Saturday, February 28, 2009

Google Never Forgets


Copied in it's entirety from Seth Godin's blog this short post will be featured prominently in the next conversation I have with my students around digital ethics.

A friend advertised on Craigslist for a housekeeper.

Three interesting resumes came to the top. She googled each person's name.

The first search turned up a MySpace page. There was a picture of the applicant, drinking beer from a funnel. Under hobbies, the first entry was, "binge drinking."

The second search turned up a personal blog (a good one, actually). The most recent entry said something like, "I am applying for some menial jobs that are below me, and I'm annoyed by it. I'll certainly quit the minute I sell a few paintings."

And the third? There were only six matches, and the sixth was from the local police department, indicating that the applicant had been arrested for shoplifting two years earlier.

Three for three.

Google never forgets.

Of course, you don't have to be a drunk, a thief or a bitter failure for this to backfire. Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you're on Candid Camera, because you are.

Photo Credit: Candid Camera by flickr user pragmatopian

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Great Tweets: #gr8t


Last summer in Boston at the Building Learning Communities conference, chatting over drinks with David Truss and a few other folks, David suggested an idea riffing off of the 365 Days meme on flickr. Now a year is a major commitment for this so we settled on one month.

Dave authoured a beautiful introduction to the idea:

For the month of March, a group of educators and lifelong learners will be picking a "Tweet of the day" and ReTweeting it with the hash tag: #gr8t Hopefully, you will join us in doing this too.

There are a number of reasons why you might want to participate:

  • To share what you value about twitter.
  • To see what others value about twitter.
  • To celebrate the power and wisdom of your Personal Learning Network.
  • To find interesting people to follow on Twitter.

My choice for what to retweet with #gr8t will be a Tweet that I find interesting, or insightful, or humorous. It might link to something I enjoyed reading, or it might have something profound or even fortune-cookie-like that appeals to me:

There aren't really any rules to participate: Find a tweet you value, and share it via twitter! End your Great Tweet with this hash tag: #gr8t

It'll automatically show up on the Gr8Tweets wiki and on twitter searches for others to see and share.

I'm looking forward to sharing the Gr8tweets that I find, at least one daily for the month of March, and I'm hoping you will join me and share what you find. Feel free to follow Gr8tweets on Twitter and Gr8tweets will follow you back, (this part is totally optional).

Even if you aren't on twitter or you don't want to participate, be sure to check out the Gr8Tweets wiki and see some of the reasons why so many educators are finding Twitter a valuable tool!

@everyone Looking forward to reading your great tweets! #gr8t

Photo: tweet by flickr user Helga's Lobster Stew

Sunday, February 08, 2009

My Class Blogs: Part 1


On Monday two new blogs started up, the AP Calculus AB: Without Bound blog is still going strong.

This is what I did the weekend before the blogs went live:


I decided on a course tag. This has become fairly routine now. I've got it down to a system. I know my students will be blogging and will have at least one assignment on flickr, at least one project on a wiki, and one major open ended project where they may use any of a variety of tools freely available on the net. The course tag allows us to identify our work as ours and aggregate it through RSS and Google Alerts. I try to chose tags that are unlikely to be chosen by anyone else, anywhere, and are meaningful to me and my students.

My Pre-Cal 40S (Winter 2009) class tag is: pc40sw09

My Applied Math 40S (Winter 2009) class tag is: am40sw09

The AP Calculus AB 2008 class tag is: apcalc2008 (that's not so unique actually, need to work on this for next year)


I use Blogger for all my class blogs. I sometimes use their pre-set templates and sometimes search the net for a different, but compatible, Blogger template. Generaly, the Applied Math class is my template laboratory. I have one blog each semester where I use a non-standard Blogger template to play with different design ideas and stay fresh and up-to-date with editing templates. I've learned lots of html and css this way.


Once the template is chosen I head over to flickr and do a creative commons search for an eye catching picture of an open window. I started doing this last year. The picture brands the blogs from each school year with a visual cue that allows me to reuse templates from year to year while maintaining a certain distinctiveness for each year's set of classes.

Why an "open window?" Because all my class blogs share this descriptive text:

A window through the walls of our classroom. This is an interactive learning ecology for students and parents in my Pre-Cal Math 40S class. This ongoing dialogue is as rich as YOU make it. Visit often and post your comments freely.


my email address
At the top of the sidebar I publish my email address. Students will need this from day one and periodically throughout the semester. Sometimes, years after they've been in my class they come back to their class blogs to get my email address to get in touch with me. The email address is typed this way: dkuropatwa {at} gmail {dot} com to cut down on spam bots harvesting it. I get spam anyways, but gmail is really quite good at filtering most of it out.

translation tool
Right underneath my email address I install a Google Translation Gadget. It's been estimated that collectively the students at my school speak 55 different languages and share 10 different religions. It is my hope that this increases accessibility for their parents. Also, about 33% of our students are non-native speakers of English. And it's wicked cool.

Visitor Map
The next down the sidebar is a ClusterMap. This allows us to see where we've had visitors from as the semester progresses. Students are often fascinated to see how we get hits only from Winnipeg in the first few days of class and then start to collect hits from around the world. While some of these hits are random visitors (hit and run) many aren't. I use my professional blog, and sometimes twitter, to point other people to some of the excellent work my students are doing. (Yesterday's scribe post in the Pre-Cal 40S class was fantastic! It quickly generated quite a few comments amongst the students in the class, some of whom want to learn html skills from the scribe.)

Never underestimate the importance of "audience" in motivating kids to do good work; not for marks, but for social credit. Leveraging "social credit" to motivate kids to learn is an underutilized force in school, but that's a topic for another day.

AnswerTips widget
Next down the sidebar I install the Answer Tips widget. It makes every word written on the blog clickable. Try it. I've got it installed on this blog too. Any time anyone double clicks a word a popup window tells you the meaning, pronunciation (often with an audio sample), and links to further sources. When I demoed this functionality in my first class of the semester the students gasped. One said, "This totally owns the physics blog!"

I like using the AnswerTips widget to emphasize the importance of spelling ("If you don't spell it right the widget won't work.") and sometimes publish vocabulary words on the blog that students learn about through clicking.

equation editor
Next, for my math blogs, is the SITMO Equation Editor. An elegant solution to adding mathematical expressions to blog posts, or any website really. It's very easy and intuitive to use and the kids learn something about LaTeX (<-- double click that word) incidentally as they use it. I like incidental learning.

Lastly, I enable Labels, Blogger's version of categories in WordPress. I keep them sorted alphabetically. Labels are really important in the way we organize information on the blog.


Students will essentially do two sorts of writing on the blog:

(1) Scribe Posts: a daily summary of what was learned in class each day. Authoured by students for students. Each scribe selects the scribe for the following day. Over the course of a semester, in a class of about 25, each student will authour at least three but no more than four of these. Fewer students/class increases the number of scribe posts/student. These posts are labeled: Scribe Post.

(2) Reflections: Before each unit test each student must publish to the blog a brief post outlining their personal muddiest point in the class so far. I ask them to do this up to 3 days before the unit test so I can address these issues in class. This is worth one mark on the unit test. Some students publish their reflections the morning of the test. That's OK to get the one mark, unfortunately they miss out on clearing up the other confusions they may have to get many more marks. It's their choice. These posts are labeled: Reflection (in the past we've labeled them BOB).

Students are free to publish anything else they like to the blog as long as it's connected to our class. If they do I ask them to label it: On My Mind. (This is new this semester.)

Every time a student publishes anything on the blog they must include exactly three labels:

(1) The type of post: Scribe Post, Reflection, or On My Mind.

(2) The title of the unit of study it relates to. e.g. Circular Functions, Matrices, etc.

(3) Their name; first name only.

If they don't label their posts properly they cannot receive any marks for it. It's the same as putting your name on work before handing it in. I can't give someone any marks if I don't know whose work it is, even if they handed it in. Scribe posts are worth 5% of their class mark as a completion grade. When the class excels at scribing, which is more often than not, I raise that to 10% to recognize the good work they've done.


The first post is published to the blog before I ever meet my classes. It's become pretty standard for me now. With only very few modifications it's pretty much the same each semester. I always include a link to the course outline and, of course, I publish the SMARTboard slides from each day's class to the blog so students can review anything we discussed at their leisure, now or five months from now when they are preparing for their exams.

Their first night's homework consists of three things:

(1) Email me. This is so I can copy & paste their email addresses into an invitation to join the blog. (In Blogger go to: Settings > Permissions > scroll down and invite new authours.

(2) Get a Google account. We make use of a suite of Google Tools and they need it to ...

(3) get a Blogger account.

I've made short screencasts (that need updating — I had a cold when I first made them) using Jing that illustrate how to sign up for Google and Blogger accounts. Links to them are embeded in the slides from the first class which are published on the blog.


In my next post in this series I'll talk about the first few days of class and the first few posts I make to the blog as we get organized for the semester. I'll also share how I deal with certain pitfalls like students that don't have computers, email accounts, hit technical snags, or don't register for the blog.

CJOB Literacy Panel Audio


So we talked for 2 hours ... when you take out all the commercials it's a little less than an hour. I didn't think I expressed myself very well this time out. The conversation felt a little fractured, like we kept losing focus. There was one moment when I completely forgot what I was going to say. What I meant to share, in the context of how important a caring adult is in the life of a successful student, was this:

A while ago a colleague of mine called home to speak to the parents of one of her students. This student had started missing some classes and she was concerned about their progress in math:

"Hello, Mrs. J. I'm your son's math teacher. I just wanted to let you know that he's missed a few classes and I'm starting to get concerned about his progress in the class. I ..."

"Tell it to someone who cares!"

Here's the audio: (59 min 38 sec, Download, 29 Mb)

Learning about learning ...

While walking ...
Best viewed "full screen." (Click on bottom right corner of any video when playing.)

With pictures ...
Best viewed "full screen." (Click on bottom right corner of any image when playing.)

Curating discoveries ...

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

My Class Blogs

Class Blog 2004-2005
Class Blogs 2005 - 2006
Class Blogs 2006 - 2007
Class Blogs 2007 - 2008
Class Blogs 2008 - 2009

Delicious Links