Author Archives: amurph13

The Digital Diet: “VoIP”


 Before reading this chapter, I had no idea what VoIP meant. I had used video chat software numerous times, but was unfamiliar with the term. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. In simpler terms, VoIP is video chatting using an electronic device. To illustrate VoIP, this chapter discusses Skype. Skype allows for users to hold videoconferences with either one or multiple people. When using Skype, users can also chat with each other using just text. Files can also be transferred from one person to another. I have had a Skype account for several years, and would often use it to chat with my friends while I was in college. It was definitely a fun tool for me to use, and I loved having instant access to my friends whenever I wanted. Recently I switched to using a Mac laptop, and was pleased to see that Skype also worked with Apple software. Something else that I noticed about my Mac was that I had access to another program, called Facetime. Facetime is similar to Skype, except it is an Apple product. People can videoconference using their iPhone, iPod, iPad, or Mac computer. It is really interesting and amazing that someone can hold a videoconference using just their cell phone!

I do agree that using Skype in the classroom can have a huge benefit on student learning. I thought it was great that our class was able to video chat with Will Richardson. It was so cool to watch his video during one class and then speak to him in person the next! It really made the video of his presentation so much more relevant to our own learning. I was also excited to hear that my classmate Jessica used Skype to hold a video chat between her students and students in France. This conference made their project so much more authentic and meaningful. I would use Skype similarly in my own classroom. Instead of having guest speakers come visit my class, I would have them video chat with us. I would also try to find classrooms across the country or in other areas of the world that would agree to Skype with my classroom. Of course, I would create an assignment that would incorporate a reason for this chat, but giving students the opportunity to speak with students much different from them is an experience that will last a lifetime.

However, similar to any presentation the teacher must plan and prepare. I like the 5P rule that the authors mention—“Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” Although teachers should make sure technology is running correctly before the video chat begins, students should also be prepared for the presentation. Students should already come prepared with a list of questions or comments for the guest speaker. Teachers need to also make sure the students know how to appropriate interact with the speaker via Skype. If everything is planned accordingly, a videoconference can be extremely successful.


The Digital Diet: Social Networking


Chapter 10 of The Digital Diet discusses social networking—communicating with friends, family, and strangers online. Most of today’s social networking occurs through Facebook. Facebook allows users to join networks that are organized by school, city, or region. People on Facebook can share their thoughts and photos. Facebook allows users to write and comment on their friends’ walls to stay in touch. This chapter states that in 2009 there were 250 million active Facebook users. Over the past three years, that number has more than tripled. Now, it is estimated that over one billion people are using Facebook to connect ( The world has a current population of about seven billion. That means that one seventh of the world has a Facebook account. That is insane! I do not think Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, could have ever estimated the rapid growth of his own website. I do not think the use of Facebook will ever slow down. Instead, I think the use of Facebook will continue to grow and spread.

I have had my own Facebook account since 2005, and have used it to communicate with friends. I have never used it for school, but I have heard about teachers using Facebook to set up a ‘class page.’ I have been told that a teacher will post announcements, messages, and homework on their Facebook class page. These pages can even be used as a discussion thread for students in the class. Although I have never used Facebook for school before, I have always been a little cautious of whether this could be a good or a bad thing. If any small line is crossed, things could turn out horribly. However, if teachers take the correct precautionary measures with their own Facebook and their class page, Facebook could be beneficial. Teachers could bring classroom learning to an online platform, which would be interesting and relevant to students. Teachers could share videos and photos to enhance student learning. What is even more interesting is that Facebook already contains apps for classroom uses. These apps allow teachers to create courses, give students homework help, create flash cards, and provide easy searches for doing research. It really seems as if the possibilities are endless.

Although Facebook could be great in the classroom, I still do not feel completely comfortable using it as a learning device. I question whether using Facebook for class could accidentally expose students to another world that is not conducive to classroom learning. Before using Facebook in my own classroom, I would probably try Edmodo first. Edmodo is an online social network that is set up similarly to online college classes. This website allows students to connect with classmates, teachers, and parents. Teachers can post assignments, tests, and alerts to their class page. Edmodo is the educational form of Facebook. I am so grateful that Cindy required my classmates and I to create our own Edmodo account. I definitely will use it in my classroom, as long as my students are old enough to understand and use computers. Although I am still wary about using Facebook in the classroom, I believe it could work and encourage student learning. I will have to do my own investigating in the near future to determine whether Facebook will work with my own students.

PBL Starter Kit: “Getting Started”


Since starting my “Coach a Colleague” PBL, I have found myself going back to PBL Starter Kit over and over again. Each time I go through the book I find new information that I can use. PBL Starter Kit has become a huge resource for me as I have begun coaching someone else through the PBL process. Both my colleague and I have found the first chapter of the book, “Getting Started,” to be extremely helpful.

The first topic of this chapter discusses how to develop an idea for a project. The authors suggest creating projects that are relevant to students, revolve around what happens outside of school, pertain to issues in the community, or stem from standards that student need to meet. There are so many ways of how to get started. I think that sometimes educators struggle with ideas for projects. They worry that their ideas are not creative enough, or do not allow for enough authentic learning. I think that this chapter eliminates the struggle of developing a project. Not only do the authors give tips of how to get started, but they also supply the reader with a list of online resources with specific project ideas.

After developing a project idea this chapter presents how to specify goals for learning. Obviously there has to be a purpose and student learning behind everything that is done in school. It is best to think about the goals students need to meet with this project, before it even begins. The authors recommend selecting one to three power standards that students should meet. PBL also allows students to reach 21st century skills, which are crucial to students’ success in our global economy. A sample of these skills includes collaboration, presentation, critical thinking, and problem solving. However, educators need to remember that they should be teaching the skill that they are assessing. In my own PBL, I assessed students on collaboration and presentation. The students knew their grades would reflect how well they worked together and how they presented their information to the class. I encouraged critical thinking and problem solving, but these skills were not formally assessed in my PBL. A lot of projects and assignments that students are required to do in class today do not assess 21st century skills. I think it is vital that all assignments, whether they are PBL driven or not, allow for the use and assessment of a student’s 21st century skills.

The scope of a project is also discussed in this chapter. I think this is very important, because each class is different. Each classroom has different requirements, time frames, students, and resources to work with. Each educator’s classroom will have a direct effect on how his or her PBL will be created and implemented. The key with PBL is to start small. Once educators get the hang of using PBL in their own classroom, projects can become more ambitious. I know that my first project was slightly overwhelming, but I am ready to take on more during my second PBL.

Finally, the authors discuss in depth the importance of a solid driving question. The driving question to any PBL must be challenging, open-ended, and linked to the core of what students are expected to know. The chapter gives many different types and examples of driving questions, which I loved. For my PBL, I incorporated a very abstract driving question: “When do we lose our innocence?” I think most of my students understood the question by the end of the project, but some were still confused. Many students had a difficult time approaching such an abstract question. I think this was because the students were so used to answering explicit questions with clear cut answers in their past school experiences. I believe that the driving question is the center of PBL. The driving question guides the whole project, and dictates the type of student learning that will take place.

The Digital Diet: “Blogging with Blogger”


Prior to both enrolling in this class and reading this chapter I was unaware of the popularity of blogs. I did not know anyone who had one, nor did I read any in my spare time.  When my classmates and I were told that we would need to post our thoughts on the required reading every week, I was a little apprehensive. Most of my classes in the past required reader responses, which were typed and handed in. Why the sudden change to blogging? However, after blogging for the past seven weeks, I have come to realize that I prefer to post a blog than to hand in a typed reader response. Posting to my own blog allows me to digitally reflect on what I read for class, and also allows me to add helpful links, picture, or videos. It is also much more interactive than just handing in a paper. I have enjoyed blogging so much! In fact, I even incorporated a weekly blog post as a requirement for the students in my PBL.

In this chapter of The Digital Diet, the authors discuss the different types of blogging websites to use, but go more in depth with Blogger, made from Google. Blogger seems to be similar to WordPress, which is what we use for class. Personally, I have not tried out Blogger or any other blogging website. For my PBL, I had my students use WordPress. Looking back, it would probably have been more beneficial for me to utilize other blogging sites. Using other types of websites would allow me to become more familiar with the different blogging tools that are available.

From my recent experience with blogging, I have realized how beneficial this type of technology is for student learning. For my PBL, I required my students to post a weekly blog reflecting on our project. Each week they would discuss the PBL as a whole, their thoughts on the project, the way their group was working together, and any questions that had arisen during the week. I read each blog and commented back, by answering the students’ questions or giving them suggestions. I found that blogging was a great tool for both the students and I. By reading each student’s blog I understood the challenges they were facing, and the progress that they were making on the project. I was able to keep a close eye on what was going on. By posting a blog each week, the students were able to reflect on the project, and ask me to clarify any issues that had arisen. I thought that using blogs in this manner was very effective.

In this chapter, the authors discuss a very different way to use blogging in the classroom. They give the example of a teacher using a blog to present a news article to his students. His students are then required to comment on the blog, by identifying the issue, analyzing the issue, and proposing a solution. The students are also required to comment on their peers’ work, which results in a threaded discussion. Using blogs in this way was something I had not thought of before. I really do think that using blogs in the classroom is a great thing. As long as a teacher makes sure the correct privacy settings are in place, using a blog as a means of discussion can really enhance students’ learning environments.


PBL Starter Kit: “After the Last Bell: Closing Thoughts”


Reading this chapter could not have come at a more perfect time. I have just about completed my first PBL, and have been reflecting quite a bit. I have not only been reflecting on the project as a whole, but also on future projects. I thought that reading this chapter guided my thinking very nicely, and really allowed me to examine my own feelings and thoughts of when to implement my next PBL.

I think by now it is obvious as to what the focus of project-based learning should be. I know that major topics in both the courses I teach and in my students’ lives would be starting points for future projects. For my first PBL, I have been working with students who are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the major themes of the novel is innocence, which is the focus of my PBL. The students in this class have been working for almost a month to answer the question of “When do we lose our innocence?” Although I was a little skeptical at first of how successful this project would be (mostly because it primarily revolved around the subject of ELA), it has been going great. The students are really engaged in the project and have been using many resources to find the answer to the driving question. This experience has shown me that project-based learning can occur in any subject area, with the appropriate resources and tools. I know that in the future there virtually is no limit to what my projects can focus on.

I think for me, the biggest question of future PBLs is when to implement them. From my first experience I can see the huge positives on student learning, but I also realize that PBLs can take up a lot of time and planning. This question is hard for me to answer right now because I currently am not teaching. I suppose it all depends on the freedom I have with my curriculum and instructional planning.  The behavior and attitude of my students would also affect my decision. From completing this first PBL I have noticed that the students I have been working with are definitely engaged in the project, but some have gotten a little tired. I would need to make sure all of the students are ready to begin another project, and excited to put forth their best effort. Ideally I would like to implement PBLs whenever I have the opportunity to do so.

I definitely do think project-based learning will be a big part of what I do in the classroom. I feel as if so much student learning occurs. Students not only learn new content, but they also learn 21st century skills. With these types of experiences students really will become global citizens. Since I do plan on using PBL in the future, I am happy this book has included the chapter “Useful Stuff.” I have already used some of these tools for planning and managing my first project. In fact, their website also includes more resources that I will continue to reference.
Project Based Learning

PBL Starter Kit: “Managing Your Project”


I have found PBL Starter Kit to be a great resource for project based learning. From reading each chapter I have learned how exactly to plan and implement a PBL in my own classroom. Several weeks ago I took what I read in the first few chapters of this book and used that knowledge to develop my own PBL. I think that planning a PBL definitely takes a lot of work, but in order for PBLs to be effective, teachers need to know how to manage that project from start to finish.

This chapter stresses the importance of having the right classroom culture for a project. Since I do not have my own classroom, I have been using a ninth grade English class to implement my own PBL. I have been lucky enough to be working in a classroom where the culture is perfect for project based learning. The students in this class know that they can ask questions, voice their opinions, and discuss their thoughts. They are often probed to think deeper about topics, and relate what they learn to themselves and the real world. Coming into this type of classroom culture has made implementing my PBL easy. If a climate similar to this one is not evident in a classroom, project based learning may not occur. How can we get all teachers to develop this type of environment for their students?

“Managing Your Project” gives good tips for familiarizing students with the project’s requirements while simultaneously allowing students to ask questions and discuss their thoughts on the project. I know that I had a tough time introducing the whole project to the students, because I did not want to overwhelm them. I also was not able to identify specific resources for the project, nor did I have time for the students to meet in groups. If I had been more prepared in supplying resources for the students and assigning them their groups, there would have been less confusion. Although it took some time to familiarize the students to the topic, I know what I need to change when I implement another project similar to this one in the future.

I also liked how this chapter touched upon the importance of monitoring student groups. It is important to allow the students to work in their groups with limited teacher guidance, but there has to be some accountability. In my PBL, the students have only met in their groups a few times. During their meeting times I have talked with each group to see what place they are at, and what tasks they need to complete in the future. I do think I have been helpful when talking to my student groups, but I think I could provide more guidance or make sure they know that they are required to be aware of their progress in the project. Next week when I work with my students again I will be sure to spend more time with each group. I may even ask each group to complete a work plan or task list, so that we all know what needs to get done.

Another topic of this chapter that I thought was interesting was the need for the teacher to ask questions following a presentation. To make sure students thoroughly understand a concept, they can be asked to restate what they present in different ways. Students can also be asked questions that require them to think about their topic in new ways and how that topic applies to other areas. I think that by asking these questions students will be forced to critically examine their knowledge of a concept and their ability to apply what they already know to different situations.

The Digital Diet: “Twitter”


About a year ago almost everyone I knew who was online started signing up for Twitter accounts. I originally did not want one because I had no idea how to effectively use a Twitter account, nor did I think anyone would listen to what I had to say. Even though I tried to avoid Twitter as long as possible, a few months ago I found out that one of my responsibilities for my job in PC Athletics was to run our Twitter page. This meant that I had to learn as much as I could about Twitter in a very limited time. My supervisor expected me to tweet from our account immediately. Although at first I was a little confused and overwhelmed, I have come to enjoy using Twitter for work purposes. I feel as if the PC Athletics account enables me to fully experience Twitter. Followers actually retweet what I put out on our account. I even get several new followers each day, which is great. The only time Twitter gets tricky is when I have direct conversations with fans. I need to make sure I tweet out the most correct and appropriate response to questions that followers ask. As a result of using the PC Athletics twitter every day, I finally broke down and signed up for my own personal account. Honestly I do not tweet very much from my own account, nor do I have many followers. However, I do think it is an important way to say connected, and I will try to put more effort into my own twitter account in the future.

I thought it was great that Cindy had us all create our own professional Twitter accounts, and taught us how to send a tweet and follow others. I do think it is important that we have both a personal and a professional Twitter account. My classmates and I were pushed to encounter an unfamiliar type of social networking which may potentially help us in the future. It is amazing that there are so many educational resources and important people to follow on Twitter! Teachers and other professionals who are not on Twitter are really at a disadvantage.

Not only can Twitter supply users with resources and the latest information, but this type of social networking can also foster communication in the classroom. Reading about Dr. Monica Rankin in this chapter and then seeing what she does in the classroom was definitely a learning experience for me. Dr. Rankin’s students already spend their time online, so bringing Twitter into the classroom really engaged them. The discussions that Dr. Rankin had with her class on Twitter allowed all students to participate. Even though I think this is a great way to learn, I do have some concerns about the character limit of tweets. If students are participating in a conversation online, they have to shorten their thoughts to be only 140 characters in order to post online. Is this enough space for students to adequately express themselves? Or does it teach them to be more concise with their words? Since I will primarily be working with younger students, I wonder if I can bring Twitter into my classroom. How old should students be in order to create a Twitter account? Perhaps Twitter can be implemented in the upper elementary grades, as long as student accounts are set to private and they understand that their accounts are only to be used for school.

Sometimes Twitter can be seen as a negative thing, especially when younger people are involved. After reading this chapter and experiencing Twitter myself, I do not believe this. I think if Twitter is used appropriately it can be a meaningful and engaging way for students to participate in their own learning.
PC Athletics Twitter