Around the World in
(One Hundred)Eighty Days

What a wonderful opportunity we have as educators today to help our students develop a “respectful mind” with the many possibilities that exist for reaching out to students around the globe.

Currently my students, especially the older ones, are becoming excited about communicating with other students through blogging. Though the majority of the students participating in the Bloggers’ Challenge come from USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, there is still a sprinkling of other countries around the world. There are so many avenues to explore with this. We are working on being “respectful” commenters, and addressing the writer’s thoughts and goals, rather than noticing their misspellings or bad grammar (and of course aren’t WE the perfect ones…now that deserves an LOL if anything does.)

I have made connections with a third grade teacher in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her students, like mine, are new bloggers. We are planning to work together on some shared activities, though we are both feeling our way at first. I have communicated with her (Leah Dewhurst) via Skype and email and so far we are giving each other time White_tailed_deer_in_Saskatchewan__Canada___mediumto get the students adjusted to the blog site, but hope to try VoiceThread in the near future. There is so much my students can learn, not only about Canada, but about the native people to that area, the climate, even variations in the English language. We are all excited at what may unfold during the year. I only have one web cam, but I hope to make use of it during our interaction with the Canadian class, which is 2 hours behind us time wise.

Another project that would help in cultural understanding with our Canadian friends is creating a digital story about our school and our routines, our town and local attractions. That was an activity mentioned in the Julene Reed post, and one we could certainly take on. Sharing this with students in another country and having them share with us would be enriching, not only for the students, but for us as teachers as well. Students first instincts may be to laugh at something that looks totally different than what they are used to. But that reaction could lead to some interesting discussions, and the chance to appreciate that there may be no best way, just many different ways.

Ms. Dewhurst adds much more media to her posts than I do, so I will be trying to learn some new tools to use as well. This Thursday, October 8, I plan to take my third graders on a little “trip” to her posts from this school year, such as her post on Elders that visited their classroom or field trips they have taken. We will discuss things that we can share with our soon to be Canadian friends.  I am at a disadvantage in this situation since Ms. Dewhurst is their regular classroom teacher and I see my third graders for 45 minutes per week. Therefore, this is a project in which I need to enlist their homeroom teacher as a partner, so that they get the full benefits of this interaction. I cannot be a world unto myself in the computer lab, and I shouldn’t be. What I need to do is support their curriculum and so the scope of this project will widen as the third grade teacher comes (is dragged) on board.

A_menorah_in_Jerusalem__Israel___mediumAfter following the link to the Global Dreamers Webquest, I am anxious to discuss with the 6th grade teacher how we can get involved with this class from Israel. I need to spend some time reviewing the possibilities on that site, but with the sixth grade studying ancient civilizations in the Middle East and studying the Israelites in the Old Testament in their religion class, there is so much potential for increasing their awareness of this region of the world and the culture of young people who turn out to have much more in common with them than they may imagine.

One sixth grader wrote:

Hi, my name is Ronya K.

I like a lot  of  rock and rock punk bands like Linkin Park, Simple Plan, Paramore, Nickelback, System of a down, Blink 182 and fall out boy.  I like to see a lot  of movies and ride scary books. My mum is a single parent  and I see my dad to times in year and I miss him but it is the reality. I’ve got two big sisters one is a broadcaster at MTV, her name is Bitanya and the other one is an actor and model, her name is Nizhna.

I like skateboarding but my mum thinks that skateboarding is dangerous.Bye!

I am surprised to note how much personal information about the students exists on that site – first and last names, photos, even parents names and in the case of one girl I saw, her street as well as her town. We are much more guarded with our students’ privacy. That would be something I would love to discuss with the teacher running the project.

All in all I am excited about being more aware of the opportunities for global collaboration in which my students might engage. Perhaps these activities we are involved in will help to develop the “respectful mind” in these young people. As Gardner notes, “During early years of school, such issues [value of respect, cost of respect, cost of disrespect] are best approached through experiences in which members of different groups work together on common projects, and come to know one another first hand.” My hope is that the seeds of respect for cultural differences will take root (along with those seeds of creativity).

Side note: At the time I wrote this post I was basing it on the reading assignments listed in the introduction for this week’s module, namely the Julene Reed post and “The Respectful Mind”. It occurred to me afterward that the references to “ethical mind” meant that chapter was part of the reading although it was not listed. Hence, no references to that chapter exist in this post, though my discussion comments do reflect both chapters.

Image Citations

A menorah in Jerusalem, Israel.. IRC. 2005.
Discovery Education. 6 October 2009

White-tailed deer in Saskatchewan, Canada.. IRC. 2005.
Discovery Education. 6 October 2009

Planting Seeds of Creativity

In the discussion forum for this week’s class, based on Chapter 4 of Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, I raised the issue of allowing for creativity within the core curriculum, even if art and music classes may be receiving less emphasis in the curriculum. In a sense, what I was referring to bears more resemblance to “self-expression” rather than “creating” in the sense that Gardner uses the term. Students in our classes may not be “ruffling the contours of a genre” by any stretch, but perhaps we need to allow them to feel that they might color out of the lines if they so choose without experiencing the repercussion of a lowered grade. We must of course, provide the baseline of literacy and a solid foundation in the disciplines, but within the disciplines, do our students feel that they have an avenue for creative expression?

When I was a junior high math teacher, I was occasionally faced with students, and one particular very intelligent young man comes to mind, who chose to solve the “word problems” by their own means, or perhaps entirely in their heads, rather than set down the formula and neatly balance both sides of the equation. Process and solution were both important I thought, and so I insisted that each student demonstrate, at least on occasion, that he knew how to set up the good old equation. Whether that was the true means by which the student arrived at the solution, I might not have known. There is something to be said for the organized approach, and in the middle years, perhaps insisting that the standard methods are at least learned, if not necessarily followed, will provide a foundation that will serve the student well as he or she continues in that discipline. There may be only one correct response to how many square feet of turf are needed to cover the football field, but how one arrives at that solution can vary. Gardner does state that “only through the honing of a discipline would genuinely creative options ultimately emerge.” The foundation, the basics, need to be in place, before one ventures off the beaten path.

One of the things I have come to realize in this course that I believe will serve me well in the next one, is to look ahead and see what the readings and requirements are over all, get the broader picture first perhaps. I spent much time in the forum developing my thoughts on creativity and how blogging in the classroom was such a great tool, and I do believe that. Well this week’s “in the classroom” leads to next week’s “outside the classroom” and perhaps that is where the blogging best fits. Did I see that was where we were headed before now? Oh no, I chattered merrily on. (We blog IN class…therefore I saw it as fitting but now I think it should have been left to the following week.) I also threw out a link to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED video on creativity without realizing it is one of the upcoming class resources. Lesson learned…look ahead.

Therefore the tool I am recommending as a vehicle for creativity IN the classroom is digital storytelling. The application I have used most often has been PhotoStory, although MovieMaker does have more features there is a steeper learning curve and having limited time I usually opt for PhotoStory. For the past several years students have been completing a digital story assignment and then at the end of the year I would burn it to CD and they would take home their finished product. (I do mean “end of the year”….some are literally walking out the door on the last day with the CD in hand. Then there is the dreaded “I will mail it to you over the summer…ouch!) I have now worked on some form of a storytelling assignment with grades 4 through 8, and last year, all of those grades.

This does not mean digital stories cannot be shared with a wider audience, but when the stories involve personal photos, we are very careful where they go. And I must confess that even when the eighth grade completed vodcasts on earth science topics two years ago, I was nervous about posting them on our website for fear I had missed some copyrighted images. One of the aspects of teaching students about digital storytelling I most enjoy is finding stories created by others and watching them together, some created by students, some by adults, and then discussing how the stories made us feel. One story on Bernajean Porter’s Digitales site that spoke to my heart was “My Mother’s Socks“. Perhaps it was the fact that I had four sisters. When I first saw the story my mother was alive. I have gone back recently and watched it again. I tried to explain to the students why that story spoke to me, but it wasn’t easy. But I encouraged them to watch other stories and see which ones spoke to their hearts. I personally feel that in order to tell a good story you need to have heard many good stories yourself, or in the words of one site – Listen Deeply, Tell Stories. Other sites with digital storytelling resources are Joe Brennan’s Discovery Blog and the Digital Storytelling portal. We use our class wiki to provide resources, step by step instructions, and rubrics. I have to admit though, that it is a difficult concept to teach. Perhaps because a good story has a creativity that one cannot teach, but instead just nurture the seeds of. All we can do is help our students find the stories that are inside them.

Cone on Horsetail plant. Paul Fuqua. 2003.
Discovery Education. 22 September 2009

Pondering Podcasts

I am feeling with my experiences in the eLearning Web2.0 class that my background is a mile wide and an inch deep. I have dallied with so many read-write web tools and yet I do not feel expert in any. Podcasting is right up there at the top of the list. It is not such a difficult thing to do, in my opinion, at least tech-wise. But the problem is time-wise. Being somewhat of a perfectionist doesn’t help matters either.

I started last February with my first podcast, using GCast mainly because I liked the idea of being able to use the phone to upload a message, and that is exactly what I did for my first podcast. I can’t tell you how many times I re-recorded my voice. Then I became more daring and experimented with a microphone, and improved my Audacity abilities. Even got the nerve to add a little intro and outtro theme music. But I was never completely satisfied with the end result and edited to death.

I began to appreciate the learning applications when I decided to create podcasts for my Spanish students as end of the year reviews. I created three separate podcasts, and in a sense there was a visual element to them, because I placed review activities on the web page for them to view while listening to my voice explain the sentence and the grammar concepts. I was pleased with the results of that. That website is no longer in existence, though the podcasts are still in my player at the olphazul podcast site. I created a separate channel for the Spanish classes. Now how many students actually listened? Well, let’s not go there! I haven’t posted anything for a while, but I have an embedded player on my site. I prefer embedding the player rather than taking them away from the teacher website.I am particularly impressed with Radio WillowWeb as an example of student podcasting in the curriculum. It is evident that the students are well-rehearsed and are very enthusiastic about their roles. Also Mabry Middle School in Georgia has very polished vodcasts which might be the envy of any school. Seems like it is a great PR vehicle for their school as well, though I would love to know what goes into each vodcast before it appears!

I have 2 issues that I need to resolve: 1- the time factor and 2- the permission factor.

Our class size ranges from 30-35 students and half of them are in the computer lab at a time. I have taken time to record student voices outside of my scheduled class time, but that keeps me from accomplishing other pressing tasks that I would have done during that time. Most recently I recorded several students reading a segment of their “guinea pig project” that fourth grade does every year. Then at the end recorded 2 students acting as radio emcees to intro each segment. This involved a rearranging a lot of sound tracks in audacity, but I started to become pretty good with that. Where is the podcast now? Well, no where now, because I have not uploaded it anywhere. I have not given a specific permission slip for podcasting and in a diocesan workshop I recently attended many of the others said they would never post student voices without having parents sign a permission form. (Mind you only first names are used anyway.) My principal, however, sees no harm in just uploading the cast without a separate form. What to do?

For that concurrent workshop in which I am participating, I plan to scan some of their drawings and try the vodcasting angle. Then of course, do I juggle who recorded, whose drawings were included, who is being left out?

Below are some resources I am sharing from the CAPE podcast/vodcast sessions. Maybe they will be helpful to some of you.

Educational Podcast Examples
Stanford University
Lehigh University

Mr. Coley’s Studycast
Student planning for the ColeyCast
Social Studies
Colonial Williamsburg
History According to Bob
Audio Tours of Rome
National Geographic – Walks of a Lifetime
ELA/Literature/Audio Books
Open Culture
NASA Podcasts
National Geographic – Wild Chronicles
Ed Tech Musician
World Languages/ESL
Teach with Grace
Kidcast – podcast about using podcasts in Education

Podcast Evaluation
Evaluation Checklist – Kathy Schrock

Digital Grandparents

I recently came across a link at Mashable that is advertising the upcoming launch of, which is promising to be

…a meeting ground for “modern-day grandparents” and their grandchildren, and will feature information about activities to do with the youngsters, some travel and gift ideas, connect with grandchildren with the site’s interactive tools.

What jumped out at me is the “gift ideas” and that this is a site trying to make the most of grandparents’ spending power. But it also occurs to me that there could be something valuable here, depending on exactly what kind of interactivity is offered. I am thinking along the lines of digital storytelling. How wonderful if grandparents, especially those who live a distance from their grandkids, could upload photos from earlier years of their lives and record a message about them for their grandchildren. How important it is that those stories be preserved! It always seems to be something that we intend to do, but today gets in the way, and we have little time to retell “yesterday” for our kids and grandkids.

I must admit that I am guilty of this myself. I know full well how to record someone’s story digitally, and I really would like to pass on stories that my mother told to my children and their children. Have I recorded her voice or scanned her pictures? No, I am sorry to say I have not. When we introduce the personal narrative project for our eighth grade students, grandparents are always suggested, encouraged, as a story to be told, and yet few students have ever told their grandparents’ stories or shared their own memories with them. It is not something that I feel I can mandate, so I think I need to work more on my motivational skills.
Other info shared on the site: (no source given for these statistics or size of survey)

  • Among grandparents who are online, 91% e-mail, 70% shop and over 40% book travel. More than 80% do these activities via broadband connections. (How many grandparents are online? Any statistics on that?)
  • 87% of grandparents report that passing family values and history to grandkids are among their top priorities. (How can we help children who do not have “digital grandparents” and may be separated by distance or for other reasons? And who are the grandparents who don’t feel passing on family values to grandchildren is important?)

There is the possibility of Bubbleshare, but I believe the audio clip per picture can be only 30 seconds. Maybe that is enough. Photostory seems like a better option, but we need to get the senior citizens connected with the students. I think I really want to look into this for this coming school year’s digital story projects. I am sure that by going back to the edtech community I will find many who have already done this successfully and I will attempt to learn from their efforts.

We have to do our best to prepare students for the future, but they also need to be grounded with a sense of who they are and where they come from, and treasure their connection to the past as well. It’s the circle of life.

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