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.