My Brush with Greatness

I recently attended an Administrators’ Academy all-day workshop with Alan November. I have seen him speak a few times before and I have one of his books, so I was really excited to attend this conference. He was awesome! His message is compelling but it’s his style of presenting that makes spending the day with him so enjoyable. He is a passionate educator that filled his talk with anecdotal stories and case studies that really drives home his points. Here is an outline of his message along with some reflection about my own experience:

Technology is a tool that adds richness to teaching and learning. It allows teachers and students to do things that would have never been possible without it. It’s not technology for technology sake – but a way to make connections, develop relationships, collaborate, and express ourselves creatively.

The current curriculum should be “globalized”. We need to teach kids to be reflective and understand that everything needs to be viewed from many perspectives. He gave the example of looking at the American Revolution from the British perspective by accessing curriculum materials from the UK or even talking to a teacher or students from the UK to find out how they are learning about the American Revolution. An example from our district is requiring students from the Middle School foreign language classes to find articles about current events from newspapers and media sources from Spanish speaking countries – not just from our country’s media.

Rethink Assessment and provide opportunities to create content. Find a balance between focusing on standardized assessment tools and offering students the opportunity to develop higher level thinking skills with projects and activities that ask them to create, make decisions, and work with others. In our district, we can demonstrate many examples of how kids use creativity and problem solving skills. Sometimes they don’t even use a computer – but we are prepared to help them do things like create videos too.

Understand the concept of information literacy and know that using the web to find information is a complex process. With the help of the Library Media Specialist in our district, I created a presentation that combined much of the concepts from Alan November’s book as well as the Standards for the 21st Century Learner from the American Association of School Librarians. You can find that presentation here. Basically, we can’t ask students to “go find it on the web” without first considering how construct a query, locate information, and evaluate the source. Although many teachers disregard the complexity of the Internet and still expect their student to “google” everything, we are getting much better at providing better preparation for using the Internet effectively and efficiently.

Based on what I learned that day, I think the change I would most likely implement is to utilize the free tools such as Skype to connect our students to the world. Alan spent a great deal of time giving examples and making recommendations about how a simple thing like a Skype call in a classroom can really transform a learning experience. We used Skype twice this year to connect our students to classrooms in Canada and Texas. I know that was a fun experience. I will look for more opportunities for other classrooms to make connections to help students understand that the world is only a Skype call away.

In addition, I would facilitate more opportunities for students to create content for a wider audience – making sure that really rich projects are showcased on the web. I’ll start by showing teachers projects from YouTube, wikis, and blogs to demonstrate what is possible, then offer support so that projects don’t become “just one more thing”.

New Cool Tool – Glogster

I wish I could remember how I came across this site this morning, because I would certainly thank the one who passed it on. The site is called Glogster. On this site you use images, text, sound, video, and other cool stuff to create a poster-type thing-a-ma-gingy that probably a really cool way to dress up your myspace page. Since I have no myspace page, but instead a couple of wikis for the teachers and students in my district to use, I created this nifty page with screeenshots of all the great beginning reading practice sites on it. Since I’m not the most creative type, I really liked creating the page since the visual elements were so flashy and easy to use. It’s also important to note that the Terms of Use seem to indicate that they are concerned with content that is suitable for audiences under 18. I looked for inappropriate content, and although I found plenty of “posters” created by teens, none of them were of any concern.

Next Glogster: Math practice sites!

For Student Projects:

Create a scrapbook page for a famous person in history!

The Flip – Worth the Hassle (Updated)

(Thanks to Richard Kassissieh’s comment to the original post, I have to update the information on how this camera works with a Mac. Thanks so much Richard! You made me do some more investigating and I found an easier way from just using software that it on the Flip!)

Based on buzz from my PLN, I thought I’d like to try The Flip Video. My oh-so-generous boss thought that a really easy video camera that the students could use would be a great idea. The investment of $150 wasn’t much so we got a box full of them for the district. Upon further research, I discovered that people love using their Flips to easily and quickly, but Mac owners proclaimed that the cameras do not play nice with iMovie! What the heck! How could anything this easy to use not work well with my beloved Mac? I was not discouraged however. I did my research and learned that with a little perseverance, the videos could import into iMovie and be integrated into a project. In addition, with a quick download, one could use the unedited videos as they open up easily with Quicktime, making embedding them into a presentation very doable for even the most un-techy user. So here is the scoop…… When you put the flip into the USB port and icon like this shows up on the desktop. Double click on this icon. The following software is stored on the Flip Video:

  • Flip Video for Mac – for viewing and editing without the use of iMovie
  • 3ivx installer that can be found in the Installers folder on the Flip (Note: This is the new part….I never looked in that folder before Richard called it to my attention.)
  • Perian – (free download and I put the installer on our cameras at school) needed to make .avi video clips viewable on a Mac, once loaded, will work automatically from system preferences, no need to launch the application (This may not be necessary either – but I’m leaving this recommendation on because I used it to make clips work on 10.4 Macs with iMovie HD. – go with the 3ivx installer first and let me know if we don’t need Perian.)

The following free software downloads were recommended by people to get the AVI videos to play nice with iMovie 08, but turn out to unnecessary, but I’ll leave the links in this post, just in case you want to learn about them anyway.

  • VisualHub – an alternative to MPEG_Streamclip, provides better quality video, but free version can only convert videos under 2 minutes
  • MPEG_Streamclip_1.9.1 is the software that is needed to convert video format .avi to .mov or .dv – needed if editing will be done in iMovie
  • All of these software applications can be loaded on the computer utilizing Flip Video but that means that there is a little less room for video clips

So now that I have conquered the Mac vs. Flip battle, here are a few ideas on what can be done with them in the classroom:

  • Demonstrate solving math problems from the board or using manipulatives
  • Describe a field trip
  • Book reviews
  • Visually interpret part of a story or a poem
  • Interviews with family or staff members for digital storytelling
  • Tour of the school for new students or parents
  • Create a commercial for a product, can be great for foreign language
  • Demonstration of safety procedures or lab experiment in Science
  • Reinact historical event or video tape a speech in Social Studies
  • Demonstration of a phenomenon or concept in Science (gravity, simple machines at a playground)
  • Demonstration of skills in Gym
  • Film students as they role play for character education
  • Video tape of lesson or student interaction for professional development strategies
  • Video podcast for every reason

Have fun with your Flip video!

Where to Begin

If I could collaborate with teachers on one new project involving web 2.0 technology, I would like to use VoiceThread. Although I’ve seen plenty of examples, I have not yet tried this tool to create a project. From the looks of it, VoiceThread is a very flexible tool that has a great deal of potential. As I look through the samples, here’s a few ideas I’m thinking about.

  • Scan pictures that they have drawn and tell a story about the image
  • Take pictures with a digital camera of their environment and identify geometric shapes, draw a circle around it and describe which math vocabulary word we see
  • After doing research, use copyright free images and tell the story of a famous person
  • Draw pictures in a sequence and use images to tell a story
  • Use images created in Kidspiration or Inspiration about concept and describe
  • Take pictures of the classroom and record reflections on the year
  • Use an image of a grandparent and tell his or her story
  • Use images from parent’s life and tell stories about experiences from their childhood

The appeal of VoiceThread is that a project would have to involve visual images as well as narration. The narration would require the writing of a script or reading a written report aloud. This would be a perfect cross-curricular project that demonstrate writing, visual literacy, and creativity.

Maybe I’ll get up the nerve to try a project myself!

What Students Want

It was exciting to take advantage of an invitation on twitter from Ryan Bretag to look in on a discussion with a group of students on the impact of technology in education. It was a broadcast on Ustream TV. During the broadcast there many other educators in the chat room listening in and commenting on the conversation. As an educator who rarely gets the opportunity to have such rich conversations with students (other than my own three kids) I was really interested in what they had to say.

In the broadcast, Ryan introduced them to a few tools such as Twitter, social networking (specifically Ning), and google docs. I wasn’t surprised that they hadn’t heard of any of these tools. Although we give digital natives a lot of credit for knowing everything, in reality, they only know the tools they use in their personal or academic life. They don’t have any more time than us grownup to go out there and seek out what’s new and interesting. That’s our job as ed-techs. The thing that really impressed me, to the point of smiling from ear-to-ear, was the thoughtful questions and comments in terms of how the tools are valuable. Twitter, for example wasn’t met with much enthusiasm at first, as far as a tool that fits in to school. When examples such as being able to use twitter to communicate with others at different schools was offered, then the students were interested. The students really focused on the value for school. How would this be used in the context of the classroom? I was really impressed that the students focused on the value of the tools in their learning environment.

Ning made them nervous. Social networking is viewed as something they do in their free time. Networking with teachers? Not so much. When Ryan made it clear that Ning is a more professional tool, than the students could see the value in using it as a tool for communication and collaboration. They could wrap their heads around the value of the tool as they separated the concept from their own “facebooked world”.

Google Docs was really met with a lot of enthusiasm. Many students brought up specific examples of how they would use this tool as they worked in groups. The described scenarios where emailing documents back and forth to team mates really failed, or kept them up until all hours if the message didn’t arrive right away.

While I was listening in on this conversation, I was forming a plan to have a similar type round table discussion with the middle school students in my district. I run a risk because middle school students are not quite as focused and insightful as they will be in a few years. The I thought about having this kind of discussion with the teachers. With the teachers, I run the risk of getting a great deal of resistance. “Who has time?” is a question I get a lot. Also, unfamiliar tools tend to get a lot of resistance from non-digital native because we can always find fault with something that seems really new and different. In addition, in the case of elementary school, if only some teachers used the tools and most others didn’t, would all of the students get an equitable chance for exposure or utilization?

Ryan blogged about these discussions this weekend. He really hit the nail on the head here:

Bottom line: Despite growing up in a digital world, they aren’t as familiar with the tools or use the tools as much as we believe. However, the difference is that they are open-minded compared to some of an older generation.

A lot of time, we give these kids credit for knowing more than they really do, but we don’t give them credit enough for having the same kind of sense of urgency and same recognition of value of their own educational experiences.

Thinkature – a very cool tool

One of my favorite ways to surf the net is to start with the del.icio.us and click on popular. I come across some of the coolest tools that way. I almost always save at least a few of the popular sites on my own list. I have over 1200 links that interest me. Once in a while, I come across something that I feel like I must use immediately. Today it was Thinkature. Thinkature is a really cool collaboration tool where you can create mind maps and brainstorming visual organizers. The other mind map tools that I’ve found include WiseMapping, Mind42, and MindMeister. Naturally, my favorite will always be the offline version Inspiration. (I wonder if they are developing an online version with all the cool features?) Thinkature’s features are really powerful. They include chatting and the use of images, either from your hard drive or imported from the web. Wow! It’s so cool! Here are a few ideas on how to use this in the classroom or as a professional tool for teachers.

  • With an interactive whiteboard
  • Recap a field trip
  • Create a timeline
  • Connecting ideas as a study guide
  • Prepare to write an essay or report
  • Prepare a presentation

I started a workspace, just to get a little practice. Feel free to add to edit it.