Thursday, February 26, 2009

Remembering Joshua

I have been contemplating posting this for about a week, and my hesitancy is that it is not really a new tool or concept that every school can benefit from. But the more I think about it, and the more I am impacted by it, I feel compelled to share.

Recently, a tragedy struck a family in our Virginia Beach community. A story hit the news about a five year old boy who was murdered by his father. The mother was also wounded. At first this was just another sad story on the news, something that I try to avoid; however, my fiance realized that he knew this family. He is actually very close friends with the little boy's uncle and aunt and their family. The event then took on a new meaning for me; I couldn't stay detached because I wasn't anymore. I attended the little boy's funeral, and since then, my life has not been the same. At the service, his short life crossed a screen image by image, and I struggled with questions of faith and fate and God and other things that many people probably explore when this kind of thing happens. I empathized with the family and the poor mother. I cried and ached to hold my own small children close. Forever.

Since then, I have been preoccupied by this tragedy, and in a way, I am grateful because I have had a renewed sense of life. I have stopped rushing and fretting quite so much. I have taken each day I have had with my own two boys during the past week and lived it fully. I have laughed more willingly at their orneriness and spoken more tenderly when frustrated. So in that way, little Joshua does live on, as they expressed hopefully during the funeral. He will continue teaching me to cherish the moments I have with my children, which is something we often forget in the harried and hurried evenings and days.

And it has led me to question why we, as educators, do what we do. Why there are so many of us out there who are passionate about making the classroom something more meaningful and purposeful for our students. We have realized that we only have a limited amount of time with them; every second is valuable and something to cherish, and they deserve all we can give. As Joshua helps me to remember that with my own children, I hope I can also be helped to remember that when working with my teachers and our students.

So maybe this post does have something to do with tools we can use in our schools and classrooms: connecting, being present with our students, valuing each teachable moment with them, and knowing that we impact their lives, whether short or long.

I ask that you take a moment to visit the site Remembering Joshua. I hope that you continue to be inspired to live life fully and to always find joy and meaning, both in and out of your classroom. If you feel compelled to donate to the family, there is a link. The mother has substantial recovering to do, and she is probably going to be without health insurance by the end of this month. If prayer and positive support is what you can offer, please do that as well.

Please forward this post to as many as you can so that we can make a difference to this family who is enduring such a great loss.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The Internet security guy (he's great!) and I worked pretty diligently to get this app working through our filter and firewall. Now that it is accessible to both teachers and students, I am excited to start trying it out in the classroom! Vocaroo is a simple, yet powerful recording tool that is perfect for education because it does NOT require a login. You simply record and either email or embed the clip. It's as easy as that! While it is not as complex as tools such as Audacity, it will work in a pinch and when something simple is desired. You can share your Vocaroo in a few ways: by emailing the link, by embedding, or by downloading the file, but you need Quicktime 7 Pro to save the file.

Tech Tips

  1. The teacher can record and email/post directions or explanations for projects and assignments.
  2. The teacher can use this as a tool to communicate with students when there is a substitute.
  3. The students can create clips/mini podcasts that are posted to a class wiki/blog.

My Vocaroo:

Monday, February 16, 2009


I am constantly on the lookout for easy to use web apps that I can share with my teachers. I can easily get overly-excited and overwhelm teachers sometimes-- see some of the prior portfolio posts. Today I was lucky enough to come across another fabulous tool that would be easy to use here at V0-Tech 2.0. Mixbook is a great application that can be used to create rich digital stories, using simple text and images. This is perfect for the classroom because you can invite others to collaborate on a single book. Publishing is available in two ways: digitally and by purchasing a bound book.
An easy-to-use and diverse tool such as Mixbook fits well in any school, but it is especially perfect at a technical school. Since we usually fall out of the realm of some of the software apps that are in place at the traditional high schools, I have found it important to find apps that are broad enough to be useful in any of my teachers' classrooms. Mixbook fits the bill, and as an added bonus it is so simple to use, that it won't scare my teachers away.

Tech Tips for today:

Mixbook is a versatile app. Here are some ideas for any classroom, and especially those at Vo-Tech 2.0.
  1. Create a how-to book using pictures the students take to demonstrate knowledge of a process or skill.
  2. Research a relevant topic/item/theory.
  3. Create a tips list that could be used to help students who are struggling with a topic or skill.
  4. The possibilities are endless!

And as a former English teacher, I can also see the very creative uses of this site. Creating character's family photo albums, scrapbooks from events in the story, plot analysis... Couldn't help myself there!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Online Flash Card Sites and Vo-Tech 2.0

I work in a technical and career school-- Vo-Tech 2.0, as I call it because much has been done around my school system to update and improve the old-school Vo-Tech that we are used to. We still have the traditional Vo-Tech style courses, but we also have Dental Assisting and Culinary Arts and Early Childhood Education, amongst others. Many of the students in these courses are college-bound and are looking for a way to enhance their skills and learn more about their desired profession. Through such diverse programs of study, we are able to provide many many different kinds of students a valuable and lifelong skill. Our teachers are equally diverse: we have those who were traditionally educated as teachers-- that is all they have done and know. And we also have those who have transitioned into the education world after they have spent time refining their skills in their area of expertise.

My challenge when I arrived at this school as the Instructional Technology go-to person was three-fold:
  1. Many people didn't believe I was needed here because it is a technical school. They didn't understand how technology would be useful here.

  2. Many of the teachers in the building, the majority, were very, very leery of technology. They had learned what they needed to pass the technology standards test and take attendance, but that was where it ended.

  3. Finally, I wasn't sure what I would be able to do here because I didn't know much about their content. In my previous middle school, I knew enough about the core subjects, that I could converse with the teachers in a planning session and get the wheels moving.

What I have learned is that technology is just as important in Vo-Tech 2.0 world as it is in a traditional high school. The kids here learn theory that is just as rigorous as any Algebra or English class, and they need these tools. I have also learned that the teachers also need these tools in their classrooms, and I can provide those tools even though I may not be an expert in their content. They have the same struggles as any teacher with kids who desire and crave engagement.

So my method has been to ease them in. We spent time learning technical skills involved with programs like Excel and Outlook. I am spending time this year introducing easy options for integrating technology. We have looked at Flip Video Cameras, and most recently, I introduced two online flash card sites. They have generated some interest, and I have already had one teacher try it! I just have to constantly remind myself of baby steps. It will all come together with baby steps!

Tech Tips for today:


In Quizlet, the teacher creates the content and the students then have several ways to review the information through practicing, games, and quizzes. The sets that the teacher creates can be shared with the students through a link. As an extension, the teacher can create a group for the class, and the students create accounts and join the group. Throughout the year, sets that are added to the group are accessible to the students whenever they login. The students also have the ability to add sets to the group as well.


Cramberry works in the same way, but it has one nice extension. Cramberry will remember the topics that were answered incorrectly, and it will focus on those topics as a way to help the learner.

This is a perfect tool for any teacher, but especially for teachers in my school because the students often have to learn vocabulary quickly and correctly in order to perform the task or skill it relates to.

Just a note-- if you know of an ITRT or similar person at the Vo-Tech style school in your area, send them my way. I am on Twitter: @hlvanrip


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How Products Are Made

I came across a great site today that will be a fabulous resource here at a technical school. How Products Are Made contains historical information and manufacturing details for just about every product imaginable. I set out to search for some of the items my teachers may be interested in researching: hair dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators, dentures, engines, etc. Every term had a page with detailed information.

Tech Tips:
  1. This would be a great way to introduce a new skill or tool to the students by engaging them with the history and details of the item itself.

  2. This would be a great starting point for students to use in a research project on an item or unit in the curriculum.

Portfolio Project- Update #4

I was beginning to lose hope in terms of my portfolio project, but suddenly everything brightened up a bit. We figured out a way to have the students use Google Sites for the portfolio by making their sites private and only allowing specific users to see and/or collaborate by invitation. This will allow the teachers and myself access, but not the general public. Once the students graduate, they can choose to make their site public or to keep it private.

We have also double checked with the student logins to ensure that we will not run up against any filtering issues when the students start to make and maintain their sites. So far, no problems!

We had a great planning session two weeks ago where we came up with specifics for portfolio contents and a timeline and general idea of a due date. I plan to focus on this project with these two classes, and then next year, I can roll it out to more.