Making sure technology is accessible to every student, and using learning skills such as writing to help English Language Learners (ELLs) understand math, were just some of the topics covered by the technology sessions during the second day of ASCD’s annual conference.

Sunday’s second general session featured Bonnie St. John, an author who became an Olympic ski racer with only one leg.

“Those who keep their visions of greatness when the resources aren’t readily available are the only ones who achieve surprisingly high results,” St. John said prior to the conference. St. John told educators to keep a winning spirit despite limiting or negative circumstances.

“An Educator’s Guide to Blogs,” a session led by Erica Brownstein of Capital University in Ohio, focused on how teachers, administrators, and other educators can safely and successfully use blogs in the classroom or school environment.

Blogs are native to the web and have been around since roughly 1995, Brownstein said, and are also a great way of “expressing yourself but embracing the whole world community.”

Teachers can use blogs not only for instructional purposes, but also to learn about their students, said Lindsay Dexter, a student at Capital University.

Brownstein said that when a teacher sets up a blog, he or she should define one main goal or objective that the student or class should be able to meet. After that main goal is established, smaller goals will begin to appear.

Creatively integrating blogs into the curriculum can encourage interaction between teachers and students, and also between parents and students.

For example, one teacher used blogs during a unit in which her students read The Secret Life of Bees. The students’ parents were able to view the blogs, post comments about the viewpoints and writings on the blogs, and have a meaningful school-based interaction with their children.

Brownstein also touched on the dangers associated with students using MySpace and other similar sites, both in terms of cyber bullying and students posting information or pictures that could alert a school’s administration to illegal or harmful behaviors.

Teachers would not only need administrative supports for classroom blogs, but in most cases parents need to sign permission forms to allow their children to participate, one audience member commented.

Regardless of whether children are using blogs in the classroom or not, Brownstein said if teachers don’t know or don’t think that their students are already blogging outside the classroom, “[they’re] living in a bubble.”

Aside from K-12 student use, blogs are also helpful for higher education and for school communities. Brownstein’s education students use blogs to discuss their student-teaching experiences. First-year teacher mentoring programs can also make use of blogs. School teams might use blogs to document their attempt at implementing certain programs, and those blogs can be used by the following year’s teachers or team as an example.

Some schools, Brownstein said, are using blogs as school web pages. Administrators or other designated posters will contribute to a list of activities, notices, and other events.

Aside from blogs, sessions focused on other ways of using technology to reinforce class lessons and subjects.

During a session that focused on using digital photography to support curriculum, presenter Eric LeMoine said incorporating digital photography allows students to share their creativity and perspectives on the world.

“It allows kids to bring their personality into the classroom,” said LeMoine, who works in Oregon’s Beaverton School District. Teachers and students can pull photography into the class with basic skills and using older digital cameras. LeMoine recommended using the “rule” of four (using the four corners of the picture to define what’s included in the picture) and the three step rule (moving three steps to the right, left, front, or back to change the picture perspective) as simple ways to get started.

Curricular applications of digital photography, he said, don’t require that teachers “invent” new lessons or projects to supplement current ones. LeMoine said teachers should concentrate on the activities already taking place in their classrooms, and decide what they can use digital photography for in relation to those projects or lessons.

Teachers can use photography for basic tasks such as creating slide shows or can get more advanced and use photo editing software to manipulate photographs.

Digital photography has vast applications in the classroom. For instance, a teacher could take pictures of a student’s progress on a project and put those photos into a weekly or monthly newsletter. During a lesson on community workers, kindergarten teachers can take pictures of real firefighters to connect the classroom lesson to the real world.

If teachers make sure that the curriculum is the focus, LeMoine said, digital photography can strengthen classroom lessons and at the same time can help encourage student creativity and collaboration.

The conference wraps up on Monday with a closing session lecture by Neil Howe, an economist and historian who will address what shapes the nation’s generations–including the Baby Boomers, the Gen-Xers, and the Millennial Generation– and where each will steer the nation.