Thursday, January 24, 2008

Virtual Conferences

It may sound weird, but I love going to technology conferences. Each year I get to go to CUE (Computer Using Educators) in Palm Springs and this year I plan to pay my own way to go to NECC 2008 in San Antonio - just because I feel it’s important to be there.

When I first started attending these events, it was all about the stuff. What were the coolest new tech toys? What new software titles did I want to add to my wish list for next year? I also did my best to religiously attend any and all sessions I could. Tell me more. Tell me more! I was a sponge.

Lately, my focus has seemed to shift away from the toys and all the information and focus more on the people. Networking! That’s what it’s all about now. I’ll gladly pass on a session to spend time talking and sharing ideas with a fellow educator. Sometimes I get to be the teacher, other times the learner. And sometimes, if I’m really lucky, both of us build upon each other’s thoughts and ideas and together we come up with something totally new. We'll also share Twitter and Skype names, blog and wiki addresses, and promise to stay in touch online.

The problem is, as my network grows and I start following more and more awesome educators, I hear about all these other great conferences that I would love to attend and speakers I would love to hear. For example, even though I’m here in California, I’m jealous of all you teachers enjoying FETC right now. I’m bummed I missed hearing Jeff Corwin speak - sounds like it was great! Unfortunately time, distance, and $$$ all prevent me attending.

Good news. Thanks to some cool online tools I can now attend some of these conferences virtually! Last night I was chatting with Diana Laufenburg, who will be presenting at EduCon 2008 this Saturday. Even though I can’t be there in person, I can watch her presentation live on UStream. In fact, EduCon has set up 8 Ustream channels and plans to webcast every presentation!

Earlier this year I was able to participate in the K12 Online Conference. This conference was completely virtual. All the sessions were webcast live or posted as pre-recorded podcasts with live chat discussions.

Discovery Education will also be presenting their own virtual conference on Saturday, February 2nd. For this one you can choose to attend in person with other educators at some of the satellite sites around the country, or participate from the comfort of your own home. Be sure to let Hall Davidson know if you're listening to his keynote address in your pajamas!

Is this the future of professional development? I'm not sure, but its nice to know that if I can't be there in person that don't have miss out completely.

Virtual Conference Links

EduCon 2008
Philadelphia, PA
Friday, Jan. 25 - Sunday, Jan. 27th, 2008
Conference Agenda and Ustream channels

Discovery Educator Network Virtual Conference
Saturday, February 2nd, 2008
Registration Page

K12 Online Conference
October 2007
(This event is over, but you can still access the archives)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

WebCam Surprise

My online Merriam Webster Dictionary defines serendipity as
the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for;

That's what happened here at school today. Our first grade class is studying marine mammals and their teacher asked if I could help her find some live web cams of marine life. After a quick Google search I found a live beluga whale camera from the Vancouver Marine Aquarium and the Shamu Cam from Sea World, but the sur
prise came when I found the live sea otter camera from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Shortly after the video started streaming I could see the otters swimming around in their pool, but then I started to hear someone talking. My timing must have been just right because that happened to be the time that the trainers came out to do a short 15 minute education program about the otters.
I ran over to the first grade room and quickly got the live video up on their screen. The kids sat there and watched as the trainers fed and weighed the otters. They explained what they ate and discussed otter behavior. The talk was just perfect for 1st grade.
Sometimes you get lucky. I had no idea that their live cam also had sound. After checking the web site I found out more about the Monterey Bay Aquarium live cams and interpretive programs. Maybe you'll find this information useful in your classroom.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Web Cams

Sea Otter Feeding and Training Session - Live Cam
Daily at 10:30AM, 1:30PM, and 3:30PM (Pacific Time)

Kelp Forest Fish Feeding - Live Cam
Daily at 11:30am and 4:00PM (Pacific Time)

Outer Bay Fish Feeding - Live Cam
Tues, Thurs, Sat, Sun at 11:00AM (Pacific Time)

If the times for the live presentations don't work for you, they also have many links to pre-recorded videos as well.

Baird, Mike. "Adult Sea Otter in Morro Bay, CA." mikebaird's photostream. 14 Dec 2007. 10 Jan 2008 (

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Lessons from Mary Poppins

Do you remember the Disney classic Mary Poppins? I just happened find it on the ABC Family Channel over Christmas break and took the opportunity to watch it again for the first time in many years. I was surprised to find myself humming along with the music - many of the songs I remembered from my childhood. I was also impressed by the visual effects which were pretty cutting edge for 1964. But what stood out for me, perhaps for the first time, were all the little words of advice and mini-lessons presented by the title character. I know I may be stretching things a bit, but I think Mary Poppins has a lot to teach us about how we should be using technology in our classrooms - if we take a little time to listen to what she has to say.

My niece sharing a photo op with Mary Poppins at Disney World.

A Spoonful of Sugar
“In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and - SNAP - the job’s a game.”
If learning is medicine, why not make learning fun? Use the technology tools available to you and design engaging assignments that your students can get excited about. If you’re the kind of teacher that insists on a silent classroom, you may have to make some adjustments. Kids that are excited and having fun are rarely quiet. Better to worry about keeping them on task, rather than keeping them silent. Remember, adding fun to your lessons means more than just providing a fun reward at the end of a dull assignment. The learning process itself should be the reward.

And don’t forget to save a spoonful of sugar for yourself too. If you’re bored with the lesson you are teaching, imagine what your students must be feeling! Make your lessons fun and interesting for yourself as well. Your enthusiasm is contagious and will infect the kids your teach.

At a loss for ideas? Here’s a few to get your brain going...

Kindergarten Voicethread Projects from Bridget Belardi (Sorry about your Steelers Bridget. There’s always next year.)
Digital Riddles from Jennifer Gingerich
iPods in Education - Have a little fun yourself! Use your iPod in your classroom, or try your hand at Podcasting.

Jump into a Chalk Drawing

Be creative. Let your imagination go wild! By third grade we manage to stifle much of the creativity kids had when they started Kindergarten and replace it with repetition and routine. If you haven’t seen the video from Sir Ken Robinson yet, now would be a good time. ("Do Schools Kill Creativity?") Provide your students with opportunities to imagine, invent, and create. Not only are these skills important for your students personally, according to Daniel Pink (“A Whole New Mind”) they are a vital part of the new economy.

Currently our 5th grade students are using their online class discussion forum to imagine and write endings to some of the Harris Burdick mysteries and comment on what their classmates have done. Since the forum is protected, I can’t share their work publicly, but here is a link to the book to give you an idea of what it is all about. (The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg) This is a great book for getting students’ imaginations going. It’s fun to watch them mentally “jump” into the pictures as they create their stories here in the computer lab.

There are also many web tools out there that let students imagine, create, and invent. Here are just a few:


Chim Chim Cher-ee

Chimney sweeps are people too. Take time to learn about, and empathize with those who come from a place or culture different from your own. You may find you have more in common than you think. Consider a collaborative project with a class in another state or country. By sharing comments or contributing to a group project blog or wiki they may learn more than just the subject they are studying.

Using communication tools like Skype or iChat, your students can connect easily with other classes in different states or countries. During the recent Southern California wildfires some of our teachers had a chance to video conference with Martha Thornburgh’s students in Washington. They were able to ask questions and learn about what we were going through. No, Disneyland did not burn down. It was just fine. (Martha, if your class would like to Skype again sometime let me know.)

Voicethread is another great tool for collaborative projects. Recently they’ve added some extra capabilities. You are no longer limited to voice comments. Now, if you have a webcam, you can leave video comments too.

Feed the Birds

Your students can make a difference in the world - if they’re given a chance. In the movie, Michael causes a scene at the bank when he decides he’d rather give his tuppence to the lady who feeds the birds rather than deposit it in the bank for himself. Give your students an opportunity to make a difference in their community with projects that extend beyond the classroom.

I Love To Laugh

And you should too! How serious is your classroom? How serious are you? Laughter helps keep you healthy and should be a regular part of your day. (Laughter Therapy from NPR News) So when technology doesn’t work in your classroom, don’t freak out. Laugh about it. You’ll relieve the tension in your room and you may clear your head enough to come up with a fun alternative solution. In fact take a little time right now to laugh. I bet you can’t watch the following video with out at least cracking a smile.