Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The History students created Powerpoint presentations.  The topic of each presentation was an ancient society.  Each student, or pair of students, gave an oral presentations of their Powerpoint.  They used www.authorstream.com to embed their show on their blog.

I used this rubric to assess the oral presentations.  I used this rubric to assess the Powerpoints.

Here is one student’s work:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I really like websites that allow teachers to create class accounts, so that we can monitor the students’ progress.  One such site is Terraclues.  This site has user-created quizzes.  Students are given a clue to a location on earth, then they must locate that spot on a map.  This is a good cross-curricular activity because it combines Geography with Research skills.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

If I

I have previously recommended specific TED Talks on this blog.  I would like to recommend the following monologue, which is not a TED Talk, but which is interesting and insightful, nonetheless.  It is a show by Demetri Martin called, “If I.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Classical Mix-up

We started working with Audacity.

Previously, we were using Myna.  Myna is a great tool, but we found it to be slow and unreliable – it sometimes froze – when downloading the students’ productions

To get my students familiar with the basics of importing music and working with multiple tracks on Audacity, I assigned the following project:

Create an account at www.musopen.com.  This website has plenty of classical music available for downloading.  Select an song and download it.

Edit it in Audacity.  You can apply different effects to different parts of the song.  Your song should have a Fade In at the beginning and a Fade Out at the end.

Download soundtracks from this website and add them to your audio project. http://soundboard.com.  You need to have at least 10 different sound clips, preferably from movies or TV shows.  Try to repeat the same sound clip more than once.

Export your song as an MP3.

Upload your song to http://upload.plunder.com/ and place the link on your blog.

Listen, if you will, to one student’s creation.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chartle Map

Chartle is more than just charts.

Today, I asked my students to utilize Chartle to create a population map, which they then embedded on their blogs.

Here are the instructions that I printed for them on Engrade:

Go to www.chartle.net

Create > Map II > Lat/Long GeoMap

Title = Population

Width = 500 ; Height = 400

Data tab > Region = Canada

Remove all the locations.

You will add your own locations.  You need to add 10 Canadian cities.  Choose any cities you want to from this list:


Enter the information for each city.  Label = the name of the city.  Latitude and longitude = only write the first two digits; and the longitude must be negative; ie, Calgary is Lat: 15, Long: -114

Value = the population of the city.  Some populations are at this website:


Embed your map on your blog.

Here is one student’s product.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Here is a brief speaking activity that my students enjoyed.

Voki allows you to create a custom cartoon avatar which you can embed on your blog.  Using a telephone, you can record a message, which your avatar will  then utter.

Here is a voki created by one of my students.

Friday, December 4, 2009

TED Talks

Open Culture has an article mentioning a few popular Ted Talks.

I watched three of them.  They were all decent, but I didn’t think any of them were extraordinary.  Still, I would recommend them all.

Sir Ken Robinson on “Do Schools Kill Creativity.”  This is the least novel of the three.  As the title reveals, Sir Ken Robinson contends that the structure of modern high schools is not conducive to creativity.  At this point, I think this fact is pretty well-known to everyone.  Sir Robison’s liberal sprinkling of humourous personal anecdotes turns his speech into an indulgent stand-up comedy routine.

Dan Gilbert on “Why are We Happy.”  Dan Gilbert suggests builds his presentation upon the fact that one’s happiness is linked to one’s expectations.  Mr. Gilbert avers that people who convince themselves to be happy are just as happy as people who are “really” happy.  He presents a few experiments to prove his claims.  I am generally sceptical of psychological experiments; nonetheless, this is an Mr. Gilbert’s is an interesting speech.

Barry Schwartz on “Paradox of Choice.”  Mr. Schwartz’s premise is that excessive freedom is harmful.  He provides a number of reasons for this assertion.  I agree with his observation that the rampant consumerism of Western society is detrimental to the lack of choice available in developing countries.  In one country, there are 175 varieties of salad dressing on the grocery shelf; in other country, people don’t have enough to eat.

Did you know that more than 30,000 children starve to death each day?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Today, my English students started using EnglishCentral to practice their speaking skills.

The website requires a headset with a microphone. 

The student watches a video clip; there are hundreds from which to choose.  The videos have subtitles.  After each sentence, the student pauses the video and records himself repeating the sentence.  The student’s utterance is measured against the original and the student receives a score.

The website keeps profiles with scores, videos watched and achievements.

My students really enjoyed the activity.  Anything which is presented as a game seems to boost motivation.


Saturday, November 28, 2009


Previously, my students created music slide shows by composing a song on Myna, then coupling their song with pictures using Stupeflix.

I asked the students to repeat this activity, with two modifications.  For one thing, they had to add audio clips from movies to their composition.  Movie audio clips can be downloaded from Soundboard.

Instead of Stupeflix, this time we used PhotoPeach.  PhotoPeach is mostly the same as Stupeflix.  PhotoPeach’s interface is easier to use. 

Here are some productions:





Thursday, November 26, 2009

Edublog Awards

My Nominations for The 2009 Edublog Awards are:

Best individual blog: http://leadingfromtheheart.org/
Best individual tweeter: http://twitter.com/russeltarr
Best resource sharing blog: http://charlierb3.blogspot.com/
Most influential blog post: http://magicalmysticalteacher.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/what-is-so-magical-about-teaching/
Best teacher blog: http://cyber-kap.blogspot.com/
Best librarian / library blog: http://charlierb3.blogspot.com/
Best educational tech support blog: http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/
Best educational use of audio: http://aviary.com/tools/myna
Best educational wiki: https://kohner.wikispaces.com/
Lifetime achievement: http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


In one of my university classes, a professor posed the question, “Is teaching an art or a science.”  My opinion on this question has since fluctuated over the years.  These days, I lean more towards art.

One the best and the worst things about teaching is that there is no single prescriptive method.  Our profession boasts a wonderful amount of freedom and potential for individual creativity.  The flipside is that the autonomy afforded by teaching can become sometimes daunting.

Two recent examples in my PLN reminded me that teaching is not a dogma.

Today, I read an article written by Lisa Nielsen, entitled, “21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!

Lisa writes:

When I tweeted, “Educators who ask students to, "Hand it in" rather than, "Publish it" are stuck in the past and not preparing 21st century students.” I received a lot of kudos and retweets, but I also received a bit of push back along the lines that it’s not realistic to expect all student work to be published. My response is this. The authentic publication of student work should be a part of EVERY SINGLE UNIT OF STUDY.

Lisa’s statement shook me up. I have been asking my students to publish most of their work online, mostly on their blogs.  However, I have also been assigning them traditional worksheets, which they submit to me.  I just took it for granted that I had to temper the fun computer-based activities with serious worksheets.  I just took it for granted that worksheets were real work, and there had to be at least some real work in my classes.  To reassure the parents and anyone else who might be watching me that I am still running a real classroom: with traditional desk work and serious academics.  Worksheets were the mandatory foundation; computer work was supplementary.  The possibility never even occurred to me to abandon worksheets altogether.  Even now, I instinctively shirk from this scenario.

Tracey Rosen penned a blog post called, “On de-rubricizing.”  She writes:

For a long time now I have been sceptical of the whole rubric frenzy. Must have a rubric, must have a rubric. Why? Why should we tell kids exactly what our expectations are and in such minute detail? I call that a creativity killer. Give them some parameters. If you are expecting the result to be some kind of multimedia presentation let them know that, give them the guiding question, maybe a few resources to get them going, to raise the velcro in their brains, but then let them experiment!

Tracey is a fellow Quebecer.  In this province, we are in the infancy of an education reform, one component of which is rubrics.  Until I read Tracey’s comment, I robotically believed that rubrics were good.  I just assumed that every knowledgeable educator, like myself, adhered to the opinion that rubrics are good.  It never even dawned on me to question their merit.  As it is, I still feel that rubrics are beneficial; but, Tracey encouraged me to question an opinion that I felt was incontestable and reminded me not to project my egocentric assumptions onto my peers.

So, there you go: two nice examples of how the rules of teaching are not written in stone.  As a teacher, I should not be married to my pedagogy.

Photo by p!o.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Selling Lessons

I read this New York Times article about teachers who make money selling lessons online.

The article mentions two websites, “Teachers Pay Teachers,” and, “We Are Teachers.”  Some of the numbers in the article are astounding.

Teachers Pay Teachers, one of the largest such sites, with more than 200,000 registered users, has recorded $600,000 in sales since it was started in 2006 — $450,000 of that in the past year, said its founder, Paul Edelman, a former New York City teacher. The top seller, a high school English teacher in California, has made $36,000 in sales.

Kelly Gionti, a teacher at the High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice in Manhattan, has sold $2,544 worth of unit plans for “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Great Gatsby,” among others, helping finance trips to Rome and Ireland, as well as class supplies.

Margaret Whisnant, a retired teacher in North Carolina, earns an average of $750 a month from lessons based on her three decades of teaching middle school classics like “The Outsiders,” enough to pay for new kitchen counters and appliances.

Lisa Michalek, 40, who taught for six years in Rochester and now works for Aventa Learning, a for-profit online education company, said she spent about five hours a week tweaking old lesson plans and creating new ones, like an earth science curriculum that sells for $59.95.

Reading these statistics, one cannot help but feel inspired to sell one’s own lessons.  However, like lottery commercials, the few winners are mentioned while the thousands of losers are ignored.

What boggles my mind is that people are willing to pay for lessons on the internet when there is so much free material available.  Maybe some teachers are too busy or too lazy to search for free quality lessons.  Admittedly, it can be a time-consuming treasure hunt.  Maybe some teachers think that free lessons must not be quality lessons.  Paying money reassures them that they are receiving a quality product.

Photo by DisneyKrayzie.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Diigo Glitch

When it comes to online bookmarking, the big two are Diigo and Delicious.  Me, I use Diigo.  I have contemplated switching over to Delicious; however, until now, Diigo has satisfied my needs.  If it’s not broken then don’t fix it.  Until now.

I have recently discovered a glitch on Diigo.   

The glitch is this: sometimes, I cannot delete a tag.  I am not the only person who has experienced this problem.  It is not a major glitch, it is not unforgiveable, but it is irritating.  I could easily learn to live with it, but why should I?  If a consumer can easily switch to a competitor, then the consumer’s standards become very high.  If Diigo does not rectify the bug in their system, is this an indicator of their carelessness?  Will future glitches appear, and will they also be ignored?

It offends the OCD in me that I cannot tidy up my tag list.  I want my bookmarks to be well organized, so that I can easily access them.  Isn’t that the point of bookmarks?  I don’t want an unruly list of tags.

So, we will see.  I think I will give Diigo a few more days grace, then I will make the big switch.

Photo by DannyMcL.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


http://www.umapper.com/UMapper allows you to play user-created map games; wherein, you must identify the location of different cities and countries.

What’s more, you (or your students) can create your own games.  My students found the process for creating games to be a bit tricky, but there is a video on the website that explains the procedure.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


There is a fun online game called, “Monopoly City Streets.”

Utilizing Google Maps, the game allows players to buy streets in the real world and develop them.

I showed the game to my Geography students and they really liked it.  They quickly bought up all the streets in town.



Xtranormal allows users to produce short movies.  In order to make your characters speak, you type the text you want your characters to say, and then the program converts the text to speech.  There are different scenarios to choose from; the characters can be animated; and, you can choose the camera angle for each scene.  A movie created by one of my students is here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Citation Machine

I am told that one of the skills that students who go to college are lacking is the ability to cite sources.  With this in mind, I designed an activity to help my English students practise using citations.  Inspired by this Glog, I instructed my students to create their own Glog that presented an animal of their choice.  They were to find pictures, information and a map from at least five different sources.  Then, using, the website, “Son of Citation Machine,” they were to cite their sources of information.

Here is the Glog created by one of my students.  Although she lost marks for not creating proper MLA citations, overall, the poster is nicely done.  Most of the students had a lot of fun using Glogster.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Today, in our Geography class, we watched the movie, “Home.”

It is quite a beautiful, educational film about the impact of humans on planet Earth.  The subject matter is suitable also for History and Science.

The movie is available in High Definition on YouTube.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Accident Sketch

In Geography, one of the requisite skills is the ability to transfer reality onto a map. I had the students complete the following activity in order to practise this skill.

I asked them to view a video of a car accident, then use a website called Accident Sketch to draw a sketch of the accident in the video.

Here is one student’s interpretation of this video.


Thursday, November 12, 2009


Today, the students used Quikmaps to plot the routes of some famous explorers.

Quikmaps allows users to draw on Google Maps.  The embedding features are nice.  You can easily resize the embedded map and select its starting focus.

Furthermore, it is not necessary to create an account.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I wanted my students to practise using PowerPoint, so I asked them to create and describe a superhero.

They used Hero Factory to create a hero.  This is a fun site that all the students enjoyed using.

They used Authorstream to host their completed PowerPoint presentations.

Here is one hero’s story:

Monday, November 9, 2009


I recently lauded the features of Engrade.  I use this web service as a grade book, an attendance book, assignment calendar and message system.

Well, thanks to the Classroom 2.0 Ning, I found out about a site that looks to be even more encompassing than Engrade.  It is www.edu20.org.

You can check out all the features for yourself.  Most notably, it has an integrated quiz application.  In fact, it appears to have an integrated everything.

edu 2.0: the free, easy way to teach and learn online

At this point in the school year, I cannot compel myself to transfer to a new system.  So, I will stick with Engrade for now.  However, I will keep an eye on Edu20 for next year.  Unless, something better comes along.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stupeflix Videos

In Music, I asked the students to each produce a music video.  They used Myna to compose a song.  They downloaded their song as an MP3.  Then, they uploaded their MP3 onto Stupeflix.  They added some pictures.  Here are a few of the results.




Monday, November 2, 2009

Feel-Bad Education

Larryferlazzo shared the following article with me, via Twitter. I want to mention this essay because it is well written and it affirms many things that I believe to be true concerning education. Written by Alfie Kohn in 2005, it is entitled, “Feel-Bad Education.”

The main idea of the article is that the modern classroom is not a fun place, intentionally.

Several passages in the article resonated with me, in part, because I have been recently contemplating the ideas of fun and games in the classroom. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an entry on this blog questioning my usage of games.

Kohn states:

That so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, that the default emotional state in classrooms seems to alternate between anxiety and boredom, doesn’t even alarm us. Worse: Happiness in schools is something for which educators may feel obliged to apologize when it does make an appearance. After all, they wouldn’t want to be accused of offering a "feel-good" education.

As I wrote previously, I always feel a tinge of guilt whenever I notice my students having fun or laughing. What if my principal walks in and thinks that the kids are just goofing off?

Alfie’s article suggests a religious underpinning, which is something I also alluded to.

There’s work to be done! Life (or learning, or whatever) isn’t supposed to be fun and games! Self-denial—whose adherents generally presume to deny others as well—is closely connected to fear of pleasure and redemption through suffering, and the whole package has a pedigree that is not only philosophical but theological. Who says religion has been banished from the public schools?

Near the conclusion of his essay, in reference to the state prescriptions of sterile dogma, Alfie makes a statement that mirrors my personal sentiment.

The irony is, appropriately enough, painful: Academic excellence, the usual rationale for such decisions, is actually far more likely to flourish when students enjoy what they’re doing.

I could have quoted more from Alfie’s eloquent essay, but brevity restrains me. I recommend everyone to read the original.

Photo by seanjonesfoto.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Web Kindness

Rmbyrne tweeted about a TED Talk video entitled, “The Web as Random Acts of Kindness.” The speech is delivered by Jonathan Zittrain, and the topic is altruism on the internet. I found Jonathan’s presentation to be informative, interesting and humorous.

Photo by 8Dave.

Friday, October 30, 2009


In an effort to reduce the usage of paper in my classes and to streamline the assessment process, I wanted to find a way to administer quizzes online.

The first site that I signed up with was ProProfs Quiz School.  This is a good site.  I wrote about it on this blog a month ago.

I have a couple of criticisms of ProProfs.

Firstly, students do not create accounts.  Therefore, the marks that a particular student receives on a series of tests are not centralized.  Therefore, finding the scores for a student requires examining the scores for each test one by one.http://www.classmarker.com/

Secondly, students cannot go back and review their answers.  One of my students complained that he hated my online quizzes because he could not go back.  If a student accidently clicks the wrong button, then their mistake is irreversible.

I found a new website that has all of the features of ProProfs, plus it solves the two aforementioned problems.  Students must create an account; therefore, all their scores can be viewed on a single page.  And, there is an option to allow students to go back when they are taking a quiz.

The site is ClassMarker.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


chartgoToday, in Geography, the students created charts to display on their blogs.  They graphed statistics such as population and literacy rate for four cities.

Chartgo is a simple website that produces aesthetic charts.

Did you know that every month, 30,000 new people move to Mexico City?

Did you know there are about 90,000 homeless people on the island of Manhattan?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


For some time, I have been looking for an online alternative to Microsoft Movie Maker. Essentially, I wanted a tool to create slideshows, with music (created by the students) and photos. Additionally, I wanted a program that would allow my students to import public photos from the web, such as, from Flickr. This would alleviate the hassle of downloading photos and then uploading them again.

My search was more difficult than I anticipated. I assumed that there would be many online slideshow applications that would suit my needs. I began to collect them on Diigo. However, with each app that I tried, I found something lacking.

Photosnack does not include music.

Clipgenerator only uses music from their own library and does not import public photos from Flickr.

Magtoo and Rockyou let users import public photos from Flickr, but these websites only use songs from their own library.http://www.stupeflix.com/

Vuvox allows users to use their own music and to import photos from Flickr. Strangely though, the final product requires viewers to advance the photos manually.

Photopeach allows users to upload music and pictures, but does not import public pictures from Flickr.

Masher uses their own library of music and video clips.

I was about to give up, when finally, I found Stupeflix. Stupeflix is the only slideshow application that does the two simple things that I want it to do. Users can upload their own song, and users can search for public photos on Flickr to import. Now, about the name…

Saturday, October 24, 2009


http://symbolya.com/trips/scotland-193943#In my History class, the students located on a map where different agricultural products originated.

They used the website Symbolya to create maps, which they then embedded on their blogs. Here is a student exemplar.

Symbolya lets users create place marks on a Google map. They have a collection of different icons that can be utilized. Nice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Place Spotting

We did a fun little activity we did in Geography today. Here are the instructions I wrote on Engrade: http://www.placespotting.com/

Go to www.placespotting.com.

Click on "Create.”

Select a Canadian or a World landmark. (Use Google to research one.)

Enter the name of your landmark in the entry field of the Place Spotting website and click "Jump To Place Or Address.”

Input at least 3 hints.

Input the Captcha code and click on "Store.”

Embed the image link (#3) on your blog.

Repeat this process until you have created 5 puzzles.

Here is a student exemplar.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Library of Congress

One of the requisite skills in any History class is the ability to analyze photographs.

In a previous post, I wrote about a website, called Image Detective, that provides a great activity for students to practice analyzing photographs.

I will describe another activity that practices this skill.  The students in my History class completed this activity and they seemed to enjoy it.

Step 1: Create an account at www.flickr.com.

Step 2: Go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/.

Here you will find thousands of historical photographs.  Flickr users can highlight sections of the photographs and post comments on the photographs.  It is actually amusing to read what people have written.

Step 3: Choose a photograph and comment on some interesting detail of that photograph.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I really like the philosophy of using fun and games to motivate the students; however, I always feel guilty whenever I use games in the classroom. I know I shouldn’t.

There is a website called JamLegend, which is a nice emulation of Guitar Hero. In my Music class, I asked the students to sign up at this site and take their character to Level 2. The students really enjoyed the activity.

Still, I felt uneasy about the task. Would my principal approve? Would the other teachers approve? Would the parents approve?

Were the students really learning anything, any skills? I had to convince myself that the game was improving their dexterity (for guitar) and developing their sense of rhythm and music.

Essentially, any time that my students are having fun or enjoying themselves in the classroom, I feel a tinge of guilt. School is not supposed to by fun. It’s irrational, I know; maybe it’s a product of my Catholic upbringing.

An event later in the week did nothing to ease my conscience. I decided to have my Geography class play SimCity, because I think it teaches a lot about the way a city functions. Unfortunately, I had to abandon my plan when I discovered that the SimCity website is blocked at our school.

There are many game sites that are not blocked. The filtering program seems to be quite haphazard. For example, an online game, Evony, is not blocked, and many of the students play it during their free time and during lunch. Evony is a medieval type game where the player must build up their town and army, and manage resources. Hmm, maybe I can incorporate it into my History class…

Photo by All Glass Photo.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jill Bolte Taylor

The Reddit community is a great source of interesting information on the internet.

This morning, Reddit introduced me to the following TED talk.  Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain researcher who suffered a stroke.  She talks about her experience.

She delivers a very powerful, moving, and educational presentation.  Her speech is some 19 minutes long, which is an eternity in internet time, but I would highly recommend viewing it.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I found a website that has some nice webquests on it, by the United Kingdom National Portrait Gallery.

I asked my English students to try one of the webquests, in which they had to analyze a Rudyard Kipling “Just So Story” and write their own “Just So Story.”

However, it quickly became evident that the students would not be able to complete this task.  For two reasons.

First of all, they do not have the requisite skills to analyze a story, then write their own story in a similar style. 

Second of all, many of the students are only marginally motivated academically; and when the temptations of the internet are laid before them, they cannot resist surfing away to distracting websites.  I had been so focussed on incorporating the internet in my pedagogy, that I failed to acknowledge that IT can be a double-edged sword.  Access to computers can make students less productive.

So, today, we turned off the computers and went old school.  With me at the helm, modelling the process, we wrote a “Just So Story” together. 

I was worried that the students would be bored and resistant to the lesson, but they were involved, and I think most of them enjoyed it.  One student commented on her blog:

Today's class was really fun. We created a story about a retarded ghetto rhino with braces, horns, a laughing Hyena, and we laughed.

I explained to the students that the process of producing media always involves the same three steps: analyze, personalize, synthesize.

I was a bit anxious before the class started.  My plan was to have no plan.  I just wanted to write a story from scratch, using the students’ ideas as they threw them at me.  I think the students appreciated having the process modelled for them and enjoyed the spontaneity (and authenticity) of the process.  In the future, I plan on doing this again; hopefully, frequently, with other types of media.

It is good for the students to see me modelling the production process and to see me taking risks.  And it is good to spent time away from the computers.

Photo by Trzebiat.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I started using Engrade a few weeks ago.  It’s great.

I had been using Edmodo, but I do not use Edmodo anymore.  Engrade does everything Edmodo does and more. 

Engrade is an online gradebook that allows students and parents to see the student’s grades at any time.

Also, it is an attendance book.

Also, there is a calendar on which I can post assignments.

Also, there is an internal email system, to conveniently communicate with students and parents.

My students consult their Engrade accounts several times each day.  If they think an assignment has not been marked accurately, they let me know.  If an assignment is missing, they want to know, so they can get it done.

Students who miss a day of school can check their work online.

Students can do their homework online.

I have received several emails from different parents who have commented on their child’s grades.   It is transparent from the behaviour of some of the students that their parents have talked to them about their grades.  Some of the parents have told me so.

In my entire life as a student and a teacher, I have never seen a more useful, more useful tool and more effective motivator than Engrade.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Blog

I decided to start a new blog.

I wanted to create a blog that emulates the types of blogs that I like to peruse. 

I like blogs that:

* Introduce me to a new and useful website.

* Provide brief, impersonal descriptions.

* Include a thumbnail.

So, these will be the mission statements of my new blog.

Check it out!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Image Detective

One of the skills that I must teach to the students in History is how to analyze a historical photograph.

Today, I instructed the students to complete the activity at the Image Detective and to post the results on their blogs. 

It is a nice little activity that is well constructed. 

Students are guided to choose a historical photograph.











Then, pose a question and search for clues to answer their question.











Then, draw a conclusion.

As I stated, the final results produced by the students showed that they had effectively analyzed their chosen photographs.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today, I was prospecting my Twitter mine, when I happened upon this tweet from Larry Ferlazzo:

RT @ShellTerrell: RT @izadmajid: RT @ITJil: Finding the Right Web 2.0 Tool for Education http://bit.ly/bQDuy

I followed the link to WebTools4U2Use.

At the bottom of the page is a section called, “Keeping Up!”  There are about a dozen websites listed that provide news and reviews of Web 2.0 websites.

The first one I clicked on was AppAppeal.  I received a very good first impression from this site.  It provides a thorough, yet compact, review of each Web 2.0 website, and includes useful information; such as, whether registration is required, whether the site is free and how it compares to similar sites.


Last week, I found a similar site, called Zippa, which also provides links to Web 2.0 websites. 


I was excited by Zippa at first.  I posted a link to it on Facebook.  However, after using Zippa for a week, I am not impressed. 

The interface is tedious, requiring multiple clicks to access the reviewed website; the reviews are brief; and the server is torturously slow.

My only criticism of AppAppeal is that it does not appear to have a large repository of websites.


Oh, novel study.

So far this year, I have not commissioned my Secondary English students to study a homogenous novel.  Instead, I let them choose their own novel.  They are supposed to read a chapter for homework after every class, then comment on it on their blogs.

This experiment has had mixed results so far.  About half the students are completing the journal entries regularly; the others are not.  I wonder if the students who are not participating are affected by the lack of structure associated with this task.  Would they produce more if I followed a more traditional model of assigning a novel along with accompanying worksheet?  Or would they abstain anyways?

For those students who are participating, I fear that their summaries might become stale after awhile.

I found a website that I hope might make the task more dynamic.

Shelfari lets users catalogue the books they have read and are reading.  http://www.shelfari.com/There are multitudinous ways to comment on and categorize your books.  The interface is very nice, with a bookshelf that can be embedded on your blog.  I created my own bookshelf and embedded it on this blog.

I think that the inherent nature of Shelfari; that is, collecting read books, might encourage my students to read.

Each book has a wiki-style page, called “Details.”  Here, anybody can make comments in various categories.  (Summary, Cast of Characters, Memorable Quotes, etc.)  I will ask my students to write a comment on the “Details” page after every class. 

I was hoping that Shelfari would provide a place for private comments, but this does not appear to be the case.  I have my hesitations about asking the students to comment on a wiki page; but then again, maybe it is a good way to encourage authentic writing.

There are two websites similar to Shelfari, and they allow for private comments.  They are Readernaut and Librarything.  However, Shelfari has the most aesthetic interface, so I will stick with it.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fun Theory

A nice demonstration that encapsulates my philosophy of motivation.

They say, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


You can’t hit a homerun every at bat.

I was feeling self-satisfied because I had invigilated a few successful, popular lessons.

Yesterday, the History class was not such a big success.

I teach two levels simultaneously.  Both levels were assigned web-based research activities.  The younger group had to complete a worksheet based on information from this website, Mysteries of the Catalhoyuk.

The older group had a similar activity, based on Renaissance Time Machine Adventure. Personally, I think this website represents a great deal of effort by its author, Russel Tarr, and it is well done. I thought that the students might find the game to be interesting; however, they became bogged down by the text.  One student commented on his blog,

today, i didnt like the course because the work was boring and it was hard but its nedd to be boring somethimes next i hope its going to be fun.

For a moment or two, I felt lost.  How was I supposed to teach about Sedentarization and the Renaissance?  Other than the aforementioned websites, I could find no activities dealing with these topics.  Then, I reminded myself that there are generic online activities that can be accommodated to any subject matter.  I just need to think creatively.

For example, students can use Brainflips to create flash cards based on the subject material.  They can use VoiceThread to find historical photos and comment on them.  The possibilities are endless.

Play ball!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Voice Recording

There are several web sites that will allow students to add their recorded voice to their blogs.

For example, Chirbit.  The downside of Chirbit is that it requires registration. 









Another site is Vocaroo.  Vocaroo does not require registration.









However, the site that most intrigued me and my students, was AudioPal.  Whereas, the previous two sites require you to use a microphone, AudioPal provides a toll-free phone number that allows you to record your message over the phone.  Your message is then instantaneously available online.



Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Project Dragonfly

Today in Geography, I asked the students to design their own dream bedroom. The purpose of the activity was to give the students the opportunity to enhance their mapping skills and spatial cognition.

The students used a home design website called “Autodesk Project Dragonfly” to create their designs.

The students really enjoyed the activity, especially this student.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Today in Music class, I asked my students to make music videos.

They used Masher, which is a rather simplistic site that provides video and music clips for users to mash together.  When I scouted the site beforehand, I was sceptical because the video clips seemed to be mostly outtakes from corny BBC documentaries.

However, the students really enjoyed the activity.  I thought they would just slap some material together and call it a day; however, they carefully crafted their productions, combining complementary music and video to create impressive results.  They surprised me.

In his  blog, one of the students wrote that it was his best class of music ever.  Wow.

It’s funny how sometimes, as a teacher, lessons that you feel the most excited about will often flop; and lessons that you find uninspiring will often be a hit with the students.

As I said, the videos were really well done.  Here is one of them.  Golf video.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Google Voice

You cannot sign-up for Google Voice yet without an invitation.  A search on Twitter will reveal the going price for a Google Invite is about 8 dollars right now.

I just watched the video below describing the capabilities of Google Voice.  It looks like it could be pretty useful. 

I wonder what features will be available in Canada.  Usually, telecom services are regulated and restricted in Canada.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bombay TV

Larry Ferlazzo has some good lesson ideas on his Burbank High School blog.

One of the gems I found on Larry’s website was Bombay TV.

There are brief movie clips from India on this website, and users can write subtitles for the dialogue in the scenes.  My secondary English students had a lot of fun with this activity.  They embedded their creations on their English blogs.  One of my students even commented on his blog that he had fun in class.  This was nice to read.

Admittedly, some of the students pushed the envelope with the themes and language of their attempts at humour.  I had to tell one student to delete his unsuitable creation.  But, I suppose, every writer must wrestle with censorship and every writer must experiment with the sometimes nebulous boundaries of permissibility. 

As a teacher, too, I must try to balance what I believe to be acceptable within a school environment against my disinclination to stifle the creativity of the students.

Here is a movie I made:

<a href="http://www.grapheine.com">Agence web Graphéine</a>

Thursday, October 1, 2009

ProProfs Quiz School

One of my resolutions this year is to use as little paper in my classroom as possible.

To this end, I have started using an online quiz site called ProProfs Quiz School.  As you can see, ProProfs offers teachers many options when they create a quiz.

There is no registration required.  Students only need to enter their name to begin.

You can create multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions.

If I didn’t know any better, I would believe that my students actually enjoy taking exams online; more than on paper, anyways.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Jamstudio is a website that lets easily compose songs.

Teachers can request a free educator account.  Within a couple days of my request, I received an email with an access code good for 200 accounts.

Last week, I had the students in my Music class write a song.  Unfortunately, the “Share” button did not function properly; therefore, the students could not email me their songs.

I found a work-around solution.

There is a button on the Jamstudio website, “Mp3 Mix.”  This allows users to email themselves an MP3 file of their creation.  I will instruct my students to send their MP3 to their own email accounts.  I could just ask them to then forward the email to me.  However, I want their music to be publicly available, on their blogs.  Unfortunately, Blogger does not allow for uploading MP3s.

Thanks to this great website, Zippa.com, which is a repository for Web 2.0 websites, I found this interesting and useful website, File2.ws.  File2.ws allows users to upload a large variety of files, which are then converted into a simple web page.  There is no sign up procedure.  So, each student will upload their MP3, which will be made into a web page.  This web page can then be linked to on their blog.

Photo by Hryck.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


One of the websites to which I subscribe in my Google Reader account is Lifehacker.

They recently had an article describing the five best Twitter clients.  I have been using TwitterFox, which is an add-on for Firefox.  TwitterFox is good, but I wanted something less compact, and maybe, with more features.  Due to its small size, I find TwitterFox to be slightly uncomfortable to read.  Since I have noticed a recent increase in the great sites I am finding via Twitter, I wanted an interface I enjoy perusing more.

So, I am going to give Brizzly a try.

The Brizzly layout is very similar to Twitter’s.

The interesting features of Brizzly are that shortened URLs are expanded; and, photos and video are previewed.

The one drawback, compared to TwitterFox, is that TwitterFox allows me to recommend a website with one click; whereas, Brizzly requires me to cut and paste the URL.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Every time my secondary English students have a class, I require them to read one chapter from a novel, then write on their blogs a summary of that chapter.

It is a derivative of my student-centred philosophy that the students are allowed to choose their reading material, as opposed to having me assign a single novel for everybody.  I think it important for students to enjoy the experience of reading and writing, and not feel like it is an onerous task.

One of my students asked if he could write a reaction to a magazine article.  I hesitantly agreed.  I would like to share his summary of the article, or rather, as he states, the articles.  It concerns the topic of UFC wrestling.

UFC 103 took place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. It was headlined by the main event bout between Rich ''Ace'' Franklin, and Vitor ''The Phenom'' Belfort. I didn't get the chance to watch UFC 103, so I read many articles describing it. I was impressed by some of the fight outcomes. First of all, I thought that Rich Franklin would of made short work of Vitor Belfort due to his high level, and continuous training compared to Vitor. But one variable which I didn't consider was that Vitor has changed training camps, and has restarted training seriously, with some of the top martial artists in the world. You see, when Vitor was only 19 years old, he concurred the light heavyweight division with ease, but due to many misshapennings in his personal life and career, he fell into depression and stopped training like he should of been thinking he had it all under his belt. For many years, his career just went downhill, and the young strong and lightning handed Vitor we used to know faded away. Unfortunately for “Ace”, the Vitor that showed up in the octagon that night appeared to be the young and feisty 19year old whom literally destroyed some of the most deadliest fighters in MMA history.

It brought a little smile to my face to read this student’s blog entry.  Personally, I do not know anything about UFC wrestling, and truthfully, it does not interest me; but you can tell from the tone of his essay that this student is passionate about UFC.  If I didn’t know any better, I would almost believe that he enjoyed writing and sharing his opinions.  I would wager, he enjoyed writing about UFC more than he would have enjoyed writing about they symbolism of the conch in “Lord of the Flies.”

Photo by deskounlmtd.net.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Map Activity

This year, I am teaching Geography, History and English; plus, some other subjects.

I was not having much difficulty creating English activities for the students that incorporate the internet; however, I was having difficulty developing online activities for my two social sciences classes.

Today in Geography, I asked the students to do an activity using internet resources, which I will describe presently.  The class was enjoyable for me, and I think the students enjoyed their one hour with me more than they would have if they had been forced to do worksheets.  As a corollary, there were no classroom management issues.  It dawned on me that I need to continue to develop online activities.  By now, I should have a sufficiently adequate pool of resources from which to choose.  What is required of me is a bit of creative thinking to imagine ways that the prescribed curriculum can be adapted to the internet.

At this point, there is no compelling reason for me to use worksheets.  It was be foolish of me to do so.

For the map activity, I had students download a blank jpeg of Montreal.  Then, using the website, Fotoflexer, the students added text to their map, labelling the rivers and major areas of the city.  Tomorrow, the students will use Wikispaces to create a webpage that describes Montreal (the population, the major developments, and so on).  They will include their map on the their webpage.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Last week, I spent three days at a reading and production workshop presented by Michele Luchs and Louise Bourque.  All of the Cycle 2 English teachers from our school board, ESSB, were present.

It was a good experience.

Michele and Louise emphasized the benefits of incorporating a variety of media in the classroom.  Their primary message, as interpreted by me, was that the modern English classroom must consist of multimedia productions.  Contemporary literacy means more than traditional reading and writing.  In the spirit of the Quebec Reform, we were encouraged to explore, with our students, the analysis and production of such media as movies, magazine advertisements, slideshows, and so on.  In a nutshell, the workshop advocated the types of pedagogical activities about which I have been learning, collecting and blogging for the past few months.

It was nice to meet other educators who share visions similar to mine regarding the multi-faceted definition of literacy.

Photo by ahhyeah.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Virtual Grammar Lab

One of my goals as a teacher this year is to reduce the amount of paperwork in my classes as much as possible.

With this in mind, I have been searching the web for a site that will allow students to read information and complete assignments online.  For sure, there are many great sites, such as this one, with educational activities.  My problem is, how do I check that the students have actually visited the sites and completed the activities?

I thought I had found the answer with the Virtual Grammar Lab

This site links to many websites that contain English lessons and activities.  Teachers can create class accounts and assign activities to the students.  The students create their own accounts and connect to the class account.  When a student visits the assigned website, this is recorded for the teacher’s benefit.  It sounds like a great idea, and it sounds like just what I was looking for.  Unfortunately, the site seems buggy.  Already, I have discovered two things that I do not like about it.  First of all, when I add a single assignment, this assignment is repeated in the assignment list many times.  Thus, a single assignment appears as forty-plus assignments; although, they are all the same. 

Second of all, the Virtual Grammar Lab only records if a student visits a website.  It does not record if the student actually completed the tasks, and it does not record a mark of the student’s performance.

So, I am not sold on utilizing this website quite yet.  I will keep looking.

Edmodo Again

This is another post on the topic of Edmodo.com.  After some initial hesitancy, I am really liking this website now.

Edmodo provides me with a central repository to collect all of my assignments.  It allows me to communicate work and homework with students and parents.

One of the side benefits of Edmodo is that it provides me with a concrete record of what I have assigned.  For example, I posted an assignment on Edmodo in which I instructed students to write a story using the website, 5 Card Flickr.  Furthermore, I instructed students to describe the process of using the website.  Many students simply wrote a story and neglected to include the requisite description on their blog.  With my Edmodo post, I had written proof of my instructions.  The students could not claim that I had not told them to write on their blogs; they all had the opportunity to read the directions for the assignment on Edmodo.  Edmodo eliminates the misunderstandings of oral communication.  All my assignments are described in writing.

This process also provides me with an opportunity to refine in detail what I want out of each assignment.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Student Centered Curriculum

As I was preparing activities for my English course, I came across a collection of textbooks in one of the filing cabinets.  They were Writing & Literature textbooks.  The first chapter had a poem in Shakespearean English.  The textbook included lessons of writing different genres and grammar.

For a minute, I was overwhelmed by a wave of self-doubt.  I wondered, what if my syllabus is all wrong?  What if it is wrong for me to incorporate such a heavy load of internet-based activities.  What if I am doing too much fun stuff in the classroom?  What is the parents complain that I am just fooling around, and not really teaching their kids the two R’s?

For a moment, I considered dropping everything and just following the textbook that I held in my hands.  The prescribed readings, with their accompanying activities and comprehension questions were right there, enticing me.  It could be so easy.  I asked myself: but some of this material looks quite difficult; what if it is too advanced for my students?  I answered myself: well, I will just work with them to complete the assignments; if need be, I will provide them with the answers.


I got my groove back.

I reminded myself that a boring, prescriptive, one-size-fits-all textbook approach to educating the students was exactly what the Quebec Reform was trying to get away from.  The pedagogy advised by the textbook I held was the old paradigm.

I am lucky to be teaching in a province that is in the infancy of a reform whose tenets mirror my own.  I have been charged with the task of teaching a student-centered curriculum; it is a philosophy that in which I believe; I should try to set my doubts aside and embrace it.

Let students select their own research topics.  Let students choose their own novels.  Write their own stories.  Wherever possible, let them choose how to communicate in their own way.

Certainly, I will have doubts about my program, my activities, and my methods.  The textbook method is safe.  Student-centered classrooms are open-ended.  What can happen?  I don’t know.  I don’t need to know.  Student-centered teachers need to be confident enough to release control.  Student-centered teachers need to be secure enough to accept, nay expect, mistakes.

Photo by Dalboz17.


My plan this year was to utilize an online gradebook and attendance book.

However, I have discovered that our school uses off-line software for these tasks.  So, so much for that plan.

I have been having an on-again off-again relationship with Edmodo.  I have decided again that I will try to use it in my classes.  It will provide a site for my students and their parents to see all their assignments.  As well, it will allow me to keep track of the assignments.

I will not be using Edmodo to receive assignments.  The students work will be either be papers, delivered to me in person; or else, items posted on their personal blogs, which I will be able to peruse.

Indeed, since all of the assignments will be listed in the gradebook our school uses, Edmodo is actually redundant for me.  We will see.  If it gets to be too tedious to maintain, then I will be off-again.

Friday, September 4, 2009


In my previous correspondence, I recommended the website Animoto as a tool to create slideshows.

It has since come to my attention, from this website, that Animoto is in fact not entirely free.  Free slideshows must be less than 30 seconds in length.

Therefore, I would like to withdraw my recommendation of Animoto.  I have removed Animoto from my Diigo bookmarks

I’m sure Animoto is a great service for those who want to pay.  I am not one of those people.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I have stumbled upon a number of educational blog posts in which teachers describe their activities for the beginning of the year.

I would like to share some of the ideas I have planned.

I will be teaching four secondary subjects: English, History, Geography, and Music.

The first order of business is to make sure that every student has an email account.  Next, the students will need to create a “portfolio” blog for each of the subjects.  These student blogs will be linked to a central class blog.

Now, to populate the blogs with content.

In each class, we will begin with an “Introduce Yourself” unit.  (Or, as they are now yclept in Quebec, “Learning Evaluation Situation.”)  My LES is based loosely on an LES available on the QuebecLearn website, entitled, “What Makes You Who You Are?”

I will have the students take photographs of themselves.  Then, the students will add a caption to their photos, one sentence describing something unique about themselves, using the website Speechable.  Then, we will make a slideshow of the results.  There are many slideshow websites.  I think we will try Animoto, to begin with.

I think the devil will be in the details.  For example, for every site that we use, usually a sign-up is required.  I will ask students to keep a master list of usernames and passwords.

Another idea.  I like the concept of having students discuss and create their own classroom and school rules.  (Of course, their democracy is delimited by my executive prerogative.)  With this in mind, I will have the students contribute at least one classroom or school rule to a bulletin board at Wallwisher.  Again, with the sign-up and the linking to the individual blogs.

Photo by MinaFresh/Amanda.