I was fortunate enough to attend the CUE 2010 conference in Palm Springs, CA this past weekend (March 4th through 6th). For the unfamiliar, CUE (Computer Using Educators) is a non profit organization whose “goal is to advance student achievement through technology in all disciplines from preschool through college.” Cue is one of the largest organizations of its kind, and the largest in the western U.S. (http://www.cue.org/about).
Basically, the annual CUE conference is, as one presenter said, “a geek pride fest.” Yup, pretty much. And by all accounts it was a great conference full of networking, learning, and a exchange of great ideas.
Here’s just a snapshot of the sessions I attended and some of what I learned:
Lure of the Labyrinth –Math – 6th grade and up
This is a free pre-algebra game developed by MIT folks and looks like a really good resource for reinforcing these skills in an engaging way.
The goal of the game is the rescue your dog. But to do so you must make it through a series of rooms with puzzles that require non-linear thinking for solving. Perhaps the best aspect of Lure of the Labyrinth is the fact that there is little explanation given for the puzzles. Students, and teachers, are required to figure it out for themselves. So not only do the games help with algebraic thinking but they also force students to employ trial and error.
The game is visually engaging and fun. Check it out if you teach Middle School math. Oh, yeah. Did I say it was free?
Mixbook – All areas -Primary (with assistance) and up.
This was a short informational session on a pretty cool site for putting together and publishing books. Similar to services like Snapfish and books through iPhoto, Mixbooks provides a simple way to create attractive books. These tools are great for the classroom and allow students to bring their writing projects past simply printing them out on the room printer. One thing that did seem particularly neat was Mixbook’s providing the ability to embed virtual books, complete with somewhat realistic page flips, into any web site or blog. Check out Mixbook for Educators which includes some collaborative tools for the classroom as well as discounts on printing.
CLRN (CA Learning Resource Network) – Most curricular areas – Teachers/Parents – All grade levels
Wow. Who knew the CA DOE was putting money to such good use? Cutting the story short: CA currently pays teachers to extensively review paid and free online and offline learning software.
We all know the internet is flush with “educational” sites. And a visit to your local computer store can leave any parent overwhelmed by the decision of picking out the right piece of software to meet her/his student’s needs. Many software makers claim that their product is aligned to state standards and will effectively reinforce an advertised skill. The CLRN folks spend the time to actually investigate these claims and post their results on the CLRN site for anyone to use.
Check this site out if you’re searching for a new resource or want to investigate one you already have.
Using Technology to Enrich a Project-Based Learning Curriculum – Middle School through High School – All areas
The folks presenting this piece were from the Napa Valley Public School District home of New Tech High School. NTHS describes Project Based Learning as the “backbone of [its] unique learning environment.
I’m relatively new to teaching so I’m not very familiar with Project-Based Learning. First of all, this isn’t your run of the mill “Let’s do a project and create a poster board” thing. This is basing all instruction around a large project that involves multiple teachers, student led work, and community input and evaluation.
One presenter gave an intriguing example. As her class studied Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, groups created Depression Era newspapers to display at the local library.
As the example above shows, PBL seems to effectively incorporate a wide swath of skills. These were described as the “Six A’s”:
- Authenticity – connecting classroom instruction to real life issues and challenges.
- Academic Rigor – learning continues to be standards-based.
- Active Exploration – students explore, with guidance from the teacher, concepts around the current topic.
- Adult Connections – there is usually a community involved portion of the project that requires real input from its members.
- Assessment – teachers still utilize traditional assessment to check for learning.
Without going into too much detail, PBL sounds like a big step toward authentic learning. Check out NTH’s page on Project Based Learning.
Web Literacy – All grades – All areas
Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a great speaker who just makes sense. She is a Middle School teacher in Los Angeles and runs TweenTeacher.com .Visit her site for a lot of great resources.
Wolpert-Gawron session on web literacy was excellent and brought up many great points. At the heart of her session was the assertion that reading on the web is different from reading printed material. A readers does not interact with web content in the same way as a book. Therefore, different skills are needed to successfully utilize the web as a source of information.
Skimming, according to Wolpert-Gawron, should be encouraged when reading web content. Obviously, the web is flooded with information and approaching it like one would a book is ineffective. Efficient skimming is a skill adults often employ and the web is a perfect venue in which students can practice.
If you take a look at how much of the internet is organized you’ll notice that it’s already geared toward adult readers. Tabs, pages, and clearly labeled navigation characterize the most often used sites of the web. Wolpert-Gawron points out that adult users often take this intuitive layout for granted and can logically figure out where to find information. But students have not developed this internalized literacy and therefore need to be explicitly taught, and given opportunity to practice, concepts like looking at the top of the page first for the most important links.
In the same way we don’t simply plop a math book in front of a student and hope she learns, educators need to methodically and explicitly teach web skills, and not just in he computer lab once a week. Teaching these skills will equip students with the basic tools to delve further into internet literacy topics such as evaluating the authenticity of material.
You can view Wolpert-Gawron’s handouts from this session here.
Digital Storytelling – All levels – All areas
What is Digital Storytelling? Basically, Digital Storytelling is a catch-all phrase for student created, linear digital content. Students use digital storytelling to communicate ideas, investigate ideas, and give proof of their learning in ways more engaging than a poster board. Teachers use digital storytelling to check for understanding, differentiate instruction, teach 21st century skills, create life-long memories, and as a motivational tool.
This session was presented by Kristin Haley and Jennie Chonka from the Santee School District in California. Haley and Chonka did a nice job of sharing how they use DS in their classrooms. Relying primarily on the easy-to-use software Pixie 2 and Frames, the teachers have their students create engaging projects that include graphics, photos, audio (often student voice), and animation. Think of Powerpoint presentation except produced by students…and not boring.
Digital Storytelling does not have to actually be telling a story, although it is the perfect venue in which to teach speaking skills. DS can give students the motivation to get through the planning stages of pre-writing and drafting and then give them opportunities to work cooperatively with others. One does not need special software to employ DS in her/his classroom. Many computers already come with software suitable for beginning DS.
Top 10 Web Apps – All levels – All areas
Steve Dembo is big name in EdTech. He’s a Discovery Education superstar and has a lot of great ideas. Here’s a list of his top 10 Web 2.0 apps (in no particular order).
Disclaimer: These are free, public sites. There is no guarantee that the content displayed will be appropriate for children. Always check them out ahead of time. Some sites devote portions of their sites to educational use and block public galleries.
- Wordle – Free – With a little imagination teachers can use this word cloud creating site for great things. Simply copy and paste any text into the site and Wordle automatically creates a word cloud for you with the most often used words showing up largest. Have students C+P their writing to see which words show up, create a Wordle and have students guess the writing (famous speeches, classmates’ writing, etc.). Wordle offers many options for making your word clouds look cool too. Here’s Act 5, Scene 2 of Hamlet in a Wordle:
- Prezi – Free – Powerpoint is so 20th century. Prezi allows users to create dynamic and interesting non-linear presentation. We have all sat through boring presentations of poorly planned Powerpoints that serve little purpose than to keep the speaker on track. If you want to move beyond last century’s presentation model (they’re called slideshows for a reason) check out Prezi. Here’s a good one on Google Search Tricks by Tony Vincent:
- Edmodo – Free – Create private online communities for the classroom. This is an awesome site to use while teaching students about online etiquette and safety. Or, you can use Edmodo to communicate with your students in a safe environment. Edmodo offers lots of options for teachers to manage different classes and subjects.
- Wallwisher – Free – Wallwisher is a cool little tool for creating a personalized space where users can post notes, links, images, or videos. Have students post definitions to key words, embed math tutorial videos, post anticipatory questions, or just comment. Endless possibilities for the classroom.
- Poll Everywhere – Free – Use cellphones in the classroom! (Please don’t fire me). Quickly and easily set up a poll and have students respond in with their phones. Results instantly appear. Great for assessing understanding.
- Voicethread – Free – Voicethread allows users to post content and receive text, audio, and video comments. Awesome for collaborating across the globe.
- Delicious – Free – Have you ever wished you could get to a bookmark on your work computer from home, or vice versa? Delicious is social bookmarking that allows you to maintain your list of bookmarks online so that they are accessible from any browser. Also use Delicious to share bookmarks with people. This is a powerful networking tool and time saver.
- iPadio – Free – No microphone? No computer? No problem. iPadio allows users to create podcasts using any phone. Simply call in and enter your given PIN number and record. Steve Dembo: How about asking students what they learned today and have them say their answer into iPadio then automatically posting audio to your iTunes podcast feed so that parents can listen on the way home from work.
- Glogster – Free – Glogster is a fun tool for making visual blogs. Use their tool to lay out any content from the web (including video) in a visually interesting way. Check out edu.glogster.com for their education version.
- KidBlog – Free – We should be facilitating blogging by our students. What better way to teach writing, online etiquette, and 21st Century Skills, and collaboration? Use Kidblog to start your class blogging today.
Getting Teachers to Adopt Technology – Rushton Hurley
Hands down, Rushton Hurley was the best speaker at CUE 2010. There was not a better, more dynamic or funnier presenter. His session was geared toward strategies for promoting technology use in the classroom.
In short, he advocates…
Remind teachers of their expertise
Don’t tie everything to standards
What’s gotta stick?
Don’t sit everyone in a lab for training
Do allow regular (and short) sharing time
Let people know that they are in the minority if they are not doing something cool
Don’t spend all money on technology in lab
Showcase what can be done with one or two computers
Learn what’s freely available
Don’t blanket the school with expensive hardware
Use targeted spending to focus purchases.
You can view his session info here.
If you live anywhere remotely near Palm Springs, CA (or if you have generous a generous administration) you have to make it to CUE 2011. You will not be disappointed. Learn what’s happening at the forefront of education. Learn tons and meet great educators.