Archive for March, 2007

Our house hunt has come to and end in North Platte, but our stay has been prolonged by hazardous weather. Last night there were tornadoes to our west, and a powerful winter storm has prevented us from making our way back through Wyoming. On the bright side we are able to get to know our new town a bit, and we are just hoping Friday or Saturday’s weather will let us travel to our current home. We knew this would probably happen and are taking it all in stride. Luckily the kids are all on Spring Break and are not missing school, but this is no Disney World :-(!!! That updates my current state of affairs, and I hope to be back posting instructional technology info soon! Until we meet again: peace!


I would like to announce my upcoming opportunity to become the new Educational Technology Director for the North Platte Public Schools in North Platte, Nebraska. Serving in this capacity has been a goal for the past few years and since earning my master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Wyoming in May 2006 I have focused much of my energy in achieving this charge. I will begin my duties this summer, and I am excited to be a part of an organization that has been focused on improving the learning process via the integration of technology. My wife, Dianna, has also been offered employment in this same district as a speech-language pathologist.

My family and I will be taking a trip to North Platte to search for housing next week, and my posts here may be a bit sparse. For those who may have become regular, semi-regular, or accidental readers, I invite you to search through some of my old posts for bits of information that may be of interest or helpful to you.

My plans are that this site will remain up and running as a personal project; furthermore, the opinions expressed here are the personal views of myself, Neil Hokanson, and Hokanson’s Instructional Technology (H I T) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the North Platte Public School District.

Hannah Marching Band My two oldest children, Hannah (a freshman trombone player and beautiful choir singer) and Charlie (5th grade guitar player), are budding musicians. School is where they have engaged in this opportunity, and research shows the benefits on academic performance for students involved in music education programs (NAMM). I was, for a time, a trumpet player, and my wife played an alto sax throughout her school years. Music is an important part of our lives and the iPods and other music making/playing devices that inhabit our home are in heavy use.

Charlie Guitar I recently read an article at eSchool News Online (Requires FREE registration to read full articles.) about music education and Web 2.0 titled “Music education moves online.” The information included several online and software programs that enable collaboration amongst musicians. I have also included a link to an excellent software program that I purchased for my son’s guitar practice sessions: Guitar Shed.



In The Chair


I am interested in learning about valuable online resources that music educators use to supplement their instruction or to enrich student practice. Please share!

UPDATE!!! I was informed of a new product (see comments) called StarPlay that is in its beta version and can be tried for FREE. The following video explains StarPlay’s benefits:

Science One particular science site that continues to interest me is the Franklin Institute Science Museum and its “Resources for Science Learning” Case Files Online Exhibit. The resource is fully interdisciplinary and as the site states:

“This exhibit feautures notable scientists and their Case Files. The Case Files are a unique repository in the history of science and technology. As the documentary record of The Franklin Awards program, the Case Files are filled with stories of scientific enterprise.”

Other science sites that I have been exploring for student use include:


NASA (Education)

How Stuff Works (Science Channel)

Please share the interesting science web sites that you are using with your students.

Over the years I have used Webquests in my classroom and generated a few of my own. Webquests are excellent ways to engage students in the learning process while utilizing the valuable resources found on the Internet. There are many ready made Webquests covering all disciplines of study found on the Web. One particular Webquest I created, refined, and used for many years with my 8th grade U.S. History students was called “New Inuits in Town.” The Webquest culminated with the students actually working in groups to create igloos. Our climate, highland, allowed for plenty of snow, and the students enjoyed the activity. The following is part of a video from one of our Webquest generated igloo building adventures:

The music for the video comes from the band Elysian Sky. It is comprised of three wonderful souls, two of which are my former students from back in my Dakota Valley High School teaching days (1994-1997): Jobey McGinty and Jamie Sanders!!! Check out the band’s site and score some awesome tunes TODAY!!!

Rick Thomas shares a valuable resource via his blog post “Using Technology in the Classroom.”

The link he shares is to the Kentucky Department of Education site, and I really liked the parent resources found by clicking on “Parental Involvement” then “What Parents Need to Know.” This takes you to the “Links for Parents” page. The introduction states:

“Helpful links for parents regarding kids security online, what parents need to know about media, and some good links for students.”

The page is divided into the following categories:  “Helping Your Kids With Homework,” “Kids Security Online,” and “Sites For Kids.”  Check it out today!

The following article is a continuation of yesterday’s post and is taken from the Casper Star Tribune:

“Statewide test faces more trouble

Star-Tribune capital bureau

CHEYENNE — Topping off a troubled week for Wyoming’s statewide assessment, educators learned Friday that some students who scored “proficient” on part of the exam may have to retake it anyway.

Schools across the state on Friday received “estimated” scores for the writing portion of the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students. They will be combined with precise reading and math scores to determine who will retest later this month.

Melissa Cade, curriculum director for Weston County School District 1, said the estimated scores could force educators to make a “gut feeling” decision on retesting.

And some pupils who actually cleared the proficiency hurdle might be putting pencil to paper again this month. “We were never under the impression that we were making a judgment call,” she said.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Mary Kay Hill Friday recommended retesting students whose writing scores are “on the bubble.”

The problematic scores represent the latest in a string of troubles with PAWS, which will help determine if schools are making “adequate yearly progress” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Earlier this week, the test maker, Texas-based Harcourt Assessment, delivered the scores 10 days late. The delay cut short the time students have to prepare for the retake, which begins on March 26.

“Every time we turn around it seems like there’s one more kink in it,” said Cade, who is optimistic that the test eventually will become a “powerful tool” for Wyoming students and educators.”

Nothing surprises me anymore! I am gaining a solid foundation of low expectations concerning this testing procedure. Does Texas have these same issues (Read the related articles in my previous post!)?

Yes, it is easy to be critical, but it is not an easy thing to be part of the solution. As I thought of what to post about today, I was having a difficult time narrowing something down. The state I currently reside in is the smallest in population. It is required like any other state to meet the requirements of NCLB, but are all states created equal?

I want to share two online news articles about Wyoming’s state assessment: PAWS. Read and reflect to make your own conclusions. I would like to hear your comments on the situation that has resulted here. It is not cut and dry, and I think it highlights the complex and multifaceted challenges that come into play when we test our students. Then, I want to share a blog posting that explains, very well, the intricacies and misinterpretations that can arise from testing. I look forward to any comments you may have on these subjects.

Casper Star Tribune: “Schools get test results late

Casper Star Tribune: “Firm: Next scores won’t be late

Ed Tech Journeys: “Misleading Data Hides NCLB Scandal

I have a personal stake in all of this as my children have been directly affected by what you have read, but we all are affected. The time has come to take a stand and realize REAL children are being tossed about in this whole situation. My children, your children, your neighbor’s children, your grandchildren, and so on. How do you explain it all to your kids, what do you say, what do you do? I’m afraid the answer may often be NOTHING. I hope not, but this is becoming a very scary and frustrating experience for me and my family. How about you?

David Warlick posts on his blog 2 Cents Worth about creating commercials for textbooks and classrooms (“Do You Need a Commercial?“) and asks:

“What if you had a commercial for your class? What if you made a commercial for your class? Could You?”

I have done this for my classroom the past few years. My goal was to get some pictures of students on the first day of school and prep the video to be shown the next day as I introduce the course. I only happened to find one of these “commercials” from the 2002-2003 school year (I never thought to hang on to all of them!), and I have uploaded it to YouTube. This activity can also be extended by having students create commercials for projects, places, books, etc. The possibilities are endless and fun!

This is my first YouTube video upload, and that is an experience on its own. For those who have not tried it, you need to open a FREE account and then the process is quite easy and simple. This is an often blocked site by school district firewalls, but I’m sure there are other possibilities or opportunities where you could set up a limited showing if necessary. That is an entirely separate issue, but one that I am investigating for a future topic. The videos I have used in my classroom are obviously shown from computers or uploaded and accessed from the school server. For now enjoy one of my classroom commercials:

Annenberg MediaMy oldest daughter, who is a freshman in high school, had the all too common experience of needing help with her homework. This is makeup work from our time away last week while spending time in Nebraska and her trip to the state basketball tournament to play in the pep band. As “responsible” parents we had asked that she get her work ahead of time to prevent the situation we are in now, but the teacher wasn’t sure what the class would be doing at the time (That response always amazes me!). Now our daughter is backtracking to get caught up, but was not offered any instruction and was informed to figure it out on her own (Another response that always amazes me!).

Nevertheless, the math problems she was working on had to do with factoring polynomials (Ever notice how you have enough problems as it is and then when you go to math you get more problems, often ODD problems 😉 !?!). My wife went over the “lesson” with my daughter, but talk of FOIL (I never heard mention of plastic wrap 😉 .) wasn’t sinking in. Being the instructional technology specialist that I am, I immediately pulled up (Annenberg Media that I mentioned several days ago in another post.), and found a video that explains factoring polynomials. The instructor, Sol, explained and showed how to factor polynomials, and we were all on our way to learning success!

If my daughter’s teacher had taken the time to teach her the lesson I believe the whole situation would have been less stressful; however, since there seems to not have been time to do this, where was the alternative or differentiated instruction? I know that had her math teacher been aware of he could have done exactly what we did at home with the video from Annenberg Media.

Please take the time today, especially if you never have before, to explore the technology tools that can enable, enrich, and remediate the learning process in our homes, classrooms, and schools. We cannot afford to let students “figure it out on your own” any longer. Problem solving is an important skill, but if we do not offer tools and strategies to help solve those problems we offer a huge disservice to our youth. As a parent this is the least I should have to expect from a teacher: finding and offering tools to facilitate learning.

Next Vista for Learning is:

“An online library of free videos for learners everywhere – find resources to help you learn just about anything, meet people who make a difference in their communities, and even discover new parts of the world. And Next Vista for Learning wants to post your educational videos online, too. Everyone has an insight to share and yours may be just what some student or teacher somewhere needs!”

“Next Vista works to make learning more engaging, with a focus on helping students start strong with any topic they study. Its central project is a free, online library of teacher- and student-made short videos for learners everywhere. Next Vista believes a strong four-minute video could save students days or weeks of frustration by providing a variety of presentations on the topics that give them trouble.”

“Learning is stronger when it starts with an engaging introduction of each topic. If numerous creative student presentations and strong introductions by teachers passionate and knowledgeable about given topics are available, many more students will be able to start their studies with, “Okay, I can learn this,” rather than, “I just don’t get it.” In addition to help with their studies, students need opportunities to learn more actively about other parts of the world as well as how people have worked to address problems in communities near and far.”

This is a growing “open source movement,” and you will find the “Light Bulbs” section the most stocked at this time. In that particular section, for example, are several math video lessons that would serve as possible introductory, alternative, differentiated, or reteaching resources. I especially like the ability for teachers and students to share and add to this resource. Get your lessons, presentations, and projects polished and video camera ready and help add to this learning community!

This is an interesting video showing the future of interacting with technology. Enjoy!

In the May 2006 issue of ISTE‘s Learning & Leading With Technology publication James Lerman shared four great social studies web sites:

Center for History and New Media

Center for History and New Media


Cybershoolbus: United Nations

Internet History Sourcebooks Project

Internet History Sourcebooks Project

Educators for Social Responsibility

Special Projects: Understanding World Events

These sites serve as promising online multimedia resources and are worth consideration and use in supporting the analysis of the social studies.

Game Show Presenter Several years ago I came across Game Show Presenter and at the time only had access to one computer in my classroom. I was looking for ways to spice up my instruction to engage my middle school students in social studies facts that often just have to be known before moving on to higher order thinking skills.

My answer to part of this challenge was Game Show Presenter. It has a cost of $49 for educators with a discount for district licensing, but this program brought fun and excitement to my classroom and was well worth the modest cost! You can try it for FREE, and it works on a Macintosh or Windows platform.

You put in the questions and answers, rate the questions (hard – easy, etc.), and then choose your settings (background, sounds, etc.). It is great to project onto a SmartBoard or screen, but I have had students use it simply on a computer screen. My students also enjoyed making game shows that integrated with their own or group projects, and the incentive was they wanted to make and “play” Game Show!”

You will see a quote on the right side bar at the program’s web site that states:

“It’s so much fun, and a great review tool.” — Neil (Middle School teacher)

That’s me, and I continue to feel the same way about this wonderful tool! Try it today with any age level. Game Show Presenter is a lot of fun and definitely stimulates learning!

Edutopia Edutopia is a magazine published by The George Lucas Educational Foundation and is FREE for educators. The March 2007 issue has several great articles, and one on simulations has some excellent resources. I would like to share a few here:

High School

Web Based High School Chemistry Simulations

A More Powerful Force (The Game of Nonviolent Strategy)

Middle School

Building Homes of Our Own

Hot Shot Business

Nobel Prize Educational Games

The River City Project

Elementary School

National Geographic Kids

PBS Kids Go