Archive for February, 2010

One True Media

To present my project and the work of my students, I will be creating a digital story board. I am not familiar with this kind of media, so I googled it and picked one! I chose to explore One True Media. I think the end result of my creation was really cool and would be a really exciting way for students to show what they know for so many things from explaining a procedure to presenting an experience. I chose to show my experience with swimming with dolphins from my holiday in Cuba.
On True Media allows you up load images, video and audio and allows you to choose different transitions and styles. It has many options for formating style that are free and even more for those that choose to upgrade to a premium membership. The free options would probably be sufficient for school use. Formating your montage is simple and easy. Simply click on each image to edit it and drag and drop the images into place.
One strong criticism that I have of this site is the length of time that it took to upload the video file. I selected one video file that was less than one minute long and it took almost forty minutes to upload the file. I know that my students would quickly lose patience with this process. Uploading any video that was longer or any more files would be something that I would discourage them against. Aside from that, I would recommend the use of One True Media for schools. I hope that you enjoy my example!

Watch my video here

AMENDMENT TO THIS POST: I am not able to embed this video into this blog. I was only able to embed it into Facebook and some other choice media like Twitter and Myspace. It offers an embeding code but when I inserted it into this post, I was unable to make it work. This is a downfall for this tool but because of the ability to access a link to the video, it would not prevent me from using it or encouraging it’s use.


Wikimedia Commons

I am using this opportunity to explore tools that will be useful to my students as they engage in the project that they will be beginning shortly. Their experiences for this project will be the subject of my project for this class. We have being intensively studying Genocide, hate and racism since January. My students have been learning about the scientific origins of racism, colonialism around the world and at home, the effects of colonialism here in our province and how far racism and hate can go (Genocide). In Literacy, they have been engaging in Literacy Inquiries (for more about these read Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey Daniels and Stephanie Harvey) which is different from a novel study in that it has students inquire about the “big questions” in their book rather than just the elements of the novel itself. My students will be presenting their findings on Youth Voices a blog site that features the writings of youth. (This site is the focus of my Block 7, as I attended an online session at EduCon on this forum) I need to find sources that they can draw from to include in their postings as I want them to include images and other media in their postings. One of the major blocks that I am now faced with is copyright. I have been looking for a space from which they can get free, copyright free images to use and I believe I may have found it in Wikimedia Commons.

So, what exactly is Wikimedia Commons? Well, they describe themselves this way:
Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language.
Unlike traditional media repositories, Wikimedia Commons is free. Everyone is allowed to copy, use and modify any files here freely as long as the source and the authors are credited and as long as users release their copies/improvements under the same freedom to others. The Wikimedia Commons database itself and the texts in it are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.
PERFECT right? Well, almost, I do have some concerns but more on those later.
So basically this site is pretty easy understand. You type your search word in and all the files that are available to you come up listed under a category. I chose to search Rwanda as I know that is one of the searches my students will be making. There were 683 files listed under the subject of Rwanda. I first selected the Rwanda wiki which also contained links to many of the individual files.

I am most interested in the images that relate to the genocide so I chose that category to refine my search. When you select a file, it will take you to the page of that file. Scroll down and you will see the information on the photographer as well as the permission of copyright disclaimer which describes all that you are granted permission to do with the file.

Most files stress that you must attribute the file to the posting author. So, I present to you, my first Wikimedia commons image. It is a photo of the clothing from genocide victims at one of the Genocide Memorial sites

Image Source: Author, Fanny Schertzer. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license

Wikimedia Commons is very easy to use. To get the image into this blog, I simply dragged it off the wikimedia site onto my desktop and inserted it into the blog. This will be very useful to my students and the project that I will have them doing. Having said that, I have two concerns. 1. What if the image was taken from google, attributed falsely to an author and posted on Wikimedia Commons. Being a part of Wikipedia, we all know that anyone has access to alter the information. If this happened, would I be held responsible for the copyright infringement? Probably not, but it is something to consider. 2. It says that all files must be properly attributed to their author but it does not specify what that entails. When I sources the image above, I just guessed at how to do it. I used the name I found at the bottom of the page, not the posters user name and since it said that a licence for further use needed to be give that was exactly the same as the one the author used, I just copied and pasted it. I have no idea if it is correct because it did not explain. I tried to search their help databases and was not able to find any information on properly attributing it so I hope that I covered all bases.
Overall, I will be having my students use this site for their project. It will allow them copyright free media and on top of that I will be able to explain copyright law to them and show how the internet has changed access to everything! Another teachable moment.


I commented earlier on the Wiki that I had used Google SketchUp with my class so I decided to explore what other tools Google offered. I discovered Picasa, a downloadable application for editing and publishing photos. This application also allows you to organize your photos into slide shows, collages, web albums, and video.
Upon first exploration I did not find many more advantages to using Picasa over iPhoto or any other photo editing and sharing applications. I was able to find two different uses for this application, one being the Collage creator which was easy to use and offers some possibilities for use in the classroom. Students could take photos that they have taken and arrange them in a collage for presentation.

Working on the collage

The finished product
Another unique feature of this application is the Places feature that combines your photos with Google Maps and allows you to flag a place on a map with a photograph. This could be used by students to plot the action in a book on a map. Students could stage events from the book and photograph them, edit their photos and plot them on a map to illustrate the setting of a book.

Aside from these two feature, Picasa was not much different from other photo editing applications. It offers some creative features and could be used in a classroom setting but it was not something that I was overly excited about. I am sure that there are cooler things out there to use!

Playing With the Possibilities: ToonDoo

I wanted to begin by exploring a tool that some of my students are using right now as part of a Literacy Circle. One of their assignments was to do a timeline of major events in their book and I suggested using ComicLife and one of my boys also suggested to use ToonDoo. I have never used it before but some of my students did last year during a Novel Study with our TL. So I took this as an opportunitiy to explore the tool so that I can help those students who choose to use it.
Here is a shot of me playing.

Here is my first attempt at creating a ToonDoo.


I then decided to use it for a purpose that I may actually ask my students to do. One idea that I had for use for this tool is to capture a moment in history. I decided to express a scene where a mother is preparing her son to go to Residential School. I wanted to see if it was possible to express something with a serious context in this format. Here is my finished cartoon.
Leaving for School

I think that it actually turned out pretty well however, there are some concerns that I have with this application. When I was looking for a background to use with my cartoon, I found that they were fairly Americanized. I could not find a field of grasses or prairie without a cactus or adobe house included. I do like the look of the wooded area, especially with the use of the black silhouettes.

That brings me to the reason I had to use silhouettes in this depiction. When I tried to search the image of a woman, they were either very cartoony or depicted ethnic stereotypes. All images of Aboriginal people featured feathers in their hair and loin clothes. This also applied to images of African people, Indian people and Asian people. They too were depicted only by stereotypical representations. Because of this, I chose to change the images to silhouette form. This allowed me to avoid that type of representation which I feel would be inappropriate for the subject matter. Because of this, I would only recommend that this be used with a disclaimer about the kinds of images that they would have as options for use in their cartoons.

Which Comes First?

I have been asked to reflect on how I think schools can implement computer-supported learning in ways that authentically transform teaching and learning. I think that this is a chicken vs. the egg situation. Which comes first, the magical computers that swoop in to save the day or authentically transforming teaching and learning with computer-supported learning as part of the package?
I think it is the second option, the “egg” if you will.

I have seen the impact that the introduction of the laptop cart has had on schools and in my opinion it has divided us into two camps. There are those that view it as a word processing and research lab on wheels and then there are those that try to use it as an all-in-one treasure box of tools, adaptable to any project or situation. The problem is that there are still so many that that don’t know of the capabilities of Web 2.0. At the beginning of the year this year I had to put out a disclaimer to all teachers not to kick my students off of Facebook because it was for school and protest the WiFi password change that blocked students from using their iPods as computers. Frustrating! I listen at staff meetings as we discuss keeping kids off of YouTube, those pesky senior kids that are always spread all over the place, and how not to leave Inquiry Projects for substitutes to manage. I listen and then I defend myself. We have a lot to change and computers are not the answer. Computers can not reform education on their own because their potential is not fully understood by many teachers.

This misunderstanding begins in the classroom, behind that closed door. Picture this, 30 students sitting in desks (or maybe a tables arranged in rows, as is sometimes the case at my school), they have a lap top in front of them and they are working in pairs, not because it’s great to collaborate but because there are only enough computers to share. They have just been given an assignment, choose a species of cat, research what it eats, where it lives, what looks like. Write a report on your cat and build a diorama of it’s habitat. Viola! Project based learning right? Computer supported right? Wrong. What is the big idea here? What are the Essential Questions? How is this supported by technology use? It’s not.

My point here is that schools and teaching need to be transformed from teacher driven, even curriculum driven *gasp* (oh crap, I think I just lost my job) and be student driven and now driven. From maybe grade 5 up It needs to be about issues, problems and questions that the students care about. It needs to be inquiry driven and process driven. The technology aspect just comes naturally with that package because I don’t think it can be done without it. Until this reformation is complete, we are stuck in limbo between Cat Reports and Authentic Learning.

My school board is working very hard to make these changes happen. What they are up against unfortunately are resistant teachers that are close to retirement and do not want to change the way they teach. They have been doing the same cat report for 25 years, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Hey, I remember my Lemur report from grade 4, they were cute. But really, if I need to know about lemurs now, I can Google it. Times have changed and the cat report is broke. I am not knocking these teachers, they work very hard and if I was 5 or 2 or 1 year from settling in Arizona for the winter, I probably would balk at the idea too. Having said that, they need to remember that each group of students every year are individual minds that deserve to be taught in a modern, technology rich, inquiry based way. It can not be about the teacher’s needs or inconvenience, it has to be about the kids.

When this transition is complete, and I believe that it will take numerous years, technology will be just a part of school. It will not need to be integrated or implemented, it will just be. Teachers will be tech savvy enough to keep up with the rapidly changing Web 2.0 world because it will be part of their lives, not something they have to learn. It will take patience, understanding and time and I look forward to the day when that virtual chicken lays that golden egg.

A Peak Inside My Brain

Wordle: Learning

My Journey to Embrace My Inner Constructivist

It all began one day about two years ago. I was marking a Science test and thinking to myself how they really gave me no indication of who really understood what I had so carefully told. What it did give me an indication of was who quickly studied enough the night before and had a really good memory. I thought back to how I always flopped on tests (now, I know it was because I never really understood the material and despite my studying, my anxiety would wipe my brain clear of any remnants of knowledge I had managed to ingest). I thought about what I liked to do in school, what I remembered, what I was enjoying about that new Math Makes Sense program they had just given me and I decided that I needed to change. You know what I remember most from high school? Calling psychic hotlines in Psyc. 30. I remember thinking it was weird that the school was letting us (and paying for) call psychic but we were gathering and analysing data and criticizing what we saw on TV and in magazines. And I remember that and realize what I learned from it. So, I talked about my frustrations to my principal. She introduced me to the Constructivist Theory which I promptly Googled and found that yes, yes!, that was what I wanted my classroom to look like, feel like and sound like! I began to look for activities, experiments and these things called sim-u-la-tions(?) I had heard whisperings of at the board office. Then, I went to the Middle Years Conference and met my destiny.

One of the sessions at the Middle Years Conference that year was presented by two Regina teachers and was a profile of their Inquiry based classroom. They demonstrated a unit that they had undertaken. It was the Power Unit from the grade 7 curriculum but it was done in a whole new way. There were YouTube videos, simulations, debates, choices of projects and topics, integrated subjects, all the things I had always (for the last month or so) dreamed of. I decided that I needed to see these classrooms close up.

During my afternoon in the two classrooms (well, really one big classroom with two rooms and two teachers) I saw videos being watched and debated, groups working on projects, some direct teaching and student discussion, groups reading and studying together and it was happening *gasp* all at the same time! It was truly awesome.

So I went back to my class prepared to turn a new leaf. I got back the next day and realized…I had no flipping idea where to begin. Where did they get all this stuff, these ideas, these activities and I realized that I would need to make them ALL UP MYSELF! Yippee! That was one of the reasons I became a teacher, because I love to make stuff up but until then I had been held down by all those pesky worksheets and curriculum activities. So I set to work.

I began with an Ecology unit complete with field trips and videos and experiments, looking back, it wasn’t great but it was a start. I started the next day telling my class all about the new decisions I had made, the cool stuff I had learned and all the changes we were going to make. I was met with 24 blank stares and one boy sliding off his chair, under his desk and groaning out “can’t you just tell us stuff”. When we were engaged in inquiry activities, I felt lost, I did not know what to do with myself, almost down right lazy. Well, this was off to a good start. We all knew this was going to be a lot of work. And it was but I saw enough good results to keep me going.

Next year, new school, new start. This time I was in front of some pretty enthusiastic students (except for the constant resistance to Math Makes Sense. Example: “can’t I just tell you the answer. NO! You will explain your thinking and you will like it.”) Our bright and shining moment was the Structure unit. I had just returned from my honeymoon in New Orléans (our second visit, the first was pre-Karina) and no romantic get away to the Big Easy is complete without the abandoned poverty-stricken neighbourhood tour. I was still trying to wrap my head around how both government and engineering had both so horribly failed at the same time and I decided who better to fix the problem than twenty-five 12 and 13 year olds. So we began the Levee Project. I “front loaded” my kids with New Orléans culture, food (I cooked them lunch!) and music, a virtual tour of the French Quarter, videos of the aftermath of Katrina, my personal photos from both pre and post Katrina visits. I made them care about the city. Now to fix it. We learned about hurricanes, we simulated storm serges, we talked about the levees failures. Now, not only did they care, they were appalled. It was time to fix the problem. We learned about force, tension, building materials through online simulations not textbooks and notes. They redesigned the levees on Google SketchUp and fixed New Orléans and did a darn good job if I do say so myself. The New Orléans mayor’s office had no comment. Yes, I sent them there. The presented their designs to our principal. These kids knew their stuff. It was awesome.

New school year and the school board and the Ministry have decided that all classrooms should be constructivist and inquiry based and suddenly I am thrown into the role of school “expert”. I invite the teacher that inspired me to talk to us. I discuss what my classroom has been like for the past year and a half and what my challenges and successes have been. I am met with twenty blanks stares and “can’t we just tell them stuff?” *sigh* Luckily, I have three like-minded teachers and a very supportive principal and we forge ahead with our new plan.

So, two years in, what does my classroom look like? Well, it’s noisy, it’s messy and it’s spread out into the library and the hall. There are kids on computers, sitting at tables having discussions, building things, reading information, watching YouTube videos etc. There are some worksheets, there is some direct teaching but mostly it’s me floating around, leading my students to answers for their questions. I can be seen helping them find resources and guiding them to construct meaning. Sometimes, we stop to watch a PowerPoint that one boy put together on his own, for no reason other than he did not feel that we was able to express his thoughts on homelessness eloquently enough the day before (Note: This is a boy who was and still sometimes is, notorious for not working. Ever.) Sometimes, they totally are not doing what they are supposed to be doing (comm’on, they are kids and my classroom is by no means perfect) It can be chaotic, it can be disorganized and it can be awesome. Just when I want to tell them all to shut up and sit down, I stop and actually listen to the noise. You know what I heard yesterday? I heard: “No, the ribosomes are where proteins are made. Here, use these beads and stick them on the endoplasmic reticulum” and “Cool! the inside of this ball will make the best nucleolus.” The results I have seen have made it worth it.
This year thus far, we have focused on issues of social justice; homelessness, poverty, racism, genocide, pretty heavy stuff.

Challenges? Oh yes, there are challenges. Remember the “can’t you just tell us stuff” boy? I have one every year. And guess what, they have parents. Angry parents that want tests and book reports and spelling lists. These students and parents have caused me to question my methods, left me discouraged and sometimes in tears. But thanks to the encouragement and support of my colleagues, administration and board office support, I just keep on trucking. Re-reading the Constructivist theory information tonight has reinforced my belief. Writing this has been cathartic and inspiring. It is awesome to get all the thoughts and reflections that have been floating in my head for two and a half years down even if you all do lose interest after the first paragraph.

So how do theory, practice and technology connect for me? Theory supports the passion that I have for watching children learn and discover. It provides evidence for me to defend myself against those who doth protest too much. Technology is the vessel from which I can draw ideas and the tool that allows me to provide endless opportunities for student connection and creativity.
Is it working? Well, here is one example. It is Saturday night and this just landed in my inbox, it’s a reply to an email that I replied to requesting some homework help.

“Okay thankyou, i will try my best. Even though it does all fit into like one “thing”. it makes sense. Like a circle of racism. that sucks.”

She gets it!

The iDanielle: What I Would Like to See

I tuned into my TeachPaperless blog today with a purpose. I wanted to see what she thought of the iPad. I fully anticipated a plethora of great ideas and praise for all of it’s possibilities for schools. I wanted to be able to march into my principal’s office on Monday and declare that I had solved all of our technology problems and beg her for permission to fundraise for this new piece of magic. That did not happen.

And I quote “Will the iPad and the iMac someday merge into a teacher-approved wonder device? Not today.” But does that mean someday?

I began to wonder what exactly I was hoping for so I have taken to this forum to think out loud about my ideal educational device would be and so I reveal to you: The iDanielle.

1. It needs to be affordable, less than $500
2. Touch screen, no mouse needed please
3. Big enough to read a full website without needing to zoom
4. I would like to print from it, maybe a place where you can load like ten pieces of paper into a tray and it shoots them out the side.
5. Internet access of coarse
6. A Kindle like program to eliminate all of the pesky between library book sharing where there are never enough copies available.
7. All the cool programs like Garage Band, ComicLife, imovie etc.
8. A word processor
9. Downloadable applications
10. Enough memory to support games like the Sims that I like to teach with.
11. All day battery

Basically, all I want is an affordable hybrid Macbook/Kindle/ipod. Is that too much to ask? I think not so if can have my wish my iDanielle will be coming soon to the SuperWalmart of my dreams. But that is a whole different post…