Pencil Me In, But Don’t Forget to Use Spell-Check



   I recently read Pencil Me In: A Journey in the Fight for Graphite, by John T. Spencer.  It was a very quick read, but also entertaining.  The story follows a fictional teacher, Tom Johnson, as he tries to integrate pencils in the classroom in the late 1800’s.  Some of Johnson’s fellow teachers and administrators are skeptical or even leery of the new pencil technology.  They wonder if these new technologies could be dangerous.  They fear students writing to pedophiles on the “pen pal network”.  They see students playing with pencils and paper and wonder how they could get the students interested in using these tools for education.  “Pencil Me In” is an allegorical story of technology in education.  Like the internet filtering at my school, guards are placed around the city to deny students access to “sites” that could be used improperly.  At one point in the book, Johnson has to sneak a phonograph through the backdoor due to limited band width (the width of the hallway used by the school band).  While the story of pencil integration is amusing, there is an underlying message to the book.  The story shows not only the great ways technology can be used in the classroom, but also the struggle the teachers have to endure to get the technology to be a help and not a hindrance.  This is not a book giving you the top ten reasons why you should use technology in the classroom, but human story of humility that shows how difficult teaching can be with all the successes and failures that go along with the job.

                While I enjoyed the author’s thoughts on technology integration, reading his book made me cringe.  Thankfully I read his book on my Kindle Fire; otherwise, the book would have been marked up with my red pen and turned back in to Spencer for revision.  It is very obvious that he did not re-read any of what he wrote before it was published.  There are way too many spelling and grammar errors in a book about teaching.  Also, the dialogue in this book seemed very contrived.  It reminded me of my style of writing in middle school.  I was very surprised to find out this was not the first book he wrote.  I would be more likely to recommend the book to someone else if the spelling and grammar errors were corrected. 

                What I did like about the book was Spencer’s thoughts on teaching and schools.  I certainly agree with the comparison of our current schools to factories.  Spencer writes, “The whole system is built like a factory from worksheet packets to school bells to students in tidy little lines marching mindlessly to class”.  I also agree with Spencer’s sentiments on school corporations spending tons of money on curriculum and school reform.  He asks, “What if we stopped investing in curriculum and started investing in our children’s minds?  What is we quit treating the students as a resource that we own?”  He also writes about the teaching profession, “teaching is a really hard gig and no amount of techie tools will fix that”.  I also agree with what he writes about what makes an effective teacher, “Avoid the thoughts about reform.  If you want to be effective, teach well.”  While this book had some great one-liners on education and technology, it did not really increase my interest in the subject. 

                The reason, I believe, why “Pencil Me In” has received as much attention as it has is due to social media.  Spencer wrote a blog called “Adventures in Pencil Integration” and eventually turned it into a book.  Then, once people read the book, they started a discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #pencilchat.   This discussion, which is still going on, consists mainly of educators venting their frustrations over schools lack of technology use and budget cuts.  By starting out as a blog, “Pencil Me In” shares the thoughts and stories of many educators.  I am in the same boat with these educators and would like to see technology integrated in education.  I would just like educators to spell-check their work before letting others read it in a book.


Online Educator Tools That Aren’t Blocked


Whenever I find out about a great new online tool I can use in the classroom, I rush to my school computer only to find out that the website is blocked.  The school corporation that I work for blocks a lot of online content – some innapropriate for students and some content that could be helpful in the classroom.  I wanted to create a presentation that would show the educators at my school corporation what tools they could actually use at school.  I created a list of 18 websites that pass through our schools filters.  These websites are just a small handful of online tools available for teachers and students.  My list of 18 websites was created through a tool on my list: SpicyNodes.  I found SpicyNodes to be user-friendly, visually-pleasing, and just the right tool for the job.

Look at my SpicyNodes Top 18 Unblocked Educator Tools here.

In searching for these websites, I explored other blogs and sites that contained lists of educator online tools.  I then attempted to access each tool on my school computer.  I was actually surprised that some tools were not blocked.  I was sure my school would block Glogster, since all blogs are blocked, but I was happily proven wrong.  After I collected a list of websites, then I began my own filtering process of getting rid of the sites that would just be technology for technology’s sake in the classroom.  For example, I really liked Tagxedo, a website that allows you to create word art, but I really couldn’t think of any other need to create one other than to make a presentation look pretty.  Another criteria for my selections – free products.  I only chose websites that were totally free or offered free versions of their products.

As I was invisioning using these technologies in the classroom, I began to group certain websites together:

PowerPoint Presentation Alternatives:

 These are websites that provide interesting and visually-pleasing slide presentations.  These websites also allow users to add videos, photos, and hyperlinks.

Online Communities:

These are websites that allow teachers and/or students to communicate online.  Some of these websites allow teachers to post class assignments and grades, chat with students and parents, and maintain a classroom blog.

Tools to Allow Students to Work in Groups:

These websites are perfect for group projects.  Students can work online collaboratively through recorded audio, text, or highlighting and note-writing.

Online Mind Maps

These websites are great for collecting ideas into an interactive visual display.  Users can add photos, videos, and hyperlinks.

  • SpicyNodes  (I liked this website so much that I created my project with it.)
  • Popplet

Story Creators

Students can use these websites to create their own stories.  Story Jumper is more geared towards elementary students and Storybird could be elementary through High School.  Both websites allow students to obtain paper copies of their stories (for a fee).

Specific Online Tools for Special Projects

These websites are useful if you have a specific project in mind that needs a special tool.

  • Glogster EDU – for creating interactive posters
  • Diigo – for bookmarking websites with highlighting and sticky note functions
  • Wix – for creating interactive and photo-filled websites
  • Voki – for creating speaking avatars
  • TimeToast – for creating interactive time tables

Now that I have a sampling of online tools that I can use in the classroom, I’m ready to start using them.  I’ve already introduced a local art contest to my students through a Prezi presentation: South Bend Banner Contest 2012.  I’m interested with using one of the online community sites to put up projects, due dates, information, and grades for my students and their parents.  I have an idea of using TimeToast to create a timeline of the art movements complete with images of artwork and artists from each movement.  I have all these great ideas – now all I need is access to a bunch of computers for my students to use.

Has Technology Redefined Learning Video

Has Technology Redefined Learning Video




I created a video to answer the question:   “Has Technology Redefined Learning?”.  A few of the photos and videos are taken in my classroom with my very eager 7th graders.  The students who didn’t have parent permission to be in the video excitedly accepted the role of director, camera operator, prop designer, stunt people, etc.  The student who I have to work with everyday to try to motivate him to work was the first one who asked if he could operate the camera.  Just having technology in the classroom got all the students excited and eager to work.  And, the video clip of me standing by the white pull-down shade in the classroom was supposed to be me standing behind a digital projector.  However the projector was being used by another teacher in the building during our filming, so please use your imaginations. 

Video:  Technology Redefined Learning?

21st Century Learning – Technology in the Classroom



After reading several articles and watching videos on 21st Century Learning, several colleagues and I discussed our reactions to what we read/watched. We held our discussion on an asynchronous writing tool called  I found the collaborative note-taking to be an interesting experience.  I could see what struck others as important and they could respond to what I thought was important in a very casual environment. was very easy to use.  You don’t need a username or profile; you only need to type in the group name to enter.  Without whistles and bells, it did rather feel like an “old school” chat room, especially with the different colors for the different authors.

Here’s what we read and watched:

You can read our discussion here.

These readings bring up many questions about technology usage in education.  One question is easy to answer: Has technology redefined learning?  Yes, of course it has.  We can’t ignore technology.  It’s all around us.  In my school we have TV’s in every teachers’ classroom and in the office.  The librarian and groups of students create televised morning announcements, in which they read the daily cafeteria menu and talk about sporting and school events in front of a video camera.  The teachers can borrow digital projectors to use in the classroom.  We used to have a SmartBoard in the school.  I assume it’s still there, I just haven’t seen it in use for a while.  Each classroom has at least one computer, however older than the Stone Age, and some rooms have other computers for the students.  We also have a computer lab and a Computer / Keyboarding class.  The students know how and enjoy using technology at school.  They’re much more interested when I show them pictures and videos on the digital project than when I ask them to look at images in the textbook.  I think technology could play an even bigger part in the classroom than that.  Wouldn’t the students be excited to explore a topic through an interactive WebQuest?  Or what if the students created and maintained a classroom blog about all the projects they did in class?  They could post images of their art projects and write about various artists and art movements.  They would be more engaged and get more out of their education if they used these technologies rather than listening to a teacher lecture and taking notes with pencil and paper while reading a textbook.  The “Tech Happy Professor” article states that students only remember about 20% of the material discussed during a lecture.  Technology is redefining education, and it should.

Digital Citizenship Action Plan


My school corporation uses an Internet filtering system that filters out so much content you can’t even look at pictures of the Mona Lisa.  (The word “mona” is blocked… why, I don’t know.)  Teachers can’t access YouTube for instructional videos.  In fact, most websites with videos are blocked or the video itself is blocked within websites.  The word “blog” is blocked, so I cannot access my own blog on education and technology at work.  I have created a Digital Citizenship Action Plan that trains teachers, administrators, and students to use the Internet (sans filtering) appropriately and responsibly.

Click here to view the Digital Citizenship Action Plan Presentation.

Click here to read the Digital Citizenship Action Plan.


W531 Class Voicethread on the Digital Divide

First of all, I say as a class we should pat ourselves on the back for this VoiceThread project.  This turned out great!  After listening to everyone’s comments on the digital divide, it sounds like we’re all in agreement that this is no longer a divide between people who have access to computers and the Internet and people who don’t, but between the types of access they have and what they’re capable of accomplishing with that access.  On one side of the divide are the people with broadband access at home who are able to create things and use technology for self empowerment.  On the other side are the people who mainly access the Internet on their cell phones and mobile devices.  These people are able to use the Internet for consuming entertainment, but cannot do things such as fill out a job application.  They’re able to consume, but not produce – simply because of the type of access they possess.  The producers are mainly white, more well-to-do people, and the consumers are mainly poorer Hispanic or African Americans.  I liked how David put it: Internet segregation. 

I am a digital native who always has had access to technology my entire life.  I was born into a home that already had computers that had the ability to connect with others in an online community.  But, I had never participated in a digital discussion using VoiceThread.  Despite having to re-record myself several times do to human error, I enjoyed the experience.  Since then, I’ve thought of several ways I could use VoiceThread in my classroom.  Being an art teacher, I thought this could be a great way to have a class discussion on art history.  We could research a certain art movement or art from a specific region.  The students could choose a work of art as their background picture and talk about what they’ve learned.  This would be a great way to let everyone in the class to participate in the discussion, without having one or two kids dominate the conversation.  The big problem with this great idea is – my school corporation has VoiceThread blocked on all the computers (students and teachers).  My principal last year had to jump through several hoops and plead and convince several people to let us have access to some Youtube videos for a short time.  As a corporation, we’re so scared that the students will use the technology for inappropriate reasons; we just block anything that’s not obviously solely for education.  I’ve heard that several websites that have teacher lesson plan ideas are also blocked.  Perhaps one day my school will attempt to cross their own digital divide.