Colette Cassinelli's visionary use of information literacy and educational technology

Tag: Google

Consensus Building & Polling Tools

Consensus Building & Polling Tools

Consensus Building Consensus-building tools help participants narrow and refine proposed solutions of a project.  They are also useful in facilitating the two key requirements for reaching agreements in a work group setting by identifying and understanding issues and resolving conflicts. Teachers and students can facilitate […]

NCCE 2011 is in Portland, yeah baby!

NCCE 2011 is in Portland, yeah baby!

I’m so thrilled when NCCE 2011 comes to Portland because that means I get to sleep in my own bed and show my PLN buddies the beautiful city.  Early bird registration ends January 31st so get your registration in ASAP. Here are my plans: Wednesday […]

Tech Tip Tuesday:  Favorite Google Tools

Tech Tip Tuesday: Favorite Google Tools

For our last Tuesday Tech Tip of the year, MaryFran and I decided that we should share our Five Favorite Google Tools.

Mary Fran’s Favs

Five…how could we possibly narrow the number of favorite Google Tools to 5? It has been more challenging than I would have guessed In the end, I decided to chose the five tools I use most.

Most people have their first encounter with Google through Search. They expect to be able to ask a question and get their answer in return. I am continually amazed at the quality of the results and the number of Search Features Google offers. Recently, the Google Search team put together a series of 15 Second Search Tips. The topics range from Unit Conversion to finding local Movie Times. It’s always good to go back and refresh your memory on all Search has to offer.

Search Options, added to the Search page in May, lets you filter your results by type, time, and even offers suggestions for related searches. If you haven’t yet looked at Wonder Wheel you ought to give it a try.

Custom Search
A feature of Search that I like that we haven’t covered is Google’s Custom Search Engine. Being a third grade teacher, setting my students loose in the World Wide Web can sometimes be a bit scary. When I assign third graders to do a research presentation on spiders in the Media Center, I don’t want to have to worry about what results they are going to get for [black widow] and since I want to incorporate teaching skimming and scanning skills, I want to make sure my primary students can read the results they get. So, I set up a Google Custom Search to limit the sites they have access to by simply dropping the URLs for the websites I’ve pre-screened into a form.

My favorite characteristic of Docs is its collaborative feature. It has helped Colette and me coordinate our schedule, my third grade team and I work together on the Educational Action Plan while I spent two weeks in Buffalo in September, my grade level team share grades for our rotation students, and my students to put together two presentations while working on it at the same time in the Media Center (thank you, Kelli Glass for putting up with the noise and confusion). And because it is all stored in “the Cloud,” I have access to my Docs wherever and whenever I have a device that can access the internet. This came in super handy when I went to give a presentation with my laptop and forgot to bring along the connector to hook my Mac up to the projector…I was able to turn on their Dell and access my slides!

Another favorite feature of Docs is Forms. I used it to collect phone numbers and e-mail addresses at back-to-school night, thus avoiding having to decipher a parent’s handwriting :-), to collect information from students on science observations, reactions to our field trips, to “vote” in the November elections, to gather “book report” information, and so much more. It is so easy to set up and the summary information provides instant graphs, and the kids love working online in the classroom or from home.

While it took a bit getting used to, I love, love, love, Gmail’s threaded conversations. It is so nice to have all of the communication on a subject right there, in chronological order to refer to. But when that doesn’t work in finding that e-mail I want to refer back to, Search Mail always seems to come through for me.

It is very easy to filter messages to have them go to separate folders, and Google has done an amazing job at keeping SPAM out of my inbox. I also like getting a view of my Calendar and Tasks from the one screen I use most.
I am very excited to see how Google Wave will transform the “email” experience.

Colette’s Fab Five

My favorite Google tools are similar to MaryFran’s choices – but I guess that shows how valuable these products are.

I’ve been using Gmail since it first was in Beta and love it.  It keeps getting better and better.  I first loved how the conversations were linked together and have learned how to “search” for mail instead of wasting time organizing my mail into folders.  The integrated tasksand calendar features are really nice.

Docs / Forms
Using Google Docs& Spreadsheets this year with my HS Computer students has been transformational.  Students are much more willing to collaborate on projects instead of relying on one student to do more of the writing.  We have found so many uses for Forms, like surveys, data collection, and quizzes.  I am even moving all my lesson planning documents online to keep them updated and accessible from anywhere.

Personally I use maps all the time.  How did I ever find any location before Google Maps?  But now I find that I first go to maps to choose restaurants, accommodations and parks by using the “search nearby” feature.

My students also enjoyed mashing up Google Maps with photos, text and video this year.  Having the ability to go between Google Maps and Google Earth is also pretty cool!

I’ve convinced my whole family to start using Google Calendarthis year and now its easy to remind them of important dates and upcoming events.  I color-code different categories (family, school, PD, etc) to make it easier to glance at my calendar and see what’s happening or sort by category.

Last but not least is Google Search.  I love the new Search Options that I wrote about last week.  I use search for everything — recipes, questions, health information, current events – you name it.  I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t use Google search for something.  I find the results relevant and accurate but always have the option to narrow down or broaden my search with advanced search or the new options.

MaryFran and I met nearly a year ago at the Google Teacher Academy. At the end of a jam-packed 12 hour day, we were challenged to stretch ourselves to learn more about all that Google has to offer and to make a plan to share what we learned with other teachers. As one of our three projects we were asked to commit to, we decided to take on the task of putting out a weekly tech tip for our staffs. It’s been great for the two of us and hopefully you learned something too.

We will not be doing Google Tech Tips Tuesday again next year but I am planning on continuing weekly Tech Tips but branch out to other technology resources.

Once again, thank you for all support and encouragement you’ve given us over the year.
~MaryFran Lynch and Colette Cassinelli

Tech Tip Tuesday:  new Google search options

Tech Tip Tuesday: new Google search options

This past month Google unveiled some very helpful Search Options.  Search Options are a collection of tools that allow you to view your results in new ways.  After you search, click on the “show options” link in the upper left hand side of your screen.  […]

Tech Tip Tuesday:  Picasa 3.0

Tech Tip Tuesday: Picasa 3.0

By MaryFran Lynch Cross-posted at Look out iPhoto, Picasa 3.0 is about to give you a run for your money. Picasa is a free, downloadable, photo editor now available for Windows XP, Vista, Linux and Mac platforms. It is easy to download and not […]

Tech Tip Tuesday:  Google Blogger

Tech Tip Tuesday: Google Blogger

Blogger is Google’s blogging platform. A blog (short for Web log) is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible journal for an individual or group. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author or are based around a hobby or theme. The postings are organized chronologically. A blog post can be “commented” on by others, allowing for a dialogue on a the topic of the post.

blogger2Educators have embraced blogging as an authentic way to encourage reading and writing throughout the curriculum. It’s also a great way to share resources with other educators. More uses for blogging in education.

To get started with Blogger, go to and enter your Google username and password. Click the Create a Blog link to get started. Choose a name and address (URL) for your blog and one of the pre-designed templates. You can customize your blog’s design and add gadgets such as slideshows, user polls, or photos. If you want more precise control over your blog’s layout, you can also use the Edit HTML feature. Finally you can add information to your personal profile and customize how your blog looks.

bloggerAdding your first post is simple. Choose a title and add your information in the post area. You can choose basic formatting features such as fonts, colors, alignment, and bullets/numbering. You can insert images along with your text as well as hyperlinks and videos. Blogger accepts AVI, MPEG, QuickTime, Real and Windows Media files but they must be less than 100MB in size.

When you’re writing a post, you’ll have a space at the bottom of the form marked “Labels for this post. This allows you to create keywords for your blog posts.

By default, your blog is completely public, and can be read by anyone on the Internet. However, if you want to keep it private, you can do that, too. Your blog can have up to 100 authors and you can limit your blog to only be view by authors – which is great for private groups and organizations.

Check your school’s policy about using Blogger with your students.

Here are some examples of classroom or educator blogs that use Blogger:

Sarah, Plain and Tall Book Blog –

Student Reflections on Night –

Tech 4 ESL –

Web 2.0 Book study –

Math 306-04 –

Link to directory of educational blogs

NCEA Conference presentation

NCEA Conference presentation

Next week I will be presenting Using FREE Google Tools in the Classroom at the National Catholic Educational Association conference (NCEA) in Anaheim.  I am looking foward to meeting other Catholic School technology teachers and discuss issues unique to our schools. Click HERE to view […]

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google SketchUp

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google SketchUp

SketchUp is a free downloadable software from Google that you can use to create 3D models of anything you can imagine.  People use SketchUp to create architectural, landscape, and woodworking models or just for fun! You can build models from scratch, or you can download […]

Tech Tip Tuesday:  Even more … Google Earth

Tech Tip Tuesday: Even more … Google Earth

Guest post by MaryFran Lynch—even-more

Once you’ve downloaded Google Earth, you’ll be able to take advantage of some of Google Earth’s features you won’t find in Google Maps. Here are three features worth exploring.

As we all know, more than 70% of the Earth is covered by water. Google recently unveiled Google Ocean.

With Google Ocean, you can explore the deepest part of the ocean with marine experts, or learn about climate change and how it is affecting the ecology of the ocean and its inhabitants. To access this feature, click on Ocean in Layers in the left sidebar, and begin to explore the ocean depths by choosing the different features. Travel beneath the surface with Jacques Cousteau, watch BBC videos on the ocean, or search for shipwrecks. In the State of the Ocean layer, you can find out about the work the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been doing in their Seafood Watch program.

Prefer to explore the skies? Google Earth has a feature to help you explore stars, planets, and constellations.

Switch to Google Sky in the tool bar along the top of the screen. You navigate around the Sky, much as you do in Earth. Mouse over the upper right-hand part of the screen and your navigation controls will appear. Here you can zoom in or out. Chose a specific location to explore by using the search box as you would in Google Maps or Earth.

You’ll find lots of information in the Layers, once again found in the left-hand sidebar. You’ll find lots of great information by exploring the layers. Learn which constellations you can expect to see tonight from your backyard, and how to identify them by clicking on the Backyard Astronomy drop down features. The date and time slider in the upper left-hand corner lets you see how your view will change through a specific time frame, or you can watch the orbit of planets.

The Mars option features awesome images of our closest neighbor planet taken by NASA, along with detailed information we’ve learned from the Mars Rover.

Another recently added feature is Historical Imagery. Find this feature under the clock in the tool bar.

Use the slider to see how a location has changed over time.

Google Earth has so many educational applications! Google has teamed with Discovery Education to help teachers integrate Earth, Sky, Oceans, and Historical Imagery into your lessons. Here is a list of websites to help you get started:

Take a tour and discover what Google Earth has to offer. Now you can truly have the world at your fingertips.

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google Earth

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google Earth

by MaryFran Lynch The nice thing about Google Earth is that if you have played with Google Maps at all, Google Earth is kinda like the next step. One of the big differences, however, is that you will have to download Google Earth to […]

Tech Tip Tuesday – Intro to Google Maps

Tech Tip Tuesday – Intro to Google Maps

Most folks today rely on Google Maps to look up locations and print out directions to where they are going but there is so much more to Google Maps and new features are constantly being added.  You don’t need to have a Google account to […]

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google Alerts

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google Alerts

By MaryFran Lynch

Do you have a special interest that you would like to follow but just can’t always find the time to search for the latest information? Google Alerts can help. Google Alerts are e-mails that are automatically sent to your inbox whenever new information becomes available on your search terms. Depending on your search preferences, Google will monitor News, Web, Blogs, Video and Groups (or all of them) for new information, and send it to you on the schedule you’ve set up.

For example, suppose you are interested in following a news story, advances for a specific medical condition, or have a particular professional interest, set up a Google Alert. When new information is available, an e-mail and snippet will be sent to your inbox.

Or, if you prefer, you can arrange to have your Alerts send to Google Reader. This alert was delivered to my Google Reader only 9 minutes ago, keeping me on top of breaking news.

To get started, you’ll need to sign into your Google account. You can find Alerts here or under more > even more…    Enter as many alerts you like. Google allows you to have up to 1000 alerts in a number of different languages.
Once again, Google gives you the tools to stay totally informed!

An archive of all Tech Tip Tuesday ideas can be found at:

Google Earth 5.0

Google Earth 5.0

 Google announced the newest version of Google Earth 5.0 today.  Google Earth now has an ocean.  You can view “much more detailed bathymetric map (the ocean floor), so you can actually drop below the surface and explore the nooks and crannies of the seafloor in […]

Tech Tip Tuesday – Top Ten Reasons you should use Gmail

Tech Tip Tuesday – Top Ten Reasons you should use Gmail

Inspired by David Letterman, here are the top ten reasons you should consider using Gmail for your web-based email program: 10.  You shouldn’t be using your school email account for personal business.  Consider having all personal email forwarded to a Gmail account.  Remember, if  you […]

Connect Article published

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