—Report by Cathie English

The Nebraska Writing Project Mini-Technology Institute was held on February 23, March 1 and March 8 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. This institute brought together nine Nebraska teachers, a UN-L English Ph.D. student, and the writing project site director.

On Feb. 23, each participant introduced themselves and their school: Jeff Grinvalds , Ashland-Greenwood High School; Kim Snyder, Wahoo High School; Susan Martens-Baker, Arlington High School; Cyndi Dwyer, Lincoln Northeast High School; Nancy Rice, Ralston High School; Cathie English, Aurora High School; Dwight Thieman, Lincoln Hill Elementary; Connie Healey, Lincoln Arnold Elementary; and Theren Hayes, Hastings Longfellow Elementary. Jason McIntosh, a UN-L English Ph.D. student working on the NeWP web site, and Robert Brooke , NeWP director, also introduced themselves.

The first day began with a writing prompt on the technology institute blog . Participants were asked to write in response to the following question: Write about what the words web presence and representation mean to you. They were also asked to spend a little time responding to each other's writing, too. The group then divided into small group discussions based upon prior reading from three sources: Derek Powacek's book Design for Community concerning the importance of web page content and design, the mission, goal and accomplishments of the Nebraska Writing Project, and the National Writing Project Home Page.

The group then compiled a preliminary list of what we could do using technology to better serve the professional development of writing teachers across the state. Cathie English 's EQUIP shared what she was doing in her classroom with her weblog, Room 106 . Her blog contains weekly logs and lessons, writing prompts, rubrics, etc. and two class sections' writing portfolios. Her goal was to convey the possibilities of blog use in the classroom or the use of a blog by writing project sites. Jason McIntosh unveiled the new design for the Nebraska Writing Project web page and asked for suggestions, revisions, and deletions for the newly designed page. Cyndi Dwyer and Dwight Thieman's EQUIP focused on what they have done with iMovies in their classrooms. Cyndi took her creative writing class to the Sunken Gardens in Lincoln and then videotaped them while they were writing and then incorporated their text and music onto a music video. Dwight taped his elementary students describing what they might find in a future archeological dig. He used the book Motel of the Mysteries as a foundation for his lesson. The first day concluded with a discussion on the following questions:

  • How does NeWP set up its webspace so that visitors can use this space? 
  • Who is our audience and how does it affect our representation?
  • How can we creatively use this tool to support the work of our site?

We then agreed to visit the blog during the week to respond to the following writing prompt :

How does the technology of the Internet and the Web change writing and the teaching of it?

Of all the things we've talked about for the web site, what ought to be our priorities and why? Who is the central audience?

On Monday March 1, we began by writing in response to questions about communications :

How do the communication tools at our site influence how Teacher Consultants (that is, teachers who have been through a Summer or Rural Institute) represent themselves and our site? What are they? What would you like to retain or change and why?

How *should* NeWP Teacher Consultants represent themselves? Say for instance, how would you represent yourself to the NeWP network if you agreed to be a Teacher-Writer of the Month on the emerging website?

Theren Hayes' EQUIP focused on how he first used Inspiration (a graphic organizer) to help his elementary students create book reviews. He then had his students create web pages that were book reviews similar to the reviews found in book orders. Theren showed us the finished book reviews at his school's web page . Nancy Rice then shared her journalism design knowledge by showing us examples of her high school newspaper and other national publications. We learned a great deal about serif and sans serif and the look of a page, information vital to a well-designed web page. Nancy asked each of us to create a story for publication and each person participated in this activity on the blog . The afternoon was spent visiting several interactive websites , including the fray, Strip Creator, One Word, Magnetic Poetry, east of the web, eastgate, and The New River, and thinking about the following questions:

  • What are the interactive elements of this forum?
  • How did the interactive elements encourage your participation?
  • What sort of statement, if any, do the design elements make?
  • What was your individual experience with this forum?

We were then asked to write a list of what we each thought were the main priorities for our websites and then asked to make a "Tupperware Party" commitment for the future--how much time or expertise were we willing to share to fulfill some aspect of design or content for the web site or other areas of technology integration. Robert posted the following areas of importance:

why/who we are
calendar

After that, these items were crucial for half or more of us:

writer of month
links/resources
discussion forums
application forms

Finally, we posted a discussion prompt for the week asking these questions:

How do we use Nancy's material to improve the emerging NeWP website?

How does all this technology change the way we write and think?

On Monday March 8, we began the day with the following writing prompt :

We're in our final day of the mini-institute. Here's what we haven't done yet:

1) Identified where we go from here--the listserve & website will both be up and running--what more do we need to do?
2) Stepped back to look at the Big Picture:  technology in our lives as professionals in & beyond the classroom; technology as a form of cultural literacy.

Jeff Grinvalds ' EQUIP centered on his desire to create a student-run internet based student magazine what would feature writing and other art work created by and for students. He also wanted it to be a place for student opinion and feedback but also a place for community feedback. He has begun a website titled A Town Authors at his present school site which is run by SOCS. He showed us the letter of application form he gave his students so they could apply for jobs on this new student magazine, and we then went onto the blog and wrote in response to Jeff's letter . Kim Snyder's EQUIP included viewing a PowerPoint in which she created a story about how she became a goddess (The Goddess of Air Conditioning). Kim has her students create these digital stories within her mythology unit. Students incorporate many things about themselves and must write a well developed myth because Kim instructs them that the content is the most important thing. Once she completed the assignment, she gave us a letter from her technology coordinator concerning the use of PowerPoint and we were asked to respond to her EQUIP on the blog. Susan Martens-Baker's EQUIP focused on teaching media literacy which is a part of the Nebraska State Standards. She focused on the three five key questions in how we should teach it, i.e. "Who created the message, what techniques are used to get our attention, what lifestyles, values and points of view are presented in or omitted from the message, why was the message sent, and how might different people understand the message from us?" She then shared several successful learning activities she uses in her classroom, including creating spoof ads and video informercials. She also supplied some links including Adbusters and the Merchants of Cool by PBS . Connie Healey then shared with us how she has her elementary students write stories and create illustrations to accompany them. She then had her students create hyperstudio stories which include their illustrations and their recorded voices. She showed two examples of talking books with us and noted that many of her reading and language special education students respond very well to the creation of talking books.

Christina Cantrill, the National Writing Project's Technology Coordinator from Philadelphia , was present to talk about why she chose to attend the Nebraska Writing Project's mini-tech institute. She explained that the grant written by Robert and Cathie was similar to a grant submitted by the Philadelphia Writing Project because both focused on recognizing leaders in technology at their sites and how these teachers could lend their expertise to the development of technology and how these leaders could lend themselves to accomplishing several goals of their sites. She noted that Philadelphia 's grant focused on ELL education and not solely on technology issues and development. Christina looks to the Nebraska Tech Institute as a model that could also be successfully implemented at other writing project sites. Christina also provided several links to other successful writing project sites so we could observe what others are doing with technology.

(home)