Archive for September, 2007

Our second week of Social Software in the Classroom was a great success! Our initial set up, getting everyone into our skype conference call did require patience on everyone’s part, there are limits as to how many you can have participating at one time. Once over that hurdle our class moved through review of wikis, wonderful conversations as why use social software with students and also for personal professional development. The expression of viewpoints during the conversations were varied and lead to an engaging exchange of ideas, which I believe are so valuable. Next week we will be talking about google tools, what they are, how to use them. This is a learning experience for all of us, not only through the use of the tools, but the conversations we participate in as we go. Thanks to all who have joined us, see you next week.

still a couple of glitches with technology, but compared to the week before things worked smoothly. We had a some additional people join us which was great, our conversations were very good and it was another step in building a new community of learners for all of us.


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Well our first “open” professional staff development session of Social Software in the Classroom took place on Wednesday September 19, and everything that could have gone wrong did for Darren and I. It was an example of technology at its best and worst within the 3 hour time span. We thought we had prepared well, here were our thoughts, and by the way we had tried out the ustream.tv and yugma/skype ahead of time with several other people joining us! Remember, Darren is in Utah and I am PA, we planned on the audio/video stream so all could follow along with what we were doing and participate in conversations during class.

  • audio/video stream original idea, Darren started the stream, I could not connect, nor could anyone else
  • move to ustream.tv, seemed to work well, audio issues caused difficulties so everyone could not hear
  • switched to Yugma/Skype, worked but had people in different chats, we started in one skypechat room and had to move to another, confusing
  • Sue Waters came to our rescue and offered us a room in Elluminate which saved us, literally

Despite all of these hurdles, the evening demonstrated the extent people will go to help one another in this participatory culture. Once we were started in Elluminate we were able to show Karl Fisch’s video and have conversations about its content and the implications for teachers and students.

I have never taught an online course before so this was new to me, the idea of being able to share screens and talk to each other during our presentations was reassuring, knowing even though we would be roughly 2,000 miles apart we would still be able to see and hear each other, because of the difficulties we went through I learned quite a bit about how I teach. Darren and I worked together on Thursday, talking about the class and what we would change to make the rest of the sessions better. I also told him what I had been going through the night before, which I believe anyone who has ever taught will relate to. Sitting at home, computer connected, online through skype, the connection to Darren made, knowing he is starting, tells me to pick up the video stream, I try – nothing, no connection for me, the co teacher, panic! As the evening moved along, we were able to keep our audio connections, share screens, etc. and have our conversations. What struck me most was the realization of how much I depend on visual cues when I teach. Whether it is with another colleague, co teaching, or the visual cues from my students, I know how to pace the session depending on their non verbal feedback. All of a sudden I found myself with no visual or audio cues. Darren was having some technical issues with headsets in his lab, so when he was away from his computer, I was completely in the dark, with no one to look at or listen to in order to gauge what to do next. I was thinking to myself, do I go ahead and keep talking about how to navigate within wikispaces, how to edit? Knowing he was trying to troubleshoot, I didn’t want to ask any questions, he wasn’t close to his computer, do I ask a question and make him stop what he is doing to walk back to the computer, press the mic, answer me? Or do I wait patiently hoping he will resolve the issue at hand, come back and say we are ready to move ahead? My point being, if we had been in the same room, I would have known what to do, I could have read the faces of the others there, assessed what was going on and made a decision that would have kept the class moving while freeing my colleague to do what was necessary to get everyone in the same place. Something I learned about myself, something I had not thought of prior to this course or as part of teaching. We are looking forward to the rest of the sessions and hope any and all interested will join us at http://socialsoftware07.wikispaces.com Wednesday September 26 6:30PM Eastern Daylight Time.

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I have an exciting opportunity beginning this week, I will be co-teaching an online web 2.o tools for the classroom course with Darren Draper. Darren will actually have some participants face to face with him in the Jordan School District in Sandy, Utah. I myself have encouraged and invited teachers in my area to sign up, and our participation will be virtual. A few weeks ago Darren blogged about his idea of open staff development. We talk of free open source applications, conducting staff development in the same way seems to be the direction to go. Our course is called Social Software in the Classroom. Here is what we are planning, please visit Darren’s blog for all of the details regarding the applications you will need to install to be ready to go.

  • Class begins Wednesday September 19 and meets every week for 5 weeks
  • Time – 6:30 to 9:15 PM Eastern Daylight Time. Click here for your time zone.
  • We will use our class wikis http://socialsoftware07.wikispaces.com and there will be QuickTime audio/video feed set up by the tech wizards who work with Darren. Please make sure you have the latest version installed, free download, just follow the link.
  • If you would like to join us please send me a message through skype, robin.ellis1, I will be moderating the skype chat and will need your contact information.

I believe we have a great deal to share, there are many online resources available to be used in classrooms with students, as well as for collaboration among teachers and district colleagues. Please join us, we look forward to meeting and working with you.

Additional information: if you would like to attend please visit the wiki to join the class. If you are only available for a few classes and are not looking for any kind of in service credit you do not have to attend all five sessions.
This course is being offered as a starting point for anyone interested in learning about web 2.0 applications and how they can be used in education. We also welcome all who may be interested, the more people we can share our information with the more we will all learn.

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Here it is the second week in September and it has been an incredible summer for me in terms of my own learning, which is what I want to talk about today. I have been thinking about this for the past several weeks and talking about it to anyone who would listen. I do get a lot of skeptical looks and many have a difficult time understanding what I get so excited about because social networking is not something they have experienced, or in many cases fully understand, let alone participate in. I believe most of the people I come in contact with view social networking as something teenagers or college students participate in. The sad news is many don’t realize the benefits it can have for everyone. In the past few months I have come in contact with and feel as though I belong to a wonderful community of people who are as passionate as I am about education, learning, children, personal growth, professional development, the list could go on and on. The truly remarkable part of this is that for the most part I only know these people virtually, a few I have met face to face, but mostly I know all of them through their blog, wikiflickr accounts and Twitter. I have been an avid blog reader for about a year, didn’t really enter into conversations on blogs until I attended a conference in February organized by Steve Hardagon, lead by Will Richardson, hosted by Chris Lehmann at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Those two days are what started me on this path of building and wanting to be part of an online community for my own learning and I will tell you it is the best thing I have done in a long time.

I attended NECC this year in Atlanta as well and was fortunate enough to meet face to face some of the people whose blogs I have been reading. This is where Ryan Bretag introduced me to twitter also. At first I didn’t understand what the attraction to twitter was, but as the summer progressed and I added people to follow and others began to follow me I understood completely. You begin to develop friendships through these text conversations, people link to blog posts they have written recently and ask your opinion on things they are doing at school, new software they are trying, web tools they are using in classrooms with students or for professional development in their districts. There is a wealth of information; all are so willing to share. If you have a question someone usually offers what their experience has been or their opinion on what you are asking or ask you a question in return to stretch your thinking as their blogs posts always do as well.

Through my social network not only have I benefited personally, but now the students and teachers in my district also have opportunities for collaboration which I am not sure would I would have been aware of or had the chance to participate in. In this past two weeks I have been working to arrange collaborations with the Shanghai American School through Jeff Utecht and Lockleys North Primary School in Australia through Graham Wegner. Also I am going to co teach and online course with Darren Draper, Jordan School District in Sandy, Utah the title, Open Staff Development, what a great concept. Hopefully the teachers in our respective districts in Utah, and Pennsylvania, will take a course together and build communities for themselves, what better way to model the use of social networking. I want to say thank you all for including me in this great community, for stretching my thinking, for helping me to grow both personally and professionally and for the opportunity to be part of wonderful conversations centered in education and preparation for the future.

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Vacation is over, we arrived home on Friday to have the last summer holiday weekend to relax before the start of school. The weather is beautiful and I have had time to think about the last month, which has been hectic. During the month of August I applied for a job with our local IU, an organization which services all of the school districts in our county. I had mixed feelings about applying because I was not looking for another job, but thought it would be a good idea to see what it would entail, and if it was something I may be interested in doing.  The biggest drawback I saw with the position was the lack of student contact, the best part of my current job is the interaction with students at all levels. Long and short of it, I was one of two finalists, but was not chosen for the position. In looking back on the process I believe my vision of education and what changes need to take place for students to be good digital citizens of the 21st century and the focus of the IU at this point are very different. I strongly believe in the conversations taking place in many blogs which center on how pedagogy needs to change, and I am an agent for this change in the district I work. I have the privledge of working with teachers and students to change the way instruction is delivered and assessments are viewed. In the last year I have worked with teachers and students who are interested in learning how to use the tools now available which enable them to become producers of information, not just consumers, and it has opened a new window into the classroom for some.  I get so excited when someone else has that aha moment when we talk of using wikis, podcasts, blogs, images, to incorporate into the classroom.  I am really  jazzed about the possibilities for children to learn and use all that is available to get them hooked on learning. I don’t believe the opportunity for this excitement would have been available for me at the IU. I think the position is valuable, and serves a purpose, but I don’t think their direction is as global as I believe it should be. They have to service each district in whatever direction a particular district has determined its path to be. Now, where I am, I have the ablility and support to help shape and nurture the path for the future of our students and at the end of the day I do feel as though I can make a difference in the lives of the people I work with.
While I was going through the interview process I had gone out to lunch with a friend to a local resturant and when checking out there was a young woman at the cash register. She looked familiar and I said hello, remembering her name is Lauren.  When she turned to me she said, I remember you, you are the whale lady!. Lauren will be a senior in our high school this year and during my first year in the district she was in second grade.  At that time, in 1997, Classroom Connect had quests that classrooms could subscribe to and then follow, I signed the second grade up to follow Keiko, the whale in the Free Willy movies. He was recused from an aquarium in Mexico, funds were raised, much by school children, and moved to Oregon and then on to Iceland with the goal of be released into the wild again. Lauren told me that afternoon the project we did following Keiko the whale was the best thing she ever did in school, the one outstanding memory she had of her years in school and it is what made her decide she wanted to be a marine biologist.  I can’t describe the feeling of excitement I felt after talking with Lauren. For me knowing I had a part in something she remembered and was talking about 10 years later was the ultimate sign that I am where I am meant to be in life. I am looking forward  to the opportunities that await this year as well, and I hope all of you are as well. Here’s to Keiko and many more adventures with students.

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