Videoconferencing Out on a Lim

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

Friday, January 27, 2006

Nothin' Like a Good Template

Today one of my 4th grade teachers wanted to meet with me to plan a videoconference on Lighthouses in Michigan. She's done Michigan Week and Read Across America, so she knows the "exchange" format. She's also done Where in Michigan, and understands the MysteryQuest format.

So as we discussed the possibilities, it was clear quickly that these had given her an idea to do a MysteryQuest: Lighthouses.

Having a template format ready to go really helps teachers who want to try their own planned videoconference! And having experience with an "official" project like MysteryQuest or Read Across America helps teachers see the possibilities for creating their own projects!

That makes the headaches, challenges, and trials associated with these big projects all worth it!! (I'm in the middle of matching "leftovers" for Read Across Amercia. Fun fun!)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Math Mysteries from the United Kingdom

Here's a little videoconference report from Sturgis, South Dakota. Recently a class there participated in a math mystery called The Milton Mansion Mystery from the Athena Excellence in Cities Education Zone.

Here's the program description from Athena:
Join the famous detective Sherbet Holmes in his quest to find out who stole the Milton Mansion Diamond. The pupils are ably guided through the investigation by Advanced Skills Teacher Jaz Dhillon. At key points in their investigation pupils get to meet the famous detective who enlists their help in order to piece together the evidence and to identify the culprit, their motives and their modus operandi.
The teacher commented,
I felt the results of the project to this point meet or have exceeded my expectations. ... I feel this should be an on going part of the course work for sixth grade and possibly be developed into something more with students from each site communicating with one another. It also fits nicely in a across the curriculum activity for the sixth grade. ... I would be very open to using VC'ing again and on a yearly basis. The opportunities that it allows for the students and instructors is endless and life-lasting.
This sounds like a really cool program and one that I'm hoping our schools can do soon! Remember when you're scheduling videoconferences with the United Kingdom that they are 5 hours ahead of EST; +6 for CST; +7 for MT; +8 for PST. So you might need to be flexible and thoughtful in scheduling this one! Click this link: Athena Excellence in Cities Education Zone for a list of all their programs as well as scheduling details.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Exploring Shakespeare

This morning we're trying out another provider we haven't visited before -- The Indiana Repertory Theatre. They've been doing distance learning for quite a while and I could tell from the beginning that this would be a good program. St. Joseph High School English students are participating in the program, Exploring Shakespeare. The presenter and teacher interacted quite a bit via email and phone before the program to tailor it to the teacher's curriculum.

The program began with great conversation and interaction to set the students at ease. Then the presenter read a monologue "boringly" as if she was reading homework. Students had a hard time figuring it out. Then she read it again with expression and a prop. Students quickly figured it out.

The program included students trying different scenes in Shakespearan English and modern English. This helped students understand the emotion behind the Shakespeare scenes.

Discussion included comedy vs. tragedy, plot devices, writing style differences between comedy and tragedy.

Another exercise included a "Red Rover" argument exercise where students read sassy lines between Petruccio and Kate from the Taming of the Shrew. The students really got into the program.

Discussion also included how and why Shakespeare used verse and iambic pentameter.

This was a great program. I think it's the first time I've seen a high school program where students are getting up and moving around. Nice interaction between the provider and students and also between students during the program. Definitely worth it for Shakespeare classes!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Today we're trying out another content provider we haven't connected to before -- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We have a class from Lighthouse Education Center participating in the program, Rock and Roll Reactions: Records, Radio and the Birth of Teenage Culture in 1950s America.

The program started with pictures of various music groups and the students had to identify them. Great opener as the students who were sitting with crossed arms quickly started answering questions and interacting.

What a great way to learn about history and what it was like to live in the 1950s. A nice set of pictures, video clips, and audio clips helped students understand that decade.

This would be a great program for Black History Month because it also shows the history of racial segregation in the music industry and what life was like just before the Civil Rights movement.

Students really enjoyed this program. At the end, the teacher told the presenter that this was the best program they had attended out of 4 or 5 different videoconference field trips. So, you should try out this provider if you haven't connected to them yet!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Welcoming a NY VC Blogger

I'm delighted to share with you that another of my VC buddies, Andrea Israeli, is blogging about videoconferencing in the New York City Public School System Region 4.

Got Videoconferencing? is her new blog, begun January 16. I can see already that I'll be learning how to do a Poetry Slam! I have a high school media specialist who has been interested in this idea for a while now and we just haven't gotten it off the ground. I'm glad to be learning from another pioneering colleague!

Welcome, Andrea, to the community of K12 videoconferencing bloggers!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Ice Age Geology

Today we're doing our first program with a new content provider, the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. Sixth grade students from Patrick Hamilton are doing the Ice Age Geology program. Jason Dennison used to be distance learning coordinator at the Milwaukee Public Museum. He's doing the presentation today. I like to judge videoconferences by the students' posture during the program. These kids were leaning forward and clearly interesting and engaged in the program. Jason included many questions, discussions, and other interactions during the program.

Another way I judge VCs is by the visual content. Since it's a visual medium, we expect to see some good things! Jason included many visuals to explain morains, straiations, and other evidences of glaciers. I especially liked the rock simulation shown where he showed how the glaciers make the different types of morains.

It was great to see also how well prepared the students were. They were aware of the content and had thoughtful questions to ask the presenter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Genocide Discussion

Today I'm really excited to be watching a videoconference planned by two of my local teachers at New Buffalo High School and Lakeshore High School. This VC is an assignment in my Kid2Kid Videoconference Connections online class, where teachers plan project connections over a period of 5 months.

The lesson began with classes working in groups (muted) to come up with a definition of genocide. Then each class shared their definitions and negotiated a group definition.

Next each class worked to brainstorm a list of genocides they know of... both historical and current.

Then the classes brainstormed what they remembered from their December connection with a local expert who discussed prejudice and racism and how it might connect with the genocides listed.

Each class had a copy of an article on fighting hatred. The classes read the article separately and then discussed it together.

Finally students came up with possible solutions/responses to genocide.
  • Loosen the legal definitions that determine genocide so that intervention can happen quickly.
  • Make ourselves more aware of current events.
  • We need to educate people to treat those of all races the same.
  • We need to stay open-minded to hear the different sides to a story.
I really like the format of a team teaching here where the classes were led through a discussion and students had time to brainstorm in groups locally and then share with both classes. This format worked really well.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spellers of Note, CIM

This morning 2nd and 3rd grade music students from Eagle Lake Elementary are connecting to the Cleveland Institue of Music for their Spellers of Note program.

CIM is wonderful at how they get students engaged right away in the program. Mark George had the students telling what they knew about music and Mozart, and as they answered, someone played music or sang off screen. It was very fun and you could tell the students loved it.

Students also sang with the presenter and the ensemble, and the students also presented a play they had prepared ahead of time.

This program was definitely well designed for young students. There's lots of variety and interaction in the program. I highly recommend it!

Chris Crutcher Interview

(From January 11)

After a few tense moments with the network (love the Internet these days), we successfully connected St. Joseph High School students to the Orange County Department of Education, coordinating a videoconference with author Chris Crutcher on his latest book, The Sledding Hill.

We started with introductions, and then started with questions. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

  • How was Billy able to come when his dad was not?
  • How did you write the part for Eddie? His comments are quick but for the most part incomplete. Is his personality like yours?
  • Where did you get the idea for Montana West?
  • Why did you use religion in this book?
  • Why did you criticize one of your books in your own book?
  • Have you ever written a book that has not been censored or banned?
  • At one point should schools ban books? or should they?
  • Are there any topics that you are hesitant to write about in a novel?
  • How long did it take you to write this book? Which of your books take the longest to write?

It’s always entertaining to hear the author interact with the students. The author sees how students have thought deeply about the book, and the students hear interesting stories behind characters, names, and ideas in his book. Both seem to enjoy the conversation and students definitely increase their understanding and appreciation of literature and the writing process.

Some fascinating quotes from Mr. Crutcher:

  • “When does innocence turn into ignorance?”
  • “It’s fun to poke fun at myself in the story.”
  • “Every human in the world has some creative way to express him or herself.”
  • “You hear 5 stories, 10 stories, and 50 stories, and some truth rises to the top.”
  • “I will tell you the truth in its native tongue.”
  • “Any issue that comes up, we need to be in a position where we can talk about.”
  • “Your body of work does represent what you’ve learned in life.” in answering a question about the message in the book.

Thank you to Orange County Department of Education for sharing this program with us.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Our Internet is Down!

I know a bunch of you fellow distance learning colleagues are trying to get a hold of me for Read Across America, MysteryQuest and other distance learning events. The TWICE website and of course my Distance Learning website are hosted on the BCISD webserver, and our web & email is down. Both my for Read Across America and my account is down too.

For those of you trying to finish up your Read Across America registration by Jan. 11. Please don't worry. I'll give you through the end of January 12 if it's back up tomorrow; and if not, then through January 17. I'll be offline anyway the 13th through the 16th. Good time for a long weekend! :)

Time to take a break, rest, and consider what's most important in your life. We can live without the Internet. Right?!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Power of ASK

My VC friend and colleague, Sue Porter, just received letters for author Ethel Footman Smothers in response to the videoconference we did in November on her book The Hard Times Jar. Sue coordinated the program and is collecting all the letters from the participating schools to send to Ms. Smothers.

These letters are an incredible testimony to the power of ASK programs! Get out your Kleenex box!

Dear Ms. Smothers,

I cannot tell you how much our videoconference meant to all of us. Paris, Texas, is a small town, and many of our students have never been outside the city limits. Opportunities for low-income and minority students are limited.

In one stroke, this videoconference enlarged these students’ world. They loved the snowball! (It rarely snows here, and it was about 60 degrees that day.) Although we had already located Grand Rapids on the map, the moderator’s comments really made distances understandable to my students. But the most wonderful event for my class was seeing an African-American woman as a successful author.

I am sending letters that my students have written to you. One of the African-American girls in my class states in her letter that she was surprised to see that you are “chocolate brown and not buttermilk.” (She paid attention!) It shocked me that after all of our class discussions on the book, that she imagined its author to be white. She simply couldn’t imagine it.

This videoconference opened my eyes as well. It brought home to me the importance of putting before my students images of successful adults who look like them. Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories, your home-made toys, and your time with us. Please continue to visit students through the technology of videoconferencing!


Nancy Bratteli

Third Grade Teacher

Aikin Elementary

Paris, Texas

The first letter written by a student was difficult for me to read, but was followed by the following letter from the teacher with the note at the bottom.

Dear Mrs. Smothers,

You inspire me in many different ways. You are an African American and fulfilled your dream. You have courage, and you stick to what you say. You care about children. You are my role model, just like my teacher. You are an encouragement!
Your friend, *A*

Note: *A* struggles with severe dyslexia, but as you can see, she is a very bright young lady. She also just lost her “best friend,” her grandmother who lived with their family. Your book, and our visit with you, came at a wonderful time for her.

Incredible! To read more about the ASK process, visit See also the ASK programs we're doing in Berrien County, the ASK programs TWICE is running, and the ones that Polycom is sponsoring.

If you are coordinating distance learning for a large district or an educational service agency, you too can offer these types of programs to your schools. Start with the book list on the website or with books suggested by your media specialists. Look for local authors or local specialists you can interview related to the books. Start with local presenters so that the cost is less than with nationally known authors. Your districts will greatly appreciate the service, and as you read above, with these programs you can make an astounding impact on student learning!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Have your kids present at Megaconference Jr this year!

Have you watched Megaconference Jr.? Then you should present this year!

Never heard of Megaconference Jr.? Then you should participate AND present this year!! Don't be shy!

Think of a class doing something really cool in your building: music, drama, reader's theater, science experiments/research, an invention, etc. Present!!

Here's the official announcement that has gone out on the various VC listservs.

Deadline for presenter proposals/activities - January 23, 2006

We look forward to your involvement!

Megaconference Jr., now in its third year, is a project designed to give students in elementary and secondary schools around the world the opportunity to communicate, collaborate and contribute to each other's learning in real time, using advanced multi-point video conferencing technology. Presenters will design and conduct videoconference-based presentations and activities focused on both academic and cultural issues. Participants will be able to address questions to presenters and to collaborate with geographically diverse peers in collaborative learning activities, thus building international cultural awareness.

The event will be on May 18, 2006, and it will run from 7:00 am until 7:00 pm EDT (UTC-4). The 12-hour duration will make it possible for schools from many time zones to participate during their regular school hours. We strongly encourage schools to open up participation to parents, administrators, and the community and to stay connected for as long as possible so that they can actively participate with sites from around the world in different time-zones. Museums and libraries are especially encouraged to invite children and library patrons to participate during non-school hours.

You can propose a 10-15 min. interactive presentation or showcase an interesting collaboration project that you have been doing in your school. You can also suggest activities that could be organized at "downtimes" between the blocks of presentations. Or you can join us as participants, with no special presentation given from your side. (Questions at the end of presentations are more than welcome from everyone.)

Students and teachers can be presenters. Presentations with multiple sites are strongly encouraged.

The proposal submission process has been streamlined again this year to ensure a successful conference for all. Anyone who wishes to submit a proposal must first register as a presenter for Megaconference Jr. 2006. Once registered, sites will be contacted about testing their network connections. Upon successfully testing, those who wish to submit a proposal will be able to do so. This will ensure that all sites proposing presentations have passed a preliminary connectivity test and will allow presenters more time to focus on their dress rehearsals.

Proposals will be evaluated on the following criteria:
1. Title: The title is catchy and unique and related to the objective of the presentation.
2. Presentation is Related to Theme: Student presentations should focus on academic or cultural issues and incorporate global awareness and collaboration.
3. Collaboration/Interactivity: The ideal presentation should include collaboration with students in another geographic location. If your project includes another site please identify that in the "Overview" section of the proposal submission form.
4. Creativity/Uniqueness: The presentation is delivered in a creative way and presents a different or unique topic.
5. Multimedia: Without distracting from the proposal objectives, the students use a variety of media resources and appropriate distance learning activites.

Most sites will need Internet2 or comparable high-speed connection and access to H.323 video-conferencing equipment. Presentations must be made using H.323 technology, preferably at 768 Kbps, and they will be made from the presenter's location. Presentations with multiple remote presenters are encouraged (see evaluation criteria above).

Yes, all presenters will be required to hold at least one dress rehearsal prior to the event to rehearse and refine their presentations.

Presenter registration and subsequent proposal submission (upon successful testing) should be completed online at:


Submit your presenter proposal(s) by January 23, 2006.
(If you are unable to submit by this date due to special circumstances such as extended holiday break, please let us know and we will do everything possible to accommodate your schedule.)

General registration opens February 10, 2006.
General registration closes April 28, 2006.

Please forward this message to anyone you feel would be interested in being a presenter site, anywhere in the world.

Check out the NEW Megaconference Jr. 2006 website at

Questioning Lesson Plan for Videoconferences

Something that's been on my todo list for quite a while is to write up something for preparing questions for videoconferences. We've all seen VCs that were less than ideal due to lack of preparation. So here's a lesson plan: Preparing Questions for Your Videoconference. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or links to add, send them along!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

New ISTE Article

Linda McDermon, Rural Hall Elementary School, North Carolina, has a nice article on videoconferencing in the December/January issue of Learning and Leading with Technology on pages 28-30. (Access restricted to ISTE members)

She lists several videoconferences and content providers they've participated in, including Megaconference Jr., NASA programs, local programming, and the one that caught my attention, TWICE's Read Across America celebration. A little sidebar delves into the issue of costs & the rationale for using videoconferencing in the classroom.

Find an ISTE member near you & read the article!