I spent the day (and what a freezing one it was!) in Sturbridge at the first day of the MassCUE conference. My electricity went out overnight so I am relieved that I made it in time for the first session! I chose to not bring my laptop today and instead mobile blog and twitter my movements throughout the day, while jotting down notes here and there. Conferences can be so overwhelming sometimes! But today I left feeling just plain happy to be in the field that I am, and to be among people who share that passion – and their knowledge. I attended sessions on topics I had already had some experience with, that encouraged my interests in them, connected me with colleagues who share the same passions, and provided me with “nuggets” of info or sources to pursue. I ended the day touring the exhibition hall for goodies and won a free polo shirt!
I first attended a session where I got to play with the XO laptop. I am familiar with the OLPC initiative and amazon.com’s give 1 get 1 promo last year (which just went out again this week at amazon.com/xo), but I hadn’t had a hands-on walkthrough of the little guy. Its a Linux platform with SUGAR GUI and an SD card port and 3 USB ports – meaning you can hook up another operating system if you wish via the SD card, and increase its disk space by connecting an external drive. Hackers are delighted to jump into its open source code and customize it to their needs. Activities and apps are shared and downloadable on the XO wiki (wiki.laptop.org). It is wireless enabled but also connects to mesh networks, so even if only 1 XO is connected to the internet, every XO on the same mesh network can connect through it. The mesh network also allows XO’s within range to share files and collaborate on documents without having to connect to the internet. The screen is daylight readable and although the battery can last up to 8 hrs, there are usb port solar panels for $9 a pop that can keep it running. SO you can see how engineering kept (and still keeps) its target audience in mind – members of 3rd world countries.
Next I checked out a session about videoconferencing in the classroom. This is something I have been struggling to make happen and was very curious what the “easiest” method was among the tools I knew of. A discussion about hardware did not occur, but it was apparent that the macbook was the best choice with its built-in webcam and ichat application. I am pretty sold on that combination too given my experiences videoconferencing from Germany with the students in Boston. I will have to get my hands on some webcams for our pcs at BRCPS in the short-term. As for applications, the speaker, Wesley Fryer, showed us Skype, iChat, and oovoo (a new one I hadnt heard of), and I add into the mix Google’s new Google Video chat feature, as well as FlashMeeting. The best news is that these apps are all FREE to use, so cost is a non-factor! So more time was spent selling reasons why to videoconference in the classroom, and Wesley gave some inspiring examples as well as resources for free content providers. Any child who is too ill to come to school can virtually attend the class and fully participate via a live video feed. In his example, the child was literally sitting at a desk (as a laptop on the table) and would raise her hand and ask questions the entire class could hear. Similarly, a teacher can teach his lesson by projecting his Skype session from home onto the screen and leading the lesson while a substitute manages the class – but wait, is that still a sick day?! lol. Finally he left us with the following content providers :
Ill have to look back into these later. The links and more details will be posted on the Masscue site but I just want to transcribe my notes!
I was super excited to attend the Global Discussion session! I have been working on the Global Exchange project for now 3 years, and hoping to keep it alive in my new school setting. I was relieved to hear the presenters say that they had been at this for 5 years and finally felt able to share what they’d learned and provide sensible and successful guidelines for establishing international exchanges. I was also excited to see that I had already used the tools they had suggested for connection including wikis and the ning. What I took away was a connection to a developing hub, also a ning, for K-12 global classrooms in Massachusetts that certainly my ning will need to hook up with. I also saw lesson plan templates and suggested project ideas and timelines that WILL work! I am looking forward to sharing these ideas and guidelines with BRCPS teachers. I think it will help focus our projects and ensure success. I will be posting more on this topic for sure, as I spoke with the presenters afterwards about visiting BRCPS. Cool! Some tips included :
- Lessons must be flexible and at least 3-6 weeks long
- Choose broad themes and design universal questions that are sensitive to the country you are working with
- Make the experience authentic and more of a dialogue, not simply a fact-finding assignment, or compare and contrast activity such as “what are the qualities of a leader?” or “what does home mean to you?”
- join irex.org
- choose a product and/or culmination of the experience
FINally, after discussing a civic media project with our BRCPS technology teacher, Mr. Dodson, over lunch, I listened to an overview of RSS by Will Richardson. This was good timing for me bc I just spent the last few days re-organizing my Bloglines subscriptions and publishing my feeds. I added to the sidebar here a “I’m feeding on…” link to my Bloglines feeds so people can see who and what I am reading online. I learned that I can also subscribe to feed searches by adding the RSS feed of the results from a blogsearch.google.com. HE walked us through Google Reader but the concepts are the same. I liked his approach to blog searching. I recently have been searching edublogs.org for good examples of ways to use blogs in education to show my teachers, and have been disappointed with the results! I found that Im not the only one frustrated (see this educator’s blog post), but this still doesnt help! Today’s lessons on how to search and subscribe to find what I want will be helpful. I liked Will’s discretion while searching too. His method makes sense. Of course your keyword choice drives the results, but you have to do more work. Investigate the expertise of the blogger, how often the blog is updated, and the amount and quality of the commentary done there.
He also walked us through Delicious which is not just a bookmarking tool (so you dont lose your “favorites” when you go to another computer or browser), its a social bookmarking tool. In short, you can save and categorize your favorite links (not feeds – this is different), and also find the fav links of people who share your interests and passions. This is suuuper useful bc it cuts down on the hunting YOU have to do. Right now, I save my bookmarks on my iGoogle dashboard, but I think I will move these into delicious so I can share them and find more that relate to (and may be even better) than mine! To complicate things even more, I can subscribe in Bloglines to the feed of search results from Delicious.
Phew that’s it for me today!!