Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Bump in the Road






Up until today, I've had very positive experiences with social networking, but my first foray into an EdtechTalk show did not leave me thirsting for more. I listened in on Teachers Teaching Teachers this evening @http://www.edtechtalk.com/live, but found myself confused. Like a good student I tried to get in a little early, but heard nothing. A quick Skype call with Darren revealed that he was having the same problem, so I re-tried and nothing. I tried several times using several different buttons and nothing but a black screen with the words [no video] (see top photo). Finally, I heard sound, but I'd missed the introductions in my back and forth stuff. Then I could not figure out how to do the back channel chat because all I had was a black screen (see picture) and the panel was making reference to the chat and links they were inserting. I knew I was doing something wrong, but with no previous experience, I was floundering. I even turned to Twitter for some help from a classmate, but alas she was not on! I finally tried to open a 2nd window to the techtalk (see photo) and I was finally able to participate in the back channel chat and hear the discussion. However, because I missed a bit I did not feel connected and felt almost unnoticed. I was very frustrated with the lack of clarity in connecting!



I had Skype capabilities, but no one explained how that feature worked or what needed to be done so I essentially was voiceless. To make matters worse, the audio seemed to break up at times and I missed chunks of the conversation; I'm not sure if others had the problem, but it was very frustrating to be listening for something only to lose a portion of the point being made.

I also felt somewhat of a disconnect from the content because I did not have prior knowledge of what we would be doing and there was no agenda to follow as near as I could tell. Fortunately, it was not all a bad experience as there were things being talked about that were leading me on in my quest to understand more about practial applications of technology in school. This session was lead by what sounded like English teachers (at least originally) who were using technology to engage kids. They spoke confidently about the connections being made between literacy and technology. Much of the discussion revolved around what are the qualities we look for in a learner? I felt totally unprepared to answer this question, but the responses made me realize they were speaking from the point of view of the learner in a tech. environment. I did grasp that the leaders Paul Allison, Susan Ettenheim, and Gail Desler talked about all students needing to be teachers, learners, people who share, and people who publish. Allison sounded like he had some cool things going on with kids and social networking.
They also spoke of digital storytelling and publishing. 'Sprout' (see photo) was mentioned, but I had no idea what it was and the leaders assumed this was a known application by the listeners. I now know it is a "quick and easy way for anyone to build, publish, and manage widgets, mini-sites, mashups, banners and more. Any size, any number of pages. Include video, audio, images and newsfeeds and choose from dozens of pre-built components and web services." I also know it is a site I will want to return to.

Not a lot of links were provided at this particular session,but they did mention Clarence Fisher, and I felt good that I knew who they were talking about. I even pasted a link to his website. The links mentioned were: http://www.needleworkspictures.com/ocr/blog/?p=439 which is a blog site by Matthew Needleman called Creating Life Long Learners, a link to something called Youth Voices that I could not get to connect to during the talk, edtechtalk.com, and teachersteachingteachers.org.

In conclusion, I would have to say I was not adequately prepared for my first Edtechtalk; I won't say it is the last time I will visit, but I think I would like to be better prepared for the technical struggles so that my experience is not tainted by my own lack of familiarity with the process. I have added two of the speakers to my Twitter account as people to follow because I realize these people have a lot of worthwhile things to share with people who are willing to take the steps to learn more about their craft!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tiny Chat and Hashtags


Sometimes the unplanned leads to the best learning. Tonight, a few of us from the EC&I 831 class were searching for our beloved prof., Alec Couros, because we believed we had a class. He believed we had an e-mail with instructions for what we were to do and some actually received it while others were wondering what was going on. Anyway, I tweeted out that if anyone had an alternative way of getting a hold of Alec to let him know that we were wondering where he was. In the responses, it was suggested that we have class without him; @Capohanka suggested we meet in a bar, but considering the distance between us that was not a realistic option. She then suggested I do a hashtag and find him that way. Having no idea what a hashtag was I had to ask her to explain it to me. The conversation went as follows:


@capohanka explain the hashtag thing please

@Kicode hashtags are a way to tag tweets and then search for them as a group.

@capohanka okay so you attach it to the end of a tweet?

@Kicode yep. then you can search for the tag. Search for #itsummit.

starting a new hashtag - where in the world is courosa "witwi@courosa"

@capohanka it would like my last tweet?

@Kicode yes, but you put a "#" in front of it. He was at the #itsummit today so he prob just got home.

@capohanka Okay - learned something today ! Thanks for walking me through it! #witwi@courosa


I now understand what those comments were on Twitter but I was too shy to ask about! Thanks @capohanka!


During this conversation @bbcrfc (DLowry) suggested that our class meet in Tiny Chat. I had never heard of it before and told him I would have to check it out. I wasn't going to at the time, but something pushed me to check it out and I quickly learned that it was a very simple chat room that can be limited easily to only people you invite. However, I did a tweet with a link and was pleased to be joined by @kimcottini, @gracemcleod @bbcrfc @capohanka @leannemerkowsky @dslink and @courosa! Yes, we finally found him! The nice part though was that some of us in the EC&I 831 class had a sustained chat on Twitter that involved a few others from outside of the class including @bbcrfc @capohanka and @shareski! Some of my classmates added @bbcrfc as someone to follow on Twitter and we all got to learn a little more about each other while I got to learn about Tiny Chat and hashtags. Not a bad way to spend the evening!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ning


I was introduced to Ning this weekend by Shelley Deck, a teacher at LLCS. She has set up a Ning network for our school and invited me to join. Ning is a social networking program with a difference. It allows you to control membership by invitation! Why is that a positive feature? I think the power is that for those who are reluctant to participate in a forum where everyone can see what you are doing, it provides a forum where only those invited can participate. It also allows you to customize the site to include a variety of widgets to suit the purposes of the network.

I like what I see of it so far, but wonder if there are disadvantages to the site. Nevertheless, in the spirit of learning as much as I can, I have established a site for the Community Based Master's Program - La Ronge cohort in hopes that our class can remain connected even after our program is completed.

For anyone in the class that has not yet received an invitation (and there are some whose E-mail addresses I am missing), please contact me through Webct and share your e-mail address.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Video Blogging or Vlogging

Ever get tired of typing? Ever want to say something instead of writing something? Well I thought I would experiment a little this evening as I just purchased a small web cam Creative Live!Cam ($36.97 @ Walmart) to experiment with. I had my first Skype Camera call earlier with my wife and now I want to see the movie making capabilities of the camera. Hope you enjoy my efforts.


video

A Fortunate Meeting and a Fortunate Discovery

I have been in North Battleford for the last couple of days and today was hi-lighted by a chance meeting with Leanne Merkowsky from North Battleford at Anthony Muhammad's presentation on PLC's. It was nice to be able to put a face and voice to a person that was known to me only through the the EC&I 831 Class. She was also able to meet Guy Penney, Jackie Durocher, and DD MacCullum who were also in attendance for todays professional development opportunity.

Anthony gave us a lot to think about as far as changing the culture of schools goes. The main thing is that he establishes the idea that there are things that can be done to turn schools around even in situations where it may not feel like it is possible. It is a hopeful presentation, but a presentation that forces educators to consider their own role in the failure of students; I would be lying if I didn't admit that the message forces you to recognize that what you may consider to be enough of an effort is not good enough when you have students failing. I know I will be reflecting on his message in the weeks and months ahead.

Anyway, I really wanted to blog about a new tool (at least to me) I discovered last night accidently as usual. The program is called MindMeister; it allows the user to make a web of their thoughts. It would be a great tool for English teachers teaching essay writing, it would be a great tool for students to use while preparing material for an essay, debate, or presentation of some sort, and it is a tool I will use for organizing my thoughts about this class for my final blog. For now, I have done a quick example of some of the things I have done with my AR project to give you an idea of its power (sorry the quality is not great for the space provided by the blog). I have to confess I actually considered not sharing this find as the evil competitive side of my nature reared its ugly head. Fortunately, because of the good example set by so many on Twitter, through blogs, and comments on blogs, I realized the right thing to do was share the resource with others. I hope it is something you think you can use.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The road that should not be taken!

























I've been browsing the web and trying things here and there, but this was truly a fun application for me to experiment with.


Atom Smasher allows you to change the text on signs as I have done in the picture. I have always complained about the road in north west Saskatchewan for its many potholes especially between Buffalo Narrows and La Loche. I frequently make the comment to my family when we see a sign that says caution rough road ahead that they really should have a sign that says, "Caution paved sections ahead." Well this application allowed my to make my commment visual! What sign have you always wanted to see? Give it a try!

Blogging with benefits!

When I began the EC&I 831 class back in January, I had a very vague idea about what blogs were, but I really was not sure how to find them on the internet and, therefore, largely ignored that realm. What I knew, I learned back in the fall before I started this class. I had met Alec Couros and I was certain he would expect us to take up blogging so I started to experiment with writing my own thoughts before the class began; I had no idea or expectation that much of what I would be learning in his class would be because of the blogs of others. At first, I was only following a few blogs, but when I realized the power of Google Reader and discovered links to blogs through Twitter, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to follow more. I am now following 45 blogs including 21 from my class and another class; I also have several others in the back of my mind that I may yet follow. I sometimes find myself reading and writing comments for several hours in the evening and I want to do more! I am not being mark driven; I am knowledge driven. There are so many people sharing ideas and tips about how to do things or where to find information that I have to put off some things that I would like to know about. Even with my efforts, I still have some 306 blog entries to read not including archived blogs. Obviously, learning to be selective in what you read and even who you read is an important skill to hone.

I have found out about many different applications that I have tried as a result of blogging and microblogging (Twitter). I am also getting comments from people who are thanking me for sharing what I've learned from others which leaves me with "warm fuzzies" by the way! I am being entertained and educated at the same time. I have found the experience of reading and reacting to what I read in a public manner to be a huge step in my own thinking. Ironically, I think I am becoming a more positive person as a result of being a critical reader and responder. I now have a better understanding of what it takes to put yourself out there in print and even if I don't agree fully with what I read, I find myself reacting positively. I share my thoughts on the topic and compliment the writer for stimulating discussion.

On the down side of blogging, it can be hard on the ego. You strive to put something in print that you hope others will see and react to, but often you end up with only a few comments and in some cases no comments (and sometimes after spending hours drafting your blog). The reverse is true as well; sometimes you get a comment from someone you don't know and you realize there are people paying attention and reflecting on your words.

I am now trying to learn more about the things that make a blog something worth reading. On Tuesday, March 10, my class was lead by Will Richardson who has been blogging since 2002 and is known for being a "trendsetter in Education."I asked him what does he consider to be the qualities of a good blog. First of all he did not define a good blog; he answered the question by giving the qualities of blogs that he likes to read. This is roughly what he said, " I like to read people who are willing to test their ideas who are not coming out saying this is the way the world is..., people who write well, who read widely and who have a certain amount of passion in their voice ..., people who are asking questions and engaging people in conversations, who make it about ideas..., people who provoke thinking and conversations ..." To hear Will himself you can visit the Elluminate session here. I liked his response; despite his experiences blogging, he framed his answer from his own perception and did not pretend to represent all readers of blogs. His humility is remarkable considering his achievements.

I often feel like I take more than I give online. However, when you consider the wealth of information available, I suppose we all take more than we give. Blogging is changing me into a contributer though, and I am enjoying writing in way I've never experienced before.

Update March 21, 2009

I found this blog on what makes a blog good and thought I would add it to this posting. It also includes a good activity for student bloggers. Thanks to Clarence Fisher for the excellent ideas.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wordle


This has been a hard blog to write because I really did not know what to say about "Wordle" other than, "Cool!" I actually began thinking about blogging on this topic back in mid-February when I was experimenting with JING to capture an image, but...it just didn't feel right to use the program, but not reflect on its value. Sure I was impressed by the colour and composition, but I did not really see a purpose behind the application. Therefore, I hesitated knowing that one day I would return to the topic.


As things go, I began to share the program with teachers in my school and it was not long before others were using "Wordle." I guess I didn't consider the impact on students; students enjoy being creative and Wordle allows for creative use of the written word. It is also popular with second language students because the order of the words is suddenly not important (they cannot be wrong). It is a program that isolates significant concepts in larger print allowing viewers to identify major ideas being presented by the text that created the Wordle. Finally, students like it because it creates a polished piece for publication.


Teachers are also impressed with Wordle for many of the same reasons as students. However, they would add that it is a program that they can turn to for an assignment in an effort to engage students more. Just today, an Alternate High School teacher I shared the program with immediately saw uses for her students who are struggling with English and she left with the program address in hand. So if there is no other value to the program than it engages students in an activity that is focused on print, then it belongs in the tool box for the 21st Century teacher.


For me as a student, it allows me to look at text differently (for example the Wordle above was created from one of my blogs). Major concepts become clearer which helps me understand what the focus of the print is about. I am now looking at using Wordle to put together some major concepts that emerged from my journal over the last two years in an effort to help me focus on the lessons I learned while working on my Master's project.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Husband, father, teacher, cartoonist!?

\A Mr. King Christmas\

I was reading from the Lifetime Learning Experience blog and noticed an entry called "New Tools this week."that mentioned a program called Toondoo.

I had always wanted to experiment with a animated type program and thought why not. I'm glad I did; it is simple to use and allows you to embed a cartoon you create into your blog as I have above. I can see using the program myself to illustrate concepts and I can see using it with students to allow them to express themselves in a more creative way. It is also a forgiving program; you can go back and edit it if you chose and it can be edited by others as well. You can also publish it so that all can see, you can keep it private, or you can share it with friends by sending it to their e-mails.

I expect I will make some cartoons using Toondoo that I will use when it is time to present my project in May. If there is a negative with the program, it would be the time it takes to launch it. I know there are other programs out there and I'd be interested in hearing from others about their favourite cartoon making programs. Be careful though, once you start playing with it, it is hard to quit.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I should have a career in Moodling

It seems like everyday I'm learning something new in Moodle. Today, I was determined to insert a sound item into the resource list for the first lesson I prepared for a Career Education class in Moodle. I felt I had to do this because some of the students are not yet fluent in English and need assistance with reading longer passages. Fortunately, I remembered reading Kim's blog about Vocaroo and decided I would try it; needless to say, I succeeded on my first try! You can listen to my recording of a piece from the Saskatchewan Grade 7 Career Education curriculum titled, I'm a success (see Vocaroo icon below).

With this success under my belt so easily, I decided I would tackle the issue of moving the resources around. I quickly learned how to move the tasks to the right but I struggled with moving them up or down. I finally noticed a button I had not tried when editing and my problem was solved.





Update: If you visited this site earlier, you would have realized you needed a password to hear my reading of "I'm a success." It turned out to be a very tricky operation to link Vocaroo to my blog once I had a password. For some reason, Vocaroo would not let me copy the full HTML link and post it in the blog even when I was not logged in. I wonder if others have had a similar experience; I have not had a problem posting it into moodle and have done so successfully on two occasions, but now I wonder if others can listen or will they too need a password. If others will need a password, I will need to be setting up a different account just for Vocaroo. Simple to record using it though!


I am a Success. Click on the play button to hear recording.









Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sharing


Despite having a day dealing with some very emotional kids, I had a day that left me feeling like a true professional. I was sharing with colleagues while colleagues were sharing with me. I met with four teachers today to go over what we had been learning about Moodle; I shared my experience with registering students and then assisted them in trying it out. It worked! I then had a Science teacher show me a Chemistry 30 resource that he was using with his class; I was amazed and then I learned the source was from Centralischool! I was dumbfounded as he showed me the resources in the site; I had heard of it before, but didn't realize you could see whole courses without being a registered student so had never bothered visiting it before. Do I feel sheepish? I feel like a missed a memo or something. What a tremendous resource for teachers!

I also had a moment of clarity as far as the internet and social networking go. The online world of educators that I have become a part of advocates strongly for sharing and I have learned of some tremendous resources from that professional community. Yet today, I learned of a resource from people I work with and have known of it for years, but hadn't shared it with me or other colleagues because ... it never came up! What a shame! The f2f world has some catching up to do with the online world. The amazing thing is that none of this would have happened if I had not been exposed to the the culture of sharing that I am learning about with my personal learning network which has pushed me to share with my colleagues. Ironically, it seems the tweets on twitter are now reaching the ears of those who haven't yet taken the time to see its true value.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Aboriginal Youth Losing Hope! Does Canada care?

I write this with a heavy heart. On Saturday morning, a 17 year old girl from my school killed herself; it was the morning after a 21 year old was laid to rest after killing herself the weekend before. She was the fourth student from my school to do this since June 18, 2008. In addition, our neighbours from the reserve lost a student to suicide in December and one of our feeder schools lost a student in August. We are reeling as we hear of more and more attempts! It is becoming normal to deal with a grieving student while at school; it certainly does not fit in with the continuous improvement framework that we are hearing so much about but are unable to attain. I keep asking myself why is this going on? Unfortunately, this reality is not unique to this community; other aboriginal communities are suffering in similar ways.

Where is the hope? These communities have been ravaged by the long lasting negative effects of colonialism and to this day continue to be victimized by a society that appears not to care. These kids that are killing themselves are/were loved; in fact, were good people. Yet, the conditions that bring them to the brink are being largely ignored by mainstream society. Aboriginal people in this country continue to be the most disadvantaged people in our society and yet politically it appears to be o-kay with most Canadians as there is no outcry that things need to change.

As Canadians, we need to look at our shameful past, we need to acknowledge the wrongs that were done to our aboriginal peoples, and we need to empower aboriginal communities to work with their youth to give them hope. It won't be cheap; services need to be brought to the communities, and healing has to happen on so many levels. We have to do something or the history books will be painting us no better than that of our ancestors who at times deliberately infected aboriginal communities with the smallpox virsus causing dramatic reductions in aboriginal populations.

To find out more about aboriginal suicide visit:
http://www.nandecade.ca/article/aboriginal-suicide-statistics-71.asp http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/081207/national/sask_northern_suicides

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reflections on "Did You Know"


Karl Fisch's presentation Did You know is a must view for educators. One slide states, ...


"We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don't exist ... in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems."


Kinda makes you reflect on global warming! Unfortunately, we are trying to prepare students using an outdated model based on the industrial revolution (I think I got that idea from Shareski - if you can confirm or correct me I will update). Today, while going through the stacks of paper that accummulated on my desktop I was frustrated to find a large package of photocopied Career Education resources based on 2002 information with a note from a well intentioned consultant saying, "It should still be useful". The "yeahbut" inside me screamed as I recalled a website (District School Board of Niagara)I had visited the night before that had all kinds of links to Career Education resources as well as other resources for their students. I wondered where are the visionaries? I am in a system that still relies on sharing information with paper when there are much more effecient and effective ways.


However, complaining is absolutely useless; I am fully aware that sometimes change is more likely to come from individuals than it is from bureaucracies. With this in mind, for the last little while I've been kicking things up at school by engaging as many staff as possible into discussions about school and technology. I would be lying if I said I was being greeted with enthusiasm. Comments range from "we need time" to "kids learn better in face to face settings". Don't get me wrong though, there are those who see the need to learn more. I have two other teachers who have joined me in trying to learn the intricacies of "Moodle" and I have a session with interested staff on Thursday's to explore different web applications available and to discuss their use in school; in two sessions, I've been joined by about 15% of a teaching staff of 32.


Unfortunately, the obstacles or perceived obstacles are compounded by failures in the technology. My last session bombed because our internet was slow! We had long waits for websites to download and my laptop seemed to be possessed with gremlins; things that had worked earlier in my office refused to cooperate in the lab.


Nevertheless, I am passionate in speaking to staff about incorporating technology into their classrooms and I think I know a resource that will help me at our next staff meeting on March 3. You see, I watched the Youtube video, Did You Know, this evening and was even more impressed than I was with the ShiftHappens video that I watched last spring. I have been telling High School teachers (this is my vision of Education in the Future and no doubt influenced by Stephen Downes) that if they don't become comfortable working with technology, there is a chance they will be considered redundant in the educational system. I strongly believe that High School teachers will be expected to know how to prepare courses that can be delivered either face to face or via the internet or some combination of both within the next 10 to 15 years if not sooner. Fisch's video highlights the need for educational systems to change; hopefully, it will also help pursuade some teachers that they also need to change.
Image from: Ruminate which took the image from ShiftHappens.