Use Powerful Tools Powerfully

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work, via various social networking sites, with Kathy Cassidy, a teacher “of six year olds,” in Saskatchewan, Canada, according to her class blog. We’ve even met face to face at conferences. My class (4th – 6th graders) shared blog posts and comments with her students a few times, and we Skyped at least once. Kathy recently shared a post on the Powerful Learning Practice blog about “Five Ways To Use Skype.” Some of the aspects of the post I want to highlight are that yes, ‘even’ 6 year olds can connect online in ways that provide powerful learning opportunities for them, and Kathy makes the point that, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.” Check out her post, she shares some great ideas on connecting your students.

Reading Kathy’s post had me re-visiting a point that has been made by others (and me) over the years, but a point that needs repeating … repeatedly, because it is such a vital point to make.

There are very powerful learning tools available on the “inter webs,” and many are free to use … video conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangouts … blogs, wikis, online photo and video archive sites (like Flickr), and many more. As Kathy and others point out there are powerful ways to use these tools that connect students, experts, facilitate collaboration globally, provide the ability to design, produce, edit and share content in any subject, and so much more (and yes, occasionally just to do something fun or cool!).

There are many of us that have been working very hard to spread the word about how these tools facilitate new, innovative and engaging approaches to learning. How they require teaching our students to be active learners instead of teaching them to be taught … sit quietly but attentively, raise your hand if you have a question, then wait for me (as the teacher) to decide this is an OK or appropriate time in my lesson to break from my cadence, my lesson, and answer your question or listen to your comment … now … or not.

So what’s my point already? It’s the point Kathy made: “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Ever since personal computers and other technologies were introduced, their praises as learning tools have been sung from the highest rafters. Unfortunately, much more often than not, when technology has been purchased with improving education, improving student learning, improving student achievement or (yuck) improving student test scores as the goal … the technology or tool has been the focus with too little thought or professional development or teacher autonomy considered to actually use the technology in ways that empower students and/or their learning. The results therefore have been ugly and have lead to a backlash about the actual value of technology and connectedness as pathways to learning.

In addition, the tunnel-vision of test scores in language arts and math have turned too many computer labs and other technologies into drill and practice, test prep and “what apps can we get that will engage the students” dead ends. That use of technology as learning tool is like buying a Ferrari just to listen to the great stereo while its parked in the garage.

There is nothing wrong, especially as a way to gain experience with the technology, to do a video-conference or two that is mostly about saying hi to a class in another state or country and share some basic information. But if that’s all you do … then that’s probably not “using it well.” Collaboration, sharing and analyzing data, simultaneously performing an experiment or activity to see if location changes the results, read alouds between students, an international poetry festival between classes … that’s more like it. Students tend to be more engaged, spend more time editing, ask more clarifying questions … because these students from somewhere else, and maybe others, are going to see it … I want it to be good.

Blogging is awesome! Blogging is writing for sure. But its also posting photos, videos, podcasts, vid-casts … and because blogging is a two way street (because others can leave comments) its a conversation. Students can post any kind of writing you do in class, and yes, I’ve even had them post a written response about their reading. But also creative writing, science experiments, reports on any subject, short stories, long stories, explanations, diagrams and representations of math problems and concepts (that other students from around the world can see, discuss and argue about). But also photo essays, video clips of anything, pieces they write just because they want to (my new puppy, my birthday party, what happened when we got a flat tire, I was so scared when …) … and again, these pieces are published to the world … and the world responds, and that leads to more writing and thinking deeply about the response, and sharing ideas and realizing what is different about living in different parts of our city, state, country, world.

I could go on explaining the power of wikis, photo and video sharing sites and more. But that will just belabor things.

Too often we utilize technology and the web because they seem to be automatically engaging for students .. at least for awhile. If we aren’t learning as educators how and why to use these powerful learning tools and opportunities to enable our students to do important, meaningful work. If we allow ourselves to feel unprepared or stupid or phobic about using technology and perceive that our students know more about it, or worse, see it as a way to keep students busy in the computer lab while we grade papers or do other “teacher stuff.” (yeah I know that you probably don’t get enough prep time). Then we are leaving its promise and capacity as a learning facilitator, connector and collaboration tool on the cutting room floor. We might as well not bother with it.

So as Kathy said, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Learning is messy!

High Hopes Project 1st Design Meeting

I posted this over on our “High Hopes Project” blog  and decided it fit well here too:

We refer to The High Hopes Project as a “model” STEM project. One aspect of that modeling is that we’ve designed it to include as many ways to participate as possible. To do so we have set up (so far) a project web site, this  blog, a Twitter account, a Flickr account, a YouTube Channel, a Wiki and a Gmail account so we have access to tools like Google Forms for archiving and analyzing data.

In addition, any class or person can participate in the experiments we will send up by researching and theorizing based on what should happen, and then analyzing the data we gather and share about the atmosphere including temperature and pressure and in sending up the world’s “High Hopes” – including yours (more explanation about those aspects will be shared along the way – we don’t launch balloons until April and May) .

However another characteristic of this project is we chose 3 local schools to participate in certain engineering designs for the project to act as surrogates for all of us (an elementary, middle and high school). We contemplated opening up the major engineering design portion of this project to the world, but realized quickly that receiving design ideas from potentially tens if not hundreds of classes from around the world would be beyond our time constraints and abilities to judge and implement.




Doug Taylor who co-designed this project looks on as a student explains the mock-up of the High Hopes payload and release mechanism the class is engineering and building.


The first one of the engineering challenges the students in Mr. Walsh’s physics class at Sparks High School are tackling is how to release the “High Hopes” the world submits so they can be spread around the world – more than likely they will be printed on small strips of paper – the paper we use breaks down in the environment in a matter of weeks BTW, so our High Hopes will become one with the Earth. One batch of the High Hopes will be designed to helicopter or glide in the air (to be designed by the elementary students) and have to be released at a lower altitude, but the bulk of the High Hopes will be released as high as possible (around 100,000 feet or 33,000 meters). So that requires 2 payloads.

The students informed us a week ago that they had done some initial designing and had some mock-ups to show us, but more importantly had questions about requirements and conditions to deal with. We set up a time to meet with them and included Andy Smith who is a mechanical engineering graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno. Andy is close to receiving his doctorate degree in engineering and has launched over 50 balloons himself, as well as designing payloads and the communications devices required to track them so they can be recovered. He has agreed to consult with students throughout the project.

IMG_2800The students showed us 2 designs – one basically a pyramid shape they envision being a bit more aerodynamic and stable, and another shaped more like a rectangular prism. The rectangle design also had a rudimentary release mechanism built in. They had chosen styrofoam sheets,  as the material … oh and the ever ubiquitous duct-tape.

One question they had was about payload size. They had no idea just how many “High Hopes” they had to transport, but they assumed about a ream of paper worth (500 sheets). In fact they had placed a ream of paper inside their initial designs and dropped them from their school building as an initial test and both survived intact. We explained we really had no firm idea just how many we might receive over the months before we launch, but that their test seemed like a good start.


Andy answered their questions about release mechanisms and how to release the High Hopes at the right moment. They discussed the possibility of using arduinos they could build and program, perhaps based on altitude readings. Andy also made them aware of some of the other design issues they would have to overcome including temperature, high and very low humidity, and high winds …  and that some glues and other materials don’t do well under certain conditions.


Andy answering questions about engineering design.

We’ll keep you updated as designs progress. PLEASE SIGN-UP TO BE PART OF THIS PROJECT!

Learning is Messy!!

Update: Rethinking School District Social Media Policies for Teachers / Students

One of the challenges of my job as STEM Learning facilitator for 6 counties, has been that some of those counties (school districts here are by county, so every county is it’s own school district) have very restrictive online access policies … meaning they block almost anything even remotely social – blogs, wikis, photo archiving sites like Flickr and more. In one school district I was working with a group of teachers and pointed out that I’d found one of the above “not-blocked” – my mere mention of the fact was met with “SHHHH!” and,  “Don’t tell anyone! If they know its open they’ll block it!” But when I asked if that meant someone was using it they admitted that no they weren’t – for various reasons … none of them about educating children.


I just want to point out that the “T” in STEM stands for technology, and the real power of that technology is learning to learn, sharing learning, collaboration and more. The standards even demand that students collaborate globally, and as I point out often, I don’t think they mean by sending letters back and forth.

Back in November I wrote a post about this issue and asked for feedback on:  “What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students?” I received some great feedback in the comments section from some really smart people – check them out in the comments on that post. During a Twitter chat I even got a response from Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education asking for the names of the districts that blocked these sites. Although I did collaborate with folks from the USDOE after that, it was agreed that having Secretary Duncan contact these school districts directly was probably not the best course of action.

Instead we ramped up our campaign of information – both gathering information about what led the opposition to access, and disseminating information about safety and the reality of the various laws on internet and information use and access that many were misinterpreting to mean if they gave access to anything social on the internet they’d lose their e-rate funding.

In December I was invited to present to one district’s EdTech committee. I used a 2-pronged approach. I showed them numerous examples of the powerful use of these technologies and applications as learning places. Collaborative projects, how blogging can be used to motivate writing, editing, communicating, collaborating and more – wikis, video-conferencing, Google Docs and more – I have many examples right from my own classroom, but also with the many teachers and students my classes collaborated with over the years.

Next I pointed out the realities from laws designed to keep students safe online (the ones that lead folks to believe they’ll lose their e-rate funding and be sued). I was able to use numerous sources to point out that the law, in a nutshell, states that you must basically show that you are trying hard to keep students safe, if something then goes wrong you are OK (slightly more complicated than that).

The good news is, that that school district has “green lighted” a pilot program of blogging in one of their elementary schools with 4th graders. Tomorrow I meet with the teachers at the school to get their blogs set up and a bit of training … then Tuesday I’m back all day to get each class started to blog and post a few times to get the process down as a first step. I noted last week while visiting the school that wikis are now unblocked and even Flickr (but almost no one uses them yet or even realizes that they are unblocked), so we have a foot in the door!

I’m not nervous at all to work with the teachers tomorrow, but I don’t get to work with students more than a handful of times a year anymore, and so I can tell I have that combination of being both excited and nervous about being in a classroom … like the first day of school feeling. I’ll keep you updated.

Learning is messy!





A “Crushing” STEM Experience

Today was one of those great days when I get to work in classrooms … 3 fourth grade classes … 2 of them in the same school I visited, and 1 class 2,000 miles away. First I helped set up a “Mystery Skype” call with a class in Illinois so they could basically play the 20 questions game to figure out where each class was. Maps and questioning techniques came into play and new friends were made.







After the Skype call I stuck around and another 4th grade class joined us so we could continue their study of the atmosphere. Both classes were recently involved in the PongSat program that sends experiments to near space in ping pong balls with weather balloons. We crushed a few soda cans, which was a review for them … although they had never had an explanation as to why the cans crush … they have only been thinking and writing their ideas about what is going on.

So today to give them something else to think about – we did this:


Next students shared their thinking about the science behind what happened, and then I led a discussion using their ideas to get them to a better understanding. Then the teachers had me show them a video of a high altitude balloon bursting from the air pressure and asked them to explain how that was related. All in all a great experience.

Learning is messy!

Hand Held Windmills – Messy Learning At Its Finest

A few weeks back I posted about a training we did with teachers using windmills and wind turbines. This past week Lou Loftin and I were the show at a local school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Night designed to get families fired up about STEM education. Instead of the standing kits we used with the teachers that can be used as windmills and turbines, and because we only had 50 minutes for this activity, we utilized hand held wind mills we had constructed ourselves the day before … 50 of them … now we have them for future trainings as well.

Video  – Click here to see video of the windmills in action.

The hand held windmills are made from wood dowels, closet rod, PVC pipe, swimming “noodles” cut 3 inches wide, a washer, and hot glue. Using a power saw , drill press and a hot glue gun it took us about 4 hours to make 50 windmills.


Hand held windmills ready for use … note fans set up on tables in the background.

Lou introduced the activity … he pointed out the materials they could choose from to design the blades for the windmills – wooden skewers like you would use for shish-ka-bob, and various materials for blades (paper plates, cups, cardboard, plastic sheets and more). It was explained that once engineered and constructed the windmills would be tested to see how much work they could do. A cup would be attached with string and marbles would be lifted by the wind power. Data would be collected on how many marbles could be lifted and then redesign would be encouraged to lift more marbles.

NOTE: Click on the photos below to see them larger.














Once we gave the go ahead to start hands got busy. Materials were organized, discussions on design commenced, and within five minutes windmills began taking shape. Soon fans were being turned on to test early designs. Redesign and strengthening of or reattachment of the blades usually followed. Next strings tied to plastic cups were attached so it could be determined just how much work the design could really accomplish. After 10 or so marbles were lifted and it was determined that was the maximum the design could accomplish, many thought through changes that could be made to improve the design to lift more weight.
















When time was up we re-seated everyone for a quick debrief. It was noted how different many of the designs were. We also explained how in the classroom this activity could go on for days. This could be the introductory experience, but then only one material could be allowed so that the exact blade design could be tested to see what shape, angle (we actually have protractor-like measuring devices to adjust the angle), size and more. Then materials could be tried to find which material made the most efficient design. Lots of messy learning as well as writing and sharing opportunities here. Think of video-conferencing with other schools to share designs or talking with experts. Blogging to share experiences, photographs and more. Add your own experiences and ideas in the comments.

Learning is messy!


Leaving Their Mark – Redux, Redux

This is a first I think, a second repost of a post on my blog. I’m doing so because of my appearance on NBC’s Education Nation Teacher Townhall. I talked about things my students have done and an innovative pedagogy, and although this post is 2 years old it shares many examples of that innovative pedagogy.


The end of the school year is always tough. Lots still to do, lots of emotions, lots of memories. This one is tougher than most because not only are we closing in on the end of another school year, we are coming to the end of 3 years together. As I was reflecting upon this the other day it occurred to me just how large a legacy this class is leaving behind.

This has been my first experience in a 1:1 laptop classroom. It certainly isn’t all about the technology, but the technology really has leveraged what they have accomplished because it has connected them easily to so many and allowed them to share and archive those connections easily along the way.

It started in fourth grade when we began blogging and learning about being understood and being careful with language so it meant what we meant and was clear to the reader. Their blogs became a way to share their stories, but also what we did and learned and what we accomplished- and we accomplished a lot. When I broke the news to them in December of 2006 that we had a student that showed up on my attendance over a month earlier and that we had never seen her … but that there might be a way to include her in our classroom using Skype video-conferencing, they were intrigued and awed that we might do that. After our first experience we decided to share it with the world and in just a few short weeks the students had designed and produced a video that taught the world just how powerful these new tools can be.  Their video has been downloaded thousands and thousands of times. (Update – about a million times now)

Not only did we use Skype most days to include our classmate, we also began making connections with others. We were interviewed over Skype by Lee Baber’s class in Virginia about our experience and made connections with other classrooms about science and other topics.

We were very fortunate that our classroom was chosen to have a special guest. Grace Corrigan, the mother of Christa McAuliffe, the  “Teacher in Space” who died tragically when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch, visited our room, and we Skyped out her visit to classrooms in Virginia and New York and they were able to take part in the question and answer period Grace agreed to.

To finish off that year we visited a local animal park, Animal Ark, and afterwards designed a wiki page to help further anyone’s learning about the animals there and included a lesson and video about designing your own animal.

In fifth grade as we continued to blog about our experiences, my students’ exploits became known to others and so we would get contacted by schools to participate with them – usually because they didn’t know of anyone else that knew how. One such experience was Skyping in George Mayo’s middle school class from Maryland. They had made some short videos and wanted us to watch them and give them feedback. It was easier for them to have us do this than the elementary school NEXT DOOR because they were at lunch when this class met and they couldn’t work out the details. We watched  and wrote our reactions to their videos and gave them feedback when we Skyped, and they asked us questions about including our classmate.

I was contacted by Skype about making a short film about our “Inclusion” experience. They sent a film crew to our classroom to shoot a mini documentary about how we did it. Even though our classmate was now with us in the classroom, they had her stay home one day and do school from her computer. They hung lights in our room and shot video all morning as we did what we usually do. They interviewed students and then packed up and shot in the afternoon from our classmate’s house. They produced 2 versions of the video. Here and here.

We continued to blog almost every day either writing new posts or reading and commenting on others. We built relationships with a number of classes around the world and to help keep track we began adding links to them on our class wiki page. Most of my students are second language learners and when we started blogging it would take most of them a week to edit a post into publishable quality. I don’t require my students to have zero errors on a piece before it publishes, but my students’ writing skills were very poor in general. They used poor English and grammar, and punctuation was almost nonexistent in some students’ work. They left out the details that made meaning for the reader, and we won’t go into spelling. At first students would write their posts by hand on lined paper and edit them several times before word processing them. Next they would print them out in a large size, double spaced to have room for editing. Many students would have 5 or more copies of their story all marked up by me in 1:1 meetings with them before their work was “publishable.” That’s why it took a week. By the end of fourth grade about half the class would publish in 2 days. And by the middle of 5th grade some students were publishing the same day as the assignment was given, and almost all were publishing in 2 days. We killed a lot of trees the first year, and I (and they) felt bad about that, but the impact it had on their English, spelling, punctuation, style and more was worth it. And the students continue to write and write and write (but we don’t print very often anymore).

During fifth grade, I believe initially over Twitter, but then in email, a fifth grade teacher in New York, Lisa Parisi, mentioned to me how much she liked the comments my students left on her students’ blogs. I explained that we had really been working on the quality and substance of our comments, not just saying, “Nice post” or “I liked your post” but also explaining why. Our students began doing more reading and commenting on each others posts.

Lisa and I wanted our classes to do a project together and so the “Mysteries of Harris Burdick” writing project was bornThis book, written by Chris Van Allsburg, is the ultimate writing starter I’ve ever seen. After reading and discussing the book in class our students wrote collaborative stories using Google Docs so they could work at the same time on their stories even though they were thousands of miles apart. They even discussed things over Skype so they could meet their co-writers and have discussions about where their stories were going. Other teachers joined the project and paired their classes. The project won an award.

This year we participated in 2 projects that stressed being safe online. We talk about safety fairly often, pretty much anytime we use a new application – blogs, wikis, Flickr and so on and anytime it comes up in the news we tend to review the issues and what the people involved did right or wrong that caused or helped the problem that came up. We participated with a bunch of schools all over the world in the “7 Random Facts” project … sharing seven random facts about yourself without revealing any information that could identify you. By request we followed that up by participating with another class in another safety project where the students wrote vignettes about someone NOT being safe online and then wrote a moral to the story. We shared them in a Skype session with the other class. During this time students in my class shared that they had MySpace and other sites that they were really too young to have and that they had taken down inappropriate information about themselves.

The “Around the World with 80 Schools” project this year has been incredible in how it has made my students more aware of world geography as they met and talked with students on almost every continent.

Most recently we are finishing up our Reno Bike Project, project where we are helping a local non-profit organization that rehabilitates old bikes and sells them inexpensively, spread the word to get people to donate bikes to them. The Public Service Announcementand web pages they designed were just published and we are doing some other activities to help get word out.

I’ve left plenty out here to save space, but the point is these students have left a mark, a legacy that will survive their graduation to middle school and beyond. Not only have they done community service that effects their community, but they have participated globally and left the archive for others to ponder and I hope improve on. Most importantly they have vastly improved their writing, research, communication and numerous other skills along the way. They were only held back by my limitations and the limitations of the system.

I’ve learned at least as much as they have and I believe I’m a better teacher for it. I’m chomping at the bit to take what I’ve learned and share it with my new class. As of this writing I’m being moved down to 4th grade again to begin a roll up to 5th and hopefully sixth grade again. I’m really going to miss this class and I want them to know that and to know they have made more of a difference in this world than they realize. They can be proud!

Learning is messy!


What if you come for a shuttle launch and the shuttle doesn’t launch?

A waste of time? Hardly. My trip made people where I’m from more aware of the what school could become. Our local paper did a short article, and although I was supposed to Skype in an interview (the usual “convention effect” bogged the internet to a crawl) I did do a phone interview with a TV station as well. Even before I left on my trip I was asked by teachers and parents to explain what I was doing and what educational impact it could possibly make … so I had those conversations too.

Most importantly I connected with my students and other classrooms, and shared what was going on. It could have been much better. I could have streamed video of some of the events and provided virtual tours of what I saw. I had planned to Skype as well. But between not having someone at my school that could assist on that end, and my concern about bandwidth at an event attended by mega-geeks with big cameras requiring huge file downloads, I knew that would be problematic. That didn’t matter. Through Flickr and our class blog, and wikis to a lesser extent, I connected and assigned writings and research and have a backlog of lesson ideas for science (Spiders In Space! Oh my!) and creative writing and more. When I return to class on Monday we can follow through and expand on what was started.

I might mention that my students are just a bit excited and motivated about the entire experience. Coming into class in the morning to see what I had already left for them on their blogs. To open up Flickr and view the photos I’d posted and continually updated. And then finding out online about things I was seeing and they were seeing pictures of often within minutes of me taking them. Monday I can add the stories behind the pictures and my postings, and in doing so I will be as excited as they are and we will get each other fired up to learn even more.

Tweetup attendees heard from astronauts that have flown on the shuttle. Had the “Spiders In Space” experiment shared with us by the scientist leading the program. The NASA meteorologist explained the weather patterns that effect spaceflight, and on and on.

Being part of the Tweetup also grants you access through your “semi” press badge through guard gates to places most visitors only see from afar. The air-conditioned tent they had set up for us was maybe 100 meters from here:

The Vehicle Assembly Building where the parts of the space shuttle are put together. We got access inside. Besides being amazed at the vastness of the place, you could just grab a glimpse of the Atlantis Shuttle that will launch (the last shuttle launch) scheduled for later this summer where it is being held in place as it is being readied for it’s last trip.

Of course I’m disappointed in not experiencing the launch (there is one more … Hmmm), but this was far from a wasted trip! It was just another messy learning experience!

Learning is messy!

So Simple A Child Could Do It? Or, It Doesn’t Have To Be Hard To Be Good!

I’ve been part of some incredible, and even complicated projects that have utilized combinations of Google Docs, Wikis, Blogs and on and on (we’re part of one now – more on that another time) and have involved students across the country and around the world. But today we (a few of my fifth graders that came in during their lunch recess) did this incredible thing:

We Skyped for 5 minutes with Kathy Cassidy’s 1st grade class and shared what jobs (chores) we do around the house (I even got to share mine!). That was it. 5 minutes, during recess … and the 4 students that came in had smiles as big as the great outdoors … and want to leave comments on their new friends’ blog ASAP (so they would be writing because they want to … with 1st graders! … let it sink in).

AND if you knew the students (well 3 of the 4) that came in … you’d have to know my students real well … that was the biggest part of this story … not the students you would guess IF you knew my students well … the tough guys … the cool people that you would guess would think this was dumb. When everyone came back from recess, you’d never guess what they heard as they entered the door and what they feel left out about now – because these guys were all-stars with 1st graders!

5 Minutes during recess. Because it’s easy … and free … and important in ways so many just don’t get.

Learning is messy … and not always all that hard! : )

My TEDxNYED Talk – Posted

Several weeks ago I had the honor of taking the stage on the 40th floor of  7 World Trade Center in New York to participate in TEDxNYED,  “…  an all-day conference focusing on empowering innovation in education, … being held in New York City on Saturday, March 5, 2011.”

I’d like to thank the organizers that brought me there, they were an incredible group that saw to it that things ran smoothly: Karen Blumberg, Co-Curator The School at Columbia University – Basil Kolani, Co-Curator The Dwight School – Dan Agins Pawcatuck Middle School – Sean Freese Lawrence Woodmere Academy – Kiersten Jennings Chou Independent Curriculum Consultant – Tamara McKenna The Elisabeth Morrow School – Erin Mumford – Nightingale-Bamford School – Jeff Weitz Horace Mann School

As I watched the presenters the themes that were reverberating were change, student centered learning, creativity. Find them here.

I’m afraid I went over my allotted time, a minor glitch with the timer, my fault for not noticing as I started, I take solace in that I’m not the first to do so.  : )

Learning is messy!

Shuttle Launch Experience – What Are The Possibilities For Student Learning?

In my last post I shared that I have this fantastic opportunity to watch the Space Shuttle Endeavour launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida next month. One of the ways this new pedagogy changes things is in how my students can be included in my trip.

If I really manage to go (at best a 50-50 possibility because of budget freezes here) my students would learn about the Space Shuttle program, Cape Canaveral and other topics associated with the trip before I ever left. We would travel there through photos, but also via Google Earth – Where is this place? – why did they choose the eastern Florida coast to launch spacecraft from? We drop right down on the roof of our classroom and travel to locations and back when we Skype to build those geography skills and schema, so we would do that for this trip too. My students all have their own blogs, so I can post photos, videos, blog posts about what I am learning, topics for them to do research on. I will be able to post all my photos and even video on our class Flickr page (often within minutes of taking them) – the students could be asked to make a slideshow – write captions for the photos or any number or possible writing projects or research projects.

NASA is asking me to be there to use Twitter to report out what I am doing, seeing and learning. But I would blog about it and would hope to Skype back to my class to share with them, answer questions and maybe do on-the-spot interviews with some of the people I am supposed to meet there. My students are used to taking notes during Skype-conferences and when we have guests in our class, and this would be no different. I could have it set-up with my substitute that I would call the school and let them know to get on Skype and expect a call.

Students could even have pre-written questions to ask – what would they like to know if they get to interview an astronaut or scientist or anyone else that works there? If NASA would allow it I could use a video streaming application like USTREAM to broadcast out so other classrooms could take part … later they could even share blog posts and comments about what they learned with the classes we connect with all the time. All those students have access to our Flickr pages as well – so they could utilize our photos for their learning.

The point is, my students would not be waiting for me to return to find out what happened during the trip – to learn during the trip … they would participate before, during and after. I can comment on their blogs (even grade them), think of new assignments to give them while I am still in Florida, and my students are learning about a place they can only imagine about now. There are so many other possible ways to include them (and feel free to think out loud in the comments). And we do these things often, so this is not pie-in-the-sky – this is what we do as a big part of our learning. Things really have changed since we went to school haven’t they?

Learning is messy!