Thursday, February 28, 2008

Reflections on the Daniel Pink Live Video Conference at Arapahoe High

I was a bit behind on my Google Reader feeds, but was happy to find Karl Fisch's post from Tuesday just in time! The grade 9 students from Karl's school have been reading Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind, for the past month or so. Over the course of their reading they have invited other educators and guests to join in their live blogging discussions of the book. Today they upped the ante! Karl writes:
This Thursday is our students’ live video conference with Daniel Pink. They’ve finished A Whole New Mind and this is their chance to ask Mr. Pink some questions directly, as well as further discuss the book with their classmates. We’ll have all four classes of students (about 110 or so) in our Forum and will conduct a video Skype call with Mr. Pink.

They also decided to Ustream the discussion and have the live blog discussion hosted on CoverItLive. I caught the post just in time this morning to log onto Ustream. Along with about 80 other viewers I was able to watch (and I could have participated in side discussions) part of the amazing discussion. Some live Ustream talks I have watched were not of very good quality, technically speaking; this was not the case today! It was amazing to hear the mature discussion between the students and Daniel Pink. It was difficult to follow the conversations on CoverItLive as the comments were coming so fast and furious!

A Whole New Mind

Today's experience really highlights how powerful web 2.0 tools can be in education. The students were totally engaged and clearly understood the key points of Daniel Pink's book, judging from their questions to the author and the way they were rippin' it up on CoverItLive. Imagine trying to offer the students (and interested educators) this sort of opportunity without web 2.0 tools.

Thank you Karl Fisch for sharing this experience with other educators; it is really something to aspire to!

Addendum: February 29th--A big thank you to Anne Smith and Maura Moritz, who Karl Fisch pointed out in the comments, are the English 9 teachers who organized the whole learning experience.  And the grade 9 students at Arapahoe High; you really showed people how thoughtful and involved with your learning you are, well done!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Adventures in Slidecasting

There are so many web 2.0 tools, that it really is hard to keep up. In an effort to expand my web 2.0 horizons, I've attempted to try at least one new tool per week. I note which tools are receiving a lot of buzz or look really powerful and they end up on my informal list.

The latest tool that I've tried is SlideShare's slidecasting. I've seen quite a number of straight slide shows on SlideShare, but it was only recently that I played a slidecast. What is a slidecast? A slidecast is when your slides are synched to audio. It has the power of video, but is much simpler to make and the visual quality is excellent! In addition when you are watching the slidecast you can skip ahead to the slide you're interested in and the audio is still synched. At the bottom of the slidecast you can see how much audio goes with each slide.

To learn how to make your own slidecast, check out Jonathan Boutelle's slidecast. In addition to Jonathan's info, the following might help. To make your slidecast, you upload your slides to SlideShare and your audio to a podcasting host. In Slideshare you provide the url for your audio. One of the things that I found difficult was locating the url for my mp3 file. I still don't know how to find the url for the audio I uploaded to Gcast. I eventually loaded my mp3 file to Internet Archive. When you click on your audio file in Internet Archive you get a screen that looks like the image below. I've indicated in the image where you find out the url for your mp3 file.

Internet Archive

I decided to make my first slidecast using a Google Docs presentation I did for my Science 9 on-line class. It is on cell division. The slides were not geared to slidecasting, and have far more text than is necessary. I've never podcasted before, so there are definite problems with the audio--it is very quiet and there are no intros, outros or music of any kind. In the spirit of sharing though (see Shareski--Lesson #1 Share), here's my slidecast, warts and all.

[slideshare id=276642&doc=copy-of-sci-feb-20-1203656309380038-3&w=425]

SlideShare | View | Upload your own

In case the embedded slidecast doesn't work, here's the link.

One way to use slidecasting would be to prepare mini-lessons that can be posted on-line for students to access on an as needed basis. They could also come in handy on those days you require a substitute teacher :-) People can comment on slidecasts that you post to SlideShare. If students did projects involving slidecasting, their peers could view and leave comments. I could see using this to get students to make their own slidecasts to explain concepts.

I'm excited about slidecasting because it is relatively straightforward to produce, it has the power of video, the image quality is great, and all the tools are free! If you haven't tried it before, give it a look-see and maybe you'll add it to your list of tools to try.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Stop The Insanity!

The Trick Is To BreatheI've been reading a number of posts recently that have highlighted, either directly or indirectly, how incredibly busy many teachers are. This, of course, is not a surprise to teachers, nor is it an affliction limited just to teachers.

On Saturday Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach of 21st Century Collaborative posted You Might Be Too Busy If... where people from her Twitter network finished off the statement. Their responses are funny, but also attest to how very busy some of us are!

Then on Sunday, Chris Lehmann's post included a poem by one of the teachers on his staff, Matthew Kay. The poem is a great tribute to the amazing community that they have built at the Science Learning Academy where Chris is principal. It also emphasizes the amount of dedication and time the teachers, students and support staff put in to maintain that community. Here is a small sample from the poem, (I encourage you to go and read the whole thing here):
We’re 6:30 AM Practices. We’re 6:30 PM tutoring.

We’re prep periods lost observing

We’re lunches skipped counseling

We’re late night planning

We’re doling out hugs

We’re doing whatever we can to make sure

That the kids leave our classes inspired.

Both of these posts have me wondering how we can balance our dedication and passion for teaching while still nurturing our relationships with family, friends and ourselves. Are we looking after our own health and well being?

Michele Martin wrote Making Your Work Life More Manageable at the end of January and she has a number of really good suggestions. I was inspired enough by it to overhaul how I deal with my e-mails, although I still find it hard to only check my e-mail two times a day. How can I not check it when my iGoogle page is always up on my monitor??!!

Michele also wrote about including relaxing/non-work activities in your daily schedule; we've got to plan to do these things, or else they may not get done.  For me it has meant dedicating 60 minutes every other night to exercising; this includes the stretching afterwards.

Michele's post didn't discuss something that may be a very teachery trait--putting too much time into planning. Let's face it, that new unit you're working on could suck up all of your 'free' time--if you let it. To provide balance in their lives, I know some teachers who choose a specific time to wrap things up every day--they may 'do' school from 7:30am to 5pm, but once they leave the school, schoolwork is over. With a young family, I find this a hard one to do. My kids are in bed by 7:30pm so I elect to go home earlier and do more prep, marking, etc once the kids are in bed.

I wonder too about a culture in some schools and districts where there is an expectation that the teachers and/or the admin do not have a life outside of school. C'mon--we should have outgrown that idea once we were out of the primary grades (remember being surprised seeing your grade 1 teacher out and about?!)

"No."  This is a word that is so simple--just one syllable, only two letters, but it appears to be absent from the vocabularies of many stressed out teachers.  Every school has one or two teachers who have never even heard of this word.  You know, the ones that are soooo good at organizing assemblies, or sports tournaments, or school dances, or or or... and so they always get asked to do them.  If you know one of these teachers, please help them to get acquainted with this word!  And let's not always go to that same go-to guy or gal--spread the love around and give them a break occasionally.

Is the only time you pause to take a breath when you catch that cold at the beginning of winter/spring/summer break.  You know, the cold you couldn't afford to have while you were busy preparing for the winter concert/class trip/basketball tournament/end of course exams...  Maybe it is time to stop the insanity?

I know that what I have written about does not pertain just to teachers.  I'm also not advocating that people start slacking off.  It just seems like sometimes it is worthwhile taking a step back to look at the big picture.

What tips do you have for living a balanced life?  I'd love to hear from you!

Image: The Trick is To Keep Breathing

Saturday, February 2, 2008

How to turn 'Me Vision' into 'We Vision'

I've read a couple of posts lately about how easy it is to use web 2.0 to inadvertently narrow our thinking; to just be getting information that we agree with. David Warlick live-blogged a talk by Ethan Zukerman where he quoted:
In the Internet age, we end up with the Internet Me, a personal news source where we only hear people who think the same way that we do.

It has gotten me thinking about my own situation. Let's look at the news sources I consume. I use iGoogle where I have 4 news feed widgets, but 3 of them are from the same news source, the CBC. I also listen to CBC radio and watch the CBC national news. Not a lot of diverse view points there. Living in a smaller town (Penticton, population approx. 20,000) I have limited choices when it comes to radio; it's CBC, a few cheesy local stations and sometimes I can get NPR. My choices with television news are equally limited since we went cable/satelight free 3 years ago (that's another post in itself). It becomes clear to me that I need to diversify with my internet news feeds, because that is where I really have choice. I may not agree with the view point of certain media outlets, but they offer an insight into what other folks are thinking about current events.

Boxed InIn Michele Martin's recent post Living in a Blogging Box and How to Get Out of It she talks about how easy it is to end up with limited viewpoints:
The problem with blogging in our comfort zones, though, is that we narrow the possibilities for learning and creativity that come from exposing ourselves to new and different perspectives. If I stay in the edu-blogger community or the technology community of bloggers, with little contact with anyone else, it's easy to get sucked into the sort of group-think that naturally evolves when any community of people comes together.

As a newbie blogger, I built up my blog subscriptions as one might expect. I'd find some influencial blogs, in my case Clay Burell's Beyond School and Sue Waters' Mobile Technology in TAFE. If their posts linked to other blogs I would check them out, and if I liked them, I would subscribe. I'd also read the comments after their posts and if I liked what someone wrote, I'd check them out and maybe start subscribing to them. What I'm finding now is that I'm often reading the same people. I might be reading Dean Shareski's blog, but many of the people commenting are already in my feed reader, which isn't surprising considering how I got my subscriptions.

I've also noticed that with most of the blogs I read that there are very few dissenting opinions in the comments. Notice I didn't say no dissenting views. So my strategy on subscribing to blogs is letting me down in that I'm not being exposed to alternate views. This is not to say that I'm not learning a lot--I am!

My goal for the next few weeks is move from my 'Me Vision' to 'We Vision'. I'm going to add some different media outlets to my news reader. I'm also going to follow some of Michele Martin's suggestions and try to diversify my blog subscriptions with the help of Google Alerts and StumbleUpon. Hopefully I'll avoid group think and possibly get more exposure for my blog :-)

Are you concerned that your 'world view' is too narrow? Are you seeing the downsides of 'Internet Me'? What are you doing to expand your vision? I'd love to hear your strategies.

Image: Day 296: Boxed In by Mrs. Maze