10 Awesome Free Tools To Make Infographics

MakeUseOf.com put together a nice compilation of free tools for making infographics. Is anyone doing this with their students? It seems like it would meet many benchmarks/standards of visual literacy, understandings of data, metrics, and more. A combined math art science project is stirring in my mind.

My talking points/lesson plan for 7th and 8th graders on Formspring.me

Our 7/8th grade Dean asked me to meet with students today to discuss the website Formspring.me. We wanted to respond to student and parent concerns about how our students were using the website. If you're not familiar with it, here is how it works: a person sets up an account with a name of their choice, say "Alison Q." People can then go to Alison Q's Formspring page and ask her a question. The tricky part is they can ask the question "anonymously" if they want to. I put that in quotes because Internet anonymity is more of a myth than are reality. Then, Alison can answer the question if she wants, or delete it. All of this takes place in the very public location of Alison's Formspring page. Formspring can also be embedded onto a Facebook profile page.

Students use the site in a variety of ways including: to say things they normally wouldn't, to bully anonymously or not, to make false claims about themselves, to be silly, or just to ask age-appropriate questions.

I led a discussion on the following points:
  1. defining Formsping
  2. looking at how it technically works - Formspring server exchanges data with your computer
  3. how there is a search right on the front page where anyone can look for your Formspring page (see image)
  4. how sites like Google and Archive.org are indexing websites like Formspring - talking about how "deleting" is more of a myth than a reality
  5. how data posted online becomes part of students online reputation - similar to offline reputation, but indexed by Google and around "forever"
  6. how to delete Formspring data - looked at FAQ page on deleting which has been looked at by many thousands of users (see image). Then looked at how page can never be deleted, only disabled. Also looked at fact that any questions asked by you can never be deleted. Bad decisions in that regard cannot be rectified via the website.
  7. Talk about in-school expectations - reviewed middle school handbook, acceptable use policy - and how we expect our students to use the Internet in school for school purposed. We expect our students to treat each other with respect and use appropriate language.
Some observations:
  • being honest about how a site technically works is important
  • students want to believe they can be anonymous online - they argue to suggest that they are
  • discussing transparency of the Internet is essential
  • online reputation is a construct that students can relate to - they want to have a positive reputation
  • 7th and 8th grade is an appropriate time to be grappling with this - don't ban the technology, help them understand the implications of their decision
  • not making it disciplinary, but making it explanatory helps them recognize and make their own decisions
I'd love to hear back on suggestions or on how you are helping your students understand this new social tool.

On a side note: we thought it might be entertaining to set up teacher Formspring accounts where students could ask us questions about their work/area of study. So questions like "What is the different between aerobic and anaerobic respiration?"

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How can we evaluate curricula for bias and inclusivity?

I've recently been engaged in fascinating conversations about evaluating curricular resources for bias and inclusivity. These came out of a conversation on whether To Kill a Mockingbird was an appropriate text for 7th grade students. The books uses the 'n word' many times and portrays black characters are uneducated and poor (yes, I realize I'm being somewhat simplistic in my summary). The book is also a "classic" of "American" literature - I put both of those words in quotation marks because there are real questions as to whose classic and whose America.

I've been looking at a number of resources to try and get at this question of whether this book should be read, and if so, how it should be read. I wanted to share those resources publicly as well as ask you all for help.
  • should schools read this book and books like it?
  • if so, how do we prepare students for the words used in the book?
  • how do we discuss the history surrounding the book?
  • how do we balance the inherent bias displayed in the book?
  • what other questions do we need to ask ourselves?
Here are some resources I've been using:
Here are some relevant book recommendations from Teaching Tolerance:

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THATCamp 2010: the humanities and technology camp

THATCamp is a humanities and technology "unconference" at George Mason University near Washington, DC. It seems like a great opportunity to involve history and English teachers in. The applications, however, are due today, March 15, 2010. Even if you can't make this year's conference, keep it on your calendar for next year.

On a side note, have any of you attended before? Do you recommend it?

Posted via web from arvind's posterous

Wide Web of diversions gets laptops evicted from lecture halls

Wide Web of diversions gets laptops evicted from lecture halls

In an unsurprising article an old media institution which is slowly withering away (the newspaper) discusses how a law school has to ban laptops in their classrooms because students aren't listening to the lectures.

"This is like putting on every student's desk, when you walk into class, five different magazines, several television shows, some shopping opportunities and a phone, and saying, 'Look, if your mind wanders, feel free to pick any of these up and go with it,' " [Professor] Cole said."

I can't see how this is any different than these future-lawyers desks are going to be. They'll be in their offices, having to do work, with a computer, Internet access, cell phones, desk phones, e-mail, instant messenger, Skype, etc, all available for their perusal.

Shouldn't law schools being teaching future lawyers how to minimize distraction, use modern tools to be better lawyers (like writing a collaborative brief via Google Docs), and embrace what modern technology has done for the legal field? Or perhaps the bigger problem is the modern legal field isn't moving to take advantage of the opportunities. My sense is that the field is, but the educational institutions training the new lawyers aren't.

I can't believe how unwilling educators are to change their practice. You've got to get to where your kids are, or you'll be irrelevant.

My rant for the day.

Posted via web from arvind's posterous

I'm Speaking at the Creative Commons NYC Salon on "Opening Education" on March 3rd

I, along with some of my distinguished peers, will be speaking on a panel at the Creative Commons Salon NYC on March 3, 2010. The theme is "Opening Education" and there will be folks from Flat World Knowledge, Peer 2 Peer University, and finally the educators panel (including me!). It will be in lower Manhattan, from 7-10pm. RSVP info is here. Hope you can join!

Posted via web from arvind's posterous

Learning About Keeping Your Child Safe Online

Today a colleague of mine and I gave a talk to middle school parents at our school on ways to teach your child about appropriate boundaries and behaviors online. We shared a number of links and I thought my readers (if there are any!) might find them useful for use in your own schools and with your own families. There are a lot, but they are great! We watched the video, "Do You Know 4.0" The Pew Internet and American Life Project did a study called Generational differences in online activities which summarizes the different things that different age groups do online - from e-mail to social networking, and everything in between. David Pogue has a well-written article in the New York Times titled, How Dangerous Is The Internet For Children where he breaks down the myths and truths regarding children online. In that article is a link to the PBS Frontline documentary Growing Up Online, which is well worth your time to watch. You can watch it online for free. We discussed a New York Times article titled, Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain, which discusses how women and girls actually produce the majority of image/video driven content on the web, breaking some of the myths of boys/girls and technology. We discussed how the biggest threat to our children is bullying and sexual harassment and looked at an article about students and parents resorting to "Facebook sabotage" and sending colleges "dirt" on prospective students. If you and/or your daughter are using Facebook, do read the article 5 Easy Steps to Stay Safe (and Private!) on Facebook. We looked at a tremendous parent online safety guide created by Wes Fryer that includes resources/articles/lessons on: filtering, limits, social networking, instant messaging, parent resources and more. From your questions A number of you asked wonderful questions, and we told you that we'd include links to resources on regarding those questions. Here they are: Creating family guidelines We discussed creating guidelines for your family that are clear for your child and you. NetSmartz has a great age-based list of guidelines that you may want to consider. Multitasking and brain development The Dana Foundation has a good primer called Brain Development in a Hyper-Tech World which tells us that little is yet known about the effects of all the technology in our children's lives. We do know however that "multitasking," or fast attention switching makes learning much less productive than focused work. The article also discusses social development in the age of Facebook. Questions about spelling Research shows that text message speak does not harm spelling skills. Article from the Telegraph. The Curriculum, Technology, and Education Reform master's program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a good summary of some of the research regarding using computers for writing, including critiques of and benefits of using spell check software. Filtering your home computer We don't recommend any particular brand of filters for home. That being said, many families find it helpful to block out objectionable content or block certain websites/applications at certain times. GetNetWise has a section that highlights popular filtering tools. PC Magazine has an article on Child-Safe Browers. Misinterpreting e-mail 50% of all e-mail is misinterpreted, even that written by the best writers. Know that when you are sending and reading e-mail, and discuss this with your children.

Long Blog Posts Overwhelm Me

Some people are such good writers, and their blog posts are like micronovels. I love reading them, but sometimes have trouble with reading something so dense, via my screen. Or even worse, via my iPod touch screen. I like blogs that are short, to the point, and easy to digest. When I want to really sink my mind into something for an extended period of time, I pick up a book . Blogs turning into journal articles, and even books, scare me. What do you think?
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Growing up Online - PBS Frontline

PBS Frontline will be airing "Growing up Online" tonight at 9 PM EST. I like Frontline a lot beacuse of their balanced reporting. The fact that danah boyd is featured on the show makes me think they did their homework. I have written here before, and do believe, she is the smartest English-speaking person I've encountered on dealing with kids and the online world. Do not miss this program, or if you do, watch it online at their website starting tomorrow. Here is a trailer for tonight's episode: http://www.youtube.com/v/1XyipM9STyY&rel=1" />
Tomorrow on 21st Century Learning, Alex and I will be discussing tonight's show. Hope you tune in to the live chatroom at 12:00pm EST to discuss with us.

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http://www.youtube.com/v/1XyipM9STyY&rel=1" />

Should We Teach Software Skills?

Today on the ISED mailing list, someone posted a quotation from Nicholas Negroponte (of $100 laptop fame):

In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world) is that children are being trained to use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. I consider that criminal because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.

The poster asked for people’s opinions and it generated a flurry of wide-ranged responses. Here are some highlights:

Here here! I find the fixation on teaching Word, Excel, and Powerpoint in schools troubling indeed. Are we training our students to think or to be secretaries!
then
These kinds of ideological pronouncements always make me crazy. As if “making things, communicating, exploring, sharing” and learning how to navigate office tools are mutually exclusive.

I agree that the emphasis in elementary programs should be on the exploratory and creative side. However, we don’t argue that children should not waste their time learning basic math facts, do we?

Mr. Negroponte needs to spend more time in school.
and
However, I would agree with Stephen snip about the realities of school. Why is using Microsoft Word not being creative? Isn’t the act of writing creative and isn’t it true that Word is a tool that makes writing, editing, revising, and publishing easier? Isn’t Excel a way to analyze information? And I saw Dr. Negoponte’s Powerpoint presentation at NECC in 2006 so obviously there are communication uses for Powerpoint.

I also worry about the “either” “or” nature of some of these arguments – why supposedly certain types of techology applications negate creativity and problem-solving in favor of productivity, for instance. Why isn’t our question “what’s in your toolbox and why and what are you planning?”

In my opinion, it all comes down to how these things are used, what work is being done, what goals we have, how are we encouraging higher order thinking, and what process we are following. And in the end in our schools the teacher is the singlemost important factor in success in spite of their being technology or not.
then
This and many other educational debates (“Chicago Math” v. Saxon Math, whole language v. phonics, ad infinitum) can never truly be resolved because their basic premise – that these are either/or decisions – is either just plain false or a convenient way for ideologues on either side of a bogus dichotomy to dumb down a much more complicated discussion than they would like to have.

There are many educators out there who respect children enough to create learning environments that are not predefined by someone else’s either/or and acknowledge the practical realities of everyday life while simultaneously embracing the wonder and joy of discovery and exploration.

We generally don’t find them on CNN or quoted in the paper. They are too busy getting things right and serving their students. The quality of our reflections on educational practice would improve greatly if we would take the time spent spouting either/or dogma and instead use it to watch, listen, and learn while these transcendently effective “both/and” people ply their craft.
and
If I ruled the world, a nod to a James Brown song, I would invite a group of talented English teachers, technologists, child development specialists, etc and put them in a very comfortable place for a year and ask them to come up with a writing tool for students at various levels of development. (Pay them of course!) It would not have to be two or three different programs, but it could be one that could be set up with various features that could be turned on as kids got older. We would then have a program that would be suited for writing as opposed to a tool that has been designed for corporate use with very little thought given to how kids learn. I think the last wp developed for schools was the Bank Street Writer. So by the weight of the two ton lb gorilla we use Word, and yes we can be creative with it but it could be a hella of a lot more creative and useful.

It’s amazing how you first read a quotation and it sounds so right. Then someone spins it in another direction and it sounds so wrong. I think those of us in the ed tech world know what Negroponte was saying. In my mind it translates to learning skills without context. No one need to learn how to use bold. People know how to emphasize words, and there is a difference. This was a major confusion and continues to be for ed tech programs around the world. How to we blend learning skills with higher order thinking? Do we teach kids PowerPoint or do we teach them how to make fantastic presentations using digital tools? If you say obviously the latter, can you do that without a digital slideshow tool like PowerPoint? And if you do, don’t you need to teach them that tool? While someone above argued that we are using overkill tools to teach our kids (which I agree with), I don’t think we are going to find a totally intuitive software package for creating digital presentations. I’m not willing to leave teaching to go design it, are you? So in the mean time, let’s do both, teach skills and context – just don’t pick only one; it’s not fair to the kids. Or you.

Your thoughts? Apologies for the long post, but I wanted to remember this conversation, so I posted it here. Right now we are discussing how private this list should be (archives are public though), so I left names off the quotations. To find the names, use the archives.

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