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Journey to Digital Learning Day

Journey to Digital Learning Day

Written by Writing for Change
February 08, 2013

This year for Digital Learning Day, I was invited to present a lesson at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. As I was getting ready, I blogged about my preparations, both with my classes and for myself.

A note about my moniker: It refers to the writing and technology academy, Writing for Change, which was created by the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) and which I currently co-direct. Writing for Change has a social justice focus.

Revisiting Our Friend Dr. King, And Some Exciting News

Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 8.07.31 PM

This week I am sharing some exciting news. I will be traveling to Washington D.C. to be part of Digital Learning Day live! I will be bringing my students along with me, well their digital work at least. It has been a long and interesting journey this digital road I travel.  If you are just joining the conversation, go back and review a few of the previous blog posts, and you will learn more about our digital writing journey.

I have been asked to share my preparations and time at the event with my colleagues at Digital Is and the National Writing Project.  I will be posting a few times each week and all day at the event and beyond. This is a link to the Digital Learning Day schedule. Please consider joining this national event. It is going to be another great year.

I will be sharing our work at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time during the Lessons in Action time of day. What lesson do you ask? Well, that is in development as we speak. My students are creating blogs about topics they are passionate about. We just returned from a 3 week winter break, and I have selected one of the most passionate people in history, Dr. Marting Luther King Jr. to kick off our new year. Students will be analyzing his speech called “What’s Your Life’s Blueprint?” and write a response to his speech to post on your own blog. It is my hope that in asking students to create a blueprint, they will then focus their own research and writing on their true passions

 Dr. King, an Introduction to …

 Below is a link to the speech and our lesson for the week. Feel free to join us in writing your own blueprint and share your insights on our comment page.More PowerPoint presentations from Janet IlkoHere is a link to a youtube video with an auditory of the speech itself.Dr.Martin Luther King Jr

And the Countdown Continues

Cited from Writing in my Hand blogpost

Digital Learning Day is coming, and ready or not I will be going to Washington D.C. to share our work. I have been working and re-working the lesson plan I want to share with teachers at this event. It is so important to get it right, to share the work of my students and our philosophy that real writing, for real purposes, makes better writers. I have been meeting with a team of teachers all week bouncing one idea off another to try to create a lesson that reflects the best of our work. We have come up with an outline I think is going to work. I have several opportunities to share our work, a lesson demonstration live at the Newseum in Washington D.C. When you check out the venue, it is topical, ever changing, and one of the coolest places I have ever seen. Check out this video about the venue, called A Day in the Life of a Museum.

I want to create a lesson that reflects our work, and the edge and feeling of this venue.  How could our work fit into the theme of Digital Learning Day?;

The challenge in making this live presentation is we have 15 to 20 minutes to present a meaningful portion of our digital world. I have decided that we will be sharing the blogs of my English Language learners. My students have each selected a topic that they are passionate about. Over the next 6 weeks they will be conducting research within their field of interest and posting their process on their individual blogs. Our blogs are always evolving, just like the media at the newseum, and from that our lesson idea was born.

Our lesson in February will be a mini- lesson on how to write academic comments vs. social comments.  We will have a special Edmodo page set up for the day of the event. Since our blog site is by invitation only, students will post selected blog posts on a Digital Learning Day Edmodo page to share with the teachers and visitors in Washington D.C.  We hope to have participants at the D.C. event log into Edmodo and respond to student work. To kick it up a notch, a sampling of our students will be sitting live in our computer lab on that same Edmodo site, having an on-line conversation with those at the event. Now this means getting my middle schoolers to be up and going at 7am to be part of our 10am group share in D.C. We are still working out the logistics but it is an exciting prospect.

Lesson of the day, Be Intentional in your Planning

This morning I will be meeting with my support team Holly French and our tech teacher Ruth Maas to finalize the video clip to be shared at Digital Learning Day and revise the lesson plan to share at the event before submitting both for review to the Digital Learning Day committee. No stress here on a Sunday morning!! Things happen for a reason, and to have this opportunity to share our work of the SDAWP project and students at CVMS has once again given me reason to evaluate my teaching, and my purpose for this work. This morning I was researching about English Language Learners and the instructional challenges that need to be considered as we implement the Common Core Standards. I found this article from Stanford University Graduate School of Education where they have developed six key principals for ELL instruction in the face of the new standards.

“The Understanding Language District Engagement subcommittee has released a set of six key principles to support ELLs in meeting the rigorous, grade level academic standards found in the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. The principles are meant to guide teachers, coaches, ELL specialists, curriculum leaders, school principals, and district administrators as they work to develop Common Core State Standards-aligned instruction for ELLs. These principles are applicable to any type of instruction regardless of grade, proficiency level, or program type. ” Principal One: Instruction focuses on providing ELLs with opportunities to engage in discipline- specific practices which are designed to build conceptual understanding and language competence in tandem.  Learning is a social process that requires teachers to intentionally design learning opportunities that integrate reading, writing, speaking, and listening with the practices of each discipline.”

One of the interesting things about adding a blog component to our classroom instruction, is that requires me to plan so much more intentionally. I do want to build a classroom that has a positive writing community, but one of the pitfalls of blogging with students is it tends to get a “Facebook feel” on the wall. Students need to be taught explicitly how to respond using an academic tone, rather than a conversational tone. My friend Christine Sphar said it beautifully in a SDAWP leadership meeting yesterday, “Facebook is BICS, the conversational side of English Language Learner speech, you are aiming to build the CALP  or academic language of our English learners, and blogs provide that academic space.” Here is a slideshow of a lesson I have done and will need to repeat many times to help students write powerful academic comments.

Today I am trying to figure out how to take the essence of this lesson to a 20 minute demo with the teachers who will be at the Digital Learning event. Again, feeling a little stressed. I will post that lesson later in the week after we get the revisions completed. Happy Sunday everyone!

And Sometimes, It Takes Serious Determination To Be a Digital Teacher

To conquer frustration, one must remain intensely focused on the outcome, not the obstacles.” ― T.F. HodgeFrom Within I Rise: Spiritual Triumph Over Death and Conscious Encounters with “The Divine Presence

The past 72 hours have been a test of my patience and a tribute to my determination and belief in resiliency. One of the things I need to do is get a video prepared to share on Digital Learning Day. Now I have used iMovie successfully in the past. I met with my friends Holly and Ruth on Sunday and we recorded the script and planned the movie. I went home to finish up. Well that led to a 2:30 am bed time between Sunday and Monday, an afternoon of recreating the movie several versions, and then an early morning session again with Ruth this morning to create a video clip that was less than two minutes long.

It isn’t that the content is extremely challenging, or there were any unique bells and whistles added to the presentation. The end product is an iMovie, plain and simple. The process however, was anything but simple. I think that’s why some teachers “don’t do tech.” It can be messy and time consuming and frustrating. But it also brings you to places you could never travel on your own.

I was thinking about my journey as a digital teacher. I am in my twenty-fifth year of teaching and I had the original apple computer with the huge floppy disks. I remember the green screen, paper that was perforated and would get tangled in huge printer wheels. And year after year I got more computers, went to labs, used programs, and was a consumer, not a creator of digital media. I am just now stepping into the role of digital creator with my students, and I am definitely a novice.

That’s the thing about the digital world, there are constantly newer and better programs and hardware out there. But the bottom line for me isn’t about the stuff, it’s how to communicate better, inspire people to share their stories as widely as possible without losing that side of being human. I am pretty nervous about speaking and presenting a lesson at Digital Learning Day. I don’t consider myself an expert. I keep asking myself if I truly represent what it means to be a digital learning teacher? I am not a tech expert. My tweets at midnight out into the world asking for help with the movie prove however, that I am a person who knows how to get the help I need. When I was on the 7th or 8th version of the movie, I began watching 3 or 4 Youtube videos on dividing the video from the audio from a video clip. This  proves I am determined and resilient, and that search led me to people beyond my immediate circle to come and help.

I guess these past few days remind me that although tech can be painstakingly challenging, in the end it brings you closer to people. My midnight tweet of frustration was answered by someone who I know predominately on line. “I follow them”, and they heard my cry and responded. And when that human contact didn’t solve it, I went to Youtube. Who knew that among the crazy animal videos and musical pieces, there lies a movie on how to do just about anything. I found 4 alternative solutions there to help me in my hour of need.

I’d love to say it all came together on my laptop. But in the end, there was something unexplainable going on with the iMovie program. Ruth our tech teacher finally saved the day by downloading the movie audio into Garageband, saving it to iTunes, and then putting it as a stand alone soundtrack back into iMovie. It was version 11 or 12 this morning before it finally came together. But it did, and I’m happy. Notice it took human interaction with the digital tool to make it come together.

When I was asked to share my journey to Digital Learning Day, I knew there would be days like these. Those times anyone who works with technology wishes for a simple pencil and paper. I could have glossed it over and just turned in the final product. No one would be the wiser. But funny, there is this sense of audience now that I have been blogging my world for a few years. There is this accountability to those who read this to be honest, and so I am. I will post the video in a few days, right now honestly I am sick of hearing my voice, and I am in desperate need to get to the gym since watching myself on video reminds me that time marches on… hmmmm such is life. Thanks to Ruth and Holly for being there through my temper tantrums and stubbornness.

Thanks to my family for just laying low and not asking too many questions until you knew it was finished. Tomorrow I will share the lesson I am presenting in D.C. For now I am going to celebrate finishing that damn movie with some puppy couch time and hanging with my family who have been laying low the past couple days. A piece of history….. Apple2eSystem

And When Given the Choice, Student Topics for their Blogs

When students are given a choice and the option to decide what they are going to do, it is empowering and complicated at the same time. My students spent a few weeks before winter break exploring blogs and topics of interest. They made lists of possible topics, and then narrowed that list to three possibilities. From there they discussed their options with a partner, and finalized their decision. Giving students ownership and responsibility for their own learning is crucial to creating a blog site that will work.

The challenge for me as their teacher/facilitator, is providing support and guidance to students with a variety of topics, writing strengths, and yes, even motivation. Even though students have a choice,  I have discovered they still need me to keep them on track. I am responsible for making sure that throughout this process, we still meet the writing standards that are required by our district. Within this blogging process, I need to make sure student get the writing instruction and structure they need to be successful.

This first set of blog posts will revolve around a research question. Students will be posting about their research projects, keeping notes, holding digital conversations, and eventually posting their research project all on their personal blog site. This weekend I will be spending quite a bit of time reviewing all 90 blog sites to see what students have shared thus far. I will also be creating spaces where students  can work together to store research links and information on common topics.

Here is a list of some of  the topics selected by my students: (Soccer and PS3 being the two most popular.

  • Education
  • Soccer
  • Birds
  • Basketball
  • CDub Step Music
  • P.S. 3
  • Sports
  • Music
  • Black Ops
  • Football
  • Cars
  • Art
  • Dogs
  • Folklorica
  • College
  • iPods
  • Mexico
  • Photography
  • San Diego Chargers
  • Local High School Sports
  • Holidays
  • Robotic Engineering
  • Border Issues
  • Families
  • Christmas
  • Animal Rights
  • Homelessness
  • Facebook
  • Baja
  • The Revolutionary War
  • Candy
  • Graffiti as an art form

Tomorrow they will begin the lesson by further refining their research question they would like to explore on their topic and then begin their on-line research.  We will share some of those crafted questions later in the week.

Be Careful What You Ask For, It Is Sometimes Exactly What You Get

Sometimes we make assumptions about what our students know and are able to do in the digital world. I made that assumption this past week as we began our research projects. We carefully crafted our topic lists, and are still crafting our research questions. I turned them loose after a brief lesson on how to search for information about your topic. I was more concerned about having them create the right search terms to get them to the sites that would be beneficial. That didn’t turn out to be much of an issue. Everyone got to a site that had information on their topic, but then we came to a standstill. Now what do we do?

As I walked around I noticed students were doing primarily three different things, surfing the web for a site, staring blankly at a web page with not much of an idea of what to do next, or in some cases, students created a document and began copying and pasting information directly from the site.  At first, I became frustrated, of course they knew what to do, we have been summarizing articles and literature for months. I just told them, go take notes, and make sure you cite your source. So of course they go out and do exactly what I said. They highlight, and put it on a page with quotations and a webpage citation if I was lucky. But it was obvious by the student reactions that what was done in whole group on paper, did not translate to digital research. They were not taking the time to think. Well of course not, I haven’t taken the time to explicitly teach or model it.  They needed more support.

This project is different, everyone has their own research question. Even if their blog topic is similar, everyone has their own focus on what they want to learn about. This is a much higher level task, and therefore I need to step back, re-evaluate, and scaffold if I want my students to be successful researchers. I reviewed my plans from thess past few months, and I realized I have not done any explicit instruction on the differences between quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing and when to use each skill. In working with one article with the focus on summarizing the main idea, they know what to do. When asking them to select their own article for their own purpose, that is where the application of these skills we have been working on fell short.

So, I have created a week long review lesson on how to summarize, quote and paraphrase. I have posted the lesson at the end of this post using Slideshare. At the end of the powerpoint I listed all the sources I have visited to create this lesson. What a great teaching world we live in when we can access so many great ideas and lessons from teachers across the world. I think one of the greatest changes in my instructional planning is my use of internet resources. That is why I am having my students do their research project solely using digital sources. I truly believe that the majority of their research will be done this way as they move forward in their educational careers. Even their textbooks are beginning to show up on tablets, and their standardized tests will be done on computer in a few years. So  it is critical that they learn how to navigate this wealth of knowledge and most importantly learn how to cite what they use, and create their own imprint on the web. I want them to be creators of information, and not just the curators of the information of others. These lessons will again be taught and reviewed as the students read articles for their own research. Sometimes, you have to take a few steps back in order to move purposefully forward.

Avoiding plagiarism by taking effective notes from Janet Ilko
Cross posted to Writing in my Hand

Digital learning Day 2013 A Schedule and a Site Posting

Today brings exciting news! The lesson and video are posted on the Digital Learning Day website. Please look for the lesson called Writing Powerful Blog Comments – Students develop their own blog site and learn the difference between academic and social comments.

Meanwhile, the work at Cajon Valley Middle School will be exciting to watch on this day as well. Here is our agenda at CVMS:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Digital Learning Day, February 6, 2013

Cajon Valley Middle School 550 East Park Ave. El Cajon, CA. 92020

We are pleased to announce that our site will be participating in the DigitalLearning Day campaign for 2013. This national campaign, launched by the Alliance for Excellent Education, is designed to celebrate innovativeteaching and highlight practices that make learning more personalized andengaging. Students are able to explore how digital learning can provide the opportunities they deserve—to build the skills needed to succeed in college, a career, and life. Cajon Valley Middle School in partnership with the San Diego Area Writing ProjectInvite you to Visit the disciplines of Math, Science, Language Arts, andPE to see how the digital world impacts our students. Please stop by our site to see the following projects on our campus:

7:00 to 8:30 Campus Computer Lab 309 Writing for Change Club is a group of 6-8th grade students that come together weekly to write about things that are relevant to their lives. You are invited to see how thisgroup communicates using Edmodo, as well as how they share their work on the W4Csite.

8:45 am – 9:15 am Room 202 Students broadcast a school wide news program using digital streaming. Scripts are written and commercials are presented to keep the staff and students informed with what is happening on campus.

10:30 am to 11:20 pm Gym/Field 2:45pm to 3:30 pm Student learning is enhances in PE classes through the use of a variety of apps on theiPad, which allow for an array of approaches to the various modes of student learning.

10:30am to 11:20 am Campus Computer Lab 309 1:45 pm to 2:35 pm Student are improving their math skills using videos, interactive challenges, and assessments on the Kahn Academy website.

10:30 am to 11:20 pm Room 204 The school yearbook and newsletter are created in this energized class. Students are using publishing tools to meet deadlines that are preparing them for real world experiences.

11:30 am – 12:15 pm Room 311 In this strategic language arts class students use the Edmodo site to blog promotingthe importance of technology in the classroom and use iPods to create a character sketch.

12:45 pm to 1:40 pm Room 204 6th grade students are publishing a magazine fusing theinformation gathered through the reading of a novel.

12:45 pm – 1:40 pm Room 202 This class offers project-based learning that supports the content area learning with theuse of ipods. Students do research on the ipod and then presentation information using a variety of applications .

2:40pm to 3:30 pm Room 205 In this Honors English class students publish responses to the lessons in a documentthat is submitted to the Edmodo class page for further class discussions enabling students to recognize the power of social media.

Please R.S.V.P. to Janet Ilko or Holly French at or

Two weeks and counting!!!

A Six Word Memoir: Sharing Our Stories, Passions To Words

Sharing Our Stories…

Tonight I was invited to share our story on NWP radio. I have never been part of an on-line radio show before. It is like a conference  call with friends. I learned so much from everyone who participated. I have been a fellow of NWP for some time now, and this is the first I have heard of the radio program. It is definitely something I will spend more time on in the coming months.  Check it out, it will give you quite an insight into the Digital Learning Day event.

Listen to internet radio with NWP radio on Blog Talk Radio
Passions to Words…

My students are working hard to create their blogs. There is this sense of urgency, and importance as the deadline looms. When I first posted the countdown on this blog, it was more just as a reminder for me. It has turned into a motivation for our young bloggers. Students are slated to choose their best blog post to share next week. We are all over the map in regards to being ready to share. Some students are perfecting one piece, others are drafting  several posts, trying to find the best. It makes for great discussion as we write. Multiple topics, teaching common revision strategies.  It will be that revision process you will be able to be a part of February 6th. We will be opening an Edmodo page that will be filled with student blog posts. Students and Digital Learning Day participants will use that tool as a discussion board, offering comments to the writing.

One important part of my teacher research is figuring out what will motivate these somewhat reluctant writers. Although we have just begun our blogs, I know that having an audience bigger than their teacher influences the quality of their writing.  I am definitely putting on the pressure to produce, yet they do.  Not everyone is enthralled, but there is no denying that when given the opportunity, more students are writing, and more importantly, revising with a purpose.  For example, 10 or so students come in at lunch to work on their blog today, and after school you will find a handful of students in front of a laptop in the corners of my room. It is a slow but worthwhile process.

My Writing for Change Club students are also preparing their work.  We are no stranger to collaboration, just this morning one of my Writing for Change Club students posted this on the group wall to share.

A poem that I posted:

I feel sad,  I want to cry
It raining in my heart, I feel mad
I think i´m going to explode
I think i´m going to scream as hard as I can,
but it is still raining outside.

Ailin Grade 8

That poem show how I was feeling that day!!!!!!!

What is exciting about sharing our work so publicly, is that it is forcing me to analyze and focus on the process.  Once February 7th rolls around, we aren’t going to stop writing, or producing, or sharing. It is my hope that this summer, these blogs continue without me, that conversations among writers occur not just because I facilitate and moderate, but they happen because young writers seek advice and input. We shall see.

In the end,  it really isn’t about Digital Learning Day, it is about the digital learning.

Tiny Glimpses of Our Important Words @DLDay2013 7 days and counting

Blogging is not an easy endeavor. With student choice comes the challenge of student focus.  There are days that the kids will actually ask me, “Mrs. Ilko, can’t we just do a worksheet?” which is code for, ” I’m frustrated, this is too hard.” And so I push them, prod them, beg, and sometimes literally and figuratively stand on their heads to get something to the page.  Not every blogpost sings off the page, but that isn’t the goal. With blogging comes repeated writing, and combined with an audience that has the potential to improve the content as well as writing fluency. But there are those days when the page just stares blankly back at you, and blogging together reminds me of that fact.

This weekend I felt their pain. It is overwhelming sometimes looking at that blank blog page. The closer Digital Learning Day becomes, the more I realize how important it is that I share our work effectively. It is a huge responsibility sharing the voice of my students, and the influence of those in my school and with the San Diego Area Writing Project.  How do I in 15 to 20 minute presentation provide a clear and precise glimpse into our work and honor the influence of so many talented people.?  How do I provide space for my students to speak, and yet give enough of a presentation that those in the audience understand the background of the work? Big questions to ponder. Sometimes the bigger questions demand some quiet space, hence the reason my blog was dormant over the weekend. I needed time and space.

I spent the weekend stepping away from the work in little bursts. I spent time jumping from one student blog to another, looking for trends,  listening for their voices. I am searching for pieces that exemplify the core of the work,  their unique thoughts. It isn’t about what the blogs look like, it is about what they say in that space.

Here are a few samples of what I found.

In writing a response to Dr. King’s speech last week..

Quote about Dr. King speech by Michelle E.

I wrote this quote down because it spoke to me when I read it. ” You can choose your choice in life. There’s a road to success and a road to failure. You make your own blueprint, you build your life.”

This applies to me because I enjoy his speeches and this spoke to me more than the rest. You put  your mind to something you can achieve it.  Many people in the world make their life’s blueprint. Though think about this, “Are you making a blueprint?” I am.

Andres P. wrote

“Be a bush if you cant be a tree. If you cant be a highway, be a trail. If you cant be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are”.

Today this means to me that even if im not doing as good as the smartest person in one of my classes, that I can still try my best and do good in school. I also have more people that believe in me and support me then before and I appreciate what they sacrifice to make my future better. Most teens don’t get that it takes one choice to make your life better and one mistake to mess it up for you and others around you that care about you.


“Don’t allowed anybody make you feel that you’re a nobody, Always feel that you count, Always feel you have worth, and always feel that your life has Ultimate Significance”.

This quote to me means no matter who you are or where you are, you mean something and someone to this world. Dr. King’s message is that everyone has to feel confident that they have something worth living for and not letting anyone take that feeling away.

I picked this quote because to start off good you have to feel good about yourself. If someone tries to bring you down because of your skin color, religion, or anything else then we should feel good about ourselves knowing we are not those judgmental people.

This week students are reviewing their blog posts. Their assignment is to pick the piece that makes them proud, and highlights what is important to them. We will post excerpts on Edmodo, and then respond to the pieces on a common wall. I will release the group code on this site February 5th. the day before Digital Learning Day.  Even if you are not in Washington, D.C., you will be able to join us by signing up for our class and write responses to the work. We hope you can join us.

Learning How To Search For Answers…Together.

Learning How To Search for Answers… Together

We are a week away from the big day! Today we spent time learning how to search more effectively on the internet. It is funny what you assume students know how to do. Students know how to “surf the web”, but when it comes to a focused topic search, that has eluded many of my students.  My students have carefully crafted a question about their topic, but we have been at a standstill as to what to do next.

As I often do, I spend time reading the work of other teachers and tech leaders when planning my lessons.  In looking at my student’s note taking, I realized we needed a week to learn how to cite from sources and how to take more precise notes. I also noticed that students spend a lot time “surfing” the web looking for things that might be useful, but without the focus needed to do that efficiently. I knew I needed a mini-lesson to structure their search methods.  I turned to , a wonderful site for parents, students and teachers. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, make sure you make the time to do so. I have used that site many times as a springboard to our classroom lessons. They are teacher tested, well written, and standards based.

Today we focused on using  key words to search. When I began the lesson, my  students were pretty annoyed with me. “Mrs. Ilko, we know how to search. We are on the web all the time.” So as usual, I pushed back. “Really? Me too! Let me share two new search engines and one strategy for 15 minutes, and you tell me if it makes a difference.”  So they grudgingly took notes, and then I let them loose. As I walked around I learned two things. First, many students  had to refine their question in order to get more useful key terms. That in and of itself helped focus the research topic. And second, they needed more scaffolding than I realized, and they were much more successful with that structure.  Something to consider as we move forward with the research project. Lesson of the Day, keep checking in with students. Short observations and quick conferences during the lesson tell so much more than an exit slip.

Tomorrow we will be continuing the research project. Students will also be selecting their blog posts over the next two days to share with you. I look forward to meeting with them one at a time to revise and post the work. We can’t wait for your input!

Notes from a Tired Teacher, Digital Learning Day Countdown

“You don’t have to be the star, you can be the light shining on them.”
— Rawanda Ibrahem Writing for Change student, Cajon Valley Middle School Grade 6

So the conversation goes like this, “Mrs. Ilko, I wrote a quote for you. I didn’t share it before because I was too shy.” I read it and tears well up and I know this has to be the first slide in our presentation that I have been struggling to pull together. I love my writers, they surprise me with their words so often.

It has been a crazy week getting ready to share our work. When you have to take the time to document and reflect, it really does impact your classroom instruction. I am walking around the room watching our students write. There are simple posts, and complex questions. There are struggling writers, and those who have found their passion and the words come easily. Most however are somewhere in the middle.  We write, we struggle, we write some more.

Setting up the Edmodo account was a snap, but getting the students to select a blog to post has been a challenge.  This weekend will be extremely busy, writing my sub plans, reviewing student work, and oh yeah, finalizing my own presentation! I can’t believe I am days away from getting on the plane.

A Summary of our Journey in 2 minutes 35 seconds, 48 hours from Washington DC

So today I spent a lot of time working on the lead in video for my presentation this Wednesday. I have between 17 to 20 minutes to present our work, and I wanted to find a way to include the history of the journey into our interactive learning lesson at the Newseum on Wednesday. So here is the video link. Enjoy!

Digital Learning Day Countdown, T Minus 24 @DLDay2013

On board an airplane is a great place to get some writing done. It has been a crazy busy life since my Digital Learning Day adventure began in November. Yesterday was full of last minute plans, students posting last minute blogs, setting up and revising lesson plans for 4 days ( I have never left my students more than a day, so this will be interesting.) They are excited to see what happens and so am I. Here’s hoping my guest teacher knows something about tech, as all the lessons revolve around digital researching and citing sources. A huge shout out to and their teacher plans, they are amazing!! I know my kids are doing something valuable with their time in my absence.

It is so strange to be going to Washington D.C. to share our work. I met with my digital team Holly French and Ruth Maas yesterday after school to finalize the plans for our site. I am sad to not be there with my kids, but I know that Ruth and Holly have everything well in hand. Only a few of my kids will be actually on line during my classes tomorrow. Those who brave the 7am arrival time to post and discuss their blogs in our computer lab will be the only ones live that day. I am nervous they won’t be there. See, we have a 9am start time, and they are really having a rough time wrapping their minds around being on campus that early. I told them it’s great practice for the high school because they start at 715 am, they weren’t buying it.

They will be taking lots of pictures back on campus and tweeting them out and posting them on our Edmodo page we set up for DLDay2013. My husband has offered to shoot photos and tweet during the presentation so both sites can be digitally connected. I have never done something like this before, it’s like a cross-country conference call or meeting, it should be really interesting.

Did I say it takes a team to pull this off? Yes it does, my friends, yes it does. A huge shout out to my best friend and husband Rob Ilko for his support of everything I do. He has been there every step of the way and I just want to publicly say “thank you honey!” And to Kim Doulliard, Director of the San Diego Area Writing Project who is flying out to share this work and collaboration. Having them both with me makes this an amazingly special time.

Sitting in this cabin I notice right off the bat that most people become digitally connected the moment we reached 10,000 feet. Those who aren’t napping of course, since we are leaving so incredibly early. It’s not the flight time that’s bad, it’s the 2 hours earlier that I need to make sure I have everything and we are safely on board. I have been up since 3:30 am, and we got to the airport around 4:30 a.m., Note to self, if you are there when TSA is just opening the gates for the day and you are first in line, rest assured you will be ok and on time for your flight. Oh, and another note, aerosol deodorant causes you to be pulled into secondary unless you check your bag. I knew this, I just forgot. My husband just laughed, and noted that there is a reason he makes sure I get everywhere early. If I can make a story out of something, I will.

So what to say in D.C.? Well I have the flight to contemplate those two key questions they gave me yesterday for the Town Hall Meeting. Two things I know for sure will be in the talking points, choice inspires voice, and above all else, help young minds become producers of digital media, not just consumers. It is more important than ever to empower students with words and a platform on which to share them.

So how can you join us? Well , glad you asked, here are few options:

1 Look for many tweets today and tomorrow at @DLDay2013. Follow me @writin4change to get the latest.
2 . Join the conversation with my students 10:00am to 11:30 am EST, by joining our Edmodo group. Please log into or register at
The class code to register is: group code 99ghtj.
The Digital Learning Day page will be open until February 8th. You can view our posts and add comments over the next few days. Looking forward to your voice in our conversation.

The Journey Begins: MLK Weekend

Presenting in Washington D.C. was going to be a challenge. I wanted to share the journey, and the work. It made sense to start documenting our adventure in detail so my students could feel as though they were traveling with me. I also used this space to reflect on the work as it evolved. Such a great opportunity and I received great support from NWP fellows.

The Work Continues

As I entered into my second full week of blogging, I began to reflect on making assumptions of our students, my schedule on Digital Learning Day. I wanted to make sure I was  sharing student stories, and student choice. Student choice leads to student voice has become our mantra. It also means a lot of work.

Mrs. Ilko Goes to Washington

During the third week of blogging, I was putting the final touches on my lesson for Digital Learning Day, as well as making final preparations for the involvement of my students. Finally, I was also traveling to Washington, D.C. for the live events happening on Digital Learning Day!

A View of Digital Learning Day from Washington D.C.

This is my twenty-fifth year of teaching, and some days it feels like yesterday. Then there are other days  I am  reminded that years of experience can be challenging. There tends to be an assumption made by many that teachers with years of experience don’t like change, or innovation, and I am here to say that is not the case. My role, the responsibility of all of us in the profession who have been around awhile is to evaluate those trends and changes, and use our skills and experience to make wise decisions about what will best serve our students. There is a distinct balance between the art and science of teaching, and that role of teacher can never be under valued, or outsourced. We know what is best for our students because we live and breathe the work. Never is this more true to me than in the face of teaching digitally.

I woke up the morning of Digital Learning Day nervous, not just because of my own presentation, but the reality that I was the senior teacher presenting in the room. Most of my colleagues were much younger than I. They referenced their experience in the classroom with an Apple 2E playing the Oregon Trail. I vividly remember teaching in that classroom with that one stand alone computer in the back of my room, with 4 inch floppy disks and a printer with the dreaded spool feed that tangled and tore more often than it printed text and a few dull black and white pin printed pictures. My first question was, and will always be, how with this device expand the minds of my students? How will they learn with these new tools, and how will I need to incorporate this into my teaching? What will I need to learn and how will I grow? We have come a long way that computer and I, we have both evolved. I went with the intention of sharing the work of my students and my vision that as teachers we must take the lead in this digital learning arena. We are teaching our students to be positive digital citizens,  and to create media, not be defined by it. Giving student voice and choice in a blog sets up a space for students to try out their ideas, to communicate with each other, and to live in a digital world bigger than our classroom. It is messy, but worth the effort in my opinion.

Here is a link the movie that I used to introduce the lesson. CVMS Goes to Washington This video allowed me to focus on why I was there, to share the work of my students. And so I spent the next hour passionately discussing blogging with kids, and more importantly, allowing them to see our work. Our focus was on academic commenting, this idea that our blogs are our professional work space. We want to not just post social information, but more importantly hold academic conversations in this space. Here is the slideshow I shared with those in attendance.

The best part of the presentation doesn’t appear on the slideshow. It was the conversation between those in attendance in D.C.  with those students who were writing on their blogs at 7am in El Cajon California. We set up a special Edmodo page (  for the event rather than opening up our blogs. Students posted their work, and we asked people to respond using an academic tone. Here are a few snapshots of their conversations: Screen shot 2013-02-10 at 9.10.37 PM   Screen shot 2013-02-10 at 9.10.14 PMScreen shot 2013-02-10 at 9.08.33 PMScreen shot 2013-02-10 at 9.07.54 PM

Business Leaders, Politicians, and Teachers Oh My! Presenting to a Varied Audience

I was meeting with my San Diego Area Writing Project fellows Saturday morning and I was asked to discuss a little bit about my experience in D.C. presenting for Digital Learning Day. Someone brought up a critical point at lunch after that discussion, commenting on how difficult it must have been to be presenting to a varied audience.

So often teachers meet and discuss in our own setting. Rarely do I as a classroom teacher get the opportunity to share my work and my views with  such a rich and diverse audience. That has caused me to reflect on what message did I send, and more importantly at this stage in my journey, how can I better put our message out to those who don’t live and breathe in our classrooms each and every day?

I have to be honest and share that presenting in that particular venue was challenging. Having three  20 minute segments to highlight our classroom work and the influence of the National Writing Project felt nearly impossible. But one advantage of planning to present in such a timeframe, is that it forces to you to consider your most important ideas, and create a presentation that holds true to those core ideas. That is what I tried to do.

We live and teach in one of the most challenging times in education. Having been teaching for twenty-five years, I feel relatively certain that my current classroom is more politically charged, and my profession challenged more than any other year since I began teaching. Yet, I am still excited, and ready to face that challenge head on with passion, and voice. I had the opportunity to bring to life the every day work of the digital teacher. I opted rather than sharing a perfected and sanitized presentation, I brought in current classroom work, with students no less. We weren’t talking about the potential of a particular program, or debating the value of  the work. We simply came and did the work, in front of hundreds of on-site participants.  My students came to school two hours early, and blogged with participants right there at digital learning day.  Was I concerned? Yes. But I knew this was the message I was meant to share.

I remember walking into the venue and seeing all the T.V. cameras, lights, and a huge presentation area. I remember thinking, “Am I doing the right thing? Should I have edited this work differently? What if the students don’t show?  What if people don’t understand what it looks like to revise right on the page? What if my students put their work out there and someone responds to a grammar mistake rather than the content of thought? What happens when you put the reality of the work out to a mixed audience? What if this doesn’t work?” As you can tell by that list of questions, my mind was racing.

Then I remember sitting down, taking a huge breath and closing my eyes. I could see my students, their hopes and dreams.  I thought about a quote from one of my students,”You don’t have to be the star. You can be the light that shines on them.” I had to provide that light, to a group of people that don’t get to experience the challenges and wonder I get to experience every day teaching kids to write.

There were big things I wanted to cover in my talk. I wanted to make sure that people walked away from my presentation with three major ideas.

1. Students need to be producers of digital media, and not just consumers. To do that, we need to teach students to think critically not only what they want to say, but to be able to analyze those messages sent through digital media in their daily lives.

2. Digital learning isn’t something that is done only as a unit or on one special day, it is something to be integrated daily. There are challenges to be met in order to make digital learning a reality for all students. Currently their is a state of inequity, my students may have access in my four walls, but not necessarily in their homes. Before we begin “flipped lessons” for example, we need to make sure that every student in that class has the opportunity to access that lesson on the same playing field as others. We need to be fighting for not only access to digital tools and instruction in our schools, but to internet access for all students outside of those classroom walls as well. It wasn’t long ago that not everyone had access to a landline, we need to ask ourselves as a community, is access to the internet the new “land line” for our students? It isn’t just a question of creating a digital classroom, it is imperative that we engage our communities to work toward these goals of equity and access for all our kids.

3. The most important message I wanted to convey, especially to those business leaders and politicians was that skilled teachers, not stand alone technology produce high quality learning.  I believe my students need a digital space to write, to create, and to explore. I also know that writing for real purpose, and for a larger audience makes for better writers.  But more importantly students need a caring and skilled teacher to help them navigate that digital world, teach them how to critically think about media, and to help them when they lose their way. Without that, all the digital tools in the world won’t help them succeed.

This experience has taught me something else as well. Sometimes we make assumptions about those who do not work in education. We assume that they don’t know, or worse, don’t want to know what is happening in our classrooms. We assume that “everyone wants the easy answer”, or the public lacks faith in the classroom teacher. Looking at some recent media spins, it isn’t surprising.  My experience at Digital Learning Day taught me that isn’t always the case. In this case, at that table, I had the opportunity to share my world, what I believe makes a difference for students. And I feel like people listened. So the take away is this. We as educators need to start being the voice of reform. Just like we inspire our students to create our their own digital footprint in this world, we need to create  and share ours as well.

Back Home, And the Digital Journey Continues Sharing Our Message Loud and Often

Once my plane landed from Washington D.C. last weekend, I no sooner received an email from my school district asking if I would share the work from our Digital Learning Day trip with our local business leaders. Just down the street from my school literally within blocks is our El Cajon Chamber of Commerce. They meet monthly, and had seen the local news broadcast about our visit to Washington and they wanted to hear more about the work we are doing at CVMS and the the Writing Project.

Well one thing I have learned is to not be shy in asking for partnerships and support. I have a new mission on our digital journey, to start to set the tone of the discussions. We as teachers need to share the wonderful things that happen each and every day in the classroom. We are more than media soundbites, and the work is wonderful, powerful, and on-going. It is critical that we use our voices and share our professional expertise from the classroom. Never more importantly than now with the many challenges and changes in our educational system.

So I came with this slideshow about the work.

The focus of the discussion  was not about the trip, it was about what we are doing to empower future student leaders. I was able to discuss what we are doing in the classroom to create students who can think and create and use technology to not just be consumers of media, but create the messages produced in the media.

That sparked an interesting discussion around the table. One question was, “Will you be packaging this program so it can be replicated in other classrooms?” What a great opportunity to talk about the power of teacher discussion, that this isn’t a program, but an opportunity to meet the needs of students right where they are. We talked about the value of Edmodo teacher groups, and release time for teachers to create programs that fit the needs of their students. The power of teachers working together to use tools that are out there to meet their needs of the moment, and expand their student’s knowledge. I was able to talk about the art of teaching, the importance of collaboration and innovation and not the creation of a product designed as a one size fits all program that ends of meeting the needs of very few.

I related the discussion to their businesses. Do you want an employee who knows only one method, one way? Do you want someone who comes to you seeking only one choice out of four options or as business and political leaders, or do you want students coming to you with the ability to work together and create new options?  That changed the tide of the conversation and we spent about 15 minutes talking about the use of discussion boards, digital citizenship, and the use of technology in business. In a short conversation they were able to see that education and business are not dichotomous entities, but intertwined.

Then one person asked the magic question, “How can we support you and what type of money are we talking here?” So I asked for grant opportunities, business partnerships and fund raising ideas. I said we need 45,000 dollars for a new laptop cart, we are seeking scholarship donations for our summer writing program so my students can afford to attend. I would love a digital program that allows me to see each student computer as they work installed on my laptop so I can monitor student work and that was about 500 dollars. I gave them a link to our website, and highlighted the donation page. I handed out business cards and thanked them for their time. Two people stepped out of the meeting to talk with me about coming to the site and visit. I took the business card of a representative from Congressman Joel Anderson’s office and will be contacting them again as well.

All this before school started yesterday. We began at 8am, and by 840 I was in my car and started my classroom instruction at 9 am. Digital research with students on a Friday is a great way to end the week. Here’s hoping that soon those local leaders will step into our classrooms and see what is happening right there down the street. We need to open our doors and inform the public on our terms. I truly believe it needs to begin with  one teacher, one classroom at a time. I am trying to live the mantra  I am teaching my students, “Create the message, don’t just consume the message.” If I want people to see the amazing talent I am finding in my students, then I need to step up and help create opportunities for that to happen.

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