The Strength of Weak Ties

Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward...and actually accomplish something!

Monday, March 27, 2006

33 Days of Wikis

By way of The Social Software Weblog, comes an interesting project documenting "a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration." Eastwikkers is examining 33 wikis, one featured each day (they are in day 4), and they're looking at what the wiki is for, why they like it, and what we can learn from it. This might be a nice resource to follow if you are interested in wiki technology and it will be interesting to see the conclusions of their examination and how they might apply to education.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Uh oh-Another Flickr Post

Anyone who reads my blog knows I'm a big fan of Flickr and of digital storytelling. With the risk or irritating Miguel (grin), I'd like to share a project that one of our health teachers, Mr. Ted Glazier is doing with his sophomore health students. Ted's work has been featured before in this blog, and in David Warlick's.

Before I talk about the project, let me examine two criticisms of a digital storytelling project like this that takes advantage of the Web's best collection of digital photography.

1. it takes too long, and I don't have the time
2. Flickr is inappropriate for use in schools

Well, if you are concerned about time, especially as it relates to meeting curricular standards that are associated with high-stakes testing, go on to the next entry in your aggregator. However, you actually might want to stick around, because I'll be talking about basically a four period digital storytelling project, where a period is a 50 minute class.

And if you can't use Flickr in your district or you don't think it's appropriate, or if you get frustrated when I talk about it, then you might want to move on. But wait-maybe not. I'll be talking about a resource of images, selected by the teacher, which students select from.

Okay, here's the project. It's called: Putting a Face on Statistics

Ted teaches about addictions and he talks about escalating drug use, and that entry level drugs (alcohol, marijuana) can lead to even more serious addicitions.

The project began with kids doing some Flicktion. If you don't know about this, it's the intersection of Flickr images and fiction (see the Flicktion images I have selected on my Flickr page at JOL). People post a starter sentence in the comments window of a Flickr image, and others continue the story through the addition of more comments. We didn't do that, we simply showed this image (if you can't get it at school, be sure to look at home-it's heart-wrenching and one of the comments indicates that this person may have been a teacher) and had kids develop a story about the image. We did this to help them understand how to interpret a digital image to tell a story, a skill that will serve them well in the next part of the project. And we got great stuff.

So, the kids have researched these addictions previously as part of another assignment and have written a short paper on these. From this paper they will distill a 6-7 sentence script, and use about 10 images from the pool Ted has selected and that are delivered via a shared class folder on our network. The pool contains about 40 images-we decided not to wait for someone to develop an educational app for Flickr, we just did this simple thing ourselves. They then will use Photostory 3 (absolutely no open source for us, we just use Microsoft stuff-wait, would you consider Flickr to be open-source? If so, then we do.) to build a very simple digital story where they will include two slides of statistics, 10 images from the pool, onboard music from Photostory 3, and their voice that will tell the story of the addiction and the statitics, but now with a visual face. It will be interesting to see how the same images get used in different ways.

The kids will then, as homework, be required to engage in a metacognitive evaluation of why they selected the images that they did.

All images selected for the shared photo resource have come from the attribution pool of Flickr. Ted saved the images, and when he did, he added the name of the photographer (Flickr screen name) so the kids can include an attribution image in their project. By doing this, Ted can also teach them about intellectual property rights and creative commons licensing.

We'll also be able to share them.

Writing. More writing. Critical Thinking. Composition. Visual Literacy. Empowering Creativity. Understanding intellectual property rights. Learning new software, that can be downloaded and used for other projects and for personal use to encourage the development of individual voice, and in fact, a competitive voice.

An appropriate use of digital storytelling that addresses the time issue? Yes. A safe use of Flickr that takes advantage of high quality imagery? Yes. A project filled with essential skills-YES! (don't look now-how many of these skills transfer to standardized testing?)

Good teaching? Absolutely.

Digital Soft-telling?

Co-published at

Digital storytelling has been receiving a tremendous amount of play recently in the blogosphere and at conferences. You might even say it’s the next newest bandwagon (move over, podcasting! Here comes DST!). In my district, we have had a digital storytelling program for almost three years, with some phenomenal products being produced. During that time, we were faced, like most who are now initiating programs, with justifying such an activity against the pressure to perform on standardized tests.

We’ve come to grips with this by focusing on the fundamental premise that every activity like digital storytelling is grounded in a literacy that we believe in, and that those literacies can help students succeed in a variety of learning situations, testing included. In this case, two very important literacies are embodied within digital storytelling: writing and the ability to locate, interpret and use visual imagery.

Why do we do digital storytelling? I tell everyone this: it improves writing skills (it does and we have evidence) and it makes students more visually literate. But there is more. Something much more powerful…

So I’ve been watching the SITE conference in Orlando very closely because they have many presentations on digital storytelling going on (see the conference blog here), and also because Wes Fryer is there, which means I can expect a detailed and thoughtful blog entry about the various presentations he attends, and I can learn something.

One comment, buried in one of his posts, caught my eye.

(Don’t worry Wes, the comments to follow are not directed not at you but at whoever expressed them-I won’t shoot the messenger.)

Here it is:

This seems so “soft” to many academics and others.

Soft? You’ve never composed a digital story, have you? Until you have, you have absolutely no standing to make that comment. And have you seen kids do a digital story? Have you spent an entire day taking four pages of narrative to ¾ of a page? Have you seen kids use five software programs simultaneously when working on their story? Have you seen a kid do 21 redrafts to get their script right, without being asked? And have their teachers roll-up their sleeves and provide feedback on all of those, because it’s that important, but you know, that’s just one kid, and it looks like it’s gonna be a long night, because there are 28 more to go? Have you kicked kids out of a packed library at 6:30 pm because they’re staying after school because the story is about them and it has to be perfect, only to see the same kids lined up at 7 am waiting for the library to open? Have you seen senior AP Biology kids three weeks from graduation lose it because the project demands are that intense? Have you ever worked with a kid who is autistic who has had to record their voice-over, and does it? Is that soft? Or a kid that can’t find the words but is using a digital story to reconnect with estranged siblings? Does soft describe that? And have you ever sat next to someone who is confronting a life-threatening illness, and doing so by creating a digital story, who can barely get through the voice-over because of the emotion, and you have to get up and walk away because you just can’t find the words to console her?


That’s funny.

All of us must deal with standards-based education. It’s a reality. But when you don’t do things like this, when you don’t give kids the opportunity, when you don’t harness the power of emotion and creativity to do something great, then you truly have left children behind. Stop talking about it, stop making excuses, and find a way. That’s what we have always done, in spite of everything-and that’s what has always made teaching, and teachers, great, and capable of changing a life forever….

However, you can choose your content, because teaching the internal anatomy of flatworms is important. It might be on the test. You can choose to put kids in the nice, tidy 6X5 classroom grid, and everyone, take out your notes because what I’m covering today will be on the test! Oh, and pass in your worksheets from last night also. You can choose your multiple choice tests, your standards, and you can choose to find every excuse not to teach kids with something like digital storytelling, and in the process, avoid doing something great that potentially has a lifetime of value.

Now that’s soft.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend?

In my Thursday post on the blog, I take aim at the WebQuest and its lack of value to today's educational climate. While the WebQuest has served well, it's hopelessly outdated from a pedagogical perspective, as well as inconsistant with the direction of the Read/Write Web and the kinds of skills we want students to demonstrate relative to information and network literacy, so essential in navigating the information landscape of 2006 and beyond.

I even felt funny posting about such a dated topic, but unfortunately, we still see teachers developing and using them. There are better formats out there, including the Project Page, MiniQuest and VisualQuest to name a few. Additionally, you can create them with with type and submit Web editing at

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Future in our 3rd Graders

The highlight of the MACUL conference for me was when I was walking through the exhibit hall and was asked by a couple of third graders to take a look at what they were doing with technology. That's pretty hard to resist, so I went over to their display. The kids from Hudsonville took me through GarageBand, and showed me how they used GarageBand to produce their podcasts. They were flying around the interface which I got a huge kick out of-I think that when I was eight, my biggest accomplishment was tripling in the afternoon dodgeball game. They also showed me their claymation projects which were also pretty cool.

Eight years old. And podcasting already. What kinds of capabilities will these kids have in six years, when they are freshman in high school? And more importantly, what kinds of expectations will they have for their own learning when they are that age? That's just six years-ask yourself this-how much will teaching change in the next six years to accomodate such capacity. My bet-not much.

I asked one of the girls why they liked podcasting. She told me she liked telling the whole world about what they were learning in their classroom. OK, maybe coached, maybe not. But, when I asked both kids about how important computers and this "stuff" was to how they learned, they just looked at me, like they weren't sure how to respond. My initial impression was that they were telling me "Hey, stupid, didn't you just hear us talk about podcasting and claymation? Why are you asking that? Or, it might have been that the question had never occured to them, and that learning could actually take place without these tools....

Congratulations to the kids at Hudsonville for a job well done!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

54 Posts

This week marked the launch of The Strength of Weak Ties, so I have been blogging for over one year now. In that time, I managed to post 54 entries which is not that many (certainly compared to Wes, who is amazing), but it's sort of cool to look back at the record of my thoughts over that time.

During the year, blogging has helped me to be more reflective, improve my writing, build many new relationships, and grow as a professional educator, which of course, is the point of all of this.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Moodle Love?

I attended a presentation today on Moodle at MACUL, the open source CMS, LMS, whatever you want to call it.

I've been to three presentations on the system at various conferences and they always start the same way. Guess how...

First, Moodle is free.
Second, Blackboard isn't

Stop it.

I would like someone, anyone, to start a presentation by saying that using a system like this is a great way to build online community, it's a great way to help students learn to learn online, and its a great way for teachers to build an online course resource for their kids. So, its about kids and about learning.

Yes, Blackboard costs money. And if it's not for you, so be it. Use Moodle. Or something else. But use something. And if you are one of those individuals who absolutely hate CMS/LMS environments, come work with me in K-12 for a day....

In today's presentation, I asked if you could integrate Moodle with a student information system. Evidently you can. The presenter suggested hiring someone to help with that integration. Suddenly, Moodle isn't so free. And please, before you say it's free to everyone, please consider the total cost of ownership (TCO).

Anyway, my point is that any system that helps structure learning and increases the likelihood that kids will have a better chance to learn within a digital environment is a step in the right direction....

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wiki Wasteland?

I had the opportunity to talk about wiki technology and the use of Flickr in the Classroom at the recent IL-TCE Conference in St. Charles, Illinois. For both presentations, I created wiki pages to give participants a venue for contribution and collaboration about these topics while at the conference and after the conference. My intent was to take advantage of the enormous expertise that was present in the audience (cumulatively, about 350 people in three presentations) to extend the conference experience, and begin building community. I also posted the wiki addresses on my weekly blog to invite their readership to contribute as well.

I got one response. Thanks, Charlene.

I was certainly disappointed but I guess the outcome should not have been unexpected. Wikis are new-not many in my presentations knew what they were or how they worked. So, I think this might be how it has to start-you've got to throw it out there, get it in front of people, and see what happens. And do it again.

The potential power of the tool to take advantage of what we know collectively, and share it for the benefit of all, is compelling. Yet more work needs to be done in preparing teachers to become collaborators. I sometimes think that this is an unnatural behavior, or act, for many educators, especially those in the secondary arena. As a former high school teacher myself, it was difficult to work together-how many hurdles do teachers face on a daily basis that prevent collaboration? Schools aren't exactly set up for that, are they? So, perhaps a digital environment that is available on a 24/7 asynchronous basis might address this issue.

The IL-TCE conference offered a blog for the first time this year and invited many to contribute. That was a powerful first step-and it was very successful. How many will contribute next year? And even more important, how many posts will be made to the blog after the conference? We'll have to see.

What if the conference organizers were to add a conference wiki next year? After the numerous presentations on the topic this year, people may be ready to begin contributing next year.

The sooner teachers do, the sooner the tool will be in the hands of the kids.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Classroom Uses of Flickr

I had a great time with my presentation "Using Flickr in the Classroom" at IL-TCE. Here is a list of classroom applications of Flickr that I discussed in my presentation.

Use Flickr:

Anywhere visual images are required, such as presentation, etc.

For single image analysis.

For single image writing prompt (see my Flickrsites page under Learning Applications for a list of images that could be used as creative writing prompts) as well as for Flicktion, where an individual will post an image and a person will start a story as a comment, with the story continued by multiple viewers adding more to the story through comments.

For multiple image digital storytelling projects.

For creating slides shows within Flickr.

For virtual Field Trips, and be sure to click on Most Interesting to see the best images.

For the creation of visual arguments, e.g. in a biology classroom- such as The Case for Genetic Engineering.

For illustrating poetry with Flickr, such Flickr meets Carl Sandburg where I illustrate Sandburg's Chicago, with tags as well as single images.

For geotagging images in Flickr and then using Google Earth to teach Geography.

for the visual documentation of school events.

for the visual documentation of student artwork and other school learning products.

for the creation of digital visual portfolios, using the photoset function of Flickr.

to teach about social software: how to tag, how to make comments, etc. (where are we teaching kids how to constructively comment on the work of others?).

for th delivery of school/classroom visual information via RSS.

to teach about the intellectual property using Flickr Creative Commons licensing. Not many in my session (almost 200) had seen or heard of Creative Commons. Also, using a variety of tools (FlickrLilli, Flickr Creative Commons, and Todd's Search Page) to teach kids how to search Flickr's various pools of Creative Commons licensed photography.

The use of third party Flickr applications to produce classroom products, such as motivational posters, movie posters, Flickr slideshows, and mosaic makers.

If you haven't seen Flickr Leech (now there is an interesting name), check it out here. To see my photostream in Flickr Leech, click on the By Username and enter dj1.

Also, check out two very nice tutorials on getting a Flickr account and uploading images to Flickr by Jasen Leathers of Leathtech.

If you have a creative application of this great resource, please contribute ideas to my Flickr wiki on the classroom application of Flickr.

Also, I have updated my Flickrsites page on to include many new resources, including the great Flickr song I ended my presentation with.

Tags: Jakes Flickr ILTCE

Friday, March 03, 2006

Warlickisms and Telling the New Story

On the final day of the Illinois Technology Conference (IL-TCE), David Warlick addressed the audience in the opening keynote. David's keynote was Telling the New Story...

Joe Brennan introduced Dave. He's set everyone up with his famous y'all and grits thing...and it works well in Northern Illinois. I was disappointed he didn't make everyone say Gaaa-rrriiiittts.
Dave's also did his famous photoshop thing with his picture about how it takes 9 hours of photoshop work to get his picture like that. As usual, it works and everyone laughs...

Here are my favorite Warlickism's from Telling the New Story:

The shape of information is changing. Information is digital, networked and overwhelming. I would add also: immediate, manipulatable, visual and participatory.

David showed an animated movie of an elephant walking and getting ready to jump on a trampoline. The metaphor for education is apparent. The elephant jumps on the trampoline and starts doing backflips, which is pretty funny.

How can we get education to do this?

We got to take an elephant and train it to jump on the trampoline in new ways.

If Walmart was a country it would be China's eighth biggest trading partner.

The future is not secure-in the industrial age, schools taught what you needed to know-we need to prepare them for the future of opportunity.

Kids have invented a new language (Instant messaging). We would have set up a committee of standards first...

It's going to take a new type of mind.

Our kids are still in the information age assembly line. We are installing math into them.

We have our quality control enginneers that expect them to think and act in the same way...

We need to celebrate differences!

Kids are not human-they have tentacles-they see them selves differently-we chop those tentacles off and they don't like it-we don't understand their ways. The tentacles were holding on to cell phones, etc.

Teachers should be the strategy guy-the cheats and the shortcuts to learning are the curriculum.

The answer to new questions will come from new places, and may have been said yesterday.

Everything is clickable, even their parents-not Dave, but Vinod Kohsia

What does the clickable curriclum and classroom and teacher look like?

What does the classroom learning engine look like?

What does the textbook look like when it doesn't want to play with me?

The future can not be predicted, teach students and teachers how to teach themselves.

ya'll will be here till 11:00.

David, that sound's pretty good...

Presentation handouts can be found at

Tags: warlick new york new story iltce ice