Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Screencasting as a learning and teaching tool

This week my students are preparing to present their personal learning networks.  I have encouraged them to be creative in how they will do this.  Though I expect the standard 'power point' presentation, I suspect that several will exercise their creative muscles and do something different.  With that in mind, I gave them several free screen recording programs they could use.  The first and most obvious one for them is Jing, partly because they're used to seeing its 'sun' logo on my desktop and also because I've used it often.  Once the screencast is done, the students have the option of emailing me the link or embedding the video on our class wiki.  With Jing, you can download your final product or 'store it in the cloud' with, the hosting site for Jing and Camtasia.

The next one is a gem that I found thanks to my twitter teacher friends; screenr.  The result is a 'ready to tweet' screencast that students can direct mail to my twitter handle.  It's amazingly simple and the end result is pretty slick.  You can download the video as an mp4 file, upload it to YouTube, embed it in your blog or tweet it out!  I think my students are going to enjoy playing with screenr.

This is the first time that am formally assessing students' ability to be be independent learners.  It seems obvious to me that in today's exciting learning environment, we should encourage students to develop their own connected learning networks.  In fact, students are already connected to one another and I simply want to open up their circle and think about how they are learning.  Here is the quick sample screencast I made with screenr.

and here is a video that I've shared with my students about developing a PLN.

I'm hoping that they will be teaching me a thing or two about being connected!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Free Audio Editing Programs

This year I'm determined to add a new level to the oral competency in the English Language Arts program.  I've included the option of recording for the students.  Instead of performing the oral (speech, monologue or what ever style the teacher has assigned) in front of the class, why not give students the option to play around with sound and record themselves?  This not only eliminates terrible anxiety about public speaking but allows the students to layer other interesting sound elements into their own voice performances.  They  can play around with music and use a few seconds as an introduction.  Special effects might give their performance that extra special ingredient!
When I think of how and what I listen to, on the radio and especially my beloved CBC podcasts, I can't imagine the voices without any music or other effects.  Let the students broadcast themselves and encourage them to use their voice as one element in the entire oral communication.  I look forward to seeing their creativity in action.  The two obvious choices for this type of assignment are both free: Audacity and Myna.  If you choose Audacity, make sure to download the LAME mp3 encoder so you can export your file.  If you choose Myna at, you'll have an option of embedding the audio file on your class wiki or blog.
I tested it first before making a screencast for the students.  You can listen to the audio
file and check out Myna for yourself.  Happy recordings!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Amazing Women

This evening I am completely in awe of four young women, all of whom are my 11th grade students.  It took them one year to organize and prepare but these four fabulous 'females' produced a benefit show for the Missing Children Network.  After their final applause and bows I realized that I had no words to tell them how wonderful I think they all are.  I could hardly contain my pride, but especially my admiration.  Don Tapscott is right when he writes that this generation is different.  In his book, Grown Up Digital, he concludes that not only does this net generation learn differently, but that they are more open, diverse, flexible and especially, involved in volunteer work and charitable organizations.  Tonight was yet another proof of that for me.

Imagine everything involved in co-ordinating such a performance: dancers, the venue, lights, sound, tickets, and I could go on!  Meanwhile, they have lives, families,  school, exams, boyfriends and everything else that pulls at them.  Over the course of one year, these four friends kept their eye on the prize and put together a great show to make their community proud.

I've said it forever and I'm still saying it..."women are amazing".  Walk us into the 21st century ladies!  We've got work to do!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gentle Reminders

I was reminded today of the potential for positive influence that the teacher's position holds.  A former student sent me a message on Facebook.  It was a shot in the dark for him; the tone of the message  made it clear to me that he wondered if I would even get it.  My former student just wanted me to know what he was studying and that several of his classmates spoke of me and their former school from time to time.  He reeled off their names and asked me if I remembered them.

Oh my.  If they only knew.  I remember one class in particular when I ventured out into 'full frontal disclosure' after a discussion about the dichotomy of science and religion; or their perception of the dichotomy.  I wrote a long essay after that class about how deeply their questions touched me.  This is an excerpt:

This day was nothing less than the best teaching day of 2006-2007. My students know my weaknesses and so during a lesson about the role of truth in fantasy fiction and an allusion to the Book of Job, they pleaded for a digression they knew I would gladly give. I spoke of Job, about not blaming God for our misfortunes and the world’s evil, about the place of ‘absolutes’ in a world of relativity and especially, about their own questions. I told them that I knew these questions were a part of their life, even if some of them were only half conscious of them. I spoke directly to two students about to embark on the “March of the Living” through the ruins of the concentration camps where they will certainly see the horrific face of human evil. I pleaded the case for faith and the solidity of ancient traditions as a source for possible answers to questions I know will wound them. Evil is ugly, it’s horrific and it feels like an encounter with the ‘other’ because it’s so huge. Are they ready for this?
They were so silent. Then, slowly their hands came up and they spoke. “Miss, science is comforting because it gives us answers. Religion is scary because it only gives us more questions.” This is from a sixteen year old girl who idealism and tenderness makes me want to weep with joy. I told her that she was brave and that I understood. I told her that she was doing a good job looking for truth because if she simply ‘bought’ a bill of goods that felt wrong to her, it would not be an authentic journey.
“But how do we know?” “What do we do?” “What is true?” Their questions are sweet stabs to my heart and it takes focus not to weep openly. What a blessing they are to me. What a privileged position I have. They look at me and ask, “Miss, what do you believe?” I tell them that if I could, I’d take them all out in a canoe on the lake and paddle for days. I’d take them on a very long hike, walk until we find the perfect tree and then sit up against it, feeling the bark rough against us. I’d show them that beauty is a perfect place to begin to find their own answers and that I hope someone will be there to help them. They deserve that.

  I went out on a limb in that class.  I didn't regret my transparency but I did wonder about what they must have thought of their crazy teacher. 

Learning, growing and taking your place as a young adult in the world is more than mastering languages, math and sciences; it's also about entertaining the big questions about life.  As teachers, we often forget the impact that we potentially have to help our students engage in tackling these big questions.  Their parents are the first ones to teach them how to wrestle with these hard questions but we, their teachers are the next in line.  It gives me great satisfaction to think (and continue to hope) that in some small way I have contributed to that noble endeavor.  Yes, I remember them well.  I also remember their questions, the look in their eyes and the anguish in their voices when they clearly expressed their desire to know the truth.  They look to their parents, and their teachers, to help them find the way.  It's important for teachers to remember the power of their role.  Thanks for the reminder guys.