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?

"Oil Can"

Anyone recognize that quote? I'm pretty sure it's what the Tin Man said to Dorothy when she first meets him in the Wizard of Oz movie.

I'm feeling like I should be uttering those words to readers of this blog. For a variety of reasons and excuses, I've done very little posting for a long while. I'm hoping that is about to change. My head is full of topics and I'm eager to get back to it. To begin with, I'm not even going to worry if they are worthy-- I'm just diving in.

Thank you to those of you who kept dropping by during the drought. I hope the upcoming monsoon makes it worth your while.

Photo credits: Oil Cans by Peter Shiffman used under Creative Commons "By" license