Saturday, November 07, 2009

Collaborative Maps Update

In my last post I mentioned that, " I'd still like to see a SHARE button on Google Maps." Today I noticed that when I go to My Maps, I see a "collaborate" link at the top.

Clicking on it will let you invite others to collaborate with you on your map.

I'm not sure how long that feature has been there. (It was probably already there when I wrote my last post.) For now I'll just fool myself into thinking that Google liked my idea and decided to add this feature because of me. :)

It's worth noting that collaborating on a custom Google Map still requires users to register for a Google Account, something that requires an e-mail. If you'd like your students to be able to work together on a map without having to register for a Google Account, Linda Dierks suggests ScribbleMaps.

As an alternate way to have students collaborate on maps, I've been using Scribble Maps ( It gives many of the same features Google Maps can without having to set up forms. You can save the map you create to a unique URL and password (still no ID needed) and share it with others. They can save changes as long as they have the correct URL and password.
Thanks for the idea Linda.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Collaborative Maps

Ever sit around playing with a particular web tool and say, "This is great, but there's got to be a way to...(insert your idea here)." This particular question has been rolling around in my head regarding Google Maps. I LOVE Google Maps, but have been frustrated that I haven't found an easy way to create maps collaboratively. I know I can share Google Docs and have multiple people working on the same document, presentation, or spreadsheet, so why can't I do the same with maps? I was ready to write a blog post today pleading with Google to add a SHARE button to Google Maps when I was reminded of a tool that Andy Losik shared with me last spring.

There IS a way for my students contribute placemarks to a Google Map. A way that doesn't require them to use my login, or even have a Google account. Here's what you do:

  1. Create a Google Form - Students will use this form to enter their placemark information. This will put their information into a Google Spreadsheet. No login required. They just need a link to the form.
  2. Use Map A List ( to auto-generate a Google Map that's linked to your spreadsheet.

To set up your Google Form, you need to know that Map A List determines location using the following fields:
  • Address 1
  • Address 2
  • City
  • State
  • Zip
  • Country
  • Latitude*
  • Longitude*
*Latitude & Longitude information supersedes address information.

You'll then want to add three additional fields for the placemark information.
  • Title - What appears for the title of the placemark.
  • Additional Info - What appears as the text in the popup window. This field will also accept HTML code. So any code you can copy & paste into Google Maps will work here too.
  • Placemark Symbol Identifier (optional) - This could be a multiple choice item in that your students use to select what type of placemark they want.
Here's a sample Google Form I created. Feel free to add your data to it.

Once your form is done and you've started collecting information, go to Map A List and sign-up for an account. After that, you'll need to give Map A List authorization to access your Google Spreadsheet. Once that is done you can start creating your map. It's a simple step by step process.

Select the spreadsheet that contains your map data.

Match the fields in your spreadsheet to the ones that Map A List uses to create your placemarks.

Once that is done, Map A List will check to see how many locations it can find based on the information in your spreadsheet. It does a surprisingly good job of determining locations even with incomplete information.

If you added a field that determines what type of placemark to use, the advanced feature on the next step is where you enter that information.

The last step is where you save your map and set a few final options. If you want to be able to send a link to your map to others or embed it on your web page or blog, you'll need to make it public.

Here's a link to the Google Map I created with my form. If you added data to the form, it may take a while to appear on the map. I set mine to update automatically, but noticed that sometimes I need to go in to Map A List and tell it to update the map manually if I want to see new data added the spreadsheet.

Classroom Applications
Students can participate in this type of collaborative map by...
  • Mapping Birthplaces. It could be their own, or someone else's. Our 5th grade is working on immigrant reports right now. This would be a fun way to share their information.
  • Historical Places. Students could work together on a class project locating and posting information about historical places around their state or country.
  • What's The Weather Today? Classes from several different schools could pick a day and share the weather. They could even embed a picture of what it looks like outside.
  • Breakfast Around the World. The form could be shared with as many people as possible to find out what people around the world eat for breakfast. Hmmmm. This idea sounds familiar.
  • I'm sure you can think of other ideas...
This is great, but there's got to be a way to...
Add lines? Highlight regions? Draw shapes? I haven't figured these out yet. If you have any ideas please share them.

By the way Google, this does not let you off the hook. I'd still like to see a SHARE button on Google Maps.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Summer Reflections 2

Fun With Time-Lapse

In addition to digging into Google Maps, this summer was also an opportunity to explore the world of photography. I haven't owned an SLR camera since my old 35mm Canon T70 died back in the early 90's. Things have changed a lot and my new Nikon D5000 has some pretty impressive features. For those you hardcore photographers this is just an "entry level DSLR", but for me it was a major step up from the point & shoots I've been using up to now.

One feature I'm really enjoying is the Interval Timer feature. This allows me to set the camera to take a certain number of pictures at a specific time interval. This is a great way to capture a series of images that can be combined either inside the camera or using video editing software like iMovie, Movie Maker. For example, I was able to capture time-lapse images of storm clouds moving over Lake Powell this summer. To create the sequences below, I put the camera on a tripod and set it to take one picture every 10 seconds for about 60 frames.

The ability to shoot time-lapse has lots of creative possibilities as well as some science applications too. Things to remember:
  • Make sure the camera doesn't move while you're capturing images. After seeing the results of my first few attempts, I learned that it was better to set the tripod on the ground because the houseboat moves.
  • Don't use the maximum resolution of your camera. You don't need a 3000 x 4000 pixel image if you're making a video. Besides, you'll fit a lot more on your memory card if you scale it back a little. The best HD video resolution is only 1920 X 1080.
  • Make sure you have a full battery charge or, if you have an AC adapter, plug your camera into a power source. A lot of time can be wasted if your camera dies during your interval shoot.
  • Experiment & have fun. Just like the Hokey Pokey - "That's what it's all about."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Summer Reflections

Many of you start a new school year today. In just a moment students will be arriving, anxiously waiting for the pearls of wisdom you choose to bestow upon them. Like me, many of you are probably wondering how summer went by so fast. It seems so close, yet as you frantically put those finishing touches on your classroom, it also seems infinitely far away. It wasn't that long ago, I think it was July, that I was in Alaska exploring Denali National Park and cruising the Inside Passage. When I get stressed about everything on my "to-do" list it helps to go back and re-live that adventure. It puts me back in my "happy place".

Because I consider myself a bit of a techie, I used the trip as an opportunity to dig in and really get familiar with Google Maps. Below is my Alaska Adventure.

View Alaska Adventure in a larger map

Creating a Google Map is a wonderful way to combine stories, pictures, and video from your vacation. I was able to arrange events in order, map my travel route, and place pictures and videos in their proper place on the map. It's like an interactive travelogue. And sharing my travel story is as simple as copying and pasting a link into an e-mail (or blogpost).

When editing a "story" events can be rearranged by simply dragging them up and down the list on the right side of your screen. Lines can be added to show travel routes. One feature I really liked was Google Maps ability to make lines follow known roads or highways. (I don't even think you can do this in Google Earth.)

I had no problem adding photos I had posted to my Flickr account. In the "rich text" editor you just click on image button and paste the URL.

Google Maps will also accept some embed code. Using the "Edit HTML" feature, I was able to copy and paste code to embed video clips I posted to YouTube. Since Google owns YouTube it makes sense that this would work. I did not have any luck trying to embed something from Voicethread however. It may take some experimenting to see what it will and will not accept.

As you can imagine there are lots of possibilities for using Google Maps in the classroom. Maps are a great way for students to grasp large amounts of data in a way that isn't overwhelming. Here's one that shows recent earthquakes around the world ( Do you think your students could use this information to locate the boundaries of tectonic plates? If your class is looking at current events, the LA Times has one with updated info about the Station Fire.

You can also get students involved in creating Google Maps. In an earlier post I showed a "Breakfast Around the World" map created with data collected from our 3rd graders. Colette Cassinelli created a project she uses with her students called "Postcard Geography". I can see our 5th grade teachers doing something similar for combining information from students' state reports. (Colette also has some great Google Map links on her wiki.)

One hurdle you need jump when using maps with students is that Google Maps is not part of Google Apps for Education. So in order for students to edit a map or create their own, they need to register with Google and create their own Google account, or use one created by their teacher. Otherwise the teacher will have to take work submitted by students and post it to Google themselves. (That's what I've done.) Hopefully this is something Google will add to Apps for Ed in the future.

Enjoy playing with Google Maps and if the new school year gets a little overwhelming, take a time out, think back to summer and map your summer memories. I think I 'm going back and look at some Alaska pictures right now.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Listening with Their Eyes

"These kids just don't listen!"

You may not have said it out loud, but you know you've thought it. Sometimes it seems like the words we say just bounce right off. You might as well be talking to a wall.

It's true. There are times when kids don't hear a word we say, but that doesn't mean they're not listening. Maybe they're listening with their eyes.

In a recent Sunday sermon, this quote was shared:

I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advise you give,
But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
excerpt from 'Sermons We See' by Edgar Guest

When you stand in front of your students what are you telling them? On those rare times they they do listen with their ears, does the message they hear conflict with the one they receive with their eyes?

Like it or not, when they're looking at us they're learning more than just the curriculum. The lessons they learn with their eyes are lessons in character. These lessons are taught continuously and unconsciously - both in and outside the classroom.

Our actions can be a powerful teaching tool when we SHOW our students what to do rather than just telling them. Think about it. When we use our words to say, "This is important." Do our deeds back it up?

Look at the way we teach information literacy and digital citizenship. When we tell kids to go find information on the Internet, do we also model good search techniques in class? Do we demonstrate how to evaluate information for accuracy or bias? We tell them to be sure to respect copyright and to cite ALL their resources for papers & projects, but do we take the time to do the same for our presentations & lectures?

We emphasize good digital citizenship and encourage students to protect themselves online. We warn them that what they post can come back to hurt them later if they are not careful, but do we also exercise those same practices ourselves? Would you want your students to see your Facebook or MySpace page? How would you feel if they started following you on Twitter?

"I'm no role model" - Charles Barkley

Maybe Charles Barkley isn't, but we are. We chose to be when we made the choice to become teachers - I think Teach42 would back me up on this. The students in our room are watching to see if the words they hear from us are more than just hype.

Now I've made a personal choice not to "friend" my students on Facebook and as far as I know none follow me on Twitter, but if by chance one of them happens to see my profile or read my tweets, there's nothing there that should cause me to feel shame or regret. I believe we need to be role models to our students in the way we act in public and online. This doesn't mean we have to be perfect - kids see through that facade right away. It just means we have to be real and make sure that our words and our actions are not sending mixed messages.

And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way
another excerpt from 'Sermons We See' by Edgar Guest
Read the entire poem here.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Final Frontier

Here's another one of those serendipity moments.

A weekend fishing trip up to the Owens Valley yielded an unexpected surprise. If you've ever driven up US 395 you may have noticed those large radio telescopes off to the east between Big Pine & Bishop, CA. For years I've wondered about those and have always wanted to get a closer look and learn more about them. What I never knew, is that 13 miles east of there, tucked up in the hills is another similar array.

Here's the serendipitous part - the day we picked to fish the Owens River just happened to be the same day that CARMA (The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter wave Astronomy) was holding their annual Open House. We followed the signs along the highway, headed east on highway 168 past the big dishes in the valley up into the White Mountains, and found the observatory site and it's 23 "telescopes".

Upon arriving we were greeted by Dr. Mark Hodges from Caltech who started the tour by sharing some information about the array and some of the work being done there. While not as big as the 130 ft dishes in the valley, what these telescopes lack in size, they make up in quantity and precision. The 10 and 3.5 meter dishes here are practically perfect parabolas - the margin of error is about the width of a human hair. By using an array of telescopes they are effectively able to get the same information that could be obtained by a much larger dish. As we toured the facility, Douglas, one of the engineers explained how the racks of computers he designed process terabytes of information received from the array, filter out the noise, and combine it into one "image".

Why take a picture with radio waves?
After munching on free hot dogs provided by the CARMA staff, Eric, one of several astrophysicists on site, explained that while the Hubble Telescope provides stunning visual images, it doesn't give us the whole picture. Radio waves provide much more information about distant stars & galaxies and help scientists determine not just what they look like, but also identify the molecules that make up these distant objects. Also, because radio waves are not affected by visible light, these telescopes can be used 24 hours a day.

What type of research is being done here?
When I asked Eric about his project, he shared that he currently has the 3.5 meter array pointed at a cluster of galaxies and hopes to use the information he gathers to prove the existence of dark matter.

The CARMA array is funded by the National Science Foundation and is a jointly operated by Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Illinois, the University of Maryland, and the University of Chicago. Every 6 months, the NSF accepts research proposals and determines which ones get time to use the array. The allocation of time is a valuable thing because a single "picture" taken by the array can take take several hours. Douglas, one of the CARMA engineers, explained that to get one image, an array of telescopes captures lines of information as the Earth rotates. After about 8 hours these lines create a complete circle and the computers get to work to process the image. "It's like the world's slowest digital camera."

That's me standing next to one of the 10 meter telescopes.

For more information about CARMA, visit their site:

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Simple Solution?

Back in November 2007 I posted a "Not So Simple Solution" demonstrating a fairly complicated way to take projects created in Microsoft PhotoStory3 and make them viewable on Macs.

While brainstorming a way to share our 3rd grade Animal Riddles online (thanks Jennifer Gingerich for the project idea) I tried uploading the wmv files created by PhotoStory directly into Voicethread - AND IT WORKED!

Now we can not only share our students' PhotoStory projects, but putting them on Voicethread allows us the option to let others comment back. Nice!

Below is an example. (Until I get an OK from the teacher I've turned off commenting.)

Monday, May 04, 2009

If Oprah Can Do It...

This might just be my shortest blog post ever, but sometimes a good idea doesn't have to be complicated. At the San Gabriel Valley CUE Technology Fair last Saturday, Jen Wagner passed on this idea she heard from Hall Davidson. Now I'm passing it on to you. (Care to keep the thread going?)

If you're looking for a free way send a message blast out to parents, rather than pay for an expensive phone/text message system, why not do what they do at Forsyth County Schools in Georgia and use Twitter? Just create a Twitter account (FREE) for your school and encourage all parents to follow it. Parents can use a Twitter app on their computer or phone or set up their account to alert them via SMS text message whenever your office sends out a message.

Parents follow the school's Twitter updates, but the school does not follow or reply to anyone. It’s simply used as a way to broadcast events and emergencies.

I’m sure Twitter messages from your school would be much more useful and meaningful than those from Oprah or Ashton Kutcher.

Did I mention it’s free?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It's All About the Network

Have you seen those Verizon commercials that have hundreds of support people standing behind their wireless phone user? The idea is to let you know that you're not alone, that you've got people behind you to keep you connected. Their slogan - It's all about the network. That's how I felt about MY network this week.

On Tuesday morning I worked with one of our third grade classes. They had just read the book "George Washington's Breakfast" by Jean Fritz. Our idea was to create a little form, asking the world what they ate for breakfast. I opened up a new form in Google Docs and had the kids help write the survey description and questions. Then I posted a link to the form on Twitter and Plurk asking you to show them the power of our network.

The results were practically instantaneous. Within 15 minutes we had a dozen responses. By that evening there were over a hundred. When I checked the next morning there were almost 400! Most were from the US, but we also had responses from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Scotland, Italy, China, Singapore, Korea, and Brazil!

I thought it would be fun to add the responses to a Google Map, so I started copying and pasting what people ate into placemarks. I had to stop after the first 200. I just couldn't keep up with the responses.

View Larger Map

We're still working on what we're going to do with all the data, but if you'd like to share our project with your students, here is a link to our spreadsheet. (As I write this, we're up to 469 responses.)

I'd like to thank all those who contributed to the survey and passed it on to others. The kids had a blast watching the results come in. We were all amazed by the huge response. Our network ROCKS!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Morsels from NCCE

Okay, I have to admit I'm a little jealous of people who can attend a conference or workshop and by the time it is over they've already written and posted a clean, coherent, and thoughtful blog recap of what was learned and experienced. For me it takes some time to process all that has been received, and even then it's often difficult to put pen to paper (or text to screen). Maybe that's why I have such great respect for experienced edubloggers like Wes Fryer.
Even so, it has been a week since I returned from Portland, Oregon and the NCCE Conference, and while it may not be as timely as some bloggers, here are a few morsels that fed my brain last week.

Peer Coaching
This idea of training a team of teachers to design and implement technology rich, standards-based lessons, and then sending them out to coach and train others at their school is nothing new. It keeps the focus where it should be - on the students and the teachers, not the computers and the technology. It makes sure that technology is not used for technology's sake, but rather with a real learning goal in mind.
In my practice at school, I've realized that staff in-services once or twice a year are not nearly as effective as working one-on-one or in small groups to provide "just in time" learning. When a teacher learns how to use a specific tech tool that engages students and helps them achieve a specific learning goal with greater understanding and retention, that teacher sees the value of that tool for learning. Better yet, as that teacher becomes proficient using that tool, they can help their colleagues learn it too.
In Washington state they've formalized the process of peer coaching with the help of grants from Microsoft and peer coaching facilitator training through the Puget Sound Center. I think a program like this could really benefit our schools and districts here in Orange County.
In my previous post I shared one example of how this type of mentoring works in the Bend/LaPine School District. I'm really impressed with the work done by these "cadres" of teachers to energize their lessons with technology. Besides I think it just sounds cool to part of a "cadre". I want to be part of a cadre, or maybe I'll join an "EdTech Posse". What do you think?

Mobile Technology in the Classroom
From Karen Fasimpaur I learned about "Using Mobile Technology to Differentiate Instruction" and how podcasts, vodcasts, Palms, cell phones, netbooks, and ebooks can be used to engage students and motivate them to learn. I also got a chance to get my hands on Amazon's Kindle e-book reader. I know I keep saying it's about the learning and not the thing, but I SO want one of these now. (Is that wrong?)

ISTE's Classroom Observation Tool
Want to see if technology rich lessons and projects are really helping your students? Download this free tool from ISTE to use as you observe in the classroom. You can use it offline, but data is uploaded to ISTE's secure server so you can access it from different computers and generate various reports. I asked if ISTE intends to use this data for their own purposes, but was told, "No, they just store it. They don't use it." With that in mind, if you use this tool, you still might want to be careful to keep your observations clear of specific names and keep them limited to "just the facts". I can definitely see benefits to using this tool to record and report the effectiveness of instruction. Now if only ISTE would update it with the 2007 NETS for Students rather than the 1998 version.

Northwest Tech Teacher of the Year
What a pleasure it was to see my friend and fellow DEN STAR, Martha Thornburgh awarded the Northwest Tech Teacher of the Year award. It's always nice to see someone you know and respect honored for the great job they're doing. Way to go Martha! If you get a chance, be sure to check out her "Give Math a Voice" presentation and Voicethread.

Blog author with Northwest Tech Teacher of the Year, Martha Thornburgh, and StormChaser Reed Timmer. Photo courtesy of Martha Thornburgh.

Storm Chaser
The DEN came through for me again, this time giving me and other Discovery Educators an opportunity to meet and talk with Reed Timmer of StormChasers. His passion for science, math, and meteorology is demonstrated in his fascination for getting up close and personal with tornadoes and other violent storms. I was also surprised to learn that in addition to storm chasing, he's also working on his PhD! Is this guy brilliant or totally nuts? Perhaps a little of both. Thanks Reed for inspiring my students, and thanks Discovery for this wonderful opportunity!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bigger Isn't Always Better

ITSC is small compared to other state or regional conferences - only about 400 attendees - but I really like how they put it together. The three hour workshops really encourage conversation and allow time for reflection. It's also a great opportunity to hear and interact with some pretty amazing presenters on a more intimate level. Having access to these presenters both during and outside of their sessions is a real treat and facilitates some great conversations.
Speaking with Jennifer Arns, the Program Director, I learned that at ITSC they really want schools and districts to attend in teams and they provide teams with time to meet and discuss what has been learned periodically throughout the conference. This time to process what has been learned and brainstorm how it can be applied is quite valuable and unfortunately pretty unique in educational conferences. The fact that they can actually get this many teachers to take their President's Day weekend to attend speaks to the importance these educators place on using technology tools to improve instruction.

Here are some thoughts from sessions and conversations:

Cell Phone Digital Storytelling - Wes Fryer
I've created podcasts from my cell phone using GCast, but another tool called Gabcast adds the ability to post from not just MY cell phone, but ANY phone.

With this tool, teachers can create multiple channels for different classes, then give students the phone number and access code so they can just call in and record their thoughts & stories, posting them to the class podcast. At our tables we brainstormed how this could transform a class field trip by directing students to use their cell phones to take pictures at certain locations and record and post their thoughts on what they see, what they experience, and what they learn. These images and audio files are captured "on location", and can later be combined into digital stories using any number of media tools.
The best part? There's no need for the school to supply students with expensive camera or recording equipment, most already have what they need to collect their stories.

Historical Documentaries - Jennifer Gingerich
Using familiar tools like PhotoStory3, iMovie, and GarageBand, students take "digital kits" and use them to create documentaries from periods in history. Jennifer worked with our group to create a pretty impressive Ellis Island story in just a matter of minutes. She also shared student created Oregon Trail diaries. These documentaries are written in first person, using images from the kit, or photos taken of students in costume with a sepia tone effect to give an "antique" look.
The digital kits contain music, photos, citations and other components needed to create the stories. For the students, the focus is not on teaching them how to find pictures or make videos, but seeing how well they know the content and can tell a story. The emphasis is on writing and historical accuracy. The advantage of digital stories over a written report? Stories not only capture the facts of the time period, but give kids an opportunity to put themselves in the place of these people and consider what they must have thought and how they must have felt - connecting them to the history on an emotional level rather than just a factual one.

Wii Whiteboard - John Sperry
I've seen Johnny Lee's video on YouTube, but here I got to actually see, feel, and try it out for myself. John Sperry from Springfield, Oregon demonstrated how easy and inexpensive it is to make your own interactive whiteboard using a Wii Remote. Time to dust off my soldering iron and go into project mode. I may have to take John up on his offer and send him a empty Expo marker so he can transform it into an infra-red pen.

Bend/LaPine School District - Amy Lundstrom
Amy Lundstrom is a technology program developer for Bend/LaPine School District. She's also the one that suggested I take an extra day or two to attend this conference. I'm so glad she did.
Speaking with her between conference workshops I learned how she is working with teams of teachers in her district, facilitating development of standards-based lessons that integrate technology. One unusual thing they do is give teachers an opportunity to observe their own class during one of these lessons. Through this "Lesson Study" program, members of these teams take turns teaching and observing each other's classes. The purpose of these observations is to determine 1) Do all students have access to the content being taught? 2) Did technology help students acheive the standard? In addition to observing the whole class, the classroom teacher can identify specific students in their own class to be observed. Observers are directed to be "human video cameras" noting how these students act during class and determining if those actions indicate motivation. After class, these students' work product is also evaluated. This program gives classroom teachers a unique insight into how particular students are affected by these newly developed lessons and technology tools. Ultimately it helps these teachers become more comfortable and confident planning and implementing technology infused lessons with their classes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Joy is in the Journey

It's nice sometimes to take a day or two get away and clear your head. Riding the Coast Starlight last weekend from LA to Portland for ITSC and NCCE was my chance to do a mental shut down and restart, clearing out some brain space for the massive information download I'd be experiencing at these back to back conferences.

The 30 hour rail journey was just that. Even though I brought reading material I spent most of the time just staring out the window. Saturday the train hugged the California coast up to San Luis Obispo then headed inland through lush green hills toward Paso Robles, then north to San Jose, Oakland, and over to Sacramento. Sunday morning I woke up to snow flurries as we crossed into Oregon. Passing Klamath Falls the train chugged up into Cascades toward Cascade Pass (about 5000 ft) and eventually down to Eugene. From there it was a straight shot up the Willamette Valley to Portland.

Some Random Observations from the journey:
  • A dozen deer leaping through the hills outside Santa Barbara
  • 12 foot surf crashing along the coast near Pt. Conception
  • several startled cattle scrambling ungracefully away from the train as we climbed out of San Luis Obispo
  • Rolling hills near Paso Robles turned a velvety green from recent rain storms
  • Sipping coffee early Sunday morning in the Parlor car, watching the wind & snow swirling outside through the Shasta/Trinity National Forest
  • peeking through snow covered evergreens at the view of Odell Lake climbing up toward Cascade Pass
  • Clear blue skies and views of Mt. Hood outside Salem. (Oregonians would say, "The mountains are out today.")

During my rail trip last summer (see Amtrak Adventure blog post from July '08) I lamented the fact that I was unable to get Internet access on the train. This time I was armed with my Blackberry and it's 3G connection to keep me in touch with my twitter & plurk friends. This also allowed me to post pictures, videos, and even do a couple of Skype video chats from my compartment. The laptop tethering worked great when I was able to get a cell phone signal. (See photo slide show and video below.)

Arriving at Portland Union Station late Sunday afternoon I hopped on the MAX light rail to the ITSC Conference at the Portland Airport Sheraton. With work 1000 miles away and my head clear it's time to do some learning. Let the conversations begin.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Art of Sound

Remember that guy, Michael Winslow, from the Police Academy movies? The one who made all those strange sounds with his mouth? How many of you have a student like that in your class? As you walk across the room, this is that special child that makes squeaking noises for every step you take, putting his classmates in hysterics. Few things amuse this kid more than the variety of different sounds made by gas escaping from the human body - and he can reproduce any one of them at will. Rather than strangle this child, maybe it would be better to let this unique individual express his talents in a constructive way.

Sound effects are a big part of creating a dramatic audio podcast. They can take your story and give it depth, creating a rich sound picture for your listeners. A good sound effect can create a picture in someone’s mind much easier than it would be to produce that same image on film or video. This is why I like the simple elegance of the audio podcast. You can create a multi-layered soundscape with relatively little effort or resources. No need for expensive equipment, dangerous stunts, or elaborate sets.

Creating sound effects can be fun. Did you know you can mimic the sound of a crackling fire by slowly crinkling a bag of potato chips? Sliding the lid off of a toilet tank sounds just like someone opening an ancient sarcophagus. Rapidly opening and closing an umbrella sounds like a bat flying. And of course any self-respecting Monty Python fan knows that two hollowed out coconut shells are a prefect substitute for a galloping horse.

With all the attention given to student created video I think we should not forget about the power of audio. An audio podcast project can be a great choice if you don’t have a lot of time or resources. Using free software like Audacity you can record your story, add music and sound effects, and export your show as a podcast friendly mp3 file in just a fraction of the time and effort it would take to do the same project as a video production.

To encourage students and teachers at my school to learn to use audio podcasts, I created an online elective course that teaches them about podcasting and how to use Audacity to create their own podcasts and post them on our system. I’ve also taken many elements of that course and posted them online on my wiki so you can share them with your students and faculty too.

Make Your Own Podcast Wiki

Feel free to use these resources and share them with your students and teachers. If you or your students create some great podcasts as a result, please reply with a link so we can all hear what you’ve done.