Connect Article published

logoI’m thrilled that Saint Mary’s Press asked me to write an article about technology in Catholic Schools for their January edition of CONNECT: A free newsletter for high school religion teacher, campus ministers and principals.

In this issue of Connect, Colette Cassinelli, of Valley Catholic Middle and High School in Beaverton, Oregon, introduces some manageable ways to use technology that can significantly enhance the learning experiences of our students. In doing so, she illustrates that it is possible to take steps into the world of education and technology without being completely overwhelmed by the possibilities that seem to multiply every day. Our own use of technology for learning can model to our students how they can use technology in responsible and useful ways.

In the feature article, Colette introduces the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS) and gives examples of ways to make these standards come alive. In “Making It Happen,” she gives more in-depth descriptions of using technology in the high school classroom.

Feature Article | Making It Happen | Resources | From Saint Mary’s Press

Catholic Educators and Twenty-first-Century Learning
by Colette Cassinelli

Everywhere around us the world is changing. Business, politics, and journalism are being transformed by rapid changes in technology, and education is slowly seeing technology’s potential. Catholic educators today must embrace a new pedagogy and embed collaborative technologies for a new society of learners.

Students in our classrooms today differ from those who came before them. Educational theorist Marc Prensky calls these students “digital natives.” They are well versed in the uses of computers, cell phones, digital cameras, and text messaging. They think and process information in a fundamentally different way than previous generations. The Pew Internet and American Life Project (2007) found that 64 percent of online teenagers (ages 12-17) engaged in at least one type of Web content creation, such as blogs and photo and media sharing. These students are creative, smart, and most of all, networked, and they want their education to be and feel meaningful, worthwhile, and relevant to the future.

Educational consultant Ian Jakes states, “The primary task of the educational system must be to give learners the right tools and provide them with a critical mind so that they can ask the right questions and make the right connections. The problem is that the world is not the stable, static place it once was. The world has changed and continues to change.”

How can we as Catholic educators adopt these new tools and contemplate ways the interactive Web can enhance our own practices and student learning? How can we encourage students to be lifelong learners and discover the power of self-learning? How do we rethink our curriculum and embed twenty-first-century skills into our teaching to create authentic learning tasks?

It is an overwhelming undertaking, and many of us educators who did not grow up with technology (Marc Prensky calls us “Digital Immigrants”) are hesitant to change and have no clear road map for how to begin.

National Technology Standards for Students (NETS)
An excellent place to start is with the newly refreshed National Technology Standards for Students (2007) outlined by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The new NETS provide a framework for educators to use as they transition schools from Industrial Age to Digital Age places of learning. These new standards focus on skills and knowledge that students need to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly digital society. They focus on cognitive skills, as netsswell as creativity and innovation. These are the six standard areas:

  1. creativity and innovation
  2. communication and collaboration
  3. research and information fluency
  4. critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making
  5. digital citizenship
  6. technology operations and concepts

All educators want their students to be creative and innovative. We embrace collaboration among our students because sharing knowledge enhances student learning. We provide opportunities for our students not only to be able to access information efficiently but also to be able to evaluate sources and synthesize the content. We desire to challenge our students to think critically and understand all aspects of a problem before making decisions. We insist that our students be responsible and ethical citizens of a digital world and leave behind “digital footprints” that represent moral and upright citizens. We hope that our students will be technologically prepared for a job in the future that we can’t even imagine yet.

Each of the standards outlined by ISTE contains simple and easy to implement technology skills. First, begin by examining your curriculum and identifying areas where you want your students to demonstrate understanding. Focus on student learning rather than on your teaching practice. Look for opportunities where students can embrace creative expression and share ideas digitally through written or multimedia formats. Start small–you do not need to embrace everything at once! Find a network of other teacher-learners like the online forum found at Classroom 2.0 ( and explore new technology tools together. (This Web site does a good job explaining that we have experienced the “Web 1.0” as a one-way means of getting information. “Web 2.0” is a new phase in Internet usage, allowing a two-way exchange of information, meaning that all of us can post material on the Internet and shape its content.)

Creativity and innovation. The proliferation of free Web 2.0 tools on the Internet provides educators with ample opportunity for students to be engaged in creative and unique ways. Digital storytelling is now easier than ever with free downloadable software like Microsoft’s PhotoStory 3 or by visiting Web-based programs like These tools allow students to upload images, audio, and narration for personal narratives, to demonstrate understanding of a skill presented in class, or to share stories from school events. VoiceThread projects take it a step further and allow classmates to comment and create conversations around digital images–either in a private or public forum.

Communication and collaboration. Another great way to encourage collaboration among students is to use a wiki for classroom instruction. A wiki is a simple, easy-to-use Web page that anyone can edit. Students can document the steps of a science experiment, participate in collaborative story writing, or list Web sites used for a research paper. The power of a wiki is the collaborative nature of the technology, and any student can add her changes to the document. The revision history is automatically saved so it can easily be reverted back to a previous version if necessary. Many wiki Web sites, like Wikispaces, will give educators free access with no ads.

Technology integration. One place to start with technology integration is among professional activities for your faculty and staff. With Google Apps for Education, schools can set up e-mail, a calendar, and collaboration tools right from the browser. Administrators and educators can work together on documents uploaded to shared “Google Docs and Spreadsheets” and assign editing rights to facilitate synchronous writing. Google Apps for Education is free, with no advertising, and is easy to manage because there is no hardware or software to maintain. You can even customize your search page with your school name and resources you want made available to your school community (calendar, news feeds, announcements, etc.). After staff members see the power of sharing documents among themselves, then teachers can embrace this same type of collaboration with their students.

Digital citizenship. When implementing any type of technology into the curriculum, it is critical to simultaneously teach and demonstrate appropriate digital citizenship. We want our students to be safe online, so it is best to have students and parents sign “acceptable use” agreements before allowing students to use Web 2.0 sites (note that some sites require students to be thirteen). Students should use only first names, no identifying descriptions such as age or school name, and consider using avatars (a computer user’s self-representation as a two-dimensional icon or a three-dimensional model) or icons instead of real photos. Along with digital literacy, teachers can also address serious topics such as cyberbullying and online safety when using social-networking sites.
Digital Fluency
Most of all, we want our students to be digitally fluent inside and outside the classroom. We want them to see learning as a lifelong goal, not something that only happens inside a classroom. Learning is an active process with the learner at its center. Technology can provide unprecedented opportunities to explore new areas and can actively engage students in a wider range of projects than have ever been possible before. As Thomas Friedman states in his book, The World Is Flat, “the most important ability you can develop in a flat world is the ability to ‘learn how to learn’–to constantly absorb, and teach yourself, new ways of doing old things or new ways of doing new things” (page 302). As Catholic educators, we can use technology to excite and inspire these “digital natives” and lead them down a road to developing their own passion and curiosity.

Expanding the Uses of Technology
by Colette Cassinelli

Computer class is not just about learning how to format Word documents, write formulas in Excel, or make a PowerPoint anymore. It’s about using creativity and communication tools to challenge students to dig deeper and further student learning with real-world lessons. While I may teach students how to use various technological tools in the ways I describe, they can be applied across the curriculum.

Students learn best when they are fully engaged in classroom activities. I believe that as Catholic educators we must ensure that materials we use in class are relevant to our students’ lives and emphasize ways that learning can be applied in real-life situations. I like to present students in my computer classes with tasks that are authentic, built on life experiences, and use real-world technology tools. My desire is to have activities that provoke the curiosity of students but at the same time produce relevant, high-quality digital products.

Long-Distance Interviewing via Skype
Chad Lehman, a K-5 library media specialist from Wisconsin, posted a plea on the Classroom 2.0 online forum looking for teachers from other states to collaborate on a state project he was doing with his fourth graders. As part of their research on the fifty states, he wanted each fourth grader to interview someone about what it’s like to live in that state and what they like best about living there. I replied to Mr. Lehman that my seventh grade students would love to participate. I downloaded a program called Skype onto one of the lab computers and brought my webcam from home. Skype is a software program that allows you to make video phone calls over the Internet. We arranged the time of the interview and the class waited excitedly for the big day. Two students were chosen to speak for our class and answer the questions. We projected the Webcam image of the interview onto a large screen so everyone could watch. Mr. Lehman and a fourth-grade boy interviewed our class. All of my students were 100 percent engaged in the interview. If our two representatives didn’t know the answer to a question, the other twenty-eight kids scrambled to see who could find the answer first on Google. The interview went off without a hitch, and my students begged to do it again. These relatively easy-to-implement technology projects made me realize that my students were eager to communicate with students outside our school. I decided to next try a longer, more in-depth project.

Blogging to Make the World a Better Place
Using the quote from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” I challenged my middle and high school computer students to brainstorm how we could use the digital tools of today to “be the change.” Students used Inspiration (a dichangegital graphic organizer) to map out ideas of how they could accomplish this and went to work researching a topic of their choosing. I wanted to make sure the parents understood the project and sent home a letter detailing our proposal, including an explanation of how we were going to use a blog for our publishing platform. (A blog is like an online diary where the students could write posts about their topic and share resources.) I set up individual student blogs at This Web site allows each student to customize their own blog but still be connected to the larger class.

Students posted their first entry explaining their chosen topic and how they hoped to change the world. The topics ranged from encouraging people to give blood, protecting the environment, teenage depression, animal abuse, recycling, and more. They designed original Web banners for their site and research facts to give their blog credibility. To encourage students to read each other’s posting, I set up learning circles of four to five students who read and commented on one another’s blogs. We discussed appropriate commenting, how to encourage further discussion, writing in a manner that was professional, using accurate facts, and citing resources. This activity gave a real-world experience to everything I taught in my earlier digital citizenship unit. We used only first names, did not use identifying photos, and did not reveal our school name.

In addition to discussing their topic and writing personal reflections, students also embedded other forms of media such as digital comic strips and educational public service announcement videos. The students enjoyed receiving comments from their classmates but were eager for a larger audience. I located a group of teachers online who were also blogging with their students and invited them to read our blogs. My students participated in a “comment challenge” to read and post on other classroom blogs. Soon my students were discussing their topics with elementary and high school students from around the US and Canada and as far away as Australia. As a teacher I was able to review and approve all comments before they were posted. The overall reaction to the blogging activity was positive and encouraging. Many students worked on their blogs from home and were always excited to receive new comments.

Additional Ideas
Giving my students an authentic audience raised the level of student engagement and quality of work in my classroom. Other classes have also made videos for Peace Day, evaluated the nutritional content of school lunches by using Excel spreadsheets, mass produced letters to local representatives about legislation, interviewed locals for career VoiceThread projects, and more. Next year I plan on incorporating additional interaction with other schools by having the students create original digital postcards and embed them into a Google map. We will send the URL of the Google map to the other schools and encourage them to visit our map and add their images and research.

Our teens are social creatures as we know. Allowing them to communicate with other students around the country and the world can help them learn about important topics in a way that is real, immediate, and personal, enabling them to expand their worldviews and ask more critical questions about any topic under discussion.

View all the Connect articles at

Reflecting back .. looking forward

Looking back on 2008. 1st photo of 2009/365 Flickr project.

The beginning of a new year is always a great time to reflect on growth and accomplishments of the past year.

For me professionally, 2008 brought about the greatest change.  Having the opportunity to present concurrent sessions at ITSC, NCCE and ILC 2008 gave me the opportunity to expand and connect f2f with my personal learning network.  I love sharing what I am doing with my students and get a lot of energy from meeting educators everywhere.

The highlight of the year was attending the Google Teacher Academy in June.  The way the “out-of-towners” connected ahead of time and the camaraderie we developed truly made that experience worthwhile.  The GCT discussion board is one of the more vibrant and best sharing resources out there.  Make sure you apply if there is a GTA in your area.

One of the Google projects that I started with MaryFran Lynch is Tech Tip Tuesday.  Each week MaryFran and I email a simple tech tip about a Google product and share it with our faculty.  We archive all of our tips at  Not only have I learned even more (Google joke) about all things Google, posting the tips each week on this blog has also helped my own blogging this year – about 88 posts this year (not counting Delicious links).

2008 also brought about changes to our family.  My youngest son headed off to Gonzaga this year which left my husband and I as empty nesters – which probably also has a lot of do with the increase in my blogging at the end of this year~  🙂

I look forward to 2009.  I am presenting at NCCE in February, NCEA in April and for the first time – NECC in June.  I am participating in the 2009/365 photo-a-day flickr challenge – which should be a lot of fun.  My husband gets some sabbatical time off this next summer and we are beginning to plan an extended trip around the US.

Thanks to all the readers of this blog.  I learn so much from you each day by reading your blogs and your sharing on Twitter.  Take care!

Upcoming Tech Conference presentations

Just a heads up:  I will be presenting a 3 hour hands-on workshop and several one hour sessions at the NCCE conference in Portland on February 19th & 20th

Integrating Google Tools 4 Teachers ($85 extra)
Morning Workshop, Friday, February 20, 2009, from 8:30 AM – 11:30 AM

Come learn how you can use the FREE Google tools to encourage collaboration in your classroom. A Google Certified Teacher will share multiple examples of how MS/HS school teachers are integrating Google shared docs & spreadsheets, Google Maps and the new Google sites into their curriculum. Great for beginners! Windows Computer Lab.…

Other concurrent sessions:

Thursday, February 19th 1pm VoiceThread for sharing and collaboration

Friday February 20th 1:15pm Google Tools vs Google Apps for Education

Btw, I am also presenting a Google Tools for Catholic Schools at the NCEA conference in Anaheim in April.  Anyone else going?

Update:  I will also be at NECC in Washington DC in  June

Title: Using VoiceThread for Interactive Projects
Category/Subcategory*: Formal Session:BYOL (Bring your own laptop)
Theme/Strand*: 21st-Century Teaching & Learning:Web/Internet/Web 2.0
Day: Tuesday, 6/30/2009
Time: 3:30pm–4:30pm

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google Specialized Search

Specialized Search – Part 3

This next set of tips is great to integrate into social studies curriculum. It’ll help your students find primary sources when doing research, and have a better appreciation for just where the events took place.

When you use view:timeline, your results are broken down into chronologically listed dates. You can filter your search to narrow the time period from which you would like to view results.

For example, here is the top of the results page for the query [view:timeline battle of the bulge]:

Notice the filter on the right of the page. Narrowing the search to 1940-1944 will give you these results:

You can add maps to the search results. [view:map battle of the bulge] will give you a Google Map, with markers that refer to the places listed in the articles in the results. Switch between map, satellite, and hybrid view to give students a better appreciation of the terrain.

Good Luck!
~ MaryFran and Colette

Tech Tip Tuesday

This school year, my fellow Google Certfied Teacher MaryFran Lynch and I began a weekly email newsletter to introduce our staff to all the great tools and features of the Wonderful World of Google.

September 2008:  Welcome back to school and to the inauguration of Tech Tip Tuesday. It is our hope that over the year we will be able to introduce you to some tools that will help you both in your classroom and in your personal life. Every Tuesday, we’ll be sending you an e-mail with a Tech Tip we hope you will try.

To take advantage of many of these tips, you will need to have a Google Account. No need to give up your current e-mail address, you can have a Google Account without having a g-mail address. But more about that later. Today, we’d like to tell you about a Google feature you can use on your phone to get information on businesses.

Our first tip:

411 Calls for FREE!!!  You know how expensive it can be to make a 411 call. But by calling 1-800-GOOG-411 from either your cell or home phone, you can get the same information for only the price of a phone call! Try it! Once you dial, a voice will prompt you to tell which city and state the business you are interested in is located. The voice will repeat what it believes you said. You have the chance to correct it if it gets it wrong. You can always say, “Go back” and try again. The voice will then ask the business name or category. Once the system has the name and location of the business you are interested in, it will automatically connect you!

Want more information? Click here to watch a short video

Learning is a lifelong major

“non-routine problem-solving skills”.  These knowledge workers solve problems with creative thought and tenacity.

Google is looking for ..

analytical reasoning. Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

communication skills. Marshalling and understanding the available evidence isn’t useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

a willingness to experiment. Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no formula for success.

team players. People need to work well together and perform up to the team’s expectations.

passion and leadership. Be motivated by a sense of importance about what you do.

He goes on to say, “keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn’t end with graduation.”

As educators we must ask ourselves  ….

…. are we preparing our students to work in this type of environment???

Reflections from Google Teacher Academy

I’ve been so busy hosting family this past weekend that I haven’t had a chance to finish my blog post about Google Teacher Academy.

First of all, I must thank Cristin Frodella from Google and the folks from Cue (Mark Wagner and Mike Lawrence), WestEd and all the returning GCTs for hosting this year’s Google Teacher Academy. It was truly a honor to be selected to represent Oregon and private school teachers everywhere at the academy.

I will blog about the new features of the Google tools that were shared …but for now I am just processing the experience.

Another huge thank you goes out to Sallie Hill and Brian Mull for starting the wikis that allowed us “out-of-towners” to virtually meet and make plans to get together. Meeting these fabulous teachers face-to-face made all the difference in my Google Teacher Academy experience. Our local tour guide, the PodPirate himself, organized get togethers the night before the academy (see photo above), that evening and a tour to Monterey Bay Aquarium the next day for those still in town (photos). Having the social time to meet and share ideas with the other GCTs was SO valuable that I recommended that next year’s Academy should encourage it!!!

I was already pretty familiar with many of the Google tools but the critical piece that I was missing was how easy it was to SHARE with others what you make with the tools. Cheryl Davis and Kathleen Ferenz are working on a cool project for the upcoming elections. Did you know that you can take an ENTIRE TAB from you iGoogle home page that you designed with widgets and RSS feeds and SHARE IT with your friends and colleagues???

I had seen Jerome Burg’s Google Lit Trips before and wanted to dive deeper into how he organizes these projects in the classroom but there was just too much to learn so I will explore more on my own.

Try Google 411 by calling 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411). Its’ Google new service that allows you to call from your cell phone and ask questions and look for businesses based on zipcode and if your cell phone has Internet, it will also provide maps.

Oh, there is so much more … EVEN MORE!

So, for now I am energize to plan how I will use all these great tools of Google in my classroom and begin working on some professional development for teachers at our school and in my area.

Meanwhile, check out the Google Almanac – created by Google Certified Teachers.

Effectively searching on the Internet

I just began my unit on “Effectively searching on the Internet” this week with my middle and high school students and I want to share a wonderful resource I use. Bare Bones 101 was originally created in 2000 by Ellen Chamberlain, Library Director at the University of South Carolina Beaufort campus. It is now being managed and updated by Melanie Hanes-Ramos.

I use the lessons on Bare Bones 101 to introduce the concept of search engines to my students. The lessons do a great job of explaining what is a search engine, how to search engines work, what is the difference between a keyword and Meta search engines, how do subject directories work, who maintains library databases and subject-specific databases and explains search strategies. The lessons are very clear and easy to use and give links to many search engines and short activities to search and compare results.

We all love Google and probably will also go there first, but my students are finding some nice feature to other search engines. They are worth checking out so I will highlight the features of one type of search engine in each post. Individual Search engines compile their own database of web pages.

Ask debuted in 2001 and was purchased by Ask Jeeves later that year. Although it supports only limited Boolean searching, it has recently added an advanced search page with improved searching features. Ask also offers a new approach to displaying search results by putting them into what it calls Web communities: Results (relevant web pages), Refine (suggestions to narrow your search), and Resources (links to collections of experts and enthusiasts).

On the main search of Ask, you can search for web, images, city, news, blogs, video, maps, shopping. You can also choose your own skin. My students loved this feature.

  • A drop down listing of other keywords appear when you type in the search box
  • Displayed on left panel of the search results are ideas on how to narrow or expand your search and related names.
  • Unfortunately, there are sponsored links at the top of the results page highlighted in a very light blue box – hard to tell the difference than regular result.
  • The right panel may show a sneak preview of results from images, Wikipedia, event listing, dictionary, video, time, etc – it depends on your keyword.
  • Move your mouse over a small binocular and it displays a mini-version of the homepage of your results.
  • AskEraser is a new privacy feature from When AskEraser is enabled your search activity will be deleted from servers (except in rare circumstances).

Overall, my students really liked Ask. They loved the preview with the binoculars and skins. I like that it give you ideas on how to broaden or narrow your search. Here is the link to all of the features of Ask.

Some other Individual search engines worth checking out:

Top Ten Tools

Top Ten ToolsThanks to a comment by Larry Ferlazzo I have been checking out the various lists of top ten favorite tools that are listed on Jane’s E-Learning Pick of the Day.

You can submit your top ten list of favorite tools (only 10???) and then Jane is compiling all the tools mentioned into one master list – the Top 100.

I especially enjoyed looking at the list by guest submitter Jay Cross. Hearing how and why different folks liked their chosen tools intrigued me enough to spend way too much time checking them all out.

Here are my favorite tools (in no particular order).

  1. Google Products:
    • Gmail. I love this web based email system and the fact that I can access it from any computer. Not only do you get tons of storage but I like the way it keeps the threaded conversations together. Gmail chat is also nifty.
    • Google Docs. Google docs are great for collaborating and sharing information with others. You must invite friends to participate in your documents but it’s so easy to edit ALL AT THE SAME TIME!!!.
    • iGoogle and Google reader. Ok, ok, so I love of all the of the Google products – but I do use them and find them easy to use. iGoogle is a personalized page (which I make as my own homepage) that you can customize with all kinds of widgets like: weather, calendar, CNN news, Google Reader (RSS), Gmail notifier, jokes, etc…
    • Googlemaps, Google Earth, SketchUp …. I love ’em all!
  2. I can’t believe how much I depend on this social bookmarking tool to remember sites I have visited but also for sharing cool sites with my friends. Now I don’t need to be that annoying friend who always sends emails recommending websites (I can’t help myself) – if I find a site and know my friend’s name I can tag the site as: for:ccassinelli and then when that user goes to their account they can add my favorite to theirs. This is very helpful for group projects!
  3. Flickr. This web-based photo sharing site is awesome for uploading photos to share with friends. I like how you can create different albums and tag photos for easy sorting. I also love snooping through my friend’s albums too!
  4. My first RSS aggregator was Bloglines and I still use it today. I like how I can create folders for all of the ed tech blogs I read. Here are my folders: personal, ed tech bloggers, under consideration and last chance. When I stumble across a blog I might be interested in I add the feed in the under consideration folder. When I find that I enjoy the blog and read it often it moved up in rank to the ed tech bloggers folder while some of those are demoted to last chance before I decide to do away with the feed.
  5. Audacity. This easy to use FREE audio editing software is easy to use for podcasting and editing audio files. You will need the LAME Mp3 encoder if you want to export your audio files at MP3 instead of WAV – but it’s easy to download and install.
  6. Wikispaces. I’ve already mentioned my love of wikis earlier in my blog but for collaboration and easy editing – wikis are the way to go. I also love the fact that wikispaces gives FREE wikis to teachers. Thanks for the support!
  7. Skype. I use skype more for IM and group chatting than Internet phone calling but it’s easy to use and really catching on.
  8. Flock and Firefox. Both of these browsers are excellent and have cool extensions. Most browsers have built in RSS but you can also access your Flickr pics right from the Flock toolbar – kewl!
  9. Moodle. I started using Moodle this last year with a few of my computer classes but will use this open-source course management system with all my classes this year. It’s easy to use, has built in blogging and modules (quizzes, journals, docs) that make it easy to keep all class documents in one area.
  10. YouTube. YouTube is great when you need a few laughs or want to share short family video with loved ones across the country. I also love the idea of TeacherTube. Educators need a safe and secure place where our students can particpate in the social aspect of video sharing and engaging students with video responses.

So, there’s my list. I didn’t include software tools like MS Office, Dreamweaver, Inspiration, InDesign and all of those productivity tools that I use everyday.

What is your top 10?