Thursday’s Tip: The Power of Online Collaboration

Goodbye Power Point…Hello Prezi!

One night this past spring I witnessed my 15 year-old daughter hard at work on a group presentation for her Freshman Honors English class. We all know how painful completing group projects can be, and she moaned and groaned at the prospect of collaborating on an essay and visual presentation with two of her peers. Once she finally got going, it was amazing to see the collaboration between these three students – who were each in their homes working from their computers.

They worked simultaneously with two online tools. They used Google Docs to work on the essay and to chat about what they were doing. They also used Prezi to create an amazingly cool, interesting, and informative presentation. This tool is like a giant white board that lets you zoom in and out and set a sequence of your choice for the words and graphics to be shown. The result can be striking.

The most exciting part about this tool to me (as a parent and a teacher) is the enthusiasm the students have for using it and therefore, the enthusiasm they have for working on a group project. My daughter and her peers worked for hours and all three of them had an equal part. They could each see what the other was doing to both the essay and the presentation in real time. They could ask each other questions…”Hey, I need a quote for this part, who has one?” and “What do you mean you broke up with him?”…just like working in person. However, since they were working online, and there is somehow more freedom to say more personal things than you would in person, they really got to know each other in a way that they never would have in the school building as these are three students who would not choose to interact with each other and don’t share common friends.

So instead of a presentation tool…maybe Prezi could boast itself a tool that also breaks teenage social barriers! Cool stuff either way!!

This post was submitted by Tami Chappel, a special education teacher for Kirkwood Schools here in Missouri. You can read more from Tami at her blog, Pioneer Prep.

HD_Links: Wish I Was There – ISTE 2011:Philadelphia

The largest educational technology conference in the United States is going on right now in Philadelphia, PA. Formerly known as NECC, ISTE 2011 is the place for educators to meet to share what is going on in educational technology and what is just over the horizon.

I have had the chance to attend this conference twice and can say that it is an unbelievable opportunity to network with others that value the use of technology as an educational tool and a key component of 21st century learning.

Even though I don’t get to be there in person this year, there are many ways that I am staying connected and learning about what is new in technology and education at ISTE. Here are a few of the resources available to everyone so that we can all “virtually” attend the conference and stay connected.

ISTE Conference Website – with links to everything you would need to know if you were there like the conference mobile app, the daily schedule, exhibit hall floorplan, but there is so much more.

Another must have ISTE resource:

Tuesday’s Tool: SumoPaint

Sumo Paint is a free graphics editing/painting application, that you can use in your favorite web browser! The application can be used in most operating systems and the only requirement is Flash Player.

The free version allows users to create or edit images/graphics using tools similar to those found in other programs such as Photoshop, Fireworks, and Gimp. Users can save the images to their computer or to SumoPaint (with account) as a SUMO, .png, or .jpg file.

To help you get started, SumoPaint has a help feature allowing users to select the tool they want to know more about and often times see a video that shows how that tool works. You can also find some tutorial videos on YouTube.

Whether you are trying to make minor edits like removing red-eye from a photo or creating graphics from scratch, SumoPaint can help.

Brooke Higgins is an Instructional Specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.

Friday 4ALL: Windows 8 Preview

How has Apple and the iPhone OS changed the face of computing? Watch this sneak peek of Windows 8, and it becomes apparent that operating systems are changing across the board.

Imagine every PC at your school with an operating system that makes them as easy to use as the iPhone and iPad. Add to that the ease of App development and distribution not to mention Flash… new doors are opening for schools and students.

Christie Terry is the e-Learning for Educators Director here at the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Supporting Self-Directedness

Self-Directed – “Directed or guided by oneself, especially as an independent agent”

When you think about it, we all want to be self-directed.  We want the ability and freedom to guide ourselves; to make choices based on a sound thought process, and the independence to tailor learning, thinking, and life to our own style and needs.   Being teachers, we also strive to achieve that same ability and desire in our students.  We want them to be self-directed with their thoughts, learning, and life.  Our biggest obstacle is: How do we achieve self-directedness in ourselves and our students?  As we first focus on ourselves for this post, there are several ways to move towards becoming self-directed.  With summer here, we can take some time and explore possible avenues to help meet that goal.


We might consider the development of our own Personal Learning Network (PLN) through blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks.  We can choose the ones that allow us to develop skills, learn about new technologies, explore teaching strategies, see a variety of perspectives, and learn about educational issues affecting not only ourselves but the world.  A variety of tools and media allows us to develop a PLN that fits our individual learning styles as well as connect to the global education community where we can gain and share new learning.

Another way to move towards becoming a self-directed individual is through the organization of our thought process.  We have discussed in previous posts ways to reflect and plan.  We can implement these skills in almost any situation and in everything we do.  We can ask ourselves questions to develop a plan, and then once the event is over, reflect on ways to continue or improve what we did. This can include the setting of goals and monitoring the follow through of those goals.   As we take these pieces of planning and reflecting and internalize the process, we move ourselves closer to becoming a more self-directed person.

So some questions that could support you in becoming more self-directed that you might want to consider are:

  • What goals might you have for yourself in becoming self-directed?
  • What might be some strategies you can use to develop your ability to be self-directed?
  • What learning styles and preferences in yourself do you need to consider in becoming self-directed?

Taking the steps in becoming more self-directed may seem small but can have a powerful impact on how we approach and handle life.  As the Australian song reminds us – “From little things, big things grow” – Paul Kelly

Carmen Marty, Terri Brines, & Brooke Higgins are eMINTS Instructional Specialists and Cognitive Coaching/eMINTS Agency Trainers. For more information about Cognitive Coaching and related seminars visit the eMINTS National Center events page.

mathplourde (Photographer). (2007). My PLN Banner. [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mathplourde/4618916837/

HD_Links: Library Resources

Nevins Library First Librarians

A school librarian’s work is never done. They are often the first ones to prepare for a new school year and the last ones to leave in the summer. At some schools, they work throughout the summer. So, in honor of all those librarians out there, here are a few resources for the school librarian/media specialist at your school:

The blog, A Media Specialists Guide to the Internet, is a great resource for library media specialists who want to learn more about tools available on the internet. (via Valerie Jankowski, library media specialist)

Librarian By Day is Bobbi Newman’s attempt to help keep librarians and libraries stay in touch with the digital age. While not specifically focused on school libraries, this blog is useful for the librarian’s librarian and keeps a finger on the pulse of all things technological.

A lot of librarians these days are in-charge of their school’s computer labs (hence the new title “media specialists”). The biggest obstacle to keeping a lab running is dealing with old, out-of-date computers and operating systems. Luckily, Google Chromium OS is free and is a suitable substitute for these obsolete operating systems. Edublogger has all the details if you’re interested.

Here’s a sad sign of the times. One librarian won a 21st century make-over for her school’s library. Her other reward? She was laid-off shortly after. Read more here.

Finally, for those who use Twitter, follow the Tweets by these librarians, media specialists, and library advocacy groups:

What have you read online about school libraries/media centers? Which school librarians do you follow on Twitter or the blogosphere?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center and the son of a retired school media specialist. The image is in the Public Domain and courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday’s Tool: Museum Box

Museum Box is an online tool that allows you to create a virtual box of artifacts to describe an event, person, or time period.  This tool is perfect for the classroom.  Students can upload or select text, videos, images, sounds, file attachments (documents, presentations, spreadsheets, etc.), and Internet links to demonstrate their understanding of a topic of study.  They organize their Museum Box into different layers and add captions to describe the connection to the main topic.

Where did the idea for Museum Box originate?  According to the creators, Museum Box was inspired by Thomas Clarkson, an abolitionist who collected evidence for his cause.  Users can view a virtual Museum Box for Thomas Clarkson, and teachers can use this box as an example for their students.  When the Museum Box is finished, students can publish their final product and upload it to the site.  Museum Box also includes several documents and resources for teachers, who can register their school to review and approve their students’ projects.  Museum Box is an excellent online tool for students to demonstrate their higher-level thinking using a multimedia project inspired by history.

Today’s post was shared by Amberleigh Slaven, a fifth grade teacher at Mill Creek Elementary here in Columbia, MO.

Monday Message: June 20, 2011

Welcome New eMINTS Staff Members!

The eMINTS National Center is pleased to announce the addition of three new staff members. We have added Jennifer Foster who was an eMINTS teacher from Winona, MO and who has just recently completed the PD4ETS program as an eMINTS Instructional Specialist in the South Central portion of the state. Jen will be working with several of the rural districts involved in our i3 (Investing in Innovation) grant project.

We also welcomed Amy Blades who completed the PD4ETS program several years ago when she was with the Centralia School District here in Missouri. She spent some time in Texas and is now back in the Springfield, MO area. Amy will also be working as an eMINTS Instructional Specialist with rural districts in the i3 grant project in the southwestern part of the state.

Finally, we are excited to welcome Deborah Sutton as a Program Coordinator here in the Columbia office. Those of you who live in Missouri will know Deb from her many years as  the Director of Instructional Technology at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Deb retired from the Department at the end of May and we are happy to have her assistance with the i3 grant project and several other initiatives across the state.

eMINTS/SMART Training in Missouri: eMINTS staff who are Certified SMART Trainers are offering two levels of professional development on SMART Board and SMART Notebook in summer 2011 at three locations across the state – Columbia, Springfield and St. Louis. Attend one day or both days. For more information on dates and costs or to register for a session near you see: http://www.emints.org/programs/smart/index.shtml

Friday 4ALL: How to Make a Task Authentic

Pine Crest School student Audrey Kline with her 8th grade Earth science project about asbestos: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A huge component of the WebQuests and inquiry-based lessons teachers create in the eMINTS program is the authentic task. It is difficult to come up with tasks and activities that are authentic or real-world that also match somewhat abstract state standards.

The first thing I often ask teachers to do is consider how a particular piece or content or skill would be used in the real world. This exercise challenges the validity of a particular standard. Teachers are forced to really consider just how important an objective may be to their students’ long-term learning. Often, what they find is that the standards do hold value, but that value is clearer to them and provides new purpose. Also, this practice gives the teachers reasons to share with their students as to the importance of learning and practicing the standards. The real-world applications they discover soon become the authentic tasks for which they’ve been searching.

Take the fourth grade teacher trying to teach her students letter writing. Instead of teaching the parts of a letter and having students write letters that will never be sent, use every opportunity to write real letters to real people. Students could write letters to the authors they’re reading, scientists with current research on the topics with which they’re experimenting in class, or public officials when they have questions on the inner-workings of state government. In this case, there doesn’t need to be a separate unit for letter-writing. The skill is developed in filling authentic needs the students and class may have.

While this can be a doable task for most teachers of most content areas, it can be a challenge for upper-Math courses. Math is typically very applicable to everyday life. However, courses such as Calculus and Trigonometry present an additional challenge. These courses are there in order to provide students with a background for engineering, a difficult thing to understand for non-engineers. Still, these teachers may just have to think like an engineer. Plus, not every activity has to be authentic, but those that do make the abstract real will go a long way in making an impression on students.

Another way in which tasks can become more authentic is by breaking free of the constraints set out by arbitrary subject areas and chronological grade levels. Real life is not neatly divided among subject areas or age groups. We all work within a context that requires several disciplines. Additionally, people of all age groups could share the same occupation at the same time. Nowhere is this more apparent than in how the state of Missouri is reorganizing their state standards to fit ranges of grades as opposed to individual grade levels.

As far as creating authentic tasks that incorporate a variety of disciplines, we have our teachers start with a task that interests students and search for the skills and content found in standards. Starting with student interests can often make writing an interdisciplinary project easy. For example, having students create a television program based on a topic of interest requires numerous skills and knowledge that span across standards in all subject areas.

A third way we can come up with authentic tasks is to move our focus from instruction to that of learning. When we focus on learning over teaching, we think about how knowledge is used and the needs it fullfills. We release the learning from the constraints of the traditional teacher-student relationship.

Authentic tasks for our students is not an easy thing to do, but it’s a worthwhile practice in order to make learning tangible and valuable for our students. What some ways in which you come up with authentic tasks for your students to complete that still meet standards? What are some examples of the authentic tasks you’ve found to be successful? What are the challenges you see with creating authentic tasks for your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.