Straddling Teaching with New Tools and Old Tools

I attended a conference yesterday where I presented along with colleagues on how our school is using Moodle and the impact it has had for changing the educational environment of our school. I started by showing a log of recent activity which is followed by my speech about “Walled Garden and Safe Digital Network” that Wesley and Miguel have made me aware of in past posts on their blogs.

I use this log as a teaching tool since it contains IP addresses and other important user data just like every other web site they visit. It helps get the awareness raised to the need to keep private information private and how web sites gathered all sorts of data from visitors. There have been stories on how some technology companies allow this data to be “screen scraped“. Awareness is the first point of the process of changing a behavior.

As we went through the presentation I could see the eyes of the attendees (along with their heads shaking) that they were seeing the power of it. Last Friday I taught the 5th graders about Cyber Security regarding passwords and user information and how there is a big difference between private and personal information. Private is meant to be kept off line while personal information like what cookies I like and how many dogs I have will give a viewer some information but will not let them triangulate where I live or will be at 3:30 today.

I constantly see the value of Moodle and do not know what I would do without it. In fact tomorrow all 8th grade students are taking a Computer Competency Exam through Moodle. While I will have them in the lab through their Science, Language Arts or History courses, they can do a review course now via Moodle. The exam covers Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Information and Digital Literacy. I wish I did not have to administer it as I think the skills that need evaluation are not measured by an exam. I do very little if any instruction on Word, PowerPoint or Excel but do a lot on using Discussion Forums, Journals, Podcasting, Images and other creation type tools. I know it is important to know how to use a word processor, presentation software, and even spreadsheets, but Microsoft is not the only game in town. I have students who use only Google docs as they do not own copies of Office. Until I figure out a better solution, I will evaluate students to make sure they at least know the skills tested. If a student does fail the exam, the only result is that they need to take a computer course in the Upper School before the end of their sophomore year. If they pass it, then they are exempt from taking any computer course in the Upper School. This actually is a bigger concern for me as in the age of information overload, knowing more is better then knowing being done. I think this is an example of a straddle effect.
Update 2/26/08: I had a meeting with the Middle School Technology Committee where we discussed items of interest and out of it came the need for instruction for students in how to send email, write email, and other uses of current technologies as feedback from professionals students contact is that they do not know how to write an email or letter. Maybe if we give students email accounts we could model and teach this curriculum. I remember learning how to write these documents in the dark ages of no computers.

New tools abound and one I am learning today so I can be in 2 places at once is called ScreenFlow. I am working at purchasing it since the demo mode is splashed all over the finished video unless I purchase it. This may seem easy enough, but the company is in England and they will not take American Express unless I use British Pounds instead of US Dollars for American Express due to the exchange rate. Get the idea! A global economy affects my learning and teaching here in Durham. Flat World indeed:)

Parents and students are great sources of links as well. Here are some I have been looking at lately: This is a movie about the life cycle of a learner in high school. There are about 2, 000, 000 minutes in a high school student’s career. How best to use it? This video will definitely provoke discussions and disagreement. I think like most things in the world, it all depends on the lens you view it with as to how you react. The video came about after Bob Compton visited India.

Futures Channel Jessica P. was finishing up her Independent Science project and wanted to embed the video on the Wind Farm. She had done her PowerPoint and has a link to the site, but wanted to see if she could just show the section of the film she wanted to show during her presentation. Since the video is a Shockwave file and because it appears that they hold all rights to the work, there was no way to do this mashing up or repurposing of the video. I was intrigued by the site and the tag line: “Connecting Learning to the Real World”. I think her use of it to support her presentation is great and I would have loved to of talked with her more about how she found it “I was looking around for resources”. This is where we need to be teaching and not how to insert a table into a Word document.

This post feels scattered and I guess it is as I have been teaching podcasting to 6th graders, helping a student get their Google Presentation Offline (No luck yet) and other duties that come up as I straddle each day with one foot in the future and one foot in today.

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Student Learning Networks and Global Change

Students today are wonderful teachers of teachers when given the opportunity to share what they have learned from their learning network. I was working with a sixth grade class on their podcasting project for History. We were learning how to research using web sites, citing of sources, creating a Keynote slide presentation to use as images for their enhanced podcast, script writing and just getting our assets in order before we actually begin recording. I believe this is how actual “news” organizations broadcast.

I am working with one group and a student named Chess wants to show me something that will help save electricity for all of the computers in the lab. I said, I would be interested in something like that for sure. Blackle is where he took me and told me how we could do little things that can make a big difference. Research I have done does refute some of the claims since CRT and LCD monitors have different energy use, but what I think is amazing is that here are a group of students talking about saving energy by using a different color.

I think this demonstrates the power of a personal learning network and also how students can shift change in their life due to their access to information. I have watched how students in the labs will do vocabulary in order to send grains of rice.

Student Engagement has lower barriers then when I was in school with the tools of today. Durham Academy is a member of iEARN as Tina Bessias travelled to Egypt for last years conference. TakingITGlobal is another student engagement site for global awareness.

The times have changed where student voices could not gather into a force to affect change. I think it is wonderful and look forward to being supported in my senior years by students who were empowered in their youth to affect change.

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June Moodle Workshop at Durham Academy

I am pleased to announce that Durham Academy will be hosting a Moodle Workshop for any teacher in the area who would like to attend.

Moodle is an Open-Source Virtual Learning Environment that can be used to extend your course or classroom. Durham Academy began using Moodle in 2006 and to date have over 100 courses being taught using Moodle to extend the learning in dynamic ways.

Durham Academy is pleased to announce another opportunity for you to learn how to use Moodle by attending a 4 day session from June 9 – 12, 2008 at the Durham Academy Middle School. The workshop will run from 8:30 – 3:30 daily – Monday – Thursday. You should plan to attend all 4 days. The cost for the session is $200.00 and will include lunch and refreshments each day. Payment can be made in advance or on the first day of the workshop. Lodging will be the responsibility of the attendee.

Attendees will work on creating their own course using the DAILE Moodle server. Any work done can be exported and taken back to attendees school. No prior experience with Moodle is needed.

Attendees will learn about many of the modules that Moodle offers and be able to see how teachers have successfully used them here at Durham Academy.

To register or questions, please e-mail Karl Schaefer or call 919-489-9118 x 4335

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Programming Classes in Schools

A colleague asked about Computer Programming Classes in Middle School. I found this compelling given a recent conversation I had regarding the lack of classes at our Middle School along with a need to adjust how we assess our students in the Upper School. The ideas here are generated from a listserv I belong to and while it is Creative Commons material, I have taken out the names of folks due to issues related to publishing of material that some folks think is private. The schools mentioned are all private schools.

I am using this more as a collector of information. I guess I could use my wiki as well.

School 1:
We do HTML and CSS in 7th grade (though as stated these are not programming languages), and an intro to Processing in 8th grade- this is
an MIT lab IDE. We continue with Processing in the US. For more information try: Also, my colleague Michael B. did a workshop at NEIT this year called Processing

School 2:
We offer a two week unit in Python programming to all of our 8th graders and another to all of our 9th graders. It’s not a course, by any stretch of the imagination, since by design we’ve left out most of the formal discussion in favor of examples and experiementation, but it could be extended into one without too much work. Our current state of play (due for revision, I might add).

School 3:
We teach Perl starting in the sixth grade. There is a very good book “Learning Perl” which has the classes set out for use. Perl has
several advantages. first unlike HTML Perl is a real programming language. HTML is a markup system. second Perl run on our three types
on computers (Windows, Mac, Linux) and the programs work the same on each kind. Third Perl is a widely used and useful language which the
students will not out grow. That is it is not a “teaching”language but rather one that has real practical value.

School 4:
Here at the L… Schools, we’re teaching programming using Logo(Microworlds) in the 5th grade, Scratch in the 6th, and Runtime Revolution
in the 8th. (Runtime Revolution is a successor to the old HyperCard — for those oldtimers like me — and is a terrific multi-media environment with a powerful yet easy-to-understand scripting language behind it. Infinitely better than HyperStudio.)

Other Suggestions

I will continue to add to this post as the data comes in.

To be fair, I have installed Alice on the computers in the Middle School and hoped to do a club using students. One student is the son of a Computer Science teacher at Duke University who conducts Alice Training. I had to cancel it since there was demand on the computer labs to run a TV Commerical and Stock Market Club along with a Lego Mindstorms Club that I sponsor. In addition, I am offering camps on Scratch, Lego Mindstorms and Alice this summer.

I am amazed and jealous at times at what some schools are able to fit into the school day.

A Vision of Durham Academy K-12 Students?

Michael Wesch from Kansas State has done a lot of videos related to technology and students. Most of them focus on higher education and are very well done. His site Digital Ethnography is full of content to help learn what is happening today. He recently gave a presentation on “The Crisis of Significance“.

He posed some simple questions to students:

Q: How many of you do not actually like school?

A: Over half raise their hands.

Q: How many of you do not like learning?

A: No hands.

I am not at all surprised by this reaction as I observe it each day. Granted, I am in technology and watch students use Microsoft Word to type reports for some teachers. Others students “get to use” Moodle to upload assignments, journal, post discussion items, and other interactive lessons. The last two days students have been using Photoshop to create Greek God and Goddess trading cards for one class while another class used Microsoft Word. The teachers decided what tool to use based on their comfort level. There is no wrong or right answer here as the key word is CREATE.

Technology use by teachers varies and is not determined by age, education, or discipline, but I think, by a willingness to vary instructional methods, allow for authentic learning by their students, and a desire to strive to learn new skills and methods of teaching. If teachers are willing to take on these characteristics, technology offers a lot of engaging power.

I spent the last year and half working on a Technology Task Force in order to recommend what Durham Academy should do to continue to be relevant and “significant” in a changing world. The presentations went well and most negative comments came out of a fear of how technology is either destroying students concentration or how it will change the culture of our school. I love a professional discussion on the merits of benefits technology can offer the learning environment so the day was a great opportunity for me to share my vision for Durham Academy. The voting process did not reveal a clear decision so more work will need to be done in April.

Students will work hours on an engaging project be it for school or for “fun”.

Here are some other questions to ask:

Q. Who did you learn from today?

Q. Who did you teach today?

Q. From how many people or countries did you learn from today?

Check out this video to see how we are connecting with our students.

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Professional Development Day

As we get ready to present the Technology Task Force Proposals to the faculty and staff on Monday, 2/4 I thought I would use a bit of Web 2.0 and share the presentation using

There have been 17 people who have worked on this task force and the work represents the best practices and ideas for how Durham Academy should proceed. While the 3 recommendations are large with respect to requiring teachers to become clickable, attend training and integrate technology many already have been doing this as they recognized the importance. The digital device is the boldest recommendation and yet that also has already started to happen as more and more students are bringing laptops to school.

The biggest change that will happen is that all students will have the tools and access to a clickable teacher instead of just those that have chosen to integrate the technology into their classroom. The chaos that will surely happen when only some students have a digital device will not happen if we make sure all students have the correct digital device loaded with the content they need.

If all 3 recommendations are not approved, Durham Academy will continue to be a great institution, however, all of our students will not have equal access which will need to be addressed in the future

Here is the presentation. Comments are welcome.

[slideshare id=248747&doc=durham-academy-technology-task-force-1201810177698988-5&w=425]

Lego, Scratch and Alice Camps at Durham Academy

For the first time ever, I am conducting two camps with the help of a student. I have never done this before as I usually work most of June teaching workshops with teachers and then feel the need to work on my farm. I want folks who are reading my blog and live in the Durham NC, USA area to think about signing up for the camps. I am very excited to offer these two camps as they will provide me an opportunity to teach students some skills that are not offered here at school.

The camps will be taught twice so only come to one week. To register or find out more, please go to: Durham Academy Summer Programs


Lego Mindstorms – Week 6 July 14 – 18 or Week 7 July 21 – 25, Morning
Fee: $190 Grades: 3 – 8
Instructor: Karl Schaefer and Ada T.
Learn to build and program Lego Mindstorm NXT robots. Campers will work in teams to design and construct robots to perform a variety of movements and responses. No prior experience needed.
To learn more visit:


Scratch Programming Week 6 July 14 – 18 or Week 7 July 21 – 25, Afternoon
Fee: $190 Grades: 3 – 8
Instructor: Karl Schaefer and Ada T.
Scratch is free software from MIT that we will use in this fun and creative camp.
Quotes are from the Scratch Web Site –
“Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art.
Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also gaining a deeper understanding of the process of design.”


We also hope to cover Alice if there is time.
From the web site:
“Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience”.

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What Works in K-12 Online Learning Book

I recently got the book from ISTE: What Works in K-12 Online Learning by Cathy Cavanaugh and Robert Blomeyer. I was interested in how to keep the momentum of Moodle going along with the best practices.
I am impressed so far as I read the chapters and feel good about where we are today. I am very grateful to all of the teachers and students here who are using Moodle to enhance the learning of each other. Moodle is clearly the way of the future for the learning environment of Durham Academy.
I have been reading the chapter on Teaching and Learning Literacy and Language Arts Online. I would like to be in these teachers classes. Some of the resources mentioned our students use or could use if teachers knew about them.

Visual Thesaurus is a nice way to see words come alive. There is a subscription aspect to this tool that may be useful for students.
Dictionary is one I see students use every day.

Connecting Students Around the Globe
Kidlink is a knowledge-building network with volunteers in about 50 countries. Teachers and students create accounts and then find classrooms around the world to collaborate with on projects.
Telecollaborate allows you to find classrooms around the globe as well.
Internet Project Registry has been around for along time and connects classrooms with awesome projects.

E-mail type exchanges
e-Pals connects classrooms and gives teachers and students free email and blogs.
IECC is a site that will connect teachers with teachers from all over the world.

Story Sharing
Story Center has a tag line called: Listen Deeply – Tell Stories.
Digital-Story Telling – has ongoing projects for teachers and students.
Voicethreads – create images or text and add your voice and share it with the world. This is the most written about site this past year as it alters how students can share their stories.

Authors and Literature Guides
Children’s Literature Web-Guide gives access to authors and illustrators.
Internet Classics Archive from MIT

Podcast Directory of Literature – like it sounds.
Lit2Go from the University of South Florida or subscribe via iTunes under iTunesU.

What does this mean for learning? It means to me that the if a classroom is not flat it is not taking advantage of the tools that are available. Lets all get flat I say.

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Riding The Digital Learning Wave

I have come to expect that some days will be more rewarding then others since I do work with both Middle school students and technology. Yesterday and today demonstrated the wave nature of my work dramatically.

Yesterday as I left school a group of girls were sitting outside enjoying the weather and waiting for their afternoon practice to begin. They were snacking and had books strewn about studying. One girl who I have know since 1st grade and is now in 7th grade, exclaimed; “Hello Mr. Schaefer! Wow, I never see you any more like I did last year when I was always in the lab. We never come to the lab for class”. Her friends echoed some of the same sentiments and while I know students can exaggerate some, they are telling the truth as they see it. She and her friends were in the lab “all the time” as they worked on various podcasts, movies, multimedia presentations, blogging and other writing projects. The digital learning of a 6th grade student is different then a 7th grade student. I am not saying whether it is better or less it is in the perception of the student, different. Should this be happening or should the student be utilizing the tools they learned in 6th grade more in 7th? What are the causes for this drop in “computer lab time”? For one thing, the double Language Arts block is gone so the flexibility for teachers is lessened and all of the Science classrooms have laptops available for students to use as well. Perhaps the curriculum is structured in such a way as to lessen the time to integrate technology.

Something that I also know is that the student who exclaimed her missing me and the computer lab has a MacBook that her mother purchased for her last year after we discussed the purchase. Why is she not using that at school more this year? Does she even bring it to school? Is this a good or bad thing?

Today a student asked if she could talk with me concerning a laptop for herself. She has an iPod Touch and a Windows laptop that is old and missing keys. She travels each weekend and needs a new laptop to take with her. She wanted to buy what she heard Apple will announce next week at MacWorld or whatever I thought would be good. We talked for about 10 minutes on what the rumors might be and how a MacBook could work really well for her and that whatever she did she should hold off until we know more about what happens next week. I am amazed that an 8th grade girl knows there is a MacWorld next week much less that she has seen the rumors and photo mockups of the rumors. Why is she so tuned in? My answer is because it is a part of her life. She is a digital native and that is what natives do. She has a problem, (traveling and old laptop) so she is looking for a solution based on past ways she solved problems. We did put together a price on a MacBook but she knows to wait, like I need to tell her to wait so she could be one of the first with the latest gadget.

Since we came back from break I have been asking students in study hall if they have a laptop. Most do although not all which means some students may not have access to the technology as much as their peers. We must be careful of creating the haves and have nots. I do know since we came back that perhaps 5 students have asked for directions to setup their laptop on the network. While this is the default laptop program at DA, we must realize that it has long term ramifications if not all community members have equal access.

It is lunch time so I am observing in the labs what students are doing. I notice a student using a laptop just like mine, well not just like mine but close as his is newer and is running Leopard. He is demonstrating how to use iChat effects in Photobooth to a group of students. He is excited and wonders why every student does not have a laptop. He even had a financial plan for how we could save money over the course of 3 years by not having to buy the desktops and how students could have a great laptop even when it is paid for at the end of the 3 years. He obviously has plans for his future. He is an 8th grade student.

I will keep riding the digital wave as that is what I do, but I do hope the period between crests gets smaller as the troughs are to me where we need to interject change.

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Semester Exams 2.0 & Students 2.0

Here at the Middle School students are busy taking the typical end of semester exams in 7th and 8th grade classes. Students use the tried and true methods of index flash cards and study guides. Teachers work hard to get them printed and distributed to the students before the exam. I have overheard teachers talking about how many students do not understand that past tests, quizzes and other material will be used to create the semester exam. I remember how hard it was for me to get this concept into the “heads” of my students when I taught Earth Science at Culbreth Middle School. That was from 1993 until I came here in 1999. Times and technology certainly has changed since then as teachers and students now use a Course Management System called the DAILE Moodle, some teachers have web sites while others hold firm to the way they have done it for their career.

I am amazed at the tools the students are using to get ready for the exams along with the paper guides given to them by their teachers. The tools they use affirm my readings and belief that the Web 2.0 tools really do create a Classroom 2.0.

Here is a list of tools to date.

Quizlet – started by a 15 year old student a few years ago with the tag line “The end of flash cards” It was started by Andrew to learn the many words he had just been given by his teacher. It has caught on here like wildfire as it allows students to create “sets” that will help them learn, familiarize and even test themselves. Students create groups and can manage who has access to the various sets. The site has matured nicely with many other tools and a great user interface. Mrs. Long was happy to see her Latin students using sets in preparation for the exam. She asked me how she could use it in her room and I said, perhaps if you suggested at least one student create a set to make sure it was accurate (we know that can be a downfall of mass collaborative projects) the students will take ownership of it themselves. One user who is a student here (and has a great user name) has created 26 sets for far. uncstar4ever is worth looking at since it shows how students are able to become teachers of students.

Last year I did need to step in when someone thought having a set that was inappropriate was good fun. I contacted Andrew and the set was removed and it provided me with a great teachable moment. I am glad to see that they now have a flagging system where users can alert them to inappropriate sets.

Two students here at Durham Academy two students wrote the software called Flashstacks which allows students to create similar flash cards and even share them with other DA students. It is good software for that purpose, but it does not have all of the features of Quizlet.

Wikis: Eighth Grade History students have taken history into their own hands as well. The free MindTouch Deki Wiki has been set up to serve out this wiki. Christopher is behind it I believe and he has clearly hit upon a resource that is useful for getting ready. Now it does seem that students still feel the same way about exams as we did when we were in school as is evidenced by the graphic created in order to demonstrate it. The wiki is a good example of what students will create when free or low cost technology tools are available.

Since the 5th and 6th grade students do not have exams they have been busy as well using learning tools. 5th grade students are researching topics related to the book Bud, Not Buddy. WIth the efforts of Mrs. Longee and assistance by myself, each class is editing a wiki for use by their class along with the world. Students are learning to collaborate and create learning resources. To see the wikis develop, go to: Mrs. Doak’s 5.2 Class, Mrs. Doak’s 5.1 Class, or Mrs. Parry’s 5.3 Class, or Mrs. Parry’s 5.4 Class. We used PBwiki instead of Moodle as the tools are richer at present and because Mrs. Parry is constructing her Moodle course at this time.

Sixth graders are also working on wikis in Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Williamson’s Moodle courses. They are only available to students or parents with the log in information of your son or daughter. Check them out as it demonstrates more of the new tools for learning that are available and necessary for today’s learning.

In addition, Mrs. Williamson’s class are putting the finishing touches on their second book talks which they did using Keynote and GarageBand. After writing their script (once they read the book) students created title slides in Keynote to serve as guides as they narrated their podcasts. We call them Bookcasts as they are a new twist to the old book report. More collaboration, creation, peer editing, and authentic learning since their podcasts are available via iTunes. Students in this class were working on multiple projects at one time and supporting each others learning by troubleshooting or offering tips on how to make just the right soundtrack music. Check our Room 207

I am so proud of the efforts of the teachers and students as we continue to stretch the learning environment here at the Middle School. Tomorrow I get to work with some sixth graders who are creating movies of Medieval Day with Mr. Keeney. Stay tuned…

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