Do I NEED to Twitter?

Maybe. Not all technologies should be embraced by teachers with open arms. As an educator on the front lines of technology integration I keep my eyes open to the digital horizon. I’m interested in finding technologies that can actually make classroom life easier for teachers. Lately, the mass media has become enamored with Twitter as evidenced by the constant invitations to “follow me on twitter.” Before I render a final verdict on Twitter let me describe my experience.
My Neotech03 Twitter streamMy Twitter birth was August 2008, username: NeoTech03 I first joined because several colleagues were constantly talking about it. OK, I’ll give it a try. My first impression was positive since my colleagues posted messages that often linked to news articles on relevant issues in the educational technology world. As a Twitter novice, following a few people is easy and satisfying.
I’ve posted a total of 39 updates or Tweets. I’m following 7 people and organizations, and I have 12 people or organizations following me. The name of the game on Twitter is to create a network to share resources in a fast and efficient method. Twitter limits each message or post to 140 characters which makes it supposedly easier to consume information. Issue #1, the use of shorthand notation and acronyms to stay within the character limit make deciphering some messages difficult for novices.

During March, I joined a wikispace group called The Gr8Tweets Wiki that welcomed educators to experiment and learn more about the educational potential of Twitter. The Gr8Tweets Wiki was an opportunity to build upon my knowledge and comfort level using wikis on by adding Twitter. Anyone could join the wiki by editing the Who’s Playing page. Participants were encouraged to post messages, sorry…Tweets, using the hash tag, #gr8t. The hash tag is a method that allows Tweets to be automatically tracked and searched. The home page of the Gr8Tweets shows a stream of the last 15 Tweets tagged with #gr8t.  Educators posted their basic info in a simple wiki table.In the spirit of Web 2.0 openness I set my profile updates to be unprotected to encourage people to follow me. Protecting updates means that you have to approve anyone who wants to follow and read your updates. Issue #2, Twitter spam. I blocked 5 users who started following my updates with the express purpose of trying to sell me a product. Since the bulk of my updates were posted during March, I’ve noticed an uptick in emails informing me that spammeister is following me.  Policing my Twitter account may become annoying if the rate increases.
Issue #3, Useless tweets.  Mixing personal and professional messages is a major issue when considering to use Twitter.  I don’t want to know what you had for dinner, but I would put your professional opinion about the impact of stimulus funding on educational technology in the NEED to know column.  Another aspect of useless tweets is wading through messages that don’t interest or apply to you.  I’ve mainly used my Twitter experience to document my activities implementing technology at the Ferryway School.  I can’t imagine managing a network of hundreds, if not thousands of people.  I do like the ability to stream updates though, especially embedding them on a wiki page because it documents the many facets of technology integration.

My advice to teachers is to spend your time mastering wikis and blogging before committing to Twitter.  No, I don’t NEED Twitter.

Volcano Report, The Kilauea Edition

What’s more hot than an erupting volcano?

While vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii, I visited the active lava fields of Kilauea to witness the birth of new land as lava meets the Pacific Ocean. The incredible plume that rises into the air is created from the instantaneous vaporization of water into steam as the hot lava hits the ocean water. Learn more about Kilauea at the United States Geological Survey’s website.
I used a digital SLR camera and a small pocket-sized FlipVideo camera to capture the action.

Slide show images of the approach to the Kilauea lava flow. Watch a time lapse view of the violent interaction of lava and water. Look carefully and you can see rock exploding out of the ocean.

Watch a two minute video from the “safe” viewing area looking out to where the lava meets the ocean.

Kilauea Lava Meets the Ocean from Robert Simpson on Vimeo Web Design Features

Web design features of the new WhiteHouse.Gov site.It was interesting to turn to the Ideas section of today’s Boston Globe where freelance writer, Matthew Battles, compared the Obama and Bush administration’s design of the website, Extreme Makeover  WHITEHOUSE.GOV EDITION.  My last blog entry on the inauguration recommended that teachers use the new site as a way to teach the basic principles of Web 2.0 to their students.  Let’s examine a few more design features that make the site worthy of study.  Click on the picture for a larger view.

1) The main toolbar cleverly conceals plenty of content with submenus that popup when your mouse cursor hovers over them.

2) Simply type in your email and push the Get Updates button to automatically receive emails whenever new content it uploaded.

3)  Displaying a rotating stack of pictures is a popular technique to share content without forcing users to click through tabs.  Only four featured headlines is just right in my opinion.

4)  That little RSS icon may be small, but it’s quite powerful.  Saving this feed to your browser means that updates come to you as soon as they post to

5) Search is definitely the center of attention.  It invites users to the content.

6) Leaving these “breadcrumbs”  help users know exactly where they are.  Spread some breadcrumbs by visiting a few pages.

Citizen Penguins Attend Presidential Inauguration 2.0

The inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009 promises to usher in a 21st century overhaul of the United States government.  I was fortunate to have attended the inaugural ceremonies with what was estimated to be a crowd of over 1.8 million people.   While standing with my fellow citizens in what can only be described as a scene reminiscent of March of the Penguins, we huddled together for over four hours in sub freezing temperatures on the National Mall.  Spirits of course were high and everyone just made the best of the situation.  There has been plenty of talk of the 21st century lately, from the need to transform every area of our society from energy to education, and oh yes, financial regulations.  Let’s use Wordle to examine President Obama’s inaugural address.  [Learn more about Wordle from a previous post] The most frequent words used in President Obama’s address were Nation, America, New, Must, and Every denoted by the larger font sizes in the image.  The phrase “21st Century” was not spoken in President Obama’s address.  Visit the new White House dot gov website to view the transcript and watch a streaming video of his speech.  The inaugural address page actually contains two of three of what I like to remind teachers are the big three when it comes to Web 2.0. — Blogs and YouTube — the third being a Wiki.  The address is posted as a blog entry and contains a streaming video similar to those found on YouTube. has even gone one step further allowing anyone to download and save a high quality mp4 version of the video.  Great for teachers and students who may be interested in creating multimedia presentations.   While the blog does not have the ability for readers to post and share comments, I’m sure that will evolve in the near future.  If you are new to the Web 2.0 world it might be interesting to monitor over the next several months to see how it grows into a fully mature 21st century communication infrastructure.

Now back to the Washington Mall…  One of the hallmarks of the Web 2.0 world is the ubiquitous nature of digital recording and communication devices.  Unlike our penguin brethren, we occupied our time texting, calling friends and family on the cell phone, and taking pictures and videos while we waited for the ceremony to begin.  My inauguration photo slideshow was created using Adobe’s  Photos were uploaded using a free account, added to an album, and then I copied and pasted the embed code into this blog post.  Photography sharing sites like and Flickr are the life blood of creating media rich blogs.  As we learned on the site, sharing video is another good way to communicate.  Watch the citizen penguin’s stir as they watch Obama take the presidential oath of office.  The embedded video recorded using a FlipVideo camera streams from Google video NOT YouTube so it should work in school districts that block YouTube.  How can Web 2.0 transform the American Government?  Hey teachers, does this sound like a neat student project?

Tune-in to Your Students with Classroom Clickers

Grade 4 student casts vote using student response clicker.  “I wish my teacher knew that I don’t really understand what they are trying to teach me today.”  How many of our students think these thoughts each day?  Well, some very smart people in the physics department at M.I.T. decided the large lecture hall approach just wasn’t working for their university students.  An article written by New York Times columnist, Sara Rimer, described the transformation in, At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard.  The new interactive, high-tech, collaborative classrooms have resulted in higher attendance rates and significantly reduced failure rates.

One key to creating a truly student-centered learning environment is to ensure that every student is heard.  In traditional classrooms, teachers never have the time to call on every student, leading to disengaged learners or dare I say, bored.  The student response system solves this problem by creating a classroom in which every student responds using a hand-held remote.  At the Ferryway School, where I work as a technology specialist, I’ve been helping elementary teachers make their instruction interactive with the Qwizdom student response system.

Third graders enthusiastically vote, Yes, on using Qwizdom to learn vocabulary.

Think about how many PowerPoint presentations you have sat through where you wished that the presenter would tune into the audience.   Now consider a third grader stuggling with new vocabulary words.  We’ve been able to transform vocabulary instruction using a response system — here’s how.  Students view a presentation projected on the white board at the front of the classroom controlled using a special teacher remote.  The lesson begins by showing students a list of the unit vocabulary words.  The teacher uses her remote to randomly select students to read the vocabulary words aloud, their names flash on the screen.  A nifty feature for keeping students on their toes.  Hey, better pay attention, you could be next!  We then provide a subset of 4-5 vocabulary words asking students which word they can easily use in a sentance.  Students write descriptive sentances on paper and then send their chosen word to the computer.  The teacher displays the classes’ responses in the form of a bar graph.  This technique gives teachers immediate feedback on which words students don’t feel comfortable using in a sentance.  Teachers use this real-time assessment to immediately adjust their instruction.  Next, traditional worksheet exercises such as select the best definition or identify the parts of speech, i.e. noun, verb, and adjective are converted into multiple choice questions.  Send responses, share, and discuss results.

Using images to reinforce vocabulary comprehension.

To differientiate instruction, pictures are displayed and students asked to select the best word(s) to describe what they see in the image.  In one lesson, students viewed an ape hoarding food in his zoo enclosure.  [Picture credit: Patries71, Flickr, Creative Commons license] Which word would you choose?  A) care  B) attention C) probe D) enrich E) saving.  As you can see in the picture, student responses were well distributed as represented by the bar graph on the right-hand side.   Students then justify their word selections in writing and share their reasoning with classmates.  This approach enables students to master unfamilar vocabulary words through writing, reading, discussion, and visual analysis.  A detailed answer report on student performance generated after each lesson is used by teachers for grading purposes.

The excitement students feel about being heard is confirmed as I walk the hallways,  Mr. Simpson when are we doing the next Qwizdom lesson?