Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Side Bar Widget Item on the DDL

Just wanted to let anyone out there who checks in on this blog that I just added my shared google reader items as a widget in the right hand side bar of the DDL (it is the widget labeled "matt's shared items"). For those of you who subscribe to my blog and check it out in a RSS reader, the only way to see my shared items is to visit my blog or click here (you can also grab the RSS feed for my shared items and drop that in your reader as well).

The shared items feature of google reader also allows me to share my thoughts on the article/post through "notes." Some of the shared items do have notes.

Thanks much!

Google-Moodle Integration

OK, the story keeps getting better. In my previous post I mentioned what we've been learning lately about the integration between moodle 2.0 and the open source ePortfolio platform, Mahara. I was just reading Miguel Guhlin's blog post on Google Apps integration with Moodle. These are incredible developments...5 years ago if you told me that there would be a full virtual learning network that both students and teachers could contribute to AND integration with a email/collaboration suite that was accessible across multiple platforms/devices, I would've called you a liar. I would've called you an even greater liar if you then told me that this would all come at a price tag of ZERO dollars.

Well, that is exactly what exists now with the integration between Moodle, Mahara, and Google Apps. Incredible stuff. Check out the post over at Miguel's blog for the complete 411 on this process.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Moodle 2.0 Alpha and Mahara ePortfolio Integration

Adam Contois and I are really, really excited about the possibilities associated with Moodle 2.0 and its new integration with the fantastic ePortfolio solution, Mahara. Moodle 2 is still in alpha, but Adam recently set this up here on our LAN so we could demo its integration with Mahara and Google Docs. Right now we only have it setup with the capability for students to copy and push files from the Moodle virtual learning space over to their ePortfolio in Mahara and their Google Docs. We're scratching the surface of single sign on integration between Moodle 2 and google apps for education network and we're also looking at some of the other 3rd party integration features (flickr, Amazon S3,, etc).

I've said it before at this blog, but I think we to think differently about assessment (even beyond rubrics) as school 2.0 continues to emerge and develop. Authentic student ePortfolio spaces should be a major component of this paradigm shift.

Major, major props to both the Mahara and Moodle open source communities for their outstanding work on this project.

The screencast below is pretty low budget, but hopefully it gives you a better idea of what this integration looks like.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dallas, TX Teacher Online Review Session

I had the good fortune to catch up with Kyle Stevens, a high school teacher from Dallas, TX and his econ review session online this past Sunday night. He Twittered out that he was getting prepared to use DimDim for his review and I dropped him a reply letting him know that I was interested in learning more about DimDim as a stable platform for conducting these types of synchronous learning opportunities. He eventually emailed the link to his session and invited me to join in.

I really enjoyed the experience of sitting in Kyle's economics review session and observing how he and his students used the space to conduct a review session. Kyle took questions from his students via a chat room and he used DimDim's shared whiteboard space to sketch out various econ concepts. I thought it was an outstanding technique to carry out such a review experience.

My buddy, Chuck Taft of Milwaukee, WI does a similar thing with US History exam reviews using ustream.TV. I have a feeling that as creative teachers like Kyle and Chuck continue to pioneer these types of electronic workspaces that we'll see more experiences like this taking place in our learning environments.

Click on the image below to get a sense of what the online learning environment that Kyle and his students used on Sunday. It is a free tool by DimDim, and as you can see it has a chat space along the right, a shared whiteboard in the middle, a participant list along the left, and a web cam video of Kyle in the lower left hand corner of the window (you can see Kyle holding up a Kansas Jayhawks basketball...I had a great time in his review session until he pulled this stunt ;-)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

365/54 Ubuntu LTSP Demo Project

This is a wonderful little demonstration project that Adam Contois, our system software engineer here at Castilleja, recently configured and installed in our iMac lab. This project is running using the Linux Terminal Server Project and Adam set it up with hardware that is old and software that is free (the towers are 5-6 years old). Anyway, you can see Adam here along with a student who has been using these computers quite a bit over the past couple of days.

Through the use of a little imagination, innovative thinking, and expertise, Adam has managed to extend the life of these old computers that otherwise may end up in a landfill somewhere. Way to go, Adam!

My Facebook Policy

As the explosion of 30, 40, 50, 60, and even 70/80/90 somethings getting involved in the world of Facebook continues, we're all going to be confronted with knotty questions of whether or not is appropriate to become contacts/friends with different people. Perhaps it is a former girlfriend/boyfriend, college buddies, childhood friends, former teachers/professors, current/former students, current/former colleagues, people we don't know face to face, etc. Every phase from our lives now can be merged together in the Facebook experience. For some people, this can be an unanticipated positive outcome and for others it can be a bit disconcerting.

Anyway, in the spirit of openness and inspired by Lorna Costantini's wonderful live webcast last night on the topic of Parents and Facebook, I thought I'd spell out my professional policy regarding establishing contacts with past/current students and past/current parents. As a disclaimer, this policy works well for me but very well may not work for someone else. I believe that we all need to make our decisions with what will work best for our own particular circumstance.

For me the experience of connecting has been nothing but positive. I've reconnected with a great childhood buddy of mine who lives out here in the Bay Area, I've reconnected with cousins I haven't seen or talked to in years, I've been able to keep in touch with all of my good teaching buddies from Milwaukee, I've been able to get to know current students better, I've been better sensitized to the experiences of the busy lives of parents and their families, I've shared resources and learned new things from others, I've reconnected with scores of college and high school buddies, and I've furthered my online relationships with many people I don't even know but who are doing some innovative things in the area of teaching and learning around the world.

Here it goes...Matt Montagne's policy for connecting with past/present students and parents on Facebook (as of February 24th, 2009, that is...this is surely bound to change going forward):

I will accept a friend request from past/present students and parents under the following condition...everyone must use respectful language and keep their profile "clean." This, actually, is my rule for maintaining connections with anyone online and I post this clearly on my Facebook profile picture.

To date, I've had to discontinue the connection with only a handful of adults/students primarily due to repeated foul language in status updates.

That is it...that is my policy. I don't put people on limited profile because you can find out more information about me via a google search than you can by my facebook profile. And outside of doing my best to contribute and share with other edu-nerds around the world, I can't really control what shows up on the first page of a google search for Matt Montagne.

Best of luck developing your own personal Facebook policy for accepting/not accepting friend requests from people in your life, both past and present. These are interesting times and as a result, there is no one method and technique that will work for everyone.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

French Vocab Slidecast

This is a little slidecast that I made along with our French teacher this past fall. I had kind of given up on slideshare as a tool for vocabulary mastery and review because the audio would easily become out of sync with the slides when pausing and skipping about in the slidecast. However, after revisiting my slideshare account today, I can see that the good folks over at slideshare must have put a fix in place. The audio is fully in sync with the slides and the user may zip back and forth, pause, and replay the slidecast without losing audio/slide sync.

I think it might be time to revisit using slideshare as a platform for these types of learning opportunities within foreign language classes, especially given that many of our teachers use a Mac-only program called "iFlash" to do these types of things. I really like the notion of using HTML tools like slideshare so that these learning materials can be available across various operating systems (and students aren't required to purchase a pesky client application as well). And, to take it a step further, when publishing to slideshare these resources become available to an even broader learning community.

Finally, placing materials like this online as HTML at a space like slidecast gives learners 24/7 access to these learning opportunities. No longer do they have to wait to go to the language lab to practice their listening and speaking skills...using an audio slidecast like this one, they can work through these materials as often as they'd like and in a time and space that works for them.

Google Sync - Sync your Google Calendar and Gmail Contacts with your phone

I just set up my iPhone calendar and iPhone contacts to sync with my google calendar and gmail contacts. This is exactly the kind of functionality that I was looking for...I now have the ability to update my calendar and contacts on either my phone or my google account. WARNING: If you do this, be sure to backup your iPhone contacts to whatever desktop address book application you use on your computer (I use Apple's "Address Book").

This process also works with their Google Apps network, which means contacts and calendar information from your school's google network will sync in the same way. This is good to know as we're very seriously considering moving from our current email communication suite (FirstClass) to Gmail and Goolgle Apps.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tuesday, February 24th Gator Radio Show - Looking for Guests from Australia

For our next Gator Radio Experience show we're looking for a guest or two who might be willing to speak to us about the recent fires in Australia. We're just looking for someone to come on the show and share their thoughts with us and answer a few questions for about 10-15 minutes or so. The date and time of our next broadcast is as follows:

California Date/Time: Tuesday, February 24th at 8:00 PM Pacific Standard Time

GMT Date/Time: Wednesday, February 25th at 04:00

Melbourne/Sydney Date/Time: Wednesday, February 25th at 3:00 PM

Click here for time conversion for your location in the world.

Please email Matt Montagne at mjmontagne -at- gmail -dot- com if you or someone you know might be willing to join us.

Friday, February 13, 2009

are you ready?

I'm helping plan out a mini-conference day here at Castilleja for our faculty on March 9th, 2009. Here is the little video trailer that we created and sent out today to help get folks fired up about the day:

We could've sent this message via a typical all-faculty email, but the mixed media created a buzz in a way that is not possible via textual media alone. I think we're starting to understand the importance of being able to effectively convey a message via mixed media in the same way that it was important to know how to create a compelling point via a five paragraph essay when I was of school age (not even so sure this last sentence makes sense, but you get the drift).

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Student Review of the Aspire One


One of our students shared her thoughts with me on the Acer Aspire One 8.9" ultra portable mobile computer in the podcast recording below. After using over the past 3-4 days both at home and in her classes, Angelica sat down and answered some of my questions in this 10 minute recording.

Computer Specs:
Acer Aspire One
Retail Price: $350 (as of Feb 13, 2009)
8.9" display
160 GB Hard Disk
1 GB or RAM
6 cell extended life battery
Windows XP
Added Software: Open Office, Skype, Chrome, Firefox

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Acer Aspire One in the House!

365/40 Acer Mini-Notebook Test

woot!! We just received our evaluation unit of Acer's Aspire One 8.9" ultra-mobile portable notebook computer (thank you to Acer for offering a K12 Seed program!) The unit we have has 1 GB or RAM, 160 GB hard disk, 6 cell battery, and Windows XP. This computer currently retails for $350 over at Amazon. The days of selling these small, inexpensive computers in our school stores are nearing.

Anyway, we added a few apps like Open Office, Skype, Firefox, and Chrome, connected it to our WiFi network, and added a printer to it. We then checked it out to one of our student tech assistants who will be testing it out for the last three days of this week. The goal is for her to really put it through the paces by using it in classes, study halls, at home, etc. At the end of the week she is going to either write a review or do a little podcast interview on her thoughts about this device from one student's perspective. In the next few weeks we also hope to get a few other ultra-portable notebooks in for evaluation and review...stay tuned for more...

Keeping it Digital-Publishing Options for Students and Teachers

Instead of printing assignments out and turing them in, what about considering some of the following online publishing options? In addition to saving paper, digital publishing allows students the opportunity to share their work with a broader community for review and feedback. We know that authentic audience is an extremely motivating factor for students when creating and sharing work. Spaces like the ones below can provide students with these authentic audiences.

Moodle Forum Posts
- This is a great way to share/publish writing, photos, audio clips, and even videos that are posted at YouTube. By giving students the Moodle Forum as a publishing option, their work is further opened up to the learning community for review and feedback. Moodle forums are not accessible to the outside world, so they're a great space to publish work that might involve privacy issues.

YouTube, Blip.TV and other video hosting services - these are great spaces to post student created videos. Privacy and copyright both need to be considered prior to making a decision to post to these sites, but they are wonderful options for many student projects such as this Civil Rights video created by students that I worked with two years ago (the video has over 10,000 views!)

Blog posts for writing samples - Using moodle blogs, students may publish their writing so that it is visible only to others who have Castilleja moodle accounts, or they may make their work visible on the open web. The downside of the standard moodle blogging tool is that it does not allow commenting (the next major moodle revision will include commenting--hooray!) We actually have a second blogging option in our moodle network called, "OU Blogs," and this does allow others within the network to leave comments. OU Blogs also allows "Class Blogs," which is a single blog for a class that all members may post to and comment on. Depending on the age of the students, they could create blogs at sites like or as well.

Google Sites within Castilleja's Google Apps network - Google Sites are essentially wikis, and all students and faculty who have a Casti Google apps network account have access to easily creating Google Sites. Just like with a wiki, you can give others access to your wiki so they can edit the pages and contribute content to the site. Here is a google site created by our 8th grade science teacher for the recent bridge project challenge that students were participating in.

Mahara ePortfolios - this is yet another publishing options for students. Imagine a space where students could showcase their work from across subject areas over the course of the entire year (or years). See my sample portfolio online here. Their work could then be reviewed by members of the learning community. Mahara allows the user full control over the visibility of the portfolio. Older students who are college bound may want to publish their portfolios on the open web, while younger students may elect to keep their portfolios only visible inside of the network. It is a very powerful and flexible open source social portfolio space and it also plays very well with Moodle (in moodle 2.0 it will have more full featured integration than it has now).

Monday, February 09, 2009

Operating System Wars are Back...this Time on Mobile Phones

I'm very excited about the promise of highly mobile, inexpensive phone devices as learning tools. Incredible learning applications like the gFlash flash card application and the Stanza eBook reader seem to appear at the iTunes app store on a daily basis. But here is my hang up...if members of a learning community build up a collection of flash cards with gFlash and publish them, those flash cards are only viewable by folks who have an iPhone or iPod touch. The flash cards created via gFlash aren't even available to view via a desktop or laptop computer. As a teacher, I would like the educational content that I post for my learners to be accessible via a variety of platforms and devices (wouldn't it seem odd, for example, if I created a review game that could only be viewable on a computer running windows xp??)

Now throw in the mobile devices of other members of the learning community - these devices might run different operating systems such as Google's Android, the Blackberry OS, or Windows Mobile. To my knowledge, there is very little interoperability of applications amongst these devices. From what I can gather, iPhone application developers are not necessarily making their applications available in the Android Market/Store, for example.

Perhaps it is a pipe dream, but I believe these applications should be developed with standards that allow them to be easily purchased and installed on a variety of devices. Until this happens, I think we're going to be back where we were at in the 90s with applications that only ran on specific operating systems.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Thursday, Feb 5 Parent talk Update

This morning I gave a 30 minute talk regarding some of the new initiatives we have going on here at our school. The talk primarily focused on how we use Moodle as a virtual learning environment and we also talked about the Gator Radio Experience student run live radio project. Both projects align very closely with our school's new strategic plan which is titled, "Castilleja School...defining educational excellence for girls in the 21st century."

I feel bad that the talk went into overtime and that I didn't record the audio...I'll go back and record the audio along with the slides so folks who were unable to attend have the chance to listen in. Until that happens, here are a few links to resources that we talked about today:

1. Parents as Partners project - We have a blog and a Facebook group

2. Image from the Horizon Report

3. Gator Radio Experience Website/Blog and Gator Radio Experience on Twitter

4. Connect with Matt on Twitter or Facebook (or subscribe to this blog via RSS on the right or email subscription)

5. Casti's Moodle Virtual Learning Network

Thanks again to Martha and the CSA crew at Castilleja for inviting me to talk to the group today!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Save Money and Go Green

Lately I've been reading quite a few articles in school technology magazines regarding cost savings measures in light of our current global economic crisis. I've also seen a huge increase in the number articles on green technology. All sorts of creative and innovative solutions for doing more with less are being implemented in schools around the world. Here are a few cost savings/green ideas that will not compromise effective instructional technology programs:

1. Create a Google Apps network for your school now. It is free and very easy to manage. While you certainly can use the google apps network as a space for document collaboration only, the real savings happens when you move your school email to Google Apps. Google Apps now offers offline access to word processing files and email. Depending on what email system you are using, a move to Google Apps could mean a realized savings of tens of thousands of dollars annually.

2. Broaden the use of open source client software and server software. On the client side, Open Office, while not perfect, is a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office, especially when used in tandem with Google Apps (I do 99% of my office work in google docs and have done so for nearly two years).

3. Use old hardware. Yes, I know, the old Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculators tell us that out of warranty hardware actually costs our institutions more to support. Jim Klein in Saugus Union School District is proving the traditional TCO model wrong. He is doing some amazing things with 6-8 year old hardware to create powerful learning environments for the students and teachers that he works with.

4. Implement a free and open source virtual learning environment (VLE) platform such as Moodle. The VLE will eventually become the "network," with users posting files, blogs posts, forum posts, images, audio and video to the space. Combined with Google Docs and other Web 2.0 edu-spaces, the need for expensive file servers that need to be refreshed every X-amount of years is minimized. Of course you'll need a computer to run your VLE on, but the hardware requirements for Moodle are quite minimal and all of the software needed to make it work is free. Because the VLE only requires a browser for users to participate, the need for everyone to have the exact same type of machine becomes less important. Finally, VLEs have the added benefit of allowing students and teachers to preserve their work in digital spaces, which will ultimately mean less printing.

5. Leverage student owned technology. Some already own cell phones, ultra mobile laptops, laptops, home computers. During the one computer classroom days there were a host of creative ways to make use of the single computer in meaningful ways. The same kind of inventive thinking can now be applied to personally owned student devices on campus.

6. Explore the use of low cost ultra mobile laptops like the ones from Asus and HP. These "light" devices cost a fraction of traditional "heavy" computers and can perform most of the tasks associated with working in the school's virtual learning environment.