Monday, November 30, 2009

Download Scratch!!!!

Boston Scratch MeetupImage by andresmh via Flickr
This is an email that I sent to a parent from my school here in the Bay Area. She is an educator at a nearby school and was looking for ideas on how to engage a particularly gifted 5th grade student. I immediately thought of Scratch and mentioned that I would follow up our hallway conversation with a few links and resources. So here is that email re-published in this space:


Scratch is a programming (eg-computer science) platform developed by the good folks at MIT. They make it FREELY available for anyone to download, install and use. The thing that makes Scratch powerful is the online community. Students may submit projects to the community for others to comment on and improve upon. Alternately, students may download existing projects and review the source code and remix the source code. It is social constructivist learning at its best!

Here is the information on Scratch:

-Website Address:
-Download from

A few samples from my students in the past (this was an ungraded class...the students loved this stuff and engaged just for the fun of it):
Music Animation: (I love this much effort went into it)
Mario Experiment: (he didn't get too far on this, but he put tons of work into it)
Plans and Tanks:
My Scratch Profile Site:

Guides on scratch: (scroll down and you'll see the guides...these might be useful print outs to get him started)

Support Materials, like videos, printable help cards, etc: (my strategy was to show the students videos and to set them off as soon as possible...they knew WAY more than I by the end of this class, which was fantastic).
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Digital Down Low 2009 Holiday Gift Suggestions

Snowflake Gift Wrap
This post contains a few suggestions for holiday gift ideas for teens (I'm trying to include some different ideas beyond iPods, gaming consoles, computer games, etc). You'll see that I don't reference any software at all - instead of purchasing software, I would advise that you consider making use of the many equally powerful, but free, open source options. Software can now be the most expensive portion of a computer purchase-so why not save your money for the cool items below?  Click here to view a listing of the many free and open source software titles that are available for Mac, Windows and Linux.

2009 Digital Down Low Educational Technology Gift Giving Suggesions for Teens: 
Livescribe Pen - This is a powerful, relatively low cost tool that may be quite useful for many students. The pen syncs audio with written notes that may be reviewed on a computer. The audio enhanced notes may also be shared at the Livescribe online community. We've been experimenting with the Livescribe Pen at Castilleja and I wrote about my initial thoughts back in October. Works with both Mac and Windows. Amazon offers the 4 GB pen for $186.

Flip Video Camcorder - I'm a fan of the Flip Ultra HD model, which records up to two hours of high definition video. This particular model comes with a rechargeable battery pack, but it also operates on two AA batteries as well. The ultra HD lists at $199 at the Flip site, but may be purchased online at Amazon for $152. The Sanyo Xacti HD camcorder is another similarly priced option.

Kindle or Nook eReader- I understand that the Nook from Barnes and Noble will not be shipping until early January, but it does have some tantalizing features. The one that I'm quite intrigued by is the ability to share books with friends (this is cool and mimics one of my favorite things about reading, which is lending out books with friends). I like the Kindle experience as well, but I'm disappointed in their highly locked down, proprietary book model. Kindle does have PC and iPhone apps which allow reading of purchased books on other devices, but I still find the Kindle to be a bit too closed.  I wrote about reading a book on my iPhone kindle app in December of 2008.

Netbook Computer - There are so many options to choose from in the netbook category. Enough, in fact, to make you dizzy. The HP 311 with an 11.6" screen and a six cell battery is definitely one to consider. With the six cell battery this laptop should be able to make it through an entire school day on a single charge. At 11.6", the screen size is a bit larger than the typical 10.1" screen on most netbooks these days. This particular configuration at Amazon features Windows 7, 2 Gigs of RAM, and a 250 GB hard disk for $480. While I like the HP stuff, I'm equally impressed by the Acer Aspire series and the Asus netbooks. Whatever your choice might be, consider upgrading to a six cell battery and 2 GB of RAM if possible.

Apple Macbook Laptop Computer - you can't go wrong with an Apple laptop.

Integrated USB Headset and Mic from Logitech - Great for skype calls, audio recording, etc.

Eye-Fi Geo SD Camera Storage Card - This card is designed to geotag your photos as you shoot them (ie-data regarding the specific location of each photo is added to the photo properties). It also supports wireless uploading of photos from your camera to your computer. It appears that this device works with both Mac and Windows, but I'm not totally certain. I have no personal experience with this product, but if it does everything as advertised, I'm eager to try it out. Check to make certain that your camera is compatible prior to purchasing.
Sony UX71 MP3 Voice Recorder - This is a great little recording tool. I'm a big fan of the fact that it records in the mp3 format. It also has an integrated USB port, which makes it really easy to transfer files to your computer. This is available at Amazon for less than $80.
A Flickr Pro Account - for $25 annually, this gives your teen unlimited photo storage at one of the best online photo storage spaces on the Internet. I love all the special interest groups that you can join to share your photos with as well. Picassa Web is another great service and offers 80 GB of storage for $20 annually.

What am I missing here? Please offer any other suggestions in the form of a comment.
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Our School's Educational Voicethread Network

My school recently created an educational Voicethread account for 250 users. Every time I use this platform with students I'm reminded of the power and potential of this space. The potential for collaboration, reflection, global connection, and knowledge building is HUGE with Voicethread.

Below is the copy of the email that I just sent out to our faculty about our network. I'm cross posting here in the event that this may be of use to anyone else who stumbles across this blog.

Dear Voicethread Fans,

We recently created an educational voicethread network for Casti. We're currently using this with a few students in 6th and 9th grade french classes. Voicethread is an effective platform for learning reflections, global connections, and student knowledge remixing. It also happens to be an incredibly easy application to use (yesterday we had the 6th graders up and running with their new accounts in French class after about 15 minutes).

If you are interested in creating learning design that utilizes this new space, please let me know.

See the links below for a few examples of how students and teachers are using voicethread in the classroom:

Wellness Wheel reflections

Trading cards that examine the role of various historical figures.

Book talks

Language learning - digital stories using newly acquired vocabulary

Math reviewcasts

Artist reflections

Global collaborative projects centering around a certain theme (in this case, the theme is "Earth Day")

Collaborative problem solving in math

Scientific Explanations - a teacher and a few of his students explain a few scientific principles from their grade 8 science class.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day Thoughts

It is hard to believe that it has been nearly two years since Sheila Adams, Karen Olmstead, and Sonja Gonzalez and I facilitated a live webcast with Paul Goodyear, who was on the USS Oklahoma on December 7th, 1941 in Pearl Harbor. It was incredible having a live conversation with Paul - he has an incredible spirit and this was an experience I will never forget. The recorded audio is archived over at the Webcast Academy where the four of us learned the art of live web broadcasting. If you get the chance, listen to the conversation.

I would like to thank Paul and all of the men and women who have served the USA in our armed forces.

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Counterpoint Monthy Article on Twitter

Mideast Iran Presidential Elections
The students at my school recently asked me to write an article on the difference between twitter and facebook for their monthly publication known as "Counterpoint Monthly." They are still working solely in the print world, so I'm reposting here so students and anyone else may leave comments.

Quiz - what do Iranian citizen journalists and famous people like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Taffee and Paris Hilton all have in common? Answer - they all use Twitter, one of the fastest growing social networks on the Internet. I was asked by the CP Monthly Team to write an article on the differences between two of the most popular social networks right now, Twitter and Facebook. This is an often discussed topic in the blogosphere with a host of well written blog posts that address the main similarities and differences. Danah Boyd, who is a social media researcher for Microsoft, recently wrote a stellar post over at her blog that addresses this question. You may access Dr. Boyd's piece at Given Boyd's excellent article and the fact that many of you are already avid Facebook users, I thought I would focus my 600 words on Twitter. I certainly don't intend for this to be a sales pitch on why you should use Twitter because it isn't without fault and it isn't for everyone. Instead, I'd like to simply share a few stories of how Twitter has been used by people around the world and how I use it to connect with others who share my passions and interests.

Out of the box, Twitter might seem like it is nothing more than a platform for blabbering about our mundane daily occurrences. While I've seen some of this in my experience over the past two years using Twitter, I've also witnessed some incredibly powerful stories of collaboration, sharing and creativity. For example, Southern California residents used the platform earlier this fall to share information about the Loma wildfires. Consider what happened this past June with the reporting of the protests following Iran's hotly contested election. The government of Iran effectively shut down all modern media outlets and journalists. The traditional way of reporting the news was completely closed. Iranian citizens, however, armed with Twitter, mobile phones, extraordinary willpower and creativity, Tweeted the news of their struggle.  In a show of solidarity and as a means to confuse the government, people outside of Iran turned their profile pictures to the color of the opposition party (green) and changed their location to Tehran, Iran. As the government blocked Twitter access inside of the country, people inside and outside of Iran worked together to create proxy sites that circumvented the governmental filtering. The government eventually blocked these proxies, but new ones were built and shared so that the news reporting would continue via Twitter. The US State Department even asked Twitter to delay a planned network maintenance outage so that the citizen journalists inside of Iran could continue their work without interruption. This was an incredible story of global collaboration! It is hard to believe that all of this was facilitated by a small little company from San Francisco that built a software platform around the single simple question of, "What are you doing right now?"

Who do I connect with on Twitter? I primarily use Twitter as a way to collaborate and share with other teachers around the world who are interested in the intersection of technology and learning. We share links to interesting blog posts and ideas about clever teaching ideas. The concept of the the Gator Radio Experience project here at Castilleja is the direct result of my Twitter interactions with other educators. Many of these educators know a great deal more than I about the world of live Internet webcasting and were incredibly helpful in helping us launch this project. I also follow university professors, a few authors, individuals and organizations with a green slant, and of course the University of Wisconsin - Madison's mascot, Bucky Badger!

Before creating a Twitter account or an account on any other social media platform, please talk things over with your parents. I highly recommend that you have a conversation with your parents in which you agree upon acceptable and unacceptable uses of social networks. While these tools may be used in incredibly productive and meaningful ways, they certainly can come back to create problems for us in the future. Also, please know that Twitter and all other social networking sites have a minimum age requirement in their terms of service. This minimum age tends to be 13 years old and should be respected. Finally, remember the Golden Rule as you work, share and collaborate in these powerful online communities.

If you'd like to leave comments about this story or if you'd like to see additional resources and information about Twitter, visit my professional blog at

Twitter Streams of Interest:
PeaceDot Project:
Gator Radio Experience:
Bucky Badger:
Mr. Montagne's Twitter Stream:
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