book list: the game

In a previous post, must reads, I wrote about setting up a Google spreadsheet to allow your students to track the number and percentage of books they’ve read from a list. Click here to see the list and how it was made.

While you’re there, take the time to explore other useful posts at my new blog: @edu. Don’t forget to subscribe to the new link.

don’t be a stranger

If you haven’t followed me over to my new blog, take a moment to visit. Here’s what I’ve posted about so far:

  • lesson plan to celebrate the successful landing of the Phoenix Mars Lander
  • an introduction to web portal Google Sites, and my very own @edu Gsite
  • novel reading plan: just a few pages at a time with DailyLit, delivered daily to your email or feed reader
  • a review and example of Sprout, an amazing flash-based web gadget; you’ll love this!
  • a video game and survival quiz for Lord of the Flies
  • lesson plans with original sources and artwork for teaching Farewell to Manzanar

As you can see, I’ve been busy, but it’s not the same without you, so come on by!

a new home

One of the things I love about the internet is the ability grow into our own web presence. For teachers and instructors who are determined to provide their students with a window to the world, finding the right internet platform is important. And, while I’ve enjoyed my stay at, I’ve discovered that it’s time to move on to another blog where I’ll have access to the tools I need to teach what is important to me.

The name of my new blog remains the same: @edu. The address, however, is different, so please join me at Don’t forget to RSS me at the new location so we can keep in touch.

The first blog post at my new Blogger location is about a wonderful source for research, containing a wealth of lesson plans from original source materials and artwork, to augment literature readings and jumpstart writing exercises.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Our friends at Diigo have experienced the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, China in a very personal way, as their research and development office is located 90 km from the epicenter. They featured this haunting photo at their blog, emphasizing the horrifying loss, destruction and upheaval (more photos here).


We send our best wishes to everyone at Diigo.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, devastating our own beautiful and sultry state of Louisiana, I was teaching an Anglo-Saxon elegiac form of poetry to high school seniors. I posted a link to an article in the New York Times, so they could read stories of personal tragedy caused by the hurricane, and then asked them to write an elegy using assonance and alliteration. They downloaded photos from Google images and made posters with their poems to display at back-to-school night.

Walt Whitman’s “America”

Poems yearn to be spoken. And, how much better to be spoken by the poet, wherein we hear the creator’s intent, augmenting our understanding of words we’ve long known. The invention of recording occurred during the mid-1800s, and forever changed poetry and music, making them more widely accessible. Charge swiftly into the future,and witness the power of the internet to bring us the voice of Walt Whitman reciting from his poem, “America.” There are only 35 seconds of it, and the sound quality is about what you would expect from an 1888 recording, but it is Walt Whitman!

These are the words you will hear:


Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love . . .

Open Culture brings us the recording:

call forms anything you like, just call them

I wish Google had come up with a spicier name for their forms application than Google forms, because the word doesn’t begin to describe their multi-faceted utility. In fact, I ignored them for months because a) I’m no spreadsheet expert, and b) what the heck do I need a form for?

Let me count the ways. My brain is constantly thinking up new things to do with them. To me, the utility is more like a blank canvas—pure, unlimited potential. Just like the faces of those students sitting in front of you! No, they aren’t really blank canvases, but they are all about potential, and Google forms is a tool that will help you unlock it.

Think input: Crank up a Google form anytime you need to find out something from someone, such as what’s in the inscrutable minds of your students. Why use a form instead of paper? There are lots of good reasons why, but here’s the main one: Paper is much more time intensive for you (collecting, reading, grading, returning), therefore, you’ll only question your students as often as you have time for. Take 15 minutes to prepare a form, and it will do the collecting and returning for you. Grading is simplified because the responses all reside on one page. If you need to provide an individual grade, you can make the entry in one column next to their responses.

Yesterday, I began by showing you how to create a form using Google docs and spreadsheets. I’ll continue that show-and-tell by explaining how to bring it to life. The purpose of this form is to collect specific information from my students: what three books would they recommend to other high school students? This form is a sort of poll. From this information, I’ll compile an interactive reading list, which will calculate the percentage of books read.

Once you’ve told Google docs to create a form, you’re ready to start applying the brush strokes:

You can’t make a mistake on this, as it’s easy to edit at any point in the process, even when you’re finished.

You can choose which type of form to create: text (for short answers), paragraph text (for longer answers), multiple choice, checkboxes, or choose from a list. And, you can mix it up; for instance, maybe you need text and multiple choice in the same form.

Here is what the form looks like, and now I’ll show you how to put it at your website. [note: only websites which accept ifiles and javascript will work. More about that tomorrow.]

You’ll be given an embed code which you simply copy and paste into your website or blog. When published, the code will turn into your form.

The responses will be collected into a spreadsheet list. I can’t wait to see the results.

striking serendipity

For a couple of months now I’ve been singing the praises of Google forms, and I’ve tried to verbally explain how to make them. As we all know, however, it is difficult to follow verbal direction alone, and I hope that I can make up for not using the multiple-intelligence modes I’ve touted in the past. That I’m now able to show, as well as tell, is due entirely to serendipity: good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries. Google just announced that Google forms can now be embedded on blogs and websites, meaning that you don’t have to provide a link to the form for your students to fill out; they can simply fill out the form wherever you place it on your website, blog, or wiki. This development was both unexpected and a nice surprise.

In my next post, I’ll display a form for you to try out for yourself, wholly executed through the simplicity of Google Docs.

But first, I’d like to show you how to get a form started, and that brings me to the second piece of fortunate discovery, Jing. What I’ve needed is screen capture software that allows mark-up. Jing is the real thing. It’s got some great features and is very easy to use. Can’t you imagine about a million applications for this software to help your students better understand just about anything?

Let’s get a form started. You’ll need to open a new spreadsheet, which will be presented to you unsaved and untitled.

Once you’ve titled your spreadsheet, your entries will be saved automatically. Don’t worry about filling out the spreadsheet; instead, we’re going to build a form that will create the spreadsheet for you.

Now, the real fun begins as we custom build a form. Stay tuned!

chat rooms

When I was taking education classes, group work was all the rage, therefore I was somewhat surprised when I got into a real high school and saw that it wasn’t used all that much. I had incorporated small group interaction in college classrooms with much success, but the consensus in high school was that it was largely an excuse for gossip and flirting. I’m certain college students are no less immune to those temptations; they just aren’t as familiar with their fellow students.

Nevertheless, the value of group interaction can’t be underestimated. Students who are too embarrassed to ask me what the heck I mean, will ask their friends and get a satisfactory answer, or they will come to me as a group. Also, those brilliant but quiet students who never raise their hands will spread their wisdom in a small group. So, I stand by group interaction despite all that gossiping and flirting.

Nosy person that I am, however, I like to hear the process of those discussions, which to me is much more interesting than the outcomes. I want to hear how they got from point A to point B. And I want to be able to respond to their confusion when it comes up, which is impossible as I can’t be in attendance at every group at the same time.

The solution is to make group interaction digital. Why, you ask (reasonably), should students who are in the same room together talk through a computer rather than face-to-face? The primary reason is that verbal discussions fade into vaguely formed ideas. Yes, you can have one member of the group write them down. And then that one student keeps the ideas in his/her notebook. Or, that one student renders the discussion so concise, all the meat is left out. Or, that student’s handwriting is atrocious.

Take a look at this example, which has been accomplished easily by setting up a Google Doc to be shared between the teacher and the students in a group. In this example, students have been paired to respond to quotes from their readings of Frankenstein. The value of group interaction has just increased, with nary a gossip in sight.

For more information regarding the use of Google Docs in education see Google’s excellent tutorial. Also, see my article entitled collaboration and process.

cheat sheets

The reference yesterday in I steal learning was not about literally stealing information, of course. The passage I quoted from Margaret Drabble’s book The Red Queen, was all about the clandestine nature of accumulating forbidden knowledge. Far from being elusive, knowledge today is all but crammed down our students’ throats by schools and parents—at least, that’s how they feel about it. That’s why the idea of offering cheat sheets is so illuminating.

Have you ever watched a teenage boy seek endlessly on the web for just the right ‘cheat’ key to help him unlock a particularly frustrating level of a video game? It makes me downright envious. Here’s a kid who won’t click on spellcheck to suggest the correct spelling of a word, yet will turn down food and water to pursue another lead in his quest for the right key.

I discovered the magic of the forbidden the first time I taught Frankenstein to a class of upper-division college students. The upcoming exam included 20 quotations from the novel that they would be expected to explicate and put in context of the Romantic period. They were terrified, so I set aside an entire class period for them to work in groups on a list of 6 quotes. Before the bell rang, I hinted that a lot more quotes could be found at the class website. Over the weekend, I watched as the site’s click stats jumped skyward.

Actually, the cheat sheet at the website contained 125 quotes, and the 20 that comprised the test were on it. Even though I revealed the test to the students, I figured that if they studied all 125 quotes, they would know that book pretty well. In effect, what they were doing was over-studying, and it worked. Except for two students who failed because they never cracked the cover of the book, the rest of the class received an A or a B. It was the overall highest grade for an exam in that class.

Now, I could have distributed a hand-out of all those quotes. I have tried that on other projects with far less impressive results, but the appeal is in seeking out the keys. I promise you, it’s the lure of the forbidden, the cheat, that counts.

I steal learning

Yesterday, in ‘must reads,’ I wrote that the challenge of a reading list had propelled me to the library to check out a few of the books on the list, so that I might increase my reading score. One of those was The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble. A story within the story concerns a 200 year-old memoir written by a Korean crown princess, who admits that “learning was not forbidden to women, but nor was it freely offered to them;” therefore, she often ‘stole’ learning:

When I was young, I read everything I could lay my hands upon. I stole learning from my clever young aunt, who was willing to teach me. I stole from Prince Sado, who in those early years was willing to talk to me about history and about literature and about the Confucian texts. I was an eager and a secret scholar. I stole and stored the scraps I thought I might need. (32-3)

It struck me that this was an apt description of how I compile scraps of information from all over the web, to remix and use in these blog posts as well as lessons for the classroom.

I have several growing repositories for my loot, and I choose which one to use depending on need. For example, if I find a website I want to keep in its entirety, I sock it away in, a social bookmarker. The site provides a button to download onto my Firefox toolbar, making it very convenient to tag and bookmark sites. The social aspect of, however, encourages me to steal even more learning, as I often find articles of interest that others have bookmarked.

If I come across a site that I need to annotate or highlight as a whole or in part, Scrapbook or Diigo will ride shotgun. I’ve written about them previously here. Google Notebook is similar to Scrapbook as a means to capture information, and while it doesn’t have an annotator, you can add comments. The main difference between the two is that Google Notebook is a web application and can be shared, while Scrapbook resides in your Firefox browser, and is therefore available to only you.

Recently, I’ve been seen with a new partner-in-crime, called Google Docs Bar, and it is a real multi-tasker. Gdocsbar is a Firefox extension that downloads a button for my toolbar. When I press it, a sidebar loads a scrolling list of my Google documents, so I can access them at any time. This handy application also provides a simple drag-and-drop function that turns any website, or portion of a site, into a Google document. It’s the easiest way to grab recipes, or poems, or tips about the using the web.

No learning is safe from my thieving ways.

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