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!


  1. Looks like you have some great things going on in your district. I'll look forward to learning more about them as we work together in the Webcast Academy.

  2. Wow!

    Hi, Matt. It's a small world! I didn't know it was you when I wrote the following words!

    Will Richardson mentioned your post on Twitter this way: "I want to see more of this type of post." Sunday, 1.13.08

    My response: "Wow, Will. This is a great post. I agree with you 100% - a terrific contribution to the story of learning."

    I am a superintendent in Falmouth, MA. This is an incredible post. I admire all that you, the teachers and students are doing to push learning off the charts!

    Great example for all of us.


  3. mcarls7:29 AM

    Great posts, very nice things going on there. I too saw Will Richardson's tweet. I'll try to check back on this blog to keep me motivated and fresh for ideas out here in Western New York.
    Keep up the great work!

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