Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad

Today is my parents’ Anniversary. They have given my brother and I so much support through out our lives and our academic careers. Every year I try and think of a gift I can give them that can sum it all up. Unfortunately Apple does not have an ‘App’ for that. So how do we repay the ones who have given us every piece of their lives, made endless sacrifices and have simply been there? How do we show them our gratitude? For me, it’s simple. I always try and find something that will make my mom cry (in a good way!). With my mother that is never hard. And my Dad loves looking back at old photos, but hates posing for them. So this year I wanted to combine these ideas in a way that both visually and musically capture 32 years of marriage. George Lucas was busy, so I turned to my good friend Animoto!

Yes, I am making another plug for this grand application! I hope since reading my last post on Animoto you have tried it many times over and even come up with an assignment for your class. I cannot stress enough the brilliance of this application and hope that you give it a try. Even if you don’t use it in your classroom, take a few moments to use it to say, “thank you” to those who have “been there” in so many ways.
Thank you Mom and Dad

Why Is Everyone Afraid of Social Networks?

A colleague of mine recently informed me of her troubles with incorporating the idea of a social network into her classroom. The primary concern is the safety and privacy of her students. This cause for concern is completely warranted and should be addressed anytime you allow students to engage in a web based social network forum. However, my concern with the social networking scare is that our children and students are privy to a social network everyday of their lives. It is called school.

The 21st century student is connected in myriad of ways. Most have a cell phone, iPod and a digital camera. Some simply have an iPhone. These devices allow students to connect, share and collaborate with anyone. Furthermore, students have more accessibility to each other outside of their social networks. The social network, whether it is facebook or myspace is exactly what, those of us who grew up in a pre-online social network world, did everyday!

We took pictures of our friends. We hung them in our rooms or dorms. We relayed secretive notes to those who made our heart flutter through back channels. We snuck out late at night to visit our significant other while our parents were fast asleep, just to steal a kiss down at the end of the block. We sent letters to each other in college and would call from our telephone. Instead of texting in class, we would doodle or write notes about plans for the weekend. Instead of “sexting” we would just write dirty notes to our girlfriends or boyfriends. We had hundreds of friends at our disposal everyday at school and every Friday night at dances when the neighboring schools would join.

Facebook and myspace are not a new concept. I repeat, this is nothing new. I once had a corkboard in my bedroom as well. This is what was displayed on it along with the facebook equivalent:



Pictures of friends posted with pushpins

Pictures of friends posted via digital


Clippings from the newspaper that were of interest to me or that featured my

favorite team or friends.

Links to websites that feature our friends, interests or favorite teams.

Buttons from elections or causes

Digital clip art that represent our causes and political affiliations.

Notes from friends

The Wall

Birthday cards

300 birthday wishes from your network (two who actually say something more than just “happy birthday”

Again, social networks are nothing new and we should not be scared of them. Yes, there have been awful stories about the downfalls of all of these networks, but in the grand scheme the stories that get the headline news coverage are…

A. About as frequent as hearing about a plane crash.

B. Dramatized and sensationalized for ratings.

C. A Situation that is unmonitored and unstoppable in any social forum.

So what is the big scare with social networks? We are all a part of them everyday and have been without knowing for years. Today’s student simply has the abridged version of what we had all but 15 years ago. Let’s be honest, today’s student is lazier then we have ever been. Yes, they are precious and we are all, “so proud of them”, but lets face it, they have it pretty good (well that’s if you exclude graduating into the worst economy in history).

There are many great upsides to allowing students to be part of social networks. One of them is the website called Zinch. Zinch is a social networking site used by many major colleges and universities across the nation. Like facebook, Zinch allows pre-college students to set up a profile that lists all of their major academic achievements. Universities and colleges actually look at this information and in some cases, students can even apply for scholarships directly through this site. It is a great way for students to access heaps of information and showcase themselves in a positive manner.

The fine line between virtual networks and actual socializing is that you can veil certain elements of your life. They allow you to be someone else; someone you are not (although we are transplanting faces now). In any case, social networks belong in the classroom. There is no way of pushing back what is already a part of our students’ life. With anything, we as teachers and administrators, need to set parameters for the social networks we decide to use in our classrooms. There needs to be…

1. Open invitations to all – parents, administration, superintendent, school board, grandparents and cafeteria ladies (yes, they no more about our students than you would think!)

2. There needs to be complete transparency with any virtual social network. Like reality, all content should be on the surface for all to see.

3. The social network should focus on content only. It should be viewed as a social forum for academic dialogue, nothing else

4. There should be a district wide “Social Networking Constitution” that every parents, faculty member and student should have to sign. A team of all of the above including administration should create this document.

There, fairly simple. With great power comes great responsibility. Venturing off into a social network with your students should be taken very seriously, however, you should not be afraid. If you plan it out and cover your bases it should be a wonderful, collaborative environment.

I hope all who read this understand that social networks are nothing new. They have been part of our lives for years. The functionality is all the same, however, the medium* has changed greatly. Please leave me feedback on the parameters your school district has set for using social networks. And let’s collaborate on the best practices for implementing social forums into the classroom.

*This aforementioned medium will be outdated tomorrow

Bloggers Love Feedback! Thank You Threadless.com!

Sometimes being a blogger is a thankless job. One in which you create and distribute for free, simply because you love it. I love sharing information about my experiences with teaching and technology in the classroom. And I do this for other teachers to learn and experience new ideas for the classroom. Every now and then a small note really make you feel really great!

Two days ago, I featured threadless.com for use in the art classroom and sent an e-mail to the site letting them know about the post. I expected nothing in return, but instead received the kind e-mail below.

Hi Andrew,

Thank you so much for your kind email and for featuring Threadless on your blog! This is an awesome article! Since you talk about bringing Threadless into the classroom in your blog, I wanted to let you know that we have taken the idea to inspire students one step further and have launched a program called Threadless 101, where the regular Threadless design challenge is scaled down for teachers to use in the classroom! I think you’ll enjoy reading about it and hopefully blogging about it even more. Please feel free to read up on it in the attached introductory letter and check it out here: http://www.threadless.com/artists. Please feel free to email me anytime with questions!

I hope to hear from you soon!

My best,

I really encourage all art and design teachers to go to the link embedded in the e-mail and download the PDF. Threadless also has course materials that you can download in one folder. The course materials are well organized and will help implement threadless.com into your class. Threadless 101 is a great venture and really promotes the idea of creative design by students. I hope to hear from all of the art teachers out there who will be trying this out! Please send me your comments and feedback if you are trying this!

After you read this, find your nearest blogger and hug him or her and then proceed to leave them a little feedback on their page. It really goes a long way!

Go Threadless!

Threadless.com is a user generated t-shirt site that promotes user design and sale of a t-shirt. The basic concept can be seen here from an image from threadless.com…

Users log in, and submit an original design that they created. The design is then put into a forum for users to critique and praise the design. If the design receives enough recognition, threadless will put it on a t-shirt and feature it in their store for sale. I liken this site to a student-writing contest. The author submits an original idea and gets recognized for it and in some case, will receive a monetary gift. Plus, imagine applying to art school with a best selling t-shirt in your portfolio! That will surely get the attention of admissions officers!

I think every art classroom should make a strong push to have each student design a t-shirt for threadless. Even if the students’ design is not selected they are interacting with their peers and getting the opportunity to see and learn from other designs. Just by replying on a threadless forum, students are networking with other artists. This forum can create opportunities and lead to possible internships or job experiences.

I’ve never taught art, but if I were to incorporate threadless design into my art class, here is what I may cover.

  1. Students create an original design that has to focus on
    1. A specific style of art (cubism, impressionism, abstract, etc.)
    2. An artists style (Warhol, Monet, Picasso, etc.)
    3. Take an object and make it into a design
  2. Students create their design and present it to the class. They have to address their process and inspirations for creating the design as well as field questions and criticisms from their peers.
  3. Once they have been through the class presentation gauntlet they will submit their design to threadless.com and report back on the responses they receive.

This is a fun project any art classroom should welcome. It incorporates technology, creativity and social networking. Plus it gives the student portfolio a little extra flare!

I hope you give threadless.com a try and I look forward to hearing how you have used or plan on using this site in your classroom!

Lindenwold Middle School Features iTeach!

In their weekly news letter, the Language Arts Department at Lindenwold Middle School, in Lindenwold, NJ featured two blog posts from iTeach. The newsletter focuses on utilizing Shelfari and Goodreads for their summer reading program. The newsletter author asks teachers to check out these new learning tools and finds both sites to be a good way to keep students accountable over the summer.
The author also covers the Animoto post and encourages teachers who are hesitant about making videos in the classroom, to try this new tool and experience the ease of the application.
Please let me know if you are featuring iTeach in any of your school publications! It not only helps promote new teaching ideas throughout your school but increases my smile along with my ever expanding ego 🙂
Thanks to all who share and collaborate new teaching ideas!

Review of Visual Thesaurus

Today I am reviewing a great website that I found via a friend on twitter. The site is called Visual Thesaurus and is designed by Think Map. The site is a visual Thesaurus and Dictionary that breaks down words by using a web mapping platform along with categorical organization. What I did today was create three videos that show you how to use the Visual Thesaurus application, The Vocab Grabber Application and the Spelling Bee application. Each tool will help students see vocabulary and reading comprehension in a different light. The words jump from the pages and dance around on the computer screen in an organized fashion. I am very impressed with this site and their applications. I think every school district should put this software into their budget for the 2009-2010 school year and beyond. I know I will be using it in my classroom, will you?

As always, I welcome your feedback and experiences using these applications!
Enjoy the show…

The Student Portfolio Solution

“Students, make sure all of your work is placed in your folder. Once your latest writing piece is in your folder, close the folder and stack them in the back of the room in alphabetical order.”

How many times have you said this as a teacher? Like most print media, the student portfolio is in a period of transition, however, there seems to be too many options for housing student work. For the past few years my department has debated ideas about how we should transition the student-writing portfolio. Here were some of our suggestions…

  1. All students get a flash stick
  2. House student work via Google Docs
  3. House student work on class wiki
  4. Give all students another flash stick to back up when they lose the first.

While all of these ideas are valid and practical, there is one glaring problem. Why are we housing the student work?


Most districts have students keep their prominent writing throughout their academic career. As a 12th grade English teacher, I am in charge of handing them their stack of yellowing papers that they have stored in folders or binders for the last few years. I encourage students to keep them and that I always enjoy reflecting on my own writing folder from high school to see how far I have come and for simple sentimental value. After this speech, the bell rings and soon enough my trash can is full of student writing folders.

So what is the solution? What is the point of housing these documents if they will only be recycled or trashed?

The first step is to find a housing method and implement it throughout the district or school building. Students do all of their writing on a computer and save it over and over again. Let’s face it, there is no need to keep paper in a folder for four years of high school and three years of middle school. Here is my suggestion:

  1. Elementary and Middle School (K-8)
    1. Each teacher will have a flash stick for student work.
    2. When Students create a writing piece they will save the work on the flash stick and on the school server for backup.
    3. If students create a visual piece the teacher will scan and save the work.
    4. The teacher will host a class wiki and feature student work each week. This is great to collaborate with Administrators, other faculty, parents and grandma who lives 3000 miles away from little Mary and can now see the work she is doing in school on line!
  2. High School (9-12)
    1. Students receive their own flash stick at the beginning of their high school career.
    2. Their work is already uploaded on to the flash stick and is also archived on the school’s server.
    3. At this point, students are capable of maintaining their own wiki space. During freshmen orientation, students will attend a workshop on how to maintain their own writing portfolio wiki.
    4. Students will upload to their wiki throughout their high school careers and also interact with this portfolio.

This may seem like a lot of work and yes, there are many things that could go wrong, but this comes with any new venture. The problems are no different than a student writing portfolio getting lost or misplaced. I think my suggestions cover many bases and allow access to the material throughout their academic careers and beyond.

Many Colleges and Universities ask for writing samples or student work. This allows students to access their work anywhere or even point admissions officers directly to their personal wikis. Also, this is no simply limited to the language arts curriculum. This can be done for computer science, art, history, etc.

Some ideas for portfolio integration:

  1. At the end of each year, students write a reflection piece on their writing for the year. They cover the following items:
    1. How you have grown as a writer
    2. Writing Strengths/Weaknesses
    3. Three goals for writing improvement next year.
  2. Senior year: Students write a comprehensive reflection piece that covers their writing career. Students can also add one visual element to this piece:
    1. A film trailer that captures their writing career and style
    2. A collage of all their writing pieces
    3. A presentation on their writing evolution
  3. Revise several pieces from previous years that focus on
    1. Style
    2. Voice
  4. Students write an editoral-esque review of every piece of writing they submit to their portfolio. Their voice will be that of an outside reporter covering the writing process that just took place. Students can reflect and comment on their writing strengths, weakness and goals for the future.

Finally, this idea can also be used for educators. Last year I created my own wiki for my education portfolio. Since then I have used it in interviews and for updating my lessons and curriculum. It is the same concept and my work is always accessible. This also works well with Google Docs, but I like the idea of inviting someone to view my wiki and they can simply see the educational work that I have posted.

Here are two screen shots of what I have created for my educational portfolio

Book 2.0

Today’s post is not so much of a lesson, but what will become the future of reading. I’m referring to the Kindle from Amazon. Yesterday I read this article that chronicled the launch of Amazon’s Kindle DX. This new gadget immediately alerted my attention and got me thinking really fast about the future of reading and its effect on the classroom.

In its inception, I thought the Kindle would go the way of many other tech fads that try and replace a staple that has been a part of our lives and classrooms for years. Yes, the text book will be replaced someday! And when we are all wearing our conforming tin foil-ish jump suits and fulfilling all of the visions of Doc Brown in Back To The Future II, will we reflect on the good old days of the text book? It’s an interesting question that I have trouble answering. In a world were everything is getting smaller and more connected, books and newspapers have continued to be a part of our daily lives. However, with the recent economy down turn and the continuing rise of free news on the web, the old standbys are slowly, but surely being replaced.
My bold prediction; The Kindle DX will replace all forms of books and newspapers. When this happens, our classrooms will change as well. Let’s be honest, did we ever think the book or newspaper would be replaced? I did, but I know my father did not. So let us imagine a not so distant classroom and provide some scenarios that I can foresee via my Prophet App on my iPhone (NOTE: There is no prophet App, but give it time!).
At the beginning of the year your students come into class with your syllabus uploaded to their Kindle. They can view this anytime their Kindle is around because the newest incarnation of the Kindle has a PDF reader.
Your students sit down and you ask them about current events that they read this morning on their Kindle via their downloadable Newspaper subscription. They have access to the New York Times, Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
Your students are preforming research and have access to text books and journal articles that they can read on demand via the Kindle.
For homework your students are given their class book list and they must download all of their titles for the semester. Yes! No book numbers, no torn out pages, no graffiti, etc! A thing of beauty! And the best part is, once the book is downloaded on to the Student’s Kindle, they can have that book stored for years! We are building libraries in our students hands!
As long as students don’t lose their Kindle, they have access to thousands of books and documents. School Districts with a book bag policy will gladly welcome the lack of heavy text books when students can simply carry their Kindle to class and also avoid early back problems and scoliosis .

This is a lofty goal for me to imagine and there are plenty of downsides to this brave new book. The Kindle DX has a price tag of $489.99, however, I am sure the good folks at Amazon would welcome a school district discount. And what happens when our students lose this valuable piece of equipment? When you have a book, you replace it at minimal cost; a Kindle, not so much.
According to the article above five Universities will be piloting the Kindle DX next fall. It will be interesting to hear the results of this pilot program and discover new ways to incorporate this gadget into classrooms around the country. However, with any new technology we must take baby steps and see the pros and cons of it. I am not saying that the Kindle will end books in classrooms, but it stands a good chance of being in all of our curriculum sooner than later. As we storm forward in the 21st century we must be open to these new technologies and welcome them with patient arms. Things are changing faster than ever, and we need to proceed with a vision when incorporating new technologies into our lives. Especially when they are replacing trustworthy companions that have been with us for so many good years.

Fun With Flickr

Two years ago, I attempted to enhance my weekly vocabulary units that I was presenting to my bored-out-of-their-mind-please-just-let-me-graduate-seniors. So I coordinated with our school librarian who was anxious for teachers to come visit her and present ideas that she could assist in developing! Plus, she was very fond of web 2.0 learning tools and was one of my early inspirations in transitioning my content out into the World Wide Web (that sounds like such an archaic term these days). Our goal was to liven up the vocabulary unit and utilize web 2.0 tools and some of the fancy new CFF (Classrooms For the Future) equipment we just received as part of a grant from the state. Here is what we came up with…but first, a brief video of what we did and how we got started…

Objective: When this unit is completed, students will be able to

1. Identify and understand new words in context

2. Define and use the word

Process: After the class discusses each word, students will be then be assigned one word. Students will perform the following tasks for Vocabulary Unit 4 with their Vocab Partner:

  1. Come up with five sentences for their word. Make sure you utilize context clues in each of your sentences.
  2. Take one sentence and create a way in which you can visualize that word for your peers to see and understand.
  3. Present the idea to the teacher for approval
    1. Once your idea is approved, you will take a digital camera and spend no longer than 3 minutes capturing your photo. MY NOTE: Anytime you use digital cameras, video cameras, microphones, etc. make sure you give the students a specific timetable to use that equipment. This will allow all students to move along in the process and will use class time efficiently.
  4. Once you have your photo taken, show it to the teacher for second approval and then obtain a USB cable for upload. Upload to our class flickr page.
  5. Once your photo is uploaded make sure you post the
    2. Part of Speech
    3. Definition that correlates to your photo
    4. Sentence
  6. You may also enhance your photo by visiting big huge labs dot com.

You will have 30 minutes on Monday and Tuesday to complete this project.

Grading will adhere to the following criteria:

  1. Spelling and Grammar……………..10……7…….4……..0
  2. Sentences………………………10…..7……..4……..0
  3. Visual Appeal and Clarity……..10…..7……..4……..0

And that was the assignment in a nutshell. The rubric is a rough sketch. I cannot find the original rubric we used, but it was similar to those guidelines.

Once we finished the project, we had a viewing of the words on Wednesday. Each group presented their word to the class. It was a fun and engaging way to jazz up learning new vocabulary and retention. I noticed my vocabulary quiz grades improve significantly after this project. The students actually looked forward to vocabulary and I actually caught some of them looking ahead to future units!

This lesson put a fun, easy twist on something that had been boring and trite to my students. It did not take a lot of class time and in the end served as a valuable learning and retention tool. If you are worried about class time being eaten up by projects like this, then put a time stamp on tasks and enforce your time cap! Tell students they will lose points if they lag behind. I found this project to take a little more time during the first run through, but as we approached each new vocabulary unit, students became aware of the process and time it would take to get it done. I rarely had to subtract points for time.

Here are some examples of student work with flickr and Big Huge Labs

Websites used:


Big Huge Labs

Coming Soon To iTeach: Collaboration Friday!

When I initially set out to start this blog, my goal was for it to serve as a universal resource for all educators. My mission was to have weekly contributors, sharing practical ideas for implementing technology into the classroom. It is still my hope that this will happen and to promote this new phase, I want to introduce Collaboration Fridays!

Collaboration Fridays will showcase technology driven lesson plans and ideas that teachers have successfully used in their classroom. Teachers in any discipline are urged to share their ideas and I will post as many lessons I receive each Friday. I felt Friday would be the best day to showcase outside lesson ideas because Friday we can look forward to the weekend and possibly reflect on a new lesson or work on designing something new for the upcoming week.
All teachers who share in this collaboration will receive full credit for their work and the same audience that all of my regular posts receive. Plus you will be noted in the contributors section that will be viewable this Friday. All work is protected and licensed through the creative commons license at the bottom of my page. In short we encourage educators to use and share this work, but not for commercial purposes.
Those who wish to share an idea or lesson are urged to do so and provide the following information:
A brief summary of who you are:
Website or Blog:
Your written lesson with attached documents or examples of work:
You can e-mail Collaboration Friday Submissions to: [email protected]

You can send video, document (MS Word, PDF, etc.) and audio attachments to my e-mail.

Any questions or comments please let me know! Thanks for sharing and I look forward to
adding lots of new work every Friday!