Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Making Daniel Pink Proud!

Daniel Pink would've been proud of our in-service day this past Friday! The day started out with an all school team building (faculty, administrators, staff employees) activity facilitated by Chuck Taft. After the school-wide team building we moved into mini-conference mode, with hour long morning and afternoon sessions where we were able to choose from a range of activities. Some of the activities involved heath/fitness/play (eg-volleyball, overview of the work-out facility on campus), some involved team building (cooperative games, team building idea for our school, mental health issues), and some involved curriculum connections (eg-using google earth, using web2.0 tools, drama games, small group curriculum planning, etc). We also had a fantastic lunch hosted by our parents (pictured here you'll see our awesome parents working the dish washing machine!!)

I thought it was a fantastic balance of work in play; I think everyone walked away with a positive experience and an interest in participating in more experiences like this one in the future. The USM Professional Development Committee did a fantastic job of planning this event and pulling it off. I think Daniel Pink would be very proud of the fact that we incorporated health, fitness, community and "play" throughout this day!

Parent Education - Parent Web2.0 Study Group

I'm really looking forward to the first face-to-face meeting for our Middle School parent web2.0 study group this Tuesday, February 5th at 6:30 pm. I think this is going to be a wonderful opportunity for our parents to roll up their sleeves and explore the world of the "Read/Write" web. To quote Will Richardson in his excellent book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, "There is no better way to understand the impact of the Read/Write Web than becoming part of it." From my pre-service days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I've always been a big believer in the concepts of "learn by doing" and constructivist teaching and learning. This learning experience for our parents is going to be highly constructivist with different parents engaging in different ways based upon their unique interests and background knowledge. Over the course of the next few months we'll meet face-to-face, virtually via tools like Wimba, and we'll have asynchronous homework assignments to reflect upon.

Another interesting component of this study group that I'm anticipating is that we are linking up with a similar study group being led by Vinnie Vrotny down at North Shore Country Day in Winnetka, IL. We hope to use Vinnie's Moodle system as the central launching point for our work with everyone carving out their own unique learning path from here.

We're looking for guests to join us to share their experiences in the world of web2.0 tools (either professionally, personally, or both) with our group. Joining us via skype, wimba, etc are all possibilities. Please let me know if you'd be interested in speaking with us and/or sitting in on our sessions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 to the Rescue

What do you get one you mix really bad weather, another canceled Washington DC Trip organizational meeting for the parents, a creative/energetic history teacher, and a little action? You get a live broadcast by US History teacher extraordinaire, Chuck Taft, to the 8th grade parents via With all after school activities canceled tonight on account of the weather, Chuck was looking for a way to get the information out to the parents. This was the second time this year that the Washington DC overview for the parents had to be canceled due to inclement weather. Chuck decided to send an email out to the parents with a link to the live ustream feed. At 1:45 CST today Chuck began his broadcast and presentation. He shared a little powerpoint and fielded parent questions submitted via the chat from the viewers. Chuck had 20 parents join in the ustream session, which is nearly 25% of our 8th grade parents. He also saved the recording and will post it on his website/blog for parents who were unable to view the broadcast live. Chuck did a great job of making soup out of stones today with his live broadcast! Way to go, Chuck!

Monday, January 28, 2008

One Laptop Per School...Introducing the MacBook Air

I was pretty fired up about MacWorld last week and the possibility of Apple introducing a laptop computer that is student targeted, light weight, possesses excellent battery life, and is rugged and affordable...something less expensive than the MacBook and possibly with a solid state flash drive. I've long been a fan of apple computer, their OS, and of course their glitzy hardware. What they unveiled at MacWorld was light weight and mobile alright, but also came with an $1800 dollar price tag! The only thing more ridiculous than this price tag for the entry level MacBook Air was the price tag for the MacBook Air with a 64 GB solid state hard drive and a ever so slightly faster processor - $3100! Is Apple Computer crazy? Are they out of touch? Who is going to buy a 13" laptop for this price? It looks to me like Apple is on the same path of Microsoft with its proprietary nature, overwhelming growth, and overall unresponsiveness to the needs of the average consumer - this is hard for me to say as I write this from my MacBook Pro.

With a device like this we aren't coming anywhere near one laptop per child possibilities for our kids. As I was talking about this with Doug Symington yesterday via skype, he referred to the Mac Book Air as "The One Laptop Per School!" With prices ranging from $1800-$3100, Doug is right on!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Steve Jobs on my Blog!!

I loved SNL's iPod spoof from last year...I just viewed their iPhone spoof on Hulu. Going to share this with some of my students who I consider "Apple Buddies." Hilarious!

A caveat...this clip comes from Hulu, which is a beta website. There is a 50/50 chance that this video may not load and play properly.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Great Video

Check out this awesome video and let me know what your reactions to it are!

Voicethead Podcast Reflection

This is a podcast reflection of my thoughts on using Voicethread over the last few months in with Middle School students and teachers here at USM.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Parent Ed Event-Growing Up Online

Last night I met three other parents online in a skype chat session to discuss the PBS Frontline special, "Growing Up Online." Two of the parents were from USM (the school I work at) and we were also joined by Lorna Costantini, a parent/parent coordinator from a school in St. Catherines, Ontario. Lorna is someone who I recently met online and we're participating in the Webcast Academy 2.4 class together. I must say that it was nice to be able to think aloud and process this event collaboratively with the other chat participants. I also really enjoyed the experience of watching this alongside three other parents as I'm not a parent myself-it was great to get their perspective and hear their voice on this issue.

I'm amazed at what we've managed to do at USM over the last few months. At the beginning of the year I never would've even thought of conducting a parent education session through a live chat. While this experience wasn't perfect (one of the parents commented that it was difficult to follow the program and chat at the same time-I agree) it certainly opens the doors for some different ways of thinking about parent education with the ultimate goal of including more parents in the conversation.

By the way, this wasn't broadcast in Lorna's area in Ontario so I ustreamed it to her. Included in this post is a screenshot that Lorna took while watching the ustream feed and participating in the chat. It was nice to be able to do this so she could follow along and engage in the conversation live with us.

By the way, if you didn't get to see Growing Up Online last night on TV, it is available for viewing online any time via the PBS website. The Washington Post held a chat on Thursday morning with the producers of the segment. The chat log may be pursed online here (some really interesting questions/answers in the chat).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

6th Grade Students-Questions for Wesley Fryer

Dear 6th Grade Students:

Special note to 6th graders: Mr. Fryer has already started answering some of our questions. He wrote a blog post on Saturday called, "Digital Citizenship Q/A Video Responses," round 1. He posted two YouTube clips at his site for you to watch. After watching the YouTube vides, feel free to leave Mr. Fryer a kind comment at his blog. I know he would like to hear from you!

Please click the the Comment link below and write your two questions that you have for Mr. Fryer about digital citizenship, online safety, or any other related technology topics. Mr. Fryer is an expert in the area of technology and schools and is looking forward to answering your questions in a live video broadcast in early February. Please read questions that other students are asking prior to leaving your questions. Doing this will help you think of questions. When you post your questions you'll see the option to post using a Nickname. Please use Nickname as an option and write your Protecht username as your nickname.

We will take 5-10 of your questions and make 3-4 short videos to share with Mr. Fryer prior to our video broadcast in early February. Mr. Fryer will be watching your videos prior to the live broadcast. He will then answer the questions when we meet live with him, which we'll try to watch together in Mellowes Hall. Many of the other participating classes will be doing this very same activity. Check the Questions for Wes Fryer page on the Protecht wiki to see questions that other schools will be asking in their videos for Mr. Fryer.

Mr. Fryer has a really neat Blog called Moving at the Speed of Creativity. Surf around his blog to learn more about Mr. Fryer and what he does.

Below you'll find sample questions so you have an idea of what your post should look like:

Mr. Fryer-
I have two questions for you about this topic of online digital citizenship:

1. Is it OK for me to IM with another student that I met while participating in this project?
2. What are some of your favorite online communication tools that you are using right now?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Are we playing a zero sum game?

I just had a conversation with our 8th grade US History teacher this morning, Chuck Taft, about the incredible computer lab scheduling crunch that we continue to experience in our Middle School. Our middle school is made up of students in grades 5-8 with roughly 80 students per grade level. Each grade level has english, social studies, science, composition, literature, fine arts, physical education, foreign language, and a few elective opportunities here and there. Our Middle School has access to the following lab resources at USM: a traditional PC lab with 21 computers, a library with 8 computers, a mobile lab with 20 laptops, a science laptop cart with 10 computers, a middle school iMac studio with 9 computers, and a lab we share with our elementary school that has 20 computers. Chuck and I took a quick glance at our PC lab this morning and it was booked solid all the way until March 18th, our spring break! I suppose this is a good problem to have, but here is my issue...many teachers don't even bother to sign up for the lab because they know it will be booked! How can teachers plan for the spontaneous use of Internet technologies when they don't have spontaneous access? Of course the teachers have a classroom computer and a great deal can be done with that, but this doesn't allow students to actively engage with and create content. Furthermore, I'm getting ready to co-present a session at our in-service day on January 25th on web2.0 technologies and nearly 17 people have signed up for this learning opportunity. How can I, in good faith, put my best foot forward in this session and encourage teachers who are willing and interested to employ some of these tools in their classroom when I know that they won't be able to try things out very easily with their students because the lab is booked solid? If these teachers do dig up so lab time, are they taking time away from other teachers who are regular/semi-regular users of lab resources? Is this a zero sum game? Is a public WiFi system that allows students to bring in their personally owned computing devices the answer? Do we need more mobile labs? Is another lab the answer? HELP!!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why a blog is an important tool for teachers

I just had a quick conversation this morning between classes with Neelie Barthenheier, our most excellent middle school French teacher here at University School of Milwaukee, about our upcoming in-service/mini-conference day on January 25th. The in-service is going to be neat because teachers and staff have the opportunity to choose their own learning plan for the day by selecting from a wide range of hour-long mini-conference sessions. Neelie just informed me that she'll be signing up for a session that Will Piper, our most excellent 5th grade world geography teacher, and I will be co-presenting titled, "Wikis, Blogs and Podcasts...Oh My!" Will and I are going to facilitate this learning experience so we maximize the amount of play time that teachers have. In our conversation Neelie mentioned that she is looking forward to the session so she can take some time to work with wikis and think about how she might use this tool in her classroom. She then mentioned a blog and talked about how she isn't quite yet certain how this would fit into what she is currently doing. My immediate response regarding her question about the utility of a blog from a teacher's perspective is that it legitimizes your presence in the online world as an educator and it helps you reach out and form connections for you and your students. I know there are more compelling uses for a teacher blog from a teacher's point of view (eg-homework, notes to parents, sharing class photos, reflection on lessons). But for me, the relationships and connections that you develop are the most compelling reasons for teacher blogging.

So many of our teachers want to partake in collaborative student projects with kids in other regions of the country and world, but they haven't established their own online presence/identity and as a result, they don't have any connections.

Lucy Gray recently asked the question on her blog, "How does blogging impact your professional development." The responses have been great and will serve as a nice resource for our presentation on the 25th when teachers who are new to blogging ask about its value.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Utilizing Voicethread with students and teachers on a larger scale

After our December professional development experience where our middle school teachers had the opportunity to work in department teams to create a collaborative Voicethread project of their own, we've had several students and teachers making use of this incredibly powerful web-based multi-media software application for a wide range of projects. While most of our initial projects using Voicethread have involved only a few students, we recently completed two larger scale projects with the software and each time we had the students and teachers use a slightly different system for using the program. Whenever we try a new tool and project we typically spend a little time brainstorming the logistics of using the tool, which can be pretty complicated when you consider that several teachers may end up using the tool with an entire grade level of students. I thought I would try to articulate the different methods that we used recently with our 7th grade english students and our foreign language students in the form of a blog post with the hope that some of you may benefit from our experiences in using VT on a larger scale.

Model 1: Teacher created Voicethread with students commenting on different images utilizing their own Voicethread accounts.

: All participating students will need their own Voicethread accounts (which will require them to have an email account), the classroom teacher will need a Voicethread account that they've upgraded to the Pro Educator account, and students will need to create a avatar or morphed image to go along with their account profile (although the avatar/image isn't necessary). The upgrade to a pro educator account at Voicethread is free (thanks, Voicethread!).

Overview: This is the model that our 7th grade english teacher, Hannah Reimer, and her students recently used to work on their digital book talks. It is also the model that our middle school French teacher, Neelie Barthenheier, has used with her 7th and 8th grade students for language activities. Hannah created a Voicethread project for each one of her sections and uploaded a book cover for each of the different novels that the students read, made it public and allowed comments, and created links to these five files that her students could access for leaving their audio comments about the book they read. Students then opened the Voicethread that related to their classroom section, signed into Voicethread with their own account, opened the page with their book cover picture, and left an audio comment.

Pros/Cons to Model 1: This model is great if the teacher is going to be the one to originate the Voicethread project for students to comment on using their own VT accounts. However, if the goal is having the students do more of the photo uploading and creating/maintaining of the projects, then this model is a little problematic due to the fact that student accounts are basic accounts and basic accounts are limited to only three Voicethread projects. Additionally, it gets very difficult from the teacher's perspective to manage and centrally locate links to Voicethread projects created under many different student accounts.

Model 2: Generic Voicethread account for the class with students creating multiple identities under the single classroom account.

: The classroom teacher creates a classroom gmail account and a generic class account for Voicethread. The Voicethread account should be upgraded to an educator pro account prior to the first activity to the students.

Overview: Our Chinese language language teacher, Lu Haiyun recently used this model with her high school language students. She created the Voicethread with about 6 pictures and had the students all login to the same account at the same time (she has two sections of class with 9-10 students in each section). After signing in with the same account the students added an identity/picture, opened the Voicethread created by Ms. Haiyun, selected a picture to comment on, and commented on the pictures with both voice and text. We were a little apprehensive about having all students logged into the same account simultaneously, but in the end we were incredibly impressed at how well Voicethread worked. The students actually took delight in seeing their classmates comments suddenly appearing on voicethread pages that they were commenting on!

Pros/Cons to Model 2: The benefit of this model is that students can login to the classroom's generic Voicethread account and create their own Voicethread projects using their own identities. They can also comment on teacher initiated Voicethread projects within the generic account as well. And because the generic account is a pro educator account, there is no limit to the number of projects that they can create.

In reality, we'll probably end up creating a hybrid approach for our students in grades 7-12. Students will probably have individual VT accounts and will also have access to certain generic classroom VT accounts. Longer term, this is going to get difficult to manage. How do we graduate identities from the generic classroom VT account when students move on to a new grade and set of teachers/classes? Do we delete the VT identities in these generic accounts and create new identities for the new classes? If this is done, what happens to all of the archival work completed by the students in the previous year? Anyway, I suppose we could go on and on with the different scenarios. The truth of the matter is that the different ways we're using VT at USM now will create complications with archiving student work from year to year.

I believe this is where ed.Voicethread may be quite useful in the future. ed.Voicethread is a subscription service offered to K12 schools that deals with many of the management issues sited above. It seems to be a tool that would allow students to carry a portion of their electronic portfolio with them from year to year. It is definitely something we'll be taking a look at and investigating over the next 6-12 months.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Latest Goings-On

I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on the latest happenings at USM in terms of instructional technology. I've done posts like this before and I find them a good way to take pause and consider all the wonderful progress that our students and teachers are making in their classrooms. Here we go:

1. Laurie Barth and her 8th Grade English Students recently wrapped up their Online Slavery Museums. Students worked in collaborative teams to build up virtual museums. As the students were working on their museums they were reading literature dealing with slavery and further studying slavery in their US History class with Chuck Taft. Students used a variety of tools and technologies to build their online museums, including FreeWebs, Powerpoint, wikis, Voicethread and several others. Laurie also informed me a few weeks ago that she is interested in trying out a Ning community with her students when they do their literature circles this coming spring. She wants to use it as a forum to further engage students in discussions outside of the classroom experience. What a fantastic idea!

2. Fifth grade students are going gangbusters with Google's powerful 3D drawing program, "Sketchup." I introduced the students to this program just before winter break so they could get comfortable with it for an upcoming project in a class they have with me (I see them once a week in a class called, "Computer Skills," which really is more of a language arts/media literacy class). Right now the students are pretty much using their recess time to explore and discover with the application. However, I've seen some really creative and interesting work completed by the students from simply exploring with the software. I'll post a few screen shots of some of the objects they've been creating as they self-learn the application at a later date.

3. Fifth grade students are 99% complete with their virtual tours of USM podcast projects that they've been working on in my language arts/media literacy class (aka, "Computer Skills.") These projects began way back in the fall with students traveling around our campus taking some really clever pictures of the school. They used a shared google document to write a script for their virtual campus tour. The google doc was also shared with me, which was invaluable because I could easily check on their progress from my google docs home page (I have 5 sections of this class, and I organized each collaborative script into folders by section which made it really easy for me to leave a comment on their scripts in between each of our weekly meetings). Many parents, students and outside guests have left comments on the podcasts, which has provided us with the opportunity to have a conversation about commenting etiquette. Click the link above, listen to some of these stellar podcasts, and leave a comment if you'd like. I know the students would appreciate reading them!

4. Hannah Reimer and her 7th grade english students recently wrapped up a really neat booktalk project using Voicethread. This was their first experience using Voicethread and our school's first experience using VT on such a large scale, so Hannah and I wanted to keep it very simple the first time around. Hannah initiated a voicethread project for each of her 5 english sections and had the students comment on their respective book using their VT accounts that we had them setup prior to winter break. It was a little tricky because Hannah and I had to upload the book cover photos to the proper VT. And the fact that these are publicly available and can be shared with a potentially huge audience is priceless. Please feel free to leave a comment on some of these booktalks. Anyway, it was an excellent starter project for Hannah and her class-she definitely deserves credit for taking the risk!

5. Sarah Markwald (Middle School Art Teacher), Adam Moreno (Middle School Drama Teacher), and myself are just wrapping up a really powerful 5th grade collaborative fine arts/media project on fables. Way back in October the three of us met to plan out an engaging unit. I really think we hit a homerun with this project, one that is worthy of sharing at a regional/national conference! Adam, Sarah and I met with the students to introduce this project-we introduced them to each project component and Sarah even shared a video clip of Eric Carle showing how he makes artistic papers and creates his illustrations. Adam talked about the drama portion of the unit and we also showed them an original digital fable created by the three of us. I thought this introductory lesson really set the tone for the project nicely and grabbed the kids' interest.

Throughout the project students learned about fables, acted them out, and even wrote their own original fables with Adam in drama class. We then took 20-25 of the student written fables and had students work in collaborative design teams in art class to create Eric Carle inspired paper illustrations for their assigned stories. The characters and scenes that they created in art class were all totally movable, which allowed the students to create a series of scenes which could be photographed with a digital camera. The photos are in the process of being uploaded to Voicethread where the students will work with their collaborative teams to narrate them. Such a powerful project! One group's Voicethread sample may be viewed online here. The fable that Sarah, Adam and I presented as a sample to the students back in October may be perused online as well. The next step for a project like this is to engage classrooms and students in other parts of the country/world to engage in a look at fables-but hey, you've got to walk before you can run! That type of connection will come with time.

6. A few years ago we started the discussion of whether or not we should create a public WiFi hotspot throughout our campus. We've had many, many discussions and meetings on this topic over the years and it looks like we're ready to move in this direction for the 2008-2009 school year! This is great news, because even with the several computer labs that we have access to, we find that we still can't support the demand for lab time. Many of our teachers don't even try to schedule lab time because they know the lab will be booked (what a great problem to have by the way!) We've come to realize that adding labs still won't solve the problem. And we recognize that many students already own a laptop device and connectivity for these devices will take pressure off our scarce school-owned resources. We initially anticipate in the first few years of our campus being WiFi friendly that students will primarily use their computers during study halls, recess, before/after school, and for small group projects in situations where the teachers are more comfortable with student owned devices being used in class.

7. Another outstanding piece of news is that our K-12 instructional technology team will be working with David Jakes and Sheryl Nussubaum Beach to develop a three year vision plan for instructional technology at our school. This is extremely exciting for us, because we feel they'll challenge us to go from "Good to Great!" They'll be working with us over the next 2-3 months and by June we hope to have our vision plan created. This vision plan also ties in nicely to a mini-conference day on campus scheduled for October of 2008. The theme of this conference day will have something to do with the 21st century classroom experience and Alan November will be keynoting the day! We know we're in for an exciting experience over the next year with the likes of David, Sheryl and Alan working with us!

8. Our 6th grade students and teachers are about to engage in a digital citizenship project that was initiated by Scott Meech, an intstructional tech coordinator down in Plano, IL. A total of 7 schools are participating in this project, which is known as, "ProTecht!" Even though Scott is a Bears fan, we're eagerly anticipating this project. In all seriousness, Scott has done a great job putting together a nice series of lessons for students in the participating schools (we was even able to get Wesley Fryer to join the project as an observer!) It should provide our students an opportunity to explore what it means to be a good digital citizen in an authentic manner.

9. It was neat to see our middle school French teacher, Neelie Barthenheier, working with our high school Chinese teacher, Haiyun Lu, this past week on developing a lesson for using Voicethread in Haiyun's high school Mandarin Chinese language class. I love when teachers get together, share, and work with one another to design engaging lessons and activities for students. Haiyun will be bringing her students into our iMac studio this coming week to introduce them to Voicethread. It should be an interesting experience!

10. Last, but not least, I found out last night that over 300 people were viewing Mike Schwieters classroom and his 8th grade science students as they presented their science projects on Friday. Mike was simply getting comfortable with the ustream platform and recording the presentations for later evaluation. We did not expect that some 300 viewers would tune in! This probably had a little something to do with the fact that Will Richardson sent this out via twitter - Will clearly has a pretty big following in twitter!

Friday, January 04, 2008

January 22nd, 2008 - Growing Up Online

The following is a preview of the PBS Frontline piece titled, "Growing Up Online." It is scheduled to air on January 22nd at 8:00 CST (GMT6) on Milwaukee Public TV's Channel 36/digital channel 510 on Time Warner. A special thank you to Scott Meech for posting this out via Twitter! From what it looks like, this appears to be a relatively balanced approach to looking at this topic (at least in comparison to the Dateline series, "To Catch a Predator.") I'm hopeful that this reveals some of the potential of social media instead of blindly promoting urban legend, panic and fear. We'll see on the 22nd!

Special note for USM Parents-I am trying to arrange a live chat to take place as this special is airing. It would be a place for us to have a conversation about the Frontline piece as we are watching. If you are interested in the possibility of a chat, please email me or leave a comment below.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional

At the end of the school day I received a tweet from Alec Couros regarding an invitation to join a little live demo of Adobe's Acrobat Connect Pro piece. This was a really neat experience! After signing in to the virtual learning space, I was sharing video and audio with close to 10 other participants. It was kind of like having a skype conference with several people while allowing everyone the opportunity to share video. Alec is using this piece to conduct a gradulate level class that deals with the topic of web2.0 technologies. Click here to see a portion of the recorded session. Thanks for the invitation, Alec!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Animoto Test

This is a little Animoto project I made a while back. This is a series of pictures from the 2006 World Series in Detroit, Michigan between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers.