Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Transcending Words (and copyright!)

Teachers' Lounge Series, part 3 of 4

Music happens to be an art form that transcends language. - Herbie Hancock

I'm sure our great art teacher, Susan, wonders how she got dragged into this blog. But if she had not asked a question about copyright and music she would not have launched my adventure into the realm of Creative Commons music. This has been one of those fun Web 2.0 experiences where I learned to use cool tools while searching for content (see Geometrically Progressing. . . .).

Well, I basically ducked Susan's question which concerned student use of "all rights reserved" copyright music. By staying within the Creative Commons we all are quite welcome to take, use, mix, mash music files; usually with the mere stipulation that we credit the artist. Over the past few weeks I have acquired a collection of interesting CC music. This is very easy to do with
iTunes. On the info tab of a music file, I always enter "Creative Commons" as my Grouping. This way with a couple of clicks, I can create a "Smart Playlist, locating the style that I might want to legally use for a project.

Presently, I am adding to my music library through Magnatune. This site presents music by commercial artists. For example, I recently downloaded a piece by Barry Phillips, whose cello music appears in Ken Burns projects. This piece is called,
Polska fran Glava, and one can easily imagine how a student might use it for a slide show or movie. Magnatune customizes licenses for commercial use, but maintains a generous policy towards downloading music for non-commercial and student use. I subscribe to a daily download that's emailed each day. If I like it, I add it to my library. These tracks end with a narrative clip describing the piece, but this is easy to clip with Audacity or GarageBand. Magnatune is search-friendly and provides detailed information about the artists.

PodsafeAudio has music by independent musicians which is royalty free. I found a nice guitar piece by Lawrence Creswell that I have used as a thematic intro for some of my podcasts. Called Water Bug Dance, it has an NPR kind of sound. I found it more difficult to search for and find quality music on this site, but it's all free and copyright safe.

If students are looking for copyright-free sound effects, is a fun site. Again, all of the sound loops are licensed under Creative Commons. After downloading the WAV files, they can be dragged into Audacity or GarageBand and then added to a student's creations. Here's an example called, Chime Clock Sound. There is a terrific selection of loops for a person seeking to create his or her own music mix. While I am more than satisfied by the huge set that comes with GarageBand, I still like poking around Free-Loops. I strung together recurrent loops of Red Bass and started dancing around the kitchen until my wife made me stop.

If you or your students are into sampling, remixing and mash-ups, ccMixter "is a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want." Sample packs and a capellas are available for free download and the quality is consistently good. Podcasters and movie makers can browse among some interesting remixes. I suggest starting with with Editors' Picks, where I found, Short Fuses Burn Long Bridges, by William Berry, who creates a very original sound. Many of the selections take a capella vocals and surround them with trance or club music.

I'm looking forward to dabbling with this stuff and sharing my new interest with some of my students. Unlike me, they might actually be able to come up with something artistic!

On Friday, Part 4 of this series-- Building Virtual Audiences for Students
"Narumi [HPP] by me" Flickr photo with kind permission of
p o m

Monday, April 27, 2009

Teaching Literature Unbound

Teachers' Lounge Series, part 2 of 4

Mike and I have been close English Department and personal friends for over thirty years. I also teach social studies, and recently was sharing one of my new tech adventures in American Government class. Mike remarked that tech suited social studies as a discipline better than English. I automatically agreed. After all, one of the reasons that I chose to redesign gov' as a bookless course was because information was so readily available on the Web. Not that I have kept my English classes tech-free. In January, I presented an in-service to the department on the wonders of using hyperlinks in study guides and suggested uses for Google Docs/Sites with English classes. Since then Fran has launched a very cool collaborative project for her Women in Lit class.

But a recent experience has caused me to reconsider my agreement with Mike. While I was sitting in an airport over spring break, I noticed that I had a new Twitter "follower." When I checked the profile I discovered Jim Burke's treasure trove of Web 2.0 resources, not the least being his English Companion Ning (Join!). Days later, I read a simple tweet by Jim: "Is this the future of book?" By clicking the link he provided, I came upon a vision that could provide succor to our department, chronically troubled by book availability, and now vexed by curriculum corseting. Jim's Weekly Reader-- A Digital Anthology points the way for English lit teachers to more freely choose literature and free themselves from a dying medium (see Book End). What if our freshmen or sophomore team teachers collaborated on digital anthologies? The collections would grow, stay fresh, and become wonderfully diverse. Too much "work?" Not for the voracious readers in my department!


Diigo is a little more futuristic as a classroom application, but it signals the end of research as most of us learned it. It will knock your socks off. In addition to allowing collaboration on bookmarks in a wild variety of ways, Diigo allows its users to share highlighting and annotations. This has tremendous possibilities for student research.

As Phil Butler points out,

Diigo allows users to add, gather or extract from pages of information and then share or work with others to further refine knowledge. . . . At Diigo . . . the atmosphere is a “thinking” one rather than a reactive one. Diigo takes all the standard Web 2.0 user tools and focuses them on connecting people with knowledge and then community.

I have already started highlighting and annotating electronic documents with Diigo. I wonder how long it will be before our students will begin building and sharing their own research databases of documents and annotations for their "papers." A video overview is posted at Diigo's site, but I prefer the one created by Liz B Davis. Checking out the demonstration of Diigo which she created with Jing will provide the bonus of allowing you to see the instructional potential of screencasting.

I know that my resourceful colleague, Lynn, hopes to explore Jing soon. The idea that one of my colleagues might soon create a Jing tutorial for students on how to to use Diigo with digital Readers puts me in Web 2.0 nirvana.

Part 3 of this series will be posted Wednesday-- Transcending Words (and copyright!)

"The Teacher's Desk" Flick Creative Commons Photo courtesy of bitzcelt

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Collaborating on Math

Teachers' Lounge Series, part 1 of 4

I was extolling the virtues of Google Docs in the lunch room when my math teacher friend, Tony, pointed out that when he uploaded files to Docs they lost their format, thus rendering his charts and diagrams useless. I need this kind of feedback as I try to grasp the implications of Web 2.0 beyond my own disciplines of English and social studies.

Since that conversation, I've kept my eyes open for collaborative instruments that might be useful for math teachers. It would be presumptuous for me to evaluate teaching tools. My daughter earned AP credit after taking calculus from Tony, so I'll gladly leave methodology to him and his colleagues. But by keeping my ears open for tweets and recommendations from my Web 2.0 advocacy pals, I've come across three resources that I would like to pass along:

If one is looking for online calculators, sample wiki sites and a smattering of this or that, check out Web 2.0 Math Tools. The site has a nice aggregation of math teaching aids.

Hippocampus provides a potentially very helpful set of resources because they correspond to the chapters in many popular high school texts. I've recommended this to our social studies department, but the math sections look just as good or better, and provide detailed slides on subjects ranging from Algebra 1 to advanced levels of calculus.

Teachers who register for slideshare (its free) may take or add slides freely. The last time I checked, there were 170 slide shows posted by geometry teachers. This is a case where I actually thought the math resources were more intriguing than most other subjects. Nevertheless, I registered and conveniently connected it to my Linked In. (I think it would be worthwhile to post a slide show resume there).

Both of the previous recommendations pale in comparison to the gem which came to me via Twitter. As one who has tried his own bookless course, I was quite interested to learn of the Math Open Reference Project. The goal of this project is to provide high quality teaching content with such technical advantages over the traditional textbook as accessibility, interactivity, lower cost (free), hyperlinks (yea!) and instant feedback on quizzes. The first phase of the project will be the completion of a geometry reference. It occured to me that a math department of a school could easily collaborate in a similar way on a smaller scale. I pieced together my bookless curriculum one module at a time. A team collaborative project would have multiple benefits regardless of how narrow or ambitious it became.

Please feel ree to inveigh against these resources or contribute others in the comment section!

On April 27, part two, "Teaching Literature Unbound"

"Slide Rule" Creative Commons photo by Roger Smith

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Watching that Old School of Red Herrings Swim By

The tech naysayers are once again in season, so it's time grant some Red Herring fishing licenses. Let's hook three more "issues" that are supposed to stop change in its tracks:

"How Can We Be Sure Students Won't Violate Copyright?" This one cracks me up, because I find that some of my teaching colleagues have developed selective sensitivity to copyright. I have a friend who adamantly opposes music sharing ("I buy CDs to support the artist"), yet she photocopies vast volumes of copyrighted academic articles. Since they are for her students, that's ok by her code of copyright. Another friend was fussing to me about possible copyright violations as his students posted media to their wikis. When I questioned him about his own classroom practices, he assured me that the VHS movies he recorded over the years (and still loves dearly to use in class) are OK because they are used for educational purposes. Hmn.

One way to avoid this issue altogether is to urge students to select from the millions and millions of photos, slides, audio files and videos licensed under Creative Commons. You might also encourage them to license their own creations as such. If you are unfamiliar with Creative Commons, click this video link for a brief overview. (I'll be blogging about some great CC sites for audio, next week). Copyright law lags far behind the realities digital technology. In the mean time, the CC provides a convenient way to avoid cognitive dissonance over copyright.

"We still must teach [fill in the blank] because the students will need it in college." This objection is always raised whenever I rail against the traditional "research paper" (see Hyperlink Heaven). But college prep cannot be played as a universal trump card against innovation. Consider a comment posted to my last blog. The author is a senior at the University of Michigan, and recently completed an internship with the New York Times:

At Michigan, the computer labs are constantly being upgraded with the latest software. I'm not saying the technology environment here is perfect, but other students and I have really benefited from professors forcing us to use these tools in projects. In one of my classes, for instance, my professor makes us blog. It's a good exercise for students looking to write for the new web.The fact that we can use a lot of expensive software programs for free (i.e. Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, etc.) also lets students experiment with these new tools.

We would be remiss if we failed to give students training in traditional conventions of academia, but we can't focus solely on showing students the old tricks that please tenured professors (who may be among the last hold outs against change). I think we have to give basic web literacy a much higher priority.

"Students Need to Learn the Basics" When I hear any variation on this assertion, I think, "Well, yeah, your point?" I can grant this point but still insist that we recognize that methods for accessing information and generating communication have changed so convulsively in recent years that a new set of basics is called for in addition to the traditional tool set. The curriculum needs to make way for these skills. What exactly they are is an important question. Fellow ADE, Tom Woodard, offers a very insightful reflection on this very issue in "....Old Skills, New Applications....".

After reading the above, one might reasonably ask where we can find the time to teach the new stuff. This question leads us logically to a greater point: It's time to rethink how school time is structured. Certainly, how and where people work has changed significantly by technology. Correspondingly, how and where we are all learning is shifting at a terrific rate. Yet we somehow assume that tradition schedules and subjects will accommodate this shift. If we wish to create optimal learning experiences for our students we have to reimagine the school day. I'm ready when you are.

Whew! It felt good to get these last two blogs out of my system. I'm looking forward to going in a different direction with my four part "Faculty Lounge" series, starting Thursday.

As always, your comments are valued.

There are now over 100 millions Creative Commons photos on Flickr. The "Red Herring" photo on this page was licensed under CC and chosen from 'No Matter" Project.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Digital Natives Aren't that Restless

As I bounce from tweet to tweet and blog to blog these days, I bump into presumptions about students and technology are at odds with my experience “in the trenches.” Constructionist gurus would have us suppose that A) Kids today are fabulously techno-savvy in the way their elders are not. B) If only we would reach kids through social media their zest for learning would ignite and they will hurl themselves at society’s problems, hell-bent to solve them. It's time for some balance.

Sorry for the downer, but I find that students often treat Web 2.0 activities as, well, assignments. At my school, where we have a one-to-one HP Tablet program, even a group of supposedly college prep sophomores will get bogged down in a simple matter like registering for a Google account, let alone, setting up a Google Site or Blogger. And many, when they get frustrated, simply stop in their tracks (so much for their intoxication with technology), demanding instant help, (“It’s not working, It’s not working....”). This same kind of impatience marks their searches rather than the intuition, judgement, and perseverance we might expect from “digital natives”. They will announce they “can’t find it”. Of course this is not the case for a majority, and, yes, some students dive right into the tech (and help others). But the online dimension in and of itself does not assure motivation or deep engagement for a large segment of students. Designing a project that takes into account such a broad spectrum of attitudes and skills is no easy matter.

I had a conversation with my AP class on the supposed tech generation gap. In their opinion their grandparents better fit the stereotype of the without-a-clue adult than their parents. They noted that many moms or dads were glued to Blackberries and iPhones. Though the parents weren’t Facebook junkies like their kids, they too were heavy texters, and in some cases participated in professional social networks. Of course most of the parents were compelled to learn tech skills by their jobs.

I think we teachers perpetuate the urban myth of the tech generation gap due to our own peculiar myopia. We can trudge up the salary scale despite resisting innovation. And it will probably be the newer, more tech adroit teachers who get laid off when budgets get cut. The national emphasis on standards-based testing also mitigates against innovation.

I am completely convinced that American students must learn to access information and communicate with the latest tools. This won’t happen if “grandparent” teachers / administrators don’t embrace the new and create learning environments that prepare our kids to take their places in the global community. This calls for a real cultural change up and down the educational system. Contrary to some popular notions, this will be far more daunting than plugging our tech-savvy kids into Web 2.0 , and letting their curiosity and skills power the curriculum. There are huge issues confronting the educational system, which are conceptual, not generational. A critical mass of "grandparents" of all ages stands to hinder acceptance of and adaptation to the tremendous communications revolution we are experiencing. Students, teachers, and administrators who "get it" need to be nurtured, and moved to the head of the class or a hard rain is gonna fall.

"Sleeping Student" photo with kind permission of Tapasparida

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Three Sweet Shortcuts

Need a Quick Rubric? Talented ed tech consultant Andy Mann showed me Rubistar, which is quite useful for whipping up a quick evaluation rubric for student work. It is preloaded with dozens of templates and categories. It is also fully customizable. In an hour I created three very different and detailed rubrics for my wiki project. While using Rubistar is not exactly intuitive, I have found my way around without the tutorials. (Here is an example: Peer wiki eval). Get your rubric right the first time if you can. Later edits are somewhat convoluted and very slow.

Labels for Gmail Like so many other things in life, I am slow to move toward a trend, but when I jump in I go head over heels. Such has been the case with Gmail. Despite the fact that my daughter and wife have been swearing by it for months, I only recently made it my main account. But when I commited to it, I decided to go through the entire Atomic Learning tutorial so that I would become aware of all of its nuances. I then discovered that many users don't realize how easy it is to "tag" one's mail with a label. I find that these labels are particularly useful for short term purposes. For example, when I was developing my staff development proposal I contacted several academics about their research. Five of them replied at various times and we began different levels of correspondence. By tagging each response with a label, I could bring up all the mail with a click whenever I worked on my proposal. This was much more efficient than the typical folder system.

Cross Platform To Do List. This tip is the most idiosyncratic, but it has been a major change in how I go about my daily business. For years, I faithfully carried a Franklin Planner through the work day. I'm a compulsive list maker and my planner kept me quite happy making daily list after daily list. But now Google Docs serves that purpose. I have created a Google Doc titled "To Do". This document is published to a url and I have tagged it with my most commonly used Delicious bookmarks. The bookmark then appears on my Firefox toolbar at home and at work, on my Macs and my HP. It updates through the day. It makes me oddly happy.

"Shortcut" Flickr Creative Commons photo by Wagman 30

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back Channeling, Kindle, and Techy Tips

Techy Tips
This is a wonderful little scheme growing bigger by the day. The lessons are limited to single slides. If you are just sticking your toe in the Web 2.0 waters, what a great place to visit for some simple, yet worthwhile methods! If you have brief techy ideas to share, email a request to Mark Clarkson for editing privileges and add to a Google Docs collaboration that will only become richer as time goes on. (Be sure to check out Tip #23).

Using Twitter at Conferences
I've made considerable reference to Twitter in the Drive-thru. It is the main source of my professional reading. But if forming your own professional network of tweeters does not appeal to you, you should still sign up for an account before you head off to the next conference. Twitter is now commonly used for back channeling at professional gatherings, sometimes to the point of distraction. This is accomplished by means of "hashtags" which allow users to tweet about a conference with each other while it occurs. This may be conducted by channels officially established by conference organizers or simply by attendees. Michael Coté does a nice job describing this phenomenon.

Book End
I admit that I have been fascinated by Kindle -- Amazon's Wireless Reading Device -- ever since it was introduced. I couldn't justify purchasing one (now $359), because I am not a voracious reader and the device has rather limited functionality. But in Slate, editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg makes some remarkable statements about the latest iteration of the device. Weisberg asserts that "Kindle 2 signals . . . that printed books, the most important artifacts of human civilization, are going to join newspapers and magazines on the road to obsolescence. " I was surprised to learn that "Amazon . . .is selling most new books at a loss to get everyone hooked on the Kindle" and in the future " could become the only publisher a best-selling author needs." I recommend that you read the entire piece for more thought-provoking stuff like this.

Screen capture of slide #1, "Techy Things for not so Techy Teachers".

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Who Says You Can't Tweet in a Blog?

If you don't "follow me" on Twitter you have not been privy to these "retweets", so I'll share these gems here:

Newspapers & Thinking the Unthinkable I have been following the rapid demise of daily newspapers with morbid interest. This blog by Clay
Shirky is the best piece I have examined on the subject. When you read it, imagine that he is discussing how the communications revolution is changing schools rather than newspapers:

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to. . . . When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse.

Card Catalog, 2008

Artist Tim Schwartz has made a wonderful visual statement about the old order of organizing information colliding with the new. Visit his brief performance video and watch him open his seven foot card catalog drawer of 7390 iPod songs organized in reverse chronological order of how recently he listened to them.


PBS Teachers

If you are curious about digital education, but the terrain simply seems to alien to you, I recommend that you register at the PBS site and investigate their projects, networks, and professional development links. This well-designed, familiar location allows the teacher to focus on materials for all grade levels and disciplines. The materials and strategies range from the very basic to the highly sophisticated. I have placed the Media Infusion blog in my RSS reader. The March post, Mashups, Remixes, and Web 2.0: Playing Fast and Loose with Shakespeare contained several fascinating suggestions for using Web 2.0 in order to explore one of my favorite plays. I particularly liked the following idea:

Illuminating a passage from a play with hypertext is a basic way to get students to do a close reading of a passage. In the process of selecting and hyperlinking the perfect image, audio or video clip, or Website, students tell me that they focus on the words in the text in a way they never would by merely reading it.

Whether you teach Math or English, elementary or high school this site will almost surely offer you a gem like this as well.
Screen capture of "Card Catalog 2008" with permission of Tim Schwartz

Monday, April 6, 2009

Groovin' with My Favorite iTunes Artist-- ME!

Several weeks ago, Andy Mann briefed students, teachers, and parents at our school on social media issues . After meeting with faculty, he and I had some time to talk Web 2.0 shop. He showed me a number of interesting web sites and I shared what I had been doing with Moodle. The subject of audio files came up, and he casually mentioned how great it was to podcast using GarageBand.

For the past two years I have really enjoyed using podcasts in my classes and extra-curriculars. But for each of these activities I have been reliant on creating mp3s by telephone. Recollecting what Andy had mentioned, I decided to embark on a new podcast project using GarageBand. What a blast!

My Lit into Film students recently submitted detailed notes
on two films for the purpose of comparing and contrasting them in a later paper. Rather than jot my feedback in red pen, I decided to try podcasting and then emailing my audio reactions to the students. Click to listen to one of these podcasts. If you have iTunes the mp4 will go right into your library. I only mention this because as I noticed as I was creating my twenty-five podcasts that I was loading my iTunes with .... me!

Podcasting and emailing took some time at first, but I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace and the opportunity to really explain my reactions rather than scrawling cryptic written phrases. Besides, after I got the hang of it, I could make and send a detailed mp4 in ten minutes. The students appreciated receiving much more feedback than they would have gotten, conventionally. And as a bonus I was introduced to GarageBand, which has been ignored on my personal computers for three years. No longer!

Two last comments: 1) Podcasting was particularly suited as an evaluative tool for this assignment because general remarks were appropriate. 2) I am going to introduce Audacity to my government classes soon, so that they can have an experience similar to mine for our coming project. I'll post on that experience in a month or so.

jpgs: "Doofus at Leisure" taken by Chris Baker & GarageBand '09 screen capture.

Friday, April 3, 2009

We Have Ignition! (Rocketing AP Gov into Cyberspace)

I am preparing to rocket my AP Government and Politics course into cyberspace. A number of factors have converged to make this possible and desirable:

* This year's group has just completed its experience blogging on vlogs.
I think the results have been terrific. Students were allowed to produce 3-5 minute videos on a political opinion or observation. Then classmates blogged on the vlog. (If they posted at least five blogs they were allowed drop one of their 2 page analyses). My Flip Mino camera was used to produce the video and iWeb created the vlog/blog pages. We completed seven of these, second semester. A representative group of the girls (and their parents) gave permission to me to share a small slice of our activity with you: Click to visit.

* In an upcoming post I will describe my second fling with podcast/blogging mini-project. It produced excellent results last year and is even more tightly organized with the help of iWeb, this go-round.

*I just discovered that David Canon, the marvelous professor at Wisconsin-Madison, who co-moderated the AP conference that initiated me into this course, has published a text with an impressive ebook option. Additionally a very cool blog serves as a companion to the text.

*Next year, all the students in the course (seniors) will have laptops, meaning they can more reasonably do online collaborations and use the money-saving ebook at school.

*I'm embarrassed to admit that on recently have I begun foraging in the political science section of iTunes University. I will definitely dip into the free lectures provided by Stanford for some aspect of my curriculum.

My ambition to send the AP course into full cyber-launch is contingent on having my preps reduced from four to three as I have requested. (Big "if" at this point). Regardless, I intend to continue designing curriculum
that employs blogs-on-vlogs and podcasts for my studetns and the ALI. As always, I welcome your suggestions and reactions!

Screen capture of Emily's vlog page.

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