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.