Videoconferencing Out on a Lim

Experiences, curriculum thoughts, new resources, and technology comments related to K12 videoconferencing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In Depth: Autopsy

Today I also have two classes participating in the pilot tests of COSI Columbus' new program, In Depth: Autopsy. We've now done three pilot sesions of this new program. COSI has revamped their Forensic Autopsy Interview into a program with a live presentation of a taped autopsy. Students receive case materials, toxicology test results, and more. As part of the program students have to determine the cause of death.

For classes studying forensics, this program is as real life and detailed (graphic!) as it gets! I know with the previous forensic interviews, my teachers wanted to see more. Well this new program certainly shows more! Perfect for forensics classes. Distance learning coordinators with squeamish stomachs might want to leave the room, though!

ASK: Clever Beatrice

Today I'm bridging a set of ASK programs for TWICE with author Margaret Willey on her book Clever Beatrice, a fairy tale set in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan.

We have two of my local classes participating, Three Oaks Elementary and Hollywood Elementary, as well as several classes across Michigan and one from Texas.

Ms. Willey's husband is French Canadian from Ottawa Canada, which explains her interest in the lumberjacks in both Michigan and Canada.

As usual, the students' questions are very fun to hear, as well as the answers to them! Here is a sampling of the questions:
  • Do you think the giant will ever realize that Beatrice tricked him?
  • We noticed at the beginning of the story the giant is rich but he doesn't seem to work very hard. Do you think it's important to know how he got rich?
  • It didn't seem like Mr. Giant had family with him. Why did he live alone?
  • Do you think Beatrice's mother wanted her to go to the giant?
  • What will Beatrice do when she grows up?
  • How long did it take to get Clever Beatrice published?
  • Where do you sit or where you go to start writing a book?
ASK programs always amaze me. The quality of student's questions is incredible. Clearly they have thought carefully about their reading. Ms. Willey commented that she appreciated the students' questions too.

Monday, November 21, 2005

NASA Digital Learning Network

Today I finished up scheduling my first program this year with the NASA Digital Learning Network. I'm really impressed with the new system for scheduling programs with NASA Johnson Space Center and NASA Glenn Research Center. It was quick & easy and very efficient.

So if you haven't scheduled anything with NASA yet this year, you should!!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Providing Content For Your Schools

If you're an educational service agency supporting your schools' use of distance learning, you should be providing content for your schools!

I'm always looking for good ideas for projects for my schools and there are two from Avon, Ohio that I'd like to try sometime with my local schools:
These projects are so simple, but are wonderful for getting teachers' feet wet with a short curriculum event that takes advantage of multipoint capability.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Invasive Species in the US & UK

This morning Lakeshore High School is connected to Caereinion High School, Wales, United Kingdom. Students are again sharing facts about an invasive species in their area. The Lakeshore High School students are sharing their Zebra Mussels presentation again and the students at Caereinion High School are presenting the American grey squirrel, which is a threat to the survival of the native red squirrel.

The question and answer time was more informal and fun this time. The students very quickly wanted to ask questions about each other. Some of the questions included from the Lakeshore students included:
  • How many pounds are in a dollar?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you know how they make the red squirrel reserves so that the grey squirrel can't live there?
  • How does the disease spread from squirrel to squirrel?
  • What time is it there?
  • What age can you drive there?
  • Has Harry Potter come out for you yet?
The Welsh kids asked questions as well:
  • Do you have black squirrels?
  • Do you have red squirrels?
  • Do you think you'll have a resolution to the zebra mussel problem or will it get worse?
The classes enjoyed quite a bit of humor in the conversation back and forth. The teachers are hoping to do another connection again on another topic.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Invasive Species in the U.S.

This morning we have 5 schools around the east coast connecting to a Lakeshore High School advanced freshman biology class, which is hosting an event on Invasive Species.

We have three classes from Michigan, presenting the Zebra Mussels, the Emerald Ash Borer, and Purple Loosestrife; as well as a class from North Carolina presenting the Myocaster Coypus, a class from New Jersey presenting the Asian Longhorn Beetles, and a class from Pennsylvania presenting the Northern Snakehead Fish.

The classes are using a variety of presentation methods including PowerPoint slides, photos on document cameras, charts & graphs, objects and other visuals. One class used the news show format using different areas of the classroom for interviews. Each presentation includes the following information:
  • Where the species came from.
  • How & when it was introduced.
  • What effect it is having on the ecosystem (i.e. the disruption it's causing).
  • Are there any natural controls on it?
  • How are we dealing with it, or are we letting nature take its course?
  • Ways to prevent new invasive species in your area.
After the presentations, Lakeshore High School students facilitated a discussion, rotating through the six schools and giving them a chance to ask questions.

This is the first multipoint project that I've been involved in planning that we taught the students to facilitate the multipoint. I'm pleased with the results and I hope to use this format for other high school level projects in the future.

Monday, November 14, 2005

10 Years for SBC Videoconferencing for Learning

I was on the SBC Videoconferencing for Learning website this morning, and noticed the date at the bottom of the page. "First posted in 1995." Wow!! Did you realize this great resource is 10 years old? After all these years, I think it still is the best VC site for beginners! And if you're not on the "ed1vidconf" or Collaboration Collage listserv - you're missing out on great opportunities for videoconferencing!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Can Teachers Do This Alone?

This morning I gave a 5 minute overview of our distance learning programming to the curriculum directors from the 16 school districts in Berrien County. Then I stayed and listened to the rest of the meeting. It was a vivid reminder on the curriculum and assessment pressures on schools. Teachers have so many things to worry about these days! New 8th grade assessment, 300+ benchmarks for math teachers to cover, updates on professional development opportunities we offer to our districts, etc. etc.

There's so much to think about... so much pressing in... so many things to do.

Yesterday I started reading Doug Johnson's blog, a presenter I enjoy hearing at the annual MACUL conference. This question has simmered in my brain since. What drives your technology initiatives? He asks:
How much is it the technology department’s job to promote technology use? How much is the technology department’s job to support the technology initiatives of the pedagogical experts?
You can apply this question to videoconferencing as well. I talked to another colleague yesterday who expressed concern that someone always has to coordinate and drive the use of videoconferencing. "When will the teachers be able to do it on their own," he wondered.

However, after hearing what our curriculum directors are dealing with, and in turn passing on to their teachers, I don't think it's reasonable to expect teachers to do this on their own. I'm doing verification tests for Read Across America today too. Think of the work it takes to make a connection work.
  • You have to be trained on the equipment and able to troubleshoot.
  • You have to be able to navigate all the different ways to schedule and test with content providers. I did a test call yesterday that would have been quite confusing even for my building level distance learning coordinators, let alone a teacher on their own.
  • You have to understand the technology well enough to imagine the curriculum possibilities.
  • You also need a firm grounding in curriculum and pedagogy so you can imagine the curriculum possibilities!
  • If you want to use it a lot and creatively, you have to be able to keep up on all the creative ways other people are using VC. Reading and finding articles, paying attention to the listservs, etc. This activity informs your ability to imagine the curriculum possibilities.
I think that takes a coordinator at some level! Even if media specialists are responsible for all this, they seriously need support as well!

When you know the possibilities, you can dream up some really great VCs that tightly match the curriculum. Like the Invasive Species project I'm running next week for a biology class at Lakeshore High School [Feel free to copy this idea!]. Or the wild ideas I'm dreamed up with our fine arts consultant this morning for drama, theater, and dance classes.

It's not just that the technology is still not as simple as a phone call. It's also that teachers need assistance imagining how videoconferencing could enhance their curriculum and knowing who they could connect to!

So for now at least, distance learning coordinators at all levels are essential people!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Distance Learning Mixers

Linda McConville, E. P. Clarke Elementary, St. Joseph, emailed me this morning with a great question for her Voices of the Twin Cities project. "Do you know of any good distance learning or videoconference mixers?" Which reminded me of the training we did in early 2000 at the beginning of our distance learning training. Shirley Freed, Andrews University, did some of the training for us and I remember doing some creative things across a multipoint connection. Here's what I found in my investigation.

Quick Introductions
Some of these would be really fun to do jumping between the two sites, each having two students share at a time.
  1. Participants give their name and a word to describe themselves, making an alliteration. e.g. Super Sally.
  2. Participants introduce someone else giving their name and something unique about that person.
  3. Participants give one-two word descriptions of what they expect from the class.
  4. Participants give one word explaining how they feel about the content or process or how they want to be remembered.
  5. You can increase the level of engagement for #4 and #5 by asking the participants to give the word in alphabetical order - fast! e.g. ambivalent, bogged-down, confused, dangerous, etc. And sometimes start at different places in the alphabet.
Here's another list of introductions.
These might be longer and some are better for adults than fourth graders. But with a long partnership between classes such as this project requires, it might be worth having a few students share their answer to one of these questions for each connection.
  1. What is your favorite place in the whole world? Why?
  2. Where do you go to "re-energize" yourself? What makes it revitalizing?
  3. Think back to kindergarten. In what ways are you still the same? How have you changed?
  4. What is the story behind your name? How did you get your name? Have you ever had a nickname? What was it? Did you like it? What name would you have chosen?
  5. Have you ever been in danger? Did you know it at the time? How did you survive the situation?
  6. Think back to special celebrations in your early childhood. Which celebration is particularly memorable? What made it so special?
  7. Who is your all-time favorite teacher? Why?
  8. What was your favorite toy or activity as a kid?
  9. What is the most difficult thing you've ever done?
  10. What has been the proudest moment in your life? What lead up to that moment?
  11. Who is someone you trust? What did that person do to win your trust?
  12. What is your favorite holiday? Why?
  13. What are three of your all-time favorite songs? What makes those songs personally significant?
  14. What is the most frustrating experience that you have had with a computer? What is the best discovery you've made with a computer?
  15. Who is your favorite hero or heroine? What qualities do you admire in that person (or character)?
  16. What leader do you most admire? Why?
  17. What would you look for in a "best friend?"
  18. Who in history would you most like to meet? Why? What would you like to ask that person?
  19. If you could visit or live anywhere (besides here), where would it be? Why?
  20. If you could witness (or take part in) any event in history, what would it be? Why?
  21. If you could change one event in history, what would it be?
  22. Do you believe in "love at first sight?" What makes you believe or disbelieve?
  23. Can money buy success (or happiness)? Explain your rationale.
  24. What would you do with one hundred dollars?
  25. If you could go "back to the future," where would you go? What time period would you choose? What social changes would you make?
Icebreakers for Teachers
Then I did a Google search for ideas. Icebreakers for Teachers has some great ideas. Here's how a few could be adapted for videoconferencing between two classes.
  • The Venn Diagram idea could be done as a Venn diagram between the two classes. Only one of the classes would need a document camera to do this activity. Students from both sides could brainstorm what could go in the Venn diagram.
  • The Data Processing idea would be fun with most groups made up of local students, but one group has 5 students from each site & then the students work together over VC. I think it could be loud and noisy but would be fun to try and see if it worked. If you did it several times, the groups could be rotated so that each student got a chance to work with a group via VC.
  • The Who Am I would be fun with the other site helping the student figure out the name on their back. You'd need a really big sticky note. The challenge with this one is that some students would be watching. If you rotated students fast enough and only did it for 5 min. or less, they might find it interesting enough to watch. This one would need an experiment to see if it worked.
Post-It Note Answers
Another great idea comes from Carol Fleck and Kim Perry, two teachers team-teaching via videoconference in Ohio. Students can write answers to a question on Post-It notes and then everyone brings the answer up quickly to a paper with a grid under the document camera. Then both classes can see everyone's answers very quickly and easily.

More Icebreakers
These ideas are from a training document [PDF] the University of Tasmania, Australia.
  • Knowing each other’s names is the most common way of introducing a group of last. The first student says their own name, the next student repeats that name and adds their own and so on. While it may seem silly the benefits are that students do get to know a few names, they laugh, this breaks the ice and they are enabled to talk to each other when it matters later on. This would be good to do alternating between the two classes as well.
  • A more structured activity is to ask students to pair up and to interview each other for about 3 to 4 minutes and then swap. Suggest that they take notes. Each student introduces their partner to the group. Students can find this less intimidating than introducing themselves. Students would introduce their partner to the class at the other site.
As I'm writing this up, these would be great to use for Read Across America connections and other short term videoconference projects as well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Teaching with Documents

This afternoon we have several teachers learning about using primary source documents in the classroom. Leann Potter, an archivist at NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration. She's a great story teller and knows what items will pique our interest. She showed us the patent documents for the light bulb and telephone, the check that paid for the purchase of Alaska, rough drafts of presidential documents, and many other cool things that can really enhance historical studies.

This is a great PD session for all levels of social studies teachers. I highly recommend it!

Living History Museums

Today we're taking two trips back in time to living history museums.

First we have Lighthouse Education Center connecting to Conner Prairie, IN for the Creating Communities program. This program really explains to kids the difference between goods and services - a great introduction to these social studies concepts.

It's pretty funny when kids ask a question about something outside of the time period - such as "Do you have pizza in your store?" Mr. Whittaker stayed in character for the whole interview to the slight frustration of the kids. "He doesn't know what pizza is!" they said. It was a good learning experience for them!!

Then this afternoon we have Lawton students connecting to the Historic Cold Springs Village, NJ. Students are learning what it was like to live and learn 200 years ago.

Both programs connect students to presenters dressed in period costume in a historical setting and students get to interact with the historical person. Conner Prairie also had a map for students to work with in addition to interacting with the presenter.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Save the Cincy Zoo DL Program

I just heard from Ken Freeman at the Cincinnati Zoo, one of my favorite content providers. Ken needs our support. Please take the time to write explaining to the Director of Education the great value of distance learning programs at the Cincinnati Zoo. Here's details of the situation from Ken:
The reason I called you today (and am writing you) is to ask for yourhelp. Serious consideration is being made by the Director and Assistant Director of Education to eliminate, or at best, drastically scale back, the distance learning program at the Cincinnati Zoo. One of the main reasons is because they believe that the value of the visitor experience, the visitor who physically comes to the Zoo, outweighs the value of a virtual experience. While I believe that we do need programs for students who physically come to the Zoo, I can't imagine eliminating a videoconferencing experience for students unable to travel to a Zoo or museum due to distance or financial constraints. In addition, I know how many students and faculty we have reached in the five plus years I have been involved with the program, and I do not want to eliminate this valuable resource.

Would you be willing to write a short letter to the Directors of the Education Dept. highlighting the benefits of videoconferencing, in addition to how our programs have impacted the students in your region? Responses can be sent to my zoo e-mail address at
So please take the time today to write a response to Ken to support distance learning from the Cincinnati Zoo!! Thank you!!!

Here's a link to my blog entry on a recent program we did with the Cincinnati Zoo.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Interviewing Senator Levin

Today high school government students from Coloma High School, Decatur High School, and New Buffalo High School are interviewing Senator Levin. He has taken time from his very busy schedule to talk to our students, even though an important bill is on the floor. We certainly appreciate his willingness to talk to our students.

Today students asked questions about many topics, including Iraq, Michigan's economy and the loss of manufacturing jobs, Hurricane Katrina, taxes and the feasibility of a flat tax, the secretive nature of the current administration, the consolidation of agencies under the Department of Homeland Security, and other topics.

Students questions showed they had researched and considered current issues, they had visited Senator Levin's website and thought carefully about their questions. One of the classes had participated in the Exercise in Hard Choices videoconference on the federal budget, and you could tell from their questions that they were prepared!

It's been a great week - 17 videoconferences! I can tell that MEAP (our state testing) is over! Everyone is ready to connect somewhere!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

ASK: Stellaluna

Today we're doing a set of three ASK programs on the book Stellaluna. Tw0 classes from E.P.Clarke Elementary, St. Joseph; two classes from Countryside Charter, Benton Harbor, and three classes from Hollywood Elementary, Lakeshore are participating. We also shared the program with a class in Rosenberg, Texas, and a class in Hudsonville, Michigan.

Students read the book Stellaluna, journalled, and then wrote questions in preparation for the program. Yesterday's ASK program was an interview with an author. Today's ASK programs are with a specialist, a staff member from the Bat Zone at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. We're actually doing a modified version of their program, Bats of the World. We listen to part of the program, see a live bat, and then take a set of questions from the students. This pattern rotates throughout the program.

In ASK programs, the difference between interviewing the author and interviewing the specialist is the focus of the questions. Interviewing the author focuses questions more on the writing process; while interviewing the specialist focuses questions on the content of the book. If you're thinking about starting an ASK program in your area, it's easier to start with books that you can interview a specialist related to the book.

It's pretty funny to see the little Jamaican Leaf Nose Bat chewing on Dawn's finger as she talked about him. He's pretty unhappy because he wants to sleep!

Kids questions are fun to hear too:
  • Can you have a bat as a pet? (No! It's illegal. Plus they don't make good pets for several reasons.)
  • Why do some bats hibernate & some bats hibernate?
  • What should we do if we find a bat on the ground?
  • Which bats are found in southwest Michigan?
  • How are bats helpful to humans?
  • Would a fruit bat ever eat a fruit bat eat an insect if there was no fruit available or would they starve?
Another great ASK program finished for today! Great questions from students and interesting facts about bats. Kids especially liked seeing the live bats.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

ASK: The Breadwinner

Today students from Niles High School are interviewing Deborah Ellis, a Canadian author writing about tough international issues such as AIDS, poverty and war. The students read the book The Breadwinner, and followed the ASK process to prepare questions for the videoconference. Other books include: Parvana's Journey, Mud City, Looking for X, The Heaven Shop, Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, A Company of Fools.

Ms. Ellis shared with the students what Afghan food is like, what it's like to live in an orphanage, and stories of her experiences in Afghanistan & how they were built into the story.

Some intriguing questions:
  • Did you ever want to give up on writing and what did you do?
  • Why does her father call her by a nickname?
  • Did you ever meet someone in Afghanistan who was beaten?
  • Why did you choose not to have Parvana and the window woman meet?
  • If you were to sum up your writing experience in one sentence, what would it be?
  • If you could go back, are there any parts to the book you'd change?
  • Has writing this book impacted you in any way?
  • What would have happened if Parvana's dad died?
  • What was the most interesting job you saw in Afghanistan?
  • Is Afghanistan really like we see on TV?
A powerful learning experience for our students! It was sobering to hear the plight of women in Afghanistan. Ms. Ellis is a passionate spokesperson for their experiences and I'm sure our students have a broader understanding of the world and a greater compassion for others.

[On a sidenote, sometimes you just have to suffer through announcements and ringing bells in a videoconference. I can't think of a good solution for that.]

Halloween Slime Time

This morning we're taking a 1st grade class to the newest Michigan content provider, Ann Arbor Hands On Museum. We're doing a program called Halloween Slime Time, and the students are talking to Witch Patricia. Today they'll be making slime in a study on the states of matter.

The museum has some great visuals to explain the states of matter within the context of Halloween, such as gas coming from the cauldron.

Now the students are using pipettes to follow a simple recipe to make two kinds of slime (a polymer). The kids are really enjoying playing with the slime. They say it smells like glue. Witch Patricia encourages the students to investigate the slime and see what it can do. I hear the joy of learning coming from my TV!

The second slime had properties of a solid and a liquid and students used their knowledge of solid & liquid to describe the slime.

Kids really enjoyed the program. Some kids said, "Can we do this again?" and "Can we keep our slime?"

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum offers programs seasonally. The next opportunity is Critters in the Cold, offered December 1 through March 3. Schedule a program by request during that time frame.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

High School Writing

A few of my local high school writing teachers have asked me about videoconference options lately. So here's a list of options.

Writing/Author Related Content Provider Programs
Related to that, here are a few literature based high school level programs:
Classroom to Classroom Connections
Another option is to consider having your class connect to another class for a celebration of writing. Some ideas include:
  • A poetry fest/poetry jam/coffee house event where students share poetry. This could be done point-to-point with another class, or multipoint and over a lunch period.
  • A story starter session. Classes could present to each other a visual story starter: a picture, a still life pose, a skit or other visual. After sharing the story starters via videoconference, students could write stories and share them for feedback via email, a blog, or an online class discussion space in Moodle or a similar tool.
  • Journalism Club/News Teams. Any writing related clubs or school news teams could meet with a similar club in another school. Students could share what activities their club is involved in, learn from the other club, and brainstorm new ideas together.
These are just a few possibilities. I'm sure you can think of more!