Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Simple Video Exercise

In the olden days (two years ago), I required my "Literature into Film" students to write a term paper as their final project. I still require a paper, but it is only one component to a project with four parts. My favorite part is the student created video.

Among their requirements:

* Shoot your review with the library Flip Mino or use a recorder at home. You will be marked down for using a computer camera designed for video chat. *Other production values include minimal ambient noise, no reactions to people off camera, undistracting dress (if informal, chic, not gumpy, informal). No mugging or clowning. Close properly * You may use prompt cards, but do not read a full script (Breezy, informal style). * Don't spend more than the first minute on plot. * Highlight the film's strengths and weaknesses. Be specific. * Conclude with a clear recommendation of the film (You are under no obligation to cheerlead). * Please submit your assignment on a thumb drive in a sealed envelope.

I provide students with some resources related to production values. But as is my custom, I spend very little time in class talking tech. I basically turn them loose and collect the thumb drives on the due date. Check out one of the best efforts from last semester:

Click to visit Whitney's video

This is an English class, so we don't produce our original films. But I think you will agree that that Whitney's production does not pale in comparison to a written assignment..... And the videos are so much more fun to "check"!

Monday, March 29, 2010

And I Quote . . . .

Tony Wagner: Most high school educators do not feel a real sense of urgency for change--perhaps because their work isolates them from the larger world of rapid change and they've lived through too many failed education fads.

George Siemens: When [social] connections calcify and become dogma and rigid structure, they fail to represent the chaotic and continually shifting world outside.

Faire Alchemist: The future of education is bound up in the ways that we relate to our alumni via the social connections of the Net. Because the future of education isn't about the classroom; it's about the world. And your alumni are the bridge between the two.

Nicholas Bramble: Educators should stop thinking about how to repress the huge amounts of intellectual and social energy kids devote to social media and start thinking about how to channel that energy away from causing trouble and toward getting more out of their classes. After all, it's not as if most kids are investing commensurate energy into, say, their math homework.

Terry Freedman: Using social networks, and by implication other Web 2.0 applications, is more and more starting to be an economic imperative. Schools which do not recognise this, and act on that realisation, are doing a disservice to their students .

"The people in charge" Flickr Creative Commons photo by Scott McLeod

Friday, March 26, 2010


Having taught at one school for 35 years, I don't have a broad perspective on the subject of procrastination. But I observe that procrastinating has become a deeply embedded part of my school's culture-- students and adults are rather notorious for waiting until the last minute.

Why blog about such a mundane subject at the Drive-thru? Because multimedia and procrastination are a very bad mix.

I'm thinking of a student group that had all sorts of interesting ideas for expressing information about "equality under the law" on a wiki. They started plans for doing interviews with experts and creating a dramatic enactments on video. None of these came to fruition. They severely underestimated the logistics for achieving their best ideas. Appointments were postponed, technical complications were unanticipated.

Now, before you chalk this up to immaturity, consider this. I've had two academic departments at school approach me about the possibility of helping with video presentation. Cool. I'm glad they see that video can be an attention grabber. But I don't think they appreciate the logistics of making something good. Anyone can turn on a camera. But certainly they don't want to ad lib information about their departments. Who's going to story board this? How may takes will they need? I'm willing to edit their best takes, but not the night before the presentation. As I've warned them, editing is time intensive if you care about production standards.

I'm guessing that at least one of these adult groups goes belly-up with the multimedia. Likely cause of death? Procrastination.

"07072007012" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by petemaskreplica

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A New Approach to Student Presentations

It's strange how these things happen. I expend all this energy integrating technology and applying the Chllenge Based Learning model to my social studies classes this school year, yet my biggest break through may have been something tangential to these pursuits. I have required presentations to the class about these projects. Reorienting the requirements has produced some very pleasing results.

First, a confession: Like many of us, from time to time I have assigned students to "research" this or that and then "present" it to the class. To often, this produces a mortified kid trying to memorize information so that she can disgorge it to her bored, captive audience. Even worse, the student will try to read the information via note cards or her power point. And trust me, the situation can go even further south if you ask this student a question about what he or she has just rattled off. Dazed and confused.

I've tried a different approach with the challenge projects, using instructions like the following:

Each group will make a slide presentation describing their group process, what they learned, and what they hope they achieved by their solution to the challenge.

Group Process -- This includes the mistakes the group made. Wrong turns, rejected ideas, etc. They are also welcome to explain what they might have tried to do with more time or in retrospect.

What They Learned -- They are urged to address this broadly. What they learned may have involved group dynamics, technology tools, how to request an interview, etc.

What They Hoped to Achieve by Their Solution -- This is so much more interesting to listen to than a report on retrieved information, and like the other requirements, it helps them to see their experience as more than a checklist they completed for the teacher.

In addition, groups are told that all members must participate and that under no circumstances will they be allowed to read. I encourage them to be casual and to narrate the group's story.

I admit that not every group project effort has been a raging success this school year (More on that in another post). But I can honestly attest that all of the presentations have been interesting and invariably classmates have paid close attention. Not bad, eh?

"WhatUp Gov Challenge Based Project group.

Monday, March 22, 2010

CBL Video - A Different Kind of Project

Alissa emphatically points out important differences between an Apple Challenge Based Learning Project and conventional group assignments. Until I tried a CBL, I was always frustrated by the artificiality of "project" assignments which were basically designed by the teacher and completed for the teacher. In those kinds of projects, students simply jump through hoops.

In my government classes I have often tried many different types of current events projects. But the results were often depressingly superficial. This school year I have tried cbls with both my AP and sophomore government classes. As Alissa reflects, the results were refreshingly different.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rewritable Textbooks

I was excited to read* in the New York Times "Textbooks that Professors Can Rewrite Digitally". It describes a new plan by Macmillan to introduce DynamicBooks:

- "Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations."

- DynamicBooks gives instructors the power to alter individual sentences and paragraphs without consulting the original authors or publisher.

- "The DynamicBooks editions — which can be reached online or downloaded — can be read on laptops and the iPhone from Apple. Clancy Marshall, general manager of DynamicBooks, said the company planned to negotiate agreements with Apple so the electronic books could be read on the iPad."

- "The modifiable e-book editions will be much cheaper than traditional print textbooks."

I have already replaced two of my traditional texts with my own digital curriculum (see ...Bookless Course and A Digital Anthology..., but I would be the first to admit that replacing an entire text for a course is a very labor-intensive task. How much better, to offer the students a semester-specific text with supplementary materials added and extraneous material removed. The reduced cost of this e-book would be an added incentive to go in that direction.

Of course, a teacher planning a new prep would not want this, but I think many course veterans would love the chance to customize their texts. Think of the slides that the textbook publishers provide as an ancillary. I'm sure most teachers customize these. They provide a nice foundation of information upon which the teacher can build a customized presentation.

I hope Macmillan and other publishers move in this direction, soon. I'm guessing I'll have this option for my A.P. class in the very near future.

*Thanks to Barb for spotting this article for me.


Screen shot from home page of DynamicBooks.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Five Tenth Graders Jump out of the Box

So why are these tenth graders smiling? Perhaps it is because they know they will astonish their American Government teacher in a few days.

They were doing research for the Big Idea, Equality, as part of a modified Challenge Based Learning project. They chose to focus on immigrants, and their goal was to communicated information about this topic through multimedia on a wiki.

Initially, I discouraged them from interviewing because I was concerned that these interviews might net more emotional or historical information than an understanding of the law itself.

Undeterred (and without my knowledge), these same five girls googled a local law firm which specialized in immigration law. They made a cold call to the firm and landed a personal interview with the principal member of the firm. Treated with great respect, they were given full scope for their questions and were even allowed to post the interview as a podcast on their wiki. Along with the podcast, they posted a Flickr Slide Show of their visit (WikiSpaces has a cool widget for doing so). Now, you can see why they were beaming!

This was just one feature of a terrific multimedia wiki on "Immigrants and Equality". Their teacher was mighty proud of them for their resourcefulness .... and their moxie!

Photo by Whitney J.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reflections on MACUL 2010

Some random thoughts about last week's MACUL conference:

Most mind-blowing: Learning how Holland Christian schools had made their Macbook webcams a ubiquitous part of their curriculum across disciplines.

Best choice -- Choosing Cool Cat Teacher's presentation as my first. She is a true powerhouse of ideas and energy. Got me psyched. Enjoyed getting to check out her Kindle too.

So Odd -- Realized sometime Thursday morning that in another life I had attended a basketball clinic at the Pantlind Hotel (Now Amway Center). Big name speakers like John Wooden ran plays in the Civic Center (now Devos Center).

So Sad -- Having presented at both Cobo Center / and Amway-Devos this school year, it is depressing to note how inferior Detroit's facility was in nearly every way. Why do we set the bar so low?

Worst Exhibitors -- Gale Cengage had two booths and three persons attending. Not one of them could answer a simple, important question about ebooks.

Happiest Exhibitor -- The C-Span rep was ecstatic to have an American Government teacher stop by. I signed her email list (only the second name, though I visited shortly before closing). She urged me to take extra pencils and confided to me that I was privileged to be getting at C-Span pen because I was a Gov. guy. Woo-hoo!

I Surrender -- Apple's Helen Hoffenberg vehemently recommended Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap two days after Will Gervais had done so, I ordered it on the spot with my iTouch.

Swimming in Ideas -- The drive home went very quickly as I reflected on engaging conversations with such interesting folks as:

Dan (Traverse City West) -- Using Challenge Based Learning for A.P. English.

Andy (Calhoun Co. Intermediate) -- Finding "Big Ideas" for Challenge Based Learning

Jane (Apple), -- An amazing Alaskan human interest story involving collaboration.

Calvin (Apple) -- The wonders of the new QuickTime and Apple's aggressive buy-back program for schools who choose duddy P.C.s. Hope we get together for coffee to continue that conversation.

"Day Dream" Flickr Creative Commons photo by perfect day dream

Friday, March 12, 2010

MACUL Conference Presentation on Challenge Based Learning

I'm the Amway Plaza, today (March 12), presenting for the 2010 MACUL (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) Conference. Here's the description of today's session:

Using Apple’s Challenge-Based Learning to Build Learning networks
Larry Baker, Teacher, Mercy High School

This presentation outlines Apple’s “Challenge Based Learning” as implemented in two courses. CBL is not dependent on specific software/equipment. It fosters authentic learning and leverages technology tools and resources. Students use Web 2.0 for planning, collaborating, and sharing, while seeking solutions. The shift from teacher-learner to co-learners will be examined.

I've been looking forward to this presentation ever since the students completed their presentations in early December. I am going to let their videos and online solutions do much of the talking. Here are many of the presentation resources:

My 2010 MACUL Presentation Slides: Challenge Based Learning

The Challenge Assignment: Create an Authentic Medium for Improving our Democracy

Student Video Interviews: Challenge Based Learning

Student Created Challenge Solution: Gov Love Ning

Student Created Challenge Solution: Operation iVote Demo

Student Created Challenge Solution: The Ideal Voter Site

Student Created Challenge Solution: The Democracy of Tomorrow Site

Student Created Challenge Solution: What Up, Gov! Facebook Group

Apple Computer: Challenge Based Learning

Screenshot from Apple Keynote created slide Challenge Based Learning presentation

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MHS Board of Trustees Presentation

Tonight I will shift into hyper-drive and give the MHS Board of Trustees a fast motion look as how I have blasted off into Web 2.0 education. It should be fun. I've probably put too much multi-media into my slides.

Here are some of the resources that I have created or have tapped.

Board Slide Presentation: One Teacher's Tech Explosion

Student Interviews: Challenge Based Learning

Baker Animation: The Digital Anthology

Virtual Conferences: Thursday's P.T. Conferences:

Apple Computer: Challenge Based Learning

Next stop, Grand Rapids, for the 2010 MACUL Conference. Come back on Friday for those goodies.

Screen shot from "One Teacher's Tech Explosion" Keynote Presentation

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Virtual Parent-Teacher Conference

I am trying something new on Thursday-- A virtual Parent-Teacher Conference. Since I have been excused to attend and present at the 2010 MACUL Conference , I am improvising.

The Plan

* I collected parent emails from my 130 students. A few weeks ago, I sent a preliminary, "Howdy, I'll be missing....." email and yesterday sent the official email with a link to my virtual PT Conference site.

*At the site (click link at the bottom of post) I placed a video for each course. I also linked the kinds information sheets (pdfs) that I usually hand out in person at the conference.

* I indicated that I would be willing to meet face-to-face, but cautioned that with 130 students that an email or phone call would be more expeditious.

* Understanding that some emails would certainly be misaddressed or go unread, I am leaving a message at my desk, communicating the basic information that was in the email (Click here to see it).

Some thoughts:

*I realize that many parents check in to meet their students' teachers and that a video is a poor substitute.

*On the other hand, a considerable amount of time at the conferences is usually spent on course talking points rather than actual conversation. The web site actually allows me to convey my communications more completely.

*I wanted to create a simple design, so I opted for one web site and one page created with iWeb and hosted on MobileMe), but this means that the videos are slow to load. I wonder how many parents will just skip them as a consequence.

*I think it was smart to keep the design simple, because the first parent to contact me complained that she could not find the hand outs (Can you !).

* I'm sure some parents will give me credit for trying to do a close approximation of a PT Conference. I'm also sure that there will be some annoyance by parents who check grades for the first time on Thursday and find out it won't be easy to get some quick feedback from me. We'll see, and perhaps I will report back at the Drive-thru.

It will be pretty difficult to evaluate the success of my little experiment. I'd welcome feedback from my readers in the form of comments or in a private email.

As with any parent teacher conferences, wish me luck!

Link to Virtual Conferences: Thursday's P.T. Conferences:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Getting Skeptical Teachers on Board the Tech Train

At the risk of stating the obvious, I feel the urge to share some thoughts about coaxing reluctant teachers on board the tech train before it leaves the station without them (or they derail the locomotive!).

This urge comes from two sets of interactions. Early this week I sat down for mentoring session with a terrific teacher to give her some suggestions and training for setting up a small social media project with her 9th graders. This was obviously a big step for her and sitting down with me meant that she would expose some of her confusion about basic tech operations tool. (I'm happy to report that both parties left the session quite pleased). Later this week I chatted for an hour with a visiting team of administrators from Little Rock. Their school is about to take the plunge into a 1:1 program, and the subject of bringing staff on board arose.

My reflections:

* Teachers are inclined to feel unappreciated and undervalued if tech is thrown at them as something they must urgently do to be relevant in their students' lives.

* Conversely, when presenting to co-workers it is important to express sincere appreciation for their talents and assure them that their devotion to their students will lead them to explore powerful methods for building student learning networks.

* Teachers need good modeling from school leaders. Those espousing change need to walk the walk. It's even more important that they don't become scolds.

* Teachers are used to (and many perhaps drawn to) terrific control in their classrooms. It's understandable that would feel very uncomfortable shifting their roles and allowing the students greater control over creating their own learning networks.

*After my experience leading the MHS in-service, I am more convinced than ever that the best way to coax teachers towards giving their students more control over building their networks is to show them how to develop their own personal learning networks with technology.

*A strong staff mentoring program is a must.

* Most teachers love to share their discoveries. We must not make them feel as though they should master everything at once.Let's give them the satisfaction of becoming proficient in the tools they need for a simple project or lesson that really connects with the kids.I'm for encouraging them to take one step at a time, giving them credit for doing so in the midst of a typically harried school year. Then we should urge them to pay their knowledge forward, since that, after all, is their vocation.

"Tough Customer" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by James Jordan


Motivation is a very tough thing to gauge. It certainly isn't a feature of standards and testing that so often serve as the marks that we are trying to hit in our schools. In fact, the tests themselves are supposed to be the motivators-- and I suppose they are.

But, without any question, motivation is critical to learning. And what the cbl experience reflected was that intensely motivated groups of learners became deep learners, engaged with activities that enriched their understanding of our course material (and the world) in ways that no one could possibly plan.

Jenna became so involved with her group web site that she claimed that family members were worried that she was becoming "addicted." Rosie's determination to set the bar high for her group's web design had everything to do with her group presentation and the public dimension of the group projects. The coolest thing about the cbls: The kind of motivation exhibited by Jenna and Rosie was typical of my other students, rather than extraordinary.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ruminations on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

When I saw the shirt last Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I had to have it. And I had to wear it to school at the first opportunity. As reported in I Love My Digital Music:

On the first day of school this year . . . Each of us had to divulge a "secret" about ourselves. I told about my music collection and remarked that... I like my music LOUD. I've now taken this a step further. A good chunk of my music collection accompanies to school in my Macbook Pro. I arrive pretty early this year, and I play my music...loud.

Since posting this, I have gotten into the habit of playing my music pretty loud at every class passing, choosing a song that fits my mood or a theme for the day (e.g., "Taxman" on April 15).

So what does this have to do with educational technology?

Well, this is clearly a case where digital music offers a means of self-expression, while signaling to the kids that my classroom is different and our approach to learning may happen to a different beat.

Secondly, during my three day road trip with my son that ended in Cleveland was a total blast. And part of the fun was posting pictures on Facebook and Flickr, along with a daily reports to friends and family. It was a kick to get so much feedback during the trip and to be welcomed back, today, with remarks from co-workers commenting on my adventure. I love this kind of social media activity.

Finally, the Museum itself, is a wonderfully rich multi-media experience. Tomorrow, I will be talking to my sophs about using media tools to build their wikis and the museum trip has served as great inspiration. The exhibits at the Hall of Fame are so accessible. I saw little kids and old folks in wheel chairs enjoying the music, the films, the sculptures, etc. I watched a terrific 17 minute film that paid tribute to the blues, jazz, and country musicians of rural American who grew the roots of rock n' roll. Other exhibits offered opportunities to learn much more, but I enjoyed thinking of how many thousands of folks would get this lesson in such a vivid way at the museum. Of course the music business lends itself to multi-media exhibition. But think for a moment about how the industry has adapted with technology changes from vinyls, to tape, to CD, to music video, to mp3, etc.

I'm sure that many musicians-- like some teachers-- bemoaned each change as the day the music died. But the beat goes on, doesn't it? And imagine me trying to play a 78 rpm record (loudly!) on my Victrola between every class!

Photos by Erin K. (3/1/10).

Monday, March 1, 2010

Innovating, Failing, Disrupting, and Creating

I find myself returning now and again to a recent op-ed piece by Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, called Erasing Our Innovation Deficit. It reminds me to keep pushing myself to open up my classroom and to urge my students to think outside of the box. Here are some excepts that really hit a chord with me:

*We can no longer rely on the top-down approach of the 20th century, when big investments in the military and NASA spun off to the wider economy. . . . The ideas that power our next generation of growth are just as likely to originate in a coffee shop as in the laboratory of a big corporation.

*Innovation is disruptive and messy. It can't be controlled or predicted. The only way to ensure it can flourish is to create the best possible environment -- and then get out of the way.

*Risk-taking means tolerating failure . . . Show me a program with a 100 percent success rate, and I'll show you one with 0 percent innovation.

*Right now, somewhere in the United States, someone is working at a kitchen table, in a dorm room or a garage, developing an idea that could not only create a new industry but could also just possibly change the world. If we provide the right environment, she'll do the rest.

"Break Through Flickr Creative Commons photo by a o k

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