Saturday, November 18, 2006

A New Face on Homelessness

In honor of November 12-18 being National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, one of our 8th grade classes had the opportunity to participate in an "ASK Program" through the Berrien County ISD. Before the videoconference all the participating students read the book "Monkey Island" by Paula Fox. "Monkey Island" tells the story of an 11 year old boy that finds himself abandoned and homeless in New York City. ASK which stands for Authors Specialist Knowledge provides students with an opportunity to ask either the author or as in this case specialists questions about the issues, characters and events, the book raises in the student's mind. Through this videoconference the students are able to use higher level thinking skills to dig deeper into the subject matter.

Yesterday's program involved three schools, (two in Michigan and one in New York), and four specialists who work with the homeless in Berrien County, Michigan. It is a wonderful format. The students get to ask the experts questions. The four specialists seemed to really enjoy seeing the students and hearing their well thought out questions. It's interesting that asking questions takes on new meaning when used in an ASK videoconference.

The students work hard to prepare for the program. They journal as they read the chapters in the book.
In the case of our 8th grade class in New York, the students also participated in other activities. They did story mapping, character studies, graphic organizers on homelessness, filmstrips, and even one group studied the law as it relates to child abandonment.

After the videoconference the students reflected on what they had learned. One boy said "I always thought the homeless were just bums but now I know that's not true". The students had learned they are mothers and their children, the unemployed and even veterans. The students were encouraged by the 4 specialists to stay in school and get a higher education. This is because one of the main causes of homelessness is lack of skills to get a good paying job. A lot of credit must go to the classroom teacher for preparing their students to ASK the questions and of course to the specialists for giving so many good anwers. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Child's Play

I know videoconferencing in the classroom is reaching new heights. I've blogged about the increased interest and popularity of videoconferencing at NECC (National Educational Computer Conference). I've watched as many new content providers and programs are being offered. I've seen the growing number of videoconferencing bloggers. Just this past Friday I gave a videoconferencing workshop for teachers and administrators. The workshop was filled to capacity and it was practically standing room only. The participants were teachers and administrators interested in getting onboard this exciting technology. But today as I was reading the Sunday paper my son brought my attention to a commercial on TV. "Hey Mom isn't that something like you do?" I looked up to see two kids in different countries having a "staring contest" via videoconference. It was a commercial for Cisco Telepresence. The commercial is called "Child's Play". I'm not sure of the educational value of the vc or what learning standards are being met but I am sure that videoconferencing has reached a new level in our collective conciousness.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

On Being A Pilot

So you thought you were going to read about a videoconference about careers in aviation. Not exactly. For the past few weeks two of our schools have been participating in a pilot program with the New York Hall of Science. The New York Hall of Science has been involved with videoconferencing for several years. However, a few years ago they stopped their virtual visit programming. The museum was undergoing serious renovation and they wanted to develop a more state-of-the-art videoconferencing technology. Fast forward to this September, when I met with Chris Lawrence, director of the museums distance learning program, to discuss piloting two of the museums programs. The purpose for this pilot was to 1. To see how the programs worked and 2. To see if the students who participated in these programs did better on an assessment than other classes that did not. In other words there is a little bit of science going on here. Right now we are in the phase of "How is the program working". Yesterday we did our first virtual visit with the Hall and a science class of 6th graders. The program is "The Search for Life Beyond Earth".

Prior to this videoconference we gave the participating teachers (there are two because this class is team taught) a very extensive lesson plan provided by the Hall. Next I received hands on materials from the Hall to be used by the class both prior to and during the actual program. The materials consisted of Petri dishes, models of live and inanimate objects, and photos. Then we had a planning videoconference with the two teachers and Chris Lawrence and the program evaluator, to discuss both the pre-conference activities and the actual conference. The evaluator also visited the class to see the pre-activity with the Petri dish and teacher lesson.

Yesterday, the actual videoconference took place. It was wonderful and the students were very engaged. The new equipment being used at the Hall was very effective. Great audio and the presenter was easily able to move between exhibits. The presenter was enthusiastic and responsive to the students. The information and the exhibits were very interesting. The teachers were excited and pleased.

After everyone left I sat down with the evaluator. She said let's not just rubberstamp this let's look for ways to improve this. So, I did come up with a few. There were morning announcements on our end that interrupted the program for several minutes. Schools and schedulers need to be aware of these interruptions and avoid it if at all possible. The Hall never asked about the Petri dishes. The student’s short presentations could have been better prepared. Maybe a timetable for how long before the conference these activities need to start would have been helpful here. Did the students "get" the main points being made during the conference? A brief student recap at the end left that questionable. Is there a way to focus in on these main goals? Yes, the program was great but the idea of a pilot is to make it even greater. The evaluator will talk to the teachers for their input. Then it will all be brought back to the Hall for them to review and make any changes.

I am so glad to be a part of this pilot. Our schools are getting 4 wonderful science programs from one of the leading science museums in the country. The teachers are getting to give input on what they want for their students. And videoconferencing is getting some measurable data on its effect on student learning. It is a win win win situation for all.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Broadband of Brothers

On October 18th there was a videoconferencing reunion of sorts. The reunion took place via videoconferencing of course. The participants were nine distance learning coordinators who during the first week of August facilitated
  • 123VC Jazzing Up your Curriculum with Videoconferencing.
  • I have blogged about Jazz before. Now over two months later we were asked by one of our colleagues in Texas to reflect, review and share lesson learned with a group of teachers who were participating in a workshop on videoconferencing. It was nice to see everyone again. It was also nice to support our colleague in Texas.

    Today, I needed a site to connect to. I am doing a PD session for a group of math teachers and I wanted to connect to a site and talk about a Math Exchange. I e-mailed my Jazz friends and two offered to help out. I feel this kind of camaraderie is special to videoconferencing. We all share a passion for videoconferencing and a genuine desire to see it succeed. We are all vc good will ambassadors. So when I called my friend Janine Lim in Michigan at 9:00 one morning because a group of visiting educators from Norway were in the building. She was ready by 10:00, Dr. Seuss hat and all to talk about "Read Around the Planet". Or when I needed to help a teacher set up a Vtel unit and I was a little shaky on the connecting and using the equipment, Paul Hieronymus from Ohio spent the better part of an afternoon guiding us through our trials and errors. And the time I needed someone to connect to for a workshop I was doing on a Saturday afternoon and Elaine Shuck from Polycom spoke to the group right from her home. Yes, we are a broadband of brothers. The truth is you can't talk about videoconferencing you need to connect to someone. I appreciate all those connections I've been able to make. And hopefully I can help on my end too, when needed.