of technology, a war over how we as a culture embrace technology. It is a war that threatens venerable institutions and, to a certain extent, threatens what many people think of as their very way of life.... The younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.

Couros thinks about the way we're approaching technology and about the ways we're applying it to education and wonders aloud:
But what if you know it is just a band-aid? What if you know deep down that schools need to change drastically or cease to exist at all before there will ever be any significant change? What if you feel you are just prolonging the inevitable, and simply giving temporary life to a model that is clearly in its death throes?

The fact of the matter is: this is the 21st Century. And the 'traditional' way of teaching that is indeed in its "death throes" is really just emblematic of what's happening to all the 20th century ways of thinking from the Cold War mentality to hyper-capitalism.

But this is not something new.

Those 'traditional' ways -- meaning the pedagogy and not the content -- really only go back to the end of the 19th century. Those 'traditional' ways only came in to being by destroying the 'traditional' ways that came before them.

And that's happened time and time again throughout our history going at least all the way back to Aristotle deciding to set up his school differently that Plato's before him.

Content is a different issue. As a Latin teacher, I can attest to my conviction that we need to teach students history, and grammar, and rhetoric, and mathematics, and music, and the arts and all of the 'traditional' disciplines. Even more important to me are the 'themes' of civilization: the concepts of comedy and tragedy, hope and despair, freedom and sacrifice. Either way, the means by which we teach and the meaning of the value of what we teach are and must be made to answer to the needs of our current society and not some generalized and nostalgic concept of what society is.

The 20th century is over. It is finished.

Long live the 21st century. Someday it too will be over. And the educators of the 22nd century will throw out all of those outdated and nostalgic pedagogical traditions of the 21st while holding on to the great themes that go back to the dawn of time.

And so may it be forever.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Internet for Educators

We've got a lot of new readers here at TeachPaperless! Welcome!

Don't forget, we've also got some digital presence at Facebook as well as on Classroom 2.0, which in my opinion is the best community site for teachers on the Internet.

Tweet TeachPaperless and join the EdTech Twibe while you are at it.

See the Internet through the eyes of an educator!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Twitter in the Classroom: a Discussion

Nice chat today on the Today's Meet backchannel. Try it out if you haven't used it.

I'm going to run more sessions like this. It's easy and fun and I really appreciate the open conversation. I'm thinking it could be a standard feature here on the blog.

Here's a snippet of the conversation. I haven't edited it at all, so pardon the mis-spellings. [Ed. Add 6:12PM: Actually just redacted parts that related to stuff earlier in the chat... didn't make sense in this snippet. You can find the whole chat until about 1:30AM EST at Today's Meet. Have to find a better way in the future to archive transcripts of these chats. Ideas?] We were discussing how Twitter is different from other tools and what that means in terms of the classroom.

From the 'Twitter in the Classroom' chat:
Let me play devil's advocate for a minute, Shelly. Couldn't you do the same thing with a message board? john at 1:22 PM, 15 May 2009 via web


Message board is clunky. And nothing is as powerful as Twitter Search for organizing communally-driven information. Shelly_at_TP at 1:23 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

Think of it this way: Twitter is perfectly asymetrical. Shelly_at_TP at 1:23 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

Well said. john at 1:23 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

Twitter allows students to think quickly on their feet Jody at 1:24 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

we need a virtual workshop for admins to show how harmless Twitter is Jody at 1:24 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

I also like the 'looking over the shoulder' aspect to be able to follow the mistakes students are making live as they make them. Shelly_at_TP at 1:25 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

and how powerful it is.... Jody at 1:25 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

Allows for individualized immediate formative assessment - exactly the thing we know works to educate kids & exactly the thing hardest to do Shelly_at_TP at 1:25 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

@jody, until admins can have control/moderation of what goes out on Twitter, they are going to see it as a danger. john at 1:26 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

Twitter = Formative Shelly_at_TP at 1:26 PM, 15 May 2009 via web


I think the fear is actually tied into a way of thinking about assessment as well. Shelly_at_TP at 1:26 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

The fearful are afraid that formative assessment might actually be demonstrated to be more powerful than testing. Shelly_at_TP at 1:27 PM, 15 May 2009 via web

Yeah, I think this would make a nice standard feature. Thanks to the folks who stopped by today.

Augmented Reality apps: (Not so) Far Out...

Been talking about new ways of integrating tech with the 'real' world ever since seeing this video of Pattie Maes from MIT, demonstrating the work of Pranav Mistry.

Thinking alot about how we tend to view the Internet almost exclusively through various 'screens'. Why do we limit our digital networks to what we can fit on a screen? What if we could drag the digital and ephemeral world into the physical and concrete world?

Augmented Reality starts to go there. Here's a post from ReadWriteWeb that introduces Wikitude, an Android mobile app.

Still, even in AR, the problem is one of 'screens': in bringing the digital realm into the physical are we just using the physical realm as a 'screen'?

Is there a different way of thinking about this?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Example Paperless Assignments: Students Build a Resource Wiki

A few teachers have asked for more examples of paperless assignments. Here is a collaborative take-home test I just gave my Latin II class. They've got 33 hours to complete the task as a group and they will not have class from now until it's due.

Prep-wise, we spent yesterday's class discussing and evaluating online sources.

Content-wise, they have created an online resource bibliography on the Gallic Wars and now they are responsible for using that bibliography to create their own wiki entry on the History of the Gallic Wars. They will be allowed to use this wiki as an aid in answering the open-ended essay question which will comprise 1/5 of their final exam grade.

Tech-wise, they have used Twitter hash-tags to build a communal online bibliography searchable through Twitter Search. They [will] have built and edited a wiki and will have teleconferenced via Skype or some other IM/text-means.

What will they learn? Hopefully they've learned to distinguish good from poor sources, how to work collaboratively using Web 2.0 technology, and how to construct a quality and exhaustive encyclopedia entry. I think the key is that they will be using this wiki as support on the final exam; it's not really just an 'end-product' in and of itself, but rather it's the 'tool' or 'resource' that they'll be allowed to use to give background info and examples in building their thesis on the open-ended question.
You are creating a collaborative wiki on the topic: History of the Gallic Wars.

1. Use Twitter Search to find the hash-tagged links you made today for the class bibliography. Those links form your source material.

2. Choose a class leader. The class leader will be responsible for creating the wiki.

3. Using Skype, Twitter, or just the old-fashioned cellphone, you are responsible as a class for completing the wiki by midnight tomorrow. (We don't have class tomorrow, so you are responsible for figuring out a way to do this).

4. I will be reviewing the edit history of the wiki. If you don't work on the wiki, you will not get any credit for the project. So don't think that someone else is just going to manage to get it done and you'll receive the group grade. No dice. You are responsible for earning your grade.

5. I will be grading for content and style. Please cover the period from Caesar's arrival in Gaul to his crossing the Rubicon at the beginning of the Civil Wars. The wiki should be written in proper academic style; watch to see that the tone is consistent. Review the entry in Wikipedia as a model -- for both good and bad.

6. Do not cut and paste from elsewhere. And do not rely wholly on Wikipedia. Though it is a strong source of encyclopedic material, I actually have a few problems with the entries related to the Gallic Wars -- can you figure out what they are?

7. You will be allowed to access your wiki on the Final Exam. So, be sure it is accurate and of the highest quality. Anything less would amount to jeopardizing your grade on the essay portion of the final.

8. Good luck. I trust you will figure out how to do this. I am always a fan of creative solutions.

This will be a double weighted group test grade.

Best Practices in a Twitter-enhanced High School Classroom

Yesterday concluded our live blogging sessions of Twitter-enhanced classrooms. I hope the folks who caught parts of the feed started to get a feel for what at least the virtual part of this sort of classroom experience looks like. I hope soon to do a series of live broadcasts over Ustream; more on this later.

A few weeks ago I was speaking with a tech coordinator at a big public high school in Baltimore County. I was shocked (real shock / no irony) to learn that his students aren't even allowed to use EMAIL at school. He's forced to circumvent this by allowing SMS and texting via surreptitious cell phones.

This is madness.

And it's yet another reason I'm so proud of the administration of John Carroll -- the schoolhouse I call home -- for being not only reasonable but actually excited about bringing Web 2.0 and social and participatory media into the classroom.

Some teachers remind me that I am lucky -- and indeed that may be true in some ways -- but I really see myself as just an experimenter whose laboratory resources and methods will soon be commonplace, if not seemingly backwards in just a brief amount of time as the realities of the future of the Digital Age catch up with educators and classrooms everywhere. Surely, as I type this note, there are educators who are already using technology to connect their kids to real learning and the global community in ways that by the end of my last paragraph will make my observations seem hopelessly behind-the-curve.

At least I hope so.

But to the thing at hand: maybe three weeks ago or so our tech department lifted the schoolwide block on Twitter. Within minutes I had my students sign up and sign in. We've been running Twitter feeds live in class -- projected on our wall -- ever since.

But it's not just a matter of running the feed. I've also developed several uses for Twitter that either directly or indirectly affect assessment. In fact, more and more I see Twitter as an excellent resource for assessing several of the skills that are fundamental to learning and living such as: the ability to make mistakes and immediately get positive critical feedback; the ability to take part in a communal discussion without the fear/anxiety/boredom/etc of 'being proper' and having to 'stand in line' and 'wait one's turn' -- after all, this ain't 19th century academia we're talking about -- our kids now (and more than ever given the complexity of live interactive networks) are going to be expected to think immediately, on the fly, and with regard to several arguments at once: I'm talking active vs. passive reality here; students also need to develop the ability to question authority and back up one's arguments immediately and in the moment with all of the sources and resources that the Net provides.

It's not that this'll be the first generation to question authority, but they will be the first to do it whilst carrying the whole of the attained knowledge of human civilization on the iPhone on their hip.

And so, here is a short list of some of the best practices for the Twitter-enhanced classroom that I've encountered through daily use and practical application.


1. Vocabulary / Grammar Building -- Imagine you are in a foreign language classroom. Have the students find all of the target language verbs in a selected passage. They will then tweet the verb, its definition, and its morphology and/or grammatical function. You then have a choice: as the Tweets come in, either fix or give hints for students to correct their own work or have students stop after a few minutes and then go back through the feed and correct the work of their peers. For advanced students, you might want them to track the work of their peers live on the feed and make immediate corrections. The advantage: you get to see how and where students make mistakes as they make mistakes. And your students get to understand exactly where they are making mistakes and what kinds of mistakes they are making 'before' they 'turn in' a completed assignment. This way neither you nor the student have to wait until 'the end' to assess work. Twitter = Immediate Formative Assessment.

2. Source/Resource Collection and Evaluation -- Class discussion time: talk about what makes for a good source and what makes for a lousy source. Give examples from the Net. Now, give the students a topic. How about: the plight of the Cherokee Nation in the 20th Century. Have half the class look up online sources; they will keep sending everything they find -- both good AND bad -- into the Twitter feed. The other half of the class will then evaluate the sources as either good or bad and give a short (less than 140 characters) annotation/explanation back to the Twitter feed. After ten minutes or so, switch sides. Now, by the end of class you have an interactive document -- the feed itself, full of hyperlinks and annotations -- with which you can lead a more detailed discussion of what makes for a good vs. a lousy source. Twitter: It Leads to Deeper Discussion and Better Bibliographies.

3. Collaborative Assessment -- Among other duties, I actually find time to teach a handful of Latin classes around here. I've long been frustrated by the fact that students who otherwise would have no problem getting through a passage of text often get caught up by one small section. And it just snowballs. They get so frustrated with a single phrase or even a single word that they just shut down. Twitter puts an end to this. Now, when I give translation tests, I let the students run Twitter in a tab. If they have difficulty, they always have the option to post a question to the feed. I monitor the feed and can either step in and answer or give hints. I also -- and this, I think is the important part -- let the students help each other. In fact, I encourage it. I've long hated the fact that foreign language assessment has so often taken the track of merely evaluating understanding based on adding up the mistakes a student makes. All that tells me is that a student didn't get it. What's far more valuable to me in assessing students is figuring out what exactly it is that they aren't 'getting' in the very moment when they aren't 'getting' it. With Twitter, because it's a communal feed, I know when individual students are having these problems. So, that part of my evaluation is taken care of.

Now, my mission as a foreign language teacher is to help the student 'get' it. So, whether I give the student a little advice or whether a peer does the same doesn't matter so much so long as the advice is accurate and duly given. In effect, I'd rather the students help each other -- in my experience that fosters a much greater bond than if I'm the guy telling folks "You are right" or "You are wrong". As for the worry that students will just totally rely on others to do their work, I've got two realities for you. First, although many students are happy and even excited to help a peer, they just don't have the time during a test to walk them through the whole thing. Secondly, I am reading the whole feed and interacting with it live as well. If I see a slacker on the feed, I deal with them directly via DM's so that a) they get personalized attention, b) they don't get to ride other students' work, and c) though via Twitter, the individual services can be given without the other students even knowing. Twitter = Collaborative Learning and Individualized Learning Together in the Same Place, as they should be.

[Added May 15, 2009: For added bang-for-your-buck, explore uses of hash-tags to create unique student-developed resources. See this post for more about that.]

Regarding Security

Part of the job duty of any teacher is to maintain a safe environment for learning, and that duty extends to Web 2.0.

I am entirely and 100% opposed to blocking sites in high school. Let me be absolutely clear: I am 100% opposed to blocking ANY sites in high school. Rather than treat students (and teachers) as folks who can't be trusted, we need to educate and foster the entire community on both the value and the dangers of the digital realm. Otherwise, we are ignoring a potential problem and sending kids out into the world completely unprepared to deal with the realities of the world.

To be perfectly honest, I think an actual course in Internet Culture will soon be as necessary and as valuable as a good course on health. Kids need to know the benefits of a good diet and they need to know the benefits of good Internet etiquette; they need to know the facts about sex, drugs, gambling, and violence in the real world and they need to know the facts about those matters in the virtual world. In lieu of such a class becoming mandatory in your school, you as the digital classroom teacher will be responsible for teaching Internet safety.

In terms of safety on Twitter, you are in luck. So long as you and your students are vigilant -- meaning you check your 'followers' regularly to block any potential weirdos and you limit 'follows' to the other folks in class -- you really have little to worry about. Yes, your Tweets could be picked up by some aggregator or they could be 'mischievously' posted outside the class feed by a student. But this just goes to demonstrate that nothing posted online should ever really be considered 'private' in the sense of 'hiding it in the back of the closet'. So long as both you and your students understand this, you won't have a problem. In terms of best practices regarding Twitter safety, I recommend students changing user-names on a scheduled basis. This is as easy as changing settings via your Twitter profile. For example, whenever I run live blogs of our class Twitter feeds, afterwards I have the students change their user-names. Takes thirty seconds.


I strongly suggest projecting your class feed via LCD projector. I have mine running all the time. Two advantages: 1) students can take part and follow the feed even if they aren't actively Tweeting... say during a class discussion. Further, as situations arise, I can throw information into a feed -- say during the middle of a lecture -- and students can then research and comment back into the feed; the result with the feed projected is that everybody can follow the interaction, I've found this often sparks even more discussion which is something I encourage even during lectures. Secondly, the projected feed in a way makes using Twitter in class seem so ordinary. It's just a tool. A very very powerful tool, but a tool all the same. As any master craftsman would tell you, part of becoming proficient with your craft is becoming comfortable with your tools. Projecting the feed is a way to enhance this familiarity.

As for whether the feed is distracting, that's sort of relative. I think if there is one thing I need to teach my students -- in this age of variable supergraphics on billboards and buildings, multi-media displays at the grocery store, and bowling alleys that look like something out of Tron -- is how to deal with the visual information that barrages us all the time. This is not to say that I spend all class hyper-stimulating the sensory system. I'm also one of those teachers who likes to take the class on nature walks. But I think it is completely reasonable to expect the students to learn how to deal with the sort of presentation that we ourselves as teachers are experiencing more and more at any quality professional development meeting.


I have no false illusions that my work here is done. Nor do I think that I've even gotten passed the tip of the iceberg. All I've really done is bring social media into my classroom. The rest is a matter of 'what happens next'.

And what happens next? Well, I hope that this post will bring both debate and fresh ideas from all of you. I've been impressed in just the last few months at how rich the discussion of educational technology and the future of education really is. I consider myself neither a scholar of educational technology nor a particular whiz at all of the facets of Web 2.0. What I am is a teacher who believes strongly that the future of education is bound to the future of social and participatory media -- whether it comes in the form of Twitter or any distant and future permutations.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Participatory Media Rights in Education Now!

Participatory Media Rights in Education Now!

I get sick to my stomach every time I hear of a school banning Twitter. I feel even worse for teachers and students who have never had the opportunity to use Twitter in the classroom.

I've spent the past week live blogging what I think are very successful uses of Twitter in class. I dare any administrator to visit my Twitter-enhanced Latin classes and then tell me social media has no place in a school building.

I wish I were more eloquent. If I were, I would stand up and say: enough with this silliness! What would we call you if you banned books in school? What would we call you if you banned pens and pencils? What would we call you if you taped students' mouths shut and banned speech?

Because that's what you should be called for banning Twitter and social media.

Twitter is a source of vast information. Twitter is a source of shared expressions. Twitter is a place for freedom of speech and collaboration between intellects. In the best sense of the word, it is the new dialectic.

Sure, Twitter can be used to store provocative and even malicious ideas. But library shelves are filled with tons of provocative and even malicious ideas, yet you would not dare close a school library. Sure, Twitter can be a place filled with gossip and trivial conversation, but so is your student lunchroom and so is your teachers' lounge. Sure, Twitter can be a place full of vulgar language and half-baked ideas, but is anyone under the illusion that this is not merely the reflection of society at large?

Twitter is what you make it. And for hundreds, if not thousands of teachers, Twitter has been the source of the most inspiring and important professional development they've ever had.

And all it cost you was the price of Internet access and a wireless hub.

We teachers demand participatory media rights in education now! Unblock Twitter, unblock Skype, unblock YouTube. If you are afraid of what the students and teachers might do with this media access, imagine what they might do without it. Whether you happen to like it or not, we teachers are responsible professionals who are dying for the truth in professional development. And whether you like it or not, your students must learn to be responsible within the context of this Digital Age which is upon us. To deny the use of social and participatory media now is to doom our culture and to foster a generation of frustrated educators and a generation of students who see the democratic application of technology as nothing more than a taboo.

We can't afford that.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Note from a Parent

This really touched me today.

There is a student in one of my classes who is enormously talented but who has had across-the-board problems with motivation all year. I've changed the student's name in the following letter I received from his parent, but all I can say is that I'm constantly impressed -- if at times overwhelmed -- by the power of technology to motivate these kinds of great students who otherwise might be written off.
Thanks so much for allowing Thomas and his classmates to "Skype"(?) I am so clueless when it comes to technology, but I do know that Thomas and his cohorts studied together for hours yesterday!! I am so grateful for anything that keeps Thomas excited about his studying. May God continue to bless your work. You have already made a difference in my son's attitude towards school.

Twitter-enhanced Classroom Feeds: Teaching research/source evaluation via Twitter

Live blogging today from 1PM to 2PM EST. This will be our third day of Twitter-enhanced classroom feeds via Cover it Live. You are encouraged to stop by, watch the Tweet feed live, and comment on the CiL sidebar.

Today's focus will be on using Twitter to teach research/source evaluation.

Any questions: @TeachPaperless on Twitter.

Philistines on Twitter: "I've never used it. But it sucks!"

John Ridley raises philistinism to a whole new level by slamming all things Twitter -- despite the fact that he admits he's never used Twitter.
I haven't tweeted once in my life, but I'm sick of hearing about it already. What once may have been the cool way of letting a hundred people know that you're about to go mow your lawn now has the feel of a used-to-be-fresh means of communicating.

How do people like this get airtime on NPR?

As any daily Twitterer knows: Twitter is what you make it. If all of your Tweets concern bathing your dog and mowing the lawn, then you just completely don't understand what social networking's true potential is. I am amazed when I hear people denigrate social media as if the social media itself is forcing anyone to do anything. The whole concept of participatory media is that it relies on the free participation of its users to do what ever they want with it.

Education and Educational Technology Tweet feeds are often a perfect example of the positive aspects of social media. I am not alone in saying that I've learned more about the theory of, current debates about, and resources for teaching in the last three months on Twitter than I have in seven years of traditional professional development and three years of grad school.

That's not to denigrate prof dev or grad school, they serve serious purposes.

It's just that in terms of keeping up to date with what's happening on a day-to-day (and even hourly-by-hourly) basis in the rapidly changing educational paradigm, the traditional model of spreading ideas via a single speaker or a class that meets twice a week is really outmoded. That's where the power of social networking comes in.

Social networking should not supplant face-to-face development, but face-to-face development needs to understand that there are many things that social networking does better. Really, face-to-face and screen-to-screen have to find common ground and help one another.

Now, Mr. Ridley's comments seemed all caught up on the issue of privacy -- he's tired of Tweets about people's personal lives. Funny, though: how would he be bother by Tweets if he's not on Twitter?

Furthermore, to criticize Twitter on account of the CNN/Kutcher throwdown -- as Ridley does -- yet never having personally used the service before is akin to writing a scathing review of a book based not on one's reading of the book but on the reaction of Oprah's book club to it.

Fundamentally unprofessional.

It's obvious that Mr. Ridley has no idea what he's talking about. Yet, that's par for the course when it comes to the majority of critics of social media. I think I'll go Tweet about that.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Using Twitter in the Classroom

Ran two live blogging sessions today, both about using Twitter in the classroom. It's been three weeks now. Three weeks of constantly projected Twitter feeds in my Latin II and III classes. I am starting to really get a feel for what works and what doesn't.

One of the things that was a lot of fun today was using Twitter as a motivational tool. Simple idea really: as students worked on translations, I Tweeted a variety of questions. Students then received a quarter of a point on our upcoming test for each question answered. The catch? They had to be the first to respond accurately via a Tweet.

Now, this may seem like just a simple task. Cute, but so what?

Well, consider two things: 1) a little competition for extra credit can really get the energy going in a classroom and 2) (and more importantly) all of the students now have in their feed a record of all of the incorrect and correct responses. In other words, they've all got a study guide that demonstrates the variety of incorrect answers as well as one that presents the correct answers. In the future, when we prepare for the test, I will call up these Tweets and we'll review by analyzing the incorrect answers and try to explain why mistakes were made.

Could even throw the incorrect answers into a Skyped discussion and play a game of 'Bluff'. One way or the other, it's like having a huge communal pool of 'real mistakes' to learn from. And because the students see that everyone else makes mistakes -- even made a goof myself this morning -- they are more motivated to take part; it's a way to get them off their fear of making mistakes.

The second thing I noticed today was that via Twitter, it was easy for me to pair-up, split-up, and re-pair students. While I just happened upon this towards the end of our second session, it's something I'm definitely exploring. Think about it: by following student progress in real-time, you can instantly make informed changes to grouping and pairing not based on subsequent assessment, but based on the actual formative work the students are doing right there in the present moment. A DM to each individual student, and you can form pairs or groups without making an announcement to the whole class.

Kids, the Internet, and the Recession

There are now only three abandoned houses on my street.

This is going to be a rambling post, but I've been thinking about the Recession. Thinking about how it is having an effect on our students. Just Google 'recession children' and you'll find tons of discussion on the matter.

Here's one of the more interesting things I found: and article published by the NY Times almost exactly twenty-five years ago today [Ed. -- first draft in RSS read 'twenty'... my bad]. It's titled 'Unicef Cites Impact of Recession on Children'.
...the world recession has had its most severe impact on the children of the poorest people...

It's always the kids who feel the brunt of it. Something to keep in mind before we get mad that Lucy didn't do her homework last night.

Particularly in times like these, we should be thankful for the Internet. Because the Net refuses to allow us to claim ignorance. And it offers a space to share stories with and from communities around the world. Communities that on the surface may seem so different from your own and yet, at the heart of it all, communities comprised of folks going through the same problems and suffering the same heartaches that people have suffered since the beginning of time. Communities that demonstrably lay manifest the reality that one action leads to another and that we are all connected.

And all that cliche stuff.

All that true stuff.

You can't claim ignorance. And neither can your students. The connection is a click away. Use the Internet to connect your students to the world. Don't be afraid of it. Because every class you spend lecturing and handing out worksheets and passing on the opportunity to connect your kids to the world beyond your classroom walls is a class where you have stressed only one lesson: the 'real world' is something that can wait.

It can't wait. And it's not going to wait for your kids. Your students are standing in the middle of the street and the real world would just as quickly run them over.

Like the Recession is running over kids on a daily basis.

So teach the past, teach the present, imagine the future. Be a part of the real world. But don't fear.

We're teachers. We don't have time for fear. We ain't afraid of anything.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Twitter-enhanced Assessments

I will be live blogging Tweet feeds of live Twitter-enhanced assessments all this week. Mostly Latin II and III classes.

The feeds will be available on Cover it Live, and I'll be posting schedules there as well as updating on my Twitter feed.

This will allow folks the opportunity to watch how we use Twitter live in the classroom both as a real-time exchange tool for collaborative assessments and as a communal lifeline on individual assessments.

At the end of the week, I'd like to schedule a live blogging session for all teachers and folks interested in using Twitter in the classroom.

More info soon.

NECC Unplugged

There was a Classroom 2.0 discussion yesterday afternoon about this year's virtual component of NECC. Looks like it's got great potential. Here's news from the NECC Unplugged wiki:
Also variously referred to as "NECC 2.0," the NECC "Fringe" Festival, or the NECC "Unconference." NECC Unplugged is three days collaboratively created and scheduled by the participants, both on-site and virtual, held on-site in it's own "lounge" area and virtually in Elluminate.

You can go to the wiki to find virtual presentations you'd like to follow as well as to sign up to deliver your own presentations.


Just started using ClustrMap. It's a great little tool that gives you a visual representation of where your site visitors are from.

I know that many of the folks who read this blog do so via various newsreaders and feed services. If you could just do me a favor and actually stop by the TeachPaperless site, that would be great because then your location would be marked on the ClustrMap.

I'd love to see a map of just how widespread our discussion of paperlessness and digital classrooms really is.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Comment Moderation is Bogus

A reader Tweets to complain that I blocked his comment.


Allow me to present my number one rule: No Censorship.


Comment moderation is totally bogus and if you are using it, you should stop. If you are afraid of being spammed, just put some spam firewalls in the way. But the whole concept of comment moderation is so completely out of step with what we are trying to do with blogs and Web 2.0 that it really is nothing less than an embarrassment.

I do not moderate my comments, I do not moderate my students' comments. Period.

If you've ever had trouble leaving comments on this blog, it was probably a Google/Blogger glitch. It's even happened to me: i.e. I've had issues leaving comments on my own blog. But those problems come few and far between and are usually related to cached sign-ins.

So feel free to comment yr hearts out on this blog. Just don't go spreading rumors that I've been yanking 'em.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Dell Responds

Bri Brewer from Dell Computers responded regarding my post of a couple days ago. In that post, I admittedly upbraided her and Dell for the senseless Tweets being published by the company's flagship ed tech program. Here's her response followed by my letter back to her.
I’m sorry if some of my tweets have offended you. Thank you for your feedback. I will be taking this into account for future tweets from the Dell Edu4U twitter feed. There are many Dell employees on Twitter and many of us think there is room to introduce some personality into the work we do. Just to be clear, the goal behind all of our education-focused social media efforts like, the Education blog, Twitter and beyond is to connect with educators, students and school officials to help us be a useful member of the Education community. Mark's role on the board of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is one part of our broader commitment to serving the education community, including students, teachers, parents, and administrators. In my own role, I am the online community manager for our education blog and work with our education team and industry experts to publicize resources and best practice sharing for teachers via our blog and Edu4U. I look forward to the opportunity to work with you in the future to this end and appreciate the sincerity of your commitment to education and educational technology.

Bri Brewer, Dell

Dear Bri,

You know, it's not really a matter of being 'offended'. I'm a teacher; it's hard to 'offend' me. What I'm much more concerned about is that you 'represent' me.

Allow me to explain.

I'm a teacher in a paperless classroom. It's taken me three years of constant work to get to this point. I spent the first year obsessively studying educational technology and digital culture. I laid out the structure of what a successful paperless classroom would look like and I applied myself to the blogosphere like a fiend. In the second year, I went completely paperless; i.e. I stopped using paper altogether. I started organizing my classes by blogs and RSS feeds. And this last year I've had my students go completely paperless; all of their work -- including tests, quizzes, projects, and classwork -- is done online using the resources of Web 2.0.

And despite the comments of readers on this blog -- the majority of whom are excited about going digital in their own classes -- the overwhelming response I've gotten from veteran teachers has been one of fear and loathing.

Let's just say that Tweets about tequila shots posted by the online community manager of Dell's educational technology wing haven't made my job any easier.

Because you -- as a major public voice of the technological world and as representing the second most successful computer seller in the world -- represent us ed techies to many of our colleagues. And your Tweets -- your attempts to introduce personality into the work you do -- help define us ed techies in the eyes of those of our colleagues who are looking for excuses to bail on technology altogether.

I would think that anyone in your position would have thought long ago about the power that your words would carry.

I understand that this Digital Age thing is new and tricky. I've certainly put my foot in my mouth both on this blog as well as in comments on the blogs of others. But I'm just a small time teacher at a semi-rural suburban school in Maryland. You on the other hand are the ed tech voice of the 25th most powerful corporation in the known universe.

What I say may or may not be long soon forgotten. What you say can and may influence the way vast millions of people think about educational technology.

Twitter is an incredibly powerful medium. How we treat it and use it now may define how it is used in the future. Furthermore, how we treat social media at large is defining how our kids are coming to understand it. I take you at your word that you are trying to be a "useful member of the Education community". I hope to see this reflected in your Tweets.

I encourage you to follow some of the great ed tech Twitterers in getting a handle on what "useful" looks like. DM me at @TeachPaperless for more info.