In these volatile times, lets try to remember…

I’ve been away for a while but it’s good to be back. Several things have been bothering me during the time I’ve not been blogging, from education mis-management to the lack of manners in public discourse. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking too, not only in my professional life, but in my personal one as well, and I am looking forward to exploring a few of these ideas I have in my head here at Wired Wednesday. So if this is the first time you’ve visited the site, welcome; and if you haven’t been here in a while, welcome back.

This is a time of immense pressure and change, with Common Core, increased accountability, and a societal push toward Charter Schools all creating an environment of uncertainty and volatility.  At the bottom of everything are our children, going to school every day like they have for over a century. Instead of looking at this era in a negative way, I look at it as an amazing opportunity for education and education professionals. Stress can lead to positive change and I am riding this wave of historic changes with the attitude that we are going to come out on the other side of it as better educators with a better education system.

Remember something as you are in your schools today, wondering if the pressure is worth it and whether your work is making any difference at all.  Remember that some things never change, such as kids coming to you for help, for guidance and for understanding. Teaching is tough for us educators, but life can be very tough for them. They don’t care that maybe we just received the first pay raise in 4 years, in an economy where the price of everything has continued to rise. They don’t care that we now have extra accountability  measures in place, that sometimes seems as if it is being “figured out as we go along”. And finally, they don’t care about the trivialities of our day which can sometimes seem to be the most important thing in the world to us. Many of our kids are not getting enough to eat in the morning or afternoon or evening. Some of them live in conditions without the proper amount of love and support to help a child develop normally and healthy. Many of our kids do not have power when they get home or are busy moving from place to place just one step ahead of bill collectors. Some of our kids are going through hell, where school actually provides a safe haven for them to think, to plan, to hope and dream.

Please don’t forget that we offer that to our students, the opportunity to dream, and every day is truly a day for you to make a difference in that student’s life. It IS an opportunity, and I am thankful that I go to work – that’s right, WORK – and get paid to have that chance each day. My heart and my soul rejoice.

Innovation and Creativity: Some Thoughts

As I talk to people, friends and colleagues of mine, sometimes I hear a frustration and weariness in their voice. If the person is a teacher, I automatically think that maybe they are suffering from the “Burnout” syndrome. You may know teachers experiencing this. Often times it manifests itself via complaining about administration, the students, fellow teachers, the school district office… anyone involved in the school – maybe even themselves, though not normally.

However, it is not always teachers that have that sound in their voice, and interestingly, it is not even everyone who goes to work every day. In fact, often I hear that frustration in the voice of those who are stay-at-home parents, and I think I know what might be part of what is causing this.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the role CREATIVITY plays in our lives, and how important that component is for feeling truly successful. Of course, being successful is such a relative term. It means completely different things to many different people. I was speaking in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago at the Philadelphia Learning Symposium, and this issue came up in the talk: how important a role creativity plays in the education of a child and in the professional development of a professional. The teachers that I see that are “burned out” I don’t think are really burned out, I think they are experiencing a LACK OF A CREATIVE OUTLET in their lives. Hell, to me, has nothing to do with an afterlife; it has to do with doing the same…repetitive…task….over… and over. God bless them, for someone has to do it, but people that work on the toll system collecting money and giving change every day I believe have the toughest job in the world. Tougher than a cop. Tougher than a teacher. Tougher than a doctor. It’s tough because there is no room for creativity and innovation, to me the two MOST IMPORTANT components of our lives.

A few months ago I listened to one of the most important podcasts I have ever listened to. It was a talk given by Tom Kelley at Stanford University for the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Podcast Series. He spoke about being an “innovator for life” and gave some tips about being able to become more creative and innovative in your every day life. The interesting thing is, there is not special talent or skill you need to become more creative and innovative, you just need to start making some changes in your mind and thoughts. And, most of them anyway, are very simple. He gives five tips that everyone can do to start becoming more in tune with your creative and innovative side.

First, he says to “Think Like a Traveler”. Have you ever traveled outside of the country, especially to a country where you do not speak the language? Your brain is hyper-aware of your surroundings. Everything seems to be more focused. Your brain takes in more information than usual, and you don’t miss things as much as when you are in your daily routine. Tom says that you should try to TRAIN YOUR BRAIN to think this way, and maybe opportunities and ideas will not slip by you. How many life changing ideas and opportunities may have come your way and you never saw them because of the sleepwalking most of us do in our daily lives?

Then he says to “Treat Life Like An Experiment”, be willing to fail for not all experiments are successful. Be willing to take risks and know that there is something positive in life called failing forward. I liked his example of seeing a huge book you might want to read one day, don’t be afraid of the size of the book, just try out a chapter or two and see if you like it. If you don’t like it, put it down and go to the next one. That sounds simple, but many people stress over every decision in their lives and then spend the rest of the time worrying whether they made the right choice. If you know that sometimes your risks will fail, but that sometimes they will pay off – and possibly pay off really big – then your life will be far from boring and settled. Be open to treat life like an experiment. Tom Kelley has other ideas he gives for being an innovator for life.

Nurture An Attitude of Wisdom – Tom says to “Distrust your knowledge just enough to keep searching”. Never feel like you know everything and rest on your laurels; if you do, at that point you will stop learning. Keep questioning your knowledge just enough to stay thirsty for more knowledge.

Use Your Whole Brain. This actually contains two parts; part one relates to using your Right Brain more into your daily activities, since K-12 education mainly trains people to use their Left Brain. The second part of this Mr. Kelley refers to using your “Tortoise Mind”. Much research has been done in the last few years in the areas of brain research and one fact that is coming out of that research is that our brains continue working while we are sleeping. The old saying, let me sleep on it, has never been more true. When you are “sleeping on it” you are using your tortoise mind. You are contemplating… thinking…working out a problem…replaying an issue, and what happens is that when you think this way ideas come to you more effectively.

So, what does all of this have to do with being creative and innovative? I think it has to do with not settling. Don’t settle for a career or job just because you are good at something. Don’t get into the habit of doing the SAME THING each day, each week, each month.. each year! Don’t settle into a LIFE without challenging yourself to new experiences, new ways of thinking and doing a task. Teachers can very easily slip into this rut. Because most teachers do not have much authority or extra responsibility given to them (except for inside their own classes) many teachers just start doing the same thing every year. They teach the same lesson the same way every year… and have been for the past 20 years.

The problem with this is that it causes frustration and disappointment within the teacher that he or she doesn’t even realize is happening. They get “burned out”, but in actuality, it is a frustration due to a lack of a creative outlet. People, no matter what career they are in, always need to improve and innovate. With that, a sense of accomplishment and advancement is felt while at the same time performance and attitude improves.

I know there will be some of you that will think that this is just a bunch of overly optimistic and unrealistic hooey. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I thought very similar. However, more and more people I talk to are either changing careers or drastically changing their professional practice. As teachers, one of the easiest ways to do this is to learn new ways of instruction…and the most effective and fun new way of instruction is to incorporate technology into your teaching practice. Technology has kept me in the classroom the past twelve years while I have debated back and forth whether to go into K-12 administration. Technology continues to open new doors to investigative and creative practices and – along with the excitement of my students – keeps my job exciting and rewarding. Whether you create water gardens, computer programs, quilts, movies or websites, find a creative outlet for your mind and spirit. Your life, believe it or not, will be better off for it.

21st Century Classrooms: How Teachers Can Use Technology to Foster Creativity and Learning

This is the PowerPoint presentation that accompanies Jeff Williams’ talk regarding creativity, learning and fostering innovation in students. This talk was given on Saturday, February 21, 2009 at the High School Literacy Symposium in Philadelphia, PA.
21st Century Learning ppt (click to download)


There are 4 videos in the PowerPoint and unfortunately at this time they are not coming up in the PowerPoint show. However, each movie is available to view by clicking below on the file. The first video shows students in Mr. Williams’ classes talk about using technology in the classroom and how it has affected their learning. The second movie shows students engaged using technology in various classes at Pompano Beach High School. The third movie shows an example of student-created multimedia on that student’s WordPress website (this video was made with Jing); and the last shows off MixBook, a fantastic website program which allows you to create online books, complete with text and photos.

1. Why Use Tech in Class

2. Student Engagement

3. A Student’s Multimedia Project on WordPress

4. Mixbook

To Subscribe!

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Click Download button below to download or watch the PowerPoint! And be sure to listen to the podcast, 21st Century Classrooms: How Teachers Can Use Technology to Foster Creativity and Learning by clicking HERE.

Recession: Good AND Bad for Tech

by Jeff Williams

Web 2.0 is a term which I am getting extremely tired of hearing. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Web 2.0 has done for education (and me personally). In fact, Web 2.0 has done more for revolutionizing American education than Mr. Bennet could ever have dreamed back in 1983. Because of Web 2.0 classroom tools – FREE tools not to mention – teachers all over the country world are using some pretty sophisticated and downright AWESOME web-based programs which help teachers teach and stimulate the creative minds of students every day.

In looking at today’s really bad economic downturn, I can’t help but think back at economic downturns of the early 1990’s and early 2000’s and their effects on the tech world. During both the recession of the early 90’s and the dot com implosion of 2001 when thousands in the tech industry lost their jobs, what ended up happening was one of the most astounding creative tech movements since the early days of the personal computer. Software engineers and developers who had been laid off all of a sudden had plenty of time to work on personal projects, brainstorm, and be creative. Examples of this was the creation of web-based companies siuch as ebay, Amazon, Craigslist, wikipedia and others. Even though ebay and Amazon had been around for a few years before 2000, it was the emphasis of web-based companies and moving commerce onto the web that really opened people’s eyes and imaginations as to what could be achieved on the Web.

Now when I went to title this post I went back and forth as to whether I should put anything positive about a recession or economic downturn because many, many people are hurting right now. There is NOTHING positive about people losing their jobs, their homes, and even sometimes their lives. However, we need to understand that throughout ALL of history, people have responded differently to crisis; and for most of our history, the response to crisis has been to build, create, and innovate. So just like the tech innovators of the past, we will rebuild, we will create, and we will innovate.

Am I still tired of the term Web 2.0? Yeah. But I will never tire of what Web 2.0 will always represent for me: what people can do when faced with hard and desperate times. And I will continue to benefit from Web 2.0 and from the work of some of the most creative and innovative people in the world.

Here is a list of – just a few – of the programs and websites I use that have come from the world of web 2.0:









One True Media



google apps










3-D Title Maker

The Wide World of Ning (and Twitter)

Rick, Jeff and special guest MIke Waiksnis discuss collaboration tools Twitter and Ning and its uses in education.

To listen to the show click HERE.

Links from the show:

Ed LeaderWeb (Mike’s Blog)

Rick’s Twitter

WW on Twitter

Broward byte



** Special Note** I apologize for the background noise on my mic, I have been getting over a cold and I was having a hard time breathing. I spent a couple of hours editing out the noise with Cool Edit, but the edited version sounded terrible so I just decided to leave it in.:-) Enjoy and we welcome your comments!

Wired Wednesday Podcast: Episode 1

Welcome to episode 1 of the Wired Wednesday podcast! In this episode, Jeff Williams introduces Wired Wednesday and describes what he and his gang of education professionals have in store for you in future shows. For the latest in the world of education, educational technology, current trends and events, as well as gadgets and other toys for inside – and out – of the classroom, stay tuned. And as always, read the blog and add to the conversation with your comments.

To listen, click HERE.

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Time to SHOW OFF!

I love showing off my student’s work! I just do.

This year in my 10th grade World History classes my kids are creating their own World History websites using the WordPress blogging platform. WordPress has done a fantastic job making having a website easy, taking web hosting, ftp, css and other necessary, complicated website development concepts out of the hands of users and making it possible for anyone to start blogging in just a few minutes. OR, in the case of my students, WordPress allows them to post homework assignments, essays, historical blog posts and multimedia presentations in ONE place. And the best part, it’s all free. And in this era of – ummm, like having NO MONEY – free is indeed a good thing.

Greeks celebrate after the Battle of Marathon

My students have so far had several assignments including two multimedia presentations. The presentations were created at various websites who allow users to create online presentations and host on their servers. These websites include Bubbleshare, One True Media, Slideshare, Authorstream to just name a few. (For 50 other ways to create a digital story, see CogDogRoo) What these websites have allowed my students to do is create rich historical media, often narrated by the student, and using embed codes on their own websites LINK to the movies which remains housed on the companies servers. This way, students do not have to worry about having enough space on their free websites to host their own multimedia presentations, which files can get very large. In the world of free website hosting, web space is not a commodity.

So, what does this all mean in plain English, my students have FREE websites which they created in minutes. They write on their websites. They write opinions, research… everything they would ordinarily write on a sheet of paper onto their website and publish for the world to see. They also create multimedia presentations with a partner which are also available on their websites. All is free and easily kept in one place, an online Digital portfolio if you will.

Check out a few of my students websites and presentations below. After watching the movie (especially look for the stop motion movie of the Battle of Thermopylae create using Star Wars action figures) look around at what else they are doing this semester. And if you are interested in learning more about using WordPress in the classroom or about some of the web 2.0 websites where your students can create some cool multimedia presentations, email me and lets talk. I can’t tell you how proud I am of what the kids are creating and to be honest with you, some of them are really, really good.


Love is a Battlefield (Click on picture of Imperial Stormtrooper to view movie. This group also has a good Roman movie)

Jose and Charlie Get Into History! (Click on Aqueducts to view Movie)

House of Lanceton (Nero movie)

Avoiding the 5 Most Common Mistakes in Using Blogs with Students

by Ruth Reynard, Ph.D.

I’ve used blogs in my classes for five years with students. I’ve found them to be extremely helpful in certain circumstances but only when there is clarity for students in their use. Students who object to the inclusion of blogs in a course are usually objecting to what they perceive will be just one more task on top of a myriad of others or simply some busy work that will not benefit their learning. Older students can also reject the notion of “publication” that is inherent with blogging. Each of these objections can be addressed by an effective and innovative instructor by careful planning and skillful management. There are, however, several common mistakes that should be avoided when using blogs in instruction. I have made all of these mistakes and have learned how to address each one proactively.

1. Ineffective Contextualization
As with any instructional tool or learning support, without a clear context within which the tool is to be used, students will not understand the benefit to their learning and will, ultimately, reject the use of the tool. In order to effectively contextualize the use of an instructional tool, instructors must think carefully exactly where the tool will be used in the flow of the course, how often the tool will or might be used, and how necessary the tool is to the learning process. In the case of blogging, the most effective use of this tool is in the area of self reflection or thought processing. As such, there must be concepts for students to think through, various resources and content segments to process, or ideas to construct. To simply ask students to blog without this level of planning will lead to frustration for the students. In other words, there must be a certain amount of content preparation already covered or made accessible for students before blogging will really support the learning process. While a blog can also provide social placement of students or academic placement of students within a group, blogs are fundamentally individual in their purpose and essence. That is, while comments can be added or ideas posted following a blog entry, these sit outside the initial posting–blogs are not wikis or online discussion forums, therefore, if individual self-reflection is the central benefit to the learning process, instructors must plan carefully as to when in the course self-reflection will enhance the learning process for each student. Please note: there are additional benefits that instructors can glean from blogs in terms of helping access student voice and understanding student progress in their idea or concept construction, but the instructional use of the blog tool is mostly about the individual benefit to students first in deciding when and how to use blogs in instruction.

2. Unclear Learning Outcomes
Following on from designing the placing of blog use based on the instructional flow, is the notion of designing blog use based on learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are much more than course objectives. Learning outcomes begin with course objectives; however, include student learning needs and objectives, and future application of the learning. Therefore, understanding of the global nature of the learning outcomes of a course in crucial to good planning and use of learning resources and tools. Choosing the blog tool in a course would mean that the transferable skills of critical thinking, thought processing and knowledge construction would be well supported and recorded. If the instructor is unclear as to what the learning outcomes of the course are and is focused only on course objectives, the potential of the blog tool may not be maximized. The following are several ways in which the use of blogs in instruction can develop new higher level thinking skills:

Analysis: A blog can help students process their thoughts and ideas for analysis. There is no better way to begin to see the importance of analysis as when there is a goal of articulating your thoughts for explanation to others. That is, if two ideas are presented together in support of one concept, self-reflective students must learn to a) distinguish the ideas, b) understand the differences between and similarities between, c) understand where the connection points are if any, d) decide, based on analysis, which one (if any) they will include and build upon in their own learning process. This is a highly constructive process and the skills needed must be intentionally encouraged and can be visibly recorded in a blog.

Synthesis: As part of the analysis, it is important that students can synthesis the original ideas and the new ideas they will articulate. The synthesis of ideas is crucial to the process of working ideas and incorporating new ideas into their own thinking.

New ideas: Grasping new ideas through analysis and synthesis means that students can move ahead with their thinking and move closer towards transformation in learning and application. Information is not what makes a new idea. Information must be processed and applied before new ideas will emerge for students. Too many instructors remain at the information-exchange stage with students and do not move them towards new ideas. A blog can help develop these thinking skills as well as capture the new ideas well for others to view and absorb.

Application: Without application, new ideas are not “owned” by students in their learning. That is, new ideas can only become meaningful and relevant for students when then are directly applied in real life contexts of practice and use. This stage can also be well captured in a blog and, in fact, the entire thinking process of each student can be captured and made accessible for instructors and other students to explore.

Note: Each of these stages of thought development must be intentionally supported by instructors through comments and feedback and expectations communicated to each student. Additionally, grades should reflect the entire process of learning, not simply the end product, if students are to understand the value to their own learning.

3. Misuse of the environment
As I mentioned before, blogs are not wikis and they are not online discussion forums. The essential difference between a blog and other online tools is that it is intended to be an individual publication: a one-way monologue or self-post to which others may comment but do not contribute. The original post remains as the person who posted it wanted it to be. This is important to realize in the instructional setting. If a discussion is desired, then blogging would not be the tool of choice. In the same way, if journaling is the intended goal, then an online discussion forum would not be the tool of choice. It is important to realize, as an instructor, that if you desire a journal-type setting, then your comments should be supportive and constructive and not intrusive otherwise the student(s) will cease to post. Blogs can have a discussional nature if there are many subscribers and participants. That is, you can “hear” from every student on one topic or another by creating a blog ring to which they can subscribe. The self-posting, however, remains the same. That is, unlike a wiki, where changes can be made to posts and documents, in a blog, the initial post always stands and is simply responded to and not altered in any way. When using blogs to encourage students to articulate their thoughts students can become empowered and feel that they are developing their own voice in the learning process. Instructors can also “glimpse” students’ thought processes and become much more aware of their learning journey.

4. Illusive grading practices
Grading of blogs should have clear rubrics so that students do not become confused as to how their work is being evaluated. As blog posts are essentially a series of statements, I have suggested elsewhere that, depending on the learning outcomes of your course, specific statement types to recognize in your assessment rubric might be:

  • Reflection statements (self positioning within the course concepts);
  • Commentary statements (effective use of the course content in discussion and analysis);
  • New idea statements (synthesis of ideas to a higher level); and
  • Application statements (direct use of the new ideas in a real life setting).

As already mentioned, blogging can move students forward in their thinking, help them process to a higher level of understanding, and apply the learning to a practical context. If the grading is not clear and the tool is simply made available to students, not only will students become discouraged, they will likely not participate. As I have seen on numerous occasions, it is when students continue regular use of the blog throughout a course that their learning is truly supported and their thinking truly challenged. It is, therefore, important to keep students focused with regular reminders and to keep expectations clear and grading transparent. Timelines for completion should also be set so that students know how much time they have to use the blog tool.

5. Inadequate time allocation
The notion of adequate time is not discussed often enough in the use of technology in learning. Just as students are different in their processing time within any learning context, so adequate time should be given for every student to complete work using online tools such as the blog. Instructors should be reasonable and if possible, leaving the blog tool open until the end of the course. This will help students maximize the benefits of the tool and will also provide more time for students who need it. As online tools provide a more immediate learning context for students, they also usually encourage more participation from students. This participation in turn provides more text or other response types from students and ultimately more for instructors to read through or view and grade. Therefore, instructors should plan ahead and plan well for the increased work that will likely take place when their students are using online tools.

Students should be fully aware of what the expectations are and how the tool is being used in their learning process. Once students understand this, they are more likely to participate and to a greater degree of critical awareness. While there are many mistakes that can be made in using any new tool in instruction, instructors should have a question and answer mindset in their use. It is important to find out what problems or challenges exist and to find solutions quickly. Instructors who use online tools must be innovative in their approach, creative in their course design, and flexible in their methods in order to ensure successful learning experiences for their students. While there is no one-way to use any instructional resource well, it is important to integrate the use of any tool or learning resources intro the overall course design intentionally and totally supporting the learning outcomes for the students.

Need a Template?

Teacher Templates

One of the greatest things about the web is that you can find so much stuff that other people have already created so YOU don’t have to. Kudos to all of you that publish and share your work for the good of the educational community. With that spirit in mind, I would like to make available some great templates I have gathered over the years and urge you to share them with your friends and fellow teachers.

Venn diagrams, concept maps, comparison chart, event map, spider map, and KWL charts. Enjoy!

2-Circle Venn Diagram

3-Circle Venn Diagram

Concept Map

Fishbone (Herringbone) Diagram

KWL Chart

KWHL Chart

Life Cycle Chart

Process Chart

Research Notes Chart

Spider Map

Story Map

Why It’s important to stay “connected”

Why is it important to stay connected? I ask myself this all of the time, especially when I am perusing the latest in and NOT doing other activities with my time. I admit, it would be easy to sit back and do the minimum, not helping fellow teachers with their websites after giving a training on it. It would be easy to just give assignments to my students and not post lesson plans and homework on my website every day. But why do you attend professional development sessions? Why do you go to conferences? If your answer is “because I am required to” then let me thank you for visiting Wired Wednesday, but you are excused now… nothing that follows will be of any interest to you. Have a nice day! 🙂

However, if your answer is that you strongly believe in improving your teaching and having a positive effect on your students, and you are indeed interested in staying on the cutting edge of education, then THAT is why you stay “connected”. Being connected is how I refer to the act of reading professional journals, attending conferences and actively participating, networking with other professionals, or even reading some great blogs by educational professionals across the country and world. Also, staying connected means that you are always open and on the lookout for new and better ways to teach and be productive.

For instance, I cannot think of any reason why someone would not want to use a website for their class. Today’s options include so many websites that are free and soooo easy, that any other way that a teacher would use for delivering assignments, communicating with students and parents, and delivering class notes would be considered more time consuming. Wouldn’t you want to learn about tools that make your job easier, more effective and productive? Teaching isn’t about collecting a paycheck, if you went into teaching for the money then you delusional…. especially if you live in Florida. Nothing has revitalized my teaching more in the last ten years than using technology in the classroom. Searching for the latest and greatest way to tell a story (I am a History teacher) has been a godsend for me. Let it be for you too.

That is why it is important to stay connected.