Digital Challenge-Week 5: RSS–Feed Your Need to Read!

What is RSS?

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. In plain English, this is the technology that allows us to broadcast to the world and then subscribe to the “feeds”. RSS allows us to gather information from multiple web sites all in one place, instead of having to visit each separate site to view the new information. For instance, let’s say you are a Phillies fan and follow the sports section of the newspaper; you are an avid reader and follow book reviews in The New York Times; and you love to cook and follow the latest recipes from a cooking blog that you read. Instead of visiting these three web sites daily or weekly, you can gather the “news feeds” in your aggregator or RSS reader. Readers are free and easy to use.

How do you find the feeds?  How do you know if a site offers a “feed” that you can subscribe to? Look for the orange RSS symbol (above), look for a link that says RSS, or look for an icon or link for XML or Feed, or even a link that says “subscribe”.

Why RSS? Well, it’s a super smart way to collect information. We seem to have less and less time in our Web 2.0 hustle and bustle world. RSS will save you the hassle of visiting a whole bunch of sites. Also, it’s great to develop an RSS reading habit–this will keep you in tune with a lot of interesting information related to your professional life. And finally, RSS is so sophisticated that you can actually set up feeds based on specific topics in a news search, which is really helpful for learning centered around current events, for instance. (Give this a try in the challenges below!)

Challenge 1:  Watch this video and learn a bit more about RSS and how it works.

Video: RSS in Plain English from the folks at Common Craft (3:44)

If the video does not play in this window, go to this link:


Challenge 2: Google Reader — Turn it on! 

“Turn on” your Google Reader. With a Google gmail account, you already have access to your own Google Reader without siging up. Go to Google Reader and login to your already existing Google/gmail account. By logging in to Google Reader with your Google/gmail username and password, you are “turning on” the “Reader” feature of your account. It’s that easy!

Check out this video tutorial on Getting Started With Google Reader.

For more details on using Google Reader, check out this “Getting Started With Google Reader” support page.

And finally, here is a screencast I made showing you my favorite features of Google Reader, including organizing your feeds in folders and allowing Google Reader to “sniff” out a blog if you know some of the title.


Challenge 3: Feed Your Reader

Now that you have your readers turned on, it’s time to grab some feeds!

Peruse the blog roll on this blog (right sidebar) and add 1-2 blogs to your reader.  If there are other blogs that you like to follow, add those as well.  Heck, add Techbabble to your reader too!  🙂

Then, explore some of the fun feeds below. Add (2) fun feeds to your reader.


Fun Feeds While you should keep up with some educational news and blogs, it’s fun to add things you enjoy as well! Give these a try:

Bloglines –browse this listing of the most popular feeds –word of the day

Weather Channel –local or national weather forecasts

New York Times –RSS feeds–subscribe to any part of the NY Times feeds.  Each section has its own feed.  You may need to scroll to the very bottom of some of the pages to find the RSS link.

Quotes of the Day –daily quotations –top 10 box office movies

NPR RSS Feeds–This is one of my favorites! Select from this page’s listing of all NPR RSS programming.

Sukodu –daily puzzle from New York Times

Entertainment Weekly –feeds on Hollywood, music, and more

Yahoo Sports –follow your favorite sport


Challenge 4: Customized News Feeds

Now that you are a pro at adding some feeds to your Google Reader, you are ready to kick it up a notch! Let’s say you are interested in following a political leader in the news, or you want to follow the unfolding events of a crisis in a foreign country. Instead of grabbing an old-fashioned newspaper each day, you can custom-tailor a news feed to magically arrive in your reader as news is updated daily. You can even select which news sources your reader grabs. (If you are a history teacher, you are probably salivating right now?!) Go for it! Add your own customized news feed to your Google Reader.

Try “Using Google News RSS Feeds” for tips on setting up customized feeds.

Digital Challenge–Week 4: Collaborative Messaging & the Power of the Written Word

I just returned from an fabulous week with my children, picking them up from Camp Miriam.  The tears on my kids’ faces in the parking lot and the pleas to stay at camp are wonderful indicators that camp rocked! After taking a week break from the digital challenge posts, I am ready to share some awesome collaborative messaging tools with you!

This image from Indiana Public Media, is part of the Writing on the Wall Project, which is dedicated “…to youth empowerment through the arts, by engaging inner-city youth in artistic, civic-minded activities that cultivate relationship-building, increased self-esteem and cooperation/negotiation.” When I began to think about the tools I am featuring in this week’s challenge, the power of words stood out in my mind.  Think back through the ages how words moved nations, transformed governments, inspired millions, started revolutions, moved audiences to tears and healed souls.  And what is the most powerful thing about all these written words?  They had authentic audiences.  Can you think of anything more empowering?  Real people reading and responding to your words and ideas?

The tools I am featuring today do not require students to sign up for them–this way, you do not have to be concerned about COPPA laws or tricky sign ups for student use.  (But of course, DO implement good digital citizenship and modeling with your students:)

Wall Wisher

Wall Wisher is the cutest tool, if I do say so myself.  Teachers like “pretty” and this one has some eye appeal.  Not only this, but Wall Wisher is great for K-8.  It’s a tool that everyone can use and it’s simple. While you must enter an email address and user name to create a wall, students and participants in collaborative discussions do not enter any information about themselves.

Think of Wall Wisher as an electronic “chalk talk“. Post a title and/or a question in the subtitle and select an image.  Then, contributors can respond and find the digital wall via the “friendly” URL you assigned to the space.  Don’t forget to select “everyone” for viewing and editing, or you will have a lonely wall. 

You can choose to approve every post or not.  The main reason you would want to approve posts is to keep the public out of your space, but truly and honestly, I have never had a problem with this.  I have never received random comments on one of my wall wisher pages–they are really like grains of sand on the ethersphere beach.  Remember that by selecting “review all comments before they post” will take away the instant and in real-time dialogue.  You can always close off the comments after the class meets.  Oh, and did I mention that you can select your pretty wallpaper background, embed links, videos and more?

Challenge 1:

Add your thoughts about Wall Wisher on this PJA Teacher Sandbox page. How would you use Wall Wisher in your classroom?

Challenge 2: 

Create your own Wall Wisher page and post the link as a comment on this blog post, inviting your colleagues to post their thoughts on any topic you would like input on!  Here is a short screencast video to help you get started.

Today’s Meet

Today’s Meet is a different kind of text messaging, collaborative tool.  Many tech conferences use Today’s Meet to set up a backchannel during a lecture or workshop.  Backchanneling allows participants in the room to voice their ideas, questions and concerns in a public space.  It helps push the dialogue along and allows for everyone’s voice to be heard, even if they do not have an opportunity to speak or if they are a bit shy to speak out loud.  Backchanneling also empowers the class coach, leader or facilitator by providing them with an opportunity to leverage the dialogue and questions to meet the needs of everyone in the room and add some meat and relevancy to the experience and discussion.

How does it work?  Here’s a scenario… You are teaching a history lesson on the Civil Rights Movement and having an interesting discussion about Freedom Riders.  Instead of slowing down the conversation with interjections and questions, students can post their thoughts, opinions and questions on the Today’s Meet chat log.  As you are facilitating the conversation, you can scroll through the log and turn to different students in the class who have ideas to offer at different points in the conversation.  You know they have something to offer because they add a signature to their comment or question on the chat log. (Technical logistics:  You will need some students with computers, iPads or other internet-connected devices to post their comments.)

Try this chat log out…I put up a Today’s Meet for you on the topic of  Dogs vs Cats as household pets.  As parents, many of us are faced with our kids wanting a pet.  What are the pros and cons of each?  Why are you more of a “cat person” or a “dog person”?  Visit the Dogs vs Cats link to see how the Today’s Meet tool works and post your thoughts.  Don’t forget to post your name or an alias and click the SAY button.

Pretty cool, isn’t it?  How can you use this in your classroom?  In a professional development workshop?  In a faculty meeting?  Think about the power of “crowdsourcing“.  Isn’t the collective whole smarter than the individual?  Think about it!

Challenge 1:

Watch the video on Crowdsourcing from the folks at (2:50)


Challenge 2: 

If you haven’t already, try Today’s Meet on the Dog vs Cats conversation.  Post your thoughts on the tool on the COMMENTS of this blog.


Challenge 3: 

Create your OWN Today’s Meet topic.  Post a question about something in teaching and learning that you want to learn from your colleagues about.  Crowdsource it!

Here is a screencast showing you how to set up your own Today’s Meet.




Digital Challenge–Week 3: Say It With Infographics

We have all heard the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  And in today’s connected world, images and multimedia are more important than ever in effectively communicating in online spaces.  Let’s not forget that infograhics also appeals to visual learners.

What are infographics?

According to an infographic is a fancy word for “data visualization.”  But don’t get worried all you liberal arts folks out there–the word data can be interpreted in a variety of ways. points out 4 key hallmarks of an infographic:

Visualizations that…

  • represent complex information quickly and clearly
  • integrate words and graphics to reveal information, patterns or trends
  • are easier to understand than words alone
  • are beautiful and engaging

 Bloom’s Taxonomy & Infographics

How do infographics support the application of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the classroom?  Take a look at this infographic to see how technology has transformed how we think about higher-order thinking and learning.  It’s so interesting how the Bloom’s of yesterday used nouns to describe the learning and today we expect action/verbs–we want our students to create, evaluate, analyze, apply, understand and remember.  How can infographics support creating, evaluating, analyzing, applyinge, understanding and remembering?  (Infographic from NewEd)

 David McCandless From Ted Talks (18:17)

This video talks about the power of data visualization. Check it out!

  Connected Learning

This is my favorite infographic on connected learning (from  It really shows what I love about learning in the digital age and how it can be a transformative experience for students and teachers.  What do you think?  Does this inforgraphic measure up to’s list of requirements?

Resources to Learn More About Infographics:

More Than Words Can Say–Infographics, by Jane Krauss:  Wonderful article giving tips, how to’s, samples and more.  This is a great place to begin! (ISTE’s Learning & Leading With Technology, February 2012 Vol. 39 No. 5)

Teaching With Infographics | Places to Start (Teaching and Learning With the New York Times Learning Network)

 Tools to Create Your Own Infographics:

All the tools listed here are free and do not require you to download or install any software (web-based). My advice for using tools with students is ALWAYS try them out yourself FIRST.  (Remember, kids under 13 cannot sign up for a tool [Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act].) Every tool will have something you like and something you don’t love.  Also, consider the idea of saving work and returning to something later.  Some tools require you to sign in order to save work and return to it later (example:  Gliffy).  If you have younger students, you may consider creating the infographic with them collectively at a learning station in the classroom.  How else might you create infographics with your students? -Create, share and get feedback using – Very user-friendly, lots of tools for design and some preset themes to get you started

Many Eyes -A tool from IBM; Peruse the gallery to get ideas and then choose your data and the type of visualization you would like to create

Gliffy -Gliffy is great for mindmapping too; Check out the gallery of images and shapes, as well as how to upload your own images to be part of the visualization

Chartle -Make pretty interactive charts and graphs (this runs off of java applets, so you may be prompted to download or update your java)

Digital Challenge #3

It’s your turn!  Create an infographic that supports one of your curricular units.  Think about choosing a unit of study that is well-established, so that you can focus on the infographic and not the content.  If the infographic has a web link from a tool you used, share it on this blog! And, if you are up and running on Twitter, tweet it out to the world!

Also, post your thoughts on infographics in the classroom on this blog–let’s get the dialogue rolling:)


Digital Challenge–Week 2: Get Your Tweet On

It’s time to break down and find out what all the tweets, I mean fuss, is about.  Twitter is a social networking tool, providing conversation in small, succinct bites.  Think of twitter as a trail of breadcrumbs, leading you to a pot of gold.  Seriously!  If you start following your heroes, your colleagues and some smart folks, they will feed you links to interesting resources, news sources and more. By crowdsourcing and sharing, we all become smarter.  And twitter isn’t just a tool for grabbing good resources and information from the web.  You can have meaningful tweet chats with your colleagues, use the tool to promote yourself and your ideas, communicate with a class around the globe, or show your gratitude and appreciation for your peers or colleagues.

Video on Twitter–Get the Skinny

Watch this short video from the folks at Common Craft:  Twitter in Plain English (2.25)

Sign Up for a Twitter Account

I suggest that you think carefully about your twitter identity.  This is part of your online digital footprint and how people will come to know you in the future.  Bloggers often post their twitter handle on their blog and you might end up using this for many professional interactions.  When you sign up for your account, you can choose an “avatar” or image to represent your identity online.  Some folks use avatar tools to create a comic of themselves and others use their actual photo.  I use my photo because I think this personalizes the communication in an online space.  I use my twitter account for professional purposes only.  Think all of these things through!  And finally, use an email address that you do not mind receiving messages from twitter because you can set the account to notify you when you receive a tweet.  You can adjust privacy settings and notifications within your “account settings.” Sign up!  What are you waiting for?

So what is a tweet? 

It’s 140 characters of text. You can also post links within your tweet.  You can send out your tweets to the world and you can label your tweets with categories–these are called hashtags.  A hashtag is created by a group or an individual–it is entirely made up by the user.  You do not have to sign up for a hashtag.  For instance, if I want to discuss Cupcake Wars in a tweet, and I want others who are interested in Cupcake Wars to join me, I would put the hastag #cupcakewars at the end of my tweet.  That way, anyone following that topic will be able to join in the conversation.  (Don’t ask–cooking shows are on demand at my house!)

Speaking of follows, some folks will choose to follow you and others will not.  Don’t get offended if someone you follow does not choose to follow you as well.  I follow the author Judy Blume, for instance, but I am certain she is not following me.  (And no, it’s not like stalking someone!  LOL)  You can search for people within twitter by their name or their twitter handle (mine is at techbabble88).  You can also search for twitter feeds by hashtags and follow those conversations.  If you attend a conference, chances are there is one hashtag that is announced at the start of the conference and everyone uses that in their tweets.  That way, everyone at the conference can dialogue and follow the conversation.

What a tweet is not:  Spam or an insult.  That’s pretty easy to understand.  Remember that your tweets are public, so if you want to have a private conversation, take it offline or send a private email message.

Retweeting:  You can show your appreciation for an idea or tweet by retweeting someone’s tweet.  This is one of the features within the twitter tool.

Friday Follows:  On Friday, tweet out your appreciation to the folks that kept you smart all week long.  Use the hashtag #FF for Friday Follows and send the tweet to your favorite follows of the week.

Links in a Tweet–Use Bitly:  Make your links shorter and smaller using a web-based tool like Bitly.  Every character counts in a tweet, so use bitly to overcome the long links. You can use Bitly by signing in with your Twitter account.  OR, you can use the tool TinyURL.  I like them both.

More about Bitly:  When you go to the Bitly page, look for the window in the top right corner to paste in your link.  For instance, if I paste in my blog address for this post, Bitly will give me a shortenend link that looks like this: .  I also like the sidebar tool, the bitmarklet that you can install into your browser’s tool bar.  With the “bitmarklet,” you do not have to navigate away from your page–the bitmarkelt tool shows up on the side of your screen when you click on the button in your browser toolbar, ready to paste in your URL.

And one more super cool thing about Bitly…when you use the bitmarklet in your browser, you can choose to share your shortened link with a brief message and send it out via your Twitter account (if you login to Bitly with your Twitter ID).  Pretty cool, right!  It takes a step out of of the process if you want to post a shortened link on Twitter–just sayin’!

Using Bitly Bitmarklet:










Pasting link into Bitly web page:

Get Your Tweets on With These Helpful Resources:

You may remember that I am a connected coach for Powerful Learning Practice.  Through this experience, I stay connected to my colleagues across the globe (some even in Australia and China) through twitter. And by the way, some of the folks I admire most, I have not met F2F (face-to-face), but only follow their tweets or blogs or participate in online spaces with them.  The smart folks at PLP put together a Tweet Handbook for Educators.  I gave you an overview of Twitter in this post, but when you are ready to really roll up your sleeves, use this handbook!  It’s unbelievable!  It also lists some wonderful folks to start following, if you do not know where to begin.


Twitter Glossary brought to you by the folks from Twitter.

Twitter Help Articles – Use this resource page to get to know all the features of Twitter.

Tweetdeck – Download tweetdeck to improve your user interface.  You can create columns of hashtags, your favorite tweets and more.  I prefer this interface for all my tweeting.  It works really nice for live tweet chats.

Twitterfall – Twitterfall is another tweet aggregator that fetches your tweets into a nice feed.  It is also a helpful tool when you participate in a tweet chat and the tweets come at you so fast–it’s hard to read and post in these situations.

Tweeting in the Jewish/Ed Tech World:  Yep, there’s a whole bunch of folks I suggest you follow and there are some interesting hashtags too…

#jedchat – Follow this group of Jewish educators on Wednesday night at 9pm, Eastern. You can also check out their wiki and blog.



#jewished – Follow this hashtag for conversations related to Jewish education

@jewishfutures – Jewish Futures hosts an annual conference dedicated to progressive thinking in the Jewish world.

@avichaifdn – Avi Chai Foundation

@ravsak – RAVSAK

@pejeJDS – Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education

@lisacolton – Lisa Colton, Founder of Darim Online, non-profit dedicated to helping Jewish organizations and education institutions with harnessing social media

@covenantfn – Covenant Foundation

@EJPhil (e Jewish Philanthropy)–They offer a lot of good news and often related to Jewish day schools.

@NYJewishWeek (New York Jewish Week–news source)


Some of my favorite ed tech guru follows and just smart educators:

@snbeach –  Sheryl Nussbaum Beach from Powerful Learning Practice

@lanihall – Lani Ritter Hall, educator and connected coach leader from Powerful Learning Practice

@willrich45 – Will Richardson, ed tech guru and progressive thinker/educator

@karlfisch – Karl Fisch, another ed tech guru and leader in the field

@stevehargadon – Steve Hargadon, ed tech leader and creator of Classroom 2.0

@chrislehmann – Chris Lehmann is the principal of the Science and Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA and the co-chair of the annual Educon conference. Another progressive thinker in the field:)

@globalearner – This is Alan November’s handle.  He is the leader of the Boston Learning Conference and a warrior in the digital revolution for education. If you get a chance to go to the conference, you will find it inspiring, hands-on and just awesome.

@mwesch – Michael Wesch leads his students in the study of digital ethnography at Kansas State University.  They have a fascinating YouTube project. His students created the poignant video “A Vision of Students Today“.

Follow me on Twitter @techbabble88

Who do you follow?  Post your follows on this blog.  Also, share your thoughts on how tweeting can support you as an educator?  How can twitter be part of your classroom experience?  What don’t you like about it?


Digital Challenge-Week 1: Find an alternative to PowerPoint!

Welcome to the PJA Digital Challenge, Week 1, “find an alternative to Powerpoint!”  As you know, each week I will be posting a new challenge task with fodder for thought on how to integrate technology into your curriculum in the fall.  I hope that you will try some of the tools and post your feedback on this blog–a dialogue amongst our colleagues would really enhance the experience for all.  If you do not know how to post a comment, here are quick directions: (By the way, I use Jing by Techsmith as a screen capture tool for all tutorials.  It’s free and easy to use.  It takes a picture of your screen and allows you to add arrows and text.  You can also take video and record your voice like a movie or “screencast.” 

Locate the comments link:  Below the title of the post, you will see a link “no comments” or it might say “comments” with a number next to it, showing how many people have commented so far.



Click on the comments link, and follow the on screen directions…click post comment button.  Once your comment is approved, you will see it live on the blog!  It’s that easy!  And by the way, blogs are meant to be dialogues, so PLEASE join the conversation and post your thoughts!



On to the Digital Challenge–Week 1:  Find an alternative to PowerPoint!

When PowerPoint first came on the scene and technology was fairly new for making fancy presentations, we as educators were fooled into thinking that PowerPoint was a great utilization of technology.  It looked pretty, it had animation and sound.  PowerPoint presentations popped up all over the place and presentations became “powerless points” as workshop leaders, business executives and educators alike posted every thought on the slides in a linear fashion and read to their audiences.  As time went on, leaders realized that key words, more images and less animation made for more poignant presentations, allowing audiences to benefit from presentations supported by interesting visual aides.  Even so, most of these presentations resulted in a linear form, where the presenter could click through slide after slide, rather than the presentation functioning like interactive media or a web site.

So, what else is out there that is different and more interactive for our students?  What tools can inspire kids to be creative, to synthesize their information and data, to harness good public speaking skills,  and to show what they know and to integrate some of the good stuff from 21st Century toolkits, like embedding media and collaboration?

Here are my favorite two slide presentation tools that support the 21st Century learning mindset.  I challenge you to try them out this summer and think about how these tools might fit into one of your rich and engaging units already in place.


Prezi is a presentation tool that is social, collaborative and non-linear–all good reasons to love it!  You can import old PowerPoint slides and images into Prezi.  You can also embed video, hyperlinks and sound files.  You can share out the Prezi and allow others to collaborate on the same Prezi project–think of the power of this in a collaborative learning situation!  Your students can work on the same Prezi with students down the hall, across the city or across the ocean.  And if you do not want to rely on your bandwidth or internet connection for the actual presentation, you can download the entire presentation and view it offline. Oh, and by the way, there is an app for the iPad that works with Prezi.

Prezi also loves educators and students–accounts for students and educators are free! (Use this link to access the education account sign up page.)

The tool is based on a canvas concept.  You place your key ideas on the canvas and build related ideas around each concept.  Animation allows you to move around on the canvas or you can choose to skip an area on the fly by manually moving to the next area–this is great for mini lessons or conference presentations when time is pressing.

Visit the “learn” page from Prezi for tutorials and cheat sheets.  Prezi does a beautiful job of showing you some tips and tricks, as well as how the tool works.  Visit the “explore” page from Prezi to see examples of how Prezi is used for different purposes and fields.

One note of caution, the animation in Prezi can create a “motion sickness” effect on your audience, so use the animation or the “fly to” the next object feature with care.  Too much animation will make your audience dizzy:)

Scroll down on the Prezi homepage to “prezis we like” to see the possibilities of Prezi as a presentation tool.  And, for those of you who want to get into the nitty gritties of the tool, check out the complete user manual.

Here is a sample Prezi about Project-Based Learning by Heidi Hutchison

Digital Celebrations & Take the Summer Digital Challenge!

image by bayasaa

The end of the school year is a wonderful time to highlight a few digital learning projects from semester 2.  And as teachers, while we are looking forward to a good rest from grading and planning, we can’t divert our eyes from summer reading and professional growth.  It’s a teacher thing–it’s what we do. At the end of this post, look for more information on the “Summer Digital Challenge,” 8 weeks, 8 tools!  Professional development from the comfort of your home:)

I Spy, Grade 2 Shavuot Voicethread”

Jana used Voicethread to capture the voices and creativity of her 2nd grade students.  The class created object collages and poems to talk about the chag, Shavuot.  Voicethread is a classroom-friendly tool with a wide range of possibilities, including multiple voices commenting on the same slide.  It’s also very user-friendly.

5th Grade Hebrew PhotoStories

Bat-Ami use Windows Photostory 3 in the student lab for a Hebrew conversation culminating project.  Students were offered a finite set of photos, which Bat-Ami borrowed from Flickr’s Creative Commons (CC) collection.  By using CC images, she modeled respect for intellectual property and digital citizenship.  Students were encouraged to use vocabulary they already know and record a story based on one or more image.  It’s amazing how engaging it is for students to hear their own voices.  And if I do say so myself, this is a fun way to assess language learning.  (Ps.  Photostory creates .wmv files.  Bat-Ami used Zamzar to convert the file formats.) Here are a few examples:

Aliyah’s Hebrew Photo Story

Abby’s Hebrew Photo Story

Sam’s Hebrew Photo Story

Ryan’s Hebrew Photo Story

6th Grade Humanities Student Gallery

Check out Elana’s Student Gallery on the 6th Grade Humanities wiki to see some of the creative projects her students dabbled in this past year.  In one project, she used Blabberize to help the students imagine the characteristics of early man.  Blabberize is a tool that animates the mouth on a still image, based on the user’s recorded voice.

PJA Pineapple Newspaper Highlights

The 6th grade students determine the content and media format for each story presented on the Pineapple Newspaper wiki. Some students prefer voice recordings and video and others prefer an old fashioned text story with images.  Our 6th graders never run out of topics to write about and their enthusiasm is contagious.

You won’t want to miss the story on the PJA Roof, “Leaking in the School,”  the “Shooting in France” podcast story about a Jewish school, or Moses’ political cartoon.  And finally, you must see the heartfelt teacher tributes!






1st Grade Teacher Blog, “Chirps From Cricket Corner



Debbie is doing a wonderful job of showcasing the learning and projects in the 1st grade.  Scroll through some of her posts to catch students reading, hanging out with their 8th grade buddies, and students’ thoughts on justice and kindness.  Debbie’s blog is an example of how digital media and frequent communication can give parents a window into the classroom.

Yearbook Going Gaga Over Gimp

Gimp or the “GNU Image Manipulation Program” is a free and open source photo editing and digital design tool.  You can download Gimp on your MAC or PC and get started right away.  We have Gimp in the student lab this year, and many of our Yearbook students discovered its creative possibilities. (If you were at graduation, you saw what our students might be doing in 20 years, for instance!)  Here are a few creations designed by our students:

Summer Digital Challenge!

I challenge you to embark upon a journey of independent learning this summer, exploring some awesome education-friendly web-based tools that will inspire creativity and support student engagement and project-based learning.  You can travel some unexplored roads, risk-free, as you have no deadlines or papers to grade.  Slip on some comfy clothes, sip your favorite beverage, and geek out online this summer with our PJA colleagues.

For 8 weeks straight, starting July 1st, I will offer a new blog post featuring a tool you just gotta find out about.  I will provide directions, a screencast and some fodder for thought on classroom use.  And hopefully, you will be moved and inspired to add your 2 cents on this blog and share your ideas with your colleagues.

If you do not check your school email over the summer, there are several ways you can be sure to not miss out on these exciting posts and learning opportunities.  First, you can subscribe by email.  There is a link in the right sidebar that will allow you to sign up for the blog with any email address.  Or, if you are super nerdy like me, you can subscribe via RSS feed by clicking on the RSS feed link and adding my blog to your reader (If you don’t know what that is, then you should definitely try the 8 week challenge–we will definitely cover RSS!).

Don’t leave me all alone this summer!  Join the Summer Digital Challenge!











Connected Learning & Where I Have Been…

Note: I have been deeply immersed in a new learning experience this past semester, which has kept me from my blog.  Now I have so much to write about….  Check your RSS feeds!  This post is cross-posted from the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) Community Hub and Voices from the Learning Revolution.  I recently completed a Powerful Learning Practice  Connected Coach e-course . I am a Connected Coach for PLP, where I coach several teams of teachers as they move along their journey in “action research“, transforming instructional practices and learning within their own schools.  I am proudly displaying my PLPeep badge on this blog!

I am so grateful for my experience as a connected coach in PLP.  I approached the learning like I usually do, diving in with both feet.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.  The more I learned, the more I realized what I do not know or what I have not mastered. And the journey will continue–lifelong.

The main difference between this learning experience and others that I have had as a learner is that it was a co-learning experience–I have never been part of something that was truly a co-learning experience in an online space. I have led online classes, and I have taken online classes, but never before have I felt this level of co-learning.  I relied heavily on what my fellow PLPeeps said in the webinars, their comments on the weekly discussions, and the resources they shared.  With out my learning community, I would not have grown nearly as much as I have.  I have admiration and respect for each voice that I encounter in the community.  I am always delighted when someone makes a comment on one of my ideas, helping me push my own thinking deeper, farther.  This is authentic learning–it is self-directed, collaborative, reflective, supportive, messy and it is a discovery process by doing and sharing.  Isn’t this what we want for our own students as well?  This is the heart of all the edubabble about 21st Century learning.  We exuded 21st Century learning, modeling best practices that we hope our own schools will attain.

What left an indelible mark on my own coaching perspective is the notion of starting from a strengths-based approach and empowering others to be positive deviants and change agents within their own systems of practice.  I think as teachers, we have been taught to look for what is wrong–find the errors.  The art of coaching demands that I can ask thoughtful questions couched in strengths and positivity, rather than focusing on what is not working.  An artful coach knows when to prod and when to back off, when to send “happy grams” and when to redirect a group with a thought-provoking question.  An artful coach knows how to actively listen and paraphrase. A Positive, strengths-based approach will also make me a better practitioner in the classroom–all of these skills can be applied to what I do as a tech teacher, yearbook advisor and professional development leader within my own school.  And what is the most exciting part about all of this is that we get to make a real difference in the lives of our colleagues, in the structures of schools and the institution of education as we know it, and ultimately make a positive difference for kids.

Moving forward, I am supercharged and energized more than ever.  I feel like I am empowered to make a difference, and I have a new arsenal of understandings, tools and colleagues to call my own.  I want to revisit many of the resources that were shared in the coaching community.  I want to read the entire book Evocative Coaching, as well as The Connected Educator.  I want to take what I have learned and take it to the next level.  I have plans to experiment with online communities of practice within my own school community, so that I can continue to grow as a connected coach and learner.  I want to develop my own use of Twitter more–something that I was not so interested in until recently because of this course. And finally, I want to help my teams put together their action research projects, so that they have a meaningful project to implement in the years to come.

You can tweet and follow Sarah Blattner @techbabble88 and explore the growing teacher resource wiki at K8JTechLearn.

Getting the Most Out of Youtube


PJA Technology Spotlight

In each blog post, I will spotlight a few of our very own technology stars.


First, you should take a walk down the 5th Grade hallway and marvel at the Hebrew dialogues hanging on the bulletin boards!  5th graders composed Hebrew dialogues and then recorded their conversations with digital voice recorders.  Go Bat-Ami!


The 5th Grade Wikispace is also up and running.  It looks gorgeous!  Harriet and Bat-Ami are using the space as a resource for their students, and as a collaborative learning space.

Visit their wiki at .


Celinda has a beautiful blog up on the PJA Web site.  She used FinalSite (our very own PJA web site interface) as the tool for creating the blog.  Visit her page to hear kindergarteners sing about different alphabet letters!  Very sweet!  (Remember, you have to login to access all the teacher pages on the PJA Web site.  Email me if you do not remember the password!)


Noah’s 6th Grade students learned a great deal about their online identities and digital footprints, as well as about bullying and cyberbullying.  His students created posters that represent their online identities,  and they created Public Service Announcements that demonstrate their learning about bullying.  All of the digital citizenship coursework can be viewed on Noah’s wikispace at  .  Noah will continue with Digital Citizenship next quarter with another group of 6th graders.


How many times a week do you think you watch a video on YouTube?  How many times a day do you think our students watch a video on YouTube?  A picture is worth a thousand words, so the saying goes, but how about a video?  Our students live in a visual media age–a time so unique from any other period in human history when media is readily available, accessible, and in our face.  And no longer are we passive viewers or consumers of media.  We post our own movies, make comments about others’ movies, and share out our favorites.  Our consumption of visual media is interactive, collaborative, and social.


The History of YouTube



YouTube in the Classroom:

Of course, as an educator you know how important it is to preview any video  before showing it.  There are ways to make whole-class viewing cleaner and advertisement free.  Try Quietube, Quick Keys, and YouTube Leanback.



Quietube is a fun little add-on or button that you can add to your browser.  It works best with Firefox.  Quietube plays your video on a clean web page that is free from all the sidebars, comments, and distracting advertisements that surround any YouTube video.  To use Quietube, visit the Quietube homepage and drag the “quietube” button up to your toolbar.  Then, navigate to the YouTube video selection.  After, click the Quietube button in your toolbar.  A new tab or window will open up with an ad-free page.  This really helps students who get easily distracted, and it cuts down on the advertisements and comments that may or may not be appropriate for the classroom.


Quick Keys

If you know that there is a short clip of a video you want to play in the classroom, you can create a link that jumps to an exact moment in the video.  Trim the video (and trim off advertisements) by first playing the video.  While it is playing, right-click (control + click for MAC users) at the point you would like your video to start and SELECT “copy video URL at current time.”  Save the link in a word document or in the body of an email message to yourself.  Open the link when you are ready to play the clip in your class.


 YouTube Leanback

By visiting the “leanback” interface of youtube, a large black screen appears that blocks out advertising and distracting sidebars.  This interface is perfect for viewing a video in the classroom.  Go to YouTube Leanback and start typing on your keyboard the name of the video.  You will be able to select and view the video on a large screen, framed in black.



Zamzar allows you to capture a video from YouTube and save it for use later.  If you experience buffering or a weak internet connection, this is a wonderful way to ensure that your video will play smoothly in the classroom.  Please keep in mind copyright laws.  You may capture the video and share it in the classroom, but then you are responsible for deleting the video after class.  Visit Zamzar, follow the steps on the screen, select the URL link, paste in the URL from the YouTube video, select the movie format you would like to view (I usually select MOV, which plays as a Quicktime file), enter an email address, and wait.  Zamzar will send you an email with a download link.  Download the captured video and use it in class.  Zamzar is free for smaller video file sizes.  Also, you should know that it does not work with links from Vimeo, another video sharing site.


Embedding a YouTube Video

You can embed a YouTube video as a widget (a little gizmo that plays media) on your wiki, blog, or PJA Web site.  All you need to do is copy the “embed code,” which is some scary looking computer code that no normal person needs to understand:)  Just copy it!

Navigate to the video.  1.  Click the SHARE button.  2.  Click the EMBED button.  3.  Copy the “embed code.”  4.  Paste this code in your widget tool (on a wiki);  as SOURCE code (PJA FinalSite tool), or as HTML Code (blog users).  The video will appear and play right on your Web page. (Note:  Double-click on the images to see larger versions of them.)











Create Your Own Youtube Account

You can sign in to YouTube with your Google account.  (Google has owned YouTube since 2006.).  By having an account, you can create your own playlists or a list of videos to “watch later.”  These lists are quick and easy to access.  It is like bookmarking videos inside the YouTube interface, so that you can quickly locate your video clips when you need them.  This also allows you to store video links for use in the future, so that you are reminded of which clips support a particular unit of study.  And if you like posting videos, then you can create your own “channel” and password protect the videos.












In my next post, I will talk about TeacherTube.  In the meantime, please post some comments about how you use YouTube in the classroom!


For more resources related to technology integration, visit our teacher wiki, K8JTechLearn.



Technology is Sprouting at PJA

In this post:

2nd Graders Sing

Wikis and Blogs Around School…

Comic Strips in Grade 6

Animoto, Grade 2 Art Slide Show

Cool Tech Tools

Bullying in the News

 Macterrarium Image by aur2899

It may be the beginning of the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest, but technology is sprouting at PJA!  PJA teachers are tech trailblazers, diving into tech-integrated lessons and activities.  Model projects are popping up across the school.  Here are a few ideas to inspire you:


2nd Graders Sing

Jana has the tech bug, and she decided to flex the power of her new personal macbook.  We worked together in the program Garageband for maybe 15 minutes.  She walked away a pro, ready to record the sweet voices of the 2nd grade class.  We exported the file as an MP3, and she sent it out to all the parents.  What a fun way to deliver New Year greetings. And by the way, you can try this same project or any voice recording project with your students.  PJA has a set of portable digital voice recorders that you can bring into your classroom.  Listen to Jana’s cuties:

Tuuu Shanah Tovah


Wiki Warriors:

Wikis are spreading like wildfire.  Mostly, teachers are using the interface to share learning links with students, post homework, and upload documents.  Many teachers have plans to bring their students on the wiki for collaboration and editing, once the students are comfortable with the interface.  Take a look at some of the wiki works in progress at PJA:

4th Grade Wiki:










6th Grade Wiki:












6th Grade Technology












Teacher Blogs

Teacher blogs are also starting to sprout around the school.  Before you start a blog, think about using our school web site tool, Finalsite.  Finalsite gives you the option of password protecting your page, so that only PJA families can access your stuff.  Russ and Susan are experimenting with the blog tool, WordPress, which is outside of the PJA web site.  These tools also can offer password protection on pages.  Take a look:

7th Grade Humanities

Russ’s blog is directed at his students, where they can get tips on writing and keep true to the course expectations.









2nd Grade

Susan is using her blog as a powerful school-to-home link.  She is posting daily happenings from her classroom.  She also has a link on her blog to the student blog, where she posts writing and projects created by her 2nd graders.






Comic Strips in Grade 6

Elana created a comic strip project based on the memoir assignment, a school memory.  6th graders used the tool Pixton for schools.  The tool is free for the first 30 days, offering students a safe interface that does not collect information upon sign-up (follows COPPA guidelines).  Elana modeled the use of the tool by creating her own comic strip.  Once all the students are finished with the project, they will submit the comics for approval by their teacher.  Here are a few samples (*Note:  Double-click on each image to see a full-size that is easy on the eyes.):

The First Day of School by Mrs. C-R









Rocket Science by Will









Hooger What?  By August










 Animoto, Grade 2 Art Slide Show

Animoto is a slideshow tool that allows you to upload still images (jpgs) and then animate the images with music.  The end result is a slide show that can be viewed online.  For more interesting slideshow tools, go to K8Jtechlearn wikispace.  And please do consider cyber safety when using any online tool.

Grade 2 Art Slideshows:  Saddle Blanket & Contour Line


Cool Tech Tools

All “Cool Tech Tools” can be accessed from the PJA Teacher Wiki, K8Jtechlearn. Bookmark this teacher wiki link, as the resources and materials will be constantly growing throughout the year!  You are invited to join this space and add some of your own favorite tools.  I will highlight a few tools with each blog post.


This is a Hebrew flashcard interface from the Legacy Heritage Fund.  You can send the list of Hebrew words to DahBear, and they will upload your list.  Your students can also access flashcard sets put up on the site by others.  If you have used Quizlet, the tool works quite similar.  DahBear has plans to allow users to upload their own lists in the future.




This is a tool that allows you to capture a Youtube video and save it for  later.  This is wonderful for teachers who do not want to rely on the bandwidth speed.  If you experience buffering when viewing Youtube videos, then check out Zamzar.  You can paste the video link from Youtube into the Zamzar tool, select the file format for your video download, and enter an email address.  You will be sent an email message with a link for downloading the video.  The videos should be used for educational purposes and then deleted after use, of course (copyright!).


 Bullying in the News

CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° is airing a special this week on bullying.  A new study conducted and released by AC360° reveals new information about bullying patterns.  The study revealed that patterns of cruelty are directly related to garnering social power and status.  Kids who are already well-liked are most likely to engage in bullying behaviors.  The higher the social ranking, the more likely a student is to bully. And of course, bullying is of tech interest, because tweens and teens use social networking and cell phones to leverage their social standings. The study also revealed that aggressive behavior does not improve social positioning and the behavior is contagious. And what is even more fascinating is that while the Wheatley School in New York is quite affluent (where the study was conducted), the school is a true model for bullying behavior everywhere, as the bullying pattern does not discriminate between socioeconomic classes.   Tune in this week at 5pm Pacific Time to learn more.  A follow-up airing of the original program, “Bullying:  It Stops Here” town hall, will occur on Friday, October 14, 2011, 5pm.

Complete report of the study on bullying at the Wheatley School


Wiki or Blog?



Which one is right for you and your students?

As you begin curriculum planning for the 2011-2012 school year, add technology integration to your list of tools to consider for using in the classroom.  Wikis and blogs afford students with an authentic audience, immediate feedback, and a platform that encourages revision, reflection, and personal investment in the learning experience.  And these are just a few of the wonderful benefits.  (Blog/Wiki image created using Wordle.)

General Wiki Features

Video:  Wikis in Plain English by Common Craft (3:53)

Wikis provide a quick (in Hawaiian, “wiki wiki” means “hurry”) and simple way to post information to the World Wide Web.  To the untrained eye, a wiki may look like a web site, as it contains multiple pages and navigation tool bars.  The organizer of the site has ultimate control over who can edit pages, who can view the pages, who can join, as well as the overall look and feel of the site.  Wikis offer a user-friendly template of color schemes, navigation menus, the ability to upload your own logo, post links, and control font styles and colors.  Media like video, still images, sound files, documents, and chat boxes can easily be embedded into any page.  Members who are invited can collaborate, add their own content, and participate in a discussion board. Sophisticated users can subscribe to wiki RSS (real simple syndication) feeds to receive notifications when content has been added or altered.  Wikis often have a history feature that allows the wiki community to see who has posted and edited what content.  Returning to previous versions of a page is a simple task, protecting the content from accidental deletions.  New pages can constantly be added to a wiki and navigation can grow over time.

Wikis in the Classroom

Read More About Wikis on YOUR K8JTechLearn

10 Classroom Ideas for a Wiki: (And there are so many more you can think of on your own!)

  1. Course content:  Post daily homework, activity sheets, resource links online, and class/student-authored notes
  2. Class discussions:  Use the discussion board to chat online about interesting topics related to learning, challenge questions, current events, literature, art critiques, and more.
  3. Collaborate:  Invite an expert in the field to make guest appearances on your discussion board, create learning groups that post information and discuss information online, or invite a class from around the globe to join in on your learning.
  4. Project-Based Learning:  Use the space to invite students to become experts on a subject matter and then post their culminating learning and project.
  5. Podcasting:  Post podcasts to enhance student learning and eventually have the students create their own podcasts.
  6. Record of Learning:  Ask students to post their reflections on learning for any given unit of study.
  7. Cartoons:  Ask students to use a free cartoon generator to create a dialogue that addresses a theme of study or challenging question.
  8. Classroom Newsletter:  Take your classroom newsletter on line and post photos, samples of students’ art, writing, and more.  This is a terrific link to home and a way to get your parents involved in their students’ learning experiences.
  9. Journal:  Use the space as an online class journal.
  10. Digital Book:  Create your own class digital book, representing learning on a specific unit or a variety of units throughout the year.  How about a counting book or a “how to” book of math concepts?

General Blog Features

Video:  Blogs in Plain English by Common Craft (2:59)


You can bet that there is a blog out there for almost every interest on the planet.  Blogs can serve as an online journal, a news feed of current information happening, a space to rant, a space to explore a narrow interest, a digital newsletter, and more.  The most recent blog post appears at the top of a blog page, followed by previous posts. A blogger can categorize their posts by topic, as well as archive posts by month and year.  Blogs typically have an “about” page that explains the purpose of the space, as well as a “blog roll,” which is a listing of other blogs that the author follows and respects.  Blogs have a “published” interface that the viewing audience sees and a “dashboard,” or behind the scenes view where the blogger can control posts, comments, user permissions, embed media, add pages, and manage the overall look and feel of the blog.  Just like a wiki, media can be embedded into the posts and pages, like pictures, sound files, documents, and videos.  And similar to a wiki and probably more important to a blog than a wiki, the blog has an RSS feed or “real simple syndication” feed, so that readers can subscribe to the blog like a newsletter and read the feeds or new posts in a “reader.”  (We will talk more about RSS later in the year!  It is an awesome little tool.)  Blogs are meant to be interactive, where readers post their ideas and comments.  The blog manager can control who can post and when comments are posted.  Permission settings allow the blogger to send comments to a review platform where only “approved” comments are posted by the blogger.

Blogs in the Classroom

Read More About Blogs on YOUR K8JTechLearn

10 Classroom Ideas for a Blog:

  1. Classroom Newsletter/Newspaper:  Take your classroom news online with weekly posts, pictures, comments from students, and samples of their work.  This will certainly engage the students and include the parent community too.  Eventually, invite the students to start writing the articles and photo captions.
  2. Classroom Blog Campus:  As a teacher, keep your own blog and in the sidebar, keep a listing of all your students’ blogs.  Your main blog page can organize the “blog campus” and serve as a space where everyone can collectively meet and find one another online.  This eases the management of a class set of student blogs.
  3. Daily Learning & Course Content:  Post daily warm-ups, activities, online resource links, related videos, study guides, challenge questions, and more.
  4. Podcasting:  Use your blog as a classroom “channel” and podcast/broadcast your learning to the world.
  5. Record of Learning & Reflections:  Use the class blog as a space for students to make comments and reflections about their own learning, as well as post questions.
  6. Literary Book Discussion:  The Secret Life of Bees created a blogging rage in the classroom for literature teachers in 2002. The author made a guest appearance online and answered many of the students’ questions.  It is quite possible to invite an author and have them appear with no fees involved.  It certainly makes the discussion online all the more authentic!
  7. Scientific Data Log:  After a science lab, why not ask students to post their data online, predictions, reflections, and then receive feedback?
  8. Collaborate:  Invite a class from the other side of the globe or from somewhere in the USA to participate in an online blog discussion around an area of study.  The possibilities are endless.
  9. Professional Development Reflections:  Being a reflective practitioner is an important part of moving your curriculum forward and growing as a teacher.  Instead of jotting down notes in a file folder, why not reflect about your teaching online and invite your colleagues to chime in?
  10. A Learning Space:  A blog can serve as a post for classroom learning around any topic.  Create a space that is a learning network for any topic that you want to explore with your students; better yet, challenge the students to create the space!

Main Differences Between Wikis and Blogs

  1. Blogs are chronological,  time stamped by date.  They appear linearly in the blog post column.  In contrast, wikis have complex navigational structures and pages can be organized in a variety of ways, determined by the collaborators.
  2. Blogs invite comments on each post.  In contrast, wikis may offer a discussion board, but content in general does not invite constant commenting.
  3. Blogs usually have a single author or one person posting the main content (even though a teacher can post all that students write and create).  In contrast, wikis are a collaborative space with many authors.
  4. Blogs have external links; in contrast, wikis have internal links to other pages within the same wiki, as well as links to web sites outside of the wiki.

Classroom Considerations Before Joining the Wild Frontier

  • Determine your  student learning and professional goals when you choose to use a wiki or a blog.  Which platform will serve your needs the best?
  • What sort of training will you and your students need to be successful in using this tool?  What skills and information do students need ahead of time?  What skills can they learn along the way?
  • Schedule time in class to make online posts.  Students will have more success if they have teacher support and guidance while making blog and wiki posts.
  • How will you weave in digital citizenship into the learning experience, so that students conduct themselves in a safe and appropriate manner online?  Model best practices in digital citizenship in all that you do.  Don’t forget about copyright.
  • How much time are you willing to dedicate to the wiki or blog?  Consider your time and your classroom learning time.
  • How will you communicate with parents about this learning tool, and how can parents feel more connected to their students’ classroom learning?

Wiki and Blog Resources Just for You

Visit the K8JTechLearn wikispace and explore wiki and blog tools, sample blogs and wikis from teachers around the world, as well as more resources and tips to get started with your own wiki or blog.


What are your thoughts on wikis and blogs in the classroom?  Start the dialogue by posting your comments.