Saturday, February 23, 2008


Our gym was set up this week for gymnastics stations. Many of the teachers at our school are not comfortable with teaching gymnastics; in fact, most of them loathe it. They are fearful of student injuries, they lack a repertoire/catalogue of appropriate activities to offer, they feel inadequate because THEY can’t cartwheel or walk a balance beam, they are unsure how to lead students through skill development, etc. I probably would be in the same knee-knocking, heart-thumping, nausea-inducing, sweat-soaked mind set had I not taken a summer course in teaching elementary school gymnastics. The course was taught at Saskatchewan’s beautiful Emma Lake. The instructor was one of the national men’s team coaches – a man whose expertise was matched by a gregarious, contagious enthusiasm….. kind of like the Valenza of the gym, operating in what, if it were translated to libraryspeak, would be one of the nicest “librariums” on the planet.

We inept adult students had to lumber through attempts at refining balance, rotations, swings, etc. and while, at course’s end, none of us were invited to try out for the national team (probably because the leotards didn’t come in our ‘mature’ sizes – har, har), we did achieve some small smatterings of success. (I still glory in those long-ago bar pullovers and forward straddle rolls that marked the apex of my abilities!) More importantly, we had been given the theory, the tools, the location, and the instruction that allowed us to confidently, knowledgeably plan and provide effective, safe, enjoyable gymnastics programs for out students…. Something I’m still able to do in my teaching today.

I see parallels between learning gymnastics and the learning that EDES 545 affords. The classroom couldn’t be more physically different, but both are entirely appropriate for their subject. As well, initially, both can be scary, daunting learning situations. But with expertise, enthusiasm, encouragement and good program guidance from instructors, and with a collaborative learning community to lend its support, fear gives way to familiarity, comfort, and a growing confidence and assurance. The more knowledgeable/experienced I become with Web 2.0, the more comfortable I become. As my comfort level increases, so does the likelihood that I’ll use my knowledge in a classroom setting – and that this ability will endure far beyond the last blog posting, just as my gymnastics knowledge, gained more than 20 years ago, still serves me today. Similarly, without experience with, for example, podcasting, I’d be like the gymnastic-phobes, hardly inclined to include podcasting anywhere in any curriculum.

The intimidation of ignorance is powerful, but just as mighty are the twin powers of knowledge and experience. Once I’ve created a podcast or two, I can begin to move beyond the machinations of production and posting, and can apply an eye and energy to the potential for using podcasts in classrooms.

I can definitely see the utility of using podcasts on class blog pages – recapping the day’s or the week’s events or supplying announcements/information of field trips, assemblies, school calendar items, etc. Podcasts could be used to aid second language learning. They could be used as communication links for absent students – those on extended vacations or those whose programs are interrupted by long-term illness or extra-curricular activities. Recalling Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, podcasts could be an alternate platform for students to present research findings, book reports, etc.; podcasts would be a wonderful vehicle to present students’ literary offerings. For example, I know the mock interviews my students wrote for fairy tale characters (“Tell me, Rapunzel, what kind of shampoo do you use?”) would be a kick to present in podcast form. Student writing could be broadcast with sound effects, music, images, or videos to complement them. Care would have to be taken here, as some parents would not want their child’s images – visual or auditory – to be used in this way. Some parents might be more willing to allow their child’ audio podcasts if they were posted anonymously, or using first names only, or using pseudonyms (this opens up a “teachable moment” or two – what pseudonym would be chosen and why? What famous authors used pseudonyms and why? etc.). Another way to bring reluctant parents on board might be to involve them in the creation of the podcasts – maybe bringing certain candidates over to the “dark side”(!) would win the over to Resnick’s notion of “playful learning”. Parents could make great allies. Their permission would have to be granted, and FOIP standards would have to be respected. The fact that there is a pretty low barrier to entry as a podcast producer may help parents -and students - and even reluctant teachers – buy into podcasting as well. All one needs is a mike connected to a computer and some software. (A problem with this at our school immediately springs to mind, as our computers do not have mikes. I may have to grovel before the budget committee....) Then just add creativity and imagination – and you’re in business! Almost all podcasts are available free of charge and there are very few commercials/sponsor messages – hallelujah. And they cover a wide range of subjects – from news to comedy shows to language learning. Uploading podcasts to an MP3 player expands their utility/range to wherever the user desires.

In addition to the preparation of podcasts and all its attendant technological practise involved, students, parents, and teachers could benefit from simply sourcing podcasts and “consuming” them. For example, they could listen to book/author reviews like this review of John Bianchi’s book Swine Snafu. As well, a website called Kidcast had some great ideas for integrating podcasts (and other technology) into the curriculum. Teachers could use podcasts to help implement Glazer and Page’s ideas of collaborative apprenticeship – advancing their own and their peers’ professional development.

I used Audacity to create an audio podcast about Peter Eyvindson’s book Wish Wind. I used Garage Band for my podcast of Shel Silverstein’s poem “Backwards Bill”. I found a video on Youtube that was helpful in guiding me through the steps involved for using Garage Band.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Computers aid in autism breakthrough

This is not related to the blog assignments but IS related to the power of technology in aiding a young girl who has autism learn to communicate. I thought it was fascinating and hope that some of you might agree. Who knows? It may even have an impact on someone from this class - their friend, relation, student, neighbour....

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Three and a half years ago, our family got a new puppy. This naturally necessitated many visits to our neighbourhood off-leash area. Puppies being people magnets, many strangers would come up to chat and give advice on dogs – their food, their training, their breeds, etc. I had no idea I knew so little about canines. Every time I went to the “dog park”, I learned something more; I’ve garnered a fair amount of knowledge about dogs and I’ve had a good time doing it.

Taking this EDES 545 course is kind of the same thing – I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about Web 2.0! But as I continue walking the trails of these assignments, I naturally find my tech knowledge expanding –each sucessive blog posting brings me to a new avenue for learning. I had never heard of social bookmarking and likely would never have investigated it, had I not been require to through this class. Our obligations – to our pets or to our profs! – serendipitously bring us rewards.

I learned that social bookmarking is a way to bookmark, annotate and share favourites – things like articles, web pages, blogs, music, reviews, and recipes. You can also access your list of favourite links from any computer hooked up to the Internet while using one of these social bookmarking sites – a definite “plus”. The advantages of using social bookmarking sites extend beyond the academic arena – kids can use one of these sites to create a “wish list”: a kind of gift registry complete with picture, description, price and vendor location. Gift givers can then streamline their shopping! People can use social bookmarking to organize vacations, book clubs, fan sites…. The possibilities are endless.

“Tags” (descriptive labels you assign to items on a list) are used to organize information. For example, in posting an article about a hike in Jasper National Park, it could be tagged as “Jasper”, “hike”, “Rockies”, “Alberta”, etc. A pitfall to this tagging system is that if a user misspells a word or uses a different descriptor, other people will not be able to access their information. Care must be taken to avoid “typos”.

Our course readings list provides a link to the National Technology Leadership Summit Report, which reminds us that schools expend huge amounts of teacher hours integrating technology into curricula – social bookmarking can help address this – streaming and shortcutting the search for pertinent, curriculum and age-appropriate information. Reducing the time wading through “info-glut” is a definite advantage to using social bookmarking.

Social bookmarking also honours many of (the library goddess) Valenza’s ideas: expanding notions of searching, having the TL wear a technology scout hat as they figure out how to use information and communication tools more thoughtfully, thinking of a TL’s web presence as a knowledge manager for the school, and cultivating the skills to pull together resources to meet the information needs of individual learning environments.

There are tons of social bookmarking sites. The ones I looked at included Furl, Simpy and Signing up for was extremely simple…..I’m sure it took less than one minute! I did a search for a component of our science curriculum: life cycle of the butterfly. Furl and were both really fast and gave me pertinent, relevant information. Simpy provided me with quick results but the results were not easy to use, nor were they all appropriate for my third graders to view. However, the installation of new buttons on my toolbar proved to be a bit of a hassle in that it helped to clutter up an already cluttered toolbar! I can see this tool being applicable to researching information – especially in classes like social studies and sciences where numerous websites may be utilized to provide students with more avenues for learning. For example, as a compliment to our third grade Science Life Cycles unit, I searched for “life cycle – butterfly”, which returned numerous relevant bookmarks.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Blog #2

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Valenza’s Modest Manifesto as I toured the video sharing sites, especially when she writes that your physical space, as an educator, is a “libratory”, extending far beyond the four physical walls that architecturally limit you, and that learners’ potential for interacting – as producers and consumers – is heightened by new technologies. The use of video sharing sites, for both viewers and contributors, honours these ideas of Valenza’s, as students seek out, watch, evaluate, compare, contrast, create (collaboratively and individually) postings.

The sites I snooped around in included YouTube, TeacherTube, Metacafe, (the videos I watched here were preceded by ads – annoying), Sharkle (there was a feature here that allowed you to create your own ad – interesting potential for Language Arts classes; we’ve written “ads” for many things, including gruesome and grisly Hallowe’en products – it would be a great extension to video the ads) and Googlevideo (the Amazing Art of Julian Beever caught my eye – check it out. It would be inspirational to show my students when we do sidewalk chalk art – a standard June project in my class. Eisenberg and Johnson’s recommendations that computer skills be threaded through regular curriculum certainly hit home with this blog assignment – there are videos to support music, art, maths, science, creative writing, social studies, phys. ed., global awareness (tieing in with Rogers’ global literacy and its importance in our continually shrinking planet). I posted a math video on YouTube – the video ties into our math program. It’s a demonstration of a “finger calculator” for the 9 times table. Parents can view it at home with their children (provided they have a computer – public libraries or digital cafes are options for those "sans" computers). It’s a creative way to communicate, educate and reinforce learning for students and adults alike and provides great PR for the school.

The process of creating the video was fun. It made me aware of some of the decisions that must be made when “movie making” – What camera angle was best? Should background music be added? What background colour was needed for my hands? What lighting considerations were there? Should I script or ad lib the commentary?

It was easy to sign up for the YouTube account but posting the video was a challenge. It turned into a mini-inservice for our staff (collaboration in action!), as it wouldn’t post initially. I recruited our tech lead teacher and several others to work with me, trying various things. Finally someone suggested renaming the video. It reposted after the second renaming. So ….. now I’m not the only one on staff who’s a little wiser regarding YouTube and its postings. It’s nice to share my educational experiences with my colleagues….we're getting good vlaue for my tuition dollar!

There was a lag in time – nearly eight hours – between posting the video and having it appear online – good to know if you’re working with rigid guidelines.

I can see the potential for using video sharing sites for reinforcing or extending learning or for absent students – those hospitalized can watch science experiments or Christmas concert numbers; long term vacationers can get classroom demos, etc.

There could be problems with FOIP issues when creating videos, or with schools blocking video sharing sites, or with people posting videos for malicious reasons or without the knowledge of those being filmed.

Super Bowl commercials have been featured on video sharing sites…..if I can post this before 4 o’clock, I’ll be able to watch some on my TV! (I know it won't compare with the Riders winning the Grey Cup this year, but it is an excuse for good friends and good food!)