How to be “right” more than twice per day

Eyes past print

Modeling fluent reading. Introduction of outside text every period of every day in every class. The opportunity to bring relevance to adolescents. With whole-school immersion in text and reading, ideas and concepts naturally follow. The teacher reads, the student follow along a copy of the text. Content-area literacy expert, Janet Allen calls it “eyes past print with voice support.” At my school, we call it a requirement… one element of a building-wide literacy plan.

Two years ago, after our sit-down session with Janet Allen in Orlando, Florida, our leadership team decided on a school-wide implementation of this strategy as an element of our focus on literacy skills. Co-Principal in charge of instruction, Dr. Jeanette Westfall, was a former elementary teacher, high school communication arts teacher and instructional coach. There is no doubt that her background helped her decide that a non-negotiable approach to reading improvement across content areas was a valuable thing given our situation.

Iqra: Read

Why we went there

Data analysis in our school improvement planning sessions clearly indicated the need for a systemic effort to improve reading. However, witnessing and characterizing the problem is only the beginning. The ability to design concrete, strategic approaches to solving such a problem is a crucial next step. Bringing the teeth of accountability into the picture is the final piece of the puzzle in comprehensively addressing a systemic educational issue.

The accountability piece tied to EPP is a direct requirement from our building administration to employ this “read aloud” strategy for an absolute minimum of five minutes per class per day. For students this translates to a daily minimum of twenty minutes of engagement with rigorous text with a fluent reader. The next logical step of a strategic teacher is to quickly adjust planning to take advantage of this requirement to bring rigorous and relevant content-specific text into the beginning (or end) of each period.

For a teacher with traditional style, this also forces at least one transition within the daily lesson. In the hands of an effective teacher, these transitions help to keep kids actively engaged and using their brains in varied ways.  Data showed that not only was there a need, but that our kids simply weren’t reading enough.  You can make strong suggestions about what goes on outside of the classroom.  Inside the four walls of a classroom is a different story.  You can guarantee immersion within the walls of a school building.



In other posts this year, I have suggested online services that might add to our implementation of EPP.  In this post, I would like to introduce another interesting online resource from Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse. Lit2Go is a website I remember running across a year or so ago on Apple’s iTunes. On the USF site within iTunes you will find audio files for K-12 education organized by grade level.

However, in my opinion, the organizational website for Lit2Go is what makes it useful for the strategy described above as well as others. The main page allows many typical content searches for literature. Author, Title, Keyword, and Reading Level are all available search functions as well as a direct link to the files on the iTunes service for slipping smoothly into your iPod.

On the platform, reading

My first try was an author search– I pretty randomly chose Lewis Carroll.  I ran down the list of ten offerings for the author and clicked to select The Two Clocks.  The contents page for any selection has a nice set of overview information such as an abstract, word count, reading level, origin, genre, lexile level, theme, suggested educational strategy, Sunshine State Standards (of more use if you are actually IN Florida), and more.  On this page, it is the collection of not only the .mp3 audio file of the work, but also the text in both .html and .pdf format that makes this a valuable resource.  It also looks as if some pieces contain other “support material,” though the attached document for this particular story seems pretty useless.

Overall, the fact that this site provides both audio and clearly-printed text of a good number of classic pieces makes it valuable for efficiently selecting and managing EPP within a literature or communication arts class.

An easy win

The “clock that doesn’t go” in Lewis Carroll’s story is right two times per day.  The other clock which loses a minute a day is only right twice per year.  Surely, implementing EPP in a setting where reading immersion strategies are warranted is a way to be “right” at least four times per day.  If this form of “being right” seems worthwhile to you in your own educational setting, then give Lit2Go a try and come back and tell us what you thought.  Did it work quickly and easily for the described strategy?  Even better…  do you have another innovative use of Lit2Go to share?  Bring it here, and help us all to be right more than two times per day.

Le temps s\'est arrêté

What I have found particularly true in the past year is that even the fanciest website on the Internet doesn’t produce a solid educational event outside of the carefully-created framework of a skilled instructor.  Compared to many of the applications/websites I have talked about on this blog in the past year, this one could be seen as one of the less “sophisticated.”  However, any good teacher knows that what happens when you plug a device into the wall…  pales in comparison to what happens inside the mind of a child.

Artwork thanks:

*Iqra: Read by Swamibu on Flickr
*On the platform, reading by moriza on Flickr
*Le temps s’est arrêté by tany_kely on Flickr

A Reflective Anniversary

Happy anniversary to “nashworld.”  This post is the 65th of the year, and it comes exactly one year after my first post on April 21st, 2008.  Wow.  Looking back at that post, it was quite clear I was full of questions for the coming year of study and reflection, but very shy of answers.  In fact, this blog was initially titled “virtual southside” that first month.  My first plan was for this space to be a group blog to facilitate PD for our brand-spanking-new tech cohort starting in June.

My first flickr anniversary!

Forming a purpose

Then I found Ning.  In one weekend, it was clear to me that this platform would be a far better, and more flexible, match for our school’s edtech PD mission.  It also served to bring some comfort for our staff in the world of social media.  Though we control membership to the site, it is certainly a more free-wheeling place than a simple group blog.  It was the decentralized nature of a Ning network that I loved.  I didn’t want to drive “virtual southside.”  I didn’t want anyone to drive.  I wanted to be merely another loud voice on a very enthusiastic and speedy bus.

So after a quick rename, nashworld became more of a personal place for reflection, sharing, and synthesis of thought.  I do drive this bus.  However, I had my first guest move up from the passenger section just this month.  Though I certainly do have an amazing passenger list here, this is where the metaphor breaks down, for the readers of this blog certainly help steer my thoughts and words with their comments.  To those of you who have put in your two cents here, I thank you greatly.  You have helped to develop many of the thoughts and beliefs I currently own.

Year One Archive

A couple of months ago, when I started to really reflect on what blogging has meant to me over the past year, I decided to create a different type of archive for the blog.  If you look up, you’ll notice that just to the right of the “About” page is a link to a new page entitled:  “Year One Archive.”  This page lists every post I have written over the course of the year by month-  with somewhat of an abstract-like summary.  I hope this provides yet another way to navigate the site.  It certainly isn’t a quick and efficient way, but it does provide a bit of a different approach.  The archive page also serves as an interesting chronological history of the past year.

Meer Reflections


In fact, after that first post in April…  I didn’t write another that month.  I didn’t even write one in May.  During that month I was working hard on both Virtual Southside as well as my first shot at social media for an actual course I teach.  June, my most prolific month, was the result of using the blog  to fulfill the requirements of a really lame online grad course on “educational technology.”  Truly the worst course I have ever experienced.  You can easily tell this by the lame posts and lame books and movies and edtech articles from five and ten years ago.  Jeeeez.  I wish I hadn’t looked back over those just now.

Things got much better when school started and I began to feel a true mission for the blog.  When November began, I followed along with Steve Dembo in his 30 Days to Being a Better Blogger adventure.  That experienced helped tremendously.  Also in November, I was actually even nominated for a 2008 Edublogs Award.  You can imagine my surprise as such a green little blogger, but that was no doubt extrinsically empowering.   I am certain to post several more reflective pieces on things I have experienced, learned and accomplished over the past year.  Stay tuned for those.  As soon as my grad program is completed in May…  I have a lot of things to explore yet.  Grad school, a new baby girl…  it’s a wonder I could pull off any of this at all.

To community

Most of all-  thank you.  Thanks for coming here.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for commenting.  Thanks for joining in the discussion.  Thank you for helping to steer my personal learning mission over the past year.  I cannot thank each and every one of you enough.  The thinking I do about the things you say… is worth a graduate course in something each time.  In reflection over this past year, I can for certain that the biggest thing I have gained from blogging is people.  I now have current and future collaborators on from all over the country.  We have and will collaborate on projects that will no doubt extend not only my learning, but that of my friends and colleagues in Saint Joseph.  I am humbled by the professionalism, creativity, and generosity of people in this newly-generated community.  Thanks isn’t enough.


*My 1st Flickr Anniversary by cuellar on Flickr.
*Meer Reflections by Dave Whelan on Flickr.
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Collaborative social media: How do you do business?

Shifting practices

Not long ago, the MS Office suite comprised the bulk of computer applications in the world of mainstream business.  I have to admit that as a career biology educator and instructional coach, I have precious little knowledge of the “real” business world.  That said, this past year I have found my work overlapping many trends in business as I explore the efficacy of collaborative online applications in education.  I am deeply interested in them as a framework for professional development as well as for classroom utilization.

“Yeah, but mainstream businesses aren’t using the Web 2.0 stuff…  those are mostly a few cutting edge companies with money to burn.”

How much more “mainstream” can you get than Best BuyWill Richardson pointed to the above video a couple of days back on Twitter, and I have held that browser window open since that time.  I really enjoy some of the language found within.  For example, one gentleman interviewed said that Web 2.0 applications allow the workforce to “…try a lot of different things, fail really fast, and then try things again.”  I dig that attitude in almost any endeavor.  To me it is pretty clear that being fearless and willing to innovate is a big plus in much of the business world as well as in education.  I also like the fact that another interviewee listed the following things as benefits to social media applications being implemented within the company structure:

  • better loyalty
  • less office politics
  • ability to meet other individuals passionate about the same things
  • ability to stretch an idea across an entire organization

fail gloriously

Shifting schools

Now which of those things is not good as well for a school faculty?  Of course blind loyalty leads often to the Abilene Paradox, and this is never a good thing.  However, other than that, I’m betting that this list of four things is something all school administrators and staff would value in their world as well.

Those four items, as well as a few others, are a target of our school’s shiny new social network- Virtual Southside.  This site was piloted by a cohort of 20 teachers and administrators at Benton High this year in the midst of an academic technology integration program.  Starting next year, with our entire staff online in the program, this site will be a major part of how we conduct asynchronous staff professional development.  Today I interviewed several cohort members about the benefits of working within our social network this past school year.  A short list of their replies about our foray into social media is as follows:

  • develop general comfort with social media
  • ability to collaborate asynchronously
  • differentiated professional development
  • makes all staff a “professional developer”
  • makes professional work transparent
  • allows feedback from a wider dynamic of personalities
  • provides an archival record
  • creates an avenue for extrinsic motivation

virtual southside

Nearing the end of our first year employing social media in our school and in our classrooms, I am excited to see some of the benefits rolling in.  In my opinion, the featured video showing similar strategies in a mainstream business model provides another interesting nod to the value of utilizing these strategies with our teachers and students as well.  Are collaborative social tools being used currently where you work?  What role do you see for social media in our schools and with our students?

Artwork thanks:

*Thanks to Stephen Collins for the “fail gloriously” slide image.

A TPACK video mashup!

Hi, this is Punya Mishra from Michigan State, guest blogging for Sean while he is away doing cool things. I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel some pressure to come up with a particularly interesting posting. It is one thing to write on my own blog, that’s my space and I can do what I want there. Writing for someone else (with as august an audience such as you, dear Reader) is a different matter altogether. When Sean asked me to guest blog he suggested that I write about the TPACK framework, a topic I seem to have some expertise about, so I will do that, but with a slightly different tack. I would like to talk about what technology can do for us as educators.

We need to approach this with some humility since technologies have often been hyped as leading to fundamental educational change. I wrote about this earlier on my blog, taking quotes from books written back in the 1930s!!

More immediately, this line of thought was prompted when I received a series of emails from people about a video that was making the rounds. It was a commercial created by an unnamed organization (you will see the video below, so the organization is not much of a secret) that spoke to how the educational system has failed us and suggested that technology could be a solution to finding talent and creativity. I saw the video and was impressed by its production qualities and overall tone, but something bothered me about it. This led to some musings that I place below AND a mashup of the video that I created. You can see both the original and my mashup towards the end of this post. You are of course free to scroll down and see the videos, just make sure to see them in the order they are presented (the commercial followed by my mashup) for full effect, but it would be good to read through what I have written below before seeing the videos, just out of the kindness of your heart :-)


I have often said that technology changes everything. What I mean by this, particularly in the context of teaching is that incorporating technology into teaching cannot be just business as usual. Technology is disruptive. A new technology changes both what we teach and how we teach. But what does this really mean? One important aspect of thinking about new technologies are the new possibilities they create. Think about calculating the distance to the moon by using publicly available recordings of the Apollo mission. Or seeing the shape of the earth through time-lapse photographs of an eclipse

There is one fundamental problem with thinking about what new technologies can do for teaching. It has to do with the fact that we often look at new media to do things the old fashioned way. This leads to questions such as, is an eBook as good as a regular book? Is online learning as good as face to face learning? These discussions often seem pointless and futile to me, and I am reminded of a joke that I had once read, about two goats who come across a box of film in the Nevada desert, and as goats are wont to, they eat the film. At the end of the meal, one goat asks the other, “So what do you think of the film?” The other responded, “The book was better.”

What this, somewhat weak, joke hits on is what we often see when a popular book is turned into a movie. There are people who hate the new version, feeling that it fails to capture what it was that they had liked about the book. This to me is an aversion to change and an expectation that things that work one way would work the same way forever.

Similar to the goats in Nevada, I am often asked to compare between learning with and without technology. For instance speaking of online learning, I am often asked whether online can be as good as face to face learning. I often answer this question by flipping it around and asking “can face to face learning be as good as online learning?” The point here is that this question may be the wrong one to ask. Just as it seems futile to compare the film and print version of the same story, it is futile to compare one technology to another because the criteria for evaluation are (or should be) different. At the end, it depends on what the purposes are and which technology is appropriate for which of them. What we need to look at are the differing potentials and possibilities of each of these technologies – and develop strategies that utilize the best of both rather than set up these rather tiresome black and white contrasts. This sensitivity to affordances and constraints of different technologies is at the heart of the TPACK framework.

It was in this context that I saw the commercial and which prompted me to write this post and create my mashed-up version. But then again the more I thought about it the more I felt that a video demanded a video response, so an hour or so of work later, here it is. I should also provide a hat-tip to Leigh Wolf, my colleague, for her feedback on a draft version of this movie.


First, though let us watch the original video:

And follow that with my response:


In conclusion, we often approach technologies with our own biases and predilections related to appropriate and inappropriate ways of using them. Cognitive scientists use the phrase “functional fixedness” to describe the manner in which the ideas we hold about an object’s function can inhibit our ability to use the object for a different function. Functional fixedness often stands in the way of creative uses of technologies. Overcoming this is essential for the intelligent and creative application of technology for learning. So thinking of technology merely to supplant a lecture (which was my concern with the original video) is doing a disservice to the possibilities that technology provides us.

For example, a whiteboard has certain constraints and affordances: it is heavy and difficult to move, yet it is easy to write on and erase, and it can function as a public “writing space” to share ideas with others. These constraints and affordances, however, do not necessarily determine how a whiteboard can be used. The manner in which a whiteboard is used in a classroom as opposed to a science lab clearly indicates that the function of a whiteboard is determined very much by the context in which it is used. Similarly, one can use a digital camera to see the world in new ways, and PowerPoint, a presentation tool, can be used as a medium for artistic creativity. And Audacity, an open source audio editing program, can be use to compute the distance to the moon!

It is only with looking at technologies for what they can do, rather than merely replicate existing practices that we can hope to achieve their potential. At the end of my mashup I use three words to capture what I would most like to see happen: Explore, Create, Share. That is the only way I believe that we can achieve the potentials of these new technologies.


I hope you enjoyed the guest post as much as I enjoyed writing it. I look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts. You can post them here, or on my blog or write to be directly at punya [at] msu [dot] edu. Thanks also to Sean for giving me this opportunity. Take care.

Punya signature

Ready To Set Sail!

Just in time… guest bloggers!

We are less than a day away from our Marine Biology class field study on Andros Island in the Bahamas.  I am still waiting for students to come in to weigh their gear.  I still need to pick up a few last-minute items.  I still need to prepare to be perfectly (and wonderfully) off the grid for an entire week.  As hurried as I have been lately, I have done some fun preparation for this blog.  Since I cannot write for at least a week, two of my electronic pals have agreed to make a guest appearance in my absence!  Dr. Punya Mishra (of TPACK fame) and Stacy Baker (of Edublog Awards fame) will be taking the wheel.

Hoffman Cay anchorage

I don’t exactly know what they will be bringing to nashworld other than the typical insight and wit they spill forth in their own projects on a regular basis.  Stacy’s class blog was the 2008 Edublogs Award winner for “best class blog.”  Her insight on how to pull off this type of framework will certainly be valuable.  Along with Dr. Matt Koehler, Dr. Mishra is one of the co-developers of the TPACK framework.  Our school has begun to embrace the simplicity of the framework as well as the deep commitment it takes to move toward the “center” of the model.  I am convinced this framework will be more valuable as more of America realizes the need for true integration of technology into our current and future models of education reform.

We have a ton to learn from these two.  I am already excited to read what they bring to the site while I am away.  Did I mention that I still haven’t left yet?


Andros Island?

Without going into too much detail in my frazzled state, I will say that the reason for our choice of field station locale is simple.  Andros Island boasts what is said to be the third longest barrier coral reef in the world.  We will be on 45′ sailboats for seven days, snorkeling the reef, mangroves, sandflats, blue holes, etc.  Just a few hundred miles off the coast of Florida, Andros is an amazing and surprisingly remote place.

At nearly one hundred miles long, Andros is overwhelmingly the largest land mass in the Bahamas.  Nassau, the capital city, sits on New Providence island with over 250,000 inhabitants and is the bulk of the tourism target.  Andros, on the other hand, is large, flat and green with just around 8000 inhabitants.  This island is wonderfully and yet very strangely “backwoods” considering its proximity to the United States.

Until we return with our many fish tales, take a second to visit our class network or perhaps some of the images from our 2008 field study.  The Ning site is less than a year old.  It will be exciting to spill the journals, images, and videos of eighteen students onto that space when we return.  We stopped updating our crusty old static “Web 1.0” page back around 2003 or 2004.

elkhorn coral - Acropora palmata

Protecting living coral

That said, our crusty old static presence was still quite functional a few years back when I was contacted by a member of the Center for Biological Diversity about using some images from our site for an historic petition to list the first coral species under the Endangered Species Act.  Apparently, our images of the Andros reef chronicled the state of two threatened species of Caribbean-region corals quite nicely.  And of course, being a marine biology teacher, I have images that tell the entire “natural history” of the ecosystem as opposed to merely pretty pictures.


The petition that was prepared (by no means a typical “petition,” but instead a 111 page formal manuscript that takes patience to load) not only features one of my images on the cover, but is illustrated using mostly our images from the Andros reef.  Hey-  whoever said “Web 1.0” wasn’t much for education?  My students get a kick out of all of the international communication that happens as a result of our network, blogs, etc.  However, this one event in 2005/2006 stuck out like crazy at the time to my students of Saint Joseph, Missouri.

I suggest checking this document out.  If for no other reason than to see what something like this entails.  Well, that and…  the photos!  If you do check out the petition, slide all the way back to the “acknowledgments” on page 111.  It was pretty cool to see our little school district listed there so prominently on such a landmark document.  The real bottom line here:  this petition succeeded in getting both Elkhorn and Staghorn coral listed as threatened species under the ESA.  These are some of the only invertebrate species ever gaining protection under the Endangered Species Act.

So stay tuned for Punya & Stacy…  and a ton of news from the reef!

sailing over elkhorn


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