Friday, May 29, 2009

Surviving the last 2 Weeks (#1): Classtools Interactive Games

Year end is coming! I usually have mixed feelings when I reach the last 2 weeks of school. On one hand, for me the holidays can't come fast enough.
Image Source: Dave Walker at We Blog Cartoons. [Note: the original sign message has been changed.]

On the other, I wish we had an extra week or two extra because I'm often running behind and have to pack 3 weeks' worth of instruction and review into two.

Image Source: Lambert Consulting Group. [Note: the original badge captions have been changed.]

The kids are becoming raggedy and difficult to manage. The pressure is on in every class and they feel it. We teachers are cranky and quick to react. I secretly pray for a rainy June to help keep my classroom cool and make it easier for the students to stay on task. When the sun shines, they spend too long at the beach and come in the next day with sunburn and sunstroke. I keep the lights off and dole out wet, cool paper towels for the back of their necks and other sunburned bodied parts. The long hours of daylight can lead to drinking and driving or taking a lift home from a party in the car of an inexperienced driver. I worry about who might not make it home safely.

Screedbot June Survival

I thought I'd dedicate my next few blog entries to interactive educational games that can make review more engaging for students. My first pick is Russel Tarr's wonderful collection of Classtools. I have been looking for ways to create quick review activities for the new Science 10 program here in BC. There are several geography samples on the website that have sparked some creative ideas for me.

" allows you to create free educational games, activities and diagrams in a Flash! Host them on your own blog, website or intranet! No signup, no passwords, no charge!" Russel Tarr has created dozens of interactive activities that I think kids will find very cool. Each template can be saved as a stand alone HTML file or you can use the embed code to post games you've created on a class website, blog or wiki. Russel will store your files on his server indefinitely. Only those not used for a year are cleared out periodically.

To access a game template click on a link in the list on the right side of his home page. The question mark button (bottom right) will take you to a help page where you'll find an overview of the activity, lesson plan suggestions, and samples if any have been posted.

I think my favourites are: the Virtual Book,

Click here for full screen version

Diamond 9,

Click here for full screen version


Click here for full screen version

the Fishbone (I've linked the diagram to a how-to video for you),

and Arcade Game Generator. When students open one of these, they can choose any of the 5 game formats.

I have provided screen captures for all except the Flashcards. If you look at my next post in a couple of days, I'll be writing about a different website my students are using to build their comprehensive sets of flash cards for learning and reviewing terms and key ideas.

As you can see from these clips, I'm not a skilled gamer. I'm also new to using Blogger. Here's the link I used to figure out how to get an animated gif image to play in blogger. I made my banner in Screedbot.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Authenticating Sources

The following powerpoint was emailed to me earlier this month.

View more presentations from PeterJD.

Information about this celestial event comes to my in-box every year about this time, so I'm going to use it as a take off point for a piece about internet misinformation.

[Let me set the record straight. There's no need to plan your Mars viewing party for August 27th because that great event occurred back in 2003. For a complete commentary, you can take a look at this page in Hoax-Slayer.]

The more we move from print to online sources, the more we will need to teach our students to be skeptical about what they're reading. Textbooks are authoritative but can become quickly outdated; the internet is current but so often the information students find is just plain wrong. When reading and researching, students need to first question the authenticity of their sources. They must develop the habit of evaluating and cross-checking all their sources.

There are clearly 3 kinds of sources to consider:
  • disinformation,
(Image source: AFP: Iran Doctored Missile Test-firing Photo: defence analyst)
[If you look closely, you can see that the image on the left seems to have been doctored. Read more in Digital Natives: "Got Missiles?"]

  • hoaxes or pranks,

Penguins Can Fly Amazing
  • and, just plain old mistakes (the category to which I think the Mars misinformation belongs)
Once misinformation makes its way into the worldwide web it makes it's own place there in the same way that accurate information does. In our bodies, once a nerve impulse gathers enough strength to fire, it cannot be stopped. Misinformation -- if it's engaging enough or made to look authoritative or repeated enough --can take on a life of its own.

If it's out there, chances are my students will find it and want to use it. Being diligent is a lot more time consuming for everyone. Students have to look past the first few sources they find and teachers must take the time to check out all the references they chose to assess them for reliability. Seeing should not be believing.

The Impossible Ring By HOAX

These links will take you to sources you can draw from to create lessons to teach students to critically evaluate their sources.
[Note: many of these sources came from a discussion in Classroom 2.0]

Here are some final suggestions for our students from Pierre-Etienne Chausse in Luxembourg:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Awakening Curiosity

"The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the young mind for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards." (Anatole France)

Perhaps it's because I'm heading to the NECC in June, or maybe I just have a little time on my hands having put my first course is behind me, but this weekend I've been virtual touring.

Of course because the conference is in Washington, my first stop was the Smithsonian website. This is the launching point from which you can access the 19 individual museums and the teachers' area, sign up for their free monthly e-newsletter, and look at current exhibitions.

There is a wonderful panorama tour of the rooms in the Natural History Museum. The file is large and takes a while to load, but it's worth the wait because it mimics what it's like to walk around inside the museum beginning at the Rotunda.

(Video Source: Loren Ybarrondo: Smithsonsian Panoramic Virtual Tour of the National Museum of Natural History, 2009)

There are arrows on the floor that link to themed rooms such as the Ocean Diversity, Ancient Seas, and Dinosaurs. Except for the fact that the print on the display panels doesn't resolve when you zoom in, this is a great way to see the wonders there if you live far away or doing some trip pre-planning.

The companion site -- The Virtual Smithsonian Museum (high bandwidth) -- looks like it provides an even more realistic version of this tour. However, although my computer passed all the First Time Visitor tests, at the time of writing I couldn't past the Rotunda for a closer look at the the individual galleries. [Note: an email from the people at Smithsonian Channel indicates that full functionality is not available in Canada.] There is a static low bandwidth version available as well.

Here's a list of additional Smithsonian sites for you to peruse:
  • History Wired: a few of our favorite things -- "With less than five percent of our vast and diverse collection on public display in our exhibit halls, we hope that Web sites like this will bring many more of our treasures into public view. The initial 450 objects, selected by curators from across the Museum, include famous, unusual, and everyday items with interesting stories to tell."
  • The Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum -- "The Smithsonian Latino Center . . . [is] an avatar-based 3D virtual learning environment whose unique navigational features will provide access to the vast and rich collections, research and scholarship, exhibitions and educational activities of the Smithsonian Institution as they relate to U.S. Latinos and Latin America." (You'll need to download Second Life for this one.)
  • Online Conferences & Virtual Exhibits -- "Have you ever wanted to meet one of the Smithsonian’s curators? Or wished you could ask a question of one of our researchers? The Smithsonian series of Online Education Conferences will let you do just that." The February conference was about Lincoln. The sessions have been archived.

Next I headed to Exploratorium in California. The inserted panel shows the latest exhibits.

There is an incredible range of topics here, but some of the linked pages (such as Climate Change - atmosphere) look a little crowded and hard to follow. There's also a big reliance on text material. I love their Ten Cool Sites -- the best from their archives about science, art, and education.

But my favourite part of their website is a new public archive of nearly 600 videos on subjects ranging from teacher tips (which can be downloaded) to yoyos.

I was presenting at an e-learning conference here in BC about 2 weeks ago and met the people from Virtual Museum Canada. They were offering an i-Pod as a giveaway, but I'd have stayed to watch their demonstration regardless. It looks like a winner. They're even willing to do webinars to introduce groups of educators to how to use this great website.

"The Virtual Museum of Canada celebrates the stories and treasures that have come to define Canada over the centuries. Here you will find innovative multimedia content that educates, inspires and fascinates! " They've linked museums (historical and scientific) all over Canada and made it possible to create and share lessons with archived material right on their site. You enter by one of 7 portals.

In the Teachers' Center you can find, create, store, or share lessons. You can type up an overview, add a linked object you found in any museum, add some questions and more objects. You can create your own wiki, blog and message board to communicate with students. Students can use any of these resources for their own projects.

After all my touring, I got to wondering how to access other great resources like this and came across the Virtual Library Museum Pages with links to museums all over the world.
Finally I found a wiki for a course given in 2008 about using museum resources with students. If you click on the individual students, you'll see the lesson plans and project ideas created by the participants and ways they thought of incorporating Web 2.0 tools.

Happy trails!

(Video Source: curleyb3 in Youtube posted 19 Nov. 2009)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Next up: Assessment (ED 520)

My second course at Wilkes – Assessment – has just begun, and a quick preliminary overview has convinced me that I must start mapping out my weeks to keep all the responsibilities I’m juggling up in the air.

Cartoon source: Jim Unger in Juggling Cartoons (adapted)

Angela Maiers’ session in Classroom 2.0 Live a week ago Saturday was about how we can better manage our time when it comes to keeping up with reading, blogging, and social networking -- to say nothing of teaching our classes, doing courses, and 'doing for' our families. Ironically, I didn't tune into Angela's session until about half way through. After two weeks with several sleepless nights preparing for 3 presentations, wrestling with several project rubrics for my last course, and trying to get back into giving my own school projects more time, I had decided to give myself permission to step away from the computer for a while and overslept the start time.

Somehow I don’t think Angela would ever have let that happen (sigh). She has a plan for just about everything: for her days, for her blog, for her Twittering, for her private company . . . and she approaches each of these with the goal of not only getting through all the networking tasks but with the deliberate intention of becoming even more connected.

I’m going to listen to the full archive of Angela’s session again and work on clarifying my own goals for the next few months. I’ve reached a ‘hub moment’ in my own life when some important decisions have to be made. Will I go back to my desk in the fall or will I retire? What do I really want to be doing this time next year? How can I best make that happen?

(Clicking the image will take you directly to the Elluminate link where you can login with any name.)

The first Discussion in the Assessment course asked us to write about our expectations. I’m not really sure I have any – hopes certainly, but not expectations. Assessment is not something I've put a lot of thought into since moving to the Learning Centre. Because the work there is all individualized and the emphasis is on getting students through courses in a timely manner, we tend to use efficiency rather than interest as our prime motivator. The students do their learning packages and when we think they've mastered the material, we give them their tests. Perhaps I'll learn how to restructure my packages to incorporate more alternative types of assessments without having to add to the time it takes for students to finish their units.

I'm also hoping that this course will 'walk its own talk' and model a richer approach to assessment. My e-teaching colleagues struggle with how to ‘see’ multidimensional growth in their online students. They want their assessments to take into account more than content acquisition, skills development, and intellectual capability. They want ways to assess deeper learning and affect, but have few models to help them accomplish this.

Cartoon source: Kevin Siers in The Charlotte Observer (2001) reprinted in Midwest Regional Peace & Justice Caucus Blog (14 June 2007)

A colleague in Saskatchewan has been asking some thought provoking questions about how to make what's going on in their classes reach more deeply into their students' lives. He's not referring to how to make the content more relevant, but how to stretch assessment to include more of the real world work ethic and organization skills such as being able to plan and organize one's time. This idea makes a lot of sense. Many of my students are considered 'at-risk' because they have either rejected or not developed these kinds of 'habits of mind'. As a result they not only find it hard to be successful in school, but also are not well prepared for the demands of being employees and keeping jobs.

(Craig Damrauer: New Math @

I'll be looking for guidance abput how to use assessment to promote this kind of learning.

The Week 3 Assignment asks us to review a journal or newspaper article about NCLB and comment on how it touches our own lives. This one by Jordan Sonnonblick in the School Library Journal (5/1/2008) I think may strike a deep chord with many of of my co-students: Killing Me Softly: No Child Left Behind.

Cartoon source: David Horsey in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer(2004) reprinted in Fred Klonsky’s blog (31 August 2007)

In this course much of the focus seems to be about how to strike a balance between (a) good pedagogy and assessment that is meaningful and helpful both to teachers and to students on one hand and (b) the demands to generate marks and get test scores up on the other. When chatting with my US counterparts on ‘Wilkes Tuesdays’ I always feel a deep sense of relief that we in Canada have not gone down the road of high stakes accountability testing (yet). I’m going to have to really reach to make the deliberate concentration on ‘issues American’ meaningful in my little Canadian corner of the universe.
For me doing Wilkes courses so far seems to be about 30% self-examination, 60% struggling to figure out how to put theory into action, and about 10% reconnecting with some of the fears and anxieties our students face on a day to day basis. In the last course it was group work; this time round it's quizzes and tests. One can forget after many years of being on the 'giving' side of these activities what it's like to have to face them day after day. What seems like a perfectly reasonable expectation from the teacher's side of the desk can throw a lot of anxiety into the kids. We (I)'d do well to remember that.

[Note: I wanted to find a video clip of William Hurt as Dr. Jack Mackee telling the interns in his hospital that they were going to first learn what it is to be a patient before they began to learn about being doctors, but this one which is about going through a heart transplant is a good substitute.]

You know, I didn't think had anything to learn from the Constructivist approach when I started the last course about project-based learning.

The good news is that it actually had a profound effect on my approach to course planning -- part heart andpart brain transplant. I'm optimistic that the same thing will have happened by the time I reach the end of 'Assessment'.

(P.S. -- I'll be at Gary Stager's Constructivist Celebration at NECC if there's still space. After taking the PBL course, I wouldn't miss it!)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Nature Cams

Image source: bruce7: Cartoon Speed Camera in iStockphoto (20 January 2006)

Spring only lasts about 2 weeks in the Lower Mainland of BC. Almost overnight the tall silver maples that shade my yard in the summer come into leaf. The cherry, apple, and plum trees bloom. The little birds chase away the crows, and adult ducks stand guard near nests in the ditches that run alongside our road.

On Saturday there were eagles soaring on the thermals over my back field, so I decided to take a peek at the
Eaglecam on Hornby Island.

When I tuned in towards the end of the day the 2 downy grey lumps were awake and cuddling up to the parent. In the first clip ('screencaptured' by me) you'll see them sleeping but they do move a bit when the parent moves. In the second clip (from the website; posted in April), there are 2 parents feeding the young. This footage came from the Hancock Wildlife Foundation.

These are wonderful examples of using technology to observe natural phenomena that inspire a sense of wonder. What a great starting place for a project! What is the place of the eagles in the food chain? What are the greatest threats to these magnificent birds in our area: loss of habitat? pesticide sprays? threats to their food source? What signs of stress are being seen in the population? How would the food chain be affected if they disappeared? (Here's a link to a collection of eagle resources for educators.)

Image source: NatureLori1970: Bald Eagle in Flickr (3 January 2008)

What follows is a list of live nature webcams you can share with your students:

(Britain) New Forest Wildcams 2009 - Goshawk
*there were babes in the nest at this writing
(Scotland) Scottish Wildlife Trust Osprey Cam
* in Lowes Wildlife Reserve, Dunkeld
* also has a live chat room if you sign in
(Canada - Vancouver Island)
* allows remote camera control
(US - Washington) WildWatchcams
* bats, bluebirds, eagles, herons, martins, ospreys, owls, salmon, and seals
(worldwide) Live Animal Cameras list
* natural, aquariums, video clips
(US - Maine) Biodiversity Research Institute
* eagles, perepgrines, finches, ospreys, loons
(US - Pennsylvania) Live Wildlife Webcam
* forest floor
(US) Top 20 Wildlife Webcams
* Times Online article with links (Jan. 2008)
(worldwide) CCTV ( Wildlife webcams
* also has sharks, otters, penguins, squid, bears
(Australia) Australian Wildlife cam
* sugar glider, kookaburra, wattled bat, red bullant
(US) Dakota-Wild
* deer, birds
(worldwide) WildCam
* live streaming from National Geographic
(1 free livestream -- otherwise $)
(worldwide) Wavelit
* 5 zebras active when I tuned in
* elephants, flamingoes
(South Africa) SANParks Webcams
* 1 cam is in the Sahara
* has a live chat
(Africa - Botswana) Wildcam Africa
* National Geographic
(Canada - BC) Victoria BC Birdcam
* Victoria on Vancouver Island
(worldwide) Fishing on Oregon Birdcams
* live chat room; eagles, hummingbirds, hawks, owls, ospreys; great resolution
(Africa) Africa Web Cams
* Tembe Elephant Park watering hole
* hunters' website
(US - Maine) Bald Eagle page of National Wildlife Federation
(US - Cornell Lab of Ornithology) NestCams
* can help scientists tag breeding behaviours from archived photos
(US) Wildcam Grizzlies
-- National Geographic


Image source: Tennant in USC Interactive Media Division Weblog (18 August 2004)

A different kind of 'wildlife is pictured above. If you have a favourite webcam site (polar bears?) please share it in a comment and include the link.