Teacher Web Pages and Student Learning

One of the district goals this year is: Teachers will increase student engagement and improve student achievement by focusing on instructional practices. This blog entry is a review of the work we have done at YES this year to post more student work online by using teacher web pages and blogs.

In a conversation with Betsy Lane before the school year started we talked about efforts I might make to increase the use of teacher web pages to display student work and communicate with parents. The goal was to engage students in presenting learning to an audience of parents and family members. Specifically, I wanted to increase the number of teachers using class web pages and the involvement of students in creating content to display online. This year there has been an increase from 50% of classrooms displaying student work online to 80%. In addition to classroom teachers the Art and Music teachers have expanded the student presence on their web pages this year.

The initial impetus for this increase came from a faculty meeting dedicated to setting up and managing teacher web pages in September, 2008. Mike came over from HMS and worked with a group who wanted to set up blogs and I worked with teachers who needed assistance with their FirstClass web pages. We left that meeting with all classrooms having an initial page established. Since then I have met with teachers before school, after school at lunch and during a few minutes of a schedule lab period to assist them with the web pages and blogs.

At each grade level the majority of teachers have posted photos, movies and student-created presentations of their learning. Some of the examples include:
Voicethread descriptions of Student Art are an example of postings Cam is doing with each grade
Audio clips of student songs for each class to support Music practice at home.
•A Voicethread on Laura Skowronkis’s page describes their Arctic Sculptures
•Stephanie’s photos, movies and voicethreads at the bottom of the page as are Kim’s .
•Elke’s first class Voicethread on Arctic Animals and she has photos with commentary as well.
•Carli’s class read their Arctic poems and posted a recent play as well as photos of the year.
•Richard’s everexpanding class blog has been going all year.
•Chris used her class blog to share plans with parents and she scans student work for display.
•Karin’s class created biographies that are posted online in addition to an informational web page.
•Nicole started a blog this year to send home newsletters and information about the class.
•Gabe uses a blog to send home information on various pages.
•Nancy’s student photographers made a Sugaring Time movie last week and they have been using an Observation Blog this year.
•Mary Jo has used her web page for the past two years to list upcoming events and curricular links.
•Renee’s class created slideshows about inventions that created a freedom and they have maintained a class blog.

Many of these links will not stay active as teachers will take them down to make room for next year’s classes, but for now they are wonderful audiovisual representations of student learning. The pride students exhibit when they hear that their work is on the Internet is palpable in the room and it is fun to hear them talk of sharing it with their families.

Next year I would like to work on moving some of the static content that is consistent across the classes into a grade level wiki that could be linked to each teacher page. I would like to continue to expand the multimedia projects that students post online. A couple of teachers and I are looking at possibilities for expanding student communication and collaboration by sharing blog entries across classes and possibly in other countries.

Need to upgrade–


The day has come when using a 2001 Mac in the Lab at the elementary school isn’t working. We have been fortunate that up until very recently we were able to use these computers to access online sites and create student products using older software. This spring we have run into several realities related to the age of these machines. They are running OSX.3 (Tiger) as they have limited RAM and processing capabilities. This means that we are unable to use the current version of iWork that is owned by the district. Students are creating multi-media presentations using Keynote and they are unable to work on them in the lab if they have ever used a G4 iBook and a newer version of Keynote.

We refer students to http://pbs.org/cyberchase for learning activities, but that site is only one of several where videos and the newest learning games posted online aren’t available in the lab. Google Earth is a wonderful learning tool as we introduce our students to world geography, but it is not available in the lab. There are online sites like http://wordle.net that we have used with older students to view their writing in this visually enhanced way, but the plugins in the lab don’t work with the site.

We have been incredibly fortunate to be able to use the equipment no longer needed at the middle school or the high school for as long as we have. Now it is time to upgrade the lab so that our youngest students can explore multi-media posted online and create their own projects that dislay their learning and introduce them to being knowledgeable consumers of our multi-media world.

Scratch (or, Creativity & Innovation)

This week I have been teaching 4th graders to use Scratch from the MIT Media Lab. It’s GREAT! I can’t remember when I’ve had this much fun teaching and the room has been full of kids who are empowered, active and creating. I used the videos from the Scratch site to introduce the concept of the program to the students and gave them a few starter commands from the Scratch Cards. Within twenty minutes the students were recording their own voices, “whirling” sprites, adding sound effects, creating speech clouds, and creating iinteractions between sprites. It has been fascinating to see some students focus on sounds, others on motion and others on looks and paint features. Doing this with several classes has given me the opportunity to see teachers who have supported creativity and innovation in their classroms and are cheerleaders as their students explore this entirely new realm. Where does this fit in the curriclum? To me it teaches thinking, problem-solving and feeds the “dessert brain” referenced in Edutopia magazine by Hugh Osborn.

An Opportunity for Staff Development

I had an opportunity this past week to share some of my thinking with the faculty during a Monday afternoon meeting. I had been working on a presentation since I first returned from NECC 2007. I updated it to include the ISTE standards for students and teachers and some of the conversations we have been having as a district technology team about our next Technology Plan 2009-2012.

The timing of the session coincided with the publication of the Literacy 2.0 edition of Educational Leadership. We started the meeting by reading the Perspectives introduction to the article. I asked the faculty to use the prompts of, “What are you noting as you read?” and “What do you want to read more of?” I chose this as the group reading because it mentions bits of several of the articles in the issue and it also makes the point that our students need the literacies of reading and writing more than ever in our world of expanding literacies. After the reading I asked the faculty to turn and talk to each other.

We followed this introduction with a slideshow I had prepared with several breaks for more conversation. Listening to the conversations I heard many questions and explanations about various explorations teachers are doing with their studensts. In all I was pleased that the information I was sharing seemed to be welcomed and there were many teachers who were excited to talk about the topic.

The presentation I used is posted on slideshare.net.

Meditating in the pool – Midyear reflections

As I work to get my strength back I am returning to swimming. The half hour in the pool reminds me of what a great space it is for meditating and reflecting.

We have passed the midyear point in the school year and although I missed most of the first four months of school I am thrilled by the technology-related learning I am seeing going on at the Elementary School. One big addition this year is that we now have four carts of laptops which means that there is one available for every four or five classes in a wing, with an additional one that seems to be used regularly by third and fourth grade classes in the blue wing. We were able to purchase one more projector and cart so now fifteen classrooms are sharing seven projectors.

Students in second grade are writing and editing in Clicker 5 in the lab. They love the fact that it reads their work back to them for editing and revision, and the teachers have made good use of online learning grids which serve as templates to support writing about the weather, frogs, Chinese New Year and other topics. Classes have learned to use Clicker Paint to illustrate poems and other pieces of writing for display in the hallways and online. Teachers have used the lab for Math practice and as an introduction to Math concepts. Two classes have created Voicethreads that can be viewed from their class web pages that display student work and voices. Several Quicktime movies of classroom presentations are also available on class pages. One class is about to join a daily weather recording activity on a blog started by first grade. We will be the NorthEast region class that is recording the weather for one week each month and comparing it with other regions. Students will record each other during the classroom morning meeting and then we can post their voices as podcasts on the blog.

In third grade students have been practicing addition and subtraction facts and doing some math problem-solving activities all year. Two teachers have class blogs, one has individual student blogs within the classblogmeister blog. The blogs are being used to communicate student work to parents, for students to comment to each other and we have plans to use them to communicate with other schools. In support of Science units classes have researched rocks and minerals, watched some movie clips from our Safari Montage collection and one class did Bugscope online in the fall. The Bugscope home page lists a Virtual Microscope interface that can be downloaded to view images of minerals and other items from their site. Most classes are using AppleWorks to write reports as well as creative writing assignments, adding images from the Internet or their own illustrations using a Paint box added to the wordprocessing page.

Fourth grade classes are using the iBook carts consistently for writing and students are becoming proficient at saving work to the class file server folder so they can continue work on any laptop or lab computer. One class had a Publishing Fair to share folk tales written in AppleWorks or EasyBook. Other classes have increased the volume and quality of student writing using conferencing on the iBooks to help students with  editing and revision. One class is currently working on putting an essay project online as a class Voicethread. All classes have introduced keyboarding and some students are finishing the lessons offered at BBC Dance Mat Typing. A big focus at the moment is teaching students to use our Internet resources and databases (primarily WorldBook Online & MARVEL) to support the process of inquiry. Once students have gathered information about a topic of interest, classes will be using different applications to prepare a report and some of these will be in a format that can be shared on the Internet when they are completed. All the fourth grade classes are using web pages and/or blogs to share student learning online and some are in formats that incorporate feedback or collaboration.

In all, I am thrilled by the work the teachers are doing to offer our elementary students access to technology tools that support creative expresssion of ideas and learning in a variety of formats. What I know if that new things will be happening in the coming months that I haven’t even envisioned yet. One thing that is making this possible (especially during my long absence) is the collaboration teachers have offered to each other and the shared learning that is going on between classrooms in all grades.