New Week, New Tools, New Lessons

Today was a pretty cool day. I got my first taste of installing an NComputing system. I put it in our elementary library to expand the number of stations available for students to use. The main computer it is running off of is a base model ($500 w/monitor) HP with 2GB RAM and XP Pro. All went pretty smoothly. We used Logictech keyboards and mice and 17″ Princeton LCD monitors for each station.  It would be nice if the directions would tell you that the serial number and product key for the NComputing software was really the one for the little station modules, but other then that things went well.

Then I got to play with another really cool tool. An iPod Touch. 32GB. WiFi. Google Maps. GMail integration. Movies. Podcasts. And more than I can list here. I truly only had a few minutes off and on during the day to mess with it, but I have to say it is one fine piece of electronics.

I figured since I was picking my son up from school today while my wife is away on a field trip with her students, this was a good chance to look cool(er) to my seven year old. I asked him if he wanted to check out the new tool. He said sure and took it from me. Since I was driving us home, I had to hope he could understand my directions since I could not physically show him. I told him where the power button was at and how to slide the Unlock switch over to get to the menu. I commenced to offering several other fine points about the new iPod. He was kind of quiet (actually, he had not said anything during my spiel). I figured the volume must have been up a little on the earbuds, so I spoke a little louder:

“You know, Son, if you want to turn the volume down just slide your finger across the bottom of the screen!”
“Thanks, Daddy. I know that.” (Me internally: What? I just figured that out!)

“Well, in case you want to move around in the video, slide your finger across the top of the screen. The timeline will show up and you can move the cursor.”
“Yes, Sir. I figured that out.” (Me internally: What? I played with that for a bit before I could do that.)

“If you get tired of the movie, you can always click the square on the bottom of the iPod to go back to the menu and then click, I mean touch, Music. Then you can scroll down to the artist or song you want.”
“Yes, Sir. I already did that, too. I’m listening to TobyMac now.” (Me internally: Hmm. New blog post?)

My son has only occasionally played with my video iPod, but the navigation is totally different. He does well on any computer we put him in front of, but the Touch is a different ballgame. Isn’t it? Maybe not for these kids.

So, in summary:
1. I figured out the NComputing system is pretty easy to install and seems to work well in our library setting.
2. The iPod Touch has some incredible features for educational use. I need to explore it more for that purpose.
3. Apple did a phenomenal job on the navigation in the Touch.
4. Never think I will be able to teach my son much about computer-based tools. I need to sign up for lessons from him, instead.

Now, where is that Blue Snowball USB mic that came in this morning. “Hey, Son. Can you show Daddy how to hook this thing up?”

Snowing in east Texas – Video Podcast

It snowed a lot in east Texas today. Never happens. So our 5th grade science teacher took the initiative and taught the water cycle outside in the snow. The kids loved it. We knew the snow would not last all day, so he did a video podcast about it. Check it out here.

This is his first adventure into podcasting, so let him know what you think in the comment section here. We have big plans to do more science podcasts along the river in Beavers Bend State Park in Oklahoma in the near future. Stay tuned.

Technology in the Special Ed Classroom

At TCEA in Austin last week, I had the opportunity to present with one of my co-workers. She is an awesome educator in general, but her love for her students is obvious in her curriculum. She works very hard to tie in all types of technology to engage the students and make her job more efficient. 

Our presentation, “Web 2.0 in the Elementary Special Education Classroom,” focused on a number of technologies and procedures she uses and the process with which we do it. We had a nice crowd of about thirty for 8:00 in the morning. Morning sessions are tough, as we all know.  Thank you for those who crawled out of bed for the early sessions. We enjoyed the discussion.

One item that was brought up was copyright. My co-worker shared her next goal was to have her students read their books and record them for classroom use. Her books on tape are wearing down, to say the least.  One guest in the audience called her on it saying it was breaking copyright policies. Our discussion with her did not seem to change her mind. She felt that since she was a librarian she was obligated to let us know we were breaking the law.  Another audience member attempted to clarify for her that no monetary damages were being had to the book publishers and that they would not have anything to sue for. Besides, who would sue little kids reading stories while learning?

So, I did what every Texas teacher should do.  After the session ended, I called ATPE and asked for legal services.  I requested a copyright attorney, and after a minute or so on hold, I had the lawyer answering all of my copyright questions:

Question: If we record our students reading library books in the classroom for current and future use, are we breaking copyright law?
Answer: Abosolutely not. It is an acceptable practice. Why would that break copyright law? (I thought I as asking the questions here.)

Question: If I post said recordings of those students reading those books onto the website for parents to download them as podcasts to hear their children, am I breaking copyright law?
Answer: Absolutely not. If you are not selling them or altering them and selling them, there is no breach of copyright law. Again, they are acceptable educational uses of content.

Thank you very much.  I feel vindicated in our actions. I have my attorney supporting my position and our legitimate use of print materials and technology in our instructional purposes. I just wish I had had the time to call the attorney during the session to alleviate any of the concerns our audience member might have had.  Her belief came from a session she had attended.  Hmmm. A lesson learned for me here is that for legal advice, trust the attorney who specializes in your field and would cover your rear in court.  I would also suggest you not say, “I read it on Scott’s blog and it must be true.” Call your own representative that SPECIALIZES in your area of concern. I hope that clears up any confusion that might have arisen in the session conversation. We felt like we were correct in our position, and our attorney supports that position. 

Isn’t it nice to have that education attorney to lean on for advice?  For those not familiar with Texas and the associations to support educators, ATPE is the largest in our state. Texas does not allow collective bargaining, so spending a lot of money to join a union really is useless.  My dues are $130 a year, and I receive all the free legal advice and assistance that I might need in a situation like this. One 800 phone call and I am on the phone with one of the in-house, education-focused attorneys.  It is a nice feeling to have for times such as these. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I served on the board of directors of ATPE for four years, but I have been a member since 1997. This has no bearing on the response from the attorney, but my praise for them is warranted from my experience and I did not want my previous leadership with them to be hidden when reading my opinion.)

With all of that being said, below is the Keynote presentation on SlideShare and the MP3 recording (I edited out the lengthy copyright discussion/debate to eliminate further confusion). If you have any comments or questions about the presentation, please feel free to leave a comment here or email me. I can pass all special ed specific questions on to my co-worker.

Thanks again for the great turnout.  We enjoyed the conversation.

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Take Away the Hammer…

hammersWe were out camping one weekend when my son was four years old. The weather was rather nice on that trip so we took the tent. As any four year old would do, he found the hammer rather fun. To avoid having the hammer create more damage than I could fix, I traded him the hammer for my digital voice recorder (does not sound like an even swap, huh?). I shared with him the record and stop buttons and turned him loose for the next hour. He was pacing all over that campsite during that hour, but I was able to get the tent and other supplies set-up.

Later that evening, I plugged the recorder into my laptop to delete his recordings of the car radio and other unique noises he discovered. But through this process I came across his first literacy creation: the story.

It seems as though he became very engaged with the ability to record and hear himself. Following the model he has known since birth, he wanted to hear a story. My wife and I have read a book to him every night since birth (my wife started even before that). Since we were busy setting up camp, he created his own story, and I found it on the recorder. To me, it is a priceless piece of his academic and creative growth that I am extremely pleased to have archived. When I shared it with my wife, she was just as proud as I was, but neither of us were as proud as he. With our discussion of what was so great about it and how it sounded “really professional” and like a “real author,” he accepted my offer to add sounds to it so it sounded like the story CD’s he listened to.

I loaded the file into Garageband and sat him next to me. As the story played, he told me when to stop and what sounds to put where. He asked for scary music since it was a pirate story, after all. Then he requested waves and parrots (he got a rooster instead) and more.

As we wrapped it up for the evening, we reviewed the product. I tell you, sitting around the campfire with his story playing audibly reminded my wife and me of the scary stories we sat around telling when we were kids. But we never did it like this, and we were not four years old.

So listen and enjoy my son’s first digital story. And remember that a four year old did this. Don’t say your students or children are not capable of being creative. Sometimes you just need to take away the hammer and give them a more productive tool.

Download The Pirate Story by Christian Floyd

Google Docs and the Writing Process

Janelle BenceGoogle has teamed up with Weekly Reader to create lesson plans for the revision stage of the writing process.  This is a great way to learn revision while collaborating in a cool read/write web sort of way.  These lesson plans are directed toward teenage students, but any teacher worth his or her salt can adapt and modify to fit other ages.

Learning Google Docs has saved our middle school campus a ton of time by sharing documents and spreadsheets campus-wide eliminating the need to walk to check a sheet in the office or meet just to agree on a revision or final copy.  Our students need to begin learning this process as well.  Revision is the toughest part of the writing process because the ownership is so near and dear (or laziness sets in).  Take this chance to engage your students in the process by utilizing the free tools we have available on the Internet.  You will be surprised how many decide to voluntarily work on their writing at home.  Seriously.

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Track Animals using Google Earth

P4200262Love Earth is an organization located in the UK and part of the BBC.  Their work is geared toward educating the public about the earth’s systems and its inhabitants.  Loaded with beautiful still photos, videos, and blogs, this site is a powerful resource for any grade level science teacher. 

One of the cool things I found here is tracking animals and their migratory patterns.  Love Earth presents their data via Google Earth.  Key points in the pattern from the weekly updates have blog entries and other media to extend the experience for the user.  Take my advice, science teachers.  Check this site out.  The kids will absolutely love the experience it provides.

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Camtasia for FREE!!

If you have ever wanted to be able to record what you were doing on your computer screen for either archive or playback at another time (think tutorials, review, video, etc), then this is the software you need. Camtasia has long been recognized as the leader in screencasting software. The only downside is that they do not have a Mac version yet, but you never know. I heard rumor it might be in the works.

So, thanks to a post by Miguel Guhlin on this offer, you can go download Camtasia’s last version (3.1) for free. Considering the newest version (4.0) runs around $100 or so, this is a great deal. Take advantage of it. It is an awesome tool to use in the classroom.

Download here.
Get your software key here to unlock it.
Check out some tutorials here.

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More Free Media Resources for Educators

I found a neat collection of free videos that are online for streaming right to your PC/Mac for many purposes. Take a look at the following topics.

  • Teaching Reading 3-5 Workshop- This video workshop will show intermediate elementary teachers how to help their students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Supplemental classroom programs provide further exploration of each topic.
  • Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop- This video workshop addresses critical topics in teaching reading for K-2 teachers.
  • Teaching Reading K-2: A Library of Classroom Practices- This video library shows the teaching practices of K-2 teachers across the country as they introduce their students to reading through a variety of methodologies.
  • Teaching The Children of Willesden Lane- This set of video and Web resources with curriculum guide helps middle and high school teachers teach the Holocaust-survival book The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek.
  • Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers- This video workshop helps middle school teachers learn effective practices and strategies for writing instruction.

Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades- This video workshop introduces middle school teachers to ethnically diverse American writers and offers dynamic instructional strategies and resources to make works meaningful for students.

Annenberg Media

These are just a very few of the listed topics. They range from administrators creating great campuses to science(tons) to math (tons) to pedagogy to many literacy-based videos. The registration is free. Don’t miss out on this. There is a lot of great information provided here by Annenberg Media whose goal is:

Advancing Excellent Teaching in American Schools Annenberg Media uses media and telecommunications to advance excellent teaching in American schools. This mandate is carried out chiefly by the funding and broad distribution of educational video programs with coordinated Web and print materials for the professional development of K-12 teachers. It is part of The Annenberg Foundation and advances the Foundation’s goal of encouraging the development of more effective ways to share ideas and knowledge.Annenberg Media’s multimedia resources help teachers increase theirexpertise in their fields and assist them in improving their teachingmethods. Many programs are also intended for students in the classroomand viewers at home. All Annenberg Media videos exemplify excellentteaching.

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National Geographic Lesson Plans for ALL Grades

If you found yourself in need of some geography lessons for your K-12 classroom, then do I have a deal for you.  National Geographic Xpeditions has been nice enough to share lessons, projects, and maps on their site by grade level. There is a wealth of information available for educators to take advantage of. 

Here are just a few of the items that the My Wonderful World blog pulled from the site to share:

  • Map your class! – (can be adapted for various age groups)Have students locate on the map (e.g. with removable stickers) countries from which their families immigrated to the United States.
  • 20 QuestionsPlay – 20 questions with a world map!
  • Name Game – Have students name a world location for each letter of the alphabet.Name GameHave students name a world location for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Country Comparisons – Have students research and then compare and contrast two countries.
  • Map your community – Have students look at a variety of maps, and then get them to create a map of their neighborhood or school with a key, title and appropriate map conventions.
  • Locate Earth’s Physical Extremes – Maps4Kids – Maps4Kids provides a series of “top 10” lists about the Earth.
  • Locate Earth’s Political Extremes – Maps4Kids – Maps4Kids provides a series of “top 10” lists about the Earth.
  • Seven Wonders – Maps4Kids – Use the lists at Maps4Kids to have students locate and research the history of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
  • Top 10 lists – Have students use other available resources to research and compile their own “top 10 lists” and locate them on the map.

These are just a few of the items National Geographic has made available.  Go try it out for yourself.  There are some awesome resources out there for free for EVERY grade level. 

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Podcasting in the Classroom

Tim Wilson, a technology integration specialist from Minnesota, hosted a session at NECC last year (NECC will be in San Antonio June 2008). The audience put together a list of classroom uses for podcasting. Tim blogged about it and offers this list:

Collect field notes during a science field trip
Living museum, researching characters
“Radio shows”
Creating audio guides for local museums
Teacher powerpoints
Early language learners, (rhyming, etc.)
Staff development
Screencasts
Language learners recording assessments
Discovery Education videos
Science reports
Art projects
Digital portfolios
Weekly classroom news
Serial storytelling
Reflective journals
Summaries of school events
Broadcast school sporting events
Roving reporters
Capturing oral histories (family history)
Podcast vocab words and spelling lists
Flashcard practice with iFlash
Musical compositions
Soundseeing tours

Since podcasting is new to many in our school district, I thought I would offer this list up and see if anyone was interested in trying it out.  If you are, give me a call.  We have the equipment available for our staff to try these things out.

Any other ways to use podcasting that you can think of?

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