StarTeaching Feature Writer
Mark Benn is a leading expert in using technology in the classroom.  
You can feel free to contact him on email at or at his blogsite: 
Past Articles from Mark:

Integrating Technology into the Classroom
Active Learning Leads to Technology Use
Handheld Integration - A Look at the Future in the Present

Are the Students Truly Understanding It?  Are We? (part 1)
Are the Students Truly Understanding It?  Are We? (part 2)

Are the Students Truly Understanding It?  Are We? (part 3)
Enhancing Learning Through Great Websites
Musings of a Technology Integration Project
Web 2.0, The New Culture of Social Community

Are You Hindering Your Students' Cognitive Ability?
Are We Moving Into A Post-Literate Society? (part 1)
Are We Moving Into A Post-Literate Society? (part 2)
Are We Moving Into A Post-Literate Society? (part 3)


Communication Today
Communication is Changing
Computer Literacy Terms (part 1)

Computer Literacy Terms (part 2)

Help!  I Can't Find Anything

iPods Are For Education

21st Century Classrooms

isteNETS Project-What Is It?

The Obvious Isn't Always Obvious

21st Century Learning?  This Is The Answer!
Educational Change -  Are You Ready For It?
Web 2.0 - What Can It Do For You?
Textbooks:  Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
Grading: What Is Our Motivation?

Integrating Technology into the Classroom -

First article in the series

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

The first thing to understand is that technology is a tool to teach curriculum. There are many tools we have available to us as teachers, and it is up to us to choose what is appropriate.

The next thought I have is that the students we are dealing with today aren't like us. They are not interested in being talked at and are very good at tuning us out. They would rather be a part of their learning.

The way we can reach these students is to use the learning pyramid as part of our teaching plan. Research has shown that only about 5% of a lecture is retained by students. Reading accomplishes only 10%. Audio visual provides 20%, demonstration 30%, discussion 50%, practicing by doing (hands-on) 75%, and finally when the student can teach others 90%.

These facts should help alter the way a person teaches. It certainly has changed the way I do things.

You may wonder what the pyramid has to do with the integration of technology into the the curriculum. I will begin to answer that in the coming articles. Just ponder what I've already said and reflect on what you're doing in your classroom. You can only make changes one step at a time.

For more information, Mark Benn can be reached online at his blog site, He welcomes comments and shared discourse on the subject of educational technology.

Active Learning Leads to Technology Use

Second article in the series

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

Active learning involves having students become a part of the learning process. No longer is the teacher always the center of the learning process. It is a multi-directional learning experience where learning takes place through teacher to student, student to teacher, and student to student.

There is nothing more enjoyable within the classroom than listening to students in groups or pairs when they get involved in their own learning. "It's time that we give students some credit and empower them to become self-directed learners."

Too often we as teachers think that we are the knowledgeable ones and must know all the material before we present it. At the rate that knowledge is advancing in today's world that is very hard to do. In the same way if we want to use any technology within our curriculum we think we have to know how to use it first.

It's time that we give students some credit and empower them to become self-directed learners. Our job is to set the overall goals and then become the coach on the sidelines stepping in when needed. A coach provides the direction and vision, but lets the students move forward with that vision. It's time to allow the student to take ownership of their own learning.

The following website shows how much better a learner retains what they have learned when they become active in their own learning compared to having things told to them. Last month, we highlighted the learning pyramid located at this web site:

I think you will find after looking at this pyramid and comparing it to what you have seen in the classroom, that though the percentages may differ, the order of retention is correct.

For more information, Mark Benn can be reached online at his blog site,  He welcomes comments and shared discourse on the subject of educational technology.


Handheld Integration 

(A Look at the Future in the Present - 3rd Article in the Series)

By Mark Benn, 
Middle School Teacher and Technical Consultant

This is the third in a series of articles dealing with the importance of changing the way we teach while integrating technology into the curriculum. In the first two articles I discussed the importance of involving the students into the learning process and teaching the students to become self directed learners. In this article I will present one way to achieve this goal that is exciting to the students and captures their interest.

Integrating handheld computers, formerly called palm pilots, into the curriculum can be exciting to the students and unsettling to the teacher, but as you will see very rewarding. I introduced handhelds into my fifth grade classroom one and a half years ago. It has certainly been a learning experience.

From the beginning the students have been willing to do things on the handheld that they fight against doing with pencil and paper. They study harder for tests, take more notes, organize themselves more, and have the ability to learn through ways that canít be accomplished in a classroom without them. I could go on and on, but here is a sample of what the students say about them:

I think handhelds are great! They really help you organize and they are WAY better than just paper and pencil. - Brooke
Handhelds have helped me out a lot this year. With handhelds we can study a lot easier with quizzler. Also we can stay a lot more organized with the programs tasks and calendar. We often take our handhelds home to use quizzler to study for our tests. We can practice our typing with the wireless keyboards and a typing program called Words Per Minute.   - Josh
Handhelds are very cool and make school very fun. They make it easy to write assignments so you donít lose them. They make it easier to study for tests and keep track of homework. Having handhelds in school is a big responsibility and it teaches us to respect expensive items. Without handhelds school would be boring and slow. If we didnít have handhelds many of us would lose our writing assignments. Without handhelds our grades would be lower and we wouldnít do well in school.   - Noah
Handhelds have helped me in school a lot compared to a classroom without them. Handhelds keep many kids organized knowing that their work is always there and cannot get lost. They are faster and a more improved way to check your work or spelling. There have been tests showing that kids get better grades and improve their schoolwork. When tests do come up, handhelds are a better study program when you practice on them. They do have gamesÖ. But, the games are also put into practice typing or spelling programs. The handheld can also be used for enjoyment. Such as, non-educational games or reading. A classroom without handhelds would be at a bit of a disadvantage. I am glad that I am in a classroom that has them.   - Emily
Handhelds have helped me work faster and easier.  - Jack
Handhelds have helped me this year by being able to do my work faster and more fun. Also, I do not go through as much paper because I can store information in my handheld. On the handheld there is a program called quizzler. This program helps me to study by the teachers beaming us the quiz. It has the practice quiz on it so I can study as much as I want at home. It makes studying a lot more fun and easier. This year would have been extremely different without handhelds because learning wouldn't be as exciting and tests wouldn't be as easy to study for.   - Austin

I think having handhelds is a privilege for several reasons. One because it keeps me organized. Another reason is that if you do an assignment on paper you could lose it, but if you do it on a handheld it will not get lost. Another is that with memos you can write anything at anytime. Also there is a palm reader that you can read books on it for reading or free time. Another reason is that there is a dictionary so you can look up words you donít know how to spell or for their definitions. Also there are education games and games for free time or after a test if your teacher says. Those are some of the reasons why I like to have handhelds.   - Katelynn

Iíve had two years of students using handhelds and the sampling of students above duplicates what they said last year, also. As I said in the beginning, using handhelds in the classroom is exciting to the students. Now how about the teacher?

One thing Iíve come to realize is that as in any technology integration I canít begin to understand it all. The students learn it far faster and easier than us older folk. My job is to be the coach. I introduce the lesson, provide the tools, the parameters, and then let the students take charge of their learning. My job is to be the coach, available to guide at all times. This means I canít sit on the sidelines (at my desk), but I must circulate among the students working with them.

This is certainly a different way of teaching, and can be unsettling if you are the type of teacher that stands up front and talks to the students. In the end you will find it rewarding and the students will learn and retain far more when provided the tools (handhelds) and teaching style (self directed learning) that makes learning exciting and rewarding to them. We may have learned the other way, but today's students arenít us. The world is changing and we have a chance to be a part of the change. 

In the next article I will discuss the setup and running of a classroom with handhelds.

For more information, Mark Benn can be reached online at his blog site, He welcomes comments and shared discourse on the subject of educational technology.

Communication Today

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

What is communication today, and has it changed? Do we, as educators, need to adjust our thinking, or continue to teach the same things we learned when we were young? Do students of today approach it the same way as we do? To find out the answers to these questions, we need to look at what today's students do to communicate.

Text messaging has become one of the most popular ways for students to communicate. It has a language of its own such as r for our and u for you. This form of communication happens anywhere they want through cell phones or computers. It can happen anywhere and at any time.

We need to decide how to handle it. Should we control it or make adjustments in our classes to integrate it into what we do? We live in the midst of a changing world, probably similar to what people felt like when the industrial revolution came along. This change takes a number of years as everyone adjusts. If we are going to prepare the students for their world we need to make some changes in our present world.

We grew up with communication being letter writing and phone calls. Today we have e-mail, cell phones, text messaging, blogging, podcasting, video podcasting, video conferencing, and who knows what else around the corner.

In the past, to become an author, you had to get a book or article published by a publisher. Today, anyone can publish on the internet. To make movies you had to be a professional. Now anyone can make a movie with easy to use software and upload it to the web.

So what does this mean to us as educators? Can we continue to do things the same old way, or is it time that education took a leading role in preparing students for their future? It might take a learning curve on our part, but if students are suppose to learn to be life long learners, we should become their role models.   


Communication is Changing -

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

This is the first in a series.  Times have changed, and the internet is changing the way we do many things. In the past, to be an author, you had to submit an article to a publisher and hope to get approval. Today, you set up a blog account and then keyboard away. This allows anyone and everyone to read what you have to say. This is certainly a radical change from the past, for anyone can become a writer. 

Visual media used to be solely the product of movie producers and large corporations. Today, a person can take their digital video camera and film their project. They can then load it into their computer and use an inexpensive program, such as iMovie, to edit their film and add effects. For more extensive changes there are other applications available for use at a higher cost, but still within the everyday person's budget. Upon completion, they can take their movie and upload it to for everyone to view. 

So what does this mean to education? 

In the past, a student wrote an assignment for the teacher to look at and grade. No one else would see it, so the whole goal would be for a grade. Making movies was unheard of. Becoming a published author was reserved for only those lucky enough to catch someone's attention and interest that had the power to publish. 

Now all that has changed and is available to everyone.,, or provide safe places for teachers and students to go and speak their mind and yet allow it to be under the teacher's control. If we, as teachers, continue to do writing the old way it doesn't reach today's students. This isn't how the real world works. If our goal is to get students to become better writers and get excited about writing, we need to provide real world experiences for them. 

Your students will thank you, as mine have.



Computer Literacy Terms (part 1)-
Free Printables for your Classroom

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

Computer Literacy 1     Match these words to their definition or explanation located below:
desktop mouse curser hard drive
ram browser bookmark refresh
cache file application copy
paste PC Mac system

1.       The storage area of a computer where it keeps all the files.  ______________

2.       A program used to see the internet.        ______________

3.       Something you use to get back to a specific place on the internet at a later time period.    ______________

4.       Another name for a program used on the computer.    ______________

5.       A folder that all programs are put into.     ______________

6.       A device used to navigate around the screen of a computer.______________

7.       The workspace on the screen of a computer.     ______________

8.       The amount of memory a computer has to work with. The smaller the memory the less things you can have open on the screen.       ______________

9.       A blinking line that shows where you will type next.       ______________

10.   An overall program that runs the computer. An example would be Tiger, windows XP,  windows 2000.      ______________

11.   Something you do first to duplicate writing that you want to use elsewhere.     _______________ 

12.   A type of computer made by Apple corp.      _______________

13.   A type of computer made by many companies such as Dell, Gateway, Sony.         _______________

14.     A temporary file that holds the memory of a page you looked at on the internet so that it will load faster when you bring it up again.           _______________

15.   The way you place writing from one document to another.           _______________

        16.  The way to update a page from the internet.                                    _______________                                          


Computer Literacy Terms (part 2)-
Free Printables for your Classroom

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

Computer Literacy 2     Match these words to their definition or explanation located below:
search engine directory plug in player
URL domain page file image file
sound file video file chat room instant messaging
internet security popup cookie virus

1.       This is the address you type into your internet browser. It is called the Universal Resource Locator.    _______________

2.       This is the ending of an address that tells what category the address is located such as .com, .gov, .edu, .net, .org    _______________

3.       A list of things on the internet.     _______________

4.       A way of finding things on the internet.     _______________

5.       A file that ends with .GIF, .JPG, or .PNG     _______________

6.       A file that ends with .WAV, or MP3    _______________

7.       A file that ends with .MOV, .QT, or .MPG    _______________

8.       A file that ends with .HTML, or .HTM      _______________

9.       A small program added to the browser to make multimedia programs function.  _____________

10.   Free programs that help multimedia work. Examples would be Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat, or HyperStudio     _______________

11.   Something that causes problems on a computer.   _______________

12.   Something that shows up on top of another page.  _______________

13.   A program that protects a computer from attacks that come from the internet.         _______________

14.   The way a Web site owner tracks who uses their web site. This file identifies the particular computer.      _______________

15.       A site where people can talk through typing on the internet. This spot is open to anyone to join in.          _______________

16.       This is a private chatroom where only people that are invited can chat.       _______________

Enhancing Learning Through Great Websites

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

This article will touch on a number of great sites that will enhance what you are doing or send you into another great direction.   Create simple web pages that groups, friends, & families can edit together. K-12 Teacher? We're giving away 100,000 free wikis for primary/secondary education.   Jing Project provides free screen capture and sharing software for Mac and Windows computers. Screenshots are very useful when making how-to handouts and slide shows. Videos of your desktop are great for how-tos and tours of web sites or software.   Founded in 2003, Gizmoz offers consumers a new generation of character-based visual expression for use across their digital lives.
The Gizmoz service makes it easy and fun to create, customize, animate and share lifelike, 3D talking characters that
enable individuals to put a unique face and voice to their digital communications. connects schools, teachers, and students from around the world to collaborate on projects, share experiences, and build knowledge together. Teachers can easily integrate project learning into their curriculum, enabling students to develop critical skills for life and work in the 21st century. Teachers and students build their own webpages to share learning experiences. Simple publishing tools allow members to easily create content and engage one another in thoughtful online discussions.  Free videos made by teachers for teachers to use in the classroom.  Check out this school site that hosts a K-12 video and photography festival. Just imagine what your students could do. The International Student Film and Photography Festival is now accepting submissions until March 31st., 2008!   imbee is a parent approved, teacher endorsed social networking site appropriate for kids and 'tweens.  Lulu is fast, easy and free

Publish and sell easily within minutes.
No set-up fees. No minimum order.
Keep control of the rights.
Set your own price.
Each product is printed as it is ordered.
No excess inventory.  If you think this is the old Google Earth, think again. Check out Tony Vincentís article at: to find out more.  Quoting from the website: A VoiceThread allows every child in a class to record audio commentary about the ideas and experiences that are important to them. Whether an event, a project, or a milestone, children can tell their story in their own voice, and then share it with the world. For teachers, VoiceThreads offer a single vessel to capture and then share all the diverse personalities of an entire class.

There you have it. Ten assorted web sites that should provide something of interest for everyone.  


Are the Students Truly Understanding It?  Are We? (part 1)

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

This is part one of a three part look at what teaching is all about.

Everyday, as teachers, we work hard to have students learn material and acquire skills they will need in the future. Along the way, we attempt to see if they understand the material by asking questions of individual students, or giving them a quiz. This is called formative assessment. From this type of assessment we make decisions how to proceed with the material. In the end we may give a final test to measure their final understanding of the material. This final form of measurement is called summative assessment.

What is this formative and summative assessment about, you may ask? Giving final tests have been around forever (summative assessment). Asking questions of the students isnít new either (formative assessment). But what have you done with the answers the students gave? Did they help in guiding where you were going with the material? Did it help you assess the success of your teaching strategies? Letís look a little deeper at this.  

What is your motivation in teaching the curriculum, or skills, that you, as a teacher, are expected to present within your subject matter or grade level? Is your motivation to get through the material and hopefully the students will get it, or is it to teach for mastery? If Iím feeling overwhelmed by the amount of material I have to teach in a year, Iím going to teach in a way that gets me through the material. Is this what we are called to do? Do you know, at any point in time, where each individual student is in their comprehension of the subject matter or skills?  What is your motivation for giving worksheets or answering questions on paper? Is it to just get a grade or practice the skill? Or should there be more?  I know these are heavy questions, but we, as professionals, should be asking them each time we teach. Todayís 21st century teacher is being called upon to raise the bar, but do we know how?

If you notice, I havenít mentioned No Child Left Behind, until now. As frustrated as we get with the way this concept is being carried out, the idea isnít bad. How many students have been dropped through the cracks over the years because of how we approached teaching? How many times have we been frustrated because students act like they have never seen the material, even though we know the previous teacher had taught it? It is time we start looking at out teaching strategies and ask ourselves if this is working. We need to be willing to talk with other teachers about what we are doing in the classroom and sharing among ourselves what has worked and what hasnít. From this dialogue we can make adjustments to our strategies so that all students can be successful in some way.

Now, I know I havenít addressed formative and summative assessment. I havenít dealt with the many questions I brought up and the motivation behind our teaching. This first part was to get you thinking. In the next part I will address these questions. So think about it.

Are the Students Truly Understanding It?  Are We? (part 2)

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

This is part two of a three part look at what teaching is all about.

I think we live in one of the most exciting times when it comes to education. The students are changing in ways that challenge us to look at what we are doing in the classroom and make changes when needed. From outside the classroom we are being held accountable for what we are doing. Basically, we are being called to be a professional. Never before have we had so much learning available for us outside a classroom. In the past we had to take classes and read textbooks written by people that hadnít been in the classroom for awhile. True, weíre still called to take classes. But now, as teachers, we can interact with professional learning communities online, take classes online, and share with other colleagues from around the globe our successes and failures so that we can improve what we do.

And what do we do? We educate kids. Our whole focus should be on the student. Without them weíre out of a job. In Part 1 of this article written last month I challenged you to think about whether your motivation was to just get through the curriculum, or educate the student. Itís an easy trap to fall into with all the pressures being brought to bear on the teaching profession today.

Another problem is that the way we were taught in school doesnít work well with todayís digital students. Dave Warlick, a nationally renowned educational speaker, made some interesting statements in his Oct. 16th blog Iíd like to quote: ďI think that itís part of the job.  It is my job, as a teacher, to be able to teach today ó to be skilled at using todayís information technologies within todayís information environments and apply pedagogies that reflect todayís information environments.  We suffer from the myths of old world education,  that you go to school so that you will be prepared for the next 30 or 35 years.  But the teacher we are at graduation from college,  is not necessarily the teacher we need to be five years later.  Those days are long behind us ó and I think that the job has become a whole lot more exciting as a result.Ē

He ended his blog with another statement that sums up what Iím talking about. And again I quote: ďItís part of the job of the teacher to continue to grow,Ē then we can get on with the far more interesting question, ďWhat does the school and classroom look like where learning is what you see happening, not teaching ó where learning stops being a job, and, instead, becomes a lifestyle.Ē

To help students learn, I need to focus on my learning. If I expect to be told what to do all the time, that is what I will expect out of my students. If I work on becoming a self-directed learner, I will help my students to do the same. These are the skills of the 21st century. Focusing on the learning, and not on the teaching, has helped me focus more on the individual student. With student centered learning itís great to hear from the students and guide them like a coach in the learning process. Itís exciting to walk by each group of students and hear them discussing the focus question and helping each other to understand the material. They are now engaged in the learning process, not just checking out as I stand up there lecturing. Students today are interactive. Is their learning interactive or one sided? Do you follow the textbook, or do you look for a way that meets the needs of your students and how they learn? That is where we, as teachers, become the professional. We need to always be looking for the strategies that help our students learn.

The educational term being used today is differentiated instruction. This isnít a bad thing. When you begin to operate this way you will get to know your students better. Have you ever asked them what they liked when it comes to teaching strategies? I work with fifth graders and they have no problem telling me. When I reflect on what they have said and use their feedback, I find a more motivated student. All of us understand the importance of motivation.

My goal as a teacher is to engage every student anytime there is learning taking place. What I have found is the more engaged they are the less I have to deal with discipline issues. My students work in pairs and groups most of the time. I will ask a question and then move around the room as they work on it. Sitting at my desk is rarely an option. There are times where they work on something by themselves, but I allow them to ask questions of their fellow classmates or myself when needed.

This hasnít always been the way Iíve taught. I was a lecture type teacher for many years. I was never satisfied though, but didnít know any other way. After all, that was how I was taught. I then took an on-line class on helping students to become self-directed learners. Then, as I read more about the expectations of the work world and 21st century skills it all began to come together. I will tell you it is a work in progress, and I havenít arrived yet, but it is exciting. Iíve shared with other teachers and we are learning together. More teachers are joining us, one teacher at a time.

So now itís time to make your choice. Jump in and begin the change. Itís a process that doesnít happen overnight, but will happen. Get involved in some of the online educational forums. Thereís plenty of support and help out there online.

In the next article I will be talking about formative and summative assessment and some of the tools available to help you get to know where each of your students is at any given time.  

Are the Students Truly Understanding It?  Are We? (part 3)

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

This is part three of a three part look at what teaching is all about.

In this third part I will be focusing on formative and summative assessment and some of the tools available to help you get to know where each of your students is at any given time. Quoting from the first article: "What is this formative and summative assessment about? Giving final tests have been around forever (summative assessment). Asking questions of the students isnít new either (formative assessment). But what have you done with the answers the students gave? Did they help in guiding where you were going with the material? Did it help you assess the success of your teaching strategies?"

Let's first start with questioning strategies. When a teacher asks a class a question, does it engage everyone? I would say it engages only those who know the answer or are interested in the question. What about the rest of the class? What about the shy ones, or those who don't or aren't sure of the answer? Our job is to engage all the students, or at least most of them. During most question and answer sessions you'll find many students checking out. Also, in asking the question, you ask one student for their answer. This only tells you that one student understands. What do you know about the rest of the class?

Formative assessment is a very important tool for the teacher. It should be done frequently (meaning daily) to help you assess where the students are in their learning and whether you, as a teacher, needs to make an adjustment in your approach. But it is very important that formative assessment is done correctly. All students should be engaged in the assessment. The assessment should be designed to give you instant feedback as to where each individual is. Realize right away that this is not for a grade. It's to give you feedback to where everyone is so that you can respond to it..

One easy way to do this is to use small white boards. When you ask a question each student writes down their answer on the board, and when given a cue, they show their boards to you. The reason for the cue is so the students don't just copy someone else's answer because that person had gotten it done early. If you don't have boards, or can't afford them, use blank white paper. This works great in giving you instant feedback and the students enjoy it because they find out right away whether they are  understanding it and everyone is involved. The drawback to this method is that you don't have a good record of what each individual student understands. You could keep a tally with a class list to highlight students that need extra help as you scan their answers.

You may be thinking: Why go through all this hassle? Let me ask you this: Are we there for the learning, or just to present the curriculum? That is what all teachers need to decide.

Another way to assess students in a formative way is by using a Student Response System. There are several systems available. The system I use is available through einstruction. They are located at Quoting from their website:

"You can engage every child in class material by creating an interactive learning environment in your classroom. Students who normally remain silent in class can now answer every question without fear of embarrassment. And since you see instant feedback from the entire class, you know whether to move on or continue teaching a concept.  CPS also streamlines administrative tasks. Now you can spend less time grading and more time teaching."

The system uses a projector, computer with CPS software, response pad, and receiver. Your questions are displayed on the screen and every student then responds by using the response pads to input their answer. Depending on the type of system you use, the questions can be of varied types from multiple choice to short answer. The system then keeps track of the students' responses so you can see how each individual student responds.

This also gives the students immediate feedback on whether they are understanding the lesson and engages every student. It also allows you, due to the instant feedback, to adjust your teaching to help them achieve greater understanding immediately.

Hopefully, I've peaked your interest. What you'll begin to see is better understanding and higher results in your summative tests. You'll also see more students engaged and becoming a part of their learning. I've had students say to me, "I'd take a test any day if I could use these", referring to the response systems. Have I seen an improvement? Yes, because I have a much better idea of where my students are at and can make the immediate adjustments to help those who are struggling.


Help!  I Can't Find Anything

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

If you have ever found yourself saying that, you need to begin to organize yourself.

I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with technology integration education. Haven't you gotten frustrated with students that can't find anything in their trapper keeper or locker? Because of this lack of organization, there is a loss of valuable time. What about their computer files?

Let's face it, most people aren't born with great organizational skills, they have to learn these skills. When was the last time you taught the students how to organize themselves on a computer? You may have helped them organize a project, but how about continual long term organization? As we move away from pencil and paper and more towards electronic forms, this skill becomes very important. I was reminded of this last school year when I attempted to help a student, I found their desktop so crowded with icons they couldn't find anything. That's when I faced the fact that I hadn't taught them how to organize themselves. Let's take a look at what should be done.

If you are using computers that aren't on a network, then everything should be saved in My Documents. Even here it can become a mess, if not planned out. One idea is to set the computer up with accounts. Then each student has their own My Documents. Within this file you should have them brainstorm what folders they should have. Maybe it should be folders named Language Arts, Social Studies, and so on. Within these folders could be other folders that might be set up for projects, homework, etc. Guide the students through this process without telling them everything. Have them discuss within groups how to organize things, and then share their ideas with the others. This process takes longer then telling, but will get them thinking about organization and taking ownership in it. Then, teach them how to follow a route to save into the correct folder. If you don't want to set up accounts you can always set up folders for each student on the desktop or in the My Documents folder.

If the computers are on a school network, each student should already have their own personal folder. If this isn't set up, have the school IT person set it up. Show the students how to set up a new folder and name it. Also, show them how to rename it. This can be done by right clicking and choosing Rename. Right clicking will also get you a new folder. The same process should be followed as mentioned in the above paragraph.

Now, let's talk about the desktop. The desktop is great for temporary  items and even those should be saved in a folder. If a person is doing a powerpoint and looking for pictures, having a folder on the desktop to drag them to is great. Otherwise, the desktop should be clear for downloads, special folders, or application shortcuts.

Another good teaching strategy is to continue bringing up the discussion of organization throughout the year. Don't stop after one or two sessions on this topic. It is said that to learn a tech skill it takes at least 26 hits, or sessions, to make it a part of you. Also, hold them accountable by periodically checking on their organization . Even give them a grade since this is an important life skill. This raises the importance of this skill to a higher level.

Remember, if done at the beginning of the year, you will lessen your's and your students' frustrations. It also touches on the life skill called time management. If you do this, this time, you'll thank yourself.


iPods Are For Education

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

So you think an iPod is just a great music player. Think again. The iPod is becoming another tool that makes learning exciting and rewarding for todayís digital students. An iPod can be used for audio, video, photos, and podcasting. This shouldnít surprise you. But how about lesson plans, notes, reference material, quizzes, portable harddrive, interactive content, and RSS feeds?

Letís take a closer look at the many uses mentioned in the first list. When we talk audio it isnít just music. There are audio clips of famous historical speeches, animal sounds, Children's Story Podcast where well known stories are read, poetry, and many classical books available to listen to. In video, you can choose any united streaming video and have it converted into a movie thatís viewable on an iPod. Now students would be able to review a movie that the whole class had already seen. You can also download videos from and, convert them, and use them on iPods. There are many free educational podcasts available through the iTunes Store for students to listen to.

Now, how about the surprises that were mentioned above. Imagine, if you will, a student looking up a word in their iPod dictionary, or reading a classic ebook, or looking up information in their encyclopedia. All of this is possible, and more, when it comes to reference material.

Apple has collected lesson plans that are designed for iPod use. You can also take notes and view them on your iPod. As a teacher, you could write up your own notes for the students and sync them to their iPods.

Quizzes can be taken on the iPods. Apple has created an application called iQuiz where you can make your own quizzes that students can take. Also, has a quiz maker that can be used for iPods, computers, or handhelds. These applications do cost, but are available.

Interactive content is another tool that excites students. Now you can go to, and create your own material that can be downloaded onto an iPod. The best part about it is that it is free. There is also content already there that can be downloaded.

At this point, I would hope you can see just some of the many possibilities that an iPod has for use within a classroom. A great place to begin your research on educational uses for the iPod is at Tony Vincentís site located on the web at: Then click on iPods and be supercharged.  

Musings of a Technology Integration Project

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

In my past articles Iíve talked about the amount of time a project can take due to the fact the students are always trying to improve on it. This is a great skill to learn, but another skill would be deadlines. The length of time students can take on a project, if allowed, can be very frustrating.

After working with these types of projects for several years Iíve come to the realization that I, as the teacher, need to help the students micromanage their time better. As an example, when doing a PowerPoint project I would have them get the written work put on the slides first, before they could go on to the fun stuff. This worked well except they then spent too long getting the rest of it finished. Even when they had a deadline, they couldnít get the project completed due to their poor time management skills. As I look back I believe I needed to set better deadlines and hold them accountable.

What do I mean by this?

Again, using the PowerPoint project as my example, I needed to break the project up into smaller sections and set a deadline and consequence for each section when not reached. Ideas for breaking it up would be text, background (pictures or colors), pictures within the slide to go with the text, transitions (slide to slide or within the slide), and finally the speech to go with the presentation. Each of these sections would have a deadline as to when it must be completed and I would grade them as to where they were on each section. This would be a completed/ not completed grade that is part of the overall rubric.

This could be done with any technology integration project. Just think about the different sections within the project and divide them up. If you are off in your timing, add a day. In other words, when you check everyone on the due date and find theyíve all been focused, yet itís not completed, tell them that you miscalculated and they have only one more day on that section. This way it forces them to make some final decisions and still get that section completed.

If students have done this type of project before, ask them how they think the project should be divided up and scheduled. You may overrule some of their suggestions, but it gives them some input into time management.

Project oriented teaching can be very rewarding and many skills can be learned simultaneously. But by helping with the time management and student accountability, you will take most of the frustration out of any project you do.

So think about this, plan for next year, and enjoy the summer.

Web 2.0, The New Culture of Social Community

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

Quoting from an article written by Susan McLester in the April edition of Technology & Learning: ďWeb 2.0 has essentially transformed the Internet from an e-commerce and Web page publishing venue to a planet-wide networked community where every citizen is invited to create content.Ē

Letís look at what it is.

First, letís look at three skills: publishing, broadcasting, and movie production. In the past if you wanted to publish a book or article you would have to send it to a publisher and wait to see whether they would publish it. Newspapers and magazines were written by their own hired staff of writers. Only a small group of people compared to the whole population could accomplish this. The only way to broadcast was to work for, or own your own radio studio. Movie production could only be done by a production company with the equipment and know how.

Now enters Web 2.0 onto the scene. Anyone with a computer can publish on the internet in blogs or online newsletters. Likewise, you can produce a broadcast by making a podcast using programs like Garageband or Audacity. If you have a video movie camera you can edit your own movie and upload it to the internet for all to see. All of this can be accomplished with a computer and open source (free) software on the internet. It can then be uploaded onto the web for everyone to participate in. 

You ask, what do I mean by: participate in?

Social networking sites like MySpace, YouTube, and Yahoo! Groups have allowed our digital natives to collaborate and share information and thoughts on anything instantly.

Instead of just being a passive reader and watcher of what someone says or does, everyone can be an active participant on what goes up on the web. With new open source online tools like Jumpcut, Eyespot, Toufee, Picnik, and more everyone can participate. But wait, thereís more. New hosting sites such as,, and have opened a whole new support network for this community.

What does this mean to us as educators? No problem, we just block all the sites. After all, itís our job to protect them from the evils of the internet. I agree, we need to protect them from the evils of the internet, but are the above mentioned sites evil? Is having a social community on the internet wrong or dangerous, or is it something we donít fully understand? By blocking all the sites are we making ourselves irrelevant in the eyes of the digital native? Shouldnít we be teaching them how to safely handle the internet, and then participate in it with them?

About a month ago I got involved in an online social network called Runescape. My children had been involved in it for awhile and I had been watching. Runescape is a place where you become a virtual person in a virtual medieval world where you can fish, hunt, build houses, and on and on. You can be a free participant, or for $5 a month become a member with more privileges. Last month Runescape topped one million members. This doesnít count far more that arenít members. As I participate in this world, I watch as the young people are constantly helping each other, talking to one another, and problem solving. These are skills we want them to learn.

Shouldnít we be integrating these communities into our classrooms, instead of blocking them? We could spark discussion about many academic topics where the student becomes not only the learner but the teacher, too. Think about it.   


21st Century Classrooms

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

About three weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the MACUL conference in Detroit. This is an annual conference that deals with integration of technology within the classroom for the state of Michigan. After spending three days listening to many great speakers and seeing what others are doing in their classrooms, I came away with an even greater sense of what a 21st century classroom should look like.

The first thing to understand is that it won't look anything like the classrooms of the 20th century. Today's students are wired differently. They literally can't sit and listen to a lot of chalktalk. They aren't interested in textbooks, or a lot of pencil and paper activities. Worksheets bore them. The students go through the motions to get a grade, but check out when it comes to learning. They need to be involved in their learning in an interactive way. This is why technology is so important to use as a tool to get them to check back in.

A classroom of the future was set up at the conference. Every student had a computer. The teacher center had a projector, computer, and a multi-media projection system which allows the teacher to project anything from the internet to manipulatives on the screen. Also, the teacher could use student response systems to get instant feedback from the students on whether they understood a concept. The screen and the computers become the center of learning, not the teacher.

Some would say the teacher becomes outdated. This isn't true. In the 21st century classroom the teacher becomes the coach and supporter of the students' learning. The teacher must organize the skills the students are to learn and what tools to achieve this goal.

You may look at this and say that's impossible. It's true that the equipment might be a problem with budgets being tightened. But the key is our attitude. How we approach teaching and learning must change. Our job is to engage the student, not disengage them.    

isteNETS Project-What Is It?

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher
Iste stands for the International Society for Technology in Education. Nets is a project that began back in 1998 and stands for The National Educational Technology Standards. What is the goal of this project you might ask?

Quoting from their web site The primary goal of the ISTE NETS Project is to enable stakeholders in PreK-12 education to develop national standards for educational uses of technology that facilitate school improvement in the United States. The NETS Project will work to define standards for students, integrating curriculum technology, technology support, and standards for student assessment and evaluation of technology use.

The NETS project has developed national technology standards for education in three areas students, teachers, and administrators. Counting the District of Columbia as a state, 49 out of 51 states have either adopted, adapted, aligned, or referenced some or all of these standards into their own state standards.

The  technology foundation standards for students are divided into six broad categories. They are

1.    Basic operations and concepts

2.    Social, ethical, and human issues

3.    Technology productivity tools

4.    Technology communications tools

5.    Technology research tools

6.    Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools

Under each category are several standards for students to achieve. All of this is broken down by grade level to make it easier for teachers to develop and use within their classrooms.

These standards have served us well as we transitioned from the 20th to the 21st century. But things are changing quickly in the workforce and new skills are being demanded by employers including problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and decision-making. None of these skills can be mastered in the 20th century teaching style classrooms where students sit in rows and listen to the teacher.

Technology integration provides the way to change, but we, as teachers, need to change with it. With this need the isteNETs project has responded with a draft of new standards to meet the needs of teachers in the 21st century. Like the old standards, they are divided into six broad categories with multiple standards for each. They are as follows:      

       1. Creativity and Innovation

       2. Communication and Collaboration

       3. Research and Information Retrieval

       4. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Decision-Making

       5. Digital Citizenship

       6. Technology Operations and Concepts

These standards certainly answer the call of skills being demanded in the workforce of the 21st century. The final standards will be published in June at the National Convention  in Atlanta, Georgia. We, as teachers, need to begin to look at what we are doing and ask ourselves the question Am I preparing my students for the 20th or the 21st century?

For more information go to


The Obvious Isn't Always Obvious

By Mark Benn Middle School Teacher
Videos are certainly a part of technology and part of every classroom. With today's students being more visually oriented and not as word oriented in their learning, educational videos and video streaming are great tools. 

The question is: Are our students prepared to learn from these tools? Do they have the skills to work through all that a video brings forth from sounds, music, visuals, and whatever else multimedia can bring? Do we, as teachers, prepare them for what they are about to see, or do we just give them the topic and turn on the show?

As teachers, we need to think about how we approach the use of this tool. When we announce that we are going to show a video, every student ought to be able to ask us the question: What do you want me to learn from this?  We need to be able to answer that question every time. If not, we shouldn't be showing it. We need to help the students focus on what is being learned.

Even before all this takes place, we need to teach the students how to learn from a video and how to handle multimedia. One good way is to take an educational video, or any video for that matter, and show a 30 to 60 second section. Then get feedback from the students about what they just saw. Repeat this procedure over and over. Discuss what was important, not important, or just background. We need to teach them how to discern what is important and what isn't. This practice should not be a one time event. You will see them grow in their understanding and learning through feedback in their note taking and class discussion.

Video length is also important to consider.  Today's students can only handle about 30-35 minutes, at best, regardless of age, when it comes to educational videos. For younger students, keep the length to 15-20 minutes. If it takes two days to show it, that's fine. Our goal is for them to learn, not be overwhelmed or bored because they lost focus.

Using videos with today's students can be very rewarding when we just follow these guidelines.


Are You Hindering Your
Student's Cognitive Ability?

I have a very interesting video for you all to check out below:

Riverview elementary really teaches math
(Please have patience while our tech support fixes the video below.  Until then, check it out through the link at the end of this article.  Sorry for the inconvenience.)

I want you to stop and think, are you hindering your studentsí cognitive abilities? In other words, does the way you deliver learning to your students (pedagogy) help or hinder their cognitive growth?

Up to a week ago, I never would have thought about this idea. Then an e-mail from a colleague showed me an online news article that changed my thinking. After reading the article and watching the video it changed my perception when it comes to cognitive ability. When I saw third graders doing order of operations, negative numbers, and coming up with algebraic equations for solving problems, and reading about what first graders could do in math, I came to the realization that I shouldnít sell students short if (and thatís an important if) they are given a solid foundation in math that allows them to explore.

Does this apply only to math?  Could there be other areas in our curriculum that we inadvertently hold students back? Check the article and video out and see what you think.  Go to:

Are We Moving Into A Post-Literate Society?

Are we moving into a POST-LITERATE society?

I know this question might knock you over, but please stop and think about it. Wikipedia defines a post-literate society as: a society wherein multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read written words, is no longer necessary. This doesnít mean they canít read, but choose to meet their main information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming. Now think about the students you have today. What do they choose to do first for pleasure, read a book, or do they seek multi-media stimulation?

Doug Johnson, writer of the Blue Skunk Blog, wrote a blog titled Libraries for a post-literate society I and is located at:

He later followed it with two more blogs titled:  Libraries for a post-literate society II and In defense of postliteracy.  Doug Johnsonís premise is that this isnít necessarily a bad thing. We are just returning to a 21st century style of communication that is quote: ďsimilar to more natural forms of communication - speaking, storytelling, dialogue, debate, and dramatization.Ē

If this is true, and I believe it is, because I see it all around me (including my three teenagers), think of the ramifications it should have on education. Are we making the change in our classrooms to meet these challenges? From what Iím reading from top educational speakers and from my observations around me, not much is changing. Is it a wonder we are losing the students in school?  They are checking out on us because we continue to teach in the old way. As one parent said to me today,  ďWhy donít they learn it like we did?Ē My reply was that these kids arenít us. This is not a generational gap. This is a major paradigm change in the way kids think and interact with their world.

So, what are you doing or going to do about this change? The first place to start is to begin reading what others are saying and what research is telling us. Check out the blogs of Doug Johnson, Ian Jukes, David Warlick, Will Richardson, Kathy Schrock, or Tony Vincent, to name a few. Become part of an online community of teachers such as: ( and discuss this topic. Observe your students and ask them what excites them. This will get you started, but it is only the beginning. In closing, letís look back at that question again. Are we moving into a post-literate society? Itís something to think about.

Next month Iíll talk about ideas on how to address this issue in the classroom. Now go do your homework and see what others are saying.

Great BLOGS to read on the changes in the way students learn

Doug Johnson The Blue Skunk Blog
Ian Jukes The Committed Sardine
David Warlick Two Cents Worth
Will Richardson WeBloggEd
Kathy Schrock Kaffeeklatsch
Tony Vincent Learning In Hand


Are We Moving Into A Post-Literate Society?
Part 2

Are we moving into a POST-LITERATE society?

Last time I tossed you the bombshell idea that we are moving into a post-literate society. Again, this doesnít mean the students canít read, but they choose to communicate in other ways. I left you with a homework assignment to read what other educational bloggers are saying. I also finished the article with the suggestion that you think about how this idea would influence the classroom.

So what should a classroom look like in a post-literate society?  Are we going to take out the printed word?  Are we going to box up all the books?  No, students still need to learn comprehension and other reading skills. It should be more of a change in balance.  It is more about our approach.

In the past, a traditional classroom was basically text based.  A 21st century classroom should be balanced with multi-media and text. In the past, a teacher would begin with a text-based lesson, and occasionally supported with a multi-media reinforcement such as a movie (or if you want to go way back, a filmstrip). With todayís students, our lessons should begin with a multi-media form of lesson to capture their interest and then move to a text support for added connection. Every school should have a contract with a multimedia center such as United Streaming. At you will find thousands of movies aligned by grade level and subject matter. They have even aligned their media with state curriculum standards. But the best part is the fact that they have broken the movies into segments. Students today are multi-media driven, but at the same time when it comes to learning, they donít want a 45-minute movie. They lose their interest after 10 -15 minutes. With segments, you can pick the exact part that fits with what you are teaching.

In summary, begin your lessons with multimedia. This will capture their interest quicker. Next time, Iíll talk about others ideas, such as gaming, to capture the interest of a post-literate classroom full of students.  
Are We Moving Into A Post-Literate Society?
Part 3

Are we moving into a POST-LITERATE society?

Since a larger percentage (possibly 80-90%) of students today are visually oriented learners, and as I said last time, we should begin with a visual introduction to our lessons letís take a look at the use of online games and interactive activities.

There are many online games that allow students to practice skills for grades one through eight and even higher. Even though some of the games are similar to work they would do on a worksheet the students find it more interesting just because itís on a computer. Other games provide learning opportunities that could never be done in a classroom. A few of the sites are: 


Another area to explore, then use are interactive simulation sites. Science study is growing more every day with many skills on line that once again could not be done in the classroom except out of a book, that doesnít reach the students of today. Some sites are:

There are also whole lessons online that are interactive and keep students engaged. I use lessons on area, perimeter, percentages, decimals, fractions, and angles. These sites are located at:

The best way to find more sites is to do an advanced google search using key words such as educational, interactive, games, online, and then more specific such as space, multiplication or sixth grade. Itís important that you try whatever you want to use first. Also, monitor what the students are doing when on the computer. Make sure they understand in advance what they are suppose to be learning and when completed discuss what they found.

The key to students learning is to get them engaged. I know you will find that they are more engaged when given the chance to go online. 

21st Century Learning? 
This is the Answer!

As you read all the articles and blogs, view the videos, and sort through what everybody is saying about the change so badly needed in education, you find this concept has so many parts it's hard to nail it all down. But then I read the article called "30 Strategies for Education Reform" by Prakash Nair located at  Prakash is not an educationalist. He's an architect who's part of a global award winning company that designs and builds schools. As he worked on schools, he realized that he needed to focus on how students learn in coming up with how to build a school building. As he looked at all the research, he brought together these 30 strategies for today's learning.

He begins this online guidebook with this thought and I quote: "In education, there is widespread support for the idea that every student is important and yet, in practice, systems are set up to favor a few at the expense of the many." After giving supports for why reform is needed, he gives individual guidance for superintendents and board members, principals, parents, teachers, and students on how to use the guidebook. He then lists the 30 strategies while linking them to three categories (pedagogy, organization, and non-academic). After that he gives an overview of each of the strategies. He concludes the guidebook with a survey to get you to put into action what you have just read.

I highly recommend this as a great read. It brings together what everyone is saying and puts wheels on how to get going with 21st century learning and being a world class classroom and school.

Educational Change - 
Are You Ready For It?

There are many great, hard-working teachers who are trying to do the best for their students. But all of us (teachers) need to ask ourselves one question. Are we preparing our students for their future, or our past?

You may wonder what I mean by that statement. Let me explain. For most of the 20th century, classrooms were run throughout America in a similar fashion. Students sat in rows and listened to the teacher explain the material. The students did a lot of memorization by rote and took tests on the material. Many a classroom was expected to be quiet and function peacefully. This type of education was great for preparing students for a workforce that was driven by industry. After all, the industrial revolution began in the late 19th century and continued through most of the 20th century.

Towards the end of the 20th century, things began to change. Industry moved out of the country, and the economy became global in nature. Technology changed the way we live and continues to change it at an increasingly faster pace. Communication happens instantly. No longer are we in our little local world. The skills that were important before are no longer needed because those jobs have gone elsewhere. We have a whole new set of skills that students need. As I've talked about before, skills such as collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking are major parts of this new skill set.

What do we need to do to make this change? Something I haven't seen in my 22 years of teaching. We need to start discussing pedagogy. Pedagogy is the art or science of  teaching. Constantly we are bombarded with assessment, or aligning the curriculum  in this atmosphere of No Child Left Untested. But  other than assessment, do we take a look at our teaching methods and how they relate to today's students learning styles?  Because of the multi-media atmosphere our students live in today they learn differently. Their brains are being rewired to a more visual and tactile way of learning. We grew up in an age of auditory learning. So are we meeting the needs of our students if we continue to teach the way we were taught? The answer is a resounding NO!!!

Think about this statement: Sometimes we don't know what we don't know. The more I think about this the more I see how relevant it is in so many situations. How can I change if I don't know I should? Do we ever talk much about the art of teaching and I'll add, learning?  It's time that whenever we talk about curriculum we need to talk about pedagogy. Teaching and learning isn't about just turning the page in your textbook. I think sometimes we are too reliant on the textbook and that is why we don't think or talk about what good pedagogy looks like. Ask your students - they'll tell you how they like to learn. I've gotten more insight into learning when I started to talk to my students. They have become the teacher at times.  

The problem is it's summer, and the students aren't around.  What should you do next?  You can start by going to . They have many resources available. Set up an iGoogle account and add Google Reader. Then find blogs like 2Ę Worth, ian jukes, Weblogg-ed,  Blue Skunk Blog, and others. Sign up on a social networking site for educators where discussion of pedagogy is common place such as This will get you started in a new world of thinking. Since summer is here, it's a great time to learn and prepare for the fall.

Web 2.0 - What Can It Do For You?
A while back I wrote about Web 2.0 and what it was all about. It's now time to revisit this issue and get more practical about its use. 
To refresh your memory, Web 1.0 was basically static. You went to the Internet to get written information or pictures. The only interaction you had with the Internet was the reading you did. Along came Web 2.0, and with it a move from static to interactive. Today, you are no longer just a consumer, but can become a producer as well. Students today see the Internet as a part of them and their daily lives as they interact with it. So how can we make it a part of the everyday classroom? 
1. Documents-In our school, a student opens up Microsoft Word and works on their document. When they save it, it goes into their network file until they need it later. The problem with this is, what if they want to work on it later at home? Sorry, it can't be done. Or what about the student that does work on a document at home and then emails it to school. Once at the school they can't open it up properly because of the application they used at home. How about moving from one system to another, meaning from Linux to Mac to PC? This causes plenty of headaches. What if I told you all this could be solved. We are beginning to shift our students to Web 2.0 applications. All my students have opened an iGoogle account. It's free and easy to do. 
step 1-open google 
step 2-choose Sign in at the upper right 
step 3-then choose Create an account now at the middle right 
Once you've opened an account, make sure you confirm the email. In your iGoogle account choose Add Stuff at the top right. Then type in google in the Search for Gadgets section. Choose Google Docs. Make sure you are using Foxfire, Internet Explorer, or Safari 3.0 for your browser. Once set up you are now ready to compose and save any documents you want. All the problems of before will be gone. A student can get to their work any time and print it from any computer. 
The account also has Spreadsheet and Presentation applications. These don't have all the bells and whistles of Microsoft Office, but they do the job. Another place to go is Once again, it is free and has even more applications. Both Google and Zoho are continuing to improve their applications. 
2. Blogs-Blog is short for Web Log. The best way to describe it is an online journal. You, as the teacher could post and have students comment on it. Research has shown that students write better when they know others will see it. That has certainly been the case when I've done blogs. There are many sites out there, but the one I use is site is designed for teachers. A student's blog is not published until you, the teacher, has approved it. You can make comments and then send it back for editing before it is published. The other thing is, you can teach students how to make good comments on other blogs. Once again, these comments don't go anywhere until you've approved them. 
3. Videos-Have students make videos on what they've learned and upload them to Make a How to video and make it available for your students to use. The good thing is the fact that this is not a site that's blocked in schools. 
4. Wiki-I know you are probably saying, what is that? A wiki is a collaborative tool where students can work together on the same project at the same time. Create a wiki and participants can go to the wiki at their convenience to add, change, and edit content. You can add images and web-links to the document. There are many sites available for this. I've used
http// . This is a site for K-12 educators to use with their students. The difference that this site offers is voice. Check out the site to see examples of what can be done with the students. This is a site for even the younger students to use and be creative. 
We live in a different world where the Internet is a vital part of it. I've only touched on some of the possibilities.  We, as educators, need to bring real world application into our classrooms, instead of turning our students off to learning with our 20th century ways. Check it out and give it a chance, because your students will be more engaged, and with proper engagement comes learning. 
Textbooks: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Last month I talked about grades and when they're appropriate. This month I'd like to take a look at something we, as teachers, do every day.

As the opening bell, buzzer, light, or whatever goes off every morning in every school across the nation, teachers have already made many decisions that apply to what the students will learn that day. This has been a time honored part of being a teacher for as long as teachers have been around. In the last century, the learning has centered around textbooks written for every subject. Even today, this practice continues throughout our nation and world.

Each week a teacher plans out their lessons based on the textbook they're using, following page by page and chapter by chapter until they complete the textbook or the school year runs out. You may say, yeah, your point?

My point is that the 21st century (the digital age) has arrived and with it a whole new way of doing things. You may ask, why should I change just because something new has come along? I agree, no one should change just because something new is available. Change should take place when it's more beneficial.

Observe your students and consider what you see. Are they truly engaged in that textbook, or are they checking out? I had a fellow teacher remark to me a year ago that she didn't see students very interested in their textbook anymore. How about you? Does going through a textbook page by page and chapter by chapter really fulfil your state standards, or is it just easier.

In all of this, does it meet the needs of today's students.

In the last two years, brain research has changed what we thought about how the brain works. With the help of technology we can see that today's students are different from the past in how their brain functions. These "screenagers", as some have called them, even prefer different colors then in the past. Blood red and neon green are some of their favorite colors. Their least favorite color is black. We're not talking about what color they like to wear, but what they like to see on the screen or in print. I've watched many students reverse the colors on their computer screens so it's white on black, instead of black on white. Now think of these implications when it comes to textbooks. I've seen students enjoy reading a book on their handheld computer, which is digital, compared to reading a hardcover book.

In the January 2008 edition of Technology & Learning magazine an article entitled "Top 10 Tech Trends" written by Susan McLester states In the recent report, A Revolution in K-12 Digital Content How Soon Is Now? research group Eduventures declares the textbook "dead...or at least dying" as the "primary content delivery mechanism" for schools. In another article from the same edition Tom McHale writes an article entitled "Tossing Out Textbooks" where he talks about a Tucson high school that has done away with textbooks and gone totally digital using laptops.

As we've talked about in the past, today's students are more engaged when it comes to learning in student centered  classrooms vs. the traditional teacher centered approach. So are you ready to make a change? You don't have to have a bank of computers to make the change, but it does help. In my next article I'll talk about ways you can break the textbook dependency cycle. Till then, think about it.

Grading: What is Our Motivation?

Have you ever thought about why you take grades? I used to believe that it was important to grade every assignment that I had the students do. I felt I was doing a disservice to them if I didn't grade everything. This resulted in a lot of grades, but did it result in a lot of learning?

I believe it builds a wrong way of thinking in the students and causes them to see school as a place where they get a lot of grades, and not as a place of learning.  It also leads us, as teachers, to think the same way. Do you teach to get grades, or is your motivation to help children learn?

Grades are just a measure of what someone understands and their level of understanding. At least that's what they're suppose to be. We should be using formative assessment constantly to know where students are, but should these assessments be graded. Does this reflect where a student is at, or how they learn?

What do I mean by that? Think about how you learn. When something is new to you and you are just learning about it, do you truly understand it at first? Probably not at first. But as you deal with it over and over again you get better at whatever the skill is. Let's use math as an example. When I'm learning my multiplication facts, I don't learn them all at once. I also don't' learn them at the same speed as others. Maybe it takes me longer. Now let's factor in taking grades on everything a student does. Does the grade reflect whether they know the material, or how fast they can learn it? Is learning about speed, or understanding?

So why do we grade everything, when a student is just beginning to learn it? This makes no sense, unless our motivation is just to teach the students and get grades.

Let's raise the bar of our profession higher. Our motivation should be to teach in a way that helps everyone become a lifelong self motivated learner. Our grading should reflect that, and not hinder it with certain attitudes.

So what should we do as teachers do? Formative assessment should be a constant, and because of these assessments we should adjust our teaching to help those who aren't understanding it yet. Grades should only be taken when you feel the students have had enough experience in the skill. From this assessment, we have another chance to reassess whether our method of teaching is working, and if not, adjust again. All of this works towards that final summative assessment. 

In summing up, it's not about how many grades we get, but the quality of what our grading reflects. 

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