Thursday, April 30, 2009

Give Your Students Opportunities to Make a Difference

Most of the students in my school come from a very stressed economic background. They don't have a lot of extra money to spend. Most don't have computers, let alone internet access. Not asking for sympathy, just telling you their background.

As you know if you read this post, my students participate in an activity called "Tie Tuesday" where they wear ties at school. I bought a bunch of ties at yard sales so my students could have them to wear.

Last week I had my students leave a post on the Daraja Academy Blog. Many of my students didn't understand why the academy was a big deal. We have free (compulsory) education in the United States. They couldn't understand why I thought the Daraja Academy was so important to Africa. They didn't get it.

After I explained how hard it was for kids to go to school in Kenya and many other African countries, they began to see the point of the academy. A light bulb went off and I realized this may be a "teachable moment". I told the students that the school ran off donations from people and I thought we might be able to help out. I asked them if they would be willing to "rent" the ties on Tie Tuesdays for a quarter and we could send the money to the academy. They unanimously agreed that it was a great idea.

This Tuesday the students started bringing me their quarters to rent the ties. Some students rented ties for their friends and a few even donated extra money. After the ties were all rented out I counted the money and they had given $10.45. Now this is not an extraordinarily large amount of money, but the students and I were both pleased. The class voted to wait until next week to send the money, after they had another chance to donate.

The money my students donate will probably not make a big contribution to the academy, but it just might make a difference with my students' attitude towards our school and their own opportunities. Their willingness to give has already made a big difference with the amount of respect I have for them.

What are you doing in your class to teach your students about giving?

Daraja Academy is the first free all-girls secondary school in all of East Africa.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Adding Streaming Video to Your Blog

After reading Miles Webb's, @NZWaikato, post on adding video to your blog, I decided to take up his challenge about how to stream video. First let me say this can be a very controversial subject. It seems that many educators, teachers and administration, are hesitant to open up their classrooms to public scrutiny. This is not a decision to enter into lightly. If you are interested in my story, here is a link to a post I wrote about it.

The first thing I need to address is the purpose of streaming the video. I stream video in my class so that others can see what we are doing. With a back channel, I can use the video to have a conversation with others outside my classroom. I also stream video to share specific things we are doing in class. I also use the streamed video to record events that I can post to my blogs.

Step 1, secure permission of your administration and, if necessary, parents. Our districts policies require parents to "opt-out" of being included in media. Since this includes year book, pictures for newspapers, news stories, etc. this has not been a problem. Since our district implemented the policy we only had one parent ask for their student to not participate.

Step 2, Get a camera. It is possible to use a cheap web cam without sound to an expensive camcorder that has video and audio out. I use a cheap no-name webcam in my Digital Media Center, a nice Creative webcam that is audio capable in my classroom, and an old Sony Steady Shot camcorder for video and Blue Snowball microphone for church.

If you just want to stream video without audio, don't spend a lot of money on a webcam. The video quality will be fine. If you want to record your video with or without audio using your computer you will want to invest in a high end web cam or an inexpensive camcorder. I use my camcorder with video out through the firewire port and import it into my bottom end Mac book. This gives me great video. I don't like the adio quality as well so I purchased a Blue Snowball to import the audio and it has made a noticeable difference.

Something to consider when choosing a web cam or camcorder is what will you use it for. Camcorders have the most flexibility but they cost the most. Webcams are usually inexpensive, but they have to be tethered to the computer. A seperate microphone can not only improve audio quality, but it also gives you a good tool to record audio. Here is a link to audio my students created in my class.

Step 3, choose your streaming site. I use to stream my video. It has several options I like including an optional chat. Here is a link to a post where I explain how I used Ustream to stream and record a presentation in my classroom with the chat enabled. There is also Stickam, and Mogulus. I periodically go back to these to see if they have improved enough or added new functions that may cause me to switch.

Step 4, start streaming. I can stream video and audio and record it with Ustream. I can place the streaming video on a blog, wiki, or a static page like Google sites using embeddable code. I can also do the same with the recorded video. This gives you lots of options.

Finally, here are some things you may want to consider streaming live: athletic events, musical events, teacher trainings, a class lesson, student presentations, science experiments, a student creating art, visitor presentations, awards assemblies, or, if you are crazy like me, everything.

If you are interested in streaming, but needs more information, don't hesitate to ask.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Little Things Add Up to Make School More Enjoyable

This may be a small post compared to the others on this blog. It isn't about broad changes in thinking,, or learning, or teaching. What it does address is class and school climate.

When Joe came in with his Tie Tuesday idea, I didn't think much about it. I had worn ties every day my first year of teaching, and I am so over that now. I thought it would be something that happened for a week or two and then it would die out. I was wrong.

Joe's next ideas was Jersey Friday. The days the staff can dress "down" we would have the students wear jerseys. Since I have many sports jerseys, I was happy to participate. I still thought it wouldn't last.

The fifth and sixth grades have been enjoying both days. They seem to enjoy being part of something special, even though it isn't anything big. Of course I was wrong.

Looking back over the last few months I can see that our classes climate has changed a little for the better because of two seemingly insignificant things. If we can get lucky and make a positive change, can't we do better with some thought and effort?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Welcome to the First #Comments4Kids Wednesday!

My classes spent the last two days commenting on blog posts. This is why we did it.

#Comments4Kids was started because several people thought that more attention needed to be spent on content created by students. They need feedback to improve and get better. They need others to notice what they create. I decided my class needed to go out and do commenting because they want others to comment on their content.

This post can also be found at Mr. C's Class Blog

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why I Stream Video


Forgive me if the video is down. I try to keep it running 24/7, but computers are not always so kind.

Ever since I started streaming video of my classroom at Mr C's Class Blog using Ustream, people have asked me why. It really started as a lark. I was in another teacher's room helping her with a tech problem when I saw a internet cam sitting in her drawer. I asked her what she was using it for and she told me that she had it because of a satellite class that was supposed to be held in her room, but had been cancelled. I asked her if I could borrow it and she told me I could have it. I skipped back to me room wondering how I could use my new toy.

After I got it up and running, which took considerable effort because I didn't have any software to install so I had to find some streaming software to use, I showed my class that I could stream video. At the time it was simply something new and interesting to share with my class.

After hearing about two streaming services on a Leo Laporte podcast I decided to check them out. I looked at and I thought they both looked really complicated, but finally chose Ustream because it seemed a little easier to figure out. (I think it still is easier, although Stickam has some compelling tools that you can use too.)

After messing around with Ustream I discovered I could record video. Now I can see a reason to use the webcam, I can record stuff we do in class for the blog. I really like the idea of digital records for my students. Unfortunately, I discovered a big problem. The web cam did not have a built in microphone. So, I can record video, but I can't record audio. Once again I ran into a roadblock.

A few weeks passed and I put making video's out of my mind. Soon I received a digital camera that could take video (lousy video) that I could use so I now had no reason to use the web cam.

I don't really know what really made me think of doing the live stream all the time, It may have had something to do with watching videos of Steve Spangler doing science experiments. Surely watching Chris Pirillo taking skype calls on his net show was part of it. I know some of the seeds were planted when I read Friedman's The World is Flat and I realized my students needed to think more globally.

Finally, a real reason to stream from my classroom started to form. I wanted to share my classroom with people outside of my school. I wanted my students to show what they were doing to anyone that wanted to see. I wanted a connection to form between my students and the world.

The obvious audience for the stream would be my students' parents. Unfortunately, most of my them don't have access to computers on the internet. My video stream to this day is still more likely to be seen by someone outside of the United States than by a parent of one of my students. That is the reality I face.

What does streaming mean for my class? It is a constant reminder that our world does not end at our city limits. It is the means by which my students come to realize our world is literally an internet connection away. It is my way of showing my students they can be more than what my town can offer.

This was originally posted at Reflections on Teaching in 2.0

Post Script: I wrote this post over a year ago, and some things have changed. I have two web cams running, one in my classroom and one in the fifth grade computer lab. Mr. McClung, @jkmcclung, the sixth grade science teacher in my building is running a web cam in his classroom too. I am even contemplating adding streaming audio next year!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blog Check: The Practical Principals

I recently discovered The Practical Principals podcast. The podcast is a conversation between two administrators: Melinda Miller, @mmiller7571, and Scott Elias, @ScottElias. Mrs. Miller is an elementary principale in Missouri and posts on The Principal Blog. Mr. Elias is an administrator in Colorado and posts on Scott J. Elias.

I found the podcast through Twitter and decided to listen to a few of the shows. As a teacher that never intends to become an administrator, I have listened with fascination about the role of the administrator. Just like students have no grasp of the job a teacher does, I realized I had no idea what an administrator does.

Two of my favorite podcasts are #10 Your Hired, which gave me great insight into hiring practices, and #12 Welcome Aboard, which deals with starting school with new teachers. Frankly, I am fascinated by both of these processes.

Both Mrs. Miller and Mr. Elias are fun to listen to. They have a rapport that makes listening enjoyable. They are both very knowledgeable and, more importantly, they work to better themselves as administrators. I would love to have either one (or both) in my building.

To sum up, if you would like to understand the principal's role in school, and enjoy listening to podcasts I recommend The Practical Principals. They have become part of my PLN.

Friday, April 17, 2009

#Comments4Kids Wednesdays

This post was supposed to be a rant on my perceived lack of support by the twitter education community in regards to student blogging. Not that they are against student blogging, that isn't the problem. The problem is many don't want to take time to comment on students' blogs.

As an adult, I love to get comments on my posts. It is important to me to know that what I say matters to others. I covet comments! Students aren't any different. They want to know someone cares about what they have to say too. Yes, they do get feedback from their teachers, but is that enough?

I tell my students all the time that blogs give them an audience they don't have with writing on paper and pencil. They have an audience that is theoretically as large as the world population. Do you think they want to put their ideas out for everyone to see? That is such a scary idea! How do you think they feel when they finally do it, but no one notices?

The idea came during a Twitter conversation with Carey Pohanka, @capohanka, a middle school teacher from Fredericksburg, VA. I had tried twice to get some fellow tweeters to post comments on her blog (see above), and she let me know that a couple (wonderful) teachers left some comments. Then she wrote this:

Then I get a message from Derek Smith ,@lovinteachin, a fifth grade teacher from Colorado Springs that said:
That was how #Comments4Kids started. Each Wednesday we ask for those of you that twitter to identify and tweet one blog post by a student that deserves to be commented on. It could be a student that posts something really awesome, or a student in your class that needs encouragement. Simply tag it as #Comments4Kids. Don't forget to do your part as well. If you see a link with that tag, click on it and leave a quick comment. Your time and effort will have a huge impact on the student that wrote the post.

Here is the link to follow the #Comments4Kids blog recommendations.

@jlamshed started a wiki for us to add our links. It can be found at:

Students We Love (and the Teachers Who Hate Them)

"How did make it through the year with _________?" is not an usual question to be asked by a teacher. What happens when the student identified happens to be a personal favorite? How does a student that is funny, charming, intelligent, honest, and caring become public school enemy number 1?

There are teachers, we all know some, that do not like children. Instead of treating them with respect and love, they treat them with contempt and disdain. When they aren't barking at the students about some perceived mistake or infraction, they are complaining to others about how bad their students are.

I have observed students being berated and belittled over little things by teachers who then complain about the lack of respect the students show them. How dare they backtalk or glare at them! Who do they think they are! Never mind the simple fact that the same teachers would blow their stack if another adult treated them the same way they are treating the students.

I am not writing about students that have behavior changes due to family problems, drugs, or other outside motivations. I know these students haven't changed that much because they still treat me and other teachers they had in the past with respect.

What should we do when we know teachers that take our former wonderful students and turn them into something much less? What is our responsibility to the students? What is our responsibility to those teachers?

This post, slightly modified was originally posted on Reflections on Teaching in 2.0 Although I posted this last September, the questions are as relevant today.

Monday, April 13, 2009

There is Value in Collaboration

When Jarrod asked me to co-author this blog I was extremely flattered. Why would a teacher from southern Australia think I would have something to contribute to his educational network? Yes, we did contribute to each others blogs through the book "Holes", but really what can we tell each other that is helpful considering we literally live on the other side of the world from each other?

When I started my class blog ,Mr. C's Class Blog, I had intended it to be a way for me and my students to communicate with each other that would leave a record. As I noticed visits from different countries popping up on our Cluster map I became excited. It was amazing that people from all over the world were looking at what we were doing. This changed my perspective about the purpose of my class blog. Instead of using it to communicate with each other, we began to use it to communicate with others outside our classroom, even outside our state. I began to understand the power of the internet for my students' learning.

I had read a tweet by Alec Couros on Twitter that pointed me to a vlog on Kim's Blog. In the vlog she describes how uncomfortable it was for her to create a video of herself. This led me to think how important it is to model reflections I expect my students to do. I have been emphasizing that skill to them for several weeks.When I responded to Dr. Couros about my "light bulb" he responded:

This brings me to my point. We all have something to contribute to each other. Without the advantage of my PLN (personal learning network) I might never have made the connection between reflection and modeling. That is why I am contributing to this blog.

Wm. Chamberlain