Virtual Educational Environments

When I first looked at this week’s set of assignments—some of which were to explore videos and articles discussing educational uses of the computer program, Second Life—I was beyond skeptical.  My exposure to Second Life had only been through the media (including some suspenseful Law & Order: SVU episodes).  To associate Second Life with education appeared to be too much of a stretch (and what I realized later on, beyond my comfort zone).  But, trying to put my derisive opinions aside, I read the articles and watched the videos with a tryingly open mind.

I was happy to hear that when teachers used Second Life, their accounts were used in a safe zone, in which no one from the public can interact with the students.  This was probably my primary concern.  Also, when teachers used Second Life it was usually to explore content in further depth (i.e., virtual field trips, computer programming, etc.), rather than to present video game educational challenges (Knittle, 2009).

As I took in all this new information, I realized that the opportunities for differentiation would be almost limitless in the Second Life environment.  While one student is touring an art museum, another can be calculating various equations to build a towering bridge, and still another student could be reading a digitally enhanced copy of Alice in Wonderland, all in the same “region” in Second Life.

While previous lessons relied on the amount of tangible resources provided, these lessons could be uploaded into the program and carried out; teachers would not have to spend any more money other than the yearly subscription amount to Second Life.  It truly is amazing what students could accomplish in this innovative technology medium.


Knittle, E. (2009). A ‘Second Life’ for educators. Retrieved on November 04, 2012 from:

Second Life (2012). Incorporating Second Life into the MPA Experience:
A teaching PA workshop and research agenda. 
Retrieved on November 04, 2012 from:

Virtual Timelines & Google Fusion Tables

These mini-project technology tools can be a great asset in engaging our 21st century students.  This week, I chose the Timeline with Chronological Content as my third mini-project.  For an English classroom, the timeline can be essential in explicitly showing students the progression of events within the story.

I decided to choose major events from The Diary of Anne Frank to include on my timeline, based on BBC America’s content on Anne Frank.  In order to fully understand Anne Frank’s diary, you must understand the correct sequence of events during Anne Frank’s life.  I created an example of a timeline revolving around the story, but for my lesson plan I would have students create their own interactive timelines.  If students are able to identify the beginning, middle, and end (and also the climax, resolution, etc.) of the story, they are learning essential standards for the middle school level.

I loved the pictures feature on the timeline: the pictures would further aid students in remembering and visualizing important events from the story.  The timeline tool could be a useful technology tool for any story taught, not just The Diary of Anne Frank.  Teachers could even break up their students into small groups and have each group choose their own story.  After participating in literature circles, these students could use the timeline technology tool as a great summary activity to look at the story as a whole and be able to summarize the major events presented throughout the book.

My fourth mini-project involved Google Fusion Tables.  I had never heard of this concept before; it reminded me of the information-aggregating websites like delicious and Pinterest.  Instead of taking the information and assigning it to a category, Google Fusion has the option of overlapping data sets that might be relevant (i.e., one data set that locates coffee bean sources and another that shows country boundaries, just like the Google how-to video indicates).  The potential for this technology use in the classroom is great.

I created two Google Fusion tables that involved two Google maps, similar to the maps in the Google how-to video for Google Fusion Tables.  Even in an English classroom, these maps could be another way to further explore themes within a novel.  For example, if a teacher was teaching The Diary of Anne Frank, an English teacher could show through fusion tables where the concentration camps were, as well as where the major battles were being fought, in relation to where Anne Frank’s family was at a certain point in time.  If a teacher were to have students create their own fusion tables, students with a partner could create fusion tables by choosing one of a set of pre-determined themes identified in the specific novel being taught.

Wordle, Craeza & Story Jumper

Planning a lesson for Wordle was pretty straightforward: Wordle has so many uses in the classroom. Originally, when searching for the “hook” of my lesson, I searched YouTube videos for Wordle.  Most were bland instructional videos that would not be the interest-grabbing hook that I was searching for in my lesson.  However, one video did have an interesting idea of what you could do with your students’ Wordles.  The technology teacher appliquéd a Wordle her class had made to the walls of her computer lab.  It wasn’t just a print and duck tape job; it was a professionally-made appliqué that appeared to be painted onto her wall.  That sense of permanence can inspire students.

My lesson with Wordle involved a brainstorming activity.  Students start off by responding to any predetermined journal prompt and two volunteers send their paragraphs into the program to create their own Wordles.  Inspired by their classmates’ examples (and with much further instruction through a specific rubric handed out by their teacher), students use Wordle as a means of brainstorming main concepts and vivid details for their multi-paragraph essay.  Using a simple computer program to brainstorm, and by having the power to choose your own colors and design, students will respond much better to this rich, complex format than a simple college-ruled piece of paper.

The second mini-project we were assigned to have completed was a digital story.  Over the summer, I had taken a class on literacy and language development that also required us to create a digital story.  This digital story, however, had more specific requirements and I chose to use Creaza.  We discussed a lot of positive uses of comic books and graphic novels in the classroom.  There is a good deal of educational comic books and graphic novels that exist and the goal was to create our own.  Here is my version of a graphic novel revolving around the teenage popular superstars Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.  We converted a scientific article into a more fun version through a graphic novel.

For this assignment, I wanted my digital story to revolve more around the text than the animated characters.  Therefore, I used Story Jumper, which is a very user-friendly website whose ultimate goal is that you pay for a printed version of your digital story.  For these purposes, I just needed to have access to the digital copy.  I created an Amelia Bedelia-inspired story about a teacher who visits Papua New Guinea for the first time.  I made sure to use the Six Elements of  Good Digital Story, written by Bernajean Porter.

Whenever I complete my assignments for class, I jump back and forth between my Twitter feed for inspiration.  Today, I hit upon the website on one of my follower’s advertised headings.  This website could be very useful for this class; it has a simple, attractive format that incorporates every website that you are willing to include on your profile (i.e., Facebook username, Twitter username, LinkedIn profile, Klout profile, etc.).  I plan on creating one of these websites so that I can post this aggregated profile on my Professional Web Portfolio.


Porter, B. (2004). Take six: Elements of a good digital story. Retrieved on October 21, 2012 from:

Wallwisher, Glogster & Web-Inquiry Activities

Wallwisher is a great tool for incorporating technology in the classroom.  Wallwisher is basically an online bulletin board in which students can write sticky notes anywhere on it.  I created a Wallwisher board that would be great for English students; it includes pre-reading, during reading, and after reading strategies.  I love literature circles, where students break up into small groups and alternate roles (i.e., moderator/vocabulary builder/summarizer/connector) while reading a book.  This board could be used with literature circles, being used by each small group to post their ideas throughout the process.

Another way the Wallwisher board could be used is in response to a web inquiry, or good questions tied around learning standards (Coffman, 2009).  A classroom in which dialogue is shaped and formed by students gives the students a sense of responsibility in the discussion, increasing their level of participation.

During this past summer in my practicum, my mentor teacher did a great job of creating a discussion where students created and propelled the ideas generated.  She let them build them up as much as possible so that her role as a teacher was more of a coaching role than a lecturing role, as traditional teaching would prescribe.
I had actually used a similar website to Wallwisher, Glogster, for one of the lessons I taught during the summer.  It had a function to create sticky notes and easily curbed its content to what you wanted to teach.  However, since we did not have a Smart Board in the classroom where I taught, I decided to let students use real colorful sticky notes and tape them to the screen (so that the background was the Glogster I had created).  Students loved moving around the classroom to color their ideas on the board.  The topic was Fourth of July traditions, and it was amazing how different every student’s traditions were.   After each student posted their sticky notes, we had a group discussion and had students elaborate on their traditions.  It was the week before the Fourth of July, and we also had a story that focused on the author’s Fourth of July tradition.  Using technology-based activities such as these can really motivate students to become involved in their learning.


Coffman, T. (2009). Engaging students through inquiry-oriented learning and technology. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

The Flipped Classroom: An Excellent Alternative

YouTube Preview Image

I really like the Flipped Classroom concept.  I first discovered it by watching Sal Khan on 60 Minutes discussing his company, the Khan Academy. Students watched a series of videos at home, which explained various concepts—from Economics to Physics—and then participated in activities when they actually came to class.  This provided a lot more time for inquiry-oriented learning, as well as authentic experiences in the classroom. More research needs to be done on Khan Academy and the flipped classroom model on whether it significantly changes test scores.

Jackie Gerstein has asserted that the flipped classroom model is still problematic since classrooms still revolve around the lecture model, albeit at home rather than at school (2012).  She presents alternatives, including a lesson that centers on students’ personal experiences, interactions with other students, and acquiring useful life skills (2012).  This type of lesson appears to require a lot more planning time, and a harder way to present the necessary content for future hands-on experiences.  Overall, this type of lesson is hard to imagine in an everyday classroom setting (i.e., Do you come up with a new hands-on activity and game for every class period?).

Being a moderate thinker in most situations, I would argue for a mix between the traditional lecture format and a classroom model, such Gerstein suggested, that revolves around only hands-on experiential activities.  I believe that the flipped classroom model is a great way to pave the way for a more technology-based educational system; this will benefit future students in the workforce whose jobs might not yet exist.

The major setback to the flipped classroom model is the ACCESS that students have to these online sources.  NBC reported through The Hechinger Report in June that this was the biggest obstacle to flipping the classroom (Butrymowicz, 2012).  Teachers cannot hold their students responsible for homework that requires online access if they do not provide after-school hours in the computer lab; some students, especially in rural areas, still do not have online access (Butrymowicz, 2012).  During the 60 Minutes interview, Khan showed a school that left its computer lab open at night for students to gain access.  This method of allowing students online access can be extremely problematic if you do not have a school police officer present to ensure the safety of the students who visit at night.

Therefore, as a teacher, you could either spend after-school hours to provide your students access or advocate for alternatives.  For example, you could go to your local library and ask to reserve the computers for your students for a certain period of time.  Or, you could apply for grants that encourage technology use in the classroom that would provide laptops or iPads.

Restructuring the current lecture model is at a high need in today’s classrooms, where students need more 21st century skills in order to attain successful careers in the 21st century.  Inquiry-oriented experiences, such as the flipped classroom model, are excellent alternatives to the original lecture-based model, which is quickly becoming outdated.


Butrymowicz, S. (2012). Bridging the digital divide in America’s rural schools. The Hechinger Report. Retrieved on October 3, 2012 from:

CBS News Online (2012). Khan Academy: The future of education? Video retrieved on October 4, 2012 from:

Gerstein, J. (2012). Flipped classroom full picture: an example lesson. Retrieved on October 3, 2012 from:

Sinha, S. (2011). Does Khan Academy really work? Retrieved on October 4, 2012 from:

Professional Learning Network & Banned Books Week

Since I have started my Professional Learning Network (PLN), my ideas on how technology can be integrated into the classroom have increased in leaps and bounds.  I used to think linearly by focusing on only one forum; now, I think more comprehensively.  I can start on one forum, like Twitter, read some interesting tweets and follow the links to blogs, where I can add my favorites to my RSS feed.  Then, different articles continue to be sent to my Twitter and my RSS feed.  And—the most important part—it’s FUN!  I find myself reading more and more scholarly articles because I happen to be on Twitter and then hop over to friends I am following to read their tweets.  This is what we need to focus on when we are teaching students: we must integrate technology into the classroom in such a way that our content-enriched activities are also FUN!

This week, we also had to create a LinkedIn account.  I have had a LinkedIn account for years; LinkedIn is one of the most valuable resources for finding a job after graduation.  I joined the Eagle Connections group where UMW alums post various jobs trying to recruit fellow alums.  After awhile, I left my profile stagnant.  Through UMW Career Service’s Facebook group, I read a post that inspired me to keep my profile up to date.  I read Pete Leibman’s article on “9 Ways Your LinkedIn Profile Can Kill Your Career.” This article stressed that by not building your account by adding your friends/co-workers, and by not participating in any groups, that you can actually make employers less interested in your application.

Today I also caught up with Twitter posts that I had missed in the past couple of days.  I found one by Edutopia that looked especially interesting: today starts Banned Book Week! What better way for an English teacher to incorporate technology and content than including this discussion?  TeachHub had some innovative ideas, including:

  • Create a READ ALOUD video/podcasts of banned books
  • Celebrate characters from banned books
  • Banned books poll
    • TeachHub recommended that it can be the hook activity by verbally polling your students.  You can easily incorporate technology by having students either use their cell phones or a computer to answer a poll through Poll Everywhere.


Condron, A. (2012). 12 Banned Book Week classroom activities. Retrieved on September 30, 2012 from:

Florian.B (2012). Beware of the book. Image retrieved on September 30, 2012 from:

Leibman, P. (2012). 9 ways your LinkedIn profile can kill your career. Retrieved on September 30, 2012 from:

Educational Video Game Programming & Blog tools

Kids playing video games

Weaving my way through this week’s set of new programs was a daunting task.  Designing and constructing a video game through Scratch, aggregating interesting blog posts through Technorati, and connecting a Cmap were all completely new tasks to me.  However, I feel as if I am more receptive to new forms of technology as a result of this class.  Prior to this class, I was hesitant even to use Twitter.  Now, I have plunged in head first and feel as if I am a more savvy technology user than even just a few weeks earlier.

Scratch is an interesting construct: it is made for people without C++, or any type of programming experience.  There are easy step-by-step puzzle pieces to add on to your “sprites,” or characters, in order to form your own video game.  I tried to design the beginning of my video game from the perspective of an English teacher.  In order to fully develop a “game,” you would need to figure out what goals your students need to ultimately achieve, and whether you want to reward them along the way with prizes, tokens, etc.

I took a different approach: I thought that this video game program could lend itself well to story boarding.  Over the summer, I took a literacy class in which I had to design my own graphic novel.  This program appeared to be very similar in what it could produce.  So, I decided to start a story board with the two sprites.  If I completed the story board, it would probably take me many, many days to construct.  That is one disadvantage of developing your own video game in the classroom: it takes a long time to develop your concept, to implement your ideas, and to finally edit for any changes.


However, you could have your students create their own video games.  This task would be more aligned with inquiry-oriented learning, which is defined by experience and exploration (Coffman, 2009).  The teacher could provide minimum details that must be present in the video game, just as Dr. Coffman did for our assignment, as well as a rubric describing their expectations.  Students could spend as much time as they wanted making their video game their own construct, applying their 21st century skills.

As I was searching through Technorati, I was honestly having a difficult time finding blogs that possessed worthy content.  I usually search for blogs within news sources, which makes it a little easier to see information that can be verified.  Within Technorati, I looked at the category of “Top 100.”  Most of the blogs were about celebrity gossip, rather than anything that I could find to be appropriate for my own personal learning, or for my future classroom.

I finally found a few blogs that would be worth checking daily.  One example is under the travel category with Nomadic Matt.  I checked a lot of right-on-topic categories to my content area, English, but I found that one of my personal interests could also lend itself well to the classroom setting.  Many English prompts involve “What would you do with a million dollars?” A lot of students who I have observed want to travel the world when they respond to this question.  Travel blogs could lend themselves to sparking students’ interests in world events and geography, as well as giving them a more interesting topic to write about (motivation is key!).


Coffman, T. (2009). Engaging students through inquiry-oriented learning and technology. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Copyright Laws: An Educational Lens

As educators, it is essential to weave our way through the complicated copyright laws, which are further muddled by the easy accessibility of the internet and the web 2.0 generation.  In order to be good model citizens for our students, we must also be good consumers of the internet by properly citing our presentations, images, videos, etc. In addition to citing, there are other restrictions from using certain media forms at all, regardless of their accessibility on the web.  For example, a Google search yields millions of photographs, most of which can easily be downloaded.  However, if you turn on “free to use or share” under the “usage rights” advanced search, you can legally share the pictures you retrieve under this search.  For example, I searched for “Lincoln Memorial sunset” under these restrictions and retrieved the image as shown below (Melki, 2010).  This image can be used as specified under the creative commons license, as designated by Flickr.


Another important copyright clause, the Fair Use clause, aids educators in sharing information with their students without breaking the law.  The Fair Use clause, outlined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, allows copyrighted works to be used without obtained permission for the use of teaching, research, scholarship and criticism (PBS Teachers, 2012).  Educators might also qualify for an infringement exemption under Section 110 of the Copyright Act (PBS Teachers, 2012).  The full text of the Copyright Act of 1976 can be retrieved through the U.S. Copyright Office’s website (U.S. Copyright Office, 2012).


Melki, Serge. (2010). Lincoln Memorial HDR. Retrieved on September 13, 2012 from

PBS Teachers (2012). Copyright law & fair use. Retrieved on September 15, 2012 from

U.S. Copyright Office (2012). Copyright law of the United States of America and related laws contained in Title 17 of the United States Code. Retrieved from September 15, 2012 from


Core Knowledge vs. 21st Century Skills

The debate between core knowledge and 21st century skills is an interesting one.  The core knowledge website states that it “is not driven by ideology, but logically by science, history, and research,” (The Core Knowledge Foundation, 2010).  This statement implies that there is little to no research to support other frameworks such as 21st century skills, but rather just ideologies/theories.  This argument is one among many on their “our philosophy” section of the website that presents its simplistic, misleading views on education in a black-and-white manner.

21st Century Skills

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) website reveals an excellent overview of their comprehensive, differentiated framework for learning.  The framework identifies several essential skills, including: core subjects, 21st century content, learning and thinking skills, ICT literacy, life skills, and 21st century assessments (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011).  The P21 framework encourages higher-order thinking skills, versus a “knowledge gap,” (The Core Knowledge Foundation, 2010).  Rather than focusing on providing a greater breadth of knowledge, the P21 framework emphasizes inquiry-oriented learning, which involves students taking a more active role in their learning; this is supported by the “practice by doing” section of the learning pyramid, as shown below (Coffman, 2009; Educational Origami, 2012).

The Learning Pyramid

As Coffman (2009) states, “planning for inquiry projects goes beyond having students achieve content knowledge; planning should also engage students into practicing higher-order thinking skills, such as applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information in order to create a new understanding of knowledge.”  Therefore, P21 skills goes above simply planning more comprehensive content knowledge curricula; it pushes for critical thinking skills that will transfer more easily into the student’s everyday life, as well as be maintained in their long-term memory.


My content area, English, has several important components that are relevant to the content knowledge/21st century skills debate.  The most important component is reading comprehension.  The Core Knowledge Foundation states that “narrowing the curriculum to make more time for reading strategy instruction is ultimately self-defeating,” (2010).  The Foundation indicates that teaching reading strategies is a waste of time, and that the educational effect is only a temporary boost.

But how can reading strategies be temporarily effective when explicitly teaching these strategies can help struggling readers to realize where they might be struggling in the reading process?  If you had unlimited amounts of time and resources, some students would still not understand the text because of the method by which they are reading (ex. not internally creating a picture of what they read, etc.).  It is essential to explicitly teach these reading comprehension skills in order to further aid your students in being able to apply these skills to any subject, as every subject in school requires a student to possess adequate literacy skills.


Coffman, T. (2009). Engaging students through inquiry-oriented learning and technology. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Educational Origami (2012). 21st century pedagogy. Retrieved September 6, 2012 from:

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2011). P21 FAQ. Retrieved September 6, 2012 from:

The Core Knowledge Foundation (2010).  Our philosophy: Every child deserves equal access to common knowledge. Retrieved September 6, 2012 from:

Technology Integration Matrix: Web 2.0 Application

Technology Integration Matrix

Since I am working toward my licensure in middle school education with a specialty in English, I chose to look at the Middle School: 6-8 Magazine Publishing example of the Technology Integration Matrix.  I thought that the teacher did an excellent job of splitting her class into multiple small groups.  Middle school students thoroughly enjoy active small group assignments, which encourage oral language development, among many other essential literacy skills.  Also, assigning tasks to each small group is essential for task management and accountability in the classroom.

The magazine publishing assignment addresses several of the factors that students need addressed in an ever-increasing “web 2.0” environment (Johnson, Levine, Smith & Smythe, 2009).  One of these essential needs includes formal instruction in new literacy skills, specifically visual, information and technological literacy (Johnson et al., 2009).  Although the video did not explicitly state whether the teacher first instructed her students in the various aspects of designing a magazine, this would be the first step in beginning this assignment.  Since there are also many different types of learners within a classroom (some of which learn best by doing), this assignment could easily aid to differentiation within the classroom.

A second example from the TIM included the Visualization and Characterization videos, under the constructive – language arts category.  The teachers did an amazing job of helping their students explicitly visualize the story of Tom Sawyer after having read it.  A lot of struggling readers have difficulty visualizing the story in their heads as they read.  This project would help those struggling readers, while still challenging the average and advanced readers; this would also lead to a high level of differentiation within the project.

However, the teachers introduced this project as the only alternative to a writing assignment on Tom Sawyer.  While visual literacy skills are essential, they are not an equal substitute for writing skills.  In order to fully supplement those essential writing skills, the teachers could possibly assign a wrap-up writing assignment based on the students’ experiences with film making.  To make the writing assignment more interesting and relevant, they could have each small group (film writers, costume designers, etc.) design and write their own wiki page based on their experiences filming.  Since nearly 64% of online teenagers (12-17 years old) already engage in at least one type of content creation, this can prove to be a socially relevant task (Solomon & Schrum, 2010).

Although I have only witnessed a small minority of technological experiences in the classroom, I remember a specific experience from this past summer during my practicum.  I helped to teach a summer enrichment program with a UMW professor for secondary students in English classes.  We presented an author who wrote in a satiric manner, subverting the writing category in which he chose to write: he wrote prose on the missed connections category on Craig’s List (Brian Oliu, So You Know It’s Me).  Each student, after having seen multiple examples of this type of subversion, had to choose their own form of technology to subvert and write a piece of prose for that website.

This technology assignment would fall under the cell titled “Authentic-Infusion.” The assignment required students to link their learning activity to the real world by creating a similar subverted piece that could be published online.  However, it did not require students to set goals or plan activities, which is why I did not classify it as goal directed.  Since we provided the learning context by showing multiple examples, I classified it as infusion, rather than transformation, which would require higher order thinking which might not be possible without technology.


Johnson, L., Levine, A., Smith, R., & Smythe, T. (2009). The 2009 Horizon Report: K-12 edition. Retrieved September 2, 2012, from

Solomon, G. & Schrum, L. (2010). Web 2.0 how-to for educators. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.