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AquaMinds in Education


Teachers on Teaching - Middle School Experiences

An interview with Betsy Sky-McIlvain

Scott Love: For background, readers will want to know what you teach, how you teach and how you have arrived or rather, started on this new journey of integrating your education philosophy with your passion for teaching middle school students along with your use of digital tools.


Betsy Sky-McIlvain, 8th grade literacy teacher in Freeport, Maine with her dog Dodger
Betsy Sky-McIlvain: 35-plus years is a long journey to describe. So, here are the basics. I started as a librarian but found the print world too isolating. I wanted to work in the "new" field of computer bibliography, but it was too new to be hiring. So I switched to teaching - sex ed. in fact. When a chance came to teach middle school English, I grabbed it. I was frustrated by endless copying and endless paper - so when I could purchase an Apple IIGS, I grabbed it - and one of the first GS's sold on Long Island. That's how it all started. I taught myself mostly, focusing on the new world of multi-media (with the help of Roger Wagner). Then I learned to make databases. Then web pages. It seems to me now that everything I learned helped me to see teaching in a newly "alive" way - of course, that was the way I was learning. For several years, I kept one foot in the English classroom and the other in the computer lab. When the chance came to enter the laptop world, I grabbed that. No going back. I ended up here in Maine, not entirely by coincidence part of the MLTI program. It's not that great a leap from English teaching to English teaching in a laptop classroom. The focus has always been more upon the student's progress, style and methods, and communications than it has been upon content and testing. I used to let students make "hut spaces" inside the classroom - these aren't much different from virtual spaces. My room has always been loud - a room with a lot of choice and individualization. The digital world is best when it is used with this model in mind.

SL: One of the interesting things about your use of technology in the classroom is that you actually blog about it (that's not a typo). What got you interested in using a blog to keep a journal of your thoughts? Is this something you considered previously or just decided it was a way to reflect upon your classroom experiences? It's a terrific source of insight into the teaching processing or rather a look into your particular process of integrating meaningful uses of technology in education. My experience is that most in-service teachers barely have time to grade papers. Where do you get all that energy and inspiration from?

Betsy: I was not originally keen on blogging. I never kept a diary or journal. But somewhere along the way I realized that a blog is for the writer more than for the reader. The Literacy Journal is one of my most important organizational tools. It organizes my thinking. I have a NoteShare notebook now to organize and communicate my teaching content, lesson-by-lesson. I have always dreaded the rigidity of lesson plans and unit plans. Digitizing these, and reflecting upon them, has liberated me from this dread. Digital is fluid. I have always felt my teaching was a learning experience; now I also see that I can learn from my learning...

SL: Let's talk more about your literacy class and what makes it unique in terms of the grade level you work with and the approach you take to teaching it while incorporating technology into specific lesson plans. As a teacher in Maine, your students are fortunate enough to each have access to their own laptop computers. That's a big deal isn't yet? How does this change how you work with your students and how they work with you?

Betsy: Laptops are a big deal. I work hard to get away from the front of the room. The laptop hands the responsibility for active learning to the student. On the other hand, it gives me the responsibility to act as collector and archivist. For example, if I don't archive our writing models and challenges, the overall import of the skills development will be lost - because it can not be revisited. If I don't go out of my way to find recordings or visuals to twin with readings, some students will fall by the wayside. What I find, I embed (in a notebook document now - easier than a website). Repetition is a bigger deal than laptops - and very difficult without them. Teaching becomes a process of developing a living unit resource. The deal is that my students must buy into the value of contributing to this resource. Most do - but it is untrue that ALL kids love to work on the laptop. For some, paper is the best route to learning. Laptops also, of course, are a tool for learning and for showing learning. Using the laptop effectively develops many organizational skills - it's not just play. My students have to come to terms with that. So sometimes I apply time pressures. Always I provide performance guidelines. In fact, I probably have more, and better, guidelines for learning that I did before laptops.

SL: This is a good time to ask you about what literacy means today in the context of the digital world we live in and experience daily. Kids have grown up in the "social networking" generation with cell phones, text and message devices, Google for search, Wikipedia for quick information and computers in the classroom (or in Maine's case, everywhere a student can work; on campus or at home). In the broader view, what's the same and what's changed about teaching middle school kids today with "information at your fingertips" technology all around?

Betsy: I see this as movement from flow to spurt. In the old days, `when media moved slowly along a predictable path and required deep focus (I include books and textbooks in this too), teachers could ask students to synthesize reading, listening, viewing and life experiences - because kids had developed the ability to do so - they had the habit of spending the time - they were used to a steady progress from this to that. At least, teachers always assumed that kids could do this. Even my early interdisciplinary classes, full as they were with dramatics and creativity, required students to cross-reference and draw conclusions without prompting. Now, information and input comes to our students in quick spurts, often from interlinking multiple sources. This is a paradigm shift, it seems to me, in how kids access information. Think of a web page, or a textbook, or even a movie on DVD. There is no one path pattern through this media world. And whether he wants to be or not, every student is a searcher. The problem is - students who are surrounded by spurting information have the habit of "spurting away" rather than focusing. This is the teacher's new challenge: how to teach our students to funnel those spurts into a flow, filtering out all of the unnecessary and unessential? We need to rethink the whole meaning of teaching.

SL: You have this wonderfully enlightened almost progressive view of students using laptops for learning in your classroom. I say this because the typical comment from critics is that there is no proof or indication that laptops influence outcomes. And yet, you teach with a view that laptops enable more not less learning opportunities for both you and your students. Has this always been your view? I sometimes kid my contemporaries to remember back when the great "literacy" course we all had in high school (early 70s) was learning how to type or rather, how to touch type to eventually do papers in college. My high school English teacher taught me how to write by showing us how to outline ideas, how to do research (library methods), how to edit our writing and eventually, how to develop our own arguments through discussion and asking questions. Is this about right? Are we still teaching literacy as critical thinking in the age of instant information? Shouldn't we be teaching students how to use the tools first to enhance their ability to learn? What I mean is that giving a student a hand-out is not learning but showing them how to leverage a technique like outlining and then applying it to a lesson would be more effective. Is this the case?

Betsy: My first great teacher (Olga Sweeney) taught me how to write by appreciating what I was reading. This, I don't believe has changed. What students are reading has changed dramatically, in school and out. The question raised in the New York Times (Does Internet reading count?) is valid. It is not, however, valid to dismiss the question quickly. There is a great deal of good, thoughtful, challenging reading online. In fact, much of what we direct students to read is much too difficult for them. Of course they don't read it. Yes, we need to teach them how to leverage the tools that will help them to read for both information and knowledge, with both a sponge and a critical mind. The tools are different. "Text structures" and "paragraph patterns" do not apply to online text. We can not assume that a text can be outlined. We can even assume that it provides a simple answer to a straightforward question.

I also learned to research by having to do it - endless short answer questions about the ancient and medieval worlds. Actually, I loved it - because I was on my own in a large world that I absolutely believed was intelligible, as long as I kept at it. This, I believe, still hold true. My students believe that the digital world is intelligible to them. But it is much larger than a set of encyclopedias and selected history books. So much larger that all they see are snippets. so poorly arranged that often all they can find are snips of snippets. I think that organization is more important than ever.

The challenge is often to teach the skills needed for making something of snippets. I didn't learn how to put a research or analysis paper together, really, until college. We expect it now in 8th grade. Unfortunately, brains have not evolved much in 50 years. The ability to synthesize and generalize are still developing at age 14, yet we require that they be used. So some of the skills we teach need to be more in way of "tricks and crutches." Think of a research project as more of structure built of legos and you get my idea. Some students will build walls, some towers, others spaceships. Some of the skills we teach need to be in the area of question-making. Organization should now be hinged not on main ideas, but on main (Abstract) questions, with the concrete questions at the next level. Forming these questions is itself a skill that can, and should, be taught in middle school.

The great thing about digitally based lessons is that the models and methods for these tricks and skills are archived and can be easily re-referenced. We can shift from memory (which can be false or missing) to "accessing." These are, in fact, the core lessons for students to learn in middle school: Accessing and Archiving. You can see how important it is for the teacher to do arrange for both to be done in an organized, consistent and easy way.

I am starting this year with two big writing concepts: Closure and Threading. We are finding these in children's books, paragraphs, web sites, campaign ads, novels, essays - every possible example of really good communication. The point is, students need to find a thread for their writing and a thread for their thinking. Looping back to the beginning periodically, and at the end, provides Closure for the student (and for the reader of the piece). For many students, but not all, good Concrete and Abstract questions will lead to this thread (some need it spelled out ahead of time, even given to them on a plate - that's OK too). My job is to ask over and over again: What have you found? Where is it taking you? Are your questions being answered? Do you have new questions? Notice the difference between this and the classic research models: Students can not be certain of the outcome when they start out! Critical thinking is crucial. Often, in an online research task, the most significant problem is knowing when to stop! None of this can be done without tools for organizing around all four of those key questions.

I believe that digital tools work best for digital information, and paper tools work best for paper information. There is also a 3rd hugely important tool: speech. You are absolutely right that thinking is clarified by communicating and sharing. Speaking is the best tool for this. Writing in a digital discussion is next best. Since repetition develops skill and learning, doing both is the very best. I have come around to believing that we have to throw out the independent, silent research process and bring on a communicative process. Even when students are doing individual projects, they must regularly verbalize and write about What they have found and Where they are going. And they must be listened to and read, preferably by other students.

There are a multitude of complex tools out there online. Just check out this link that our art teacher shared: http://umanitoba.ca/ist/production/streaming/podcast_wesch.html. NoteShare provides the middle school student with a gradual entrée into this world of online collaborative learning. It is a very straightforward tool organizationally, allowing both the student and the teacher to clarify content and goals, and to share and filter materials. That's why I have chosen to use it. That said, I also use my bulletin boards and whiteboard during every class! And post-its. And "turn to the person next to you and talk..."

SL: I would like to switch gears right now to talk more about how you actually integrate technology into your lesson plans and overall, how do you integrate digital tools as part of the management of your classroom. This past year you wrote in your blog about how you were introducing various digital formats and new learning modalities for students to interact, express themselves and also contribute in a collaborative manner by sharing in an online place where everyone in the class could read what each had written or commented on. How did that work? Did students accept it and engage quickly? Do they view the process as part of the journey or merely another task?

Betsy: I did create an online space for sharing last year. Each student had an edublogs.org blog and I maintained both blog and a forum at my account. As a tool for writing, and learning how to respond to writing, the forum was excellent. It is not news to any teacher that publication improves product. Students were able to almost instantly see the value to taking the journey, trying, and even experimenting with new forms. I am going to repeat this. I am going to use a threaded discussion however. Students would profit from having comments attached directly to their work - this is more like the environment they are used to in MySpace and IM type spaces (those who partake). A threaded forum actually ups the ante on other tools, replicating as closely as possible the dialogue that takes place in a middle school classroom: everyone is heard, responses should be made to specific content. Blogging, on the other hand, can engender deeper comments, but not deep discussion. Even my professional blog sites do not really contain a discussion, rich as they are with comments.

Turning students loose to be responsible for their critical thinking - to really "blog" - was not successful (with two exceptions). Without a concrete framework for their work (a text, for example), they fell back upon chatting or posting just plain information, rather than wondering, questioning, and thinking. Returning to the previous question, this is one time that organization and threading were very necessary. Students can learn the tool skills (in this case, edublogs) quickly, but they need me to provide more of a framework for their own learning. I suspect the blogging project would have been more successful on paper, for the simple reason that students can more easily "go back" to refocus on the "seed ideas" they have already generated. I need to continue to remind myself that maintaining a "flow" of thought is NOT habit for these students.

The blogging tool was also a bit problematic. I will find a better one for this year, hopefully using our new Leopard server's ability to administer and host blogs.

How do I actually integrate these tools into the class period? I work on a schedule. Depending upon the essential goals of the unit, classes take on a consistent pattern. Right now, for example, it is Sponge (quick write or discuss), Listen, Read, Write. Topics are integrated and review is built in. The laptop is a "to go" tool in the classroom. So are post-its (one of the three supplies I require). I vary the reading - it can be on paper or online. Sometimes it is video or image-based. I have learned that variety (and some choice) within structure is a successful model for today's students. If you pull way back from this and look at the classroom and the process, you will see a Netvibes-type structure to what I do. I think that is why it works - for most students most of the time. But I can't say that it is easy to organize and maintain!

I am working with our art teacher to leverage NoteShare to host student podcasts and comments about their own pieces (also posting the pieces or images of them). With a server upgrade, this is going to serve our needs by being (1) easy and (2) just enough. More than enough is not a good solution for education - that is a large lesson I have learned over the past few years. Students, for example, still love e-mail - a very simple tool. Using StudyWiz, they sat in my homebase yesterday and e-mailed each other - even though they could have had a F2F conversation! I watched this for 20 minutes and wondered how I could use this fascination, and also how I would have to organize and guide it. E-mail remains a powerful tool (as is the cell phone, but they are off limits in our school) for education because it is "push tool" - unlike a NoteShare, for example, it does not require that both parties access the "pull" side. At this point, I am not sure how, or if, I will use our First Class accounts this year.

SL: I'm often asked about how teachers are using NoteShare and more specifically, how students are using it to organize their academic work. What would you tell teachers about your own experiences so far using NoteShare? What was the learning curve like? Maine has a strong PD culture from my experience but it's an evolving or continuing effort. There is always an opportunity to learn more, share ideas and try new things in the classroom Are there projects you plan to use NoteShare for this year that you didn't get to last school year?

Betsy: Last year I used NoteShare for group planning and discussion, for a novel study unit, for all short writing exercises, and for the drafting - editing of some longer pieces. This year, I have a web notebook that is gradually replacing my other web spaces: it contains all of my course information, keeps track of what we do in each Core rotation (this has an RSS feed), archives all assignments (links, materials, organizers, samples, rubrics), and provides all "notes" (Dictionaries of the terms we learn and use in class, for example). Students have a digital Journal on their own laptops that is used for "classwork" (writing, novel study, research, production process). I will be adding to this during the year via Page Folio. Various group projects will use topic-specific notebooks hosted on the server. My uses are limited somewhat by our server - four teachers accessing our server at the same time stretches it too far at this time.

The NoteShare learning curve is small. It would be possible for a teacher to teach students the basics in two sessions using print copies of manual pages. With a LCD projector, the teacher can teach the basics in about 30 minutes. I did just that this week. As is true for any new digital tool, some students will charge ahead. They should be leveraged as teachers.

I have started with a skeletal notebook to which students will add each class - this I had them save to their own laptops (multiple lessons in one: where it saved, how it saved, the backup file). In my web-based notebook I have put directions for doing the "cool stuff" they will want to do, so that students can begin to teach themselves new skills.

There are some lessons I would recommend for teachers. Teachers will want to convert QT .mov files to .mp4 files (our image can do this with MPEG Streamclip). They need to know about option-drag, scaling images, tables, multi-line entries, Page Folios, Print Current Page, text formatting, and adding/viewing URLs. That really is about it! We have handled PD in small groups - our grade level teams. As of yesterday, all of the grade 8 teachers are able to create and administer web-based notebooks.

I am keeping my ears open to student responses to most of their teachers using the same tool. I remind them that there are lots of activities, documents and tools embedded inside of a NoteShare notebook. I mix it up - I have to mix it up, in fact, due to network slowness - by projecting video off of my own laptop and by using other tools with NoteShare - browsers, Stickies, Keynote, Pages, blog and (perhaps) wiki and forum clients.

I am moving toward using NoteShare as a digital student portfolio. Little tools are helpful for engaging students - and NoteShare is an accessible archive. Student portfolios can contain, for example,the voice memos, 4 panel comics, Freemind concept maps, images from iPhoto, podcasts and vcasts from GarageBand(shared as mp4 files), iMovies (shared to QT and converted to mp4)... NoteShare is the organizing tool that I need to make the learning process and journey make sense to my students.

There are some practical considerations. A NoteShare server is, I think essential. Teachers need NoteShare Admin. We require students to keep 2Gb free on their laptops, and we monitor this. We also monitor open applications. As a team, we cross-check about how we are using NoteShare - so that we don't overload our server. We are moving toward a folder for each Core class on the server, with several small notebooks rather than one big one for each Core (two of us have already made the Big Ones, which might cause some problems.)

A last note: I do have a G5 desktop in my room. Sometimes a student does not have a laptop with NoteShare. Sometimes the network is down. Some students need a large-print paper copy. We need to remember to be flexible in terms of our lesson structure to allow for emergencies and learning styles.

SL: Describe your NoteShare workflow for us and how you're using the web notebook and RSS feed features. It looks very efficient to me. You keep a daily notebook that is hosted on NoteShare Server and then you update it with information about the class activities. Is this a new idea or change from how you communicated last year?

For my teaching purposes, I am using notebooks the way many teachers use a Planning Book. My Literacy 8 web notebook (server-side notebook) contains the syllabus of the year and a section for each trimester. On the single page in each trimester section, I make an entry for each 5-class rotation, describing what we have done, including some of the necessary files (or pointing to where they can be reached). I have begun to include photographs of class activities too. This system allows me to separate "what we do" from my reflections on the teaching and learning process. I think I am doing better at both.

For parents and students, the What's Happening in Class page provides a class-by-class record, useful when there are absences or questions. I have enabled this page as an RSS feed and provide a link to that feed in several places. The larger web notebook also contains all of the materials I distribute and use in class - as documents or as links - background materials, "dictionaries" of essential terms we are using, and assessment rubrics. I add to this as materials are developed and used.

For long-term units, such as our Plant Study, I have decided to make separate notebooks. The current Plant Study notebook has one Section that students will folio-drag to their own laptop notebooks. It contains process instructions for a reading lesson. As students complete the steps, they will either "print current page" or folio-drag their work into a master notebook that I share off of my laptop (functioning like a drop box). This will depend on their understanding of what they are doing. I move toward the drop box method during this 1st trimester.

The majority of that Plant Study notebook, which sits on the server, is structured for group project work. Each groups has an identical section structuring their note-taking, research and writing for the unit. It also contains photographs and scanned drawings. Groups will be able to link to and edit each other's work. In this way, it will function like a wiki for the project. I am making each group's section into a feed - I will use Mail to track the daily work completed. I will access the notebook itself to see what individual students have contributed (using the Index and Changed By).

I also, of course, have a paper trail of sorts. Students keep some work in a file box in the room - each has folder and folders are stored alphabetically (A-C, etc.) so that in any class of 12-18 there is not a crunch at one box.

I'll be using similar setups for our novel study and research units throughout the year. Students will be doing their essays in Word, however, or on paper (required). We will use student blogs to share best writing.

SL: If you were training other teachers on how to approach NoteShare, what would tell them about the software and what it takes to learn how to use it? Do you have some advice on what applications they should use it for first?

I would begin with the concept of a unit-structuring notebook that is shared off of the teacher's laptop. Creating a set of Sections to contain essential activity components of a reading or project unit is probably the best way to begin to use NoteShare for functional organization. And I would start small - build ONE section in a larger notebook.

Playing around with Organization is important in learning to use NoteShare well. I would suggest that a teacher create a notebook and save copy of it. Then USE that notebook copy before showing it to students. For example, the teacher might take one poem or story, or one historical event or figure, and build a notebook Section in a larger notebook (Poetry, Short Stories, WW I) focused upon that topic. NoteShare works best when the teacher understands how to subdivide information into Sections, Pages, and Entries. Doing this several times is the best way to learn. Some teachers like to think in hierarchies, some in outlines, some in terms of building blocks. Actually sketching out a NoteShare notebook's organization is a good idea!

There are also very good examples of notebooks being shared through ACTEM or MLTI - I downloaded several of these to use as models - both of the good and the bad.

The most exciting aspects of NoteShare include its interrelationship with Safari and document files. Teachers who want to really use this tool must use it interactively. So I would suggest that the 1st topic chosen be one that would include web sites for students to view, questions for them to answer, and media & handouts that can be attached to Pages in the notebook. Teachers who see a notebook as an all-in-one resource will get a fuller idea of what it can be used for.

In terms of HOW to begin using the notebook, I recommend teaming up with another teacher. Sharing and Page Folio ("folio-drag") are important in the classroom, and the best way to learn these is to do them. My colleagues and I moved a lot of pages back and forth before we used a notebook in the classroom. It was months before most of us were ready to explore networked notebooks.

Teachers should also know how to change font, font size, and font color, and how to change entry color and entry indentation. These are simply formatting skills - they are kid friendly and (importantly) skills the kids will learn on their own. It's not usually good to be taken by surprise in the classroom!

So - explore and don't be afraid. Teachers should know that, like all good tools, this one shares many similarities with other good applications - similar menus, similar functionalities, similar shortcuts. It has, of course, much more to offer than stand-alone applications.

SL: Coming full-circle from your viewpoint as a teacher, what has been the best aspect of integrating 1:1 technology into Maine's middle school classrooms? Is NoteShare now an essential tool for both you and your students?

I would not have said this initially - 7 or so years ago when I first realized the power of laptops in the classroom - but I think that providing a contemporary, kid-contemporary, tool for learning is essential. There is mantra for teachers today that "learning must be relevant." The same is true of the tools for learning. Some tools, artistic and musical tools, for example, are timeless to some extent. But even in this disciplines our teachers are broadening their methodologies to excite students with digital applications, peripherals and assignments. The most exciting thing to me is what this means in a bigger picture. There was a time when paper and the ink pen were the means of leveling and unifying a society through learning. The same can now be true of 1:1 laptop learning. I don't think it is the final tool, but it is the best that we have on the table today. At FMS, we are moving, at times despite ourselves, toward integration of units. What was once acceptable "overlap" of educational efforts, is not an opportunity for relevance and deeper learning. We have found ourselves, for example, exploring three different aspects of Plant Study, and three different ways of looking at the pre-WWI world in this country. For the first time, our students are beginning to make deeper connections, throwing around words like "culture" and "worldview" and "innovation." This is when learning is relevant AND "smart" - this is when teaching is exciting.

Yes, NoteShare is central to these efforts. As I have said before, it is a fabulous tool for gathering and (at the same time) organizing all of the snippets of information, reflection, and "evidence" that students gather. For those of us who like to pre-structure content learning, creating a notebook is as easy as outlining on paper (endless folders of handouts - Begone!). For those of us who like to structure concept learning, a notebook is a portal to information and a folio for "making something of it." Yes, I think NoteShare is a terrific tool for our 1:1 environment. Not perfect yet, but always developing. Some of its features, such as the scripts, are even challenging us to grow into them. And did I mention paperless?

It is interesting to me that students are holding on to many habits that their teachers have dropped. One of these is the paper notebook. Many of my students still bring notebooks and lined paper to class (not required or even desired). Even though we do all work in class, and I keep a hanging file for the paper that still manages to be accumulated, they put papers in the notebook and bring them home. This is habit that will have to change over time in my classes, but for now I am splitting larger assignments into a NoteShare and a paper component. It will not be successful to require students to use a tool that they are not conceptually ready for. My goal is to be paperless by mid-year.

SL: What can students gain from learning how to use NoteShare for their own work? Do you see clear benefits to be gained by student's working and organizing in digital notebooks? Do students see the connection between the digital notebook concept and a note-taking tool for keeping their academic work focused? Put another way, aren't they more comfortable working on the screen with digital text than with paper and hand-outs? My own idea of a paperless classroom is not that we eliminate all use of writing, drawing and thinking on paper but that we make the digital version of it available in context and easily accessible. Maybe that's the question or point I'm bringing up as it relates to daily use of NoteShare by your students. That we free-up more time for discussion and interaction in the classroom while reducing the management of paper filing. Do your students submit their work as digital documents and notebooks?

There are definitely paper tasks and digital tasks in my classroom. For example, we begin an essay by free-writing on paper, but we will practice specific writing techniques in a digital writing notebook. There is a pragmatic reason for this, one that will eventually disappear. Our state writing assessment must be hand-written. It will generally not begin with notes, will not be revised significantly, and will be a 1-draft document. So we need to practice generating organized and fluent documents entirely by hand. Digital writing, on the other hand, is much more fluid - it provokes revision and transfer (or publication in another digital medium). It is exciting when students move away from the stubborn "ownership" of their writing that paper notebooks and journals instill, and into the concept of writing for an audience. They see immediately that they write better, and that they profit from the input of readers, when they publish digitally. This is a powerful message.

Although we have only been working in a digital notebook for 4 or so class periods, most students already have the process down. I have begun in a shared notebook (group work) so that everyone sees the same notebook, and uses it the same ways, each class. We have begun to develop guidelines for communicating in a group digital space (as opposed to F2F), something that I feel is important to seriousness with which students treat the NoteShare shared experience. I also have given students the structure of a personal NoteShare notebook - one in which they will work on independent projects and writing, and our novel studies. It took me a while to decide upon this division - personal (laptop) vs. collaborative (server) uses. It does not seem to be an issue for students, as long as I keep the server notebooks topic-specific.

I don't know if students are more or less comfortable with digital or with paper organizers and documents. That is not, for me, the best way to think about the two methods. They are both useful - they both work - and students need to be able to use both equally. I do think they appreciate having the structure created for them, and I personally find a NoteShare structure much more clear than a packet of color-coded papers. That packet can be demoralizing for students. A digital notebook, on the other hand, is small when the project or activity begins - the growth is satisfying. Additionally, it is eminently sharable and it can not be lost. Basically, students have to learn to immediately access the Contents tab - and then take it from there.

We have had no difficulty transitioning between listening, viewing, notebook, and Journal activities. There is a learning curve, however; some students will have difficulty with the steps it takes to enter Stickies, images, documents into NoteShare. This is where continuity comes in. There are currently 3 teachers using NoteShare as a core notebook, one for an entire course (Shawn Favreau) and one for a research project (Janice Murphy). Students are getting a repetition of the key skills they will need. As plain as it seems to adults, students do not readily or automatically transfer skills (or information) from one subject area to another. We are sending an important learning message by using the same tool in multiple learning environments.

It takes more time to scan paper pre-writing activities that I want to allow. So when these are important, I pin them up on the bulletin board. Easy access is what is important. I also maintain simple file boxes, alphabetically divided, with a hanging folder for each student. Again - access is essential. When I create an organizer for paper distribution, I import the document into NoteShare for easy access. Ditto with media files. This serves my purposes - I make work accessible in case of illness, I share with colleagues, and I archive my own lesson materials.

I don't know if NoteShare frees up time for discussion - but it does seem to be true that students feel very free to dialogue about work they are doing digitally - more so than with paper activities (that are not group activities). I would guess that the bar of quality and completeness has been raised by the teachers here who use the laptop for classwork seriously and consistently. My own class often seems more like an art room than a Literacy room - constant chatter and moving around are generally the rule.

SL: I should ask the same question about teachers using NoteShare and what they can gain or learn from using NoteShare. What do you tell other teachers about NoteShare especially if they have been using other tools or simply still use hand-outs? What's in it for teachers to use NoteShare and other digital tools in a 1:1 environment?

Read Betsy Sky-McIlvain's blog about teaching literacy in the 21st century classroom:
Her RSS feed is at this link:
Her course web notebook is at this link:
I have covered some of the plusses for teachers in the previous answer - NoteShare is a wonderful tool for organizing all aspects of a lesson, unit, and year. It has never made any sense to me to create a lesson that uses the laptop as the major tool - and to archive that lesson in a 3-hole binder. Teachers can begin to look at their NoteShare notebooks - the same ones the students use - as elements of a teaching portfolio. As student work is inserted, anchors are added to assignments. Teachers can add a reflective section or notes. All of these are aspects of planning that we know we should do, but most of us do not have the time. With NoteShare, collecting anchors is as simple as using the Page-Folio tool. There are many aspects of this that I have not explored fully - such as inserting voice memo interviews with students and proving voice memo feedback. The exciting thing about using a great digital tool is that what I imagine, I can probably do. That's a pretty good way to stay excited about teaching!

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October 24, 2014

Last Revised:
October 8, 2008

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