Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lesson Plan: 5th Grade Student-Teacher Feature Podcast Project

This lesson turned out to be one of our best projects of the year in our 5th grade media literacy class. The overview and project description is posted online here. I teach a 5th grade media literacy/language arts class at USM and I only get to see the students once per cycle, which turns out to be roughly 1x per 8 calendar days (and if we miss a class due to a special event/field trip, sometimes it can be every 16 days!) In late April I had a little brainstorm to do something involving the students conducting interviews with teachers and staff here at USM. I wanted to have the students record their interviews and then do a little audio editing prior to posting the file as a podcast. Part of me thought this would bomb and part of me thought this would turn out as nicely as some of the other media projects the kids have created this year.

To solicit faculty staff participation in this project, I sent out an email back in April and asked interested folks to fill out this google doc online form (I'm a HUGE fan of google docs forms by the way!) The Teacher Feature Podcast projects are being posted online here.

Basically I had the students work in teams of 2-3 to do a little light research by reading the faculty/staff bio page at the school website of the person they were assigned to. While they were doing this, I had them open a google doc, collaborate the google doc with each other, and begin writing their 15-20 questions. This number of questions worked out great, as most interviews turned out to around 5 minutes or so. After students created their interview questions, I reviewed them and then sent the students off to have the conversation. Students used the Olympus WS110 portable recorders that we bought a few months ago. As a side note, I really like these recorders, but they do record in the "WMV" format, which requires a free program for the Mac called, "Switch," to convert the files to mp3 format. I would love to find low cost portable recorders that record natively in mp3 format, but they're hard to find and they seem to be a much more expensive than the WS110.

After students recorded the interviews, I pulled the WMV files off the Olympus recorders and converted them to mp3s using Switch. We then had the the students open Garageband and create a new podcast episode. We dumped the mp3 of their recorded file into their garageband podcast project and then added an intro, an outro, and a little jingle/bumper music file at the beginning and end of the project.

Here are a few take-aways from this project:

1. I think this project was highly authentic. The students absolutely loved participating in the project, and I think this has to do with the high degree of authenticity.

2. The students really pulled some interesting information out of the adults. I learned several new things about people with whom I've worked very closely with for several years (I know many other teachers who listened to the recordings who feel the same way).

3. The kids did a great job of customizing their interview questions to the background of their subject. Having them read their online bio was really helpful. Students could then ask questions like, "What was Yale like back when you attended school there?" It was also helpful having a few suggested questions for them to ask as well. These were posted at the project overview page.

4. I wish the kids had more time to edit the audio down after recording the interviews. We could've done more with cleaning up some the lulls and trimming out some excess audio at the start/finish of the interviews. But the reality of the situation is that I see the students very infrequently.

5. I also wish we had more time to talk about the elements of a good interview. I wish I would've encouraged students to ask more follow up questions where appropriate. But this is something that will come with more experience and comfort I'm sure. I did tell the students not to ask too many questions with yes/no or single word answers. For the most part, students asked follow up questions to these questions.

6. Arranging time for the kids to meet the adults was a bit of a cat herding act. In the end, I just starting sending the kids down to meet their subjects on a spontaneous basis. This seemed to work OK, but I'll still have a few students who will not be able to complete their interviews because of scheduling complications.

7. Giving students skills with conducting simple interviews like this opens the door to some amazing possibilities in the future. If students gain experience and comfort with this format, they'll then be able to record oral histories of family members, war veterans, older folks who have personal accounts of different historical time periods, etc. Our 8th graders are currently conducting interviews on the topic of the cold war and they're doing a great job. Having prior experience recording conversations with adults will be helpful in collecting some powerful oral histories in the future.

8. Older students can do this too! I know these seem "cute" and geared toward younger students, but I believe students in high school and higher ed can do this type of thing to create some extremely powerful content as well. If you have any ideas for projects with older students, please leave a comment.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Embedding Flickr Photos with Notes

My Twitter buddy Derrall Garrison showed me how to add a flickr photo with hover over notes directly into a blog or wiki using a javascript code from Yuan. Go ahead and hover over the photo of my commuter bike below and you'll see the notes. If you'd like to try this, click the link here for the needed script to make the magic happen. You can even add a little toolbar to your browser to make this process super easy.

Thanks to derrallg for showing this to me!

Friday, May 16, 2008

National Ride Your Bike to School/Work Day

We had many, many teachers, students and parents ride their bikes to campus today. We managed to fill the bike racks well beyond capacity! Click here to see a few photos from the morning out by the bike rack.

Also, in order to celebrate Bike to School Day, I created a little interactive photo at flickr with my commuter bike that I built up last summer. I custom designed this bike and learned quite a bit from doing this. If you're considering a commuter bike, this photo may be of use to you.

Ride On!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Washington DC...Web2.0 Style!!

As many of you know, I was in Washington DC from Monday-Friday last week with our 8th grade class of 92 students. Click here to see the blog that we used to share pictures, photos, audio updates, twitter updates, etc. I have to say that it was simply a fantastic trip. The trip itinerary and logistics planning were outstanding (thanks to Chuck Taft and Francine Epellsheimer). The student behavior was quite good during all phases of the trip as well. And lastly, working on the media and content publishing was a total blast. For the past 5-6 years we've been posting pictures online throughout the trip for parents to see. Typically photos were taken by one or two adults and emailed back to school for someone to post on our web server via a web page editor like front page. This year was dramatically different. This year we kept school community members in touch with our progress in DC by using some pretty simple web2.0 tools. Below I'll highlight some of the things we did to keep our community members up to date on our progress throughout the week.

Here is how we collected and published our media while in DC:

1. Twitter updates-this turned out to be a really fun project. We had two students and myself posting twitter updates (all three of us were posting updates from our cell phones). We created a "USMDC" twitter account and then followed the two students who participated in the project. We placed a badge in the side bar of the blog that contained all of the USMDC updates and the updates of the two students. The student updates were playful, on task and in good taste. Next year I hope to expand this to include more students who are interested. Thanks to all of my twitterpals who followed our updates throughout the week!

2. Cameraphone Photos-Several students with cameraphones and email capacity participated in this project. Students took photos throughout the trip and emailed those photos to our middle school flickr account (flickr accounts have an email address that allow you to post photos from mobile devices via email). I setup the flickr account so all photos from the cameraphones were tagged, "cameraphones," automatically when they were uploaded. We then used flickr slidr, which is a third party flickr slide show application, to aggregate those photos in a side bar slide show on the blog. So every time someone took a photo and emailed the photo to the school flickr account, it appeared in the slide show on the blog. This was pretty cool. Near the end of the week, I was pretty much the only person contributing cameraphone photos. I have to say that some of the best photos photos were the ones taken by the students. I love this one from the Nationals game!

3. Flickr video-I was really surprised at how well this worked. This is something we really weren't planning on doing. We brought two flip video cameras out to DC to record video for a DC Memory DVD that we typically make and give out to the 8th graders at the end of the year. However, we started posting a few short video clips to YouTube on the first day and we never looked back. We ended up posting over 50 short video clips, which is amazing (5 years ago we would've been luck to post 50 photos from the entire week!!!)

4. "DL on DC" nightly live updates via This actually turned out to be on of the high lights for me. Each night at 10:30 PM EDT students wrote up a very short, 3 minute script. We then sent out an email to teachers and parents with a link to ustream. Students went through the script live and then we spent the last 5-10 minutes of the broadcast having the students field questions from the audience. We did 4 live broadcasts and each one had between 10-30 viewers. All of the students who participated in the live broadcasts did a fantastic job!

5. Flickr Photos-we posted high resolution photos taken mostly be myself and another teacher each evening. This worked really, really well. Each day we tagged the photos slighly differently. For examle, the monday photos were tagged, "dc08monday." This allowed us to set up the links to the photos ahead of time on the blog. All we had to do was batch tag the photos as we uploaded them to flickr and they automatically flowed into the correct page on flickr, which was really quite slick.

6. Gcast updates-this is the second year that Chuck Taft, our 8th grade US History teacher, has done podcast updates via cell phone and Gcast. He did a host of updates over the course of the week, including live updates from the different memorials and sites that we visited. Chuck interviewed students in some of his Gcast updates as well.

7. Recorded audio-using a little Olympus WS110 recorder and a Samson H2 recorder, I captured a pile of audio throughout the trip. I recorded an interview with our incredible bus driver, Tyrone Brown, while we were at Mount Vernon on Friday. I also recorded our bus drivers as they told us the history of the greater DC area as we were traveling about in our tour bus. Only two of the audio recordings are currently posted, but over the next week or so I would like get the majority of the audio online.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Interactive Civil Rights Timeline Project

Our 8th grade students (13-14 year olds) here at USM are just beginning their study of the Civil Rights movement. Yesterday in class students developed their background knowledge on "Life in Jim Crow America" using an in-class/homework guided study activity created by their outstanding teacher, Chuck Taft. Click here to view the activity from yesterday dealing with Jim Crow America.

After building a little background on Jim Crow, the students worked in class today to create a collaborative/interactive timeline of several events from the Civil Rights movement. Chuck built up a wonderful plan for the interactive timeline and the lesson is posted online here. In class he had students volunteer to pick 1-2 of the events and do a little research using ABC-CLIO, their textbooks, or a site discovered via a google search (each student had a laptop from our school's mobile laptop lab). Students then signed into dipity using a generic account that Chuck created. It worked very well having 15-20 students sign in under the same account and editing the dipity timelime simultaneously-this was something we weren't quite certain about when we were planning this out last night.

Students were required to do the following for each event that they added to the collaborative timeline:

1. Write a brief description that outlined the cause and impact of the event.
2. Include the event location. By entering the location a point on a map is added to the timeline.
3. Include an image.
4. Include a related YouTube video.

In their 40 minute period, each student added at least one event to the timeline. Some students added a second event as well. All students were then required to embed the project in their own wiki that they are using as a digital notebook for the final unit of the school year. Click here to see a student digital notebook sample (this sample notebook is actually being worked on by two students collaboratively).

At the end of each period Chuck shared the collaborative map with the students and showed them the different views that dipity allows (timeline view, flipbook view, list view, and map view-this is a really powerful feature).

What are some other lesson possibilities using this tool?? This has some wonderful possibilities for language arts/literature, science, etc.

The interactive timelines that each class worked on may be surfed below:

Period 1
Period 2
Period 3
Period 4
Period 6

I have to give a shout out to the folks at Edtech Weekly for the lead on dipity. I believe Dave Cormier mentioned this tool in one of their Sunday webcasts recently. Thanks!

one final caveat...I take no credit for this project! It was all planned and developed by our 8th grade history teacher, Chuck Taft. I only write about it here as a means to share this lesson idea with others.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Student Hall of Fame!

Below is a sample project from a 6th grade student that I work with here at my school. Javier and his 6th grade peers worked on a math project where they had to study a bridge in their local community, take photos of it, and then compare it to another bridge. The students assembled their projects using their ed.voicethread spaces. Javier is only joining us for the current academic year. Next year he moves back to his home in Spain. His voicethread is narrated in both English and Spanish.

Here is the downside of ed.Voicethread. You may only leave a comment if you are part of the ed.voicethread network. This has been my quandry with the notion of ed.voicethread. The upside of ed.voicethread is that all students have their own unique space where they can build as much content as they'd like and then maintain it from year to year. I'm still in a quandry about whether or not to go with ed.voicethread on a larger scale in our middle school next year (and this isn't so much a financial decision as it is an issue of losing the capacity for authentic commenting/interaction).

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Open Source and Schools

As Chris Pirillo says in a recent blog post and show, "The future of software is open source." I couldn't agree more...

We hear about budget cuts in schools practically every day. School budget cuts affect some of the most important aspects of schools, including fine arts and physical education. Yet many of these very same schools who are cutting some of the most important programs for our children continue to pump tens of thousands of dollars into closed, proprietary software systems (in large districts we are probably talking six figures). Unfortunately many of our schools and districts are so "lock, stock and barrel" with closed systems that they feel as though they can't make a change because they've already invested so much in proprietary systems.

Our kids need exposure to the world of open source. Not only in terms of an end user experience, but also in the development of these tools. Why? Because the rest of the world is moving away from using closed, proprietary and expensive software solutions. How does one make money off of developing software and giving its underbelly away for free? Read this article for a glimpse at how the open source service and software add-on industry is creating opportunities for people all over the planet.

Alex Inman is doing some pretty amazing things in terms of leveraging open source software solutions on an enterprise level at the Whitfield School in St. Louis, MO USA. He has reduced the organization's software licensing budget significantly, freeing up funds to be used for much more important purposes in their school program. Alex was interviewed on the 21st Century Learning webcast last year about Whitfield's move to the Linux operating system on student laptops. Listen to the interview online here.

Leveraging open source solutions schools has value on many levels. First off, it exposes kids to the world of open source software development. This is something they need to know about and have experience with for their future. Secondly, open source democratizes the school experience and helps conquer the digital divide. Closed and proprietary software systems increase the digital divide, even when the software companies offer "academic" discounts for students, teachers and educational institutions. Lucie deLaBruere wrote a wonderful post recently over at the Infinite Thinking Machine on promoting digital equity through the use of open source and web2.0 tools. Steve Hargadon wrote a post on FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) in schools over at the Tech learning blog a few months back. Think about what our schools could do with the cash savings from using open source tools.

At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter much what you and I think about the world of open source software and the impact that it will have on schools. Open source will eventually crush proprietary based software models and we'll all be better off when it does.

Just a few open source resources available on the web:
Open Office

*Image courtesy of Matthias Mehldau on flickr (Creative Commons-Attribution)