Sunday, March 7, 2010

Inquiry-based Webquest

From wikipedia, Inquiry (also enquiry) is any process that has the aim of augmenting knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem. How can this be translated to developing a Webquest? At the beginning of this project, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what an Inquiry-based Webquest should entail. After all, I had dealt with solving difficult problems in my previous career. I knew right away I wanted to develop a Webquest that would be interesting to the students, a topic they could relate to, and I had a general idea of the skills I wanted the students to gain from the task. Putting it together was a challenge. The in-class brainstorming of ideas necessary for Inquiry-based projects became quite useful in developing my Webquest.

So many times in the past, I have experienced teachers locating Webquests on topics being addressed in the classroom, only to be disappointed in the final product. Many of the webquests I examined had broken links or were simply fill in the blank worksheet types of activities. I can understand using this type of webquest with younger students to teach them how to locate information on the Internet. Unfortunately, most of these webquest indicated they were for much older students. The broken link issue is something that happens more frequently than we would like. Many teachers do not spend the time checking every link to make sure they are live as it takes time, yet it is one of the most important aspects of the Webquest. If the information is not available, of what use is the Webquest?

To develop an Inquiry-based Webquest takes a tremendous amount of time but the rewards will be tremendous. Letting students evaluate information, using technology tools and their own creativity allows them to be accountable for the task and the results. The task I chose is a real world problem, something that is in the news constantly and needs to be addressed by the students when they are young. Giving students the ability to work collaboratively on a topic that is familiar to them is just one way to hook them in to inquiry-based learning.
It is well known that students will make a better effort if the topic is something that is of interest to them.

I understand that this type of activity is not always possible, primarily because of the time involved in creating the project. I do see many uses and benefits for inquiry-based webquests. I am appreciative I had the opportunity to develop a true inquiry-based webquest. It certainly made me reflect on developing a project that students would be interested in, yet, meet many of the requirements of the curriculum at the same time.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Professional Development or Presentation?

When you think of Professional Development, what comes to mind? I have attended a number of different teacher in services and seminars, and almost all have included some type of PowerPoint presentation with little to know audience participation. And, while I am a fairly self-motivated individual, if the topic was of little to no interest to me, I would simply collect my CPDUs and go home never to touch upon the topic presented again. It made me think a little more deeply (after the fact) about the situation I am going to describe here and what makes for good Professional Development.

Recently I was given the opportunity to make a Professional Development presentation to a group of my colleagues. I had decided to demonstrate some of my favorite Web 2.0 tools as well as share some suggestions for educational uses. I knew that this group was very proficient with technology so the tools I chose had to be dynamic and something interesting to the audience. While I had a general idea of the tools I wanted to showcase, I collected information from my audience in advance through the use of a survey prepared using Google forms. After reviewing the form, I had decided to prepare a presentation with various links to six Web 2.0 tools. Having taught Computer Technology for a few years, I know how to create slides that do not contain too much information, knowing that I would add to the information on the slides as I went through my presentation. I had worked on the presentation and once I felt that my visual was ready, I developed a dialog to go along with the information on the slides so that I did not just rely on my memory. Finally, I practiced my presentation for several days prior to the actual event to ease my own nervousness.

I attended the class that was the impetus for the Professional Development assignment
the night before. Ironically enough, the in class assignment was to get together in a group and develop a Professional Development presentation in thirty minutes, including a way of assessment about the training. While at first the task seemed daunting, the four groups were very successful and I was able to utilize one of the tools I would be showcasing the next evening in my group's activity.

While I felt that my presentation was well received and that the Web 2.0 tools would be used by my classmates to enhance their teaching, upon reflection, there are things I definitely should have done differently. I did not have any type of hands-on activity that my classmates certainly would have been welcome to. I did give examples of educational uses for the tools presented, demonstrated how to use them, and expressed my frustration with how to utilize one of the tools I had decided to present. But, in the end had I really provided Professional Development or simply a presentation? In all honesty, it was definitely more of a presentation. True Professional Development must include some type of follow through to determine if the audience actually found some use of the tools presented or not. It can never be a one shot deal.

I am going to stop beating myself up over this. My own experience in attending in-services and seminars led me to think that all I would need to do is present the tools and the audience would use them if they had a need. Sort of a "If you build it, they will come mentality." Maybe I was successful in introducing them to something new but it may have been a lot more enlightening for them if they had actually had a chance to try. Next time!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Second Life Experience

Second Life was a very interesting experience. I had tried several times in the past to navigate around in Second Life to no avail and would just give up. I was a bit nervous when I was told that my class would be taking place in Second Life instead of the regular classroom. But, I must admit, it was kind of fun. I especially liked it because I was experiencing it at the same time as my classmates so I would not be the only newbie. While there were a few difficulties with the sound and navigating around, they were minor.

My adventure began with my seven classmates and one instructor in a building that contained a photo wall of the program I am in. Together we moved around the building. learned how to sit around a conference table, and meeting on the rooftop, which, when you zoomed out, appeared to be floating in the clouds. Next we were given a note card with various places to visit.

Another classmate and I decided to fist visit a replica of the Sistine Chapel. We entered the chapel and flew up to the ceiling to get a better look at the painting. I could see how this may benefit an art class to get up close and personal with the painting. While this was pretty amazing, there was not much to do up there.

We next decided to go to a beach and experience a tsunami. It was phenomenal how the tsunami came and covered the beach and the buildings. While we had looked for other things to do there which were indicated on the note card, both of us ended up under the water. I ended up in another area next to the tsunami but did not explore it as I had limited time. Plus, I was afraid I would not be able to find my way back. We lost each other for a while but did reconnect and then decided to move over to the Space Island in the hopes of exploring the stars. We really wanted to fly in the Gemini Rocket but, unfortunately, ran out of time and had to return to the virtual college campus.

Teleporting is very cool and easy to move from place to place. I do not know if Second Life has educational benefit or not. While I think that there are many places set up for educational use, I am not sure how receptive the administrators or parents would be to using Second Life. But, as for my own second life, once I free up some time in my first life, I am going to return just to explore on my own.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Will Google Rule the World?

I have been amazed at how in a very short time, Google has developed into what I consider one of the most popular, if not the most popular, educational tool in the world. What did we do Before Google (B.G.)?

In 1995, two very young but entrepreneurial college students met and to brainstorm a new search engine. At first, they agreed to disagree on how to undertake this mission but soon came together and launched their search engine in 1998 from a garage. I am sure many people are saying, "Why didn't I think of that?" What makes Google so appealing was stated in 1998 by "PC Magazine" reports that Google "has an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results".

And, the rest they say is history. But, what really makes using Google so appealing? In addition to the name recognition, I think it is the ease of use and the continual foresight of the company to recognize what is important and relevant in technology today.

Google has really developed into more than just the search engine. Google apps is becoming a useful collaboration tool for education. Having the ability to edit a single document simultaneously provides students with the ability to have their voice heard. The ability to access a document from any place at any time allows students to work on projects from home or outside of school without having to meet at a single location. And, what about those students that continuously lose the flash drive or forget to save it from the school computer? My feeling is that this has the potential to make students more accountable for both individual and group projects since each post identifies the poster and eliminating the excuse that the group just couldn't get together.

Utilizing the cloud to store documents alleviates the problems that occur when a computer crashes. My own experience with this issue has resulted in anger and frustration. But, documents is not the only Google app that has made an impact on education.

What about Google Earth? I am sure there isn't anyone who hasn't looked up the satellite image of their home or place of business. I remember looking up my own home and seeing my new car in the driveway. The most difficult part of that image was that a few months later that very car was totaled while parked in a nearby lot. Google Lit Trips connects the travels of various novels to the actual locales where the novels take place. How compelling to connect the novel to the world!

Google continues to add new applications to its own library, all with the purpose of making things easier for its users.

In education, we all know that in order to truly get experienced teachers to utilize technology, it needs to be easy. If we only had enough time to explore, I am confident that Google has something for everyone.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Favorite Web 2.0 Tool

Wordle ( has become one of my favorite Web 2.0 tools due to its simplicity of use and applicability to every subject. Most educators have been exposed to Wordle, some without even knowing it. Words clouds are fun to make and easy to modify simply by cutting and pasting. Students are able to include their own creativity by changing directions and colors. While the word cloud can be printed directly from the screen, it does take minimal effort to save it as an image to import into a word processing or presentation software. Students and teachers have come to love Wordle ad it has become an easy, effortless way to integrate technology. But, it does have some downsides. While there is an option to print directly from the Wordle site, most people want to save it as a text document. I found the easiest thing to do was to save it as a jpeg image and then paste into the document. This took me two steps as I first saved it as a pdf and then opened it to save as a jpeg.

Like most Web 2.0 tools, it is available to everyone with an Internet connection. Schools have become leery of utilizing Wordle because the opening page may contain word clouds with inappropriate words. Wordle is not moderated but has directions on how to remove some of the options, like the gallery and random words clouds that appear on the opening page. Simply have the network administrator add these blocked pages to the web filter will allow the students to utilize Wordle in a safe environment. Another way is to have the students go directly to the create page which bypasses the opening page. This does not prevent the gallery page from still being available though.

There are many ways to use Wordle in the classroom. Students can take any text document and look at the high frequency words visually. I simply fund the speech on the Internet, copied and pasted the words into Wordle, and saved it as a jpeg file. For example, the State of the Union speech given by President Barack Obama. This is the result:

This type of visual presentation will provide the students to zero in on concepts important to any classroom discussion. Through the word size, it is easy to differentiate the important concepts. In my example, it is very easy to see that he wants to focus on jobs, energy, and reform for the American people. Just think how this could be used to stimulate the discussions in the classroom.

Tom Barrett has developed an excellent PowerPoint presentation to help teachers think of ways to integrate Wordle into their classroom. While he has listed thirty-eight ways to use Wordle, I am confident that any teacher will be easily able to add their own Wordle implementation to this presentation.

Wordle is so very simple to use that I find it amazing that teachers are not using it more in their classrooms. Perhaps if they really knew how simple and effective it was, they would.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Using Resource Depositories to Your Advantage

This past Saturday I attended the NICE conference held at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. I was thoroughly impressed at the number of presentations available for the $5.00 fee. I decided to attend 2 of my three sessions on Web 2.0 tools and another on Professional Development. The presenters are all very well know in the area of technology so I knew from the start I would leave with my head spinning. As I sat in each session, I wondered how I could be more like each of the presenters and what made them "so smart" in this area. Well, I think I found their secret (and even if I didn't, I discovered a way to make me look smarter, anyway.)

All three of the presenters, as well as many of the others, I presume, have developed smart ways of searching. They would never use a search engine like Google as that just gives you too many sites to look through. Google does not give you a ranking system of what is useful and what is not.
So, I am going to share their secret, and once you hear it, you may be asking yourself the same questions I did. Like, "Why didn't I think of that?" If you already knew this trick, then at least humor me, please. What all three presenters do is search their Personal Learning Networks Delicious or Diigo accounts and bring those sites into their own sites. What they have all essentially done is let someone who must have far more time than themselves do the searching and then they get to use the sites. I learned how to narrow down the searches within Delicious so that I do not have to look at 500 math sites when only 75 will apply. While all of this searching is dependent on the tags the person has put on their entries, it certainly is less time consuming than starting with Google.

Now that I have found their secret, I am going to use a new Web 2.0 tool to compile my own fantabulous list of resources. I am going to use
SimplyBox to categorize my favorites into files.

I have been wanting to do this for years but never found the time. I like this tool because rather than a web address, I am going to be able to have a screen shot of the website. The unfortunate aspect, if you are a fan of another browser, of Simply Box is that it is an add-on for Firefox only. It is very simple to use and allows comments to be added as well as tags. I have developed only one box so far. Boxes can be public, private, or shared. I am still new to this tool so I am not completely sure of all of its capabilities but I do know it is something worth taking a look at. It is fun and easy so I know it is a tool I will use in developing collections of sites for the teachers and, hopefully, getting them to do it themselves. Most importantly, it doesn't matter what computer you are using, your favorites will always be available.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Inquiry-based Lesson Evaluation - Fast Food Dieting

Since I was thinking of addressing the Fast Food dieting sensation that is all over the television these days, I chose to evaluate websites related to proper nutrition and the daily requirements necessary for good eating habits.

Finding Webquests that addressed nutrition varied greatly in what was being asked. Some simply had the students looking up what the nutritional guidelines were and what food groups fit into these areas. For example, it is evident that a Fast Food salad from Mc Donald’s is a better choice than the Taco Salad from Taco Bell. While both salads have lettuce, it is the extras that quickly make the salad cross over from a healthy choice to one that contains so many extra calories, not necessarily all good for you.

Healthiest Fast Foods,, presented a task for students to write a feature article for a newspaper and suggest ways in which people could develop healthier eating habits. Comparing various food items from four different fast food restaurants, students created graphs and analyzed the data to determine what restaurant would provide the healthiest meal.

This Webquest provided many options for the students in choosing the meals and the restaurants. It may open up their eyes to see that a healthy meal can be found at many fast food restaurants. Portion size is also a big consideration considering that, as a nation, we are becoming one of the largest, and I don’t mean in population. As the lifestyles of many become more sedentary, it is important to look at what we are consuming in order to stop this trend.

In contrast, Nutrition Mission,, provides students with the task of developing a healthy meal plan for two fictitious characters. This Webquest provided various missions based on different criteria, such as eating at a fast food restaurant or choosing unhealthy snacks. The creator was rather ingenious in the images of the two people and how they changed after following a healthy meal plan. Unfortunately, many of the links were not functioning (the Webquest was developed in 2005) and a rubric was not provided to determine the expectations of the students.

Both of these Webquests are inquiry based and provide the students to make decisions and ask questions about the topic, which is essential to develop higher order thinking skills.

Personally, I find the claims on the television to be rather unbelievable. While I do think there are ways to lose weight eating fast food, it is only one part of the equation. It is important to incorporate exercise and adequate rest as well. In researching these diets, the people involved simply reduced their daily caloric intake which will always lead to a weight loss. I find it hard to actually believe that someone can eat only fast food from a single restaurant and meet the daily nutritional requirements needed in a healthy diet. Plus, I love the disclaimer that these results are not typical.