November Learning, Intel, Google and YouTube Partner for IdeaJam

November Learning, Intel, Google and YouTube Partner for IdeaJam

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How can we help prepare students for the future and encourage them to dream bigger, think creatively and develop innovative solutions?

On May 2nd, educators, experts, parents, teachers and students from a variety of backgrounds and points of view will come together in Los Angeles to flex their creative muscles on teaching and learning solutions. The IdeaJam, moderated by Alan November, sponsored by Intel and Google/YouTube and produced by Katalyst, will ask participants to problem-solve and create new ideas for classroom design that integrate technology and help boost creativity. Many of the ideas that will be discussed directly relate to Alan’s article, The Digital Learning Farm.

The IdeaJam program is a truly interactive experience. Technology will help elevate the discussion to a higher level, creating a conversation around creativity and education, and will allow for a robust dialogue that happens both in the room and live, online. You can join in the conversation on Twitter @IntelEdge or check out the livestream on YouTube at The stream will begin at 9:30am PT on May 2nd.

Learn more about the background of this event here.

We hope you will join the fun!

And don’t forget, to continue these important discussions, come join us and our friends from around the world at BLC11 this summer in Boston. Click here to learn more and to register.

So Much to Write…

So Much to Write…

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And so little time.

How often we run into this time crunch in the world of writing and the teaching of writing. We don’t have the students write because there’s not enough time to get the laptops out, or there is too much required work to get done. And how often we don’t post a comment, or, gulp, a blog post, because, well, we’re too busy. But I say just do it. Make time for writing. Get kids writing often. And get them in digital spaces so they can read and comment on each other’s work. Regularly. Engagement, improvement in writing and community building will result.

Tonight we had the final meeting of the North Section of YWP’s master class in digital writing. Teachers shared their most successful experiences of the year and the discussion quickly gravitated to a fundamental observation: Peer commenting on their YWP digital classrooms had an enormous impact on the students — and the teachers.

One teacher polled the students about what they liked about the site, about writing in a digital space where they got regular comments from their classmates. “The thing that meant most to them,” the teacher said, “was getting peer comments. They really didn’t want my comments — they get those all the time. They wanted their classmates’ point of view on what they were doing.”

Another teacher talked about how she got the students to rate each other’s work on individual projects. She was stunned not only by how accurate the responses were but also how direct — they were not afraid to, politely, tell each other what they thought the other had done well and what they thought had not been done well. As the teacher was telling about this experience, another teacher said she now regularly has her students rate each other’s work — privately to her — and she then gives each student her grade and the average grade the classmates gave each student. Often, she said, the students were stunned by the grade given them by their mates. This was not possible, she added, when the students were merely writing for an audience of one and the rest of the class didn’t see each other’s work.

A sixth grade teacher had his class set up their rubrics for commenting. They jumped at the opportunity, led the discussion and established the guidelines for the commenting and even created samples for the rubric. The teacher said he had seen results: “I’m amazed at the incredible growth” of the commenting. He offered several examples, including this one:

  • Good job on the work; it was amazing. I never thought that you could go to so many places in just in one trip.  I have on question for you: How many days/weeks  was the trip? Also why didn’t you bring me anything? Just kidding. But how come going to the animal shelter was your favorite part of the trip and also going to your uncle’s was you favorite part of the trip? I am just confused.   I loved it when you said “Your heart was beating loud and how maybe everyone could hear it.” That was my favorite part.  I think your writing was great, but there were a few parts that were iffy. I hope you find this comment helpful.

What I find interesting about the teacher’s example is the tone: The care, the civility and the specific observations.

A high school teacher said that the digital spaces — and peer commenting — had allowed her to “set aside my red pen” and encourage development of ideas. She also worked with the students in her AP class to establish that “each comment had to be unique to that piece. The comment could not apply to any other piece of writing.” Gone, then, were phrases like “this is a great piece of writing,” or “nice job.” The comments had to provide specific observation. The teacher modeled the commenting but then backed off as the class took over.

One downside: One teacher said that early on it was sometimes “devastating” to a student if he or she didn’t get a comment from a peer. All had developed ways to encourage, require, cajole, trick the kids into making sure everyone received comments and that students did not comment on only friends’ work. Among them: A shared responsibility — if anyone didn’t get a comment on an assignment, everyone’s grade would be reduced. Another told the students that she would not grade any of the work if he saw a piece did not have a comment. And still another teacher got the class to buy into full commenting coverage as a shared responsibility.

In last night’s session there was a consensus among the 15 teachers in class: Their students’ writing had improved as a direct result of regular peer feedback something only possible in a digital space.

Geoffrey Gevalt is founder of Young Writers Project, a small nonprofit in Vermont that works with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in an effort to improve students’ writing skills and digital literacy. To see the project’s work, visit or He can be reached at ggevalt (at) or 802-324-9537


Twelve Reasons to Teach Searching Techniques with Google Advanced Search… Even Before Using the Basic Search

Twelve Reasons to Teach Searching Techniques with Google Advanced Search… Even Before Using the Basic Search

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by Michael Gorman – Welcome to another post, one that I hope you will find valuable and will pass on to others. I think you will learn that when it comes to a search… Advanced really can be quite Basic! It is a pleasure to post and network with all of you here at November Learning. You can also follow me on twitter (mjgormans) and of course visit my 21centuryedtech Blog. Now, enjoy a visit designed to help you reflect on how students are being taught… or not taught to research!  Have a great week – Mike

I often present on the importance of Digital Immigrants (most teachers) facilitating Digital Natives (most k12 students)  in the use of digital technology. You see, I believe that while today’s digital natives have a affinity for using digital tools… they often do not have the life experiences to utilize these tools to their greatest potential. One example I would like to present to you today is the use of Google as a search engine. Since I am still in the classroom I am able to watch students perform various searches with Google. I have the opportunity to see what I claim is inefficient input resulting in a multitude of needless results from Google. Assisting our digital natives in the process of searching is something that all of us as digital immigrants can help with. We have the life experiences and educational background to help our students fine tune their digital skills and become more productive in research.

I would suggest that educators direct students towards the Google Advanced Search Engine even before using the Google Basic Search. In fact, I would further suggest that an Advanced Search be used until students understand how to use these advanced techniques in a Basic Search. Why? First, I do not see these skills as advanced techniques. I see them as a skill set necessary in finding information in a productive manner.  When  educators ask students to search and find information on the internet… it is not to just get the answer. It is to learn an important process that will serve them through future schooling and eventual careers. Let’s take a look at the Google Advanced Search Engine and see why it really should be a basic prerequisite!

Twelve Reasons To Teach Searching With Google Advanced Search

1. The Advanced Search teaches important syntax such as STRINGS, AND, NOT, and OR. In the first part of the Advanced Search as shown below students will learn the following:

All these words (above picture) allows the AND statement (AND is actually not needed in Google since it is inferred when multiple words are put in. This is an important concept since I have seen students many times needlessly type in the AND command. (Note that small words such as articles are omitted – a, the, of, an, as… etc).

This exact wording or phrase (above picture) allows words to be put together in a STRING. In this case Google will look for a string of words that must be together in a website. This is great when looking up an author, movie, quote, or for words that must be kept together (nuclear fission).

One or more of these words (above picture) allows the use of the ORcommand. This is valuable when a researcher wants to look for more than one word… but does not want to eliminate a page because all the words cannot be found in a specific page.

But don’t allow pages that have any of these unwanted words (above picture) allows for the NOT statement to be used.  This is very useful in eliminating unwanted words and results. Often called the NOT command and uses the (-) sign in a Google Basic search. An example would be looking for the country Turkey while eliminating results for the bird turkey.

2. The Advanced Search teaches about a search through its tip links. In the picture above I have selected the tip for using the (-) or NOT command. The tip explains how to use it in the basic search. This may be one of the best reasons to include the Advanced Search as a teaching tool.

3.  The Advanced Search teaches syntax by taking input and displaying how the search would look in a Basic Search (below picture). This is displayed at the top of the Advanced Search Page as the search words are typed in. Once again, students learn how the Basic Search should be structured. This reinforces the concept that proper input of search terms will increase efficiency and until students knows how to use the Basic Search effectively, they may be more productive in Advanced.

Note in the picture above that a search is being made for the phrase “one small step for man” outside of the  reference to Neil Armstrong. Notice that the top of the page allows the student to see how this would be built in a Google Basic search. This will apply to all of the techniques available in Google Advanced search.

4. The Advanced Search teaches how to search for pages in any language (below picture). What an awesome way for students to explore a foreign language they are studying or get primary resources on an event from the source country. This is actually an easier way to search than in the Basic. Even more importantly, students can then enter the website for translation. Translation is usually found at the top of the website, or one can use to translate. This is not integrated in the Basic Search Box.

5. The Advanced Search teaches how to do the search for alternate resources in an easy manner (below picture). Of course, the syntax is available at the top of the page for those wanting to try it next time in a Google Basic Search. Educators and students can find powerpoints, Google Earth files, spreadsheets, PDF files, Flash files, Word files, and even Autodesk files. Great for research and even better for teachers wishing to find some lesson plan material.

6. The Advanced Search teaches how to search inside of a website or domain (below picture). This can be useful for limiting a search to a  .gov, or possibly to a specific website such as, You will note that the Google Search at the top shows you how to put this in the Basic Search

To investigate four more reasons to teach with Google Advanced Search, click on the Date, usage rights, numeric range, and morelink on your Google Advanced Search Page.

Please note that only three of the filters below translate into a Google Basic Search. They include Where your keywords show up, Numeric range,and Important  links. The others are valuable and prove how important an Advanced Search can be because they provide great information and are easy to use in the Advanced Search.

7. Advanced Search teaches how to specify to return results according to date (below picture). This is very valuable for finding timely information. Students looking up a current event or breaking news story may want to use this feature. Remember, the default is (anytime). It is also a great way to emphasize whether currency of information is relevant to the research topic. This does not translate into the Google Basic Search Box.

8. Advanced search teaches how to specify a search related to a website’s usage rights (below picture). This is a gold mine for those wishing to use, share, modify, or remix information.  Also, it is  a great way to teach students about copyright and creative commons rights. It is important to observe the rules governing how an item may be shared, and to make students aware of this. This is especially helpful when searching for pictures in the Advanced Image Search

9. Advanced Search teaches how to specify to search for keywords in a specific place on a website (below picture). This is a tool that can be really useful in narrowing down results. First, the default is (Anywhere In Page).  This includes all the possibilities, but may actually be too broad in scope. When getting a large number of returns, one could narrow down returns by requesting that keywords be listed in title. This will narrow the search and possibly lead users to a more specific subject, since keywords in a title tend to emphasize content in an article. In the same way, URL and Links to a pagemay lead the researcher to more specific and relevant information This does display in the Google Basic Tool Box above so that one can see what it would look like in a Basic Search.

10.  Advanced Search teaches how to specify to find websites from various regions of the world (below picture). This is a great way to teach students about bias and regional differences. This part of the search engine allows the student to look up web pages published in a specific region or country. This technique is great for current evenst, allowing the searcher to get information from the country of origin. A teacher should encourage students to compare and contrast the same news story coming from two different areas or regions. Students can study a subject, such as the American Revolution, from a British, French, Russian, or United States perspective. What is Russia’s take on the Space Race,  Cuba’s thoughts on the Bay of Pigs, or China’s research on Global Warming?  This tool does not show up in the Basic Search Tool Box and is another reason to use the Advanced tools.

11. Advanced Search teaches one how to look up information in a numeric range (below picture). Perhaps a researcher wishes to search between a set number of years, such as 1800-1900. Specifying a dollar amount such as $250 – $500 or searching for a distance range 10 miles – 100 milescould be valuable in finding needed information. A student may even wish to look  up a range of page numbers. This will translate above in the Google Basic Search Box.

12. Advanced Search teaches how to find important  links and websites similar to one that was useful (below picture). This includes two useful tools. A user who really finds a particular site useful may want to enter that page’s URL into the Find Pages Similar To The Page line. This may lead to other sites that provide needed research information.Using the Find Pages That Link To The Page may also lead the user to other useful sites. This Link To The Page tool can also be used to evaluate a website by determining the number, and type of pages linking to it. In fact, I teach people to use Find Pages That Link To The Page when evaluating Web Pages using what I call  Good Links.  (Starting with a space before entering the address in the Find Pages That Link To The Page form  will yield different and sometimes better results). This will show up in the Google Basic Search Box.

Also be sure to check out both the safe search feature and the readability feature as both can be valuable for classroom use. As you can see the Google Advanced Search, used correctly, will  facilitate today’s digital natives to expand their digital abilities while promoting productivity and learning in the classroom. It’s you and I, the digital immigrants, who can make it happen!   Have a great week! – Mike


The Truth is Out There by Bob Sprankle

The Truth is Out There by Bob Sprankle

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I think the best way to tell this tale, is to rewind to 7 or so years ago.

I am a 3/4 Multi-Age teacher, and Google has yet to be invented. I can’t remember exactly what I was teaching to the students at the time, but I believe it must have been science related, because we were talking about blood. Somehow the conversation turned to the color of blood, and before I knew it, my entire class —100%— was suddenly trying to convince me that:

“Your blood is blue when it’s inside your body and it turns red when it comes out and hits oxygen.”

I had never in my life heard such a thing.

I immediately disputed the fact, but like I said, there was no Google or even a reliable Internet connection in my room, so I was unable to quickly find proof for them. They held strong to their belief, and I to mine, and we left that day with no resolution of who was correct or not.

However —lucky for me— I was scheduled to have my blood drawn (for some yearly checkup thing) several days later. I’m able to do this in the morning before school starts at a facility conveniently located near the school. So, as the blood technician (is that the correct stuck my arm, I asked her to help settle the argument. I told her my students’ claim that it is the oxygen that makes blood red and my own position of “No way.”

In short, she laughed at me and said, “Look at this tube that your blood is going in to. That’s a vacuum! There is no oxygen in there. What color is your blood?!”

Indeed it was red. I couldn’t wait to tell my students when I got to school that morning.

When I did, they still refused to believe me, even after a blood expert told me what’s what.

I’m not a scientist. I teach science at the elementary level, and I’ve still got plenty of science to learn. Did I doubt my own conviction when the entire class argued against me? You bet I did (even if momentarily), and I think all scientists constantly question and doubt their convictions as well until indisputable proof is delivered. Not being a blood expert, it was my duty to find the correct answer to bring back to my students. Finding a blood expert (a blood technician at a doctor’s office) seemed a sufficient resource for me to acquire the correct answer.

Fast forward to present:

I now teach in a computer lab with a curriculum that is mostly made up of ISTE standards, preparing students for the world they live in. One of the main skills taught is:

Students will use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.

I do this at each grade level I teach (K-4) in varying degrees and have just recently completed a unit with my 3rd graders on how to evaluate web resources, how to identify if the author(s) is an expert, and whether or not the information can be trusted.

To illustrate just how hard this can be, I asked my students a question at the beginning of the unit:

“How many of you think your blood is blue when it’s inside your body and turns red when it comes out and mixes with oxygen?”

Informally, I would say around 90-95% of the students said they believed this. They were shocked when I told them the story of asking an expert years ago whether or not this is true, and the revelation that this belief is a myth. This lead into the discussion of “what makes an expert?” and from there, we dove into how to find and evaluate information on websites.

So… the other day —St. Patrick’s Day to be specific— I needed to get a blood test again. Per usual, I went to the same facility close to the school. This time, however, out of all the times I’ve been there to have blood taken, I was put into a different room, one I was unaware even existed. It was right next to the room that I usually go in —a closet size space, large enough to accommodate the tools needed to get the job done. I’ll call this “Room A.” “Room B” (the room I was put in the other day), looks just like “Room A,” except everything is “backwards.” In other words, it has the exact same equipment, but its setup is a “mirrored image” of Room A.

So, I’m sitting there, noticing how the room is a mirrored image of the room I’ve always gone in, thinking about the fact that I never knew the existence of the room, daydreaming about parallel universes (hey, what can I say, my brain does these things) and listening to the blood technician as she wishes me a “Happy St. Paddy’s Day” and tells me how the entire office has been celebrating the day. They’ve all worn their green “scrubs,” Irish music is playing in the background, Leprechaun cut-outs have been hung up around the building… they’re really going for the Irish theme “big time” this year. I think of making a “green blood” joke, somehow connecting it to the tradition of “green beer,” but I realize it’s not going to come off right so I decide against it. When she gets ready to stick the needle in, however, I feel it’s my turn to continue some type of banter, if only to assure her that needles don’t bother me, and that I can make small talk while having blood drawn so she’ll have no concerns that I might be someone who faints or grows ill during such a procedure (I try my best to be an “upbeat” patient whenever encountering folks in the health field; I realize how difficult their jobs are).

I say to the technician —just to make small talk, mind you— “Do you know how many people think their blood is blue when it’s in their body and only turns red once it hits oxygen?”

I was approaching this topic not as someone who’s “in the know” (wink, wink) and is having a laugh at those who don’t know, but more as an educator, sharing common knowledge in order to next ask how many times she has encountered people who believe in blue blood, and how she goes about educating these patients.

Instead of the response I expected, she turned to me and said:

“Well… isn’t it?”

Okay… suddenly I was dizzy. It could have been the blood being drawn, the effect that the “mirrored room” was having on me (the parallel-universe-Matrix-movie effect), the Irish music whirling around on the sound system, or all of these combined. But suddenly, my entire reality took a hit and I felt the bottom drop out from below me.

“But… but… but…” I stammered, “I was here… a couple of years… ago… and the other technician… told me… that that’s a myth… vacuum… this tube… is a vacuum… proof…” I tried my best to tell about my previous encounter with one of her colleagues (an expert in blood), trying very hard not to offend her in any way.

It was clear the scene became slightly awkward for both of us because we were simultaneously doubting our realities. We both murmured on, mostly to ourselves:

Blood Technician: “I… heard this, but I can’t remember who told me…”

Me: “But… who’s seen the blue blood? How could one eliminate oxygen in order to actually… see it?”

Blood Technician: “Well… now I’m not sure… maybe I should ask the lab technician…”

Me: “Well, now I’m not sure… maybe the other person had it wrong…”

Meanwhile the red stuff flowed out of my arm into the little capsule and I realized I had accidentally, severely messed with this poor woman’s reality… or maybe my own. Or maybe I was trying to block out the voice in the back of my head that was screaming, “This woman is taking your blood! Shouldn’t she be an expert?! Shouldn’t her answer be as emphatic and indisputable as the last technician’s was? And shouldn’t both answers agree?!”

I made light of it by saying something like, “Heh, heh, heh! I can see what you’ll be talking about at dinner tonight. This jerk came in and started this whole crazy conversation with me about the color of blood! Heh, heh, heh!”

This didn’t help. She was clearly unnerved, and the moment she put the band-aid on my arm (“Please apply pressure”), she went to ask the “Lab Technician” the answer.

This was “off stage” so I never got to see the “Lab Technician.” I thought that my “Blood Technician” was the “Lab Technician,” but clearly there are different levels of technicians.

My “Blood Technician” came back a moment later and told me the “Lab Technician’s” answer:

He said he wasn’t sure and to Google it.”

Okay… I have to admit, at this point I just wanted to get out of there. I had done enough damage.

The “Blood Technician” did go on to say that the “Lab Technician” also said that some blood is red and some is darker because of the lack of oxygen, and that some people would say that it resembled a purplish color, maybe not actually blue.

I finally leave, feeling really badly that I ever brought this up, but now am filled from head to toe with an intense desire: I must find the truth.

Okay. It is at this point in the post, that I’m sure some of you are voting for “RED” and some of you are voting for “BLUE.” Please, don’t hesitate to take a pause from reading here to go do your own Google search (I’ll wait here). Before I reveal my own findings, I again want to admit that I was unsure of the final answer. I decided to put a typical search into Google in a syntax that I see many students use: in other words, ask it a question directly. Feel free to use the one I used:

“Is blood blue in your body?”

This is a great activity for students, by the way: “Prove whether blood is blue or red when it’s inside your body.” Using the Google search I gave as an example above, you’re going to see that there will be plenty of results (I got “About 17,100,000 results” on the day I ran the query). The next job for your students is to be able to separate the answers found from those that are made up of anecdotal evidence, and perhaps supplied by amateurs (such as you might find on a “Yahoo Answers” page) from those which are indisputable and come from experts in the field. This is where you get to teach students how to harness advance search options (such as limiting results to sites with the domain “.edu”) or any of the other great lessons that you would find in Alan November’s book: “Web Literacy for Educators”.

For instance, as your students start to understand how to limit searches to just academic sites (by using “.edu” I came up with a smaller search result: “About 774,000”), they might come up with one of results I found:

Once they use this academic source to “prove/disprove” their assumption, you can then “mess with their minds” by teaching them that the “tilde” (this symbol: ~) used before the professor’s name (~kalinkat) means that while this site is related to an academic site (from Michigan State University, to be exact), the “tilde” shows that the “site is not an official academic page… but actually a personal posting” (p.32, November). What does this mean? Personal postings could show “bias,” and more research is required.

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere! We’ve just opened up a lovely “can of worms!” Isn’t the search for truth fun?

You see, I must come clean: I’m sure you can tell that this whole “blue blood” thing has gotten me a bit fired up. The thing is, though, I’m not bothered by the fact that I doubted myself several times throughout this long research journey. I’m not even bothered by the fact that every adult (except one) I’ve asked since my “St. Paddy’s Day” blood test has answered “Blue” when I asked them what color blood is inside your body. (By the way, that one person who said “Red” is our school’s nurse, and she came and actually talked to one of my classes with charts in hand. Incidentally, she went home that day and asked her own husband what color he thought it was, and he refuses to believe in any answer other than “Blue”).

What bothers me is that the idea that blood is blue in our bodies until it comes into contact with oxygen is truly a “magical idea.” It is on the level of something that would be possible in the movie Avatar, or as magical as actual Leprechauns coming to visit on St. Patrick’s Day. In other words, because this seems so over the top, how could such a misconception (or myth) exist so long and so large in our culture and why did it take so much effort to prove to myself and to others I’ve been arguing with for weeks what the correct answer is?

When served green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone knows it’s not magic and can follow the logical trail back to how such a thing as the beer turning green occurred (eventually landing at food coloring or some other scientific answer). We’ve all had experience with blood. Red blood. No one has ever seen blue blood come out of a human, and yet so many of us are walking around satisfied with the notion that someone somewhere once told us it is actually blue.

When I asked people to prove to me their answer when they said “Blue,” no one could, of course, but most were content to hang on to their belief rather than be motivated to find cold, hard evidence.

So, I end this post with two questions:

  1. The first one (probably expected) is: Are we teaching enough science in our curriculum?
  2. But the second question seems more urgent to me: Are we teaching enough research and critical thinking skills in our curriculum?

Here are some of my favorite findings that might help you with your own “Blue/Red” debates:

Works Cited:

“Binghamton University – News and Events: The Newsroom: Ask a Scientist: Scientist: Archive.” Binghamton University – Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2011. <>.

“Blood – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2011. <>.

Molinaro, M. . “Biophotonics Tools – Oxymetry IST 8A Lecture.” Biophotonics Tools – Oxymetry IST 8A Lecture. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2011. <>.

November, Alan C.. Web Literacy for Educators . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Print.

Tsai, Nelly. “Circulatory System.” nelly practicum.pdf. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2011. <>.


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