Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ask A Meteorologist

Today was the first of what I hope to be a successful videoconferencing collaboration with the National Weather Service. It all began several months ago when I e-mailed a meteorologist in Texas that offered videoconferences a few years ago. Many of our third grade classes were studying weather this year and I hoped I would be able to support them with videoconferencing. Then one day several weeks later Marcie Katcher from the Eastern Region National Weather Service, located in our own backyard (Long Island N.Y.) called to say that they had videoconferencing equipment and would be interested in trying to pilot a program with our third grade students. She even had a meteorologist who was interested in hosting the program. A livewire as I like to call anyone who volunteers to be involved in a videoconference. Especially a new venture. So, I became in touch with Rosemary Auld who is a real meteorologist. But it gets even better. She has a colleague named Jason Franklin, who is an aviation meteorologist, and he is interested in getting involved too. I was in videoconferencing planning heaven. One thing I really liked was that they suggested our students send to their offices a school weather mascot. I liked the idea that not only the students got to create something they also had an opportunity to have a personal connection with the National Weather Service. So, when the videoconference started today the first thing they saw was their "Weather Cheetah" right behind the head of the smiling meteorologist.

The videoconference started off with Rosemary Auld talking about the job of a meteorologist. She asked the students about their "Weather Cheetah" and what they were learning about weather. Then Jason Franklin got to tell the class about the job of an aviation meteorologist and how important their work is to keep planes flying safely. Then it was time for the students to ask questions. Another really nice touch here too. The students had e-mailed questions prior to the meteorologists. So, Marcie alternated between reading an e-mail question and having the student ask a live question. When she read an e-mail she asked the child who sent it to stand up. I know the students were very proud to have their questions read. One time she called out the name of about six students. She asked them to all stand up and hold hands. Then Marcie said their questions were all linked and that is why she wanted them to hold hands. They had all asked different questions about how weather moves.

The children also shared data they had been keeping everyday about temperatures. This is part of the globe project where the school has a weather station and they have instruments for recording weather information each day. This is really a 4th grade project but the 3rd graders are helping too. Rosemary Auld told them she would send them a box of materials so the could make their own weather instruments. Then they could compare how their school made instruments measured data compared to the special instruments they had in their school. The children were thrilled and very appreciative to be getting such an interesting package.

At the end the children were shown the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website with a special site for children.

I don't know what the weather will be tomorrow but today was sunny both inside and out.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Producing Your Own Content

Here is another reason to add to the list of why videoconferences get cancelled "the teachers are taking strike action and they are having to shut the school that day, so the videoconference won't be able to take place". (For other reasons go to:
I awoke to read this "urgent news" of the impending strike from our London partners. We had been planning a videoconference for months between our classes in New York and classes in London as part of WebPlay. WebPlay is an internet-based arts education project that links children from around the world to learn about theatre and each other. Our videoconference was going to be a sharing of what the children had written so far and a discussion of how to improve the writing in order to more realistically portray the sister cities. Our NY students wrote plays that take place in London while the London students write plays that take place in NYC.
Developing this videoconference was no easy feat. First we had to resolve the technology issues. The England schools use a web cam software "Click 2 Meet" and we use a Polycom with an H.323 protocol. My "mixed technology trials and tribulations" are clearly documented in previous posts. After successfully crossing that hurdle we had to write a lesson plan that would meet the objectives of what the videoconference hoped to accomplish. Of course you have to schedule the videoconference after consulting with the dozen or so people you are ccing in these cross Atlantic e-mails. The WebPlay people, the school coordinators, the teachers, the tech people and so on. Then with a little luck you hope the vc doesn't get cancelled.
Developing your own content is not an easy route to travel. Next week I am hoping to do a vc that has been in the works for several months with the National Weather Service. Again I worked on this from scratch, No cake mix for me. First I tried to find a meteorologist. Then the technology. Then the objectives, what do the children want to know? What do they know already? Then the schedules (school vacations, meteorologist business trips, school testing etc.) Today is Thursday, the conference is next Wednesday. Will there be a metorologist strike? Fortunately it's not hurricane season. I'll keep you posted.
Producing your own content, a true videoconferencing adventure!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

When I was contacted in early February, about one of our 3rd grade NYC classes participating in a videoconference about St. Patrick's Day with a School from Cork, Ireland I immediately sent out an e-mail to all our schools looking for interested classes. I knew there would be "takers" but I had no idea of just how popular this program would be. I got so many responses from classes that were very enthusiastic to participate in the program. Not even the stipulation that a written lesson plan needed to be provided deterred those teachers from responding. It was difficult turning down so many. Why did this offer attract so many when so many other wonderful program opportunities attract so few or sometimes none at all. I think there were two elements that were very appealing. First of all the fact that a class in Ireland would be participating gave the conference an exotic component. Everyone loves an international connection! But the second element is that St. Patrick's Day is probably one of the most beloved holidays that is celebrated in our schools. As it was said more than once during today's videoconference "On St. Patrick's Day everyone is Irish".
Today was the day of the videoconference. The 3rd grade classes that participated in today's program were two of our classes from New York, one from Michigan, one from South Dakota and of course one from Cork, Ireland. Mrs. Healy's class from St. Vincent's School in Cork was using a videophone. All the other classes were using Polycoms. Bridging these technologies are still unchartered waters and although it worked yesterday during a test call, today only their audio made it across the Atlantic Ocean. So we listened to the beautiful brogues of the children in Mrs. Healy's class as they talked about the city of Cork and their celebrating of St. Patrick's Day. We learned that there are no specific foods for St. Patrick's Day and that often pizza is more popular than cornbeef and cabbage. Our students shared facts about their cities and how they celebrate St. Patrick's Day. They shared limericks and activities and got to ask a few questions.
I hope that we will get to see Mrs. Healy's class one day as videoconferencing is such a visual technology that it would be nice to have faces to go with those voices. I'm sure those Irish eyes are smiling but it would have been nice if we could have seen them.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Our Videoconferencing Community

I just had a most interesting videoconferencing adventure. In December I participated in Megaconference 7 which besides being a great videoconference experience for myself and some of our students also got my name on the Megaconference distribution list. So for the past few months I get lots of e-mails from some of my few hundred plus friends who are also on the list. All the discussion in these e-mails center around videoconferencing and I can honestly say I've learned a lot. I even sent an e-mail once myself. I sent an e-mail with a query about the Click to Meet software and the H.323 protocol. I received about a dozen responses. I actually because of my e-mail wound up in touch with Stewart Duncan from the London Grid. This week we tested our equipment and now it looks like our NYC schools will be videoconferencing with their London schools. I liked this sense of caring and interest that the members of the megaconference mailing list have for each other. The time and thought they take to answering a question or help in solving a problem. So when Megan Troyer from Ohio State University sent out an e-mail looking for a videoconferencing site in NYC for one of their professors on sabbatical, I decided to be a good videoconferencing Samaritan and offer one of our middle schools to host the professor.

Today was the day of the videoconference. The professor was going to videoconference with her graduate design students to see their final projects via videoconference. The students had been working for the past 8-10 weeks on designing multi-media interactive computer programs about "Carnival" in Notting Hill, London. I was actually staying in Bayswater London at "Carnival" and didn't even see it but that's another story. So, I got to learn about it today through the graduate students at Ohio State University and their amazing projects. Each was so different and each was so interesting. Their professor was able to see and hear the student's projects and ask questions. (I told her to give them all A's and she agreed).
When I left the school today I jokingly told two teachers who came in the room as we were leaving if you're ever at Ohio State and need to do a videoconference... But seriously I do feel a tremendous sense of camaraderie from my experience with our videoconferencing community. I hope as it continues to grow, as I know it will, we will keep on helping each other by sharing our experiences, expertise and even our equipment.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Read Across America Meets Click 2 Meet

Today was our first Read Across America videoconference for this year. It was also our first time videoconferencing with a Click to Meet site and our Polycom room system. In other words Polycom VSX7000 meets Webcam. It wasn't terrible. Let me clarify that. I wasn't sure what to expect. I had pretty low expectations. The biggest problem was the audio. We heard everything we said twice. So, when our students talked we asked the other site to mute their mic. The video definitely was not as sharp as we are use to. There was no camera work at the Click to Meet. No zooming in and out, no panning right to left, and no presets. There was just one wide shot thats focus was soft. But we did hear and see them. We did have a good time learning about each other. Our students presented some Dr. Seuss poems and facts. They read to us The Three Little Pigs. We asked questions and they answered them. They asked questions and we answered them. The children enjoyed the experience and so did I. I think that the quality of the connection detracted from the program but I also think that if I had to choose to videoconference with a Click to Meet site or not to videoconference I would choose the former since the purpose of the videoconference was accomplished.