Category Archives: NCSS

NCSS San Diego, Saturday Session on Global Distributed Learning Tools

Global Schoolnet Foundation presentation

Global School Net provides online tools for collaborative learning. It partners with schools, businesses, univeristies, communities to provide online collaborative learning experiences. We can’t learn what we need to know by ourselves anymore, we need to tap in to larger networks: collective learning, collective sharing, online (a la Wikinomics, how mass collaboration changes everything (Tapscott).

Online Collaborative Learning (OCL):

  • creating an online shared learning community around a topic of study and a common goal.

  • creates a situation in which students share aspects of theire learning with a remote audience

  • sometimes called networked project-based learning, pbl….

  • incorporates constructivist aspects: production of artifacts; learning is a social act; dialogue and feedback

Internet projects registry on the globalschoolnet site. A resource to find existing collaborative projects and project partners.

Collaborative Learning Center: provides list of tools (not comprehensive) for different activities and examples of how they are being used. Examples shown and discussed today:

  • Photoshow presentation made by kids about being homeless in San Diego.

  • Twitter: global stream of consciousness. 140 characters, have to be brief. Twittervision uses a Google Map overlay so you can see where people are twittering from.

  • Bookmark sharing tools: Backflip, can do public and private folders, student folders, etc.

  • Tapped In: graphical user interface to a community

  • Google for Educators: online tools (lots of which are household names by now).

  • free and pay applications that can be downloaded and embedded into blogs and websites, such as guestmaps, counters, surveys, etc.

  • free email accounts without banners and advertising. Good for students who need email accounts.

Sign up for the GlobalSchoolNet newsletter, can be downloaded as podcast from iTunes (hyperlink this); Student Operated Press. (check on this for links)

Two projects by Global School Net (check these for links):

International Schools Cyberfair: modeled after the World Fair. 8 different curriculum units to teach students about their communities. Students work in teams and create a website about their community. Other schools review and provide feedback (has been running since 1993). Affiliate partners in many different countries. Check this out online. 2008 projects due in March 2008 (K-12). Seems very similar to the ACA project I’m involved in

Doors to Diplomacy: Similar, but focusing on global issues. State Dept. provides $2,000 scholarships for students (middle and high school).

Online expeditions: Connect students with real explorers through the Internet. Not a continuous project, but it looks very, very cool.

All in all this was a good presentation with some food for thought …


Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies:

NCSS San Diego, Saturday Session on Florida Virtual Middle School

Florida Virtual Middle School is the first state funded virtual school, free to all students who are residents of the state of Florida (outsiders pay tuition). Funding is based on course completions, not seat time (performance based). Funding is now permanent. The school has been in existence since 1997.

Students (54,100) are all over the place (North America, Europe, Asia, South America), e.g. students with parents in the military, students going with parents on sabbatical. There are 425 teachers and 200 adjuncts.

Courses are developed by certified teachers/instructional designers, based on Florida standards and aligned with national standards. There is a wide variety of courses for middle and high school, including 10 AP courses plus review for the AP exam.

Completion rate is 80% or higher, which is quite good. They do have some measures built in to make sure that students keep working on their courses. However, it is self-paced. Enrollment started with 77 students in 96-97 (at-risk), now up to 54,100 in 113,900 half-credit courses in 06-07.

Last year, Florida passed a class-size amendment (smaller classes) and many school districts had to move kids to online courses to meet the requirement (there was about a 30,000 students).

72% public and charter
21% home schooled
7% private

66% Caucasian
34% minority (do have priority in registration process)

Use of technology:
Motivational, collaborative resources, content resources, variety of tools, etc.
Use of Elluminate, useful when kids collaborate over a distance, FLVS uses it for a lot of different events, like a global economic summit, career day, GIS day, World Hunger Day Forum, etc.

Meetings (student clubs, learning communities, e.g. Project Harmony), student enrichment (virtual office hours, oral components, exam review, virtual field trips, recess!), projects (collaborative group work), and training (30 pd opportunities per month are done online in Elluminate. It looks like FLVS very heavily depends on this tool.

Into the global classroom: 

Next, the presenters showed an example of a World Geography classroom. It was pretty interesting to see how content is laid out. It seems like it’s more project-based, not as linear, students can go back and redo and resubmit assignments until they master the standards. There is a lot more multimedia being used, especially videos from lots of different places. There is also more room for students to show mastery of standards in very different ways.

There is a lot of pressure from the outside. Lots of people are looking at FLVS, making sure they are held accountable for their students. Use Internet-based options like Exams are time and password protected. They do oral components as part of student assessment. Talking with parents and students on a regular basis helps too. Plagiarism is the biggest issues they have to deal with.

I liked the attitudes of the teachers. Even though the content they teach is fairly traditional in that it is tied into standards, the teachers seem to be much more flexible in how they teach and how students learn. It was great to see some teachers who get it!! Their presentation also showed the power of online learning, and how the geographic mobility of their students is really no big deal.

Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies:

NCSS San Diego, Saturday Sessions on Data Literacy


I attended a variety of sessions today at the NCSS Conference. This entry deals with two sessions on using data for teaching and learning in Social Studies. I was going to attend a third one on teaching about water scarcity, but unfortunately that one was canceled.

Using technology to teach geography and econmics:

Session on the use of GeoFRED, a customizable set of economic data provided by the Federal Reserve in St. Louis. This seems to be a very nice information source that is customizable in many different ways. There is also a set of lesson plans on the website itself.


One of the activities the presenters demonstrated was how unemployment rates are calculated, by first eliminating those under sixteen and those who are not currently seeking work, and then calculating unemployment for those who are left.

Federal Reserve System Beige Book: descriptions of economic data by region in text. Can compare this to the maps. Then students can write about this.

You can also look at years over a long period of time, going back to 1976.

I think the GeoFRED tool is a good example of a data visualization tool. It is also useful in that you can customize the maps in many different ways, and look at data from national, state, and county perspectives.

Using data to teach higher order thinking in American History

Basically a discussion about using data to look at American History. The presenter talked about using higher order thinking skills. It’s more about making an effort to come up with an answer and back it up with evidence from data than right or wrong answers. He used economic trends from the 1800s as an example (comparing data from 1815 and 1860).

It’s also about time. It takes time to learn the skills you need to analyze data and make sense of the numbers. The presenter referred to this as “active” history.

It’s also about not just teaching content, but also teaching skills. Too often we assume students have skills that they really don’t have. This is pretty sad, as these are often skills they should have learned already in lower grades.

Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies:

NCSS San Diego, Friday Sessions

I’m in San Diego for the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies this weekend. Following are a few posts about sessions I attended.

Digital Age presentation:

It started out on Friday morning with the presentation of lesson plans in the book Digital Age that I blogged about here. Aside from my video, there were presentations on

  • the use of laptops, handhelds, and digital and still cameras to teach and learn about the Cowboy heritage in San Angelo, TX, with the help of guest speakers and re-enactors;
  • the Youth Vote Initiative in a Florida district that uses Rock the Vote videos and spreadsheet-based surveys to teach kids the importance of voting;
  • a Geography presentation that demonstrated the use of graphic organizers such as Inspiration and maps by which students create a proposal for a new trade route from East to West through their state (what was nice about this one was that it’s customizable for both time and space, and the possibility to link the project to current issues such as economic and political impacts of new roads, railroad lines, etc.);
  • and a presentation on the use of Internet tools such as Moodle to stimulate student discusion on Social Studies topics.

It was a nice cross-section of topics and technologies used, providing examples of things that teachers can actually do and use. Unfortunately, only one of the presenters was a teacher himself…

Web 2.0: I was going to go to this presentation by Eric Langhorst but had a conflict with another session, so I had to choose. Luckily, Eric has his powerpoint presentation on his blog, and somebody else live-streamed his presentation as well. I’ll write more about this one when I watch the presentation.

Instead I went to a presentation on Wiki Adventures by Dan McDowell. He discussed how he uses wikis to do things like help his students review for the AP World History exam by having them collaboratively answer practice/review questions. All in all this was an interesting presentation, as it gave me some ideas of different things you can do with a wiki. I really liked the use of the wiki for a Holocaust project, where students use branching to create a type of “create your own story”, to help them learn about decision-making (this is somewhat similar to the tour in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.  Finally, though, the most interesting thing that Dan said did not have to do with technology, but with teaching. He said he was a constructivist, but one who lets students learn, create, and share within a box, a box that he creates….

Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies:

You Don’t Always Need a PowerPoint Presentation

While not as “disruptive” a presentation as Will Richardson, for example, has been talking and writing about, one of my presentations at this year’s NCSS conference in San Diego is NOT a PowerPoint ;). I was told I had about 8 minutes to present a unit plan that a teacher and I wrote a while back for Digital Age: Technology-Based K-12 Lesson Plans for Social Studies. So instead of doing another standup-powerpoint-to-death talk, I made a short video. You can watch it here.

I agree with Will that the “traditional” presentation just doesn’t work too well in many cases. That’s why I’ve started doing a more poster presentations, because they allow for more informal, personal, (and dare I say it, customized) interaction between presenter and attendee…

Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies: