Are you using Facebook in your school?

Are you using Facebook in your school or classroom?  You are!  Great!  Add a link to your Facebook page so others can see what and how you are using it with your students, parents, and/or community.  If you’re not using Facebook in your school, I think you should check out some of the pages schools have created and see if what they’re doing will help you communicate with your students, parents, and community.

If you can’t add a link to your Facebook Page because of privacy concerns for your  students, we understand.  But you can still tell us how you are using it if you’d like.  Instead of putting a link to your Facebook page, just include a short description of how you are using it where you would have put the link.

Click here to add your link or to see how others are using Facebook in their school:

P.S. Feel free to share with others!


#ITEC11 Reflection

Image from

Well another ITEC has come and gone, which means it’s time to reflect on all the learning that has taken place over the last few days.  This year was probably my favorite ITEC yet, and was certainly the biggest.  My trip began bright and early and often lasted well into the evening.  I went about my “note” taking in my typical way: tweet most everything and for the things that don’t warrant a tweet, I wrote them down in Evernote.  You can find my tweets for the day @dmourlam.

If Games are the Answer, What’s the Question? – Sylvia Martinez

Gaming is one of those areas of education that I’m interested in, but still trying to figure out.  I’ve grown some since I first was introduced to gaming in education and know the focus should be less on the game and more on the gaming, or the process students go through as they progress in the game.  It’s all about how students solve the problems they encounter in the game and the reflection that takes place during and afterwords, either alone or with others.  The first thing profound to hit me during this session was how do we define game?  This may not seem very profound, but it is and here’s why.  There are a variety of different types of games: edutainment, serious games, virtual worlds, alternative (augmented) reality, and commercial off the shelf.  Games will fall into one of these categories, providing a very different experience for the user.  When we think of gaming in schools, we often think of edutainment, which are games aligned to a set of educational standards.  Now the problem with edutainment in most cases, is that they are nothing more than worksheets with some exciting graphics.  Worksheets of any format will not transform education, which means as an educator, even if you aren’t into games, you still need to have a critical eye.  This means taking time to play the game for 15-30 minutes to see what it’s all about.  So before gaming can be part of your lessons, finding the right kind of game is important.  There needs to be a balance between fun and difficulty.  If the game’s not fun, kids won’t play it!  Playing games does not appeal to everyone, and no one game appeals to all gamers.  Sylvia gave us a great way to go about using games in our lessons: put on your skeptic hat, play it, would it be useful if it weren’t a computer game, and think about the assessment.

Keynote: Ten Things to Do with a Laptop – Learning and Powerful Ideas – Gary Stager 

The keynote was very entertaining, while still providing some things to think about.  Gary Stager talked about 10 things you can do with at laptop, or for all intents and purposes any computer.  He started out by saying we need to develop a sense of urgency in education, which I agree.  We need to let the teachers who are still doing the same activities they did 20 years ago that they need to change or move on.  What worked then won’t today.  Dr. Stager said, “Knowledge is a consequence of experiences,” so we need to make sure the experiences our students have are worthwhile and will serve them well in the future.  This means using technology in the classroom, but it’s more than the hardware.  It’s the software that matters, because that is what determines how we will learn.  I could go through all ten points he made but I’d actually like people to read this post so I’ll cherry pick the ones I liked the most.

  • Write a novel: This is spot on for me, because when I entered college, I was woefully unprepared for the type and quality of writing that was expected of me.  However, I think Dr. Stager was going a step further in that we need our students writing “more, better, and differently.”  While writing can take many forms, there needs to be a variety of writing experiences that support reflective learning.  This means having time for both reports, essays, creative writing, among other styles of writing.  If we limit our students to only research based writing, then we are creating a society that doesn’t think for themselves.  I’m comfortable saying this because if all we do is research then students will bore quickly and will  do the minimum to complete the task.  If we challenge students, they will surprise us.  The problem is, we don’t challenge them enough.
  • Share Knowledge: I liked this one a lot since we often think about who should be sharing knowledge and traditionally it has been the teacher.  However, Dr. Stager showed a video of students building robots that really challenged this idea.  In the video, the 6 year old student showed an older student (probably 9-10) how to make a robot ballerina.  All students have information to share, we just need to let them do so.  This can’t be done with teacher-centric classrooms!  We must free ourselves from the constraints of our own imagination/abilities and let our students flourish.  Until then we can only expect more of the same.
  • Change the world: The main take away I have is that if we want our students to do incredible things that can have a difference in the world, we need to let them learn through authentic experiences.  This means real projects that keep students and the teacher up at night, as well as letting students use the tools they need to be successful, whatever they may be.  Learning isn’t about what you can do in a class period, so as we create learning experiences we need to keep in mind that changing the world isn’t going to happen in 45 minutes.

Educational Uses of Facebook – Daniel Mourlam

This was my session!  I was encouraged by Leigh Zeitz to lead a session, any session and I chose an area that’s very central to my beliefs as an educator.  My session, while focused on Facebook Pages, was not so much about how to technically use a Facebook Page, but rather it was about getting educators to give Facebook a chance.  There are a number of different reasons why we should or shouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom, but in the end it really comes down to having an ethical obligation to model appropriate use.  This was my big point I wanted to make in this session.  As a teacher, we typically model appropriate behavior when we are in class with our students.  We act responsible, respectful, and so on.  However, as technology continues to advance, so does our culture.  With the emergence of social networking sites, so to has our culture expanded to included interactions using these sites.  However, in our classrooms if we fail to use these technologies, we fail to model how they should be used.  We know this to be true based on the number of cyber bullying incidents every year.  This is a problem that schools rarely do anything about beyond disciplining students.  I’m promoting a more proactive approach where teachers and schools begin using these technologies in their classrooms to support the type of teaching and learning that should be taking place.  I’m talking about the collaborative, problem solving, critical thinking projects and student-centered tasks students should be engaged in.  It is only though the use of these technologies that we will be able to help our students understand how they can use these sites in a responsible way.  If we educate our students about what is acceptable, then when incidents do happen, very few will tolerate the ignorance and bigotry that often is employed when students and others are targeted.  As a presenter, the best thing about my session was that people came and that there were students in the room who interacted with the entire group.  I couldn’t have asked for a better, or more engaged group.  However, I’d like to improve for next time, so if you were in my session let me know what you liked and what you didn’t by leaving a comment.  Thanks for coming!

TPACK & Creativity in the Classroom – Punya Mishra

This session was very fulfilling.  I have what some might call an intelectual crush on Punya Mishra and his work on TPACK.  For me TPACK just makes sense.  For those who don’t know what TPACK is, here is the quick and dirty: when we integrate technology (T) in the classroom we need to think about how the technology is going to change both the content (C) and the pedagogy (P).  Kohler and Mishra (2006) argue that effective technology integration is at the intersection of all three (T, P, C).  So getting the opportunity to listen to Punya talk about TPACK was very gratifying for my development as an educator.  A lot of what was discussed were things that I already believed, but here they are for the record:

  • For facts go to Google…for wisdom come to me (funny quote from Punya)
  • The single biggest measure of how effective we are as teachers is if our students talk about what we are doing outside the classroom.  This means they are engaged and interested.
  • Adding technology to the learning experience is going to change the dynamic of the classroom so we need to prepare for that by thinking about how the content and pedagogy are going to change.
  • There is no such thing as an educational technology.  Only technology that has been repurposed for educational uses.
  • Repurposing requires teachers to be curriculum designers instead of consumers.  No longer will following the textbook suffice as you begin using technology with your students.  The textbooks weren’t designed to be used with technology, which means we need to take what’s there and make it work for the type of experiences we want for our students.  That may mean using the textbooks or maybe another resource.
  • We know how to use technology, and we are getting good at integrating technology with the things we are already doing.  Now is the time to begin innovating with the technology to begin creating new types of experiences for our students.  This is where the future of education is.
Cell Phones: Smart, Digital, and Mobile The Next – Vinnie Vrotny/Leigh Zeitz
Last year I attended a couple of sessions facilitated by Leigh Zeitz where he used Skype to bring in experts from around the world.  Last year we had a presenter from Sydney, Australia.  This year we had Vinnie Vrotny from northern Illinois.  Vinnie talked to us about how cell phones can be used in education.  While I didn’t necessarily have a huge aha during this session, I still learned new ways of using cell phones in education.  The genius of this type of presentation is that while the video is playing in the physical room at ITEC, there is a backchannel happening with the presenter where we can ask him questions related to his presentation.  We have direct access to him, allowing us to go deeper into an area we are interested in.  For me, Vinnie and I talked more about how cell phones were being used at his school.  While cell phones are not allowed in the building, the athletic director has embraced the technology and blogs from the sidelines during school events.  The blogs are typically short and include pictures.  What an innovative way to engage the school community even if they can’t be there!  I’d likely take it a step further and have the blog connected to a Facebook Page or Twitter account to connect to a larger audience.  This session was one of my favorites not because of the content, but because of how I could interact with the presenter and other conference goers during the presentation.  A unique experience I hope continues for next year.
Facebook in First Grade?  You got it! – Devin and Erin Schoening
This was the best session of the conference hands down, and I almost missed it!   Devin and Erin talked about how they used a Facebook account with their first grade class to bring parents into the classroom during the day.  Parent involvement is crucial for success, but is becoming more and more difficult to get.  However, by inviting the parents to be friends with the class, Devin and Erin were able to let parents see what was happening throughout the day, allowing parents to further the learning at home by making connections to class.  I learned that Facebook Corp is supportive of educators using Facebook accounts for their classes, which is good to know.  In fact, when Erin was contacted by Facebook about her account, they apologized for not having more resources for education.  Talk about surprising!  Being able to see how others are using Facebook in their schools really reinforces what I believe.  Here are some more of the highlights of their session:
  • Used News Feed to see what other classrooms were doing
  • Created Facebook note of who’s friends with the class so reassure parents that only the right people could see and interact with their children through Facebook
  • Council Bluffs has not had any abuse of Facebook by students
  • Sent note home for parent permission and level of use by student
  • Facebook allowed for more immediate feedback from a variety of people, no longer confining the class to the four walls of the classroom
  • Using Facebook doesn’t mean we stopped communicating with parents in other ways
  • Students aren’t on Facebook all day, just a few minutes out of a day
  • Same rules online as face to face
  • Address the problems rather than blanket block if something happens
The Good, Bad, and Ugly.  Taking Digital Pictures Effectively – Leslie Fisher
This session was for my own development.  I am terrible at taking pictures so what better session to attend!  I wasn’t disappointed.  Here are Leslie’s tips for taking better pictures:
  • If you have to ask if it’s a good picture, it’s not
  • Frame your picture before taking and move closer if needed
  • Cropping is only good if you have a high mexapixel camera (above 10)
  • Macro setting will take better pictures when closer than 3 feet
  • The further away you are from what you are taking a picture of, the longer it will take to focus
  • Lanscape mode will focus on everything in the picture, Portrait will only focus on the middle area of the photo
  • More light = less blur
  • Stabilize the camera to reduce camera shake (use a tripod, set timer and place on firm surface before taking picture)
  • Night mode takes better pictures in low light conditions
  • Work angles to tell the story of the picture better
  • Shoot high and low angels
  • Exposure compensation will make take darker parts of picture darker or lighter parts lighter
  • Pay attention to the background to make sure it doesn’t take away from your photo
  • Move if background is distracting
  • Lower quality memory cards take slower pictures (want 8 or above)
  • Flash will reduce items beyond 8-10 feet, which can be good or bad
  • Sports mode will take faster pictures
  • Bigger lens = better zoom, more lighting
  • Digital zoom will kill the quality of the picture
That was my ITEC experience this year.  I think what made this year my favorite was the variety of sessions I attended.  I felt satisfied at the end, which is what I think we all stive to attain.  How was your experience?  Share by leaving a comment!

Why we should and shouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom

There are many reasons why we should and shouldn’t do certain things.  Take Facebook for example.  There are many reasons for and against why any school/teacher should use Facebook in the classroom.  There are a number of compelling agruments for and against, but here is one for each side of the argument:

  • We shouldn’t use Facebook, because we haven’t had enough professional development for teachers and administrators on how to best use this tool in educational settings.
  • We should use Facebook, because student behavior online is often unacceptable, which is a new literacy students need to learn: interacting online using social networking sites (if you don’t think this is a new literacy we need to be teaching, do a Google search for cyber bullying and you will have all the evidence you need).

As we look at the reasons why any given technology, like Facebook, shouldn’t be used, don’t let yourself use poor student behavior be a reason for not using them.  If you do, then you’re really just making the problem worse, because you have now become part of the problem.  Correcting student behavior is something teachers and administrators do every day in school, but for some reason we don’t think we can help students develop an internal censor (otherwise known as a conscience) when they use online tools.  I don’t know why we feel we are helpless.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t know enough about the tool and would rather be ignorant than proactive.

Enough is enough!  Take matters into your own hands and start asking questions that get at the real reasons why you aren’t using social networking sites in your school/classroom.  Is it the fear of student behavior using the tools or is it a training issue?  The former is a non issue, while the latter is something you have control over.  Stop making excuses and start tackling the real problems preventing you from creating the type of learning environment we know our students need to be successful.  Social networking sites do have value in education, we just need to unleash their power.

Why parts of the Missouri law limiting teacher-student online interactions are still a bad idea

Yesterday two of my colleagues let me know about a law in Missouri that limits teacher-student online interactions using websites like Facebook and Twitter.  When I saw this I was immediately outraged and did rant just a little bit about the law, while not really knowing the whole story.  So I did some searching and quickly came across a Huffington Post article, which led me to the actual senate bill.  All in all, the bill isn’t that terrible, but there are two small parts of the bill that limit teacher-student interaction using text messaging and online websites, which I feel unreasonably limits student-teacher interaction and creates an image of teachers that hurts the profession.  They can be found on page 15, lines 26-33 in the above linked senate bill.

Before going on, I do want to point out that there are sexual predators in our schools and that too many of the nations students are sexually assaulted by educators.  However, the number of responsible educators looking out for students by far out number the scum that prey on them.  The Associated Press found from 2001 to 2005 that 2,570 educators had their “teaching credentials revoked, denied, surrendered, or sanctioned for alleged sexual misconduct.”  However, when you put that in perspective, that’s less than one tenth of a percent of the over 3 million teachers in the nation.  Assuming that rate is consistent from state to state, Missouri lawmakers are legislating against the whole in response to the actions of a few.  And while the bill goes on to do a number of what I consider good and decent things to protect young people and to stop the “passing of the trash” from school to school, such as: providing guidelines for reporting alleged abuse or providing protection for educators who report other educators for alleged sexual abuse, restricting the interactions of educators in online spaces that might be private, seems like it goes a bit too far.

Can sexual abuse still happen through this medium?  Yes.  Will this law prevent the people who really want to abuse children from using these sites?  Probably not, which means that this part of the law will only prevent the other, non-sexual predators who also happen to be the vast majority of educators, from using social networking and text messaging to help students learn and support their growth.  Most teachers won’t be willing to use these mediums because they might do something wrong.  It isn’t worth the risk of losing your teaching license.  I get that.  I also understand that Missouri lawmakers are trying to protect young people from the sleaze of the earth, but this isn’t how you do it.  This law has a number of different ways that will actually help protect children, but limiting teacher-student interactions via text messaging and social networking sites isn’t the way to do it.  Your desired effect isn’t going to happen.  The predators will likely use these mediums, because they take calculated risks, just like they take calculated risks when they decide to sexually abuse young people.

Students, parents, educators, community members, and anyone else who cares about children, need online safety training in a 21st century context.  Students need to be taught how to responsibly use social networking sites and text messaging so we have fewer incidents with children being abused.  Thinking we can just block the issue away isn’t going to solve the underlying problem.  It’s just going to make it worse.  Students will continue to be abused and bullied by other students and adults.  We have an opportunity to make a difference, but limiting our freedom to teach young people isn’t the way to do it.

After reading the bill, I’m wondering if people will think: if teachers can’t be trusted using text messaging and social networking sites with my children, then how can they be trusted when they are physically close to them?  This law not only will be ineffective in preventing cyber sexual predators, but it hurts education as a profession.  It shows that educators aren’t people we can trust, when this is far from the truth.

M.Ed. Blog Series: Research

This coming Saturday I will be defending my master’s portfolio and I wanted to share some of my hard work with others who won’t attend my defense.  We often spend so much time creating artifacts of our learning, whether it be a document, video, song, web page, etc., to only have it viewed by a relatively small number of people.  I wanted to do something different and share my work with as many people as possible, because I’ve worked hard over the last three years and have grown tremendously as an educator during that time.  So, every day (almost) this week I will post about my experiences and share my reflections, with the hope that some conversation can be created about what I’ve done over the last three years and keep our learning going well past my defense.  Tonight I’ll talk about my research portion of my portfolio.

Research was one of those things that didn’t seem to fit with me when I first started my master’s program.  I knew it was coming eventually in one of my courses, but I didn’t know what to think.  But after I went through the action research course I acquired a taste for research and have made it a part of my career.  For this portfolio, I used my action research project that examined homework completion and using a Facebook group.

As you probably can tell if you follow my blog, I have a passion for social networking software, so it only made sense to examine Facebook further.  I’m always advocating for the use of social networking software so it made sense to research one possibility.  The research was pretty basic.  I met with a teacher who I helped create a Facebook group and then a homework assignment was posted to the events section of the group every week.  I collected data through a group interview prior to the intervention and then observed any interactions online.  After the intervention students and teacher completed a survey.  Data was then coded and compiled to identify themes.

What I found were three big themes.  The first finding was around how students used Facebook.  Most students had a Facebook account and used it regularly.  Only some students had used a group before, mostly to interact with others who had similar interests.  Students were open to the idea of using Facebook in class, but there were a few that had concerns about using technology, because it was another thing they had to learn, which is why I wanted to use Facebook.  Most students in the school I completed the research at were already using Facebook.  Looking at how the Facebook Group was used, it was only being researched to examine the use of the events to help with homework completion.  However, in the first few weeks of the study, some students began posting to the group wall.  But due to low interaction from the teacher and other students, they didn’t keep adding to the wall.  While I’m not drawing any conclusions from this data, I do think there are slight indications that students want to have more social interactions about their courses through social media.  This is certainly a place where I want to investigate further.

The second theme was one that the data really supports, inconsistency.  Due to a variety of reasons, the teacher participating in the research was unable to keep posting events (homework) on a regular basis.  Unforeseen problems arose, such as dual entry of assignments for lesson plan reporting, that limit the generalizations that can be drawn from this research, but one thing that emerges is that there needs to be adequate support for teachers as they implement new initiatives.  This one was no different.  There were technical barriers, administrative barriers, and knowledge barriers that made it more difficult to implement the intervention.  However, students did indicate on the post-intervention survey that they would have liked more interactions on Facebook (67%).

The next theme was homework completion, the focus of the research.  This was one theme where generalizations need to be made cautiously due to the inconsistency.  However, what I found was that even though the amount the Facebook Group was used was inconsistent, 41% of students indicated their habits had changed because they always knew what homework needed to be completed and when.  The teacher also noted that students knew where to look for missing homework and for the assignments that were posted, they didn’t ask for the makeup work if they were gone.

The final theme that emerged from the research was that students and teacher thought that Facebook was a beneficial tool.  The majority of students thought that Facebook was a useful tool for the classroom.  The teacher also thought the tool was useful for her students, but reiterated the need for more support, both technical and administrative, to make the intervention easier to implement.

My research portion of the portfolio wasn’t anything steller, but it is certainly a start and has now hooked me by leaving me with more questions than answers.  What do you think about using Facebook or other social networking software in the classroom?  Do you have any social networking educational research to share?  Do you want to assist with additional research using Facebook and other social media tools?  If so, leave a message or contact me to see if we can work something out!

M.Ed. Portfolio Blog Series: Ethics and Technology

This coming Saturday I will be defending my master’s portfolio and I wanted to share some of my hard work with others who won’t attend my defense.  We often spend so much time creating artifacts of our learning, whether it be a document, video, song, web page, etc., to only have it viewed by a relatively small number of people.  I wanted to do something different and share my work with as many people as possible, because I’ve worked hard over the last three years and have grown tremendously as an educator during that time.  So, every day this week I will post about my experiences and share my reflections, with the hope that some conversation can be created about what I’ve done over the last three years and keep our learning going well past my defense.  Today I’m going to talk about the Ethical and Human Issues and Technology performance indicator.

I felt this was the most difficult performance indicator to talk about, because of the nature of the topic.  When we talk about ethics and some of the human issues with technology, we really are talking about some heavy topics.  Everything from bullying, to cheating, to child safety, to preparing students for the future are all fair game in this topic.  I struggled to find a topic initially, but then I started thinking more about what I felt this competency meant and I came to the conclusion that this is my chance to stand on my soap box and steer the conversation to a place where I thought it was important, where I thought it needed more attention.  So for me, this competency meant talking about three topics: unblocking social networking software, helping students develop an online presence, and helping students develop information literacy.  Influencing my decision was the fact that I hadn’t seen much on a 21st century perspective of this competency in either my conversations with other educators or in my actions.  Instead, I typically saw these topics discussed in a 20th century perspective, which I feel is much different.

I landed on unblocking social networking software, because often we have the wrong reasons at heart when we make decisions to block certain Web sites.  From my experiences as a technology director in a K-12 school, our decision to block social networking sites was based on classroom management considerations supported through the guise of protecting students.  However, what we failed to realize is the shift that is (was?) taking place in how our students learn.  Our students are social beings, but we don’t teach using social tools.  When we introduce social technologies into the classroom there is an inevitable butting of heads.  The easy solution was to block the social technology, when the right solution is to change how we teach to become more social.  Socializing isn’t a bad thing for education, but really is just the next evolution.  Eventually my school began to understand (not that we fully understood) the benefit of changing how we teach to leverage social networking sites.  There was an opportunity to reach our students in a way we had previously dismissed, thus dismissing a part of who our students are.

The second topic I landed on grew out of the first, developing student online presence.  Something we miss when we don’t use social networking software is how students develop their online presence.  Often they are left to do this themselves, alone, which is a breading ground for trouble.  All we need to do to find evidence of this is do a google search for cyber bullying and I all but guarantee the medium used to bully is social.  Here I advocate for teaching our students how to use social software so we can begin to instill our values into this new layer of society.  While some people may think this isn’t the job of school, but when we look at what schools are truly preparing students for, it clearly is being a successful citizen. With social networking sites not going anywhere anytime soon, it’s time schools begin helping students succeed in this arena as well.

Finally, I decided to talk about developing student information literacy.  Knowledge and information is expanding at an unimaginable rate and everyone needs to know how to both search and use that information.  However, by continuing to stick with instruction that doesn’t allow students to search and use that information, this literacy will not begin to develop in our students.  Teachers are no longer the only source of information, but we continue to teach in ways that still support this notion.  My belief is that we as educators have an ethical obligation to provide learning opportunities for students that allow them to be engaged in data and research.  This is likely only possible by drastically changing how we teach and maybe to an extent what we teach.

Ethical and human issues of technology is such an important area in education, but we often don’t talk about it enough.  Here’s your chance!  What’s on your mind?  What do you think is an important ethics or human issue surrounding technology, but isn’t being discussed?  My three certainly aren’t exhaustive.  Add to the conversation and help everyone learn by adding a comment!

M.Ed. Portfolio Blog Series: Technology Applications

This coming Saturday I will be defending my master’s portfolio and I wanted to share some of my hard work with others who won’t attend my defense.  We often spend so much time creating artifacts of our learning, whether it be a document, video, song, web page, etc., to only have it viewed by a relatively small number of people.  I wanted to do something different and share my work with as many people as possible, because I’ve worked hard over the last three years and have grown tremendously as an educator during that time.  So, every day this week I will post about my experiences and share my reflections, with the hope that some conversation can be created about what I’ve done over the last three years and keep our learning going well past my defense.  Today I’m going to talk about the Technology Applications performance indicator, which is a fancy way to say show us how creative you can be with technology you can be in the classroom.

The biggest change that has happened as a result of this program has been the firm development of my teaching philosophy.  Three years ago when I started I had a pretty good idea of who I was and what I thought good teaching was.  Well three years later the changes are truly apparent.  I believe students need the opportunity to learn in a hands-on approach where the teacher has a very reduced role in the classroom.  So for this performance indicator, I used my first PBL project I ever created.

How can I make my community better?

This project was about how students could improve their local community.  Students have the option to do whatever topic their group decided upon as long as it addressed the needs of a certain population within the local community.  This project was designed for a fifth grade technology course, but it is important to have multiple content areas in any lesson in a technology course because that gives the technology additional meaning by putting it in context of a real world application.  This project was no different and addressed both social studies curriculum and literacy curriculum.  If you are interested in the process of how I created the project, check it out here.  The rest of this post will focus on the technology used and the logic behind my decisions.

This project has a number of different technologies used, beginning with blogs.  Each group in this project was to create a blog that they would use to reflect on their process as they went through the project.  There are many components to this project and managing time is often a difficult task so allowing them the opportunity experience reflection was important for me as I created this project.  Students posted every week about their progress, what still needed to be completed and what their next steps were.  Not an overly fancy or new concept, but still a useful way to get students thinking about what they were doing.

Next students became researchers and used the Internet and Google Docs to find and organize their information.  The goal here was to have students construct their own knowledge about how they could improve their community.  There wasn’t a simple solution for each of the students so allowing them to use their own ideas and see if it is a plausible solution was an important characteristic of this process.  Bransford refers to this as a knowledge centered environment, because this is where the students are making sense of information and transferring it to a new situation.

The next step was to share their information with others in the community.  This was done in two different ways.  The first was a somewhat traditional activity, but with a twist.  Students wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper that explained their position and how they thought they could improve the community.  The hope was that students would have their letters published in the newspaper and would receive real feedback from community members, making the task more authentic.  However, I wanted to make sure the students received the proper feedback from the community they deserved so I ended the project with a culminating activity that involved both the students and the community.  It was during this final part of the project where students presented their solutions in a different way.  For this part of the project, students created a short digital story that explained both the problem or issue they were seeking to solve, as well as their solution.  These digital stories were then shared with local city council members at an event devoted to the students and their work, where students could receive real feedback from the people who make change happen in the community.

Also part of the project was a Web site created to help students manage their time.  As I said at the beginning of this post, it was important that the teacher not be at the center of the project and the students had the opportunity to learn collaboratively.  This is where the Web site came in.  On the Web site there are a series of modules in the Homework Assignments section that guide students through major parts of the project.  In these modules are videos and links to resources that help students learn more about the technology they are using for each assignment.  The Web site isn’t anything more than a simple Web site.  If the students had been older, I maybe would have used Facebook, but I didn’t want the focus of the project to be on the vehicle used for learning.  I just wanted something that would easily facilitate the project.

To check out the project and my reflection, go here.