Monday, August 11, 2008

Simplicity

I finished reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds last week. What a wonderful book! Although the book is about how to create more effective presentations, there are many principles that would serve us well if we implemented them into all aspects of our lives. The principle that I was drawn to the most was simplicity. I kind of chuckle to myself as I write this, especially given that this is "back to school" season. This is a season of optimism and hope for a new year...a fresh start with exciting challenges to overcome. Unfortunately, this season also usually comes with an impossibly long list of a variety of projects that I want to try. So how can this impossibly long list be balanced with the principle of simplicity? In this case, I think that simplicity can mean using focused efforts on a few tasks rather than trying to do everything all at once. Simplicity isn't necessarily taking the easy way out, but it can make a large difference in the big picture.

I wish you the best for a back to school season of simplicity.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Neat Software: Gadwin PrintScreen

Someone told me about a neat freeware program this week--Gadwin PrintScreen. I tried it and I really like it! It allows you to capture whatever is on your screen (either the full window or a selection) using a hot key. I know, Windows also has a utility like this. Gadwin PrintScreen is nifty because the software allows you to select an area of your screen. You may also customize the program so that it automatically saves your images to a folder according to a naming structure that you determine. It even captures an image of the cursor! I hope you enjoy using this program, too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The "Beginner" Brain

I'm reading the book Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. In the first chapter, Reynolds writes a wonderful explanation of some of the principles in Dan Pink's book A Whole New Mind. In chapter two, he asserts that approaching tasks with a "beginner's mind" will allow for more creativity and the possibility of even better ideas. I love this idea, especially as I watch young children who are still excited about learning and the discovery process. Watching an infant fascinated by bubbles and water coming out of a faucet really puts everything in perspective. Somewhere in our quest for adulthood, or success, or whatever, many of us have lost our bubble fascination. Today, let's find joy and wonder in the simple things and maybe find a little learning along the way.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Thing #23 Summarize Your Thoughts About the Library2Play Program

What were your favorite discoveries or exercises on this learning journey?
My favorite task was creating and posting my first vidcast to my blog. Also, blogging was a lot more fun than I initially thought it would be. I hope to continue writing in my blog with future learning experiences.

How has this program assisted or affected your lifelong learning goals?
One of my professional goals this year is to explore Web 2.0 technology. In a world where there are so many of these tools to explore, the Library2Play program made it more manageable and friendlier. (And what teacher doesn't love a checklist to complete?) ;-)

Were there any take-a-ways or unexpected outcomes from this program that surprised you?
I was surprised that it took so long to create a vidcast. It took about 4 hours to create an approximately four minute video. I was already comfortable with both Audacity and PhotoStory, so that time was in actually creating the content, not in learning the tools. I still think that the project was worthwhile, and I hope to create more vidcasts in the future.

What could we do differently to improve upon this program’s format or concept?
I loved the format (work online at your own pace) and the concept (since it was definitely aligned with one of my professional goals). I also really appreciated the fact that you opened it up to participants outside of your district. What a wonderful model for lifelong learning and online collaboration with other educators!

If we offered another discovery program like this in the future, would you choose to participate?
Definitely!

How would you describe your learning experience in ONE WORD or in ONE SENTENCE, so we could use your words to promote 23 Things learning activities?
The Library2Play program was a wonderful, friendly immersion in Web 2.0 technologies that can ultimately benefit the k-12 classroom.

Thank you, Kickball Captains and Spring Branch ISD for offering the Library2Play program!

Thing #21 Podcasts and Audio Books

I've really enjoyed listening to podcasts. Why? Mostly because I can download them and listen to them while working out. It makes me feel like I can accomplish multiple things at one time. I've created audio-only podcasts before using Audacity, which is a wonderful and easy-to-use program. This was my first time to create a vidcast. I used both Audacity and PhotoStory. It took a lot longer than I thought to create it, especially because the total video time is less than 5 minutes. I think that the effort was well worth it, though. This way, people can learn about this great resource without having to come in for a face-to-face meeting. Here is my vidcast introduction to Thinkfinity, a good search engine for educators. (The music at the end is "The Battle" by J Underberg from Podsafe Audio.) Enjoy!


video

Thing #22 Ning

I apologize for completing tasks out of order, but my podcast for Thing #21 is still being perfected. So, I paused for a while to explore the wonderful world of nings.

I started participating in a few nings this past spring. The National Association of Independent Schools has a ning that is useful to discuss ideas with other independent school educators. As a result of attending a one-day Web 2.0 conference, I also joined the Classroom 2.0 ning. This ning is a comfortable place to learn about new Web 2.0 technologies and ask questions about how these technologies are best used in the classroom. I also participate in an "invitation only" ning for a book club of neighborhood friends.

What I like about ning is that it has a much more professional feel than the other common social networking sites (like Facebook and MySpace). It's also a plus that they will remove advertising for educational student networks for grades 7-12.

Nings are a great way to allow professionals (and students) to participate in a collaborative, social environment without the stigma associated with the popular social networking sites. It allows for 24/7 learning and conversation. It's especially helpful for coordinating virtual and face-to-face meetings, as well as a common place for storing information for a book club or research project group. I wish these had been around when I was in college! :-)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thing #20 YouTube, TeacherTube and ZamZar

I've used YouTube and Zamzar before, so I spent the majority of my time on this task exploring TeacherTube. Because I've really enjoyed the CommonCraft videos that have been part of the Library2Play program, I was curious to see if they had any videos on non-tech subjects that could be used in the classroom.

Well, here is one about electing the president of the United States, and it is excellent (in keeping with CommonCraft tradition.)



This video would be a great addition to any social studies classroom. Pair it with this great flipchart on the electoral college from Promethean's website (free login required to download) to use with an Activboard, and you have an instant, engaging lesson. Even though it can take a while to search through and find them, there are wonderful resources out there that take advantage of the visually engaging styles that our students need. Happy video surfing!

Thing #19 Web 2.0 Awards

Wow! I had no idea that there were so many Web 2.0 award-winning tools out there. I decided to explore LiveMaps because I had already explored the other mapping tools listed. LiveMaps is powered by Microsoft, and it allows a typical interface to get driving directions. I tried a couple of places, and the directions they gave were accurate. Collections are an interesting mix of places that people have marked with photos, weblinks and descriptions. Some of the places are helpful (like restaurants with links to reviews) and others are just strange (like a photo of an accident that happened on an interstate highway which closed the lanes for a few hours). You can switch between road, aerial, and bird's eye view. This could be very helpful for geography students who would like to explore a particular region in depth. You could also have students use this tool to plan a virtual field trip, and they could add their own descriptions to the collections with the research that they conduct.

Thing #18 Online Productivity Tools

I am a big fan of the open source movement, especially for use in the field of education. I use several open source tools, including GIMP for photo editing, Firefox for Internet browsing, Thunderbird with the Lightning add-on for email and calendaring, and Audacity for audio editing. Because we have Microsoft Office installed on our school computers, that is the Office suite that I use, but there are plenty of advantages to using Open Office. One advantage is that it is compatible with most other document types, so it is not too difficult to work with Microsoft products at school and Open Office at home. The other huge advantage is cost--free is good, especially when trying to bridge the "digital divide."

I am impressed with Google's efforts with Google Docs, but I am quite nervous about storing my documents out in cyberspace instead of on a couple of trusted hard drives. No offense to Google, but I also wonder what their angle is with providing so much storage space for free. On the other hand, they have provided some very useful tools for students to share and collaborate on documents. I really like their spreadsheets feature that allows you to publish a dorm and collect answers online, having the results dumped right into the spreadsheet. Just a few short years ago, doing that required special servers and the help of your network admin. With Google Docs, you can set it up on your own in a few clicks for free.

Thing #17 Rollyo

This was the first time I had ever heard of Rollyo, so it was fun to play with this tool. Here is my "Edubloggers" roll, in case you are interested in searching some of my favorite edublogs.

I can see how this would be extremely helpful in the classroom in order to limit the amount of irrelevant information students retrieve from traditional search engines. I also like the fact that you can publish a link to a roll so that it is easy for students to find without having to know a separate username and password. Being limited to 25 sites could be a problem for upper grade levels where using more sites might be more beneficial.

I've also read this post on Alan November's blog about using Google to create a customized search. I'll have to try that next and compare it to what I've learned about Rollyo.

Happy searching!

Thing#16 Wikis

I had some experience using wikis before completing the tasks in this activity. So, I went into the task mostly looking for great curriculum applications and perhaps finding the "best" wiki interface. Each wiki software has a slightly different layout, so I don't think there is one "best" wiki interface. It's probably best to just pick one and go with it. My school chose to use the open source code that Wikipedia uses since the students are probably already familiar with that format.

As far as curriculum ideas...Well, there are too many to count. I was very impressed with Mr. Miller's English 10 Wiki sample. I liked it because the guidelines were very clear for the students. I also liked the idea of using wikis for professional development collections of resources, like Library Success and the AASL 2007 presentation by Loertscher. So often, we have great ideas in face-to-face meetings that never go beyond our own, personal dog-eared notebooks. Collecting these ideas in a wiki would serve not only as an archive, but it would also allow those who were unable to attend the face-to-face meeting to still contribute.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thing # 15 Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and the Future of Libraries

I have always seen the library as a comfortable place to go to be literally surrounded by knowledge as I stand among the stacks of books. I also liked that you could stand in the same section (or on the same floor) and run into people with the same interests. With all of the technological changes, we do expect information to arrive instantaneously to our computer screens at the click of a button. I so appreciate that future-thinking librarians in the Library 2.0 movement are spending time thinking about the best ways to have the traditional library meet our ever-changing needs. I was amazed at the effort on the WebTools4u2use wiki to pull together such a great collection of Web 2.0 resources. I will definitely keep that site handy.

Since I am not a librarian, I let my mind wander a bit as I was reading all the perspectives on Library 2.0 to "Classroom 2.0" I like the idea of having flexible classrooms to allow for more field trips and more time for hands-on projects. Technologies and libraries in this 2.0 environment would need to facilitate a variety of research and communications needs, with learner safety and high-quality information as top priorities. Classroom 2.0 should definitely be integrated with Library 2.0 so that we all help one another as lifelong learners.

Thing #14: Technorati & How Tags Work

I really enjoyed the video of the Technorati execs talk about their site. One notable quote from the video was that the site is about "connecting people directly with people." I also liked their philosophy of providing a mechanism through which people can get news from real people--news that is not filtered through the gatekeepers of traditional mass media.

I have used Technorati to find blog posts about conferences that I was not able to attend. For example, do a search on NECC08 to find blog posts in Technorati's directory that are tagged as containing information about this year's NECC conference. With the site redesign, I can see that it will be much easier to do more than just search, especially when finding news stories and other current events to include in class discussions. Prominently displayed on their home page are categories for both rising blog posts and news stories by attention. How helpful to see these at a glance. From their "what's popular" page, I found one interesting blog post from TechCrunch about a new search engines called Cuil. Unfortunately, some of the other things that are popular right now are definitely not appropriate for K12 students.

Used appropriately, I think that tags can be a useful tool. I kind of like the idea behind "folksonomy" in that end users decide the labels and categories for information. I can also see the usefulness of a blogger, or other content creator, to tag his own work. This could help the blogger organize his own collection, as well as direct others more easily to topics of their interest. On Technorati, I was surprised to find that a tag search for my keywords yielded much more appropriate results than a general blog search. It will be useful to take advantage of all the search types to find the most amount of information.

Thing #13 Tagging, Del.icio.us, and Social Bookmarking

In this activity, I explored several social bookmarking sites, including del.icio.us, ma.gnolia and Furl. Although del.icio.us is probably the most widely used, the other two have nice features. I especially like the graphical layout on ma.gnolia's site. I've also gained a whole new appreciation for tags and I've discovered many neat resources that I probably would not otherwise have found because of getting "lost" in a tag cloud.

I can see several useful applications for social bookmarking in the classroom. In its most simple form, a social bookmarking system could be used for teachers of a specific discipline or course to collect useful links and share them with one another. For student applications, the students could each contribute links for different topics to collaborate to create a student-reviewed reading and/or reference list.

As a result of my learning from this activity, I'd also like to explore the social bookmarking module for Moodle. If you are already using Moodle for your course management system, it may be easier to use this than to have your students use yet another service with another separate login.

Thing #12 Creating Community through Commenting

This "Thing" was challenging for me since, until this project, I've been content to "lurk and learn" rather than contribute to the edublogosphere. (It was fun to write encouraging comments on my Library2Play colleagues' blogs.) One point about commenting that I learned through the discovery activities on this task is that different bloggers view their blogs and comments differently. For some, blogging is an exercise in personal reflection so comments are valued, but not a means to a further conversation. For others, a blog is a chance to publicly reflect on ideas and ask questions so comments are essential to maintain the dialogue. I feel that both types of blogs are valuable contributions to the Web 2.0 learning environment. Another point that I knew, but it was nice to reflect upon, was that comments from "Darth Commenter" are never appropriate. That point would be essential when assigning a blogging project to students.

I've left a comment on Drape's Takes blog to thank him for his insights on this challenging topic of edublogging etiquette. I've also submitted a comment on the Speaking of History blog (although at the time of this writing, it had not yet been posted--maybe he approves comments before they're posted?) to thank him for posting his presentation at NECC. The presentation was about integrating Zunes into the classroom--very interesting!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Thing #11 Library Thing

Have you seen Library Thing? Look to the right side of my blog and you'll see a list of books that I'm currently reading, generated by books that I added through Library Thing. When I click on each book in my list once I log in at Library Thing, I can see recommendations for other books as well as go to other people's libraries who also listed the book. Although I did not find any groups that matched my interests, looking at others' lists and reading reviews will certainly be a useful way to find out about books that I might not ordinarily read. (Be sure to check out other books that have the same tag. I found some great books using that handy tool.) Happy reading!

Thing # 10 Online Image Generator


I customized this cartoon with my own title and text using comicstripgenerator.com. It was very easy to browse through the pictures, and then to add your own text and title. They provide the boxes, and you just have to pick your image and type your title and text. Save your image to your hard drive, and then it's yours to use, complete with their citation as part of the graphic. Many of our students learn visually (maybe because of an increase in their consumption of visual media--television, video games, etc.), so having them create a comic to illustrate a concept would be a fun instructional activity. What I didn't like about this website is that it is so cluttered with advertisements and content that could be used inappropriately in the classroom. You could still do a comic-strip creating activity by having students browse for an image (maybe using Flickr's Creative Commons search), import it into almost any basic productivity software program (Word, PowerPoint, Photoshop, etc.) to add a text bubble.

http://www.customizemagnets.com/ecards/childrens.asp has a good selection of kid-friendly images to customize, but there are large ads that might distract young children from the original purpose of the activity.

Thing #9 Useful Library-Related Blogs and News Feeds

One of the best methods of finding RSS feeds that are appropriate for your interests is to go to a blog that you enjoy and follow the links on their blogroll. It's also fun to go to a list, like the Edubloggers Awards, to find blogs that others have found valuable in your field.

It is so easy to search for RSS feeds. Technorati, Bloglines Search and Google Blog Search allow you to do keyword searches, and then they display relevant blog postings. Click the link to go to the site, and if you like it, in a couple of clicks you may add it to your RSS aggregator.

Topix.net and Syndic8 were a little more difficult for me to navigate than the other search tools I explored, but that is probably because I had never used them before. I can see the value of using Topix.net when having older grade students search for current events. I would not use these tools with younger students because there are so many news stories that are not appropriate for young children.

I found several useful feeds in my travels. Since I was unable to attend NECC this year, I searched for blog posts with the tag NECC08 to read notes from those who attended. Based on their posts about NECC, I added a few new feeds to my aggregator to see what these bloggers have to say on other issues in educational technology.

Another way I locate RSS feeds to follow is to search for blogs by my favorite authors, or search for blogs by authors who I am considering reading. If I haven't already read an author's work, going to his blog may either convince me to read his work sooner, or it might make me realize that his book might not totally appeal to my interests.

Happy searching!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thing #8 RSS Feeds and Readers

I started using RSS feeds and readers last summer. I used Bloglines for a while, and then I used the feature within Tunderbird Mail to aggregate my feeds. So, creating a Google Reader account was a fun activity to try.

I like using RSS feeds and readers because it makes it so easy to track news from multiple sources at once. Google Reader makes this particularly easy with the "read all" feature.

I use RSS feeds in my professional life to keep current on new trends in educational technology. In my personal life, I like to read news articles about my hobbies through RSS feeds.

A school library could create an RSS link to aggregate current school news stories for students and parents to easily access. This would make it easy for parents to keep up with eveything about the school--from team sports scores to emergency school closings.

Thing #7 Google Tools

Google definitely has its finger on the pulse of what people want. This summer, I have explored several Google Tools for educators. Here are just a few of my impressions and ideas.

Google Earth: This is a "must-have" program for history/geography teachers, but it also has many possible uses in other subjects, as well. I love the idea of students going on "lit trips" by creating a collection of placemarks that relate to a book or author study. See this great site for more information about lit trips.

Google Scholar: I can see lots of potential value in this tool, but, like anything else on the Web, the results of the search may be disappointing if few sources exist online about your topic.

Google Notebook: I didn't realize that Google Notebook was different than Google Docs. I'm still uneasy with the idea of keeping "my stuff" out there in cyberspace instead of on a hard drive, but I can see the usefulness of being able to access it from any Internet-accessible location. For students working on group projects, being able to share a notebook would be very useful. I just wonder when teachers will start to hear excuses like "Google ate my notebook" instead of the proverbial dog eating it. ;-)

Google Advanced Search: I've used this tool for years, and it is so helpful! It is especially helpful if you are looking for worksheets or presentations about a particular concept you teach. Just enter .doc or .ppt in the filetype field and you have much less wheel-reinventing to do.

Google Docs: My favorite new tool in Google Docs is the Forms feature within Spreadsheets. Share your form to collect instant feedback! This would be a great way to do peer-reviews for student presentations, or even to poll students on preferred research topics.

Have fun googling today!

Thing #6 Mashups and 3rd Party Sites


This activity was completely new for me. I had always thought of a mashup as a collection of video clips from several different sources edited to run as one piece. This activity showed how several websites and services can be integrated to provide a completely new service.

I especially liked some of the Flickr Toys from Big Huge Labs. Mosaic Maker and Palette Generator could be very helpful for students who have to design multimedia products, especially if the students are already using Flickr to store their photos.

For example, a student who is trying to design a color scheme for a project may upload a photo into Palette Generator and it will produce a color palette that looks great with the photo. I uploaded this photo that I took with a digital camera, and two of the colors Palette Generator suggested were blossom and chinook. I hope you enjoy playing with Flickr Toys, too!

Thing #5 Flickr


Wow! I didn't realize how many kind people there are who release their photos on Flickr through a Creative Commons license. I also liked the simple explanation of each type of Creative Commons license on Flickr's site.

Here is a photo under a Creative Commons license from Flickr by a person named Athena. I posted this photo because I question why this traditional classroom layout has endured for so long. With so many changes in technology and the world today, it seems that classroom design would need to change as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

(Thing #3 & 4) Blogging

So far, blogging is kind of fun. Did you notice my avatar that I created in Yahoo as part of the activity in the Library2Play program?

(updated 7/25) My blog is now officially listed in the blogroll of the Library2Play program. Yippee! Come and check out all the interesting things to do on the site!

(Thing #2) Habits of Lifelong Learning

I consider myself a lifelong learner, but sometimes the amount of new things I want to learn is overwhelming. For me, the easiest thing about being a lifelong learner these days is using technology to my advantage. With the Internet and Web 2.0 tools, it is easy to find information on just about any topic. The most difficult part about being a lifelong learner for me is viewing problems as challenges, especially when tackling the learning of so many things at once. So, it is recommended to focus on goals and set a path. Like this quote from Confucius in a presentation from the PLCMC, "Even a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step." Happy stepping!

(Thing #1) So I'm Blogging

I talked to a friend this week about how quickly things change in educational technology. He said, "I don't want to be that guy...that guy who knew all the cool tools back in 1995 and taught us how to use email." My friend is an example of a lifelong learner, one who continually enjoys learning, exploring and trying new things.

Sometimes trying new things and new technologies can be frightening, but research shows that our brains can continue to learn new things at any age. (See the Brain Rules website.) So, here are my notes on my changing brain as I learn and explore new things. (See Spring Branch ISD's Library2Play website.)