It’s About the Conversation

•February 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Social learning theory is based on the idea that learning can be done by simply observation. These observations, however, do not necessarily lead to a change in behavior and the learning is not necessarily demonstrated through behavior or a change in behavior. Learning can take place solely from observations.

With this theory in mind, all of society plays a role in educating our children. From the parents who try to set good examples, the teachers who become role models, and the professional sports athletes and musicians who all children strive to exemplify. All of society needs to be aware that children are copying our public actions.

Social learning has become even more important with the use of the internet and the exposure to exponentially more information than previously was available. Students are now able to join or observe conversations that are taking place about all topics and with varying opinions and viewpoints.

Instruction is typically the flow of information from one entity (more informed to) another (less informed) entity. With technology and the available information, this flow becomes interrupted. Now, the instructor is not the only person who has access to information. Students become informed. Questions begin to develop. A conversation begins.

Photo from Flikr: user: abcd8164

Information flows two directions within a conversation. All participants in a conversation have the potential to contribute. Ideas and thoughts can be shared. Resources can be aggregated. Change can occur. Learning can happen.

Technology, in this instance, then becomes extremely important. Many free tools can facilitate a conversation, but remember, it’s not about the tool, it is about the conversation.

Here are some of my favorite online tools that encourage conversation:


a free, web-basedcollaborativemultilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Its 17 million articles (over 3.5 million in English) have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world, and almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site.


free, Web-based word processorspreadsheetpresentationform, and data storage service offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users.


is a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. Calls to other users within the Skype service are free, while calls to both traditional landline telephones and mobile phones can be made for a fee using a debit-based user account system. Skype has also become popular for its additional features which include instant messagingfile transfer, and video conferencing.


social networking and microblogging service, enabling its users to send and read messages called tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the user’s profile page.


is a website that allows the creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor.[1][2][3] Wikis are typically powered by wiki software and are often used to create collaborative works. Examples include community websites, corporate intranetsknowledge management systems, and note services. The software can also be used for personal note taking.

There are many online tools that would encourage and facilitate conversations. Learning occurs in many ways, and participating in a meaningful conversation is just one way to engage learners and cause learning. Have you had a meaningful conversation with an exchange of knowledge and ideas? Who have you conversed with? Who have you learned from?


What is Your Personal Learning Theory?

•December 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A few weeks ago, I was asked to reflect on my theory of how students learn. As I pondered this question, I reflected back on my undergraduate degree to attempt to recall my “training” in learning theory. Sure, I could recall the big names in educational learning theories, such as Skinner and Piaget, however I struggled to communicate my thoughts on how students learn, and even more importantly, how my methods of teaching provide opportunities for students in my classroom to learn, grow, and mature.

My reflection brought me to these thoughts.

  • All students can learn.
  • My methods of teaching target those students who want to learn.
  • Students need to learn how to follow rules and directions.
  • There are many outside factors that affect learner behaviors and attitudes.
  • Students need a “base” of skills that can then be built upon.
  • Technology should be a component of all lessons.

These last few weeks, we have been studying and refreshing our ideas on how students learn and addressing how we need to adjust our teaching. It is no secret that many theorists are stating that the learners are different today than they were twenty years ago. The buzz words of 21st Century Learners permeates schools everywhere. But what does that really mean for teachers? Well, unfortunately I cannot answer that question for anyone except myself.

I still believe all students can learn, however, I now believe that it is in the best interest of all if even the most resistant of learners are targeted. How do I plan to do this? Constructionism. I am going to focus on allowing opportunities for my students to build stuff. I want them to create presentations, videos, and artifacts(Laureate Education, 2010). I want my students to get their hands dirty. I want them to fail, I want them to search for answers, I want them to succeed. “When students generate and test hypotheses, they are engaging in complex mental processes, applying content knowledge like facts and vocabulary, and enhancing their overall understating of the content.” (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p. 202) As I stated earlier, I fell into the category of teaching, for the most part, how I was taught many years ago. I want to change this. I want to change from being the source of information to being a guide, an arbitrator, a moderator. I want my students to find information from other sources. I want to learn from my students. I want my students to learn from each other.

Students no longer do work for just their teacher. With that being said, I wrote about sharing in a previous post. I do still believe that there is a tremendous opportunity for learning in the process of sharing information and ideas. I am going to encourage my students to share. Not only share, but also reflect upon what others have shared. For me, this may be the most important part of learning in today’s classroom.

So, from all of this learning and reflection, this is my plan.

  • All students can learn and teach.
  • Less talking from me, and more doing from students.
  • Build stuff.
  • Share stuff.
  • Use technology when appropriate.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Constructionist and Constructivist Learning Theories. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Pitler H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Is Filtering Content Blocking Student Learning?

•December 2, 2010 • 8 Comments

Learning now is different. Students are no longer isolated from one another because of location, beliefs, or even language. Social interaction compliments learning and may even be one of the most, if not the most, influential methods in which learners construct meaning (Pitler, Kuhn, Malenoski, 2007).

Many education environments are not comfortable with opening firewalls, turning off filters, or giving students access to the “live” outside world for fear of what might happen. These are hurdles that are not easy to overcome, and rightfully so. Some arguments for using filtering software are: “it reduces liability, helps cut down on phone calls or visits from distressed parents, and decrease the amount of malware that your patrons inadvertently install on your machines”.¹ Those same proponents also argue that filtering software, when used at the school level, allow schools to “demonstrate that it is taking positive action towards protecting students from objectionable material.”¹ Many schools who receive federal monies are required to have a content filter in place. Schools are able to then justify their actions by siting this requirement, and ultimately limiting access to not only objectionable content but also sites that are deemed “unworthy” for student use during school hours. Many times, these decisions are being made by individuals or small groups of individual who may or may not be teachers. It is often unknown why certain sites are being blocked. Frequently, even the teachers suffer from the same level of content filtering as the students. Are teachers not to be trusted?

Many educators oppose content filtering. Many see it as an infringement upon our freedom of speech. Many feel that it impedes their ability to conduct research and bring new and exciting digital tools into their classrooms. Not only does it restrict valuable learning opportunities and tools, but it creates a sense of distrust between the students and the faculty. Students no longer have to make decisions when searching. Students no longer have to be responsible for what appears on their search results. Students do not have to adjust their queries to make sure the results are appropriate. In fact, I would argue that the opposite occurs. Students become more frivolous with their searching, even to the point of wording their searches to yield results that will result in objectionable material. They no longer have to be accountable because the software does that for them.

We are turning a blind eye to this very important opportunity to teach our students a life skill. Use this as an opportunity to teach and model proper use of the technology and the internet. Convince the decision makers that blocking content does not give students the opportunity to experiment in a somewhat controlled “virtual sandbox” where they can begin to develop the needed skills to use these tools in an acceptable manner. Schools have a wider educational responsibility to expose students to a broader range of ideas, experiences and point of views (Callister, 2004).

Students recognize the fact that there is a desire to filter adult content from them, but none the less, this also is causing significant frustration with students attempting to conduct legitimate school activities and research.

I believe that there is strength and knowledge in networks and being connected. Learning is changing. Schools need to be willing to adopt and model responsible use of social tools. Let’s take a page from our own President’s playbook. In early 2007, Obama hired Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes to manage his online campaign. Hughes was the Harvard room-mate of Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook. Months before the election, (July 2008) Obama had well over one million friends on Facebook. His closest opponent had less than 200,000 Facebook friends. Networking is powerful.

How can schools justify blocking a tool from students, which essentially was responsible for helping to elect our latest President?

This brings me to my question: Is Filtering Content Blocking Student Learning?

Please use the link below to add your thoughts to the VoiceThread. Your insight and opinions are valued and appreciated.


Callister Jr. T. A., Burbules, Nicholas C. Phi Delta Kappan, Bloominton, (May 2004), Vol 85.

¹Filtering and Education (B) Su08 – WikEd. (n.d.). . Retrieved December 2, 2010, from

Pitler, H., R., E. H., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). “Chapter 7: Cooperative Learning.” Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007. 119 – 138. Print.

Create, Share, Learn!

•November 25, 2010 • 2 Comments

Students have been creating artifacts in schools for a long time. I remember being an elementary student and stringing the colored noodles onto yarn to make a necklace for my Mom. I remember those perspective drawings we have all done in our art classes. I remember the compilation of poems we saved in our high school creative writing course. I am sure you all can remember some of the artifacts that you created during your years in education as well. This is an educational theory called Constructionism, which in short states, students learn as they build artifacts or something they can share with others ¹. Constructionism suggests that learners, in an attempt to achieve equilibrium of the mind and understanding (schema), do one of two things when exposed to new information: we assimilate, or we accomodate in an attempt to return to schematic equilibrium. When learners assimilate, they respond to new information that does not fit their current schema by simply adopting or changing their belief. When learners accomodate, they alter their understanding to include the new information within their already developed schema. By doing one or both of these things, learners are able to keep their schema in equilibration ¹.

The goal here is to get students to build stuff. While building and creating “students generate and test hypotheses, they are engaging in complex mental processes, applying content knowledge like facts and vocabulary, and enhancing their overall understating of the the content.” ²

Enter the age of technology. Technology provides teachers many new and engaging tools and avenues, from blogs to podcasts, powerpoint presentations to digital video and images, technology has given everyone the tools necessary to quickly and easily create an artifact. Here are some tools to create in the classroom.

Sure students need the opportunity to build stuff, but I think the deeper learning will come from sharing what they build or create, to an audience that is much larger than the classroom or local community. The internet has become social and interactive. Despite the fears and apprehension, this is a great venue for students to explore and experiment in creating their online identity, their digital footprint. This is not to say that we shouldn’t give merit to some of these issues, but use it as an opportunity to teach, model, and demand responsible use…but that’s another story.

Recently, an educator, Dean Shareski, addressed a global 2010 k-12 Online Conference audience with his opening keynote titled, “Sharing: The Moral Imperative” . Continuing with the Constructionism theme, Shareski states that we are a remix of ideas and influences that have touched us along our own journeys. Perhaps a bit of assimilation and accommodation taking place. Another point Shareski makes is that we are all better when we share. This I believe is the power of technology. Sharing. We now are able to share what we build, create, produce to a variety of audiences in a quick and easy manner. We can use document cameras to capture student work and post it to a website. We can use audacity to record our voices or instruments and share that recorded track with whomever we choose. We can voice our opinion, seek help from experts, and listen to opinions from around the world with ease. To me, this is the power of the technology.

Another colleague whom I have been following since visiting with him at a conference last year, Jeff Utecht, recently shared via twitter a very moving experience that some students he works with had. 10 middle-schoolers from the International School of Bangkok were selected to take part in a 4-day Operation Smile Mission in Mae Sot, Thailand. Upon their return, they were asked to reflect upon their journey. This is one such reflection:

No doubt creating this video was powerful for this student, but I would suspect that learning from this project will continue with comments, discussions, questions, and reflection that follow.

Create, Share, Learn!

¹Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Constructionist and Constructivist Learning Theories. Baltimore, MD: Author.

²Pitler H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Processing Information in the Classroom with Technology

•November 21, 2010 • 4 Comments

How many of us have attended a class where we enter the classroom, take a seat, and try to listen to a teacher or professor deliver content in a continuous stream of facts, quotes, names, dates, important terms and concepts for an hour or more? Then, to finish off the class, as we walk out the door, we are assigned some type of exercise in which we then are expected to apply this new information. Not only that, but five minutes later, and for every hour in the next few hours the cycle repeats, so at the end of the day, we as a student have been subjected to hours of new content delivery and very little time to question, discuss, synthesize, apply, and reflect. This is called learning.

According to the Cognitive Learning theory, brought about as opposition to the Behaviorist Learning theory in 1929, learning is a combination of our memory as an active processor of new information and that learning and memory is also linked to our prior knowledge. Learners receive information which is stored in short term memory, and as we make connections from our past experiences or new experiences, that content then becomes stored or linked into our long term memory in the form of images. The Information Processing Theory also suggests that learners can handle no more than 7 (on average) pieces of new information. This theory of learning and memory was popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Have you ever wondered why we have seven digits in our telephone numbers? This may explain it!

Technology is one tool that can assist with learning and information processing. Using mind-mapping software is one idea. There are many online tools that are available and free to use: is an online tool that students and teachers can use to create maps or use as a brainstorming platform.

MyWebspiration is another free on-line tool. This is an extension of the “Inspiration” software that is computer hosted. I like this tool for a few reasons. First, it is web hosted, which means students can use this anywhere they have internet access. Second, the ability to collaborate with others on the same diagram is also a beneficial feature that cannot be done with computer hosted software. And third, just like the computer hosted software, you can toggle between outline form and web form, thus allowing learners of multiple styles to benefit.

Wallwisher is another online tool that multiple users can use at the same time. I like this tool for brainstorming activities. It is super easy to create new wall, which has posts which can be rearranged by simply dragging and dropping.

Another idea for integrating technology into the classroom is digital note taking. There are many ways to take notes digitally, whether simply by just opening a text document and typing away, or maybe some new ideas:

Google Docs are a unique alternative. This tool allows you to save your document to the cloud, eliminating the need for external drives that are carried with you or having to retrieve the document on the device that it was created. Another great feature is the ability to collaborate in real time on the same document. Share your notes with a classmate, both you and your classmate contribute notes from the lecture, ideas, and questions. Also allows for chat, so you can discuss and reflect with a classmate quietly while the lecture is occurring without disrupting the class. Great features!

If you are an iPad user, SundryNotes is a great tool for taking notes. This program allows for text, drawing, doodles, etc… all on one piece of digital paper. What I really like about this app is that you can also record within a note. Using the record feature, you could record the entire lecture to refer back to while studying or completing activities. The new version of the app also allows for a portal on the internet, thus making your notes available to you wherever you have internet access. A great app for the iPad! This is worthy of a screenshot…below.

Another powerful digital tool that could be used in the classroom, especially in this time of budget cuts, are Virtual Field Trips (VFT) also known as webquests. Although I do not have much experience in this realm, I thought that I would share some resources with you. is a searchable data base of user created quests. It also contains guidance on developing and creating your own webquests or VFT.

QuestGarden is another great resource to find user created VFT’s or webquests.
Whether or not we all agree on the accuracy of the Cognitive Learning Theory, we can agree that digital tools will benefit all learners. Last year I had the opportunity to connect with a great educator, Kevin Honeycutt. Our conversation ranged from weather from our two very diverse locations to that of technology and the role it plays in education. He created this video, which I believe really points out issues that students and teachers are dealing with.

We, as educators, need to learn!


Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from – free web application for brainstorming online. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

Google Docs – Online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, surveys, file storage and more. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

Learning theory (education) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

QuestGarden Search. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

Sundry Notes. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from :: Words that stick. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

WebQuest.Org: Home. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

Webspiration: Online Visual Thinking Tool | (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

YouTube – I Need My Teachers To Learn (Kevin Honeycutt ). (n.d.). . Retrieved November 21, 2010, from

Is the Feeling Still Pleasant?

•November 11, 2010 • 2 Comments

Many, many years ago, a psychologist by the name of B.F. Skinner further developed a theory of learning that had previously been called “Behaviorism” by his colleague, John B. Watson¹. Skinner believed that ones behavior, and ultimately the knowledge one possessed, was directly related to one’s environment. Skinner went as far as stating that behavior could be sculpted by the use of reinforcement and punishment. This theory, often referred to as “Operant Conditioning” uses reinforcement to increase the occurrences of desired or pleasurable behavior, and uses punishment to decrease the occurrences of undesired or unpleasant behavior. Behaviorism still shows up in education today, more than fifty years later.

One of Skinner’s ideas to support his behaviorist theory was programmed instruction. This method of reading a small amount of text or information and then answering questions about what was just read still shows up in schools today. In fact, if we look at the very basic structure of today’s textbooks, we still follow, for the most part, this idea of programmed instruction. Students read a chapter and then are exposed to the questions at the end of the section…based on the students answer, correct or incorrect, the student is then subjected to new information or returned to old content for remediation. Is this starting to sound too familiar?

Let’s shift this discussion to educational technology. B.F. Skinner could be considered a pioneer in regards to integrating technology into the classroom. In the mid 1900’s, Skinner actually developed a learning machine² that would expose the learner to new content, administer a series of questions, and check those questions for accuracy. Skinner was far ahead of his time…

Fast forward to today…we still employ some of these fifty year old beliefs. Homework is being assigned as repetitious work. Students are being asked to read through a section of their textbook, and answer questions or complete a worksheet on the content they just read. Even some of our technology seems to follow the same format. The online tutorials are a prime example…we are exposed to a small amount of information, and to check for recall, (notice I didn’t say understanding) we answer questions or perform a small task³.

Today, however, we have the resources and tools to make learning different, to make learning relevant, hands on, and exciting. We have many Web tools that allow us to target the upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy in comparison to the low levels of learning with programmed instruction. In the diagram below, using programmed instruction, we would be targeting the bottom two categories of the taxonomy: remembering and some understanding.

Here are some online tools corresponding to Blooms taxonomy:


BBC Skillwise-

Spelling City-


Discovery Streaming-




PBS Kids-


Into the Book-



Book Adventure-




PhotoBooth- Software



Google Earth-


Read Write Think-

Cool Iris-












Wiki Spaces-









Are we really still believing that environment is the sole factor in influencing behavior? Do we still believe that the best way for students to retain information is the “drill and kill” method? Is asking our students to recall a relatively small amount of information over a very short period of time the rigorous education we are striving to provide to our students? Does this continue to be our desired behavior/learning?

How pleasant is our students feelings in regards to their education?


¹B. F. Skinner – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 11, 2010, from

educational-origami – Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 11, 2010, from

²File:Skinner teaching machine 01.jpg – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 11, 2010, from

iLearn Technology » Search Results » blooms. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 11, 2010, from

³Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program four. Behaviorist learning theory [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.

How Many?

•October 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

What would happen if we teachers did not have a captive audience?  As adults, we are free to come and go as we choose depending upon our desires and expectations. What if we granted that same freedom (at some level) to our students? Would you be engaging and relevant enough to fill the seats in your room? How many students would stay to solve, create, build, converse, and engage with you and your content?

Learning is changing. Students are learning in different ways. It is no longer acceptable to expect students to sit in their chairs and listen to us spill out information for 50 minutes or more. Students need to be given the opportunity to learn content that is relevant to their futures, engaging enough to demand attendance, and challenging enough to attract participation.

Teaching needs to change. Teaching needs to keep pace with how students learn. Teaching needs to keep in touch with the information and tools needed to keep pace in the workforce. If the teaching profession is going to begin to change the public perceptions of the occupation, teachers and individuals will have to do more than what their contract states. They will have to participate in activities that give them more tools, more information, and more skills to be effective teaching the new age of learners. This intriguing video really brings these concepts to the forefront. I had to watch it twice, I was terribly distracted by the great artwork…

I am constantly trying to build my learning network and my learning resources. I use tools such as Google Buzz and Twitter to gather and share knowledge from people from around the world. I also use Diigo, a social bookmarking tool to gather and share web resources. I think that all teachers should begin developing their external PLN (Professional Learning Network). Teachers are no longer expected to have all the answers. A broad network of professionals who share ideas and resources will supplement local knowledge and experiences. Having a network of peers to share ideas and engage in discussions is also a great way develop and model the 21st century skills we are trying to provide to our students. I am also going to attempt to model technology integration into all my professional development workshops. I want to demonstrate to teachers how technology can be integrated effectively and purposefully into all subjects.

Let’s face it. Every teacher has the same goal: to engage students and ultimately provide an experience that broadens our students’ knowledge. Next time you write a lesson plan, or present in front of a group, whether it is adults or students, I challenge you to ask yourself this. How many of your audience would get up and leave? How many of your audience would stay?