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February 10 Webinar: Technical Writing

February 8th, 2011 2 comments
Read the Manual Sticker

Based on an image by Wrote, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

When you buy a new appliance or gadget, do you read the manual? When you are learning how to use new software, do you use the Help menu? If so, you have encountered technical writing, a genre that requires high levels of clarity and consistency as well as brevity. Good technical writing takes advantage of text features, diagrams, illustrations, photos, and color to describe a product or a process in a straightforward manner that the reader can quickly and easily understand.

Typically we teach students narrative writing, persuasive writing and writing in response to literature, but we often neglect to teach them technical writing, the kind of writing they need for math and science classes where they must write precise instructions, descriptions, and explanations. Giving students opportunities to engage in technical writing can help them gain skills and confidence that will carry over to all the other types of writing they must do.

In Thursday’s webinar, we will discuss how technical writing differs from other types of writing and how we can engage even our most reluctant writers in this kind of activity. We’ll share strategies and scaffolds for helping students write clear, concise directions, descriptions, and explanations using Pages and other applications on the MLTI MacBooks. We’ll also demonstrate how students can use applications like OmniGraffle and Comic Life to make diagrams and illustrations for their technical writing pieces.

Please join us on Thursday, February 10 at 3:15 or 7:15 PM to learn how you can help your students gain writing skills that will serve them well in higher education and in the workplace. To view our calendar and register for one of these sessions, click on the Webcasts tab at the top of this page.

WatchMECreate Challenge #2 – WatchMERead

January 17th, 2011 Comments off

Several years ago I did some tutoring for Literacy Volunteers of Maine. The student assigned to me was a man in his 30s who had dropped out of school in 9th grade and had limited reading and writing skills. He asked for a tutor because he was involved in litigation and could not read the legal papers his attorney was sending him. As I worked with him for the next few years, I was struck by how intelligent he was but how his low literacy level limited his choices in life. He had never had a checking account because he did not know how to read or write number words. He was trying to start an auto repair business but he had difficulty reading the repair manuals and writing invoices. He could not get a job working for someone else because he could not fill out an application or write a resume. One of his goals was to get his motorcycle license, but he was afraid of the written test and did not want to request a reader as he had done to get his driver’s license. Over the course of our time together he gained some basic skills and he did open a checking account, create a resume, and get a job in a garage, but I couldn’t help wondering how his life would have been different if he had learned to read earlier.

NASA Technicians Reading

NASA photo: Technicians read a manual on the Payload Ground-Handling Mechanism hook instrumentation unit.

As educators we are well aware of the importance of reading in all aspects of our lives, but how aware are our students? The current challenge at WatchMeCreate is designed to inspire students to investigate the importance of reading in our society and answer this question: “What would it take so that everyone, when asked, ‘Are you a reader?’ would say, ‘Of course I am…’?”  Student teams will, as with the earlier challenge, produce a short video (no longer than two minutes) that presents their response to this question. The deadline for submission to the WatchMERead challenge is February 18.

Almost every school in Maine has some kind of literacy initiative in place where teachers ask themselves this same question – “What will it take?” Maybe now it’s time to ask the students.

Here are some resources that you can share with your students to get them started.

December 16 Webinar Notes – Journaling Across the Curriculum

December 20th, 2010 Comments off
light bulb image

*Who Else Has a Bright Idea?

I hope everyone who attended Thursday’s webinar came away with a few ideas for students’ journals. We began with a discussion of what journals are and some of the advantages that digital journals have over the traditional paper notebook journals students have kept in the past. We looked at some reasons for including journaling in any content area including how journal writing encourages reasoning, problem solving, and metacognition.

I demonstrated some of the features of NoteShare that make it such an effective journaling tool and shared a template for creating a math journal in Pages. You can download that file from the archived recording of either the afternoon or evening session. Blogging can also be a way for students to keep journals if each student is given a personal blog, and I shared three blogging resources that allow teachers to create individual blogs for students. The discussion then turned to ideas for journal entries and prompts and some suggestions for ways students can create entries that include audio and visual media as well as text. We ended with some suggestions for giving students feedback and assessing their journals.

Resources I shared:

As usual, participants in both webinar sessions offered their ideas and resources for student journaling:

  • Teaching teams can choose to do journaling as a joint process so journaling time and monitoring can be a shared responsibility.
  • Question: Are there issues with students sharing too much personal information in their journals?
  • Students can easily save a copy and paste a journal entry or save it as a PDF to include in a portfolio.
  • Students can use iWeb for journaling or blogging and even add a NoteShare notebook to an existed iWeb page.
  • Rick Wormeli’s Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching any Subject is a great resource for journaling.
  • A good resource for metacognition –  How People Learn (Chapters 2 and 3)
  • Video Journal Prompts from Ted Talks and Pop!Tech
  • Having students just write reflections makes them complacent about the process, so mixing them with other prompts can help keep them engaged.

Thanks to everyone who attended these webinars. Don’t forget that you can review the recordings of the online sessions by following the links in the Archives section of this blog.

*Image: Some Rights Reserved by nhuisman

December 16 Webinar: Journaling Across the Curriculum

December 14th, 2010 Comments off
Girl typing and thinking cogito ergo sum

Illustration by Andrew Greenstone

Journal writing has proven to be a powerful and flexible activity that works well for any content area. Whether students are responding to literature, explaining their reasoning, or reflecting on their work, capturing their thinking in written language not only improves their writing and thinking skills but also gives teachers another opportunity to assess students’ progress.

In this week’s webinar, Journaling Across the Curriculum, we will take a close look at how journal writing can become a regular part of classroom work in any content area and at any grade level. We will discuss metacognition which is defined by most as “thinking about thinking” or “knowing about knowing.” The term refers to the ways we reflect on how we know what we know, how we learned it, and how we can apply it to learning new things. Metacognition is essential to becoming an effective, independent learner, and writing about our learning is a powerful metacognitive strategy.

We’ll also look at the advantages of digital journals, in particular how digital journals allow the use of other media as well as text. We will explore some tools for digital journal writing including NoteShare and Pages and discuss the use of  blogs for online journaling. As always, we will invite participants to share their experiences, resources, and ideas.

Please join us this Thursday, December 16 at 3:15 or 7:15 pm. Click on the Webcasts tab above to view our webinar calendar and register for one of Thursday’s sessions.

WatchMECreate Engages Maine Students in Serious Creativity

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

Regular readers of this blog and participants in our webinars understand the importance of giving students opportunities to solve real problems and to create and publish their work for real audiences. MLTI in collaboration with ACTEM is providing such an opportunity with their new project, WatchMECreate. The first challenge, WatchMEGraduate, has already begun but it’s not too late for students teams to get involved. In case you missed it, I’m posting the original announcement here.

Student Conference

Do you believe that students do their best work when they take on challenges that truly matter in the real world? Have you ever looked for Maine-based projects you could point middle and high school students towards that would make a real difference?  Projects where they could use their technical and communication skills in support of something that really matters? Projects where they could work independently, in teams with their friends and have the chance to be rewarded for the quality of their work with something more than good grades?

WatchMECreate (http://www.WatchMECreate.org) is a collaborative effort between ACTEM & the MLTI. It will consist of a series of serious challenges put out to Maine’s grade 7-12 schools, asking students (and perhaps teachers) to collaboratively develop and submit video responses.  While posed as a “student challenge,” it is assumed that some students may come to it independently while others will be directed towards it by their teacher.

The first challenge is called WatchMEGraduate and asks students to create a 2-minute video response to, “What one thing should be done in your school community to increase the number of kids who make it to graduation?” This challenge is made real by the following documents:

Gov. Baldacci’s Economic Strategy (http://www.econdevmaine.com/about/Gov.aspx): “The most important measure of economic development in Maine is the educational attainment of its people and the opportunities that arise from our people’s participation in the economy of tomorrow.”

From Maine Dept. of Education Website (http://mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_124th/billpdfs/SP062301.pdf): “An Act To Increase Maine’s High School Graduation Rates (Sec. 1. 20-A MRSA c. 211, sub-c. 1-B) …The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education to establish a stakeholder group to develop recommendations relating to increasing secondary school graduation rates in the State and to report its findings to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over education matters by January 10, 2011.”

Dates: WatchMECreate.org went live on 9/1/10; First challenge, WatchMEGraduate, went live on 9/7/10; Uploads will begin to be accepted on September 14, 2010 through November 10, 2010.
Here’s the process:

  1. A team of up to four student members (grades 7-12) will produce a video response to the current challenge
  2. Videos must put forward positive solutions that are process-focused
  3. The video will be no longer than 2 minutes
  4. Teams are responsible for obtaining appropriate permissions for any materials used
  5. All videos must carry, in the credits, a Creative Commons license
  6. The video will be uploaded (see web site for details), along with contact information, but will not be publicly displayed until all appropriate releases have been received by ACTEM & MLTI
  7. That’s it. Now get to work. Oh, and because this is professional grade work, please do be sure to cite your sources…

Judging process: Pains are being taken to make this not “feel like school.” A rubric has been created and posted on the web site.  Judges will be drawn from ACTEM & MLTI as well as other community sources.

Rewards: All teams whose entry is accepted as complete and placed on the WatchMECreate site will be entered into a drawing for team sets of four high quality, limited edition ACTEM / MLTI WatchMECreate T-shirts. Five middle school teams and five high school teams will be chosen at random. The top Middle School and High School teams will each be awarded $500 to be used by the team to help move their solution forward, as well as an iPod nano for each student team member.

Questions or comments: Please send e-mail to watchmecreate@me.com

eBooks or Print Books?

girl reading

Image by the Real Estreya. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

This week, several other members of the MLTI team and I attended the Diverse 2010 Conference in Portland. This was a small, international conference where the Americans were in the minority and the World Cup was a major topic of conversation, but the keynotes, sessions, and workshops were all about teaching and learning with video. One session I attended was about Vooks and iPads. It caused me to turn my attention from video to text, and to think again about reading and books and my personal reading preferences.

I wrote about this a few years ago when the Kindle first came out and I was trying to understand why I was so resistant to reading from a screen. I recently got my hands on an iPad and I began thinking about it again. The iPad makes eBooks look great and, because the text is digital, older readers with aging eyes (like me) can customize the appearance of the page to make reading more comfortable. I think I may be ready to try reading a whole book on my iPad, but I know I’m not ready to give up my print books. My challenge now is to determine how much of my reluctance to read from the screen is cultural and age-related and whether today’s middle and high school students can read as effectively from the screen as they can from the printed page. According to a story on NPR’s All Tech Considered, reading on a Kindle, iPad, or PC takes slightly longer than reading from a printed page. Should this be a concern?

I spoke to Jim Wells about this today and he reminded me of a quote from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In a piece he wrote for the Sunday Times in 1999, he discussed our attitudes toward new technologies:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; 2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it; 3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

My husband has a similar theory about music. He contends that the music you truly love throughout your lifetime is the music you embraced in your teens and twenties. You may develop an appreciation for other music as you age, but it’s not as dear to you as the music you grew up with.

I think this may explain how I feel about books. I grew up with them and, while I may develop an appreciation for eBooks, I continue to prefer the print books that I can hold in my hand and see on my shelves. But our students are, according to Alan November, screenagers. They’ve grown up with digital text and may not have the same biases we do. We can’t assume that they will be more or less successful as readers if they prefer to read from a screen. We have to let the choice be theirs.

By the way, I still listen to vinyl records too.

Categories: Leadership Tags: , , , , ,

May 13 Webinar Notes – Publishing and Assessing

May 15th, 2010 Comments off

Thanks to everyone who attended this webinar, the last in the Writing Process Lens for this school year. In this session we talked about the last stage of the writing process, publishing. We discussed why we must give students a purpose for writing other than to complete an assignment and an audience for their writing other than the teacher.Friedman quote In our MLTI classrooms, with 1-to-1 computing, students have a vast array of choices of ways to display their work and share it with the public. I demonstrated some examples of ways students can use the software on their MLTI MacBooks for publishing and suggested some online opportunities as well. Click on the Webcasts – Archives tab at the top of this page to find the links for the recordings to review the discussion of Pages, Keynote, iPhoto, and ComicLife. Here are links to  web resources mentioned in the webinar:

Web Publishing

Print Publications

Fan Fiction

Jim Moulton’s blog post on Publishing Student Writing

Some resources contributed by participants:

Thoughts about assessment:

  • Establish criteria before starting the writing project
  • Checklists and rubrics
  • Writing portfolios – look for evidence of improvement and growth
  • Self-assessments and peer assessments – to self-assess effectively students must care about their work

Thanks once again to all the participants in this series of webinars. I know I have learned a lot from the participants and I hope we will continue to learn from each other.

May 13 Webinar – Publishing and Assessing

May 11th, 2010 Comments off
Thinking about publishing

Made on an iPad by Ann Marie Quirion Hutton

One of the most exciting changes brought about by the advent of technology in our classrooms is the abundance of tools for publishing student writing. As a veteran teacher, I remember the days (and it doesn’t seem so long ago) when I struggled to find ways students could share their writing with someone other than me. Publishing gives students a purpose and a real audience for their writing and when students write for a reason other than to get a grade, they write better.

This week’s webinar, Publishing and Assessing, will take a look through the writing process lens at how to help students finalize their work and share it. Our MLTI MacBooks have many applications that can help students illustrate and display their writing in professional-looking products that can be printed or shared digitally. We’ll begin by exploring the many templates available in Pages and then move on to look at other iWork and iLife applications students can use to turn their writing into multimedia products.

Of course, the internet offers many opportunities for student publishing and we’ll discuss how teachers can help students publish for a real-world audience using the many web tools that are available. We’ll also take a look at sites that accept student writing for publication.

We began a discussion a few months ago about how to assess student writing. We’ve talked about formative assessment and how feedback can help students with revision and we will expand that topic this week to include some assessments that look at a writing piece as a whole. As always, your ideas, experiences, and resources will be an important part of this webinar so please come prepared to share.

Please join us this Thursday at 3:15 or 7:15 pm. Click on the WebCasts tab at the top of this page for information about accessing this webinar and for a link to the registration page.

April 1 Webinar Notes – Blogs, Wikis, and Other Social Media

April 3rd, 2010 Comments off

No fooling! Our April 1st webinars included lively discussions about the value of students’ online communication with written language. I especially want to thank Sherry Connally for allowing me to drag her away from her brand new grandson to join us. Sherry described her doctoral dissertation about how middle school teachers and students use social technologies for communication, collaboration, and building relationships. This dissertation will be published in a few months and made available through ProQuest.

Social Networks

Image by Plus Delta, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic license.

We talked about ways teachers can give students opportunities to use written language for real communications (not just writing an assignment for the teacher) and looked at a wide range of possibilities, from simple email to using social networking sites like FaceBook and Ning. When we asked if the participants felt that texting, chatting, and other kinds of online communication were having a positive or negative effect on student writing, the results of our poll were mixed. Here are some of the comments:

  • I have heard of studies that say that texting etc. are good, and I have heard of studies that say it is bad.
  • Students develop effective communication techniques through trial and error.
  • When students write/key reports, they are using “web” language.
  • The grammar and spelling are negatives, but I have used blogs and it really encouraged my students to use their writing as an interactive communication tool with their classmates.
  • The students use “u” instead of “you” etc.
  • “Web” language has a long tradition – read the letters of Jane Austen and Lord Byron – written in ‘code’
  • If social networking is used in the classroom and focus is put on language skills, then texting, chatting and tweeting can be very useful.
  • If we think of it like braille or morse code.  Both have shorthand. We used to teach shorthand in school.
  • My student’ academic writing contains “LOL” type stuff.
  • -Love using “forums” with my Spanish classes.  They are communicating in Spanish which is what I want them to do.
  • They need to know when it is appropriate to use that kind of language.
  • Kids today speak two languages.  The traditional English and chat.  They just go between the two.

Ruben Puentedura shared links to two articles about the effects of texting on student writing (Thanks, Ruben!):

Other resources we shared:

The webinar participants also had a lot of ideas about filtering and teaching digital citizenship. Here are some of the ideas and resources that were shared in the chat box:

  • Chats and BackChannels
  • Digital Citizenship
    • Common Sense Media (another partnership with MLTI)
    • For all things Chat/Skype/Video Chat – obviously educating parents and students about how to use them and how to stay safe is important.
    • I include Common Sense tips every week in my newsletter to parents.
  • Social Networking
    • I have a classroom Ning site set up for my computer apps classes.  Students blog, answer forums and add comments to their peers’ discussions.
    • Edublogs and WordPress for blogging with students.
    • My daughter’s class uses Blogspot to respond to weekly assignments.
    • Twitter is a great way to provide professional development. Following educational leaders who provide lots of resources and links is most beneficial.
    • I’ve used Facebook profiles as a way of creating character profiles during writing and reading activities.
    • One school uses FB to facilitate the iTeam meetings, another choir rehearsals.
    • Facebook is blocked in our school.
    • We (teachers) have overrides to get througth the blocked sites.
    • Google Docs is better for this and easier to manage
    • Check the Terms of Use to determine if children under 13 can use ePals or Google Docs
    • Pew Internet – great resource for research on what social media looks like, and what teens are doing with it.

Thanks to all the participants who contributed their ideas, opinions, and resources on this topic. It was a valuable opportunity for us to learn from each other.

April 1 Webinar – Blogs, Wikis, and other Social Media

March 30th, 2010 Comments off

Social NetworkingThis week’s webinar in the Writing Process series will be a departure from our journey through the stages of the process. Instead, we will take a look at how students are using social technologies to communicate through written language, both in and out of school. Whether it’s through email, chat, blogs, texting or social networks like Facebook and Twitter, our students are engaged in this kind of writing every day. How can we help students use these powerful new tools effectively and ethically?

Sherry Connally, Principal of Rangeley Lakes Regional School, will be the guest host. Sherry recently completed her doctoral dissertation, An Exploration Of Maine Middle School Teachers’ Use Of Social Technologies. She will discuss her findings and talk about ways that teachers are helping students learn to communicate, collaborate, and build relationships through social media.

We will look at some examples of ways teachers can leverage interest in this type of communication to help students improve their writing, and we will share resources for doing this. As always, we will encourage participants in the webinar to share their experiences and resources so we can learn from each other.

Please join us Thursday, April 1 at 3:15 or 7:15 pm. You can find links for registration and information about how to access these sessions by clicking on the Webcasts tab at the top of this page.

Illustration by Ann Marie Quirion Hutton based on an original by Maarten Korz, licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license.