Using Technology to Extend Classroom Learning
I try to really incorporate into my class that I don’t want my class to just exist between 8 a.m. and 8:45, and when the bell rings, it’s over. Through a lot of different Web 2.0 tools and technology I’ve tried to find ways that I can extend what we do in the classroom.

About five years ago I started doing something called a StudyCast. As we get ready for a test, I’ll sit down with a laptop; I use a free program called Audacity, where I can edit audio. Basically, I do a 15-minute review of what’s going to be on the test. I talk about an example that we did in class or a term, and refresh their memory a little about a person or an event or a concept.

I record that as an MP3 file, and I put it on the school server, then our web page. My students can go home, and through the Internet, they can listen to it. I also make it available through iTunes so they can download it for free, just like a podcast, and they can put it on their own personal MP3 player. [For] students who don’t have Internet access, I can burn it to a CD for them.

It’s been amazing; it takes me about 20 minutes to create a StudyCast, then that 20 minutes becomes a study guide that students can listen to countless times.
Among the greatest beneficiaries of this are special education students. They can listen to it two times, three times, four times. I’ve got parents who listen to it with their students, and it helps them review for the test together. I’ve had students who say they listen to it when they’re walking their dog, they’re on the bus, they’re doing chores—all different kinds of experiences. So my 20 minutes has now been multiplied into hundreds of different types of opportunities for them to learn.

We also do video chats on different occasions. We’ve talked to authors in their home about a book that we’ve read in class. We’ve done different types of live conferencing and interviews with them, using free tools that are available through gmail [and] Skype.

We’ve done blogs. We’ll read a book in class, a historical novel, and we’ve had classes from California, Illinois, New Jersey, join us in that discussion because they’re reading the exact same book. I do a blog called “Speaking of History.” I’ve been able to make connections with a lot of different classrooms, so they join us. We also have an author joining us for about a four-week period.

Imagine being an eighth-grader and reading a book about an historical topic. Then you can ask the author a question and the author responds the same day. We have parents read it; we’ve had the principal read it at the same time.

The blog is like this virtual space where we have all these different students, parents, administrators making comments, then asking questions of the author. When was the last time you had 500 people in a book club be able to respond to each other? We’ve had grandparents in a different state read the book along with their grandchildren.

I’m a father of two young girls. I’ve got a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old, and we read bedtime stories all the time. But you don’t read to your kids when they get into junior high, so I’ve tried to get the parents to read the book along with their student. I’ve had so many dads say, “Hey, this is great because I used to read to my daughter when she was 5, but this is giving me the opportunity to read with her now, as she’s a 13- or 14-year-old.” I’ve had parents discuss the book with their kids at dinnertime, then come up with a question they want to ask the author. They go to the blog at home, type in a question, and the next day the author has responded to them.

Those are some experiences that don’t happen between 8 and 8:45.