What I Did This Summer

Because I know how fortunate I am to have such a long vacation from work, it’s important to me to be productive.  I like to clean closets, the pantry, and my kids’ rooms (call me crazy) because purging these areas give me a real sense of accomplishment. Along with purging, I like to spend my summer gathering. I gather resources to use for the upcoming year, gather articles that will will help me learn about new research and best practices, and gather new tools that can be used in the classroom. In my opinion, it’s essential for educators to spend as lease some of their summer learing how to be a better teacher. If you can’t attend a conference in person, attend on online. If you can’t take a class, read a few articles. Don’t let your summer reading list only include trashy novels. Here’s a run-down of some things I did this summer that I think will make me smarter for the coming school year:

  • Engaged in discussions with my PLN on Twitter and Plurk
  • Read a few articles – among which are the following:

Building Better Instruction. How Technology Supports Nine Research-Proven Instructional Strategies

Web 2.0 Projects collated by Terry Freedman

CREATING & CONNECTING//Research and Guidelines on Online Social — and Educational — Networking

  • Followed NECC08 conference by reading blog posts, and attending several uStreamed conferences, and downloading presentations.

What did you do this summer to make yourself a better educator?

Keeping up with my PLN (Plurk Learning Network)

I’m really big on bandwagons. I can’t help it. As soon as I learn about something new, I sign up for it. You might call me a digital packrat. The latest cool tool I’ve tried is Plurk. Briefly, it’s the new Twitter. I talked about Twitter in a previous post. Plurk is a 140 character micro-blogging application that allows the user to invite friends, which are people who can see the posts, as well as letting you see their posts. Plurk has a few cool features that have proven to be a richer tool for my PLN than Twitter. Plurk lets the readers of your post respond directly to the post in a drop down menu. This works really well for a PLN because conversations quickly develop and friends feel more comfortable or compelled to jump in with a comment. Coolcatteacher asked “So what are the coolest things about Plurk?” – the answers in this thread clearly explain the features of the application that make it great. Liz Davis created this video about Plurk basics early on. Here are a couple of examples of plurk conversations that happened on their own: (click on the image to see the conversation)

If you are one of my friends who I have just converted to Twitter, come over to Plurk. It’s way cooler!

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!

Personal Learning Networks II

In an earlier post, I indicated that one of my “big three” was to start using twitter. I’ve been using it regularly for a couple of weeks and through twitter I got a chance to see David Warlick speak at the North Carolina computing educators conference through ustream. Here is a link to his handouts. In the workshop he talked about using RSS to find tools and information that will help one as a professional. In describing how to use RSS to find images and other information that would help put together lessons and classroom activities, David said, “Train the information to find us.” I thought that was a cool quote and I understand exactly what he is saying. So much time is spent looking for information, “just in time”. If we prepare in advance by setting up feeds, wikis, and other web2.o tools to accept and organize the information, when we need it, it’s there for us.

Once again, the impact of blogs as a professional development tool was brought up with his group. David asked his group if they read blogs and then offered a list of bloggers that are widely read by other educators as a way to learn about what is going on in the field. (His blog should be on the top of the list.) As I mentioned before, reading blogs of other educators who are interested and knowledgeable about technology is the single most important professional development activity that I engaged in.

Twitter is coming a close second. Because of Twitter, I was able to attend David’s session today. Here’s my Big Three for David’s session:

1. Set up RSS feed pages on my pageflakes page for topics that I’m interested in including internet safety, blogging in the classrooms, PLN
2. Participate in twitter in a meaningful way, like posting links to good tools and interesting articles – not just posting goofy stuff
3. Participate in my ning networks because I know that the people in my ning group will be knowledgeable and supportive with the issues that I have in my job. I’ll learn alot from them.

Lighten Up Francis

Thanks to Four Eyed Technologist, I finally found out where that phrase comes from. When I get all mad and start ranting about this, that, and the other, my husband says to me, “Lighten up, Francis.” I knew that line was from a movie, but never knew it was Stripes.

The clip in his blog was fitting. He is really fired up! Ryan focused on his thought, “Learning spaces that live and die with the teacher aren’t Good Enough.” The message of his post described course management systems and how teachers utilize various features of the CMS to one degree or another. Since the use of the tools is not consistent, the students’ learning experience depend greatly on the teacher and how much effort they put into the course environment . (I hope I got it right.)

I’m going to focus on his other idea, the one he chose not to expand on. I found that it’s more what I can talk about, “Pockets of Greatness aren’t Good Enough”. Here’s my thoughts about this statement:

I agree with Ryan. It’s frustrating to see the educational experiences in some classrooms to be technology-rich and using transformative tools. Other classrooms could use their computers as boat anchors. “Pockets of greatness” can also characterize the educational experiences of students outside the use of technology. There are great teachers who demonstrate a real understanding of their students. Great teachers use best practices in differentiated instruction, focus on higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, and allow his or her students to connect the classroom to the real world. In that “pocket”, children experience the opportunity to think creatively and be self directed. Out of the “pocket”, students are disengaged and undervalued as learners. With or without technology, there is greatness and not-so-greatness. Within a child’s whole 8 years (I’m an elementary educator), he will not always be in the class of a great teacher. It’s unfortunate, but let’s face it…it’s true. What keeps me from “going Francis” is to focus on the big picture. The students will be fine. The students that came out of the school where I taught were very well prepared, and their technology-related experiences were much richer that that students from other other schools. Technology is so much a part of the lives of children outside of school, that they are competent and confident. It would be great if they utilized real world tools in all aspects of school. I really believe that and I do absolutely everything I can to promote the use of technology in meaningful ways. I’d like to expect that every teacher is on the same page. Realistically, it ‘aint gonna happen……yet. Reflecting on the analogy that Ian Jukes gives us, a passionate educator with vision keeps “swimming upstream” as a committed sardine. Eventually, the rest will follow.

Ryan’s blog post reflected passion and high standards. An influential teacher/leader needs that kind of vision. To keep one’s sanity however, sometimes it’s necessary to step back and look at the big picture.