Friday, January 30, 2009

SHS: Podcasting in an Audio Production Class

Jim Honeycutt, Media Teacher at SHS, challenged the students in his audio production class to listen to and create a review for a favorite commercial CD recording. All students used GarageBand (on the Mac) to produce a podcast of the review. Working with GarageBand allows the insertion of images in the podcast. The sample below by Steve and Will is a review of the 1996 alternate rock album, Beck! Odelay. It is 17 minutes and 53 seconds long.

Jim said, "It was a terrific project for me since students who are not necessarily musicians are now able to create something using audio tools and derive a good deal of personal satisfaction in doing so." He also noted that many skills are used in the creation of these podcasts, including research (in this case, about the musical groups), capturing of images, organizing the information, synthesizing it into a logical presentation and using technology (in this case GarageBand) for production.

Podcasting has many relative advantages. Using tools like GarageBand and Audacity, students can practice their research, writing, synthesizing and presentation skills with a final product that can be posted to Blackboard, a wiki, or a teacher's FirstClass account.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CES: Usefulness and Truthfulness

Coleytown Elementary...
Sarah Spencer, LMS, Pam Syndercombe, technology teacher and Lori Buskey, 4th grade teacher, just completed a 3 session unit of study on determining the usefulness and truthfulness of websites. The lesson began with a focus on a popular hoax site, introduced at the ITL Summer Institute in a workshop on New Literacies presented by Greg McVerry and Ian O'Byrne from UConn. The convincing website elaborately describes the habitat and physical qualities of the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

The students prepared for the lesson in the classroom by getting some background knowledge on the "traditional" octopus that lives in oceans. In the computer lab, with the technology teacher, library media specialist and classroom teacher, the students congregated near the smartboard to look at the website together, where they determined to use the online dictionary to look for the meaning of difficult words and to ask for help from their peers or adults if they needed. Their task was to work in pre-selected pairs to find the usefulness of this website and determine if it should be used in a unit on endangered animals for other students in the school. Students were asked to extract 5 useful facts from the source and write them down. Even though they came across some unbelievable pictures and facts, none determined the Northwest Tree Octopus to be a figment of anyone's imagination! The findings were shared on the Smartboard resulting in many USEFUL facts about the N.T.O.
The next day students returned and discussed how to determine if a website is truthful. After brainstorming some ideas (check other sources and look for the author) students returned to the computers and searched Destiny for books, websites, World Book Encylopedia articles, and database articles about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. After lengthy searching, and some frustration, no one found even ONE other site about this rare endangered creature. (One child had also consulted and researched with her mother the night before and was literally exploding with the TRUTH, but after sharing it with every adult in the room, was able to hold it a little longer!) After much discussion it appeared as if something was wrong with the information. The child who KNEW exposed the horrible truth -- this site was a well-known HOAX site and the N.T.O. was not real! (Many students did not believe it at first.) The students were asked to think about WHY the teachers, who knew this was a fake website, did not tell them the truth.

The following week the group met for the 3rd time. They reviewed the process and stated their thoughts about why they were "lied" to. They said, "To become better researchers; To learn to read more carefully; To make sure you are careful and you don't believe everything you read!"
The group said that identifying truthfulness was more important than determining usefulness, since if you think it is useful and then you find out it is not true, all of your work is for nothing. They then worked on creating a list of things to look for to determine the truthfulness of a website. They took those rules and visited another hoax website to see if they could prove it was a hoax. They investigated the Dog Island website and wrote down 5 ways they could determine its truthfulness.
There were many funny findings on this page including contradictory statements, impossible songs and pictures, and a hidden disclaimer at the bottom of the page. The students felt like they were on the way to being real researchers, able to respond to criteria that they had established to determine the truthfulness of a website. Next they are going to do the same thing with the concept of usefulness using a real and truthful website.

These were three exciting lessons that will not soon be forgotten by anyone involved!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

ISTE Webinar Today on Differentiated Instruction with Technology

Today's ISTE Webinar, scheduled for BMS from 4-5:00, was still attended by 6 teachers from their homes. Although we had purchased a one-location viewing, due to the fact that school was closed, we were allowed to access the webinar from multiple locations. The webinar was lead by Grace Smith and Stephanie Throne, authors of the book Differentiating Instruction with Technology in K-5 Classsrooms. They focused on 4 technology strategies with which to build on students' individual interests and needs: Webquests, i-Search, R.A.F.T.T., and Jigsaw. I was least familiar with R.A.F.T.T. a reading strategy to scaffold students' interactions with text. Students are asked to create a new product that demonstrates their depth of understanding of the text by looking at a Role, the Audience, the best Format, the Topic, and what Technology to utilize. Many sample projects and websites were presented to cover each of the topics in the 8 categories below.

I was also reminded of the ITL Summer Institute 2007 with David Loertscher as our presenter and coach. His book, Ban Those Bird Units written with Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan, was used to teach us the Jigsaw model as a teaching strategy to motivate higher level thinking in students.

Today's webinar also showed us a great differentiated instruction wiki, called Dare to Differentiate, with many valuable resources. The authors also have their own site on differentiated instruction. We were also shown two free sites: My Brochure Maker, used to create online brochures or flyers and Realebooks, used to create small "really books" that can be turned into ebooks.

We have ONE more scheduled ISTE Webinar on March 18th at SES from 4-5:00 pm called Introduction to Project Based Learning. You can register online at:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BMS: Creating Screencasts

Rita Hennessey, library media specialist at BMS, has started creating tutorials (also called screencasts) using Notebook recorder (which comes with Smartboard software). These can be used by students and staff as a review or to learn concepts for the first time.
Rita started creating these screencasts using CamStudio (a free program from the people who make Camtasia with a great feature that highlights the cursor), but she was having issues with the file size and switched to Notebook Recorder for ease of recording and posting. She posts to TeacherTube (which does have advertisement) and is looking at Vimeo. Another posting option is to create a free NING, upload the video and then embed the code in Blackboard, a wiki or a webpage. (The sample below, "Destiny, Resources Lists & Power Search" is on a NING.) Two other tutorials "Searching e-Books" and "Using Sirs Researcher" are available on the BMS LMC Screencasts Page.

Monday, January 26, 2009

SHS: The Google Teacher Academy- Wesport's First Google Certified Teacher

Congratulations to Kevin Glass, science teacher and ITL committee co-chair at SHS, who was one of a small, select group of educators chosen from a large pool of applicants, to become a Google Certified Teacher (GCT). In this post Kevin describes the process and the experience...

On November 18th, 50 educators from 17 states and four different countries converged on the Google Offices in New York City to network and look at the educational applications offered by Google’s suite of tools. The process began with an application in which we were required to make a one minute video and post it on YouTube.

(For this blog the video has been reposted to a Ning so it can be viewed K-12)

About one week later, those who were accepted received an email with an invitation to become a Google Certified Teacher.

The day after I found out that I was accepted I created a Google Site. I searched Twitter posts and blogs for anyone who had posted that they too had been accepted. Over the next three weeks I found and contacted almost all future GCT’s and invited them to contribute their biographical information with a picture, so that when we met we would know a little bit about each other and be able to put a face to a name. Interestingly enough, it paid off. Many of us were able to spend the night before the Academy exchanging great ideas and stories at a restaurant near Google Headquarters.

On the day of the Academy we all met up again for breakfast and started our cold march over to Google. For an office that takes up a full block in lower Manhattan, it was surprisingly hard to find.

Over the course of the day we collaborated with fellow teachers, were introduced to tools and applications and became inspired by speakers. The day flew by and before we knew it we were done. I’m still reeling a little from the sheer volume of information and learning that took place that day but one of the most important things had to do with the people that I met. My personal learning network has expanded yet again and I’m excited about the possibilities.

I have had many professional development opportunities during my educational career and many of them have been very transformative. The Google Teacher Academy is now at the top of my list!. As I reflect on the day, the most valuable parts were the connections and conversations in which I participated. The opportunity to be a part of such a diverse and forward thinking group was well worth the trip and I look forward to future opportunities stemming from the event. I encourage anyone with any inclination to apply and have the same experience. To all my new friends, thank you for your expertise, sharing and vision. Let us all continue to share our knowledge and learn from each other as often as possible.

Friday, January 23, 2009

GFS: Schedule YOUR Mystery Reader on a WIKI!

Mary Ellen Barry, 1st grade teacher at GFS, schedules her Mystery Readers through a wiki. Actually, the parents schedule themselves through the wiki! During parent conferences she introduced it to the parents on the Smartboard at Back to School Night and they quickly understood how to use it. The parents have the password to edit the wiki.

Marry Ellen said, " The best thing about it is that once it's set up, then it's done. I avoid having to contact parents by phone or send out repeated letters to parents saying that I need volunteers. Also, if a parent needs to cancel, they don't even have to call me. They can just go on to the wiki and delete their name. I make sure to check it the day of a scheduled reader just to make sure that one is signed up. It has saved me so much time! Also, I heard that some teacher over at KHS has used a wiki to have her parents sign up for conferences. I love that idea too. I might just do that next year."

(Click on image for better viewing)

Lisa Lewis, 2nd grade teacher at GFS, heard about the Mystery Reader wiki, and this year she is using one as well! It has also saved her time and streamlined the process of scheduling her Mystery Readers.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Wikis have a great relative advantage -- they can be adapted to meet a wide range of curriculum objectives at all grade levels. I will try to spotlight wikis which demonstrate various uses. If you are using a wiki in a way not featured on this blog, please e-mail me so I can put the spotlight on YOU!)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

LLS: Podcasting Book Reviews

Barbara Eilertsen, LMS at LLS, has been working with students to create podcasts with students in grades 3-5. These podcasts focus on students recording an entertaining, informative and persuasive marketing pitch for a book they recently read. Scripts are prepared by the students, and music is added after the recording session. Using Audacity software as the recording tool and First Class as the publishing tool, students have created 24 "Book Review Podcasts." These podcasts are available to the students through the LMC Blackboard page. Here is the RSS Feed if you would like to subscribe:
(You can subscribe to these Podcasts using Google Reader or iTunes and have every new podcast delivered to you! Just cut the RSS feed provided into the subscription field in Google Reader, iTunes or any other RSS Aggregator you have found.)

(Click on images for a better view.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CES: A Community of Writers

(Click on images to enlarge for easier reading.)

This school year Ed Wolf, 5th grade teacher at CES, started a wiki to encourage his students ("The Wolf Pack") to write more and more and more. In the process, with community authors and parents invited in to comment on student writing, and a set of explicit writing rules and guidelines, students also continue to write better and better. When asked to provide the goals and objectives of the project, he explains:

"This project was designed to extend the writing experience beyond the four walls of the classroom and to expand our writing community. I have always believed that student self-reflection is a very important part of the writing process. As part of my Writing Workshop students have always engaged in pencil and paper self-reflection. The goal of the wiki is to engage students in reflecting, not only on their own work, but the work of others. In doing this, the students gain a better understanding of the writing process and what it means to be a writer. This project has helped to raise the bar in terms of student work. In addition, and perhaps my favorite part of the project, I have enjoyed seeing the level of the comments grow in sophistication and complexity. The comments are not simply superficial accolades, but the students provide each other with real, constructive criticism. In our writing community, feedback is not looked upon as a negative. The students look forward to reading the comments left by their classmates and incorporate them into their revisions. I have also used the wiki as a place to ask questions of the students and use this information to guide instruction. Having professional authors commenting on the wiki has also served as a real motivator. The students enjoy when Judith Marks-White and Lauren Tarshis stop by and comment."

The Room 25 Look Inside wiki was well planned and organized. This wiki demonstrates the power of a collaborative writing environment, which included regular review by peers, parents and professionals. What a difference an authentic audience can create! The quality of the student writing is extraordinary.

(Copied to a page on a public wiki)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SES: Google Earth and Ancient Egypt

Ken Hine, tech teacher, worked with the SES 5th grade team on a project involving math, Google Earth, and ancient Egypt. Students began with a grid indicating intervals of 10 feet. They also were provided with digital images of Saugatuck School and the Sphinx. Students used Google Earth to find their school and descend to an altitude of approximately 500 feet. They then used the measurement ruler to record the dimensions of the school. The digital image was then placed on the grid and sized accordingly.

Google Earth was similarly used to visit the great structures of ancient Egypt, and particularly the Sphinx. Again measurements were taken, the image was appropriately sized, and superimposed over the school. To the student’s surprise, the Sphinx covered the image of the school and the students re-ordered the images.
Similar comparisons were done with the great pyramids in relation to the SES football field. These activities allowed the students an acceptably accurate perspective of the great monuments of this culture. The students gained an improved understanding of the commitment, time, resources, and tools used by the ancient Egyptians to build their great monuments. In the process they learned to use some of the sophisticated features of Google Earth.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Access Awareness Awards-2009

For the 7th year Cablevision's Access Awareness Awards will encourage and recognize the video production skills of our students in Westport and in all of the towns in our cable franchise. Over these years, many student videos from Westport have been recognized.

With TV studios that present live and/or recorded student-created programming nearly every day over coaxial cable (GFS, BMS, CMS, SHS) or through the Internet inside schools using the V-Brick system (CES, KHS, LLS), more video production is occurring in our schools each year. Visual and Media Literacy is currently one of the identified essential skills in our draft document, Defining 21st Century Skills. The Access Awareness Awards provide another authentic venue for students to present their video creations. In order to be entered in the contest all videos must be shown on Local Access Channel 78.

The rules, application form and flyer for the awards have been distributed to library media specialists and technology and media teachers throughout the district. The deadline for entries (grades 3-12) is April 3, but the video entries must be shown on Local Access before that date. In most cases it is the students working in the TV Studio or media classes who produce videos for this contest. Please speak with your video production teachers and/or library media specialists if you want more information. You can also comment or ask questions in the comments section below.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

CMS: What's up with Google Docs?

Deb Perry, technology teacher at CMS, recently completed a lesson with all 8th grade students on assessing various Internet search engines. She used Google Docs for this lesson, since it offered the relative advantage of allowing all students the ability to collaborate synchronously on one document. Everyone saw each groups responses in real time.

All students first reviewed this custom video created by Common Craft called Google Docs in Plain English. (This video is available on YouTube, but is embedded below from TeacherTube, which is not filtered in the elementary.)

The students were asked to remember the search engines and search directories that had been used the week before to look up information on "green" jobs. (They focused on Librarians Internet Index, Clusty, Ask, Surfwax, Quintura, and Scirus.) You can see the categories the students researched for each search engine in the image below.
The students used a rubric which was available in Blackboard. Working in groups, students discussed the values and particular qualities of their search engine and made notes in a Word document. The link for the empty Google Document was available in Blackboard, and the students contributed their findings to the Google Spreadsheet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Promote Peer Review of Writing Through Discussion Boards in Blackboard

Amy DeCeault, 3rd grade teacher, and Sally Wanamaker, technology teacher, worked together at GFS to set up a discussion board on Blackboard. Through this interactive writing process, students are able to share their writing and gain constructive feedback from their peers.

A topic was created for the discussion board on the classroom page, making sure to leave "allow attachments" unchecked. Students posted a request on the discussion board asking their peers to give feedback on a certain aspect of their story (ie "I would like feedback on my main character" or "I would like to hear what you think about the problem in my story" or "What did you think of my setting?" or, as in the example below, "I want feedback on dialogue and my characters."). They then attached their writing pieces created in Word to the discussion board message.

Once the students each posted their own story, they opened one of their classmates' posts, read the request, opened the attachment and read the story. They then replied to the author's initial posting and responded to the request for feedback. (If they had time they went to other posts and responded.) The authors also had a chance to read the feedback, comment on it and/or ask questions. This created very effective dialogue between the students.

The student's also learned quite a few new ITL skills including adding threads to the discussion board, browsing to upload attachments, downloading the attachments
of others (and understanding why if they make a change to their peers' story it doesn't change the original in their peers' Y drive!), and replying to discussion board messages.

As with all of the postings in this BLOG, please feel free to contact the teachers for more information.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Eric Lawrence, 5th grade teacher at SES, plans for each school day in Notebook Software. A sample day (Jan. 5, 2009) is provided below. (It has been converted to a .WMV file for this blog, but you can download the notebook file to view on your computer and/or Smartboard HERE.)

Eric has added notes for the viewer in the presentation to explain how he uses each slide or group of slides. On the last slide he states, "Having a Smartboard in my room and using the Notebook software each day has changed the way I teach. It has allowed me to organize my teaching, adapt to my students, and keep track of their thoughts with ease. The manipulatives available and the ones I have created continue to make it easy to explain a variety of complex concepts to students.

Furthermore, I have started creating an index of all my Notebook files, which will allow me to use what I have already created from year to year. This will give me more time with my students and allow me to explore a variety of other teaching tools."

Use the play/pause button to control movement.
Please download the Notebook file for better viewing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

BMS: Marketing Colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries!

Debra LaBella's 6th grade Social Studies class at BMS recently completed a study of the 13 British Colonies. The details of the unit with a check list and rubric (as well as many other resource materials) were provided for the students through Blackboard. Each student was given one of the 13 colonies to research, then joined with one or more student(s) to create a persuasive digital story about that colony.

Here is one example:

Friday, January 9, 2009

LLS: VoiceThread

Currently in the Long Lots 1st grade technology class, Michael Brownstein, technology teacher, is using VoiceThread to record and share students' verbal responses to fiction and nonfiction literature. (When you visit VoiceThread, BROWSE the many samples of work K through adult.) He is using Scholastic's BookFlix, a new subscription service in the elementary schools that pairs fiction and nonfiction books around specific themes or topics -- in this case Ezra Keat's The Snowy Day is paired with Katie Marsico's Snowy Weather Days.

Students go to their Blackboard page (and click on the Bookflix Book Rev button on the left hand side of the screen) and enter the listed password and logon (with some help by the classroom teacher and Mr. Brownstein). Students upload an image they have created to represent themselves and record their response to the book. In the "work in progress" below you will notice the faces on either side of the center image. These faces, called identities in VoiceThread, have a voice attached to them. You can either click on each face OR press play on the bottom center of the main viewing area, and the VoiceThread presentation will play automatically. (To get a larger view of the VoiceThread presentation, click on the VoiceThread and you will be taken to the original presentation.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

SHS: A Revolutionary Harvest

SHS teachers, Cathy Schager (Social Studies) and Michael Fulton (English), collaborate together in an honors course for 10th graders called COLLAB, short for U.S. History/English Collaborative.

A recent project, The Revolutionary Harvest: Using the Digital Story for Reflection, was designed to have students analyze and synthesize their last unit of study on the American Revolution. Students were asked to provide an in-depth and personal reflection on a topic where they were impacted by one of the two class texts: A People’s History by Howard Zinn and Birth of the Republic by Edmund Morgan.

Students were told that this was a creative project that would involve their use of art, music, and writing to create an insightful look into their struggles with the texts about the Revolutionary period in American history.

The students were asked to explore the topic as historians by finding at least one primary source document on the topic. They had to create a digital story to walk the viewer through their understanding of the American Revolution based on their exploration.

Students were required to cite all of their images and music, as well as citing Morgan, Zinn and whatever primary source material they used. The final citation could be in the presentation and/or provided in written form.

Students were asked to use PhotoStory, but they could use any other digital storytelling software (such as iMovie, Final Cut Pro, or MovieMaker) as long as they saved the final version as an .avi or .wmv file in the class dropbox.

Here are two examples of the students final work (Thank you James and Tori):

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

CMS: Harvard Expert "visits" CMS

Recently Meg Berkowitz, English teacher at CMS, used Skype to connect her students to an expert in Renaissance Literature at Harvard University. Here is her story about the experience...

After a few years of doing the same research project on Elizabethan England where kids were put into groups and asked to research one aspect of Elizabethan culture and present it back to the class (via PowerPoint, no less!), I decided that the project needed to be "spiced up" a bit. Last year I made a few changes to it by turning it into a webquest, however I still felt that the kids needed more of an opportunity to make their own inquiries based on the questions that they had about this topic.

As a result, I enlisted the help of Christine Barrett, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University who specializes in Renaissance Literature. Ms. Barrett agreed to be "interviewed" by students over Skype which allowed them to ask the questions that they most wanted answered. Prior to the interview, I asked each of my classes to compile a list of the questions that they thought were most imperative to ask. They were also allowed to ask additional follow up questions on the day of Ms. Barrett's presentation.

After the presentation, students completed a newspaper project where they created stories based on the information they learned during the presentation, combined with any supplemental research they did on the era. The students really seemed to enjoy the presentation and liked having the opportunity to talk to an expert in the field.


I found that Skype was really easy to use and very user friendly. I loved that I didn't have to shuffle all 100 students down to the auditorium for a guest speaker; by using Skype I was able to seamlessly transition in between my lesson and Christine's presentation. Also, it was much more of a casual conversation than that of a formal presentation which seemed to be more engaging to the students, considering that they were driving the "conversation" with the questions that they had compiled.

What I found the most interesting, though was the comfort level that the students had using this technology. Even something as minute as proving wait time in between when they said hello and when they asked their question proved that this form of communication is not nearly as foreign as it is to us. Put it this way... I had every technological mishap possibility running through my head for days prior to this. On the actual day, we got cut off for a brief moment and I had to call Christine back. I was sweating bullets; not one of them batted an eye. Why? Because it happens to them all the time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

CES: Make Way for Google Earth!

Yesterday morning, Jenn Dunn, 1st grade teacher at CES, read Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey to her class.

In the afternoon she took her class on a virtual field trip using Google Earth (a free Google program pre-loaded on every computer in our schools) and a special KHZ-Google Earth file that she pre-downloaded from the Google Lit Trips website. (Next week at CMS in the LMC on Jan. 14 from 4-5 there is a webinar on this topic.)

Students were totally engaged and participating in discussion during the 20 minute exploration of Boston, following the path (shown below) taken by the ducklings. They were able to zoom in on specific locations such as the State House, Charles River bridge, and Beacon Hill, and view actual images of these locations.

Jenn Dunn has been using Google Earth in her classroom for the past two school years at least 1-3 times per week. At the 2008 Summer ITL Institute Jenn taught all participants how to use some of the features of Google Earth in the classroom.

Jenn Dunn's objectives for this Social Studies and Literature activity included:

Social Studies: Map and Globe Orientation
1. Understand the difference between a map and globe.
2. Distinguish between land and water on a world map and globe.
3. Develop a sense of near and far distance.

Social Studies: Direction

1. Use the following words correctly dealing with direction: left-right, toward-away, across-around.

Social Studies: Scale
1. Describe the distance of objects in the environment by using the following words: closer-farther, near and far

Social Studies: Symbols
1. Understand that real objects can be represented by pictures or symbols on a map.

ITL Skills
1. Interact with information in a source
2. Use questions to guide research
3. Skim and scan for information
4. Use pre-selected sites and software related to the curriculum
5. Use software programs to express ideas and to solve problems
6. Use technology to demonstrate learning

Monday, January 5, 2009

KHS: 5th grade Students Use Multiple Formats to Present their Synthesized Research

On Monday, Dec. 22nd, Kings Highway 5th grade students taught their parents and other visitors about what they learned from their research of specific topics related to their study of ancient Egypt.

Ali Moran (classroom teacher) and Aimee Anctil (library media specialist) had collaborated to work with students for 6 weeks on a Social Studies unit exploring the Cultural Universals as they appeared in ancient Egyptian culture.

Students used print and digital resources to research their chosen topics. They selected the ITL tools that they thought would best help them teach their topic to a group of visitors.

Students utilized wikis, PowerPoint, Notebook Software, and PhotoStory3 -- often connecting two or more of these products -- to engage their audience in their topics and research questions.

Many students created quizzes to assess the level of understanding of their audience members using some of the templates in the SmartBoard Activity Toolkit in Notebook Sofware. The Photostory project embedded below was created by one student to explore the arts, sports and leisure activities in ancient Egypt. This creative "commercial" was shown in segments during the ancient Egyptian sharing in the library media center.