Thursday, February 12, 2009

"If I Just Had Two Wings" by Virginia Frances Schwartz

Now that my first attempt at coordinating an ASK format videoconference is one for the books, or more appropriately blogs, I'd like to reflect on the experience and on the extraordinary videoconference. The day began with my losing my cellphone. I would soon retrieve it but I was a little uneasy that it might be a portent of what was to come. Next I received a call from one of our participating schools. It was the one in Nova Scotia, Canada and I was very excited about this school's involvement since our author Virginia Frances Schwartz was born and raised in Ontario Canada. I would learn in this conversation that they would be audio only and that they were not sure if they would be able to connect as they had some problems during the test call the previous week. My spirit sunk a little bit when I realized we wouldn't see the students and possibly may not even hear them. What next? I was even nervous about my own equipment which worked perfectly for the Dr. Ben Carson ASK videoconference on Monday but is sometimes at the whim of how much traffic is out there in cyberspace as we connect using a commercial cable modem with a dynamic IP.

So, by 11:00, the videoconference was at 12:00, I was so relieved and happy to see the author arrive and realize that it was almost showtime. At 11:30, the 6th grade class at my school, arrived at the Media Center. They had the book and their questions in hand. I seated the students who would be asking the questions at the table with the author as the rest of the class of 29 filled up the other 3 tables. I quickly prepped them for the videoconference. I told them not only were they special to have the author in the room with them but they also had had a special responsibility to be really quiet when the author was talking. Then it was time to dial into the bridge. To my great relief a class was already there as well as Roxanne Glaser, from Waco Texas, who would be facilitating the videoconference.

One by one the other schools connected to the bridge and we were ready to begin. Roxanne called the schools by alphabetical order. First up was Chester Middle School in Nova Scotia, Canada. Their sweet strong voices were music to my ears. Then one by one students in Minerva, Ohio, Monroe Township, New Jersey, Lynbrook, New York, and the two New York City schools took their turns to ask questions to author Virginia Frances Schwartz.

The students questions were wonderful. Sometimes they would refer to specific pages in the book. Other times their questions were more broad. "Why did you write a book about slavery and the Underground Railroad?" Ms. Schwartz had two answers for that question, One as a classroom teacher, she was teaching kids about slavery and the children were yawning all the way through the lessons. She couldn't find any good historical fiction books about that time in American history. So, she decided to write one herself. The other reason is that where she grew up in Ontario, Canada she lived near depots that were used in the underground railroad. So a combination of experiences in her life and her love for writing led her to write two books about slavery. She feels she may write one more about the lives the slaves now free men and women lived in Canada.

Another fun part of the videoconference was our lightning round. With just about seven minutes left, Ms. Schwartz answered a full round of questions in less than six minutes. This left just enough time for the students to give her an enthusiastic round of applause. I just want to thank the teachers and students at the six participating schools, Roxanne Glaser for her fantastic facilitation, Ra at the New York Institute of Technology for bridging the calls and our amazing author Virginia Frances Schwartz.

My hopes in my previous blog for this my first attempt at "producing" an ASK videoconference were that everyone shows up. That the technology works. That everyone involved enjoys participating in the program. It looks like those hopes were realized above and beyond my expectations. Watch for ASK #2!

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Producer

I am one week away from my first ASK format videoconference that I am producing. It is exciting and at the same time a little bit scary. Last year I tried to do this same videoconference without success. I have a colleague who's wife is an author of young adult books. They are mostly historical fiction dealing with Slavery and the Underground Railroad. Last year I purchased a class set of books for one of our 7th grade ELA classes. I posted the videoconference on the Polycom Special Events website and sat back to watch the magic happen. After a few months and postponing the date from February to April, I had no takers except for the class at my school. I finally had to cancel the program. I was disappointed but not deterred and this year I tried again with much better success. I posted the ad on the ED1VIDCONF Digest. Enthusiastic educators with questions about the program started filling up my mailbox. After many e-mails back and forth I had five registered classes in addition to the one at my school. One class is from Nova Scotia, Canada. This class I am especially excited about because the author is from Canada and parts of the story take place there. The other classes are from Ohio, New Jersey and Long Island, New York. I always feel that when students see students from other places that in itself is a videoconference! It is not easy coordinating a multipoint videoconference especially when you don't have a bridge yourself. However, I am fortunate to have access to the bridge at the New York Institute of Technology. I have used them for our Poetry Slams. This Thursday, we will be doing our tests with the bridge. On Wednesday, February 11th at 12:00 EST it is "Showtime". I will blog about the program more fully then. Right now I am hoping that everyone shows up. That the technology works. That everyone involved enjoys participating in the program. I have planned 3 more ASK format videoconferences after this one but right now I am looking forward to #1.