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Got Videoconferencing?

Updated: 2014-10-06T22:22:49.160-07:00


Poetry Slam 2009


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It is hard to pick a sample of this years poetry slam since so many of our students did such an outstanding job of writing and performing their poetry. The young poet in the video exemplifies the flavor and talent that our students exhibited in the nine virtual slams we had last week. The culmination of slam was an "Open Mic" which gave our young poets a chance to perform in front of their peers "live".(image) The Poetry Slam program which I have been involved with for five years is a poetry writing and performance residency that takes place in the classroom over a ten week period. During this residency a slam team is chosen. The slam team consists of 5 members and 2 alternates. This team then goes on to slam using videoconferencing technology. The competition is with other schools. This year our teams slammed with other students in Queens and the Bronx. Two of NYC five boroughs. This program has expanded to other cities as well. Chicago has a Poetry Slam program. To learn more about the program go to Globalwrites.
For the past three years I was able to fund this program through a generous New York State Learning Technology Grant. I wrote the grant for three schools. The middle school where I work as a technology coordinator, another middle school in my district and a Catholic School. One of the grant requirements was to have a non public partner. The idea behind the grant was to follow classes from 6th grade through 8th grade and to see how their poetry developed. This was the last of the three years. Most of the students were now 8th graders and they had been writing and performing poetry for three years. It is wonderful to see the student develop their poetry and performance over the years. To see students who are shy find their voice and build their confidence.
Over the years that I have been involved with poetry slams I have seen teachers and schools continue poetry slams even when there was no money to pay a residency. The program is just that rewarding. This year I added an ASK style videoconference with a Kahlil Almustafa, a poet and author who wrote a book of poetry called "Growing Up Hip Hop". I blogged about it in my previous post. Also, this year our some of our students performed for the community at the Queens Botanical Gardens. As much as I love the technology of videoconferencing our poetry through slams, I also love the different ways our students have gotten to share their poetry.(image) In fact this year we printed all our students poems in an anthology "Written and Revealed: Youth poems from the 7 train". That is the subway train that connects our schools. A common thread among many that our young poets share.

Growing Up Hip Hop


Today we had a videoconference with Kahlil Almustafa, poet and author of "Growing Up Hip Hop". I have worked with Kahlil for the past 5 years in our Poetry Slam program. He is not only a gifted poet and performer but he is an amazing teacher. The relationship that Kahlil has with the students is truly inspiring. The students light up when he enters the classroom and the poetry they write reflects this extraordinary teacher student connection. As part of a grant I invited Kahlil to host an ASK format videoconference. ASK which stands for Authors, Specialists, Knowledge brings authors and experts to answer student questions based on the books they have read. The student had just finished reading Kahlil's first book of poetry "Growing Up Hip Hop". This is why Kahlil came to our school today to share some of his poetry and answer the students questions about his poetry, life as an artist and tips on how to perform poetry in a poetry slam. Kahlil's visit was actually two part. At first he visited some of the classes in the flesh. He performed some of his poems, fielded questions and warmed up for the videoconference that would take place later on. By the time the videoconference started he was all warmed up and ready to go. The videoconference was with three of our Poetry Slam classes. These classes have been working with other artists as part of a ten week poetry residency. In two weeks they will be performing in a poetry slam so Kahlil's videoconference was very helpful and timely.When the videoconference began some of the students looked bored and detached but Kahlil's personality and style soon got the students involved and excited. Kahlil stood close to the monitor at times he even touched the screen. When students asked questions about specific poems, Kahlil performed the poems so everyone was familiar with the poem. When he was asked what inspired him to write poetry he told them about discovering "The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes" at his "fake cousin's" house when he was 15. (According to Kahlil everyone has a "fake cousin"), Every answer to ever question was thoughtful and often flavored with humour. Kahlil also gave advice to our aspiring poets on writing and performance. With regard to the latter he told the students when they practice their poems they should do whatever comes naturally to them but they should pay attention to gestures and deliveries that they like and then purposefully incorporate them into their performance.Kahlil Almustafa is a treasure and because of that the videoconference today was very special. I will be blogging about our 2009 Poetry Slam very soon but as an off shoot of Kahlil's work with our students our schools will be participating in the Queens Art Express event at Queens Botanical Gardens. This is a great opportunity for our student poets to join Kahlil in performing their wonderful poetry.[...]

"If I Just Had Two Wings" by Virginia Frances Schwartz


Now that my first attempt at coordinating an ASK format videoconference is one for the books, or more appropriately blogs, I'd like to reflect on the experience and on the extraordinary videoconference. The day began with my losing my cellphone. I would soon retrieve it but I was a little uneasy that it might be a portent of what was to come. Next I received a call from one of our participating schools. It was the one in Nova Scotia, Canada and I was very excited about this school's involvement since our author Virginia Frances Schwartz was born and raised in Ontario Canada. I would learn in this conversation that they would be audio only and that they were not sure if they would be able to connect as they had some problems during the test call the previous week. My spirit sunk a little bit when I realized we wouldn't see the students and possibly may not even hear them. What next? I was even nervous about my own equipment which worked perfectly for the Dr. Ben Carson ASK videoconference on Monday but is sometimes at the whim of how much traffic is out there in cyberspace as we connect using a commercial cable modem with a dynamic IP. So, by 11:00, the videoconference was at 12:00, I was so relieved and happy to see the author arrive and realize that it was almost showtime. At 11:30, the 6th grade class at my school, arrived at the Media Center. They had the book and their questions in hand. I seated the students who would be asking the questions at the table with the author as the rest of the class of 29 filled up the other 3 tables. I quickly prepped them for the videoconference. I told them not only were they special to have the author in the room with them but they also had had a special responsibility to be really quiet when the author was talking. Then it was time to dial into the bridge. To my great relief a class was already there as well as Roxanne Glaser, from Waco Texas, who would be facilitating the videoconference. One by one the other schools connected to the bridge and we were ready to begin. Roxanne called the schools by alphabetical order. First up was Chester Middle School in Nova Scotia, Canada. Their sweet strong voices were music to my ears. Then one by one students in Minerva, Ohio, Monroe Township, New Jersey, Lynbrook, New York, and the two New York City schools took their turns to ask questions to author Virginia Frances Schwartz.The students questions were wonderful. Sometimes they would refer to specific pages in the book. Other times their questions were more broad. "Why did you write a book about slavery and the Underground Railroad?" Ms. Schwartz had two answers for that question, One as a classroom teacher, she was teaching kids about slavery and the children were yawning all the way through the lessons. She couldn't find any good historical fiction books about that time in American history. So, she decided to write one herself. The other reason is that where she grew up in Ontario, Canada she lived near depots that were used in the underground railroad. So a combination of experiences in her life and her love for writing led her to write two books about slavery. She feels she may write one more about the lives the slaves now free men and women lived in Canada. Another fun part of the videoconference was our lightning round. With just about seven minutes left, Ms. Schwartz answered a full round of questions in less than six minutes. This left just enough time for the students to give her an enthusiastic round of applause. I just want to thank the teachers and students at the six participating schools, Roxanne Glaser for her fantastic facilitation, Ra at the New York Institute of Technology for bridging the calls and our amazing author Virginia Frances Schwartz. My hopes in my previous blog for this my first attempt at "producing" an ASK videoconference were that everyone shows up. That the technology works. That everyone involved enjoys participating in the program. It looks like those hopes were realized above and beyond my expectati[...]

The Producer


I am one week away from my first ASK format videoconference that I am producing. It is exciting and at the same time a little bit scary. Last year I tried to do this same videoconference without success. I have a colleague who's wife is an author of young adult books. They are mostly historical fiction dealing with Slavery and the Underground Railroad. Last year I purchased a class set of books for one of our 7th grade ELA classes. I posted the videoconference on the Polycom Special Events website and sat back to watch the magic happen. After a few months and postponing the date from February to April, I had no takers except for the class at my school. I finally had to cancel the program. I was disappointed but not deterred and this year I tried again with much better success. I posted the ad on the ED1VIDCONF Digest. Enthusiastic educators with questions about the program started filling up my mailbox. After many e-mails back and forth I had five registered classes in addition to the one at my school. One class is from Nova Scotia, Canada. This class I am especially excited about because the author is from Canada and parts of the story take place there. The other classes are from Ohio, New Jersey and Long Island, New York. I always feel that when students see students from other places that in itself is a videoconference! It is not easy coordinating a multipoint videoconference especially when you don't have a bridge yourself. However, I am fortunate to have access to the bridge at the New York Institute of Technology. I have used them for our Poetry Slams. This Thursday, we will be doing our tests with the bridge. On Wednesday, February 11th at 12:00 EST it is "Showtime". I will blog about the program more fully then. Right now I am hoping that everyone shows up. That the technology works. That everyone involved enjoys participating in the program. I have planned 3 more ASK format videoconferences after this one but right now I am looking forward to #1.

Tagged for a Meme


Thanks, Janine, for tagging me for a meme! First I had to find out what that meant! Then I had to think about the meme and my thoughts about what I believe about all students. I got a good explanation of what a meme and tag is here:
The second task of sharing three things that I believe about all students wasn't as simple. First of all I want to say that Janine Lim took all the best answers. I also feel I would like to relate this to videoconferencing. So, I will try my best at adding to the already great answers and putting on my own videoconferencing spin.
1. Students learn best when they have can have a first hand or hands-on experience. Videoconferencing gives students the opportunity to experience things in a way that traditional classroom learning does not offer. If they can't go on a real field trip a videoconference is the next best thing. Speaking with authors and experts make for lasting experiences.
2. Most students like all people are social animals. They like to interact with each other. They like to work in pairs or groups. Videoconferencing offers an opportunity for this interactivity. When students get to share with students from other places they are very excited and motivated.
3. Students like to be rewarded for their effort. These rewards can be extrinsic or intrinsic. When the presenter or expert during a videoconference says "great question" or "terrific answer" students react with pride and self confidence.

Happy Holidays to All!

Here’s who I’m tagging for this meme. You’re it!

Roxanne, Amy and Paul H.

Your mission is to:

Read Martha’s original post from the Opening Digital Doors blog.

Share three things that you believe about all students.
Reflect on your thoughts in your blog.
Be sure to link to this post and to where you were first tagged.
Tag your response with AllStudentsMeme
Invite others to join the conversation by tagging them to be a part of the meme.

Empire State Conference


Today for the second time I presented our Poetry Slam program to several school districts that are part of BOCES Greater Southern Tier. The Greater Southern Tier (GST) is a large region in New York State. The Empire State Conference was organized by the GST Distance Learning Service. Their mission is to provide their districts with the support and training required to locate appropriate educational video conferencing opportunities, plan implementation strategies, and support integration of distance learning across the curriculum. I truly enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with Poetry Slam. I think it is one of the most exciting and rewarding uses of videoconferencing. In our Queens district this program has impacted hundreds of student and as part of the Globalwrites network the numbers now are well into the thousands. I have blogged about poetry slam many times and hope to continue to blog about it in the future. Today was about sharing with other educators. I invited 5 members of one of last years poetry slam teams. They are part of a three year NYS Learning Technology Grant. As 6th graders they began a poetry residency that they continued last year as 7th graders and again this year as 8th gaders. There are 7 classes in all. The grant will evaluate how these students improved in their ELA scores compared to other similiar classes that did not participate in poetry slam. Today the students shared their poems and then fielded questions from the educators at the different sites. They were asked questions like: Do they think poetry has improved their writing in other areas? Will they continue to write poems after the program is over? Are the poetry slam competitions fierce or friendly? What is makes them more nervous performing a poem in front of their classmates or over a videoconference? They answered these questions and more with honesty and thoughtfulness that the adult audience recognized and complimented them on their maturity. Mostly the answers to these four questions were yes, maybe, friendly and videoconferencing. At the end of the conference I think we might have gained some new competition for future slams.

How High Can You Jump on Jupiter?


This past summer our principal went to Brazil as a guest of the Brazilian Department of Education. She had the opportunity to visit several schools and to observe their educational programs. This week some principals from Brazil came to our middle school in New York City to take a look at an urban American public school. Since one of our 6th grade classes was participating in a videoconference with NASA I invited the principals to join the class for the videoconference. So the group of principals, their translator and the participating class learned about "Planet Hopping Through Mathematics" one of the many NASA programs offered free to our schools through the NASA Digital Learning Network. It was great. The students measured how high they could jump on earth using a meter stick. Then through various mathematics formulas they used their calculators to get the jump height on the other planets. Each mathematical calculation was preceded by some interesting facts about the planet they were determining the jump height. The students learned about rings, moons, hurricanes and volcanos on some of the plants. They also got to sharpen math skills like rounding to the nearest hundreth and changing fractions to decimals.(image) Kudos to Karen Ricks our NASA presenter for a program that totally engaged and informed not only the students but the educators in the room too. I would love to videoconference with one of the schools in Brazil my principal visited but I am not sure how much interest there is for purchasing equipment. I couldn't help but think how lucky we are in America to have an agency like NASA to provide programs with such quality science content.

Do Elephants Have Body Odor?


Today, I am slightly embarassed to admit, I participated in my first webcast. It was on of all topics, Tips for Integrating Videoconferencing into Your Classroom, with Doug Meyer from CILC. I went by the name "Integrating". Somehow I missed how to sign-in with my real name. However, I was not the only one, there were a few participants named "Tips for Integrating". Beside that gaffe I did rather well. I was very adept at smiley faces, applause, survey taking, and comments on the whiteboard. I actually enjoyed the webcast experience very much and saw more than a few familiar names participating. The webcast was a very basic introduction to videoconferencing. I think for the novice it was just putting their toes in the pool. But I liked how Doug Meyer covered the topic in just under one hour. I hope there is follow up for these participants in their schools or districts. I always feel that any videoconference PD needs a videoconference to really get the technology across. But I am more and more finding these web 2.0 applications to be exciting and engaging too. Since I personally have been using interactive videoconferencing for ten years now, you'd think "what new things can I learn from a basic intro?" But the truth is that even though I did it for the "webcast" I did pick up a few new ideas for both my students and teachers. That brings me to "Do Elephants Have Body Odor?"Our first videoconference for the new school year was withthe Hall of Science. It was a wonderful program on the science of sports. Why do balls bounce? How does a surfer stay on the board? The program explores the science of sports through classroom activities and demonstrations from the Hall of Science sports challenge exhibit area and shows how most sports can be related through science. The students learned about gravity, velocity and reaction time. The presenter was a wonderful young man named Anthony who had the qualities of knowledge, enthusiam and patience which are all so important for a successful videoconference.He engaged the students for the full 45 minutes through interesting demonstrations on the exhibit floor, hands-on materials delivered to the school and a lively exchange with the students. (Although I must note the majority of the verbal exchange were from the boys!). Now what does that have to do with elephants? Well you see the Hall of Science is less then 15 minutes from our school by car. So when Anthony came to our school today to say hi the excitement was palpitable. Not to mention the excitement in the class when I suggested a field trip to the Hall of Science to see the Sports Exhibit. Even though we are so close to the Hall of Science most of the class had never visited there. But the videoconference certainly whetted their appetite and got them thinking about the science behind the sports they love. But as Doug Meyer said, when you have the real thing, you should definitely go there and we will. But for all you out-of-towners I highly recommend the Hall of Science[...]

Dr. Ben Carson to Receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom


Dr. Ben Carson, it was announced today by the White House, is one of 6 people to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, The medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, recognizes people who have made an especially “meritorious contribution” to the United States. President Bush will honor the recipients at a ceremony on June 19. When I heard the announcement today I realized that because of videoconferencing, and as part of a Polycom Special Event, many of our students have had the opportunity to hear and interact with this great American. Dr. Ben Carson is a pediatric neurosurgeon and author who always finds time to do what he considers his most important work, to talk with students about believing in themselves and pursuing their dreams. This year was my third year of having a class of eighth graders read Dr. Carson's autobiography "Gifted Hands" and then prepare questions to ask the Doctor. He always gives thoughtful and in depth anwers to questions about medicine and his personal experiences. These conferences are always inspirational. How many lives has Dr. Carson touched and or changed through his medical work, books and yes videoconferences. Congratulations to Dr. Ben Carson! This most distinguished honor is most deserved.

What do poetry, veterans and aquaculture have in common?


This week in three days one of my schools partcipated in three very different and interesting videoconferences. On Monday, a group of teachers and poet mentors videoconferenced with a like group of teachers and poet mentors in another school district as part of a staff development about poetry performance. This year is the fourth year that we are participating in poetry slam using videoconferencing to facilitate the competition. Our five schools and 10 classes will have their poetry slam next week and our teachers have been having workshops in teaching poetry writing and performance. The opportunity to have them join another group of teachers and their workshop was very beneficial for not only our teachers but for our poets as well. Getting new ideas and techniques from other educators and artists without having to leave your own school is, I feel, one of the many great opportunities videoconferencing provides. Our teachers were asked to write a poem that was a recipe for something. Then they were asked to be coached by three of their colleagues on lines, expression and movement. The teachers were modeling what they would go back and ask their students to do in order to prepare for their poetry slam. Very often when a slam team is chosen, the rest of the class is left just watching the team. By giving the students meaningful coaching jobs they stay involved in the process.On Tuesday an eighth grade class participated in an ASK program with Viet Nam Veterans. The students read the book "The Wall" by Eve Bunting. This provided the students with a springboard for them to begin a discussion of the Viet Nam War and the soldiers that fought in it. The videoconference was with four veterans who served in Viet Nam. The students asked the veterans questions ranging from their experiences in Viet Nam to their thoughts about the War and even about the war in Iraq. The teacher from our class was himself a Viet Nam Vet and in a touching moment he asked a question of his fellow vets. I think the students came away from this conference experience with an understanding that we study wars to hopefully learn lessons from them. That war should always be a last resort. That our veterans sacrificed a lot for our freedom and deserve our respect and appreciation. Veterans are true heroes. And in the case of our New York class, they learned their teacher is a hero too.On Wednesday we were off to Hawaii to learn about the fishing industry in Hawaii. This was a very special program. A group of high school students prepared a wonderful presentation on aquaculture. They made powerpoints about ancient Hawaiian fishing and fishing vocabulary in Hawaiian. They made videos of local fish markets, fishing boats and a fisherman catching fish with a net. They had plenty of interactivity through questions and answers. They had the students stand up and catch fish using an imaginary net. Our students practiced their Hawaiian by repeating fishing terminology. Mahimahi is a dolphin fish. It was a great experience for our students. I just want to say, MAHALO to the wonderful students in Hawaii and their teacher, Lynn Sueoka. To see the students and their website go to:[...]

The Cask of Amontillado


When I approached an 8th grade teacher in one of my schools about participating in a Read Around the Planet videoconference she asked me what that entailed. I told her that the students could do some kind of reading activity, like a skit or a book talk. The next time I saw the teacher she was all excited about a play that she was planning for her class RAP videoconference. They couldn't possibly be ready by the first week in March. There were costumes and scenery to be made and lots of rehearsing. This production would be ready by the first week in April. I assured her that her match teacher would understand and that she should communicate her plans by e-mail and see what the partner school was preparing. Although I don't recommend letting these videoconference's planning drag on for too long, I did see in this instance an enthusiatic teacher who needed MORE time. So, March came and went as did Read Around the Planet videoconferences. The two originally paired teachers had lost touch. But the play must go on. So, we found an 8th grade class in Arizona that had originally matched with another class and was still eager to share. There were a few snags along the way like kindergarten registration in AZ and spring break in NY but today April 29th almost two months to the day originally planned the play did go on. And what a play it was.The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe is is a murder story about a person being buried alive. It takes place during carnival time.This play was rich in acting, sound and special effects, costumes and scenery. It took almost as much time to do the scene changes as the scenes themselves. The production gave some challenges to our usual videoconferences. The camera needed to follow the action but also provide some drama. I felt more like a cinematographer! I don't know how much of the fog from the fog making machine was picked up by our Arizona audience or the sound of Amontillado cane tapping the floor but the play was meticulous in every way. Again the endless possibilities provided by videoconferencing is what is most apparent. The class in Arizona had never read anything by Poe so for them this was an introduction to a new writer. The students in Arizona had their own bit of theatrics for our students as well. They wrote their own "Fairy Tales News Show" complete with re-enactments. There was Cinderella suing the prince in court for her lost Prada slipper. A search for the Muffin Man. A weather report about a tornado at the home of the three little pigs and on and on. They were amazingly creative. Even though their production was like Shakespeare's stage without scenery it "was by no means lacking in spectacle". Our NY student were inspired to write their own play.It was a wonderful conference and well worth the wait. Although I think the first week in March works out just fine for most of us more simple folk.[...]

"That's a "RAP"...almost


I wish I could say that with finality but the truth is there are two classes that still need to videoconference with their match schools in April. However, 6 of the 8 classes I registered for Read Around the Planet did get to meet and share with their partner schools so I think I can call it a "rap"... almost. The connections so far have been amazing. Our NYC students have met classes from Michigan, Texas, Arizona, Upstate New York and Western Canada. They have videoconferenced with rural communities whose town populations were less than our school's student population. They have met students whose afternoon chores were rounding up cattle. They have seen just how different their lifestyles can be but they have also learned how much they have in common. They have been introduced to new books and reading activities. They have also shared their stories and projects. All in all it has been as it always is, incredible. A glimpse into the lives of other kids whose geographic locations they have only seen on maps. Those moments when you realize how important these connections are for learning a little bit more about our world. Students have had penpals for generations but seeing and talking to your videopal in real time is really special. The challenge is can this wonderful connection continue beyond this videoconference. Usually the videoconference ends with the classes vowing to keep in touch but the truth is these "Read Around" conferences are usually a beginning and end unto themselves.
Except in the case of the Mary McGuire Elementary School in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Their 5th/6th grade class videoconferenced with a 6th grade class at our BELL Academy. The students had a wonderful time. The students at BELL put on a skit about Harriet Tubman. The Michigan students shared a story. They learned a little about each other's respective school and community. Shared their goodbyes and it was over or so we thought. A few weeks later two big boxes arrived from the school. Accompanied by a letter from the teacher Buck Buchanan telling the students at BELL how excited his students were for being a part of their school year. The boxes were full of things donated by the Saginaw Chippewa Nation and a beautiful scrapbook of the Mt. Pleasant Community which Mr. Buchanan called "small rural but friendly". The class at BELL is already working on their scrapbook for their friends at Mary McGuire. I think this Read Around the Planet VC has some "legs". Making a connection is one thing ... keeping connected is another.

Do You Know Someone Famous?


Do you know someone famous? This was the first question asked two days in a row as our NYC classes participated in this year's Read Around the Planet. It just intrigues me how students from other states view our students lives. The truth is our brush with greatness is far and few between but we won't let the out of towners know that. So, our students rattle off the names of famous graduates from our school. The likes of Lucy Liu, John Legugamos, Adrian Brody and so on. This year 8 classes from two of the schools where I work are videoconferencing in Read Around the Planet programs with classes in Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Upstate New York and Canada. So far five videoconferences have taken place and each one has been an amazing and rewarding experience for our students.

Each videoconference begins with some kind of literacy exchange. Two of our 6th grade classes are reading The House on Mango Street which is a collection of vignettes. Our students wrote some vignettes of their own. Some poignant snapshots of their own homes and lives. Others more humorous as they capture hot school topics like school lunch, detention and what to do during recess. Another class perfomed a skit bases on a chapter out of a book about Harriet Tubman. The skit was complete with costumes and scenery. Our partner schools also share their literary experiences. But the literacy exchange is just a warm up for what is to come...questions and answers. This is when the real fun begins. The students learn about what's different about their lives and how much they have in common. There are always the moans and groans when one class learns there day is longer, their weather is colder and their recess is shorter. The NYC teachers groan when they learn the class size of the schools in Texas. But for the most part there is just a real comradery amongst the classes.
Our videoconference with Paris, Texas was just great. Some of the boys in the Texas class were wearing cowboy hats which definitely made an impression on our city slickers. The conference with Coloma, Michigan unveiled that the population of their town of around 1500 was less than our student population of 2000. The contrasts are striking but so are the similarities. They like the same kinds of music, dances and sports. These videoconferences always end in the same way. The students always want to become penpals or in our case videoconferencingpals. A connection has been made.

NASA Family Night


It all started when one of my school's Parent's Association wanted to have a videoconference at their monthly meeting. It sounded like a good idea but with no budget and the challenge of a videoconference at night I wasn't sure I would be able to find an interesting program. Around that same time some of our teachers were participating in a NASA Distance Learning Network Overview & Program Showcase and the presenter while discussing some of the different kinds of programs NASA does mentioned "Family Night". It turned out that the NASA Ames Research Center is located in California (a difference of three hours from our EST time zone ).

(image) I was put in touch with Greg Pitzer, who was very helpful and accomodating in putting together a program for our parents and their children. He made it very interactive and informative. Greg even had a hands-on activity for the students and parents to do together. They made paper airplanes and flew them. He answered lots of questions from the kids and adults alike. He showed a slideshow of the shuttle mission that was launched to the Intenational Space Station just that morning. We even got to see his blue screen which allowed Greg to be on Mars or on a beach on the Pacific Ocean in one mouse click.

NASA Family Night was a great success. Our parents got to experience the kind of programs their children are participating in during their school day. Parents and students learned new things about NASA, the International Space Station and aeronautics. And most important of all families got to spend some quality time together at NASA Family Night!

Can You Hear Me Now?


Last summer I had the opportunity to videoconference with a group of educators from BOCES, which stands for the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and provides school districts in New York State with a program of shared educational services. about 123 Jazzing Up the Curriculum with Videoconferencing. "Jazz" is an intensive week long professional development where the teacher participants model the actual activities and videoconferences their students will be doing. At that time they invited me back to be a presenter at their two-day modified "Jazz" on December 11th and 12th. They wanted me to talk about Poetry Slam and how we were utilizing videoconferencing in the program. They wanted it to be as interactive as possible. So, I recruited 5 of our last year poetry slam students to come and perform their poetry and field some Q & A from the grown-ups. We were all ready to proceed for our 9 AM start when the dreaded "we can't hear you" rang out from the various sites. I wasn't on mute, nor was it that the volume was low but rather it was that pesty microphone that was dropped last spring. I had been jiggling the connection for months and always had success but now it just wouldn't cooperate. "Can you hear me now?" (I felt like that Verizon guy.) Finally they decided to move on with their conference and I offered to try and get another vc unit from a nearby school. Global Nomads who were suppose to follow my presentation were able to take my place. I got the other equipment and was able to follow at 10:30. Unfortunately I lost 3 of my student poets along the way but I was left with two troopers who did an amazing job performing their poetry and answering several questions from the adult participants. Their teacher told me later that when they came back to class they were "elated". Videoconferencing gives students such unique opportunities and experiences. Ones that they will remember all their lives. I will remember that old adage "don't put off till tomorrrow what you SHOULD do today". The next order of business is to order a new microphone.

Planet Hopping With Mathematics


Did I ever tell you how much I love NASA? I am sure I have but yesterday's videoconference "Planet Hopping Through Mathematics" just reaffirms my affection and enthusiasm for the NASA Digital Learning Network. With over 50 free programs, all supported by excellent online lesson plans and activities it is no wonder that the NASA Digital Learning Network's schedule fills up fast. By this time of year it is more challenging then a space launch to find a spot in one of their videoconferences. However, if one is persistant and you have some time on your hands you can probably still find a spot or two. The best advice, book early in the school year. Now back to Planet Hopping with Mathematics. I am always interested in videoconferences that relate to mathematics. So, this program looked perfect. The desription of the program asked "How high can you jump on Mars?" and in this highly interactive session students used mathematics to explore and learn about the planets in our solar system. The students had to complete equations that required both multiplication and division and decimals to the nearest hundredth, to determine which planets they can jump the highest and lowest on.The program came from the Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Virginia, one of ten NASA Centers. The students learned that there is more to NASA than just Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas and Cape Kennedy in Florida. The Langley Research Center's ultimate goal is to stimulate interest in science and math fields.The 6th grade math class that participated in yesterday's program were given a real treat. Dan, the expert and presenter at Langley had a wonderful personality and was chock full of planet facts and information. The multimedia style presentation really enhanced the program. Our thirty students were broken up into groups of three, and using a meter stick they calculated (in inches) the height of their jumps on Earth to the nearest inch. They then calculated their jumps on the seven other planets (remember Pluto has been booted out and is no longer a planet) by doing different equations. Throughout the program each planets characteristics was explored in great detail. I don't think any of the students will forget the red spot on Jupiter, the craters on Mercury or the storm that is no more on Neptune. I found this program to be excellent and as always learned a great deal too. How high can you jump on Mars? You take your jump on Earth, multiply it by 5, and divide by 2. You do the Math.[...]

Just in Time for Thanksgiving a Videoconference About Giving


Yesterday, a sixth grade class and I participated in a very special videoconference with a very special boy. Stefan Lyons, is an 11 year old, who has been raising money to build a school in Africa. He started his Kenya Project of giving and caring at the tender age of nine. He raised $2,000 baking and selling cookies but he still needed to raise more money to finish the project. So he wrote a book “My Adventures with Stitch” about his pet white rat, Stitch. It is filled with true stories and Stefan took many of the pictures that are in the book. He raised enough money to convert an old cowshed in Kenya into a large schoolroom called “Stefan’s Wing," but now he wants to raise more money to build another school in Kenya. Stefan has now written a second photo journal book about Stich called "Stitch Tours San Francisco" He hopes that by selling his two books he will be able to meet his goal of raising $40,000.

The videoconference which was offered through Polycom's educational programs included classes in New York, South Dakota, Texas and Arizona. With Stefan in San Francisco, all 4 time zones were represented. The students had a chance to ask Stefan a lot of questions about his Kenya Project, about his being an author and about his pet Stitch. When asked if Stitch had learned any new tricks Stefan answered that Stitch has a daughter who could separate legos into light and dark piles. I think everyone would have liked to see that! The classes got to share some of their own fund raising projects. Everybody got to share new ideas on how to raise money. Whenever, Stefan asked "how he could help". The reply was to send some of his books to sell. A group of second graders in Arizona read some of their own pet stories. While one student in Texas shared a story titled "I Am Thankful for My School". It was a humorous tribute to the different rooms and activities in his school. He even got to pay tribute to the school bathroom.

(image) I think the students were truly movitated about giving and helping others. They were inspired by Stefan and how one young boy could make such a difference in our world. This was Stefan's first videoconference. He did great. He has poise, intelligence and a wonderful personality. One student asked if he was becoming a star? Stefan answered modestly that maybe he was a little bit. When the videoconference was over, Stefan, like any other 11 year old, had to go to school.



I'm confused. On Monday I went to an EEZ meeting. EEZ, Educational Enterprise Zone, is the closest thing to a distance learning organization for New York and New Jersey VCers. EEZ is a not-for-profit consortium. Members of this consortium are content providers who create programming for K-12 classrooms and learning environments that receive the programming, as well as corporate facilitators who assist with hardware, software and connectivity needs for the various programs that EEZ sponsors. At quarterly meetings members get an opportunity to see state-of-the-art educational technologies and exchange ideas and strategies.

The first meeting of the year saw a demonstration of the software SAFARI Montage® Live! This software lets teachers and students connect from their computers via the Internet. This simple Web-based, video-conferencing tool becomes an easy solution for providing school-to-school distance education. I actually am always very skeptical of these low end connections but I have to say the quality of the videoconference I observed was somewhat impressive. Granted the connection was between the presenter and someone back at their corporate office. Not exactly a room full of enthusiastic students. But the picture was crisp the sound definitely audible (maybe a little tinney). There were features like text chat, live polling, and viewing and sharing files.

And here's why I am confused. The director of EEZ, Stan Silverman, prefaced the demonstration by telling the story of the two blacksmith shops on opposite sides of the road. The blacksmith shop on the left made very high quality horseshoes. The one on the right started selling mufflers along with horseshoes. The shop on the right stayed in business and the one on the left did not because even though the one on the left made better quality horseshoes there were no longer any horses. What does this mean for videoconferencing in our schools? Should we be moving toward sacrificing quality for greater access and lower costs? Is there a breakthrough in the technology that we cannot ignore?

I remember talking to Alan November two years ago at a conference. I was telling him about the things I was doing in videoconferencing. He asked me if I tried Skype. I was taken aback. Here I was talking about serious, high end videoconferencing in the classroom and he's pushing some rinky dink webcam online system. I dismissed it then but two years later I am not so sure. And then, my favorite question, what about Internet 2?

A School Named for Distance Learning


Today was an orientation for students and parents for Bell Academy, a new middle school that is part of the New York City school system. Bell is an acronym for Bayside Enrichment and Long-Distance Learning Academy. I will be working there this year two days a week. It is very exciting to be working in a school whose central theme is distance learning. I have worked in several schools that had technology themes and the middle school I have been working in for the past few years is a magnet school of telecommunications. But with Bell Academy, distance learning specifically through the use of videoconferencing is front and center. The enrichment component is much broader than just the technology of videoconferencing but it also reflects how videoconferencing is integral to enriching the curriculum. The school will be following the Renzulli School-Wide Enrichment Model (SEM) . The main objectives of the Renzulli School-Wide Enrichment Program are:
• To expose students to topics that may not be included in the essential curriculum
• To increase student skills in research and problem solving
• To increase student awareness of personal strengths and interests
The use of videoconferencing will focus on exposing students to a wide variety of experiences. They will hear from experts and specialists in many fields and learn about different kinds of occupations, and hobbies. They will have the opportunity to observe and participate in demonstrations, experiments and research through videoconferencing with other institutions and other classrooms. They will travel the world without ever leaving their school. I am really looking forward to working with the students and their teachers in finding programs and collaborations that will "enrich" their learning and thinking. I don't think a school needs to have distance learning in their name to enjoy the benefits videoconferencing can bring but it can't hurt either.

VCing From the Comfort of Home


On July 25th I had a videoconferencing first. I participated in a videoconference using H.323 protocol with a group of distance learning coordinators in upstate New York from the comfort of my own home. At the end of school in June I brought home a Polycom 4000 desktop unit that one of my schools had won during the Megaconference 2005 roll call. The unit is an all in one piece of equipment. The camera, monitor and microphone are all built in. I used my home cable modem to participate in the call. I am actually very comfortable using a cable modem since that is what our schools use to participate in videoconferences.
This past May I heard from Michelle Bartholomew, of Broome Tioga BOCES. BOCES, stands for the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and provides school districts in New York State with a program of shared educational services. Sharing is an economical way for districts to provide programs and services that they might not be able to afford otherwise. Hence their interest and involvement with videoconferencing and other technologies. NYC schools are not part of BOCES but of course I welcome the opportunity to develop new partnerships and collaborations. Michelle was especially interested in learning about 123 Jazzing Up the Curriculum with Videoconferencing. I participated in facilitating that training last summer with a group of 16 NYC school teachers. The coordinators I videoconferenced with this month represented all the different BOCES programs in New York State. It was their goal to develop their own Jazz type training.
It was a lot of fun to videoconference with these people and especially from my very own home. Of course I had to apologize for the barking of my dog Moby. The videoconference coincided with the time my mail is delivered and Moby is no fan of the mailman. But other than her ocassional barking I thought the videoconference went very well. I had e-mailed some Jazz material to be distributed prior to the conference. I was able to present the Jazz schedule and structure. They were able to ask questions and clarifications. I was able to meet and network with these distance learning coordinators from my state. Best of all, Michelle sent an e-mail to thank me for participating in their Jazz planning session. She told me that they decided to put together a mini jazz session that they hoped to have on December 11 and 12. She also said that they will be contacting me at some point as they would like to have me as a guest speaker during that session.
Probably that videoconference will take place from my school without Moby. However, it was wonderful to be able to participate without the commute and from the "comfort of my own home",

Poetry Slam 2007


For the past three years I have been involved with poetry slams through videoconferencing. I have blogged about Poetry Slam in the past. This year I was fortunate to win a NYS Learning Technology Grant and continue the Poetry Slam program . In the past I had 8 different schools compete via videoconferencing in poetry slam competitions. This year was a little different. The grant I wrote was for only 3 schools. Six of the eight poetry slam classes were in the middle school where I work. The other two classes were in a neighboring middle school and in a non public Catholic School. The poets have been going to these 3 schools for the past ten weeks teaching poetry writing and performance to sixth graders. Yesterday we had a live slam in my school and the top scoring class went on today to slam with their non public partners virtually. Since the Catholic school had only recently received their videoconferencing equipment I decided to go to the school to help facilitate the poetry slam.(image) There was also a judging site in yesterday's competition. That was a middle school in the Bronx. It was in the Bronx where using videoconferencing as a way to bridge geographic distances and scheduling logistics first began. Now this program has grown nationally to a new organization called GLOBALWRITeS.
The students at the Catholic school started their day in a prayer circle. They prayed for our world and even prayed a little for their poetry slam. Then the slam began. The student's poetry and performances were great.(image) There will be a poetry anthology of all the poems as part of the grant. Some of them will also be posted at the GLOBALWRITeS website. Interestingly, the class from my middle school was a bridge class. This means that all of them are English Language Learners (ELL). The fact that they placed first in their school slam and now in the inter-school slam is quite an impressive accomplishment. The other nice thing is that as part of the grant classses will continue their participation in Poetry Slam through 7th and 8th grades. Imagine three years of poetry writing and performing. There will be classes of future poet laureates!!!

Career Day


It seems if you want to love what you do become a scientist. At least that is what I have learned from all the scientists that our classrooms have videoconferenced with over the past years. The meteorologists at the National Weather Service an arm of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are no exception as they shared with our students yesterday their love for the work they do. Meteorologist Richard Watling began his talk with the students advising them to find something they love to do. He recounted the days of his youth in the Finger Lakes Region of New York watching the sky and the weather. He talked about the educational steps he had to take to become a meteorologist. Then he shared his favorite weather pictures of hurricanes and tornadoes and the power of these weather systems. He also spoke of global warming and the attention that needs to be given to this issue. Meteorologist Laurie Hogan also looked up to the sky as a child. Her sky was the great open spaces of North Dakota. Our students live in an urban environment and don't have the opportunity to see weather in this dramatic way but they definitely see its effect on the news they watch and some of the weather events they have personally experienced. She also talked about the kinds of equipment that meteorologists work with from computers to satellites and of course the trusty weather balloon. The students were also introduced to the NOAA Education Resourcesat the NOAA website that are available for students and teachers by educational specialist Cheryl Latif.Of course the students had the opportunity to ask questions. How do you get the 5-day forecast? Why do hurricanes have names? How much money does a meteorologist make? Are just a sampling of some of the questions asked. From the attention and interest the students paid to these meteorologists I could tell they are even at the ages of 11 and 12 seriously considering their future careers. This wonderful opportunity to hear and question these leading scientists are really made possible through the technology of videoconferencing since the physical distance of their location as well as their busy schedules make a classroom visit difficult at best. You can see a wonderful video called Tornado’s Hero: A Meteorologist Roll over the video section and pick interview with meteorologist.Finally a few comments on some technical and scheduling glitches. These always point to the importance of planning, planning and more planning. On our end we lost a class and our audio for the second program. The teacher was unaware that her class was scheduled for the program and until the class was located more than half the time was lost. The loss of audio lead to our writing notes on a dry erase board for communication. This is a reminder of the importance of a phone at each site for communication.[...]

Where Do We Go From Here


Yesterday I finished the last session of an "Integrating Videoconferencing Into the Classroom" for a group of teachers in Brooklyn, NY. All the workshops were suppose to be for the same group of teachers but that was not always the case. Some teachers did participate in all five trainings but there were also new teachers joining along the way as well as some drop-outs. This is also not the Region in NYC that I work in but I was hired as a consultant. The first workshop was an overview and introduction to videoconferencing. The next two we did a Mini Jazz. Here we collaborated with a group of teachers in El Paso Texas via videoconferencing for two Saturdays in a row. In March we worked on developing specific videoconferencing lesson plans. The teachers created pre and post activities and used the various videoconferencing databases to search for appropriate programs. Yesterday I titled the agenda "It's a Wrap" I hoped to tie together loose ends as well as help them to develop a plan for "where do we go from here". We covered their roles of providing "turn-key" training to their colleagues as well as getting the support they need for their videoconferencing programs. They also shared their successes and failures. These were schools that had videoconferencing equipment for almost 3 years but had never used the equipment. I was not sure what to expect. But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.The first school shared a video of a conference with 5th graders and the San Diego Zoo on "Animal Classification". They also had posted parts of the videoconference on a Thinkquest website some of the students had created. In addition they were planning a videoconference with NASA fo a group of 2nd graders and they will be sharing that program with a like group of 2nd graders from New Mexico. Another teacher shared that he had videoconferenced with his El Paso "Mini Jazz" partner. They did a couple of programs and shared some poetry as well as some facts about each other and their cities. As each teacher shared their accomplishment, no matter how small, I realized that they were on the road to providing their students with wonderful videoconferencing experiences. As a staff developer, especially this year, where I am not working as a full time distance learning coordinator. I am not in touch with what is happening in the many schools with their videoconferencing equipment. It always makes me smile inside when I get an e-mail from a former workshop participant, like the one I got from a school media specialist who wrote "It has been a great year....especially in videoconferencing. I have had much success .... I spoke to my principal who very much would like to expand videoconferencing. This is "music" to my ears.[...]

Internet TOO?


I always check my ED1 VIDCONF and CILC e-mails for program opportunities. Lately there have been a lot of interesting posts from Magpi at UPenn. A Multicultural Youth Exchange: An Art-Based Videoconference Workshop for 6-8th graders and
a Virtual Coffee House Project peaked my interest. The content seemed very appropriate for our middle school students, and the price was The only problem was the the connection requirements: *H.323 Videoconferencing and Internet2 Connectivity Required. I have the H.323 protocol but not the Internet2. This exclusion from participating is a little frustrating. At a time when great efforts are made to connect all kinds of videoconferencing equipment and software to make videoconferencing more inclusive, it seems that Internet2 is working to become exclusive. What is Internet2 and how can we get it? According to Wikipedia "Internet2 is a non-profit consortium which develops and deploys advanced network applications and technologies, for education and high-speed data transfer purposes". What Internet2 users experience is a faster, steadier network that is less congested and free from commercial traffic. "Imagine driving on the commercial Internet as analogous to driving on a four-lane highway in St. Louis during rush hour. Driving on Internet2 is more like driving on a rural four-lane highway in western Kansas. You get where you're going a whole lot quicker." What are the costs for involvement in Internet2? They are in the tens of thousands of dollars. So, with an investment of that much money it is no wonder that the users would want exclusivity. The excitement of using Internet2 for videoconferencing is extremely tempting and we can only hope the price comes down as the technology becomes more widespread. But for now I can just read those program postings and wish I had Internet 2.

The Ultimate Gift


One of our 8th grade classes participated in a wonderful ASK program this past Thursday. ASK, which is an acronym for Authors, Specialists, Knowledge gives students the opportunity to read a book and then ask questions of the author or in some cases specialists who are experts on the topic. Our videoconference this time was with Jim Stovall, an author, motivational speaker and media executive. He is also blind. He lost his eyesight as a young man. He discovered his love for reading books only after he had lost his sight. Now, Stovall starts everyday listening to a book on tape.(image) He shared this fact about his life and others as he answered a wide variety of questions posed to him by students from six different schools. All together he fielded 36 questions about his book and his life. His accomplishments are very impressive. His Narrative Television Network has resulted in developing a second audio track on televisions for the visually impaired so that they can hear the actions and scene descriptions that they cannot see. Mr. Stovall has written many motivational books. His most successful book is "The Ultimate Gift". This is the book that was read by the students and discussed in Thursday's program. It also has been turned into a movie and is being released this month. I always find these ASK progrmas to be a great experience for the classes. First the students get to read a book and then meet and question the author. They also get to see and hear the other students as they ask their questions. It's an exciting event for all involved. It is inteactive videoconferencing at its finest.