Saturday, December 15, 2007

Can You Hear Me Now?

Last summer I had the opportunity to videoconference with a group of educators from BOCES, which stands for the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and provides school districts in New York State with a program of shared educational services. about 123 Jazzing Up the Curriculum with Videoconferencing. "Jazz" is an intensive week long professional development where the teacher participants model the actual activities and videoconferences their students will be doing. At that time they invited me back to be a presenter at their two-day modified "Jazz" on December 11th and 12th. They wanted me to talk about Poetry Slam and how we were utilizing videoconferencing in the program. They wanted it to be as interactive as possible. So, I recruited 5 of our last year poetry slam students to come and perform their poetry and field some Q & A from the grown-ups. We were all ready to proceed for our 9 AM start when the dreaded "we can't hear you" rang out from the various sites. I wasn't on mute, nor was it that the volume was low but rather it was that pesty microphone that was dropped last spring. I had been jiggling the connection for months and always had success but now it just wouldn't cooperate. "Can you hear me now?" (I felt like that Verizon guy.) Finally they decided to move on with their conference and I offered to try and get another vc unit from a nearby school. Global Nomads who were suppose to follow my presentation were able to take my place. I got the other equipment and was able to follow at 10:30. Unfortunately I lost 3 of my student poets along the way but I was left with two troopers who did an amazing job performing their poetry and answering several questions from the adult participants. Their teacher told me later that when they came back to class they were "elated". Videoconferencing gives students such unique opportunities and experiences. Ones that they will remember all their lives. I will remember that old adage "don't put off till tomorrrow what you SHOULD do today". The next order of business is to order a new microphone.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Planet Hopping With Mathematics

Did I ever tell you how much I love NASA? I am sure I have but yesterday's videoconference "Planet Hopping Through Mathematics" just reaffirms my affection and enthusiasm for the NASA Digital Learning Network. With over 50 free programs, all supported by excellent online lesson plans and activities it is no wonder that the NASA Digital Learning Network's schedule fills up fast. By this time of year it is more challenging then a space launch to find a spot in one of their videoconferences. However, if one is persistant and you have some time on your hands you can probably still find a spot or two. The best advice, book early in the school year. Now back to Planet Hopping with Mathematics.
I am always interested in videoconferences that relate to mathematics. So, this program looked perfect. The desription of the program asked "How high can you jump on Mars?" and in this highly interactive session students used mathematics to explore and learn about the planets in our solar system. The students had to complete equations that required both multiplication and division and decimals to the nearest hundredth, to determine which planets they can jump the highest and lowest on.

The program came from the Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Virginia, one of ten NASA Centers. The students learned that there is more to NASA than just Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas and Cape Kennedy in Florida. The Langley Research Center's ultimate goal is to stimulate interest in science and math fields.
The 6th grade math class that participated in yesterday's program were given a real treat. Dan, the expert and presenter at Langley had a wonderful personality and was chock full of planet facts and information. The multimedia style presentation really enhanced the program. Our thirty students were broken up into groups of three, and using a meter stick they calculated (in inches) the height of their jumps on Earth to the nearest inch. They then calculated their jumps on the seven other planets (remember Pluto has been booted out and is no longer a planet) by doing different equations. Throughout the program each planets characteristics was explored in great detail. I don't think any of the students will forget the red spot on Jupiter, the craters on Mercury or the storm that is no more on Neptune. I found this program to be excellent and as always learned a great deal too. How high can you jump on Mars? You take your jump on Earth, multiply it by 5, and divide by 2. You do the Math.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Just in Time for Thanksgiving a Videoconference About Giving

Yesterday, a sixth grade class and I participated in a very special videoconference with a very special boy. Stefan Lyons, is an 11 year old, who has been raising money to build a school in Africa. He started his Kenya Project of giving and caring at the tender age of nine. He raised $2,000 baking and selling cookies but he still needed to raise more money to finish the project. So he wrote a book “My Adventures with Stitch” about his pet white rat, Stitch. It is filled with true stories and Stefan took many of the pictures that are in the book. He raised enough money to convert an old cowshed in Kenya into a large schoolroom called “Stefan’s Wing," but now he wants to raise more money to build another school in Kenya. Stefan has now written a second photo journal book about Stich called "Stitch Tours San Francisco" He hopes that by selling his two books he will be able to meet his goal of raising $40,000.

The videoconference which was offered through Polycom's educational programs included classes in New York, South Dakota, Texas and Arizona. With Stefan in San Francisco, all 4 time zones were represented. The students had a chance to ask Stefan a lot of questions about his Kenya Project, about his being an author and about his pet Stitch. When asked if Stitch had learned any new tricks Stefan answered that Stitch has a daughter who could separate legos into light and dark piles. I think everyone would have liked to see that! The classes got to share some of their own fund raising projects. Everybody got to share new ideas on how to raise money. Whenever, Stefan asked "how he could help". The reply was to send some of his books to sell. A group of second graders in Arizona read some of their own pet stories. While one student in Texas shared a story titled "I Am Thankful for My School". It was a humorous tribute to the different rooms and activities in his school. He even got to pay tribute to the school bathroom.

I think the students were truly movitated about giving and helping others. They were inspired by Stefan and how one young boy could make such a difference in our world. This was Stefan's first videoconference. He did great. He has poise, intelligence and a wonderful personality. One student asked if he was becoming a star? Stefan answered modestly that maybe he was a little bit. When the videoconference was over, Stefan, like any other 11 year old, had to go to school.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I'm confused. On Monday I went to an EEZ meeting. EEZ, Educational Enterprise Zone, is the closest thing to a distance learning organization for New York and New Jersey VCers. EEZ is a not-for-profit consortium. Members of this consortium are content providers who create programming for K-12 classrooms and learning environments that receive the programming, as well as corporate facilitators who assist with hardware, software and connectivity needs for the various programs that EEZ sponsors. At quarterly meetings members get an opportunity to see state-of-the-art educational technologies and exchange ideas and strategies.

The first meeting of the year saw a demonstration of the software SAFARI Montage® Live! This software lets teachers and students connect from their computers via the Internet. This simple Web-based, video-conferencing tool becomes an easy solution for providing school-to-school distance education. I actually am always very skeptical of these low end connections but I have to say the quality of the videoconference I observed was somewhat impressive. Granted the connection was between the presenter and someone back at their corporate office. Not exactly a room full of enthusiastic students. But the picture was crisp the sound definitely audible (maybe a little tinney). There were features like text chat, live polling, and viewing and sharing files.

And here's why I am confused. The director of EEZ, Stan Silverman, prefaced the demonstration by telling the story of the two blacksmith shops on opposite sides of the road. The blacksmith shop on the left made very high quality horseshoes. The one on the right started selling mufflers along with horseshoes. The shop on the right stayed in business and the one on the left did not because even though the one on the left made better quality horseshoes there were no longer any horses. What does this mean for videoconferencing in our schools? Should we be moving toward sacrificing quality for greater access and lower costs? Is there a breakthrough in the technology that we cannot ignore?

I remember talking to Alan November two years ago at a conference. I was telling him about the things I was doing in videoconferencing. He asked me if I tried Skype. I was taken aback. Here I was talking about serious, high end videoconferencing in the classroom and he's pushing some rinky dink webcam online system. I dismissed it then but two years later I am not so sure. And then, my favorite question, what about Internet 2?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A School Named for Distance Learning

Today was an orientation for students and parents for Bell Academy, a new middle school that is part of the New York City school system. Bell is an acronym for Bayside Enrichment and Long-Distance Learning Academy. I will be working there this year two days a week. It is very exciting to be working in a school whose central theme is distance learning. I have worked in several schools that had technology themes and the middle school I have been working in for the past few years is a magnet school of telecommunications. But with Bell Academy, distance learning specifically through the use of videoconferencing is front and center. The enrichment component is much broader than just the technology of videoconferencing but it also reflects how videoconferencing is integral to enriching the curriculum. The school will be following the Renzulli School-Wide Enrichment Model (SEM) . The main objectives of the Renzulli School-Wide Enrichment Program are:
• To expose students to topics that may not be included in the essential curriculum
• To increase student skills in research and problem solving
• To increase student awareness of personal strengths and interests
The use of videoconferencing will focus on exposing students to a wide variety of experiences. They will hear from experts and specialists in many fields and learn about different kinds of occupations, and hobbies. They will have the opportunity to observe and participate in demonstrations, experiments and research through videoconferencing with other institutions and other classrooms. They will travel the world without ever leaving their school. I am really looking forward to working with the students and their teachers in finding programs and collaborations that will "enrich" their learning and thinking. I don't think a school needs to have distance learning in their name to enjoy the benefits videoconferencing can bring but it can't hurt either.

Friday, August 03, 2007

VCing From the Comfort of Home

On July 25th I had a videoconferencing first. I participated in a videoconference using H.323 protocol with a group of distance learning coordinators in upstate New York from the comfort of my own home. At the end of school in June I brought home a Polycom 4000 desktop unit that one of my schools had won during the Megaconference 2005 roll call. The unit is an all in one piece of equipment. The camera, monitor and microphone are all built in. I used my home cable modem to participate in the call. I am actually very comfortable using a cable modem since that is what our schools use to participate in videoconferences.
This past May I heard from Michelle Bartholomew, of Broome Tioga BOCES. BOCES, stands for the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and provides school districts in New York State with a program of shared educational services. Sharing is an economical way for districts to provide programs and services that they might not be able to afford otherwise. Hence their interest and involvement with videoconferencing and other technologies. NYC schools are not part of BOCES but of course I welcome the opportunity to develop new partnerships and collaborations. Michelle was especially interested in learning about 123 Jazzing Up the Curriculum with Videoconferencing. I participated in facilitating that training last summer with a group of 16 NYC school teachers. The coordinators I videoconferenced with this month represented all the different BOCES programs in New York State. It was their goal to develop their own Jazz type training.
It was a lot of fun to videoconference with these people and especially from my very own home. Of course I had to apologize for the barking of my dog Moby. The videoconference coincided with the time my mail is delivered and Moby is no fan of the mailman. But other than her ocassional barking I thought the videoconference went very well. I had e-mailed some Jazz material to be distributed prior to the conference. I was able to present the Jazz schedule and structure. They were able to ask questions and clarifications. I was able to meet and network with these distance learning coordinators from my state. Best of all, Michelle sent an e-mail to thank me for participating in their Jazz planning session. She told me that they decided to put together a mini jazz session that they hoped to have on December 11 and 12. She also said that they will be contacting me at some point as they would like to have me as a guest speaker during that session.
Probably that videoconference will take place from my school without Moby. However, it was wonderful to be able to participate without the commute and from the "comfort of my own home",

Friday, June 15, 2007

Poetry Slam 2007

For the past three years I have been involved with poetry slams through videoconferencing. I have blogged about Poetry Slam in the past. This year I was fortunate to win a NYS Learning Technology Grant and continue the Poetry Slam program . In the past I had 8 different schools compete via videoconferencing in poetry slam competitions. This year was a little different. The grant I wrote was for only 3 schools. Six of the eight poetry slam classes were in the middle school where I work. The other two classes were in a neighboring middle school and in a non public Catholic School. The poets have been going to these 3 schools for the past ten weeks teaching poetry writing and performance to sixth graders. Yesterday we had a live slam in my school and the top scoring class went on today to slam with their non public partners virtually. Since the Catholic school had only recently received their videoconferencing equipment I decided to go to the school to help facilitate the poetry slam. There was also a judging site in yesterday's competition. That was a middle school in the Bronx. It was in the Bronx where using videoconferencing as a way to bridge geographic distances and scheduling logistics first began. Now this program has grown nationally to a new organization called GLOBALWRITeS.
The students at the Catholic school started their day in a prayer circle. They prayed for our world and even prayed a little for their poetry slam. Then the slam began. The student's poetry and performances were great. There will be a poetry anthology of all the poems as part of the grant. Some of them will also be posted at the GLOBALWRITeS website. Interestingly, the class from my middle school was a bridge class. This means that all of them are English Language Learners (ELL). The fact that they placed first in their school slam and now in the inter-school slam is quite an impressive accomplishment. The other nice thing is that as part of the grant classses will continue their participation in Poetry Slam through 7th and 8th grades. Imagine three years of poetry writing and performing. There will be classes of future poet laureates!!!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Career Day

It seems if you want to love what you do become a scientist. At least that is what I have learned from all the scientists that our classrooms have videoconferenced with over the past years. The meteorologists at the National Weather Service an arm of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are no exception as they shared with our students yesterday their love for the work they do. Meteorologist Richard Watling began his talk with the students advising them to find something they love to do. He recounted the days of his youth in the Finger Lakes Region of New York watching the sky and the weather. He talked about the educational steps he had to take to become a meteorologist. Then he shared his favorite weather pictures of hurricanes and tornadoes and the power of these weather systems. He also spoke of global warming and the attention that needs to be given to this issue. Meteorologist Laurie Hogan also looked up to the sky as a child. Her sky was the great open spaces of North Dakota. Our students live in an urban environment and don't have the opportunity to see weather in this dramatic way but they definitely see its effect on the news they watch and some of the weather events they have personally experienced. She also talked about the kinds of equipment that meteorologists work with from computers to satellites and of course the trusty weather balloon. The students were also introduced to the NOAA Education Resourcesat the NOAA website that are available for students and teachers by educational specialist Cheryl Latif.

Of course the students had the opportunity to ask questions. How do you get the 5-day forecast? Why do hurricanes have names? How much money does a meteorologist make? Are just a sampling of some of the questions asked. From the attention and interest the students paid to these meteorologists I could tell they are even at the ages of 11 and 12 seriously considering their future careers. This wonderful opportunity to hear and question these leading scientists are really made possible through the technology of videoconferencing since the physical distance of their location as well as their busy schedules make a classroom visit difficult at best. You can see a wonderful video called Tornado’s Hero: A Meteorologist Roll over the video section and pick interview with meteorologist.
Finally a few comments on some technical and scheduling glitches. These always point to the importance of planning, planning and more planning. On our end we lost a class and our audio for the second program. The teacher was unaware that her class was scheduled for the program and until the class was located more than half the time was lost. The loss of audio lead to our writing notes on a dry erase board for communication. This is a reminder of the importance of a phone at each site for communication.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Where Do We Go From Here

Yesterday I finished the last session of an "Integrating Videoconferencing Into the Classroom" for a group of teachers in Brooklyn, NY. All the workshops were suppose to be for the same group of teachers but that was not always the case. Some teachers did participate in all five trainings but there were also new teachers joining along the way as well as some drop-outs. This is also not the Region in NYC that I work in but I was hired as a consultant. The first workshop was an overview and introduction to videoconferencing. The next two we did a Mini Jazz. Here we collaborated with a group of teachers in El Paso Texas via videoconferencing for two Saturdays in a row. In March we worked on developing specific videoconferencing lesson plans. The teachers created pre and post activities and used the various videoconferencing databases to search for appropriate programs. Yesterday I titled the agenda "It's a Wrap" I hoped to tie together loose ends as well as help them to develop a plan for "where do we go from here". We covered their roles of providing "turn-key" training to their colleagues as well as getting the support they need for their videoconferencing programs. They also shared their successes and failures. These were schools that had videoconferencing equipment for almost 3 years but had never used the equipment. I was not sure what to expect. But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

The first school shared a video of a conference with 5th graders and the San Diego Zoo on "Animal Classification". They also had posted parts of the videoconference on a Thinkquest website some of the students had created. In addition they were planning a videoconference with NASA fo a group of 2nd graders and they will be sharing that program with a like group of 2nd graders from New Mexico. Another teacher shared that he had videoconferenced with his El Paso "Mini Jazz" partner. They did a couple of programs and shared some poetry as well as some facts about each other and their cities. As each teacher shared their accomplishment, no matter how small, I realized that they were on the road to providing their students with wonderful videoconferencing experiences.
As a staff developer, especially this year, where I am not working as a full time distance learning coordinator. I am not in touch with what is happening in the many schools with their videoconferencing equipment. It always makes me smile inside when I get an e-mail from a former workshop participant, like the one I got from a school media specialist who wrote "It has been a great year....especially in videoconferencing. I have had much success .... I spoke to my principal who very much would like to expand videoconferencing. This is "music" to my ears.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Internet TOO?

I always check my ED1 VIDCONF and CILC e-mails for program opportunities. Lately there have been a lot of interesting posts from Magpi at UPenn. A Multicultural Youth Exchange: An Art-Based Videoconference Workshop for 6-8th graders and
a Virtual Coffee House Project peaked my interest. The content seemed very appropriate for our middle school students, and the price was The only problem was the the connection requirements: *H.323 Videoconferencing and Internet2 Connectivity Required. I have the H.323 protocol but not the Internet2. This exclusion from participating is a little frustrating. At a time when great efforts are made to connect all kinds of videoconferencing equipment and software to make videoconferencing more inclusive, it seems that Internet2 is working to become exclusive. What is Internet2 and how can we get it? According to Wikipedia "Internet2 is a non-profit consortium which develops and deploys advanced network applications and technologies, for education and high-speed data transfer purposes". What Internet2 users experience is a faster, steadier network that is less congested and free from commercial traffic. "Imagine driving on the commercial Internet as analogous to driving on a four-lane highway in St. Louis during rush hour. Driving on Internet2 is more like driving on a rural four-lane highway in western Kansas. You get where you're going a whole lot quicker." What are the costs for involvement in Internet2? They are in the tens of thousands of dollars. So, with an investment of that much money it is no wonder that the users would want exclusivity. The excitement of using Internet2 for videoconferencing is extremely tempting and we can only hope the price comes down as the technology becomes more widespread. But for now I can just read those program postings and wish I had Internet 2.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Ultimate Gift

One of our 8th grade classes participated in a wonderful ASK program this past Thursday. ASK, which is an acronym for Authors, Specialists, Knowledge gives students the opportunity to read a book and then ask questions of the author or in some cases specialists who are experts on the topic. Our videoconference this time was with Jim Stovall, an author, motivational speaker and media executive. He is also blind. He lost his eyesight as a young man. He discovered his love for reading books only after he had lost his sight. Now, Stovall starts everyday listening to a book on tape. He shared this fact about his life and others as he answered a wide variety of questions posed to him by students from six different schools. All together he fielded 36 questions about his book and his life. His accomplishments are very impressive. His Narrative Television Network has resulted in developing a second audio track on televisions for the visually impaired so that they can hear the actions and scene descriptions that they cannot see. Mr. Stovall has written many motivational books. His most successful book is "The Ultimate Gift". This is the book that was read by the students and discussed in Thursday's program. It also has been turned into a movie and is being released this month. I always find these ASK progrmas to be a great experience for the classes. First the students get to read a book and then meet and question the author. They also get to see and hear the other students as they ask their questions. It's an exciting event for all involved. It is inteactive videoconferencing at its finest.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

February and Freak the Mighty

A month has passed since I entered my last blog. February is always a short and very busy month. Throw in the fact that NYC schools have a week off for a winter break and it is easy to understand how a month can go by so quickly. But February was a very busy month for videoconferencing. On February 12th one of our 8th grade classes got to participate in an ASK program with Dr. Ben Carson. This was the second year that our students had the opportunity to read Dr. Carson's autobiography "Gifted Hands" and then meet with this outstanding pediatric neurosurgeon, author and motivational speaker. You can read more about the videoconference in Janine Lim's blog Videoconferencing Out on a Lim. There were also a couple of MysteryQuests in February. These videoconferences are always a successful experience for the participating classes as they race against time to find the mystery countries and cities from a bunch of clues presented by other classes all over the US. Even with Google the search is a real challenge! There was also a second NASA VC, about Rocket Science.

But what I really want to write about today is the wonderful "Read Around the Planet" VC that took place yesterday. This year "Read Across America" got aptly renamed "Read Around the Planet". Yesterday's Read Around the Planet or RAP as it is affectionately called was with a school in Alberta, Canada. The students in Canada had read the book "Freak the Mighty". In an interesting twist of retelling the story, the students in Canada chose popular music that best reflected the characters and mood of different chapters. Our students who are participating in a Poetry Slam program shared an original poem about New York with a promise to videoconference again to share their poetry from the slam. As always our New York City urban kids and the Canadian rural/suburban counterparts enjoyed sharing what they had in common and observed some of their differences. When asked by the students in Canada if they liked to dance. The New York students revealed that the entire class is taking a ballroom dancing class. They told the Canadian students that they were learning how to salsa, rhumba, swing etc. This prompted a discussion for a future videoconference of a demonstation of some of these dances. It always amazes me how this technology is able to form these wonderful connections between the students. The students really seemed to enjoy each other and are able to form a bond with each other. Now I have to figure out how to transform our media library into a dance floor. I just love my job. I will keep you posted.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mini Jazz Part 2

Yesterday was Part 2 of our modified Jazzing Up Your Curriculum with Videoconferencing Workshop. For the second Saturday teachers in NYC New York teamed up with teachers in El Paso Texas to see and experience some of the wonderful possibilities of collaborative videoconferencing. Last week we looked at exchanges. This week our focus was on quests, specifically MysteryQuest. In a format, somewhat like speed dating we consolidated a few weeks collaborative project into a 75 minute whirlwind activity. Our teachers researched a mystery country and city, came up with a 5-7 minute presentation, researched the other sites mystery country and city, asked clarifying questions, made educated guesses and revealed their mystery locations. The Texas group presented a hysterical skit of a plane flight on the way to India experiencing some problems with their GPS system and having to make an emergency landing in some body of water located in the Tropic of Capricorn. The apologetic pilot's presentation of clue as the passengers experienced turbulence and confusion was nothing short of brilliant. The NYC group had their own humorous take as a BBC World News Reporter with a proper British accent and reporters in the field presented clues about their mystery location. The experience though light hearted in nature showed the tremendous learning experience a Mystery Quest provides. If you have never participated in a Berrien County MysteryQuest you are missing something.
After MysteryQuest was over we went back to our small group work where our elementary teachers paired up in groups of two or more to plan classroom collaborations for the days ahead. Using the ideas of exchanges and now quests they began planning for lessons that would build upon their two different school communities. The middle school groups planned for science and social studies exchanges. While the high school group developed a lesson plan which deals with global warming. The students would research specific affected ecosystems, present their finding to each other and even debate the issue of how real is global warming.
When our teaches said their goodbyes, I think they felt that they had formed some new "connections" with each other. I look forward to blogging about the actual videoconferences that do take place in the near future. Once again I thank Ashton Graham my colleague in El Paso for this wonderful collaborative videoconference training.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Today we did the first day of a two day vc training with a school district in El Paso, Texas. It is a very modified version of a 5-day training we did this summer called Jazzing Up Your Curriculum with Videoconferencing. We started off the day with a Jeopardy Game about the great states of New York and Texas. I think Texas won but who's keeping score? Next we modeled three different kind of classroom exchanges. Our teachers did a community exchange sharing information about NYC and El Paso. Our NY group did pantomines of riding on the subway, hailing a taxi, visiting the Statue of Liberty and of course drinking coffee at Starbucks (although I don't think that's exclusively a NY thing). The El Paso group showed us why El Paso is "hot and spicy". During Monster Exhange our groups drew monsters, described their monsters, exchanged descriptions and then drew each others monsters. They did a great job. During math exhange our two groups picked the same math problem. What is the mathematical probabilty of that? Then it was on to our small group work where hopefully our schools will develop exchanges to do with each other. There was a high school group, a middle school group and an elementary group. We had two endpoints and each group met for a half hour to find common interests and start to develop a format and lesson plan for a videoconference. Next week we will meet again to model some more program ideas and continue to work on their ideas for a connection. It was a lot of fun and I want to thank Ashton Graham from El Paso for all her hard work and preparation in planning this training with me. Look for Part Two next week.

Monday, January 22, 2007

My Day with the Big Guys

This past Saturday I gave a videoconferencing training at a High School. For me this is somewhat new territory as my work experience with 9th-12th graders and their teachers is not very extensive. This was a new high school that opened three years ago. The high school has a state of the art distance learning room. The room contains a Tandberg 2500 rack mounted system, 4 hanging zenith monitors, 5 cameras (one over each monitor and one in the rear of the room called the “instructors camera”, a drop down projector (it literally comes out of the ceiling) and a switch controlled screen. In addition there is a wall mounted plasma screen. There is also a touch control panel to operate all the previously mentioned equipment and a high resolution document camera. From what I gathered the system has rarely been used. They did a videoconference with the Museum of Television and Radio last spring but the connection experienced some technical difficulties. The school administration feels that they want to make a concerted effort to get the room up and running. I was asked to come in and help in getting the room operative and train the teachers on integrating the videoconferencing into the curriculum. I came in a few afternoons to familiarize myself with the equipment. After all I am use to a polycom or Tandberg that sits atop a monitor and a lone remote provides all the magic. I am use to one microphone placed in a central position not a roomfull of mics planted in the tables in a theatre like setting. The room uses only ISDN lines an indication of how long we have come in the past few years. Now ISDN is becomming a disability as more systems are using IP.

On Saturday I met up with four teachers from the school. Three of them taught Social Studies. A very good curriculum for videoconferencing. I showed them my trusty powerpoint that highlights the myriad of opportunities for videoconferencing with their students. We talked about about the challenges of using the equipment. It may be neccessary to modify the room to make it more user friendly. Five cameras is great but we all agreed that one camera in the front of the room is what is really needed. Then everyone got to use the equipment. We made a test call to the New York Institute of Technology and saw their parking lot and heard the music from their FM "hard rock station". It's difficult to find "a live person" to connect with on a Saturday. Then it was off to the library to search the databases for some good programs. The teachers were very enthusiastic about the Global Nomads website and were anxious to sign up for their programs. One of the teachers found a World War II project that involved interviewing veterans. And then it was time for the piece de resistance, the Paul Hieronymus Jeopardy game. This time put together by Ashton Graham from El Paso, on the great state of New York. I had a wonderful day with the big guys. I'll keep you posted on the fate of their Distance Learning Room.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Awesome Amphibians

Hey did you know that you can't get warts from touching a frog? Even if the frog is full of warts like the ones from the Lee Richardson Zoo in Kansas. This week a sixth grade class participated in the zoo's "Awesome Amphibians" program. They got to see frogs, salamanders and the more rare caecilians that are snake like in appearance. The programs from the zoo are free but as informative and interesting as some of the pay programs from other zoos and museums that deal with these topics.

The presenter was not too warm and fuzzy but maybe that was in keeping with the fact that amphibians are "cold blooded animals". Another fact that was revealed in this forty-five minute program. Before the videoconferencing a packet of materials was sent by mail to the teacher. Some simple demonstrations were done by the class during the program. To demonstrate how amphibians absorb and release water a sponge was included in the packet. A cute activity of one of the students eating a piece of candy and then dipping it in dish liquid and not wanting to eat it, showed how a salamander detracts its predators.

Due to the fact that our middle school was busy with testing this week our videoconference took place in a computer lab and not in our beautiful media center. That once again shows the importance of an appropriate room environment for videoconferencing. The room was awkward for the type of movement that was necessary for the demonstrations. Also student's faces were blocked by computer monitors. I am a big proponent of where possible having a designated room for distance learning. The room should encourage the kind of activity and environment needed for a quality connection. Libraries work well but are often not available. As was the case for our videoconference. But even with our less than perfect room situation the program was enthusiastically received by the students and their teacher.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Grant Writing 1.01

For the past eight years I have been working for technology programs funded through grants. This year the grants ended and I found myself writing my own grants. This is a daunting task as the grant writing process requires a great deal of time and giving detailed information. I am working full time in a school as a technology coordinator and I do consultant work in videoconferencing so my time as most educators is a precious commodity. I wrote these grants with the hope of funding two videoconferencing programs I feel passionate about. One is my beloved Poetry Slam and the other a science based and career oriented program with NOAA. The one with NOAA required a pre-proposal. I thought the purpose of writing a pre-proposal was to weed out weak proposals so that people applying for grants don't spend enormous amounts of time on writing grants that are not of the quality or vision that is required. I actually thought that was not a bad idea. Since I am an educator and not a "professional grant writer" I would not spend excessive amounts of time writing a grant that had a poor to none possibility of being approved. I was shocked to receive an e-mail saying that because I sent a two-page resume instead of the required one page resume my grant was declined. It was a copy of my most recent resume. Since I was working with a 5:00 Post Office deadline I just printed it out without much thought. It had very little to do with the merit of grant. The second page could have easily been tossed or not read. I really hope that there were other more important factors in making that decision to reject my grant proposal than that. Remember this was NOT the actual grant just a description of the grant I intended to write. The rejection e-mail stated "Your application did not meet the following criterion: The resume exceeded the one-page maximum. I hope this guidance may help you succeed in future submissions to this program.”

The other grant is based on points. Each section was assigned a point value. The points ranged from 5 points to 20 points. My grant was over 50 pages in length. For example the Project Management part was worth 5 points, while the Budget Narrative was worth 20. I had a friend who reviewed some of these grants. She said it didn’t matter what the actual grant was about. The only thing that mattered is how many points you scored. If you answered all the questions even if the grant itself was sub par you got the money.

If, and it’s a very BIG IF, I ever write another grant for videoconferencing I now know to keep to the page and point requirements. But I just can’t help thinking that the grant process is somewhat “stupid”. Thanks for letting me vent. Your comments are appreciated.