Posts in Category "Articles"

May 29, 2009

The Long Climb of Technology Infusion

There’s always gonna be another mountain…we’re always gonna want make it move.”
Mylie Cyrus’ new tune (that’s right…..I’m quoting Hannah Montana….have I been working in elementary schools too long?) may have been targeted at tweens, but it could become our official Educator’s Anthem. After all, relevant education must keep in tandem with the times and culture. It’s no news that today’s teachers continually face new challenges. In the 21st century, that often means committing to the long upward climb of technology competency—acquiring skills, keeping abreast of new resources, and figuring how to apply them in the classroom to power up student learning.
One of the Everests looming on our horizon is the technology requirement that is being added to the national cocktail of standardized testing. Technology competency testing is on its way down the pike. NAEP is set to release a trial run this fall, targeted to be finalized by 2012. The goal is student demonstration of problem solving in technology rich environments. Wow. That sounds exciting. Rigorous academics combined with rigorous creativity and rigorous thinking skills. That’s substantial education! The directive is clear: infusion, not inclusion. (That’s edutalk for shaken, not stirred.) But, what, exactly, is the difference?
Most of today’s classroom teachers are comfortable with technology inclusion. It’s been around since Bank Street Writer introduced us all to the magic typewriter. Walk in most classrooms today, and you will see students using software programs to supplement or extend learning in some way. That’s inclusion. But try to place these activities on the New Bloom’s Taxonomy and you may find that they fall squarely on the bottom every time. Too often, the fingers may be moving, but the mind remains at rest.
Infusion is another paradigm altogether. It uses technology as a tool for critical and creative problem solving and communication. The word may conjure up images of students physically immersed in the Cone of Learning, Vulcan style (you had to See the new Star Trek movie to pick up on this visual), but it really means bringing technology into partnership with traditional programs. Learning is still curriculum based, but creative technology applications are woven through the curriculum. The students become active shapers of this form of learning. The teacher acts as a frameworker and manager, using multiple literacies to weave together standards and disciplines, identifying and applying appropriate tools to ensure relevant information literacy, integrating information and research skills to solve problems, and designing rubrics collaboratively with students so that all learners can effectively access the learning process. That’s the kind of stuff you find at the pinnacle of Bloom’s pyramid.
It sounds great, and it is. But it leads us to our next question: How the heck do we teach teachers how to do this? We are coming up on thirty years of technology instruction for teachers and technology resources for the classroom. The inclusion piece is firmly in place. The idea of infusion is still a long way away. Technology coaches Melanie Holtsman and Dayle Timmons have a few suggestions.
Melanie and Dayle are leading the climb at Chets Creek Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida. Together, they share the role of campus technology coach. Dayle works with K-2 teachers and Melanie focuses on the intermediate grades. Their mission: to infuse technology into the elementary classroom.
I’ve been following Melanie’s blog for a while, and decided to visit the campus a few weeks ago. Evidence of technology infusion is everywhere—from the Principal’s Book Club project to the second grade weekly news show. “We’re making strides with students,” explained Melanie, “but we are most excited about the changes we are making with teachers, because that’s where the real change happens.” Melanie was interested in the possibilities of technology in the classroom, and began following a blog by a classroom teacher in New Zealand. “She just talked like a teacher: here’s what I did, here’s how I did it, and this is what I learned. It encouraged me to think that I could do these things, too. Things turned around for me when I made the transition from thinking of technology as a “cute” add on to the curriculum to a way to make learning more purposeful,” she explained. “And the big surprise was that these activities weren’t necessarily harder. It takes as much time—maybe even more—to find and print a black line activity on Native Americans as it does to find a You Tube Interview with a Native American chief, describing his life and culture in today’s context. I made the connection with working smarter, not harder.”
At this point, relates Melanie, she decided to become a risk taker. “I began to make what I was doing transparent. I wanted other teachers to see that using technology—rethinking the role of technology in learning—actually made things easier for the teacher.”
“Teachers have so much on their plates,” added Dayle. “They work on a ‘need to know’ basis. So, we invite them to join us in learning projects. We don’t say ‘Here’s something you have to learn.’ We show them what’s in it for them—we spell out how it grabs students and engages them, how it addresses critical and creative thinking skills, and how it meets multiple standards.”
The technology coaches use a range of 2.0 technologies to introduce their teachers and their classrooms to learning through technology. “We introduce an idea, and say ‘This is an opportunity’. Everyone who participates moves forward a little bit—some teachers make leaps. We have a core group of teachers who’ve kept with it, and they are growing into team leaders for technology infusion. Teachers at Chets Creek are very open about sharing what they know with their colleagues,” Melanie says. “Teaching and learning are always about collaboration—you rise and fall with your team. We are always trying to encourage each other to think bigger about what we are doing in the classroom. Collective wisdom causes you to think deeper.”
Chets Creek accomplishes a great deal with a modest array of hardware. Every classroom is equipped with two desktop computers, a document camera, an LCD projector, and a DVD player. Each teacher has a laptop computer. The media center has the standard rounds of desktop computers for student research and the electronic catalog system. “We do a lot with free applications,” explains Melanie. “We want teachers to have a feeling for the range of resources out there.” For example, the faculty keeps a free blog site. Teachers attending state, national, and international conferences are asked to take along their laptops, and use them to share ideas, lessons, and reflections with teachers back home. Melanie and Dayle showed teachers to use Voice Thread to collaborate on a digital story to share with the student body. They used Vimeo to host classroom videos on a wide range of subjects (Our teachers love flip cameras,” says Melanie. They are so easy to use. And so inexpensive!”). Glogster becomes the tool of choice to communicate through imagery and text.
The greatest change brought about by technology infusion? “Teachers get excited about learning,” says Melanie. “When that happens, it rejuvenates the whole system.”

4:20 PM Permalink
May 12, 2009

Redefining the Role of the Teacher

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot
read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and
relearn.”—Alvin Toffler

Today’s educators teach in times that are both exciting and demanding. Many of us have witnessed—and have contributed to—significant shifts in education. Sometimes, we find that those shifts push us outside our comfort zones.
Without doubt, digital media plays a key role in the shaping of this new world. It brings a universe of information to our doorstep at the stroke of a key. It enables connection and collaboration, on a global scale—any time, and anywhere. It has created a whole new breed of learners and communicators, many of whose interests and focus lay beyond the classroom walls. And it holds deep implications for the future form, and role, of educators.
The Digital Youth Project, an in-depth study commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation, takes a close look at the way that students communicate and learn through digital media. That study, and its corresponding book, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, spell out a serious disconnect between the 20th century lens through which many educational institutions view the instructional process, and the world that exists “beyond the bell” for today’s students.
This conceptual, informational age, and the children who have been born into it, casts a new light on the role of the teacher. Long accustomed to our traditional role as the “Purveyor of Information”, we suddenly find ourselves displaced in that particular arena. We just don’t have a corner on that market any more. Our job description has changed. The plain truth is, that, in order to remain relevant, our role must be redefined. But how? The answer to that seems to be organic in nature—a grassroots response of educators who are meeting their students where they are, who are making learning and communication relevant within the context of the world as it is today, and who keep an eye forward to the ultimate goal of developing true Digital Citizens.
So, what are savvy teachers doing today to acknowledge their interests and learning preferences, to hone into the ways that they perceive and use the world of information and to prepare them for responsible participation in a 21st century world? That’s a big question. And the models for that are everywhere.
Through my work, in schools of every configuration and level, I begin to see a few ubertrends of forward thinking educators:
Teachers as Frameworkers: These educators do a great deal of planning, organization, and management up front. They feel that it frees them up to work alongside their students as coaches and guides. These teachers are very likely to be open to learning alongside their students. Robert Miller, 4/5 grade teacher at Port Orange Elementary, in Port Orange, Florida, is an excellent example of this.
“I spend a tremendous amount of time on planning and management,” Robert says. “You have to have a well planned infrastructure. After you have established that, you have to be willing to take the risk of turning learning over to the students. I give the objective, describe the outcome, and we work together to establish the criteria. After that, I grow, observe, amend, and expand with them—managing, editing, and learning alongside their experiences.”
Teachers as Connectors: These teachers embody pure genius when it comes to bringing a world of learning to the doorsteps of their students. The process can be as simple as finding, and persuading, the right speakers, mentors, and specialists to participate in the life of the classroom, to creating and participating in connective software and Nexus points that broaden the view and knowledge base of students. New breeds of educators, like Roxana Hadad of Northwestern University’s Collaboratory Project, specialize in their role as edu-connectors.
“I’m not really a teacher by trade,” Roxana said. “I see myself as someone who uses available technology, in combination with sound pedagogy, to connect students, teachers, the community and industry. I try to encourage collaboration in a way that’s beneficial to all parties that are involved. Technology alone does not initiate collaboration. One has to create an environment that promotes critical observation and discussion. The goals have to be clear to everyone, with an understanding that we will only get to where we want to go with conversation.”
Teachers as Enablers: Magda Kahn, ESL instructor at Groves High School in Garden City, Georgia, was inspired by a digital storytelling workshop offered by the Massie Heritage Center in Savannah, Georgia. Ms Kahn quickly admits that her technology skills were basic. “I learned a great deal by working through the digital storytelling process myself,’ she says. “ I began to understand the power of technology and its relevance to learning. My big challenge was finding a way to translate it to the classroom.” She identifies two hurdles: her lack of technical expertise, and the constraints of current educational requirements.
“My philosophy (about technology inclusion) is ‘We’re all in this together’,” she explains. “If I’m trying to take my students through a step in the technological process, and I get lost, I ask them to help me through it. I have to be willing to learn with them. Sometimes, I will ask each student to identify a function on the toolbar or menu, spend some time exploring it, and prepare a short expository presentation on that skill. That way, my students meet the ESL goals of written and oral language, while we all become more proficient at technology.”
When we embrace the notion that how we teach is as crucial to the learning process as what we teach, we naturally begin to expand and reexamine our roles as teachers. As we reach into the world of our students, the everyday business of teaching and learning transforms into a shared, creative journey. And isn’t that when teaching, and learning, really start to matter?

5:19 AM Permalink
May 9, 2009

Is Piaget Déclassé?

Let’s face it. We love technology. We just do. It’s captivating, creative, and, yes, it’s hip. Most of us who bother to read posts like this one dedicate some time and effort to building our geek cred. If some technology is good, more must be better. We know what it adds to the learning arena. If it empowers high school students, engages middle schoolers, powers up cross curricular learning for elementary age students, it must do phenomenal things for babies and toddler, too. Right?
Many parents think so. Technology and digital media for babies is big business, infused into the earliest lives of our children. Consider the popularity of Baby Einstein videos or the wealth of software developed specifically for babies and toddlers. They have their own hardware, too! Check out the Comfy Easy PC Keyboard for babies, marketed through Baby Genius. Does this early exposure work? Are kids getting smarter, faster?
Not necessarily, say Dr. Dimitri Christakis and Frederick Zimmerman, both of the University of Washington. Their research doesn’t bear up the benefits of toddler targeted technology. In fact, their study indicates that too much early exposure to these tools actually delays language development and over stimulates the babies, making it difficult for them to concentrate later on in life. The researchers worry that parents might believe that these products serve as a valid replacement for human interaction.
“Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn,” says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University Of New Mexico School Of Medicine. “They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.”
So, when do we begin to infuse technology into the world of learning? Susan Haughland, a researcher with the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, believes that preschool is the best time to introduce the computer.
“Computers in the preschool and kindergarten classroom have great value when they are used in a developmentally appropriate way,” said Susan Haughland from the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Compared to children in a similar classroom without computer experience, three-and four-year olds who used computers with supporting activities had significantly greater gains in verbal and nonverbal skills, problem solving, abstraction, and conceptual skills.”
If you want to know the secret of life, or just about anything else, ask a kindergarten teacher. I found several with plenty to say about the meaningful integration of technology into the kindergarten schoolscape.
“Technology is integral to the kindergarten classroom,” explains Patricia Kershner, a career kindergarten teacher, “because that’s the way today’s world works, and the job of the teacher is to prepare them for that world.” Kindergartners learn by experiencing a concept in many formats, she explains, and often need to work with a concept over and over in order to really understand it. “ It’s (technology) not a substitute for doing, or for sensorial experiences, or for good teaching, but the right computer activities can supplement and enrich students in unique ways. The computer has the added advantage of providing visual and auditory information and improves their eye-hand coordination. In the right context, it is also a forum for social and creative expression.” It comes down to knowing your students, she adds.
Colin Lankshear and Llana Snyder, authors of Teachers and Technoliteracy (Allen and Unwin, 2000) agree. “The role of the teacher is to move students from information to knowledge,” they write. Technology and digital media can contribute to this. “But,” they advise, “We have to make sure that technology serves educational needs and not the other way around.”
So, maybe Piaget, with his classic developmental stages and his concrete-to-abstract philosophy, has something of value to contribute to technology education in the elementary school. But just how do we approach technology education from a developmental perspective?
I like to provide physical models for my young students. For example, I press a jewelry box, with many drawers, into service to illustrate the drives of a computer. Fixing an image of a computer to the back of the box, I label each one of the drawers on the front face accordingly: desktop, peripheral, A Drive, C Drive, D drive, H drive. I print out a series of miniature photos and documents, and place them into the various drawers of the jewelry box. Using the drawers as an analogy for computer drives, I am able to show my students how the files can be moved from one drive to another, how files are integrated, and so forth. It isn’t high tech, but it’s effective—and it helps my students make that leap to the abstract functions of computer use and management.
Concrete to abstract learning applies to software skills as well. My primary age students use a manual cropping tool—a cardboard square with the center removed—to manually isolate an area of their photo. I demonstrate the way that technology can be used to crop photos and help them make the connection between the two processes. These same students select and manipulate real objects to create collages that represent the details of a story, or that express a concept visually, and then create a scan or a digital photograph of their work. Later on, these same students learn how to create images by layering and manipulating a portfolio of imagery using Adobe Photoshop Elements. Another of my favorite metaphors is to demonstrate the notion of layering images with Photoshop Elements by showing my students a stack of clear report covers, each with an image or drawn on them, a phrase added, or a color added to the mix. As I begin to stack the images, adding more detail, students begin to make the connection to the layering process of Photoshop Elements software. The same is true for storyboarding tools and digital storytelling software. We begin with a low tech mix of index cards, scotch tape, using yellow sticky notes to edit, add, and explain. Inelegant, but effective (and inexpensive!). My youngest students manually manipulate the visual and textual elements of their story, so that they can better understand the digital manipulation of slides and video insertions in storytelling software.
Want more ideas for developmentally appropriate technology instruction? Check out these suggestions from Susan Brooks, co-founder of Internet4Classrooms. Susan Krill from Southwestern School District in Hanover, Pennsylvania, has compiled a comprehensive technology link that exposes young children to information literacy, traditional literacy and learning through technology, creating with technology and age appropriate computer skills.
I think Piaget would be proud, don’t you?

12:31 PM Permalink
March 20, 2009

THINKING Pt. 1 – Not Just Cutting The Grass

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The fellow sitting next to me clearly had not agreed with my comments. We were at the Adobe Summer Institute, it was the wrap up session and I had asked a question which tested an underlying assumption. Apparently that was not a good thing to do. To me this phrase and this attitude is the very anathema of all that is creative and insightful. Being creative frequently means testing your most basic, fundamental baseline assumptions.
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The value of this testing lies in the truths that the process can reveal. For example, you might use a classroom that appears to be attentive as a positive reference point. The trouble is, you are assuming attentive = learning. Experience shows that the equation does not always work. Beware, though, doing this testing is not easy. If you test these baseline assumptions then you may lose your reference points and that can leave you in what I call free fall. You have released yourself from the norm, and you cannot know where you will land. If you ask these questions you may discover that the products you create so carefully are irrelevant. You may learn, as did one of our clients, that your assumptions are blocking your view. One of our designers and I were sitting chatting with this client. He proceeded to describe a situation in his factory and then offered us three different options to solve the issue. Which of these, he asked, would we use? Here is the funny thing – neither Danny, the designer, nor I knew in advance that he was going to ask this question. We could not have rehearsed our answers, and so it was rather dramatic when we both, simultaneously, replied, “Don’t do any of these. Remove that step from the process – you don’t need it.” Two designers using design thinking and no assumptions led us both to this interpretation. It was not what our client had expected. His deep immersion in his processes had convinced him that there were no other interpretations available. We changed that, without even meaning to, and our client learned a valuable lesson. So- how does any of this relate to cutting the grass?
It is early spring time up here in southern Ontario – time to re-find the garage. That meant finding and moving the lawn mower… and that is what started my line of thought. Looking at this simple machine I wondered just how often do we take these activities and machines for granted. Do we ever ask if there could be a better way or do we just cut the grass? As I thought about that I recalled one situation in which the creators of a product had definitely not just cut the grass, and Flash CS4, their product, had become much stronger because of it.
It was at the 2008 Summer Institute and we were being shown a preview of Flash CS4. The Flash team leader was on stage demonstrating several new features. These were fabulous, powerful new features that took my breath away. The Flash team had challenged their baseline assumptions – about how a piece of software works and Flash CS4 had grown because of that. Flash CS4 is so much more accessible that teachers should now consider it when experiences with past versions may have suggested otherwise. But, what about that idea of testing your fundamental, baseline assumptions?
I see many applications for this thinking, especially in our school settings. Teaching can never be a problem with a single answer. Our students learn in so many different ways that we must always try to reach out to them using different approaches… but are our approaches really all that different? Use this testing to see if your “different ways” are different and to see if they actually work. The answers may require you to revisit some very basic beliefs. Read on in THINKING Pt.2 – Storyboards? Sort of… for those answers and more.

9:39 AM Permalink
December 27, 2008

MOMENTS

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There is a special serenity at this time of year which encourages reflection. As I look back over the past 12 months I realize how incredibly fortunate I have been – one might even say, blessed. Many of these blessings were experienced as brief moments – hence the title to this entry. They come and go so quickly they could easily be missed. Here are a few of mine in no particular order- may they help you recall moments of your own.
One of my grade 11 students is virtually stone deaf and ESL – can you imagine learning a new language when you cannot hear? This young person, it turns out, wants to be a designer – but has very limited experience with computers and is in my class. There is a teaching assistant who comes to the school once a week to help her with all of her subjects but she is on her own in each class. Oh my. It turns out she is very smart and very determined and willing to work. We set a goal for her – a first term mark of 60% – she blows that away by earning an honest 81%. She came to the parent-teacher interviews with her mom and dad. Her mom, it turns out, was a medical professional in their former country. Here in Canada she is working at a coffee shop serving donuts and coffee and learning English slowly. The whole family broke down in tears when they spoke of the help and support their daughter received here – tears of gratitude and appreciation. That on its own was a moment frozen in time. But it was later, the last class before Christmas, when this student came to me after class to give me a present from she and her family. They have absolutely no extra money, much less money for a gift. My heart plummeted when she gave me the gift but I knew I had to accept it to allow them all this opportunity to say thank you. That small box of chocolates was my whole Christmas.
Its July in San Francisco and I am there for the annual AEL Summer Institute – that on its own is one enormous moment. But there is more. I am biking across the Golden Gate Bridge… thank you Megan for suggesting this. It is incredible. Absolutely incredible…
I have a student who regularly scores in the 60’s – never really tries, never really gets fully engaged. This one day we had finished using Photoshop and had moved on to audio software. Looking at his screen it was obvious this was too much for him, but this time I approached it differently. Instead of asking how he was doing I simply crouched down beside him and very quietly said, “Looks like you’re having trouble. Let me show you an easier way – easier is good!” He smiled at that idea and gave me his mouse and – something shifted, something changed. He listened. In that sacred moment learning happened because he opened his mind and he really, truly listened. We spent about twenty minutes together – he moved forward and I…. well, I was given another moment.
Today CS4 arrived!! YES!! I go to load it…. oh… I need to download XP Service Pack 3. I hated doing that – early builds had been full of problems but if Adobe says they need it, then I guess its okay. It all turns out fine. I go to load CS4 again…. I’m ready, I’m really really ready…. oh…. not enough ram. Damn ram…. fine… I get more ram. I go to load it again….. it takes two hours but it loads! Hooray!!! “Whats that? You need all my marks for the report cards? You mean I have to wait to play with CS4? Fine.” Not all moments are created equal…. LOL. P.S. – I am using CS4 and loving it! More on that soon.
My photography club is asked to take photos of female students made up with stage makeup to look battered and hurt because they are speaking out against violence against women and they need our help to record the event. We watch as the teacher applies the makeup and it is almost too convincing – this is the reality of the situation really coming to life right in front of us. Two of my students start shooting and the whole situation takes on a life of its own. These kids are totally, absolutely engaged – the models, the shooters and we the teachers who are helping, suggesting, and watching. THIS is why we teach…. The display covers the entire front lobby wall and is fabulous. It is even left up for the grade 8 parent night (the grade 8 students and parents from our feeder schools come for an orientation / open house). Thank you to the new principal for letting the display stay up so the kids could show their work and their concern about the problem. More moments…… watching my students shooting, observing the models working, watching other kids read the display and look at the pics.
Speaking of photos, the picture at the top of this entry was yet another moment. I like to get up early on Sunday morning and drive down to Lake Ontario to shoot photos if there is anything interesting. On this day about three weeks ago I caught sight of this momentary image and immediately raced into a parking lot and ran down to the shore to capture the light before it disappeared. I got the picture, the clouds shifted and the image was gone.
Its been quite a school year – and we have only just begun. Happy new year to all – may you have many moments of your own.

7:05 AM Permalink
October 28, 2008

Geek Squad Project: Teaching Teachers to Use Technology

The Clemson University Geek Squad: Teaching Teachers to Use Technology is a project designed to provide undergraduate education majors with opportunities to learn fundamental and advanced concepts of instructional technology, engage in authentic classroom teaching experiences, and train and assist classroom teachers to effectively integrate technology into their classrooms.
The ten undergraduate students participating in the Geek Squad project during the 2007-8 school year were either early childhood or elementary education majors. Each demonstrated a genuine interest in instructional technology even though they were not considered “experts” when they joined the squad. The Geeks were willing and able to learn and practice using technology with minimal guidance and then use their newfound knowledge to teach each other, K-12 students, other pre-service teachers, as well as classroom teachers how to effectively utilize instructional technology.
During the spring 2008 semester the Geeks chose to focus on learning two Adobe products: Photoshop Elements and Visual Communicator. They chose Photoshop Elements mainly because they were excited about its potential to help K-12 students learn and write creatively. The Geeks participated in a 3-hour PS Elements workshop developed by two Adobe Education Leaders, Ryan Visser and Chris Peters. Their skill-set and their sense of classroom integration was enhanced by the tutorials and lessons found on Adobe’s Digital Kids Club site.
Once the Geeks felt comfortable with their knowledge of PS Elements, they were able to hone their teaching and newfound PS Elements skills with students enrolled in Club 2:45. Club 2:45, an after-school program at a Title I elementary school, stresses cross-curricular technology integration to provide underprivileged students with opportunities that they would not otherwise have. At the same time, the Geeks were provided an opportunity that they would not otherwise have – teaching experience.
The first Geek-led project at Club 2:45 integrated Photoshop Elements 6.0 into a lesson on outer space. The Geeks demonstrated the process of selecting oneself from one image and then copying and pasting the selection into an image of outer space. They then asked the students to try it for themselves.
The Geeks were pleasantly surprised at how well the lesson was received, considering that none of the students, nor their classroom teachers, had ever seen this technique. The students loved the activity. Even more satisfying was that the classroom teachers who observed and enjoyed the activity asked theGeeks to train them so they could replicate the activity in their classes. It was at this point that the Geeks realized their impact. Not only could they engage students in a meaningful learning activity, but their enthusiasm rubbed off on teachers who were not known for incorporating technology. Since this PS Elements experience, the Geeks have trained many more classroom teachers and have even been asked to train some of the local districts’ technology coaches and coordinators.
The second Geek-led project at Club 2:45 took place toward the end of the semester and focused on Visual Communicator 3.0. Visual Communicator is a program that was wholly unfamiliar to them until they saw it demonstrated. However, once they saw it, their excitement and interest could not be denied. What especially appealed to the Geeks was that Visual Communicator offered a host of roles that could engage almost any personality: producer, director, script-writer, actor, technical director, among others. In order to learn the basics of Visual Communicator, the Geeks used an instructional DVD developed by another Adobe Education Leader, Rob Zdrojewski.
The Geeks decided to develop a “My Favorite Place” activity that could be carried out in three 45-minute sessions that would provide opportunities to develop a script, rehearse, and record. In the first session, the Geeks explained the project to the students and showed some examples of the end result. The students were asked to type a paragraph that described their favorite place. Then, once they finished writing, they were asked to exchange papers for peer editing. Once their paragraphs were edited, students were asked to find from the Web an image that depicted their favorite place. The Geeks then loaded all of the student-written paragraphs and the corresponding images into Visual Communicator.
On the second day, the students took advantage of Visual Communicator’s rehearsal feature and were able to see themselves on screen, become familiar with the built-in teleprompter, and get accustomed to projecting their voice.
The third session was spent recording the students, showing their movies, and documenting their reactions. Statements such as, “I love seeing myself on the screen!” “I love the green screen because I can be anywhere!” and “Can I do another one?” conveyed the students’ overwhelming enthusiasm.
This enthusiasm was not restricted to the K-12 students. Here is an excerpt from a reflection written by the Geeks:

It can definitely be very intimidating to use a program that you know nothing about. It is almost a guarantee that you will run across a few bumps in the road here or there. We did. But every problem that gets in your way ends up helping you learn something new about the program. Visual Communicator creates projects where everyone involved can feel very proud.

The Clemson Geeks Squad is a fabulous project for many reasons, not the least of which is the genuine enthusiasm that the Geeks bring to instructional technology training. They were able to teach each other, their pre-service peers, elementary students, classroom teachers, and even the project directors, lending a real-life example to the old adage that cash can buy, but it takes enthusiasm to sell.

Ryan Visser, an Adobe Education Leader, is a clinical faculty member in the School of Education at Clemson University. A member of the South Carolina Center of Excellence for Instructional Technology Training, Ryan teaches pre-service and classroom teachers how to use technology and researches instructional learning environments.

Wanda L. Calvert earned her Ph.D. in Elementary Education with an emphasis in literacy and technology at the University of South Carolina. Currently, she is the Professional Development Schools Coordinator and a clinical faculty member in the School of Education at Clemson University.

4:09 AM Permalink
October 26, 2008

Using Photoshop for Remembrance Day Posters

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By Peter French
Welcome to the good, old poster project—21st century style. Remember the curled piece of Bristol board? It’s been replaced with state of the art graphics exploring and expressing a cross curricular topic through creative writing and visual design that puts the left and right sides of the brain to work in the best way possible—together.
This is a modern interpretation of the traditional assignment—the poster project. The version I created is called the Remembrance Day poster in honor of Canada’s national day of remembrance of all of the Canadian soldiers killed in battle. But this time there was an additional challenge. The students were to research, write and create posters that honored the Remembrance Day tradition while also being more accessible to anyone without any background knowledge of this special day. The topic is inherently cross curricular requiring research into:

  • Remembrance Day itself

  • the cultural traditions of many of our students
  • the traditions of posters in general and the power they have as vehicles of communications especially in terms of social awareness and change
  • the dynamics of graphic design including an introduction to the elements and principals of design to better understand how to properly design a poster
  • writing for posters, where text must be brief, compelling and, in this particular case, highly accessible.

Cross curricular topics are a personal favorite. As a high school teacher with a background in industry I believe in trying to make assignments authentic—as close as possible to projects in real life within the safe confines of the classroom. Cross curricular topics are inherently more authentic because school “subjects” never exist in isolation in real life. This makes cross curricular topics more realistic which tends to make these assignments more motivating.
We have all heard the discussions about the powers of the textual, sequential left brain and the holistic, visual right brain. This poster project puts both sides to work equally. By utilizing the power of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you get around many of the restrictions that non-artistic students typically pose—they cannot draw or print and so on. Now they don’t have to. The software does some of that for them and gives them graphic tools which the old cut and paste cannot match. It can be accessed simply, at a beginner level or at a full blown professional level. The choice is yours, and the students. As their skills and comfort level evolve, so too will their desire to push just a little farther.
The structure of the project is flexible enough to allow it to be rewritten for any grade level capable of using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. If a single poster does not offer enough space or opportunity for textual information, then have the students work as small groups, with each student creating a single poster as part of a group series.
As a teacher of digital design I automatically include lessons about the elements and principals of design in my classes. For other teachers this may be a step too far. However, I believe that it would be productive for the teacher to do a brief introduction to the history of posters, complete with samples that are especially compelling. This could quickly cover simple aspects of effective layout and provide the students with an introductory vocabulary of design solutions. The problem I see daily is that students have very limited knowledge of things like graphic design. They see posters and layouts constantly but have no grasp of how to create their own. Samples solve that. Put them up in your room. Discuss how they are designed—where the emphasis goes, and so on. Talk about the text—talk about the different approaches possible. Build a working vocabulary of these things together. Oh—by the way… want a twist on this poster business? Get them to create old fashioned posters. Suddenly there is another perspective to research and the opportunity for a completely different type of fun and challenge.
What is the work flow for all of this? I suggest that the whole project starts by having the teacher create their own poster first. This serves two distinct needs. The teacher must establish their own sense of what an “A” is, versus a “B” or a “C”, and that can only happen, I believe, once the teacher has discovered what the software does easily and what takes a lot more effort and skill. The students need to know what good versus better versus best looks like, before they start, and this allows the teacher to create samples of the different levels, to the best of their ability. It takes a little time and effort but the quantum leap forward in confidence that the teacher experiences by learning more about the software is worth every minute invested. Speaking of teachers—your classroom is full of Photoshop teachers right now. They are your students, many of whom have had some experience with this software and would love the chance to demonstrate their skills. Put them to work—set limitations beforehand, keep the demos simple and focused, but do let them show their stuff. My students have taught me a great deal, as I have taught them. It is a wonderful dynamic—put it to work for you.
In conclusion, I heartily recommend this newer, updated variation on the poster project. Make the topic(s) cross-curricular—this makes the assignment more authentic. Suggest that the posters are for a television station, to offer print information about a news topic. Perhaps they could be for a local charitable group wanting to inform their audience about a specific topic or problem. Get the students involved by exploring posters as powerful vehicles of communication. Do invest the time to build your own posters. And last but not least, put your students to work as teachers / demonstrators. Let them be the real proof that kids can use these digital tools effectively, as beginners or as more skilled practitioners. Oh yes—one final note—best clear your bulletin boards now. You are about to have a lot of wonderful work to display!
Possible resources for you to try – and this is just a small warm-up compared to the full extent available on the internet:
power of posters as teaching tools
http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/literacy/bear.htm
http://www.ursidaeenterprises.com/history.html
the history of posters
http://www.internationalposter.com/about-poster-art/a-brief-history-of.aspx
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Museum/Posters/History/index.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwtwo/war_adverts_gallery.shtml
http://www.art.com/asp/display-asp/_/id–11370/Black_History.htm
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaposters/wpahome.html
sample posters
http://www.fly.net/~kiki/kruger.html
http://www.gggrafik.de/content/posters/index_ger.html
http://www.state.sc.us/forest/posters.htm
intro to composition / the elements and principals of design
http://makingamark.blogspot.com/2008/01/composition-elements-of-design.html
http://www.nhsdesigns.com/graphic/principles/index.php
http://www.usask.ca/education/coursework/skaalid/theory/cgdt/designtheory.htm
http://www.nhsdesigns.com/graphic/principles/index.php
poster6.jpgposter3.jpgposter5.jpg

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October 23, 2008

Changing Lives through Web Design

Sawyer.jpgSimmons Career Center is a little different than most traditional high schools. Simmons is for students who want to learn a trade and get out of school as quickly as possible. Eligible students are at least a year behind and in jeopardy of dropping out of school. Unfortunately, for a majority of our students, poor success in school has also led to other destructive behavior outside of school. Like many other schools, we have gang members, students with criminal records, and students who struggle with poverty. Students who are able to manage their personal challenges and reach the Web Design IV class are required to do a project based exit activity to complete the program. The students act as a web design firm and work with a real client from start to finish. The guidance counselor referred a woman from a non‐profit agency called Advocates for a Safer Community to be our real life example. Before long, we found ourselves learning a lot about choices in life.
A tall slender woman came into the conference room where the students were all seated. We all stood and introduced ourselves and began by discussing how the web site should look and feel. Mrs. Saunders began to pull out news articles and pictures from her bag and spread them across the table. Each article and photo represented a young person who was murdered within the city limits of Tampa, Florida. Case by case, the students, by their own accord, began reading the articles and looking at the pictures. The students very quickly realized their project would have a significant impact on others’ lives. From that very first meeting, our students began to feel really needed.
Mrs. Saunders pulled out a picture and began to tell us how “he didn’t like getting his picture taken, so that was the best she could find”. One student asked, “Who is he?” She replied, “My son”. Mrs. Saunders started the organization after her son was murdered while waiting outside for a friend to come out and play. Mrs. Saunders pulled out another photo of her son. She said,” I like this one because he was not wearing a hat.” I could actually see and feel a change as my students empathized with this complete stranger and accepted her burden as their own.
The meeting was over and the students brought the notes back to the classroom. We began to discuss and build low level storyboards on roll paper. A couple of the students began to get nervous about doing such an important project, but we kept them on it anyway. Everyone agreed the pictures of the victims needed to be improved in Photoshop to make the faces larger and easier to see. We decided to create a Flash file that would have the mission and information in a center box with thumbnail images of all the victims presented. The students wanted every victim to be equally as important on the home page. As the user moved the mouse over the thumbnails, the center would change to a larger picture of the victim. We also included the name, the date of their death, and whenever possible, a word that family and friends used to describe the victim. There were links included to get more information about each case.
Now the hard part, there were nearly three hundred cases. Students began the tedious task of scanning pictures and recreating articles to build the Flash file and sub‐pages. One might think, or at least I did, that the students would eventually return to being unmotivated and lazy, with poor attendance and off task behavior. The opposite was true; the students were giving up their lunch, coming in early, and
finishing work in their other classes so they could work on the website. The seniors’ last day was fast approaching and the students were feeling the crunch. I offered to finish the project so they could enjoy some of the senior events and the last couple of days with their friends and none of my students would accept my offer. The last day for seniors came and there were still some finishing touches we needed to do. The seniors showed up to school as volunteers and worked on the project. When we sat with Mrs. Saunders to review and get her feedback, she was very surprised. One of our students even used Photoshop to edit the picture of Mrs. Saunders’ son. The student removed the hat and re‐created her son’s hair and features from the other photo where he was not wearing a hat.
In nine years of teaching, I have never seen dedication like my students gave to this project. What made the outcome even better were the conversations the students had with each other while working. These students discussed choices, their future and options for themselves. Nine weeks earlier, these same students were talking about who fought whom and their crazy weekends. No one could have predicted that a project used to teach Dreamweaver, Flash and Photoshop could actually change my students’ lives.
Michael Sawyer
Technology Resource Teacher
Simmons Career Center

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October 22, 2008

MindRap: Real Local Media

by Melanie West
Integrating culture and life has always been a part of my informal learning work experience. About thirty years ago I worked as a math tutor for a local community science center in Plainfield, New Jersey. That center—conceived by a group of Bell Laboratory scientists and housed in an abandoned rundown candy store—was a bold, grassroots effort that opened up the world of science to urban youth and delivered this knowledge to the students’ own neighborhood.
Bell Labs scientists, including world-renowned physicist, Dr. James E. West, co-founder and board member of Tiz Media Foundation, dedicated their brilliance and time to the center teaching on topics such as the mechanics of go-carts and the physics behind bicycle riding. Many students in that neighborhood survived very rough lives, but the science center was always packed with enthusiastic students who were eager to learn.
In 2003 that science center experience inspired a vision of a multimedia educational program. The program would be a technical showground where enthusiasm for learning math and science would be cultivated in urban students. It would be located in the students’ own neighborhoods. It would be a place where they could be exposed to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) role models who looked like them, using a culture to which they were connected. The vision included a physical space with a recording studio, multimedia workstations, and a performance space that worked in conjunction with a virtual space, resulting in a math and science community rooted in hip-hop culture and made widely available to urban students.
That vision resulted in an organization I helped co-found, Tiz Media Foundation, developing a program called MindRap.
MindRap
MindRap is a circular learning process consisting of an intensive, interdisciplinary program where math and science concepts are learned and transformed into digital media. High school students articulate specific math and science concepts, such as solving algebraic equations or detailing the fundamentals of the ozone layer, by relating them to their own lives through story-telling, music, poetry, visual arts, and animation. During a cooperative, step-by-step design process facilitated by STEM role models as well as experienced educators, artists, poets, and musicians, the high school students create content for animated multimedia modules. These modules can then be used by the students to teach basic math and science lessons to their peers. Students’ imagination and enthusiasm for hip-hop culture drive the design process and inspire their creativity.
In order for students to really apply their creativity, it is necessary for them to have a clear understanding of the content. The students know that their content will be published, so they tend to think more deeply about these math and science concepts. Thus it is a more potent learning experience than the traditional dry classroom approach. When students acquire this deeper understanding, they can then have fun with the arts integration part of MindRap. These student instructors utilize their creativity to communicate this deeper understanding to their peers.
Adobe products are used to make the student content come alive. Students choose and arrange the music that accompanies their hip-hop lessons. Supportive images are drawn then scanned into Adobe Flash where their content is transformed into hip-hop multimedia modules. The resulting creations are published on a website portal.
Although the initial vision for MindRap contemplated one physical space working in conjunction with a website portal, throughout these initial years Tiz Media Foundation has found that MindRap programs must meet the specific needs of client students and educators. A customized grassroots approach has been necessary in order for the program to be effective.
For example, in 2007 we worked with a Chicago charter school in which a culture of peace was being promoted by the administration after an outburst of student violence. Our goal was to work with students to create a MindRap module based on neuroscience and designed to help promote a culture of peace for incoming freshman. Students studied the basics of neuroscience as it relates to emotions. They learned about the relationship between the amygdala and the frontal cortex–specifically that a human’s ability to reason is diminished when the mind is in an emotional state. Students acquired skills that helped them regain control of their ability to reason when they became upset. Using that information and the MindRap experience, students developed content for a multimedia module to promote a culture of peace. The module was then used during a school assembly for incoming freshman. The process proved rewarding. I remember that a student approached me during the MindRap sessions explaining that he had used the technique for regaining control the night before and it had worked for him.

Fig. 1a. On the left, students performing their rap. On the right, a screen shot from the lesson promoting a culture of peace for incoming freshman. .jpgFig. 1b. On the left, students performing their rap. On the right, a screen shot from the lesson promoting a culture of peace for incoming freshman. .jpg

An informal evaluation was conducted during this project. An excerpt from the evaluation report conducted by Tiz Media Foundation’s educational expert, Barbara Moss, states that

“…the MindRap Workshop promoted the social and emotional skills that students needed to effectively work together to complete a task. Additionally the data suggested that the MindRap activities which required students to think critically and creatively about Science content in order to transfer what was learned into a creative response was effective in promoting academic achievement for underachieving minority students. Finally, the data showed that MindRap is a program that students enjoy.”


In addition to building the website portal for MindRap, we are consistently morphing the MindRap process. The goal is to deploy an effective program based in culturally relevant media that engages urban youth and promotes enthusiasm for learning math and science.
Current Work:

  • Flagway™ multimedia with The Young People’s Project, (YPP) Chicago Illinois. Funded in part by National Science Foundation grants, it is part of Dr. Robert Moses’ Algebra Project. YPP is a math literacy program that recruits, trains, and deploys high school and college math literacy workers to mentor middle and elementary students in math. Tiz Media is working with YPP to create a multimedia module targeting 3rd – 6th graders that includes a story and several games that will be integrated into math literacy workshops. MindRap methodology is used to create the content for this multimedia module and an iterative approach to design driven by student input has been utilized in the development. Students have shown a very positive reaction to the game, and are very enthusiastic about the project.

  • African-American Distributed Multiple Learning Styles System (AADMLSS). Dr. Juan Gilbert of Auburn University and Dr. Stafford Hood of Arizona State University run a project called AADMLSS, an interactive game-like environment that uses culturally relevant cues, gestures, sounds, and lyrics to teach students algebra. AADMLSS City Stroll consists of three individual components; Instruction, Practice, and Assessment. Tiz Media contributes to this project by creating MindRap instruction modules on solving algebraic equations used in the AADMLSS system. http://www.aadmlss.com. Interviews with students at a Chicago public school illustrate that students find AADMLSS engaging and that they are particularly excited about the MindRap modules.
  • The Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). At the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences conference in Vancouver, Canada, TMF conducted an abbreviated MindRap session on the ozone layer. The chorus was created by Tiz Media staff but students who attended the conference created the verses in a brief one hour MindRap session. To view an excerpt from this session please visit: http://www.mindrap.org/mrpims.htm. This was an unusual project for us. The Canadian students were not familiar with hip-hop, but embraced the project and enjoyed the process of creating a rap about the ozone layer.
  • North Lawndale College Prep (NLCP) High School: In Chicago, Illinois approximately 30 NLCP students worked in teams to create a MindRap module promoting a culture of peace for incoming freshman. The focus of the module was emotional intelligence and neuroscience. The initial evaluation indicates that this project has been very successful. Students showed great interest in the project and acquired emotional intelligence skills that will help them through their lives. See: http://www.tizmedia.org/nlcs/myamygdala.swf.
  • Northwestern Institute on Complex Science (NICO), Northwestern University. In the summer of 2008, Tiz Media will work with NICO to sponsor Speech and the Cell Phone, a summer science program for high school students and college science majors. This program will use MindRap workshops to take students on a journey that begins with the talking drums of Africa and ends with speech waves traveling through the cell phone. This program is being funded by the Motorola Foundation. We’re excited about this program and looking forward to writing an article on it when it is completed.
4:22 PM Permalink
October 13, 2008

Building an Accessible Online Curriculum with Captivate 3 & the Creative Suite

by Katherine St. Amant
Now that students have discovered the benefits of completing classes and degrees online, schools are faced with a growing number of students demanding course access via the internet. Since most online students do not have access to campus and student services, online disabled students are often at a disadvantage. For example, English is a second language for deaf and hard of hearing students. On campus, they are provided with an American Sign Language (ASL) translator. Blind students are provided with CD recordings of their books and direct interaction with their instructors. Challenged learners have tutors, and English as a second language students have on-campus communities for support.
Because Santa Monica College strives to provide the highest quality of education for all, our Workforce Development and the Computer Science and Information Systems departments combined to develop and build the college’s first course providing value-added class material for global accessibility. For this course—CIS 1, Computer Concepts with Applications—the user interface encapsulating the material achieved our goal of global access and mutual understanding of the curriculum in our professional development and college credit courses.
Utilizing the seamless integration of Adobe tools allowed us to build this dynamic globally accessible online college course, which our disabled students can control at their own pace. Targeting the deaf and hard of hearing may have been the original intended audience in the original class design, but as we built the class, we realized the powerful results empowered students with other disabilities and situations as well.
The team included specialists from our disabled student center to test our course and ensure we were attentive to the needs of all of our centers’ students. Incorporating keyboard shortcuts designed to work with JAWS, a screen reader, the blind user is able to navigate through the course. The user may choose to listen to the streaming audio or they may access the full script and image description to be read by JAWS. The course was also tested with a head control mouse with success.
The captioning has proven to be extremely helpful for English as a second language students and the ability to control the pace of the course has been popular with our slower learning students.

RESEARCH AND CURRICULUM DESIGN

We began by working with a few organizations dedicated to providing workforce training for the deaf and hard of hearing. From our meetings we came to understand the needs of our targeted audience. The key issue: to provide clarity to the large amount of technical terminologies.
Flash Streaming Video
Our team decided that video of ASL translators, fully captioned, would be the best method for instilling clarity into our online lectures. Our decision was based in part on the ease of building and deploying Flash Streaming Video.
Lecture Design
The team devised a curriculum design that incorporated individual slides including a title, an image, a content summary, a video of an ASL translator with audio and captioning, and a full script for screen readers. The slides were grouped into various lecture topics. Students are able to control the video and the navigation between the individual slides independently with a mouse and/or keyboard.
Course Building – Captivate CS3
Captivate CS3 was chosen as our main development tool for its ease of creating and customizing the user interface combined with the ability to embed Flash Videos containing a separate navigation set. The small.swf file would embed in our course management system, eCollege, without complication. The Flash video would stream from our Flash streaming servers. Captivate CS3 comes with a very strong set of audio and captioning tools that relate to each slide in the project. Our audio narration and captions had to be incorporated in each Flash Video to synchronize with the ASL translator, so we did not utilize Captivate’s captioning tools for this project.
The Course
CIS 1 – Computer Concepts with Applications is one of Santa Monica College Computer Science and Information Systems Department’s most popular computer courses, covering the broad use of personal computer concepts, beginning word processing, an introduction to Windows, and internet concepts. We refer to this class as CIS1 Hi-Tech reflecting the new technologies used to produce it.

PROJECT PROCESS

Script Writing
We started by writing the scripts for the audio and American Sign Language translators’ videotaping. We planned to cover the material in four books. Utilizing a voice to text program made this job a bit easier for the professors writing the scripts, and gave the scripts a more natural feel. The books were broken down into lectures, each containing from one to 12 slides. There are a total of 385 scripts, one script per slide.
The scope of the project showed itself when we completed this phase. The production of 385 slides required: 385 scripts, 385 images, 385 raw and edited audio files, 385 raw and compressed videos, and 385 captioning files, etc. The huge number of files required a comprehensive file management system. Figure 1 shows the folder and file structure for one slide, from one of the computer concepts books. The Stream folder contains files for the caption program MAGpie.
Figure 1. File structure of the project .png
Graphics – Photoshop CS3
We created all of the images necessary for the project in Photoshop CS3. They include three background images, book names, the custom navigation button set, and all slide figures. The items that remain static throughout the project, the Santa Monica College logo and CIS 1, were designed into the background images. The main content template page (Figure 2) includes a placeholder for the video, a space to include the book name graphic, title, and content.
Figure 2. Photoshop with the content background design  .jpg
Templates
Captivate CS3 templates were built utilizing our assets. We created one main template, and from there built templates relating to each book, section, chapter, topic, etc. So, each “lecture” had its’ own topic built on the chapter template, which was built on the section template, and so forth. The design allows the student to know exactly which book, chapter, and topic is being reviewed on every slide (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Template for the Computer Concepts book  .jpg
Constructing Custom Course Navigation
Figure 4. Constructing Custom Course Navigation.tiff
Figure 5. Captivate CS3 Button Properties dialog box.jpg
Figure 6. Kathryn recording scripts .jpg
Audio Recording – Soundbooth CS3
Kathryn was the voice and audio editor and Fariba was the producer. The recordings were performed in an empty classroom. Soundbooth CS3’s extensive toolset allowed the audio process to proceed smoothly. The audio for each video was recorded then immediately edited and processed.
Video Shoot – Capture – Premiere Pro CS3
Another commandeered classroom served as our video studio. Careful logging of all shots on site allowed a quick capture in Premiere Pro CS3 with appropriate naming conventions.
Figure 7. Shooting ASL Translator  .jpg
Video Editing, Compiling, and Rendering – Premiere Pro CS3 + Adobe Media Encoder
Figure 8. Editing team and flowchart  .jpg
In Figure 8, some of our Premiere Pro editing team members are working on our 20 laptops. The complexity of keeping track of the output when you have eight editors concurrently compiling 385 ASL videos, text/audio caption files, and the final Flash Video output, is shown on the whiteboard flowchart in the background.

CLASS DEPLOYMENT

Flash Streaming Server
With the video uploaded to our Flash Streaming Server, the end product was encapsulated in the course management system, eCollege (Figure 9), flawlessly. The first two sections of this course were offered in our spring 2008 semester. Student feedback has been extremely favorable and encouraging. All the students, even those who are not disabled, benefited from the extra materials. Having so much value added content is helping to transform the virtual classroom into one that is much closer to the live on campus with a professor experience for everyone.
Figure 9. eCollege shell and one slide of the course  .jpg
Figure 10. Accessible Curriculum Project Flow Chart.jpg

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