Friday, December 26, 2008

99 Things Meme

I saw this on Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk Blog, along with is very intriguing adaptation of it. Here's my stab at the original meme...


Things you’ve already done: bold
Things you want to do: italicize
Things you haven’t done and don’t want to - leave in plain font

1. Started your own blog.
2. Slept under the stars.
(Can't unbold this for some reason. I haven't done it but I've slept in a family stilt hut in northern Thailand, with the pigs and chickens walking around below us.)
3. Played in a band.
4. Visited Hawaii.
5. Watched a meteor shower.

6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
7. Been to Disneyland/world.

8. Climbed a mountain.
9. Held a praying mantis. (andwatched my cat play with them in the condo in KL)
10. Sang a solo.
11. Bungee jumped. (But I've helped kids on a rope course for hours.)
12. Visited Paris. (But I've been to Kathmandu.)

13. Watched a lightening storm at sea. (How about from an airplane? I've done that often.)

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch. (How about knitting and swimming? I retaught myself both.)

15. Adopted a child. (Adopted an abandoned animal.)
16. Had food poisoning.
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty. (Walked to the top of Batu Caves and up to Namché Bazaar in the Himalayas.)

18. Grown your own vegetables. (Supported organic farmers, grown plants with kids cared for U of MN corn fields.)
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France. (Seen prehistoric cave drawings in Thailand.)
20. Slept on an overnight train. - from Cairo to Luxor in Egypt.
21. Had a pillow fight.
22. Hitch hiked.
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill.
24. Built a snow fort.
25. Held a lamb. (I've held a piglet, and they are not easy to hold! And I've bottle fed a calf.)
26. Gone skinny dipping.

27. Run a marathon. Nope, but I've biked across the state three times.
28. Ridden a gondola in Venice. Nope, but I've ridden an elephant in Thailand.
29. Seen a total eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.

31. Hit a home run.
32. Been on a cruise.
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.
35. Seen an Amish community.
36. Taught yourself a new language.
37.Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person. I've seen the pyramids in Egypt.
39. Gone rock climbing.
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person.
41. Sung Karaoke. (unfortunately)
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.
43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant.
Bought a homeless person a meal.
44. Visited Africa.
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.

46. Been transported in an ambulance. (I don't think so, but my Red Cross certification is up to date.)
47. Had your portrait painted. (No, but my sister has taken great portrait photos of me.)
48. Gone deep sea fishing. (Nope, but I've snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef.)
49. Seen the Sistine chapel in person.
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling.
52. Kissed in the rain.
53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater.

55. Been in a movie. (I've directed a few plays.)

56. Visited the Great Wall of China.
57. Started a business.
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia.
60. Served at a soup kitchen. (I've delivered Meals on Wheels.)
61. Sold Girl Scout cookies.
62. Gone whale watching.
63. Gotten flowers for no reason.
64. Donated blood.
65. Gone sky diving.
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp. (Visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.)
67. Bounced a check.
68. Flown in a helicopter. - Through the Himalayas no less!
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.
71. Eaten Caviar.
72. Pieced a quilt. (Nope, but I can knit a sock!)
73. Stood in Times Square. (I've stood in Tienanmen Square.)
74. Toured the Everglades. (I've ridden on the Mekong.)
75. Been fired from a job.
76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London.
77. Broken a bone.
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.
80. Published a book.

81. Visited the Vatican.
82. Bought a brand new car.
83. Walked in Jerusalem. (I've walked and talked with landmine victims in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I've chatted with young Buddhist monks in Luang Prabang, Laos.)
84. Had your picture in the newspaper.
85. Read the entire Bible. (I've read most of it. The book of numbers nearly killed me.)
86. Visited the White House.
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
(I did have to cut the head and feet off the last chicken I purchased in the grocery store.)
88. Had chickenpox.
89. Saved someone’s life.
90. Sat on a jury.
91. Met someone famous.
92. Joined a book club.
93. Lost a loved one.
94. Had a baby.
95. Seen the Alamo in person.
96. Swum in the Great Salt Lake.

97. Been involved in a law suit.
98. Owned a cell phone.
99. Been stung by a bee.

How about you? Consider yourself tagged.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Movie Trailers for Books

One of the projects I enjoyed the most this term was the book talk videos created by one of our fifth grade classes.

The unit began in the classroom. The teacher showed the class a number of movie trailers and challenged the students to figure out what strategies and movie devices were used to capture their attention, hold their interest, and make the viewer want to see the film.

Next she had her students select one of the books they have read so far this year and she sent them to me. I introduced Flickr and the idea of Creative Commons license as opposed to regular copyright. This discussion also introduced the concept of tags and reviewed the correct actions to take if their search should pull up inappropriate images.

From there, they went into Sharepoint to open a copy of our photo sources form. The directions on this form are more than a child is likely to read, but we knew some children would be working at home and wanted to give enough information that parents could successfully support their children on this step of the project.


Most of the students seemed to really enjoy using FlickrCC to find their photos. Finding photos to fit their story or the mood they were trying to create was a good challenge.

As you could predict, many students forgot to complete step 8. Fortunately, most of them did remember to paste the photo name and URL onto the photo sources form, so it was easy to locate the photo again and save it to their computer.

When they had all the photos they needed, students went into Windows Movie Maker to create their movie trailer. This program is easy to learn and offered enough control for most of the projects. We were fortunate that many of the students in this class had become adept at using it last year when their fourth grade teacher had her class create movies of a poem they had written. These students were our experts as we began this fifth grade project.

I don't necessarily agree with the claims that most of my students are digital natives, but I do think they are media natives. They have a great deal more experience than I have with watching videos. They clearly drew on that experience to craft their movies. For example, one student selected a theme song for each of the main characters and she'd play the appropriate theme each time that character was in the trailer. Another student showed a succession of photos, each photo visible for less time than the previous one, to build tension.

As is common with upper elementary students, most focused on some aspects of story telling and cinematography while ignoring others, but I think these first attempts at creating book trailers are very well done.

We have them posted on our school website. We have dropped them into our web photo gallery which was easy and made them accessible to our families, but it doesn't allow you to see the title of the book. We had thought of putting the videos into YouTube but the class didn't feel ready for that step. You are welcome to view the videos here (until they are taken down when the web server begins to fill).

There is no way to leave comments in the web gallery, but if you leave comments here on this blog post, I'll forward the positive/constructive comments to the children.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Has anyone used Search-Cube with kids? I can see that it might work really well for them when they are doing research. It is powered by Google, but instead of returning pages of hits as text, it gives you a virtual 3-D cube of hits as thumbnails. You can use the arrow keys to rotate the cube to view all the hits. Hovering over a thumbnail pops up a larger copy of the image. Clicking on an image opens that site in a new tab or window. Here is a search-cube of hits for a search of the word knitting.

search-cube - the Visual Search Engine
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

Now generally I'm not a proponent of having elementary kids use Google. Their media literacy skills are such that they can't scan a list of hits to quickly determine which hits are relevant and which are from reliable sources. I much prefer vetting sites in advance.

However, there are plenty of times when I do turn to Google with a child, usually when they come to me with a question and I don't know the answer. I wonder if being able to "see" the hits rather than read their text would help them more quickly find hits that meet their needs.

Or, it could be more problematic and distracting. I remember years ago a child was researching prairie fires. I was sitting with him and in addition to the relevant hits, the Google search brought up hits for a music group and a mixed drink, both of whom were called Prairie Fire. I can imagine this child being easily distracted by rock group photos. I can also imagine them more often "seeing" inappropriate things.

What do you think? Would you use it with kids? Do you think it would be more useful to them than a straight Google search?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tech Ideas for Elementary Music

The invitation was pure gold; the elementary music department asked for an hour of my time on the inservice day, to teach them about new technologies that they could use in their instruction. What tech coordinator would turn down an opportunity to work with the willing?

I really struggled with the agenda. It wasn't a how-to session, but I knew that getting them actively involved would be more engaging and more powerful. However I only had an hour before they had to rush off campus for an inservice in Little India.

I was tempted to show them Animoto, but it is so slow that I had to give up that idea. I also decided to steer away from good music websites since they are skilled at finding those on their own.

I started the inservice telling the music teachers, that I knew lots of tech tools that could enhance their curriculum, but I didn't know how to teach music. It was up to them to find ways to make use of these tools as they saw fit. To my delight, they did that all hour. In the end, here was my agenda. In green I'll give a quick explanation of what was discussed.

When to use tech

  • Tech As Problem Solver: work more effectively, efficiently

  • Tech As Enhancer, do things not possible without it, take lessons to next level, collaborate

Our school has Blackboard. You may have used it or something like it if you have taken an online course that required you to take part in asynchronous discussions. All our classes are automatically set up in Blackboard, thanks to a script that runs to pull data from Powerschool.
  • Discussion Boards: Allow for discussions to continue outside of class. Allow you to hear from every student. Often children who don't talk much in class are very willing participants in written
  • Voiceboards: Like discussion board forums but with sound! Teacher can upload music. Students can record themselves talking, singing, playing an instrument. Student posts can be listened to by entire class or made private so only the teacher can hear them. Already in regular use by high school language classes, the elementary music teachers saw many ways they could make use the voice boards, especially with their grade five instrumental students.


I discovered that the link you see when you have found a thread by searching, does not get you back to that thread later, so the links below may not work for you.


  • Wikis in Plain English:
  • Parent wiki: A parent has set up a wiki to make it easy for parents to sign up to bring the snacks to the boys varsity basketball games. She used Wikispaces and did not protect it with a password, so it is possible, but not likely that someone could maliciously edit it. Other than one parent accidentally adding extra cells.
  • Class wiki: http://mrcarroll.wetpaint.compage/Any+Words+of+Wisdom+for+the+New+Class%3F
  • Conference wiki: This password protected wiki is something we might use to facilitate parents signing up for optional spring conferences with specialist teachers. The music teachers cheered and immediately and saw ways to extend its usefulness.

You Tube
We didn't have time to discuss YouTube. I wanted to show them how it can be used for finding clips of ethnic music to support the diversity aspects of their curriculum. Can also find examples of instruments and their sounds, and other useful clips. If they view in Internet Explorer, the RealPlayer plugin will download the clip to their RealPlayer library so that their lesson is not sabotaged if our internet is slow or not working.

Voice Recorders

Like a thumb drive, these stick MP3 recorders are highly portable. They could be used to record a guest lecturer, to record ensembles, to let the class hear how their performance pieces are sounding.

Flip Video Camera

  • One of my music teachers has been using the Flip video camera to record voice students. For example, possibly she signs along with the student and then they burn that clip to a CD so the student can practice with it at home.
  • Another use was to have each stings player go to another room to record their performance piece. That allowed her to observe it outside of class, share the video with parents at conference time and offer suggestions for how to help the child improve their playing.

    This session flew by. The teachers were great fun, enthusiastically trying out and discussing uses for each tool. An added bonus was that instead of preparing a Powerpoint presentation, I created the agenda in their shared department One Note notebook. They were happy to see they could go back later and explore the links I'd used, such as Wikis in Plain English again on their own.

    What did I miss? If they invite me back, what other hardware and software tools should I show them? They already use
    Music Ace, Groovy Music, Finale Notepad. They already have iPods on which they create playlists for their lessons. They already have data projectors and wireless mouse and keyboard sets. What other tools would positively impact student learning?

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Lest We Forget... Never Again

    It's already November 12 here, but I'm still going to take this chance to observe Veteran's Day. Every year on this day I find myself shedding tears over the sacrifices made, knowing that even those who come back have paid a terrible price.

    In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    Thank you.

    Poem In Flanders Fields by  John McCrae
    Poppies by Tony.M
    Arlington Cemetery by theohiosource

    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    A Thing with Feathers...

    I first moved overseas in the summer of 2001. With the exception of the 2005-2006 school year, I’ve been overseas ever since. For all of that time, and to an increasing degree, I’ve tried to keep my nationality a secret. When people asked where I was from, I’d say, “I live in Malaysia,” or “I live in Singapore” because I felt my nation did not represent me.

    With each passing year of the President George W. Bush’s presidency, I felt more disenfranchised, more ashamed of my country’s actions at home and especially overseas. I don’t expect that any administration will carry out my policy wishes to a T, but this current administration seems to be diametrically opposed to both my political views and my values. It’s policies on the environment, education, and regulating companies, just to name a few, seem to me to be crafted to reward the administration’s friends in the short term while destroying the nation’s infrastructure. It’s foreign policy was a disaster on every front, making the world a less safe place and destroying other nations’ willingness to collaborate with us for a common good. In short, its policies seemed to build upon and strengthen our worst traits, our greediness and our egocentric-ism.

    But this is an age of “miracle and wonder.” I was on my lunch break watching elementary kids rush down the halls yelling, “Obama is President!” I watched Senator McCain’s concession speech and was moved to see in it a return of the person I had respected before this campaign.

    I was teaching again by the time President-elect Obama gave his acceptance speech. But thanks to YouTube, I was able to watch it in its entirety this morning. I sat here, stroking the cats as tears ran down my face to again hear an administration speaking my values.

    – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

    -President-Elect Obama’s acceptance speech

    Admittedly, those are just words. More importantly, I heard a politician admit that things are a mess, and the only ways to fix them require hard work, sacrifice and time. I am truly astonished that the American people had the wisdom to hear that and vote for him anyway. As a nation, we have an embarrassing history of avoiding people who speak those truths. Maybe we, as a nation, are finally growing up. Maybe things have gotten bad enough that people are willing to accept some responsibility for the problems and the solutions.

    I can only hope. And that is a big step. It’s been a long time since I felt hopeful about our nation. As I see people around the world rejoicing in this election’s results, I feel hope that America has another chance. I feel thankful that the present administration has become so unpopular that people around the world seem willing to consider the possibility that with a change in regime, we may become someone they can tolerate. If we are very fortunate, as a nation we may become someone they can respect.

    I do not expect smooth sailing. The nation is a mess. The world economy has crashed into recession. We are embroiled in two wars. Further complicating this are the huge campaign donations that President-Elect Obama accepted from corporate America. He is further fettered by the current administration which seems willing to let him start now, as long as he is willing to make certain concessions. The forces in place to prevent change are strong. They will constantly try to preserve the status quo.

    But there is this hope, this thing with feathers that perches in my soul. For this moment, that is enough.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    A Good Thursday

    Today was a good Thursday.

    First off, the rain stopped before we had to walk to work.

    Next, my first hour class really enjoyed their lesson. They worked hard, and remembered what I had taught them earlier, so they didn't need lots of support. I was able to work one-on-one with kids who needed special help.

    Then I had chicken rice porridge, a breakfast treat only served in the canteen on Thursdays. While I ate, I talked with my friend Eric, who I hadn't been able to eat lunch with all week. We came up with two possible web solutions to a problem for my principal.

    From there, I met with the math coach. I was able to solve all her current computer problems and help her with some workflow issues. And then I met with members of the Chinese Department and helped them learn to do what they wanted to do with their website.

    My third graders in the afternoon were adding Halloween clip art to their project. They were enchanted with the results. They kept beaming at their printouts. Then they played gleefully with our drawing program, Kidpix.

    My last class was full of ah-has! as basic web page coding clicked for them. At the end of class, we couldn't get them to leave! They were so excited and working so hard. To the rest of the world the pages at this point would look pretty plain, but to the kids who created them by writing the codes themselves, the pages are full of wonder.

    Next, I managed to solve a navigation problem with Sharepoint, making Kent really happy. Then he managed to temporarily fix his neighbor's computer. She hadn't backed up her files all year, and the hard drive appeared to have failed. He got it back up long enough for me to help her back up her files.

    After school, I had the first voluntary meeting with some of my interactive whiteboard teachers. It was an after school meeting late in the week, but when they all started talking about what they had been doing, answering each other's questions, showing each other things they'd tried, they all became very energized. One of the happily asked if we were meeting again next week and looked truly disappointed when I told him we only meet once a month.

    On top of that, some earrings I ordered through Etsy arrived and they are high quality and lovely. I will get lots of use out of them.

    And now, I am home and hope to have time to do a bit of work and then knit.

    Life is Good.

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Current Multimedia Works in Progress

    Although this is the first term that's I've met with each teacher to collaborate on a tech class semester plan, I'm increasingly enchanted with the results. Here are just a few of the projects that are in the works.

    Need a Good Book?
    Jeff Scott, a fourth grade teacher, worked with me to create a voice discussion board full of book reviews. His students wrote a synopsis of the book they were reading and then selected a "golden passage", a passage that they felt gave a good taste of the book. They rehearsed reading the passages, focusing on the reading skills he'd been focusing on in class. Then they were ready for me.

    The first week I introduced students to Blackboard, our CMS. They learned to find their way around and to use the Wimba Voiceboard module that we have installed.

    The next week, they went into the book review voiceboard. They created their own post. They put the book's title in the subject line. In the body of the message, they typed their synopsis. Then they used the voiceboard's recording tools to make an audio recording of themselves reading the gold passage.

    Now the students are enthusiastically using the voiceboard to find good books. They keep a log of books they want to read and they are eagerly using the voiceboard to find good books to add to their list. The project is now independent. The students will be able to come in any time and add another post. Jeff is not sure how often he will require them to post.

    Book Trailers
    Jemma Hooykaas has her fifth graders immersed in higher order thinking to create movie trailer style book teasers. She worked closely with me to design the assignment and create the rubric. She worked with the students to select their books. I created a movie resources form to help them gather their photos and record the photo information for their movie credits.

    Jemma started students using a storyboard form she created. Students were challenged to identify the tone and important elements of the book they read, and then to find images to set the tone and represent those elements

    I taught students about Flickr and Creative Commons. I introduced the FlickrCC image search engine. I modeled how to use that website and the form I gave them to gather their photos and record important information about the photos to include in their credits.

    This past week, students were to bring in their photos so we could use Windows Movie Maker to create the movies. As we expected, not all students had all their photos, but this gave us time for individualized instruction as needed.

    One exciting discovery was to see how much some of the students remembered about Movie Maker from last year. All of those students worked on a powerful Poetry Cafe project last year with their homeroom teacher and they are now our movie making experts.

    This coming week, I'll show students how to access our school library of royalty-free music to set the tone of their movies.

    The final products will either be posted in our school web photo gallery or on our school's YouTube channel.

    There are other great projects in the works. I'll try to write about them soon.

    Blog Awards

    Doug Johnson over at the Blue Skunk Blog honored me with a blog award. Now I have the good fortune to be able to award it to seven other bloggers.

    1. I suspect Clarence Fisher has already received this, but I don't remember seeing it on his blog, so here goes. Remote Access is one of those blogs that I find myself reflecting on days, even months after I read the posts. They often come up in conversations with others. I appreciate that be blogs so regularly, giving us an ongoing view into his classroom. We see his projects and his ideas evolve over time. He reads widely and thinks deeply. Enjoy!

    2. Technology in the Middle is Patrick Woesnner's blog. It covers a good range of topics, from helpful utilities Linkand websites, to notes from classes, to curricular projects.

    3. Betchablog is a place where Chris Betcher connects Best Practices to every day use. He's a skilled podcaster, and he also makes video tutorials, so don't miss those parts of his blog.

    4. Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users is no longer being written, but it is still online and worth reading. She is a computer programmer, author, horse trainer, and artist. Her ideas for creating passionate users apply not just toLinkLink software, but to education and life, and her graphics are powerful and fun.

    5. Dr. Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irreleveant blog is anything but irrelevant, He is a university-level lecturer and researcher who is now working to get education students and administrators up to speed.

    6. Dan Meyer's dy/dan blog's tagline is "Working hard to make it look easy." He fascinates me with the way he draws on technology to bring the world to his math class.

    7. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Yarn Harlot blog has next to nothing to do with education and a whole lot to do with knitting and book tours and good humor. Check out her recent post on an unfortunate (but hilarious) coffee episode at an airport during her recent book tour.

    You will notice that two of those blogs aren't education blogs. I think it is important that we read outside out fields, both for our jobs and for ourselves.

    Sunday, September 14, 2008

    Amplifying Possiblities

    We are less than a month away from the pre-conference keynote of this year's K-12 Online Conference!

    K12 Online Conference 2008 | 2008 K-12 Online Conference Marketing Flyer
    Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

    The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from educators around the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. This FREE conference is run by volunteers and open to everyone. The 2008 conference theme is “Amplifying Possibilities”. This year’s conference begins with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 13, 2008. The following two weeks, October 20-24 and October 27-31, forty presentations will be posted online to the conference blog (this website) for participants to download and view. Live Events in the form of three “Fireside Chats” and a culminating “When Night Falls” event will be announced. Everyone is encouraged to participate in both live events during the conference as well as asynchronous conversations. More information about podcast channels and conference web feeds is available!

    An anthropological introduction to YouTube

    Just as I'm thinking about the hows and whys of connecting elementary children to the larger community, I read injenuity's blog post about Michael Wesch's presentation to the Library of Congress regarding an An anthropological introduction to YouTube.

    Wesch's videos are always thought provoking and this one will give you and interesting view of the impact YouTube is having on our cultures and ourselves.

    Moving Towards Tech Integration and Students as Contributors of Content

    We are making progress. In the past, my colleague and I wrote a semester tech plan and brought it to the staff. Most teachers approved it as written. A few would ask us to work on other projects with them.

    This term, I am meeting with each of my teachers to create a semester plan. In most cases, this isn't the deep, rich collaboration I envision since my class provides them with prep time, but it is a good start given time constraints. It means I no longer have every class in a grade level on approximately the same lesson. I'm looking at 15 potentially unrelated preps a week, but since I was a classroom teacher for 11 years, I'm used to far more preps a week than that.

    None of this would be possible without the teachers being willing to work with me. They each either gave up a prep time or met with me after school. This may not sound like much, but our school is a fast-paced place and they are all involved in many projects, meetings and conferences beyond their regular planning for lessons and assessing their students. With so many tasks competing for their time, I am appreciative of their generosity.

    I'm happy that what I'm doing with the students is more closely integrated with the classroom curriculum, and that this process allows me to help the teachers see ways to teach with technology. In some of our plans, they will book time beyond my class to work on the projects. Other teachers will team teach with me some of the time. For other classes, the entire plan is contained in my weekly class.

    Ideally, I want to move towards the type of integration and collaboration that Kim Cofino blogged about here>and here. That change requires a different staffing model. My principal has made a staffing request for next year, but their are many competing requests so we will have to wait and see if it is funded for next year.

    As happy as I am with the progress made, I keep mulling over the words of one of my teachers. As we finished the semester plan, she lamented that it wasn't very Web 2.0. She attended the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai last year and embraced the need for teaching 21st century skills instead of the old consumer model of information.

    She's right. While many of the semester plans do allow students to create content, show their learning in new ways that involve higher-order thinking, there is not much connection with the rest of the world. Except for a few YouTube videos and VoiceThreads, there isn't much in these plans that connect our students with the world outside of our school. Does there need to be in an international school where the children are sitting in class each day with other international children? Does there need to be at the elementary level where so much of what we do with technology is still new to them?

    My first response is, "Of course!" However, I need to think more about the whys and hows. If you are using Web 2.0 tools to connect your elementary students with the larger community, what drives you? Why do you personally think it is import? I'd love to hear what you have to say.

    Sunday, August 17, 2008

    What Do You Want in a Flickr CC Search Engine for Schools?

    Glenn over at History Tech blog has been using Compfight to find CC images in Flickr. Like me, he discovered that the safe search isn't really safe enough for student use, so he contacted them. The good folks at Compfight are considering creating a truly school-friendly Flickr CC search tool and are asking for input.

    For the elementary students I work with the ultimate Flickr search engines would have the following attributes.
    • Light, not resource intensive because schools often have old computers and slow networks.

    • Basic interface, Compfight is brilliant because it is such a clean interface, nowhere for the children to get lost or distracted. Kids are instantly successful.

    • Large thumbnails. 8 and 9 year olds tend to like words and pictures on their screen to be big. They make their fonts size 18 and put extra space between words to make them easier to see, not just to fill the page. Compfights are a good size. FlickrCC is a bit small. I'd include fewer images to make the thumbnails a bit bigger.

    • Split screen like FlickrCC. On one side we see thumbnails of the hits. On the other side, we see an individual image, its URL, photographer's name, and links to the other sizes of the image. I like FlickrCC but it is missing a key feature, the name of the photographer. According to Flickr, to use the CC images, you need to credit the source by listing the name of the photographer and provide a link back to the image. FlickrCC lacks that and as a result, my wee ones are having to navigate through multiple pages. That is really tough for some of them. Being able to grab URL and photographer's name off one clear page before they go to get a larger or small size of the image would be much easier for them.

    • Open links in a new tab. If a child needs a larger size of the image and follows that link, it should open in a new tab so that after they download the image, they can close the tab and they are right back at the search engine.

    • Safe Search. No filter is perfect. Some photographers are wily in how they tag their photos. However, one that blocks 95% of nudity, sex, and violence would be great. A second grade girl who types in kitties doesn't want a screen full of sex kittens. Naked toddlers, victims of floods standing amidst the ruins of their home with only rags on their body aren't the problem. It is the art photos of nudity and the pornographic ones that are making our searches problematic. We haven't had a problem of accidentally pulling up pictures of violence in Flickr, but we don't want to start having one either.

    • Free. I am currently working overseas at a private school. I have a budget and could pay for this feature. However, most of my career has been in the public schools in the US and then it was only me on a teacher's salary paying for things we needed. I could do it because I don't have children of my own, but many teachers couldn't pay anything.
    What would you like to see in a school-friendly search tool for the Creative Commons section of Flickr? Give Compfight your feedback by posting on Glenn's blog or by contacting them directly via the link under the About button at the bottom of their site. And drop by Glenn's blog for a good read and to thank him for taking the initiative to start this discussion with the Compfight folks.

    Saturday, July 26, 2008

    Need Ideas on Ultimate Intro Flipcharts

    In a week, my staff returns for a week of workshops and then the start of teaching. 14 of my staff will have a Promethean IWB for the first time. Between now and our Back to School Night in mid-August, they will be in a huge number of inservices not involving IWBs. I'm having trouble finding a time to do more than show them the most basic tools. However, parents will want to see the board in use at Back to School Night.

    I'd like to set my teachers up to look great and feel confident. Since I haven't figured out how to add hours to the days, I'm thinking I'd like to create a few flip charts for them. The first would be a flipchart that they could all use with their students to help the students learn to use the board. It should be fun, engaging, and help to meet some of the teacher's first week's of school needs, such as community building, formative assessment or the establishing of routines.

    The second flipchart would be a specific to each grade level. It would include a few activities to use with parents that showed how the board will be used to teach some of the content their children will be learning during the year. For example, it could have a container activity where participants recycle the fractions that are not equivalent to 2/3. Another activity could involve using the transparency feature with two photos of glaciers to create a time lapse effect to show their melting retreat. Another could be a self-checking vocabulary matching idea. And so on.

    Searching the newly remodeled Promethean Planet, I was suprised to not find what I needed. I did find a few good resources to use with my teachers. You will need to create a free account at PrometheanPlanet to follow these links.

    • Activstudio Benefits was created to show off the uses of an IWB. Original target was school boards and other funding sources, but it would also be a great tool to use with teachers to give them idea of how to use their IWB.

    • Creating in Activstudio shows different techniques to designing flipcharts.

    • Layers and Groups Resource Pack includes 15 activities with detailed notes on how to use them and to adapt them to your own uses.

    • Reviewing Activstudio would be great to use after you have given your teachers some training. It uses the format of the game show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader to review concepts such as layering and the use of various tools.
    So now I'd appreciate your help. I'd love to hear your ideas of what I can include in the student flipchart and the parent flipchart. I'd love to see any reasources that you have created which meet these needs.

    Friday, July 25, 2008

    Embed Live Spreadsheet into a Web Page

    I just had a Geek Moment...

    As my family plans our trip to New Zealand, the need arose to have a place on the wiki to record expenses as they are accrued. For example, much to her surprise, my sister just discovered that the hotel rooms she booked for us on Stewart Island have already appeared on her Visa bill.

    My first thought was to create a table on the wiki. It wouldn't have formulas, but we can all handle the math. However, as much as I love Wetpaint as a wiki platform, their tables aren't full featured. I can't figure out how to add a new row to a table that has already been created. Tabbing doesn't work. I can't find a hot place or menu that allows me to expand the table. If you know of one, please tell me.

    Since that didn't seem to be a good option, I started thinking of ways to embed a spreadsheet into the wiki. I know you can embed a Google Form into a wiki and even show a live chart as people add data, but I didn't find a way to do that with Google Sheets.

    Fortunately a web search pulled up an article on the Zoho blog that lead me to this post on the Digital Inspiration blog. It shows step-by-step directions for embedding a live spreadsheet onto a webpage using Zoho Sheet, a free, online spreadsheet. It even provides a link which allows viewers to download a copy of the spreadsheet to their computer.

    I already have a Zoho account. I think their suite of online applications is far superior to Google's. So I...
    1. Logged in to ZohoSheet.
    2. Created a spreadsheet. (Or I could have uploaded one from my computer.)
    3. Clicked on the menu item to created code to embed the spreadsheet.
    4. Copied the code to my clipboard.
    5. Using the toolbar on my wikipage, I clicked the tool to allow me to embed a widget.
    6. I pasted the code in the box that appeared, chose whether I wanted to change the size or justification of the spreadsheet on the page, and clicked "OK."

    When I saved the wiki page, the live spreadsheet appeared on the page. It is like magic! I can scroll around, add data, click on the tabs. My lovely colors, bolds, filled formulas, etc. are all there because the spreadsheet is embedded using an I-frame - something you web design gurus will understand.

    As I experimented, I learned the follow things.
    • If I change the spreadsheet in Zoho Sheet, and save my changes, those changes appear on the wiki when I refresh the wiki page.
    • If I make changes to the spreadsheet on the wiki, those changes are not reflected in Zoho Sheet.
    I can forsee a few potential problems embedding spreadsheets this way. First, to embed a spreadsheet you must make it public. That means that even though my wiki is private, it is humanly possible that someone could find the public spreadsheet and mess with our data. However, they would need to know the unpublished URL to get to it. This doesn't seem likely.

    Another problem is that Zoho's servers can be a bit slow. That was a big problem in the past, but now I'm finding them to work just fine. I suspect they upgraded to eliminate that problem.

    A final problem is that not all blogs or wikis allow you to embed i-frames. I was able to do so in Wetpaint via the "insert widget" button and here in Blogger by clicking the "Edit Html" tab and then pasting the code where I wanted the spreadsheet to appear. Check your platform's editing toolbar to see if you have that option.

    So, give it a try. Add some data to my spreadsheet. And let me know if you have found other or better ways to embed a live spreadsheet into a web page.

    [UPDATE: Bad news. My sister tried using it on our wiki, and as old math man says here in the comments, the spreadsheet works great until you navigate away from the page. At that point, all your data is lost. So, this is an elegant solution for data that you don't want to keep. For example, making a web site on the solar system and allowing visitors to enter their own weight in pounds or kg to find out how much they would weigh on different planets.

    Can you think of any other times you wouldn't want to retain the data after the visitor leaves your site?]

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    FlickrCC - Another Flickr Creative Commons Search Tool

    A few weeks ago I wrote about Compfight, a helpful search engine for finding images in the Creative Commons section of Flickr. Today, on one of my groups in Diigo, I learned about FlickrCC. (Sorry, I deleted the original message so I can't say which group or who posted it.)

    I really like the speed and layout of FlickrCC. Simple search field with tick boxes to indicate if you want photos you can edit and/or use commercially. Your search results appear on the left half of the window. Click on a thumbnail and the image appears on the right side of the screen. Attribribution and URL appear with it, along with links to allow you to edit the image in Picnik or on your computer. Along the bottom are links to the other sizes of the image.

    Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

    I plan use this for myself. However, since it does not have a safe search feature, I plan to use Compfight with students. Do you have a favorite way to locate images in the Creative Commons domain?

    Saturday, July 19, 2008

    A Ning for Promethean Users

    One of my challenges for the coming school year is to help my teachers and myself use our Promethean boards in powerful ways. Since we already have wireless mice and keyboards and data projectors, we can already perform low-level interactive white board tasks without IWBs. However, we'll have more than 20 boards in our division next year so it is time for the pilot to gain momentum, for us to use the boards for higher order thinking and deep learning.

    I had hoped to garnish great ideas at NECC, but I was unable to get into most of the IWB sessions I had planned on attending. Fortunately, I stumbled across two resources via Diigo. The first is Ms. Jruczak's Instructional Technology blog. Although the blog does not yet have many entries, each one is a gem full of useful information. It is not focused specifically on IWB uses, but it worth a look.

    The second resource is only hours old but I'm hoping it will grow into a rich source of support. Kim Jurczak has started a Ning for Promethean IWB users. Her vision is for this Ning to be a place where users of the Promethean IWB Activclassroom tools can collaborate and share ideas for classroom use.

    Since I am needing just such a community, I joined as soon as I found it, making me member #2. Despite my poor track record with other Nings, will make an effort to be an active member. How about you? Will you be member #3?

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    Another Spiffy Wetpaint Feature

    I've long been a fan of the Wetpaint wiki platform. I was originally drawn to it because it is one of the only wikis that creates visually appealing websites. Often, when I have a need for a wiki, I turn to them because their feature set is good and the wiki is so easy to use.

    My family is planning a trip to New Zealand. Unfortunately, most of the planning will be done with me in Singapore and the rest of them in the USA. Right from the start, I thought this was a great use for a wiki, but other family members thought Google Docs would be easier. A few weeks ago I started a number of documents and shared them, but we've had lots of trouble with permissions and people needing to sign up for Google. (That seems to be a change. Last fall I was able to invite people who didn't have Gmail accounts to edit Google documents and they were successful. Now it wants my family members to create Google accounts to view or edit the documents.)

    Last night, tired of the hassles, I set up a private Wetpaint wiki. Since it is private, my family members will need to sign up with Wetpaint, but that is quick and easy and ends right there.

    As I copied the pages over, I was amazed to discover...
    • Graphics in my Google docs copied right into the wiki. No need to upload and insert them.

    • When websurfing, I could highlight diagrams from the internet and copy them directly onto the wiki. They came in as images so formatting was preserved.
    In both cases, a message appeared briefly on the screen informing me that the item was being reformatted and then Voilá! It was there looking great.

    I only encountered two problems. The first was when copying Google Docs tables. They did copy legibly, but not attractively. The second was with tables in Wetpaint. Unlike other wikis, I wasn't able to add a new row by tabbing. As a result, I decided to make lists for our to-dos instead of handy tables.

    My mom and I worked a bit later than everyone else and already the wiki was proving useful as we captured airfare searches, flight time tables and other useful bits of info. The pages are quickly turning into a mishmash of data. They aren't pretty with all the fonts and colors from different web sites, but they are a goldmine of useful info.

    What wiki platform are you using? Is it meeting your needs? What features doesn't it have that you'd like to see?

    Help End the Julie Amero Debacle

    Who hasn't heard of the terrible story of substitute teacher Julie Amero? If you have felt as helpless as I have to take action to help her, click on the link below to sign a petition. The link was posted to the EdTech listserv by Nancy Willard. She encourages us to sign the petition to let the prosecutors in Connecticut know that the rest of the world has not lost interest in this case.

    For more information on the case...
    The case against Julie Amero needs to be deleted

    Let's end teacher's long nightmare

    Monday, June 30, 2008

    Engagingly H.O.T. Comics

    Notes from the NECC session by Bernajean Porter on using graphic novels in the classroom.

    Oh I wish I had more notes! This was a great session. Bernajean really focuses on raising the bar (or making it H.O.T.ter, as she calls it. However, I was filming the session using my new Flip Mino which filled half way through the Comic Life tutorial. )

    Graphic Novels cover a wide range of content areas - much wider than I realized.

    Comics are an American invention, something we gave to the world. In 1954 US Senate investigates relationship between comic books and juvenile delinquency. Art Speigelman won Pultizer Prize for Maus I, an examination of the Holocaust. He uses a metaphor of mice and cats.

    Her website:
    complete with rubrics and other useful tools.

    Don't let your students remain information consumers; move them into producing.
    Start with the content up front, before touching the comic software. After the storyline/content, have them decide on the emotion for each frame. Only then are they ready to gather info
    ign off the content at the storyboard level to ensure the rigor.


    Pre-Production Phase

    1. Writing a narrative script
    2. Planning the project
    3. Organizing project folders

    Production Phase
    1. Making the voiceover
    2. Gathering and preparing media resources

    Post Production Phase
    1. Putting it ALL together

    Distribution Phase
    Applause! Applause!

    Comic Life

    A Quicker, Safer Way to Access Flickr CC Photos

    This past semester, most of the classes I work with used the Creative Commons section of Flickr to find photos for their Voicethreads, wikis, websites and other projects.

    For the most part, I was pleased. Students found great insect photos to illustrate their insect life cycle diagrams. Other students found powerful photos to put on their Read to Feed brochure that they were creating to solicit sponsors. Still others created movies about problems affecting the oceans using still photos from Flickr CC. The list goes on and on.

    However, all was not as good as it could be...
    • Flickr pages can be really, really slow to load

    • Some kids would forget and use the search field at the top of each Flickr page instead of returning to the Flickr Creative Commons search page. Then they would find photos with all right reserved. Sometimes they could save these photos, but they woudn't insert into projects. It took me quite a while to figure out what was going on.

    • Our process of searching, then saving the photo and copying the source information to give proper credit to the photographer was complex. Some third graders never mastered it.

    • We started to find inappropriate images. I had prepared the children for that possibility. We had reviewed what they should always do if they come across inappropriate content. The children did a good job of using those few opportunities to practice safe internet use, but I don't like taking elementary children to a site that I know has inappropriate material.
    Given these limitations, you can imagine my delight to read about Compfight. It is a very simple, very fast way to search Flickr.

    compfight / a flickr2122 search tool
    Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

    See the little search field at the top? That's what you see when you go to the site.
    Click on the...
    • Tags button to toggle between searching tags only or all text
    • Creative Commons link to toggle between all, off, or commercial searches
    • Seek Original link to choose whether or not you are only looking for original images
    • Safe Search link to make searching safer for young users
    As you can imagine, that last item has me thrilled. I plunked in some of the innocuous search terms (such as books) that brought up inappropriate images but all the hits were appropriate for my students.

    I hope the searches are as quick at school as they are from my NECC hotel room. Photos start appearing withing a second of me hitting enter. The search results are posted many to a page instead of the ten that are on a typical Flickr search results page.

    I think this tool is going to solve many problems for us. Give it a try and let me know what you think. Any idea what the name Compfight has to do with searching Flickr? That one has me stumped.

    A big thanks to Sue Waters for her post at The Edublogger that introduced me to Compfight.

    Sunday, June 29, 2008

    Cybersafety Workshop

    Great workshop with Davina Pruit-Mentle and Nancy Willard
    These are very incomplete notes. Please check out their website for great information. Even better, go hear them speak.

    Tactics that don't work to keep kids safe...

    Fear-based Tactics
    • stranger danger warnings
    • kids view adults as not knowing what is really going on with teh internet

    Misleading Use of Data

    • 1 in 7 youth have been sexually solicieted online - not true
    • generally received by teenagers from other teens

    Reliance on Filtering
    • won't block porn traps
    • won't protect against online communication
    • won't deter determined teens because they know how to bypass the filter
    • frequently blocks appropriate sites
    • over reliance on this has created false security and doesn't teach kids safety skills, responsible choices

    Simplistic Rules
    • "Don't post personal information online."
    • "Just say no" didn't work with drugs
    • Simple rules are appropriate for children but not tweens and teens

    Sole Reliance on Adults
    • Tell an adult if you feel uncomfortable - assumes adults know what to do
    • Teens won't tell adults if they think the adults will blame them, restrict their online access, or make the problem workse
    • Most at-risk kids don't have great relationships with adults so they don't have someone they can go to for help. We need to educate those savvy teens on how to protect themselves and their less able friends

    Avoiding Uncomfortable Information
    • Some programs don't discuss the intentions of predators, behaviors of the teen that might attract predators...

    Successful Tactics
    Children should not be out surfing the internet. Period. They don't have the cognitive capacity to independently make good choices online.

    For middle school students, teach them practical problem solving. Teach them the values and standards they should uses in their ethical decision making. (Nancy has a great list of ethical decision-making questions.)

    Risk Prevention Approach- we are pretty good at addressing the needs of the naive kids. We are failing at addressing the needs of the at-risk kids. Needs to happen at school, district, state and national level. People who understand technology often don't understand what they need to know about youth risk, and vice versa.

    Finally Diving into Diigo

    More notes. This time an informal Edubloggercon session to get us started with Diigo. Alice Mercer along with Margaret Tsai who is one of the developers of Diigo and Jen Dorman who has been using it with her students.

    (I know. I'm probably the last person to look at Diigo. What can I say? I was busy and was mostly meeting my needs. And I admit I quelled a bit at the thought of yet another social network.)

    Plays Well With Others
    Lots of options for sharing your Diigo info, including auto post to blog or Twitter and share with your account. Can also import your Delicious accounts.

    Can be public, private, moderated. Can share tags. Can create student accounts using linked Gmail addresses.


    We are familiar with tagging, but sometimes you want to present specific lists of URLs. We can create lists and then "add to list" is one of the Diigo options.

    So, my take? I don't need it for use with students. If I were a classroom teacher then yes. But as a specialist in a school that has not embraced Diigo, then no. I also don't need another social network. I'm not doing that well keeping up with the ones I'm already in. I think its strength is in searching things people have already bookmarked, which is the same as with Delicious. Other strenght is huge-- ability to mark up the page and share the annotations. I can see that being really powerful for personal and class use.

    Web 2.0 Smackdown!

    Sitting here at the NECC 2008 Edubloggercon. This post is just notes I'm taking for myself.
    • allows participants to text in multiple choice answers to a poll.
    • Animoto - free teacher accounts allow us to download 1 minute videos free.
    • allows you to take a set of photos or videos and create a photowall that lets you scroll around. Need a really good internet connection to make it work well. Looks like that thing from the TED talks.
    • Free Mosquito Ring adults can't hear it so kids use it as a ring tone to receive calls in class unnoticed.
    • CoverItLive allows live blogging as part of a conference.
    • used to only be available for Nokia phones but now also works with some Windows Mobile devices. Allows you to create live streams. (Thanks Steve Dembo)
    • allows you to create kid's chore lists or other criteria and share it with teachers, grandparents, etc. Can be a nice conversation piece. (Thanks Lucy Gray)
    • Diigo is a blogger's friend. The education group in Diigo is growing quickly. They have a set of common tags.
    • Peggy's new island... Peggy Shehe (sp?) has 3 islands in the teen grid of Second Life, a multimedia island, a language island, and a ~.
    • Webcast Academy a place to learn to create your own webcasts.
    • Make Beliefs Comics is a simple cartooning site. No ads. Limited feature set prevents kids from getting lost in the details.
    • Ajaxim allows you to create a free, IM network. Teach basic IM etiquette to kids in a safe environment.
    • Doodle quickly poll a group to schedule a meeting. No sign in required. You can send them the link or a discrete URL.
    • TimeBridge also allows you to schedule meetings and it talks to Google Calendar and Outlook.
    • TagGalaxy mines flicker tags
    • Webkinz can be used by a class to help kids learn about digital citizenship.
    • exolead
    • Plurk is a twitter-like social networking app. It has a timeline. You can have real conversations.
    Dippity, Second Life, Diigo,

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Anyone for a Little NECCing?

    This is my big year; I'm attending NECC for the first time. I think I'm more excited about meeting people face to face than I am about the sessions, workshops, vendors, etc. There are many bloggers I am eager to meet. Others I know from Twitter. Of course, given the thousands of people that attend, I wonder how many people I'll actually run into.

    I do have some other goals related to NECC...
    • Look for professional development models that are working.
    • Look for tech integration models that are working, exploring both the process and the hardware requirements.
    • Look for ways to help my staff find powerful uses for their IWBs.
    • Visit Second Life. (Anyone want to bring me in and show me around?)
    Are you going to NECC? Have you joined the NECC Ning? What are your goals and expectations for NECC 2008?

    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    Media-Rich Interactive Quizes

    MyStudiyo is a website that lets you create interactive quizes to add to your website or blog. You are able to upload a logo to brand it. Quiz questions can contain graphics, audio or video clips. Quizes can be embedded or take at the website. You can also send out a URL via their invitation feature. You can take the quick quiz I created to learn more about the service.

    One feature I find interesting, is that you have two choices of ending. One is to show the participants score. The other is to allow the participant to add a question. I think the latter could be powerful (or dangerous) if used with students.

    Participants do not need to login. However if they do have an account and login, the results of registered participants appears filtered out from the anonymous participants. As per usual, registering requires an email address. However, registration is instant, no need to confirm registering by clicking a link sent via email. I didn't try registering with a linked Gmail account. If that works, it could be used with elementary students. - Basic Activity Statistics
    Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

    The service is free while the site is in beta. At some point it will no longer be free but the quizzes created during the beta period will still be free to take.

    An Alternative to the Flip Video

    Video is the bane of my existence. I inherited all sorts of baggage with it, from cameras that can't connect to our computers, to lack of software to work with the video on the cameras, to poorly written programs like Pinnacle. Few problems in our Windows XP environment have made me long for a Mac lab as much as this one has.

    Most of the video my teachers take is informal. Most commonly they record student presentations such a book reports and social studies presentations. A few capture students at work. These video clips are just a few seconds in length, shot close to the subject in decent lighting. We should be able to just use our point and shoot cameras since they all have a movie mode. Digital camera video clips aren't stellar quality, but the convenience of being able to use the classroom camera outweighs the decline in video quality. And truth be told, most of the time YouTube quality is more than adequate for these uses.

    However, we have found that anything over 3 minutes tends to corrupt. I first thought it was just the battery running out since shooting video really chews through the batteries. However, shorter clips on the same card shot after the corrupted long clips, are just fine. Interestingly enough, we were able to use the corrupted file on a Mac. The Windows machines couldn't even download it, but iPhoto sucked it right in and played it, so if you run into that problem try a Mac. Unfortunately, we don't have Macs in my division.

    So, video from point and shoot cameras wasn't the answer, but it seemed like it should be. Enter the Flip Video camera produced by Pure Digital. I think they are brilliant. Even the most technophobic people I've handed it to have gone from, "Don't give me this... I don't know how to... Oh!" in a matter of seconds and then they are recording (and looking delighted.) I handed it to students and within seconds they were recording their podcasts. After I showed them once how to locate the camera on the computer when it was plugged in, they were able to do it on their own.

    As with the digital cameras, the quality isn't stellar-- this is 640 x 480 video we are talking about, after all. The audio won't win any awards, but it was much clearer than I expected. The children were truly delighted. It had the most trouble with moving targets, such as a person walking across the room.

    The only problem is the cost. In the US, they are around $140 from That's less than a point and shoot digital camera. Unfortunately, our local vendors are unable to get them and Amazon won't ship them here. Only was willing to do it at a much steeper price plus shipping.

    Therefore, it is with MUCH excitement that I read about the new Creative Vado.

    The Vado is similar in size, shape and quality to the Flip, but it has a 2 GB hard drive and a flexible, integrated USB connector as opposed to the Flip's rigid one. It has a lithium ion rechargeable battery instead of the convenient AA batteries, but the battery is removable so you could buy a second battery.

    I searched at Causeway Point and down on Orchard Road but no one seems to have heard of them, much less have them in stock. Maybe by next school year they will be available. I'd love to hear from anyone who has used one. Are they rugged enough to be used with students? How good is the video and audio quality? Would you buy it for yourself?

    Tuesday, May 27, 2008

    In the Soggy Quiet Places

    As I try to bring blogging back into my life, I realize that one reason I've been writing is less is because I've been thinking less, or rather, deep thinking less.

    My frantic schedule at work doesn't allow many bathroom breaks, much less thought breaks as I dash from teaching to tech support to meeting. It's all good, but none of it is meditative.

    Being a specialist who only sees the students once per week for 40 minutes, I don't have the luxury of routines that provide breathing space such as I had when I was a classroom teacher. I've even worked to move much of the keyboarding from school-based programs such as Type to Learn and Mavis Beacon to Custom Typing which is an online subscription. I didn't move them to eliminate my breathing space, but that has been one of the results. Keyboarding time was really the only activity that approximated down time when teaching, since there are just so many times you can adjust a child's posture without driving them crazy.

    On top of being busy at work, my ipod, which has taken the drudgery out of washing the dishes and cleaning the litter box, also helps to keep me from slowing down my thoughts. Likewise, I no longer live alone, so there is that (wonderful) distraction. I can tell that even when I sleep lately my thoughts are still too active.

    Therefore, I've started swimming in silence. In the past I avoided doing that. I'd get too bored and then I would quit swimming so I used to wear my ipod in its waterproof case. Now, I'm finding that my brain is so full that the 40 minutes of silence fly by. I'm not even having deep thoughts then; by the end of the swim I'm just slowing down, not yet to the point of sustain concentration.

    In the past, I've meditated, journaled, done yoga. I've gotten away from those things. Maybe it is time to bring some of them back into my life to raise the quality of it.

    So how do you make space for deeper thinking? Are you able to pondering deeper thoughts in the midst of business or do you need a clear mental space for it? What strategies have been working for you? Frenetic minds want to know!

    Sunday, May 25, 2008

    We Go Both Ways...

    Our school began its IWB adventure with Smartboards. However, despite good local service, when problems were escalated to the US support team, we wouldn't hear from them for weeks while the boards sat unusable. Therefore, after our first year of the pilot, we began switching to Promethean boards.

    Our local vendor allowed us to swap x number of Smartboards for every y number Activboards that we purchased. By next year, we'll only have one Smarboard left. I left it because the new teacher in that room won't be using it. That will allow me to swap it out the next year for free if all goes as planned.

    However, that's meant that this year I was trying to support teachers using two different platforms. Earlier this year I'd heard that you could open Smart notebooks on an Activboard. By the time we got around to following up, the place I'd originally read it had pulled the info, but one of my teachers gave it a try and voilá! It worked. We were using Smart Notebook 9, not the new 10, but this now gives us even more options for ready made flipcharts.

    Has anyone else had success using the notebooks/ flipcharts cross platform?

    Friday, May 23, 2008

    All We Wanted Were Book Club Forums

    Last night was one of THOSE nights, the type where you start on what you think is a simple task and many hours later, you are still trying to accomplish it.

    All we wanted was an online venue where the elementary summer school students could have ongoing, asynchronous book discussions. Our school has a Blackboard CMS so it should have been no problem. However, this summer our Blackboard will undergo major changes which will take it off line during part of the summer school session.

    I wasn't heartbroken to realize that. Neither this teacher nor most of the students are experienced Blackboard users, and I find elementary children often have trouble navigating Blackboard. The forums are especially confusing since when you try to read a post, the header fills the entire screen, so children can't see the body of the post unless they scroll down, and children always think they should save rather than submit the post. As a result, it never shows up in the forum.

    My next thought was to create a private Ning. I knew of other elementary teachers who had created the student accounts using linked Gmail accounts. Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts throughout the day and evening, these were failing. I could send the invitation, but when I clicked on the confirmation link in the Gmail message, it would say I was ineligible no matter what the birth date was. I know plenty of other teachers who have used linked Gmail accounts to create Ning accounts, so hopefully it was just a technical problem.

    (And yes, I did say "birth date". Ning was out of compliance with COPPA since some elementary children were participating in networks. Now Ning is needing to gather birth date data so they can not allow users under the age of 13 to participate in Nings. (Steve Hardagon has some updated information and possible work arounds on his blog. However, using a Ning was becoming impractical.)

    Next I tried Wetpaint, since they have great forums, but I couldn't make the wiki private, and linked Gmail accounts didn't work.

    So I asked my PLN what to try and one tweet suggested Imbee. I hadn't checked out that site before. It is a social networking site for children. It is an interesting site and has safe guards in place to make it a healthy environment in which kids can learn to be responsible social networkers. The site has teacher materials and encourages classroom use, but I didn't see any way to make a private network within it, and the teacher doesn't want everyone in there to be able to be part of the book discussions.

    Finally I decided to try pbwiki. I think that was the very first wiki platform I ever used. I knew we couldn't use actual wiki pages for the forums because only one person could edit a page at a time. However, I was pleased to see that each page now has a comments tab. I played around in there and it looks like it will work for book discussions.

    I was disappointed to see that having the invite key is no longer the only thing you need to access a private pbwiki. I tried using a different browser and going directly to the wiki. A login screen appeared, but in addition to entering the invite key, I had to enter my name (so people can track my revisions) and an email address. It no longer lets you skip adding the email address.

    Next, I sent an invitation using a linked Gmail account. That worked just fine as long as I entered the wiki via the link in the email. Otherwise, I need to enter an email address, name and invite key to enter. We can have children do that using the linked Gmail address, but it is a bit more putzy.

    I'll show the entire system to the teacher next week to see if it meets his needs. If it doesn't, what suggestions do you have for a free, private venue for online book discussions, that works with linked Gmail accounts for the email addresses?