Monday, March 17, 2008

Every Place Has a Story

Imagine this...
  • You're on visiting a historic Civil War battlefield. You're carrying a GPS enabled PDA with you. As you walk into a particular area your PDA starts playing a recorded story of what happened on that spot. Old photos appear on the screen showing what you might have seen had you been standing there 145 years ago. As you leave that area, the audio fades out. You continue exploring and as you do different voices, sounds, and images appear specific to those locations. It's as if those places are reaching through history to tell you their story.
  • You're walking through a park near your home with that same PDA. Suddenly a voice prompts you to stop and look around. It points out specific geological or natural features visible from where you are standing.
  • You're strolling through the neighborhood near your school. As you walk through certain areas you hear poetry, music, or stories written by your students who were inspired by those locations.
You've just experienced place-based learning. This weekend I had a chance to attend a workshop at KQED in San Francisco. Leslie Rule of KQED led the discussion as we shared ideas and brainstormed ways that place and space can be used to add an extra dimension to learning.

Many of us have seen how tools like Google Maps and Google Earth can connect us virtually with just about any place on the planet. Google Lit Trips takes events from books and links them to places. Imagine following the journey of the Joad family from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, or the story of gold seekers traveling from Boston to California in Sid Fleishman's The Great Horn Spoon.

Google Maps is valuable tool for organizing data and information by location. During the California wildfires last fall KPBS used Google Maps to share place-specific information with the public and alert communities of evacuation areas and road closures.

Using Google Street-View you can virtually stand in Dealy Plaza and survey the scene where JFK was shot, look up at the 6th story window where Oswald was perched waiting for the motorcade to pass by, and click down the street to the spot where the fatal shot struck the President.

While these types of place-based learning can all be done from the comfort of your own computer screen, the real power of place-based learning happens when you step outside the classroom and into the real world. You experience the content while standing in the actual spot - seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling it for yourself. This is where things really start to get fun.

Using GPS enabled PDA's and Mediascape software Leslie showed us how to actually create a simple version of the imagined projects described above. We pulled in a picture from Google Earth of the area just outside KQED and programmed in the longitude and latitude coordinates. Then we created zones on certain areas of the map and imported pre-recorded audio that would play when the device entered those zones. Once the "mediascape" was created it was downloaded to the PDA and we ran outside to test it out.

We turned on the PDA's, waited for the GPS to acquire our position, and opened our downloaded file. The map and zones appeared on the screen we started walking. Upon entering a zone an audio clip started to play. As we stepped out of that zone the clip stopped. Errors in the GPS positioning meant that different PDA's were triggered in different spots, but for the most part, the experiment worked!

Admittedly, the technology we used was a little glitchy and it may be a while before this type of project becomes practical. The software we used only works with Windows and Windows Mobile enabled devices. Since not many PDA's are equipped with GPS capability, we had to use a separate bluetooth GPS unit to feed our position to the PDA's. It worked for some and not for others, but everyone did get a vision of how powerful this type of learning could be.

Even if you don't have all the equipment you need right now, you can still start thinking about and creating place-based content with technology you already possess. For example, you or your students could record content and upload it to your web site. That information could be downloaded to an iPod or mp3 player. Your students could use handheld GPS units or even paper maps to indicate where to play certain tracks. Then, in the future if you do get PDA's , that recorded information would be ready-made and easily moved to a GPS enabled hand-held device.

If you have no equipment at all, you can still create an educational "treasure hunt" called an EdTrek. KQED's Quest web site has an example and instructions for creating your own.

However you choose to implement it, the important thing to remember about place-based learning is that every place has a story. It could be geological, historical, personal, or inspirational. For your students it could be a specific place that works like a trigger to get them writing.
  • Tell about something that happened here.
  • How does this place make you feel?
  • Use your words to describe the sights, sounds, textures, and smells.
For those making the learning journey through those places it will give them a new perspective as they experience that place through the words of another.

Place-Based Learning Resources:
Create-A-Scape - Software to create a mediascape.
KQED Sample Quest
Lesson Plan for Creating an Ed-Trek Activity
"No Student Left Indoors" by Jane Kirkland
Google Lit Trips

NOTE: I would not have been able to attend this workshop without a generous invitation from Janet English of KOCE. Thanks Janet for the invite and for all you do to support teachers and technology in Orange County.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Will Web 2.0 Be There When I Need It?

Warning: Normally I don't use this blog post as a forum for venting frustration, but I'm writing this today to ask, "Has this ever happened to you?"

My position here at St. John's has me spending a great deal of time working with teachers and helping them integrate technology into their lessons. While some of our teachers L-O-V-E technology and all the possibilities it offers them, many still approach these new tools with trepidation. It's a big step out of their comfort zone. While I applaud them for their willingness to take a leap forward and try something new, I'm frustrated when things just won't work as planned.

This happened last week while I was away at CUE Conference. I convinced our second grades to use Voicethread instead of Power Point for their Important Book Project. Classes worked for weeks making their pictures and recording video comments. When the teachers tried to present their final projects on Grandparents Day last Friday, Voicethread locked up and would not play. (NOTE: This Monday Voicethread added the ability to download and save projects locally. Timing is everything!)

Earlier this year 8th grade was all set to use for a literature project. The site worked perfectly the day before, but when the time came for the students to start working on their projects, all that came up on their screen was the "Page Cannot be Displayed" message.

Today in the lab I had a class come in to work on a project using I've used this site before and never had any problems but today it just wouldn't open. I posted my dilemma on Twitter and a few other colleagues shared that they were having the same problem. As a result I had to switch gears quickly and do another activity. While I can roll with these little annoyances, many of my new technology adopters see it as a reason NOT to use these new web tools and stick with "more reliable" crayon, pencil & paper projects. I can understand their feelings.

I've done enough trainings and presentations to know that the nature of all things online means that the one web tool you need might not work when you need it most. If that's true, how do I convince a timid teacher to replace their "always reliable" paper project and integrate these new web tools when they just don't trust them?

How do YOU handle this? I'd love to hear your thoughts. If nothing else, let me know I'm not alone here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

CUE Thoughts

It's Monday morning. I'm back at school, and while I'm mentally exhausted from last week's CUE Conference (and still adjusting to the time change), I need to post some of my thoughts and reflections while they are still fresh in my mind. This year's event was probably one of the best CUE experiences I've had, not just because of the sessions and presenters, but also because it provided an opportunity to connect and converse with some brilliant and talented educators, many of whom I had never met.

Most of these conversations would not have occurred had it not been for the connections I started making last summer at the Discovery National Institute. That experience really helped me jump in and start networking with people across the country and the world using online tools like Twitter, Skype, and Google Reader. It's amazing how my learning network has grown in the last 9 months. As a result, I was able to have some great conversations with people that I would never have known, and would not have approached had I not been following them online.

Wednesday - EduBloggerCon West
Thanks to Steve Hargadon (Classroom 2.0)for organizing this and to Mike Lawrence & CUE for providing rooms and wireless Internet. Those of us fortunate enough to participate in this "un-conference" got to share some great ideas and participate in some wonderful discussions. In addition to Steve, I was also able to meet several people I've been following online, but had never met in person including Jen Wagner and Sylvia Martinez. I also added a few new names to my network:

Rushton Hurley is creator of Next Vista for Learning, a free site for viewing and downloading videos created by teachers & students. Videos focus on Learning, Global Understanding, and Community Service. Rushton is also a dynamic presenter and one of the CUE spotlight speakers. I'll be blaming his Google Tools presentation for all my hours that will be eaten up playing with Google Sketch-Up.

My "serendipty" moment of the conference came during our round table discussion on Project Based Learning. Sylvia Martinez was leading the discussion. I reached in my bag and pulled out the ISTE book we've been using for our middle school teacher training, Reinventing Project Based Learning. When I praised it as a great resource a voice from across the table replied, "Hey, I wrote that book!" It was Jane Krauss, one of the authors. Of course, I had her sign my copy.

Thursday - DEN Pre-Conference

A room full of Discovery Educators was a great way to kick-off the CUE Conference. Scott Kinney gave a terrific presentation on the role that media plays in our student's lives. This event also ended up being a mini-reunion of National Institute friends. We had 8 "Academic Excursion" attendees together in the same room. Good times. Most of us got together for dinner at Las Casuelas that night.

Friday - Conference Sessions & Party Time
I've been following David Jakes on Twitter and on his blog for some time, but never had a chance to meet him until today. His presentation on Digital Storytelling opened my eyes to some new possibilities for using these with my students.

David Jakes presenting at one of the "CUE-Tip" mini sessions.

Jeremy Davis shared advanced Google searching and revealed some hidden Google tools - like calculator, dictionary, and custom searches.
Frank Guttler & Mitch Aiken from the American Film Institute shared their screen-education curriculum for students and gave us a sneak peak at their new AFI ScreenNation site - a place for students to post and share their videos.

After the sessions, it was party time. Since I volunteered at the registration booth this year I was invited to the Volunteer Reception at the Wyndham Hotel. That was followed by a reception for our Orange County CUE affiliate where we were introduced to our new affiliate president Lainie McGann. The night was capped off by a Discovery Education Celebration. Kudos to the Discovery folks for throwing a great party. They rented out Boomers in Cathedral City so we had the whole place to ourselves and we had a terrific time. I was one of about 200 Discovery Educators who reconnected with their inner-child as we played in the arcade, pounded down pizza & soda, and raced each other around the go-cart track. Thanks DEN!

Saturday - Wrapping it All Up
In addition to Rushton's enthusiastic Google Earth and Sketch-up session, I got to sit back and listen to David Jakes one more time before he had to fly back to icy Chicago. His 21st Century Cartography session had our heads spinning as he showed the magic that you can add to your blogs and wikis using embeded code. With a "simple" copy & paste you can bring your pages to life with podcasts, maps, street-views, and virtual tours.
In my last session of the conference I got to give back a little as I presented some of my own cool tips and tricks with other Discovery STAR Educators in their "Stealing from the STARs" session. I shared how to make PhotoStory-like movies using iMovie08 and Voicethread.

Cool Web 2.0 Tools
  • PicLens - Use this browser plug-in to turn your picture searches into an infinite photo-wall. Works with most image searches and Flickr.
  • MeBeam - Probably the easiest way yet to video conference. Reminds me a lot of the Brady Bunch.
  • Next Vista for Learning - Rushton Hurley's online library of free videos for learners.
  • AFI ScreenNation - The final piece of AFI's Screen Education curriculum. Coming soon!
  • GabCast - Record & post your podcast with your cell-phone. Evoca is another tool that does the same thing.
  • Google Sketch-Up - Design 3-D buildings and objects and drop them into Google Earth. (This is just too much fun!)
PHOTO CREDITS: Thanks to Mark Pennington & Jen Wagner.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

iMovie08: Follow-Up

Here's a video clip that explains the process for creating a PhotoStory3-like digital story using iMovie08.