Tag: web 2.0 (page 3 of 6)

Tools for Developing 21st Century Skills: Creativity and Innovation

We are rethinking our technology professional learning in Birdville. New courses (including online, Moodle-based classes and webinars presented through eLuminate), revisions of existing ones, and an emphasis on helping our teachers develop 21st century skills for themselves and our students are among the changes. This emphasis on 21st century skills will be the focus of this series of posts. I will try to first explain what this means, then try to share some tools that fit into the curriculum and can encourage the development of specific skills.

What Are 21st Century Skills?

First of all, it should be acknowledged that some within the field of education are reluctant to even use this phrase. They assert that we are a decade into the century, therefore the term is in desperate need of a replacement. Personally, I think this is largely posturing. We have another 90 years remaining in the century, and, although the skills our students will need in the decades to come will evolve and have likely not been imagined yet, it is still a good way of communicating the need to move beyond the outdated applications of technology still apparent in many schools and far beyond the basic skills many classrooms emphasize in this NCLB world.

Two useful resources for identifying 21st century skills in their current incarnation are from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the International Society for Technology in Education. The Partnership, comprised of business leaders, educators, and policymakers, put together their Framework for 21st Century Learning, which includes descriptions of student skills as well as support systems that must be in place for their development. ISTE, in the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS are also available for teachers and administrators), outlines five categories of needed skills, including:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Technology Operations and Concepts

Creativity and Innovation

ISTE further breaks down the meaning of creativity and innovation:

Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. Students:

  • apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.
  • create original works as a mean of personal or group expression.
  • use models and simulations to explore complex systems.
  • identify trends and forecast possibilities.

It is no secret that creativity has taken its share of lumps in the past decade. Schools, faced with financial strain and immense pressure to perform on tests assessing only traditional subjects, slash or cut fine arts programs. This leaves teachers in traditional subjects with the responsibility for doing whatever they can to promote creativity and artistic expression. Technology programs have suffered, too, eliminating courses that have promoted higher-level applications and innovation. Fortunately, there are tools and strategies available whereby teachers can promote these skills within their curriculum. As an added benefit, these tools are relevant and highly motivating to students, leading to high levels of engagement in learning (Did I miss any buzzwords there?).

Collaboration and Brainstorming

It is no secret that great ideas are usually the result of great planning (Apples falling on one’s head being an exception, certainly.) and, very often, the result of collaborative effort. The following sites offer tools for sorting out problems, brainstorming, experimenting, and communicating with other learners.

  • Solvr–really interesting site allows a user to enter a problem to be solved. A unique URL is created that can be shared with collaborators, who can ask questions, make suggestions, etc. Comments are nested and organized to help the group find solutions.
  • Decidealready–similar to Solvr, users enter a question, then possible solutions. Collaborators can rate solutions, offer feedback, alternative solutions, etc.
  • Wallwisher–very easy to use site. Post a question or topic, share the url, and visitors can add comments, share images, videos, links, etc.
  • Twiddla–allows groups to collaborate in a virtual whiteboard environment, including the ability to use voice conferencing, share images, share video, and more.
  • Bubbl.us–create and collaborate on Flash-based mind maps.
  • Webspiration–online version of popular Inspiration and Kidspiration software. Allows for collaborative brainstorming/mind-mapping, outline creation, more.


This holds a particularly dear spot in my heart, as I once dreamed of becoming an artist (or a professional bass fisherman). Expressing oneself through visual arts not only benefits those who get to enjoy the final product, it also stretches the mind and the imagination. Students need opportunities to share ideas, visions, opinions, and viewpoints in ways other than the written word. The following sites offer such opportunities to individuals or groups of students.

  • Bomono–lets students create and save abstract works using a variety of tools. Controls are not extremely precise, but the results can be very interesting.
  • ArtPad–simple painting tool that lets users use either brushes or splatter effects with various sizes and colors. Saving is a bit problematic, as users have to have an email address (and one for a friend–teacher’s would work) where the works will be sent. (Of course, there are numerous screen capture tools that can get around this.) The example to the right was created in a few minutes at this site.
  • Virtual Lite-Brite–easy to use replica of an old favorite. Saving requires screen grab or capture, however.
  • Yourstudio–really cool painting tool with a variety of brushes, rollers, spray cans, etc. Users can also choose a variety of surfaces upon which to paint, and creations can be saved.
  • Scribbler–Site transforms simple sketch drawings into hard to describe creations that look a bit like the drawing done as a spider web. Printing is done via right-click, but saving is, again, not built-in. Still, scores high on the interestingness scale.
  • Pixlr–My favorite art creation site. This one is suitable even for advanced students (probably more so). It resembles an online version of Photoshop, and lets users create, save, and print original works from scratch or using uploaded images. Very powerful!
  • Twitdraw–lets users create collaborative drawings using Twitter followers as fellow collaborators.


Music offers another means of creatively exploring our world and ourselves. Many students express themselves better through music than they ever would by writing an essay. The following are tools for encouraging and enabling students to create musical products.

  • Kisstunes–wonderfully easy site uses keyboard to create music. Compose, save, and share music (requires registration). Here’s my brief first try (Not one lesson!).
  • Glitchscape–very unusual music creation tool in which users draw shapes on a grid, which then become sounds. If you’re into techno, this is the site for you. My example.
  • Noteflight–this one is a bit more advanced (Actual knowledge of scales, chords, and notes is a big plus–thus the reason I won’t be sharing my example.), and it does require registration, but the possibilities make it worth it. Create, share, and export original pieces –very powerful tool!
  • Jamstudio–This one made me feel like I knew what I was doing (Allow me to dream.). Requires registration, but it makes it so easy to create professional sounding music, it is definitely worth it! Choose from a variety of instruments, tempos, moods, etc.


The next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs may well be sitting in your classroom today. Wouldn’t it be amazing if he or she, as they stood before a breathless audience to announce their next must-have technology, said, “And I owe it all to my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, who sparked my interest in programming with that assignment to create a video game about the Civil War.” (Hopefully, this recognition would also include a substantial discount, at the very least.) Programming is seen by most of us as something beyond our capabilities. However, it is really nothing more than creating a set of instructions that tells a computer what to do. Fortunately, there are sites that offer this ability in a simplified way, allowing students to get their first taste of the possibilities.

  • Scratch–Free, downloadable tool from MIT that lets students create interactive animations, music, stories.
  • Alice–Free 3D programming tool from Carnegie Mellon University for creating and sharing games, animations, videos, etc.
  • Blender–Powerful, free tool allowing more advanced students to create 3D images, videos.
  • YoYo Games –Site provides downloads, wiki, community resources for creating and sharing games online.
  • Challenge You–Online tool for creating and sharing video stories and games. Kid-friendly user agreement is a plus!
  • Sploder–Interesting new site (still in beta) that uses a drag-and-drop interface to create games.


Animation is an exciting form of digital storytelling. There is a great deal that goes into creating a good animated product, including writing a story/script, storyboard creation, and working through the actions of characters. The following are a few of the tools available for creating animated pieces.

  • GoAnimate–Fairly easy online cartoon and animation creation tool. Includes large variety of settings, characters, props, even background music.
  • Kerpoof–Site uses drag-and-drop of characters and props to an action timeline to create animated stories. Users can accumulate rating points to earn credits that can buy additional items. Requires registration.
  • Fluxtime Studio–Kid-centered site that lets even young users create and share animations, either alone or collaboratively. Site also features periodic animation contests on a variety of topics.
  • Xtranormal–Relatively simple tool that lets users select settings, characters, actions, and emotions, then use text-to-speech to add conversations to animated stories. Site also features one-click sharing to YouTube.

3-D Design

These tools allow students to create 3-dimensional models of buildings and other objects. This is not only a good way to promote creativity and innovation, but it can also help reinforce math concepts, physics, and other important skills.

  • Google Sketchup–Free download from Google allows users to create 3D models. There is a little bit of a learning curve here, and it might be best suited for middle school and up, but there are some great possibilities for its application.
  • Architect Studio 3D–Cool online resource that lets users design a home in the tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright. Users have to consider client needs, setting, etc. when creating the house. Step-by-step design wizard is nice and user-friendly.


Hopefully, there are some tools listed here that have clear potential in just about any curriculum. It takes very little effort on the part of the teacher to tear up the paper test or worksheet and offer an alternative that is more engaging and in line with our modern world. There is a hint of risk-taking every time we do something new, but with risk comes reward. My next post in this series will address tools for collaboration and communication. In the meantime, realizing that this is but a tiny sampling of the tools that are out there, please join in the conversation by adding your thoughts or favorite sites.

Additional Resources:

100 Essential Web 2.0 Tools for Educators–good list of useful resources.

Collaboration Tools by Robin Good–nice collection of group collaboration links.

Cool Tools for Schools–huge assortment of Web 2.0 resources in a wide range of categories.

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day–I swear Larry doesn’t sleep. This is one of my main go-to sites for online resources of virtually any educational application.

Animation Fun with Xtranormal

There are growing numbers of Web-based tools for creating animated stories today. When combined with good writing instruction, these offer a motivating and engaging means for students to publish and share their work. One interesting tool I just discovered, thanks to a teacher at one of my campuses, is Xtranormal. Xtranormal allows users to create animated stories including a variety of settings and characters, computer generated voices, character animations, facial expressions, background music, and more. Stories can be private or public, and they can be published easily to YouTube accounts. The site also includes a rating system, including G, 13+, and 18+, and users can select account settings to allow or block content rated for older audiences.

The user interface is relatively easy to learn. To begin, creating a movie involves selecting a story’s characters and setting (such as animated animals, super heroes, etc.). Within a chosen scene, users are then able to choose various camera angles and specific characters. Once the scene is set, characters are put into action by clicking to select and then typing dialogue. Animated effects and facial expressions are added by inserting the cursor into the desired point in the dialogue box, then clicking on the effects icons and selecting the desired options.

Xtranormal workspace

Xtranormal workspace

I created the video below in just a few minutes. It is included as part one of a series (assuming I get around to creating more), another cool feature of the site.

Overall, I really like the possibilities of Xtranormal. There is one animation effect called “up yours”, and you can probably imagine the accompanying effect, so be forewarned. Other than that, however, it appears to be very kid friendly, and would seem to be particularly useful for upper elementary through high school students. If interested in exploring other animation sites, here are a few more you might want to check out:

TCEA Areas 10/11 Conference Links

Thanks to all who participated in my sessions/workshop today at the area TCEA conference. As promised, here are the links to the resources that were shared and a few more. Let me know if I can provide anything else! Also, if you attended either my own session on Voicethread or another on the tool, please add your implementation ideas to the Voicethread Wallwisher wall below. Thanks again!

Workshop: Collaborative Storytelling with Voicethread

Image collections

Not Again! Presentation Tools That Aren’t Just Another PowerPoint

PowerPoint sharing/collaboration/tools

Alternatives to PowerPoint

Spread the Word: Generating School or Classroom Buzz with Web 2.0


Social Networks

Video Sites for Creating Your Own Channel

Streaming Video Channels


21st Century Skills Resources

    Two New Tools Poised for Big Impact in BISD

    Much of my existence at work at the moment is preoccupied with the implementation of two new tools. The first is a subscription-based school website service, Schoolwires. The second is a new student email service from Microsoft, Live@Edu. Both tools hold a great deal of promise for facilitating and enhancing communication within the district and beyond. The task for my own department at the moment is to provide support and training for the implementation of each and to provide guidance for the most effective use of both tools. I’ll be sharing more about the latter topic in the weeks ahead, undoubtedly.

    For those unfamiliar with these tools, a brief synopsis is in order. I’ll begin with Schoolwires, as it has been my primary focus for the past month or so. At its most basic level, Schoolwires is providing our district with an online website-construction platform. Our users can login from any Internet-connected computer and edit their designated sites. The interface is relatively simple to learn, with many of the familiar, Windows-esque icons found in typical Office applications. Teachers can easily add text, links, images, videos, etc. Feedback has been almost universally positive, particularly from a convenience standpoint. In addition to basic content, what has me most excited about the service is that teachers can easily incorporate several Web 2.0 tools in their sites. Schoolwires has a tool for creating blog pages, for instance. This tool is very simple and streamlined, and includes capabilities to moderate discussions or to allow only specific categories of users to view posts (teachers, parents, students, etc.). Additionally, teachers can very quickly and easily add podcasts to a dedicated page, complete with buttons to subscribe via RSS or iTunes. RSS icons appear on other pages, as well, such as assignments pages and class calendars. Using these types of tools has been much more labor-intensive or required using sites outside of the classroom pages previously used in the district, so the potential is there for much greater implementation and impact.

    Microsoft’s Live@Edu is a relatively new, free (yes, free…from Microsoft!) service from the company. Although I referred to it as a student email service, that really sells the product short. In addition to email, Live@Edu provides students with online versions of Office applications, which can be used collaboratively, similar to Google Docs or Zoho. Also, students each have 26 gigs of online storage, eliminating the need for thumb drives or burning work to CDs. Files may be private, public, or shared. These features hold great promise for making learning collaborative and anytime, anywhere experiences. It should be mentioned that Live@Edu works with our existing Microsoft Exchange service, meaning that updating accounts will be faster and easier than with previous tools we’ve tried. We will be continuing to refine our district standards for the use of the tools, and I will share these refinements as they come about. At the moment, we will be focusing on equipping teachers and students to utilize the Live@Edu tools in the most effective ways possible. Suggestions are, as always, very welcome!

    Cool Tools Duel: Dean Shareski & Alec Couros

    Here is the live blog listing the sites/tools shared at the TCEA Region 7 Conference last Friday.

    • 3:42 PM: rrodgers Shareski: CoolIris
    • 3:43 PM: rrodgers Couros: presenti.io
    • 3:44 PM: rrodgers includes conferencing (audio and chat) features
    • 3:45 PM: rrodgers Couros: Skitch
    • 3:46 PM: rrodgers Shareski: Picnik
    • 3:49 PM: rrodgers Shareski: Jing Project
    • 3:51 PM: rrodgers Couros: ScreenCastle
    • 3:53 PM: rrodgers Couros: EverNote
    • 3:56 PM: rrodgers Shareski: Doodle (meeting scheduler)
    • 4:00 PM: rrodgers Shareski: Google mobile
    • 4:00 PM: rrodgers Couros: Qik
    • 4:06 PM: rrodgers Couros: Tinychat
    • 4:07 PM: rrodgers Rodgers (guest dueler): Glogster, Voki
    • 4:07 PM: rrodgers Shareski: geoGreeting (Uses Google maps mashup to create text from building images)
    • 4:09 PM: rrodgers Couros: Greasemonkey addon for Firefox (shared Twitter Google search, Flickr attribution scripts)
    • 4:12 PM: rrodgers Couros: type “pwn” before YouTube link to be able to download vids
    • 4:14 PM: rrodgers Shareski: Tubechop (cut out parts of vids)
    • 4:17 PM: rrodgers Shareski: blip.fm (my kryptonite)
    • 4:19 PM: rrodgers Couros: Hulu
    • 4:20 PM: rrodgers Couros: Polleverywhere

    2008-2009 Technology Integration Progress Report

    report cardThe 2008-2009 school year saw some exciting developments in the use of technology in Birdville schools, and there are increasing signs that many teachers and administrators here no longer view technology as an exciting addition, but as a critical necessity. Among other trends, the district witnessed explosive growth in the number of students enrolled in online courses. A new digital media system will make storing and retrieval of digital content faster and accessible from any Internet-connected computer. Video is gaining momentum rapidly, as more campuses add webcams and small, portable video cameras to the arsenals of teachers and students.

    Web 2.0 tools also continue their steady infiltration of the day-to-day activities of students, teachers, and administrators. Our department launched a very successful program to educate administrators on a wide variety of educational technologies this year. Called Lunch and Learn, the program offered short (1 hour) introductions to technology over a gourmet lunch (usually pizza). The response was very positive, and plans are under way to continue the program next year.

    The 12 Second Tech Challenge was started on a whim as an effort to encourage reluctant teachers to try new tools in short bursts. I offered the challenges (and possible prizes, such as web cams, graphics tablets, wireless presenter mice, etc.) to my own campuses, and I received excellent participation and feedback asking for more. I am hopeful that the project will be a district-wide offering next year.

    Numerous Web 2.0 tools have gained a significant foothold in the teaching practices of our district campuses. Blogging and wikis continue to have a significant impact. Two campuses, for instance, established student news sites using Edublogs. Students published researched stories, conducted interviews, reported on school events, and incorporated videos of campus events. Twitter is beginning to be utilized in exciting ways. As examples, a middle school teacher (Twitter name foxworth) utilized the tool to communicate news and course information to students and parents. Several campuses, such as Birdville High School and Holiday Heights Elementary, are using Twitter to broadcast campus events and announcements to parents and the community. Ustream was used by the technology department, campuses, and several teachers to stream class and district events, training, and more. The availability of YouTube in the district let teachers and students access powerful educational videos and, even more exciting, to create and share their own work with a global audience. Communication tools, such as Skype, Dimdim, and Mebeam allowed classes to collaborate with other students in distant locations and teachers to attend training (see below) from the comfort of their classrooms.

    Student creativity was encouraged through the use of online tools such as Glogster, Animoto, and VoiceThread. Online office applications began to be utilized, with tools such as Google Forms showing particular promise for conducting surveys, gathering data, assessing student progress, etc. The online quiz tool MyStudiyo gained a following among teachers who incorporated the interactive products into class websites and blogs.

    The list could certainly go on, but this gives a good, general view of some of the exciting ways teachers and administrators have taken to the use of Web-based instructional tools in the district. Were I to create a “grade” for our progress, I’d give us a solid B+. Our faculties are showing tremendous creativity and enthusiasm, but the utilization of technology needs to see continued growth in the coming year. Far too many of our classrooms are still the domain of well-intended but out-dated practices, resources, and curriculums. The encouraging thing to witness is the fire that is spreading from small sparks of innovation, and the potential exists for a blaze of 21st Century teaching and learning to engulf the classrooms of our district.

    Letter to a Parent

    Not directed at anyone in particular…

    Dear Parent,

    You are, first of all, the type of caring parent every child needsleaping child and deserves. You want what is best for your son or daughter’s healthy growth and bright and happy future. You wish to protect them from as much of the harmful, ugly badness that permeates so much of the world. Thank you for loving your child so much–such attitudes produce strong, successful students!

    Recently, you discovered that your child’s school has the Internet, and even more shocking, you found that anyone could get into YouTube through a simple search. You also quickly tested the site and found that objectionable videos could be accessed by merely typing in the right search term. Justifiably, you are very concerned about this scenario. You wonder how a school can allow such potential harm to befall its students. You even begin to consider what steps might be taken to remove this horrible threat. Should other parents be recruited and organized?

    Before you go farther in your commendable zealousness to protect your child, please consider several points in favor of keeping such a frightening site unblocked.

    1. Educational content. YouTube has thousands upon thousands of outstanding educational clips and full-length videos, from such reputable producers as NASA, National Geographic, and the BBC. It is an excellent resource for today’s student to find videos that supplement written materials in their research. Taking this to an even loftier perch, YouTube EDU now offers actual videos of courses being taught at the biggest and best universities on the planet. You’re child can begin learning from Ivy League teachers while in elementary school!
    2. Global connections. YouTube allows users to create personal accounts and channels. A teacher might use such a channel, for instance, to share student videos with a world-wide, authentic audience. A viewer in China might be provoked to leave a comment or ask a question, leading to real dialogue between students on opposite sides of the earth. It happens everyday!
    3. Creativity. YouTube offers students a place to become inspired and motivated to express their own creativity. It also offers a unique and very relevant platform for putting their creativity on display. Creativity, it is fair to say, is a skillset that receives far too little attention in classes today, yet is vital to student success and opportunity beyond the classroom.
    4. Digital wisdom. Filters, vigilant teachers, and monitoring software work wonderfully in our district to create an atmosphere that discourages or even prevents students from getting into “trouble” while using the Internet. These tools are worthless, however, when the student is on his own. At home, at the library, at a friends house…these are the places where research shows a student is far more likely to experience harmful or inappropriate content on the Internet. By teaching responsible use and allowing enough freedom for students to demonstrate integrity while online, schools become partners in bringing up young people who will use the Web safely and respond appropriately when danger appears. Research also has demonstrated the value of such an approach over tightly locking down the Internet filter.

    Most of all, please remember that we love and care for your child, too. Our goals are similar to your own, and we wish nothing more than to see your young man or woman grow up happy, healthy, and safely. We also wish for them to be successfully able to cope with the evolving, increasingly digital stream of information and communication that they will be faced with, and we believe being proactively educational is preferred to simply locking the gates to keep the wolves out. Part of being a citizen in this century is knowing how to utilize its vast resources ethically and responsibly, and we wish to be a partner in assuring that.


    Your Child’s School

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