Thursday, December 10, 2009

Local Connections

Just wanted to share an exciting project that has basically fallen into my lap(top). Last year in conjunction with our local museum curator we discussed the possibility of getting a local community foundation grant from an oil company here in Cold Lake. Well, now we have been approved for all of the $5,000 requested!

Here's the big question: how can we create a meaningful and memorable learning experience for my grade 9 media arts students? That is, we'll be working to have students look beyond the physical walls of the museum and connect to our community.

First ideas look like this:

1. Create a connection between students and a part of the the exhibit that they would like to showcase.

2. Create a connection with local experts in the oil and gas field, the First Nations Communities and Air Force Community.

3. Have students create original content for their showcase in the form of a podcast, vodcast or other multimedia product.

4. Leave the museum better than we found it. Ideally we will be buying several iPod touches that will be available for patrons to sign out while at the museum to listen and watch our student showcases. The curator will be buying an iMac to load new content.

5. Create a sense of pride and accomplishment in our students who know that their work will be a permanent part of the museum.

Overall the project will take several months and will involve many classes. I've chosen to start with my grade 9 media arts class.

This is where all of you come into play. I need some help! Over the next 3 weeks (timeline is tight for the first round) we will be visiting the museum many times. Students will be using their laptops from our 1:1 project as a tool for gathering information. Video cameras, digital cameras and other technology will be flying around! (not literally)

Please keep in mind that help comes in many forms: A conversation with an expert dealing with assessment in education and a passion for history like my colleague Neil Stephenson. A quick tweet with an idea. An email outlining something similar you might have done. A link to another project that had success.

What do you think of the idea? What would be your approach to this project to ensure student accountability, engagement and success?


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Backchannel Baking

I've had a busy few weeks getting into the swing of things with school but yesterday's class showed how my students are really hitting their stride implementing technology as a tool in the classroom. I would like to place great emphasis on the word TOOL, instead of what often happens which is an add-on.

The recipe from the outside seems like it's destined to be a flop, but here's how I created this backchannel lesson. Take our first ingredient of grade 9 students and throw them into a large mixing bowl (also known as our performing arts theatre). This is no slouch of a theatre! With a Blu-Ray player and HD projector with AMAZING sound, movies in the theatre rock! Then mix gently and let students sit wherever they want (only in the first 2 rows).

Sprinkle in short lesson on backchannel, google jockeying and have a discussion about what the students think they should be mindful of when having an online conversation. This is one of Anne Davies' assessment for learning strategies. She writes, when a teacher "Involve[s] students in setting and using criteria," "they become more engaged in learning."

Don't forget a key ingredient: the rubric. Students need to mix the idea of interacting in a meaningful way in their brains and connect it to technology. For some this is a HUGE step, which is why we will be practicing it more and more in the coming weeks. We discussed the personal and social implications of contributing to backchannel online, and how we can make the experience positive and productive. Students did a self assessment of their experience and then blogged about the positives and negatives of their experience. Most thought it was productive, but a few found watching a movie and participating in the backchannel distracting.

This again confirmed for me that students are not the "digital natives" and tech multi-taskers that some people believe they are. Next time I use backchannel I will pause the movie frequently to allow more in depth discussions to occur with less distractions.

How might you use backchannel in your class?

Note: this lesson happened in early October and I'm just now getting around to publishing this post!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Creating a Promo video

A while back I shared my multimedia planning for my 3 media arts classes. There aren't many full time or near full time teachers who get to work with video arts, so I'm forever grateful for what I do.

This summer at Apple Summer Institute (Canadian Edition) we where hanging out in Saint Andrews with dozens of people taking videos and pictures. Another awesome ADE suggested that we media geeks could use this footage and pics for our classes, and recently I put it into practice.

Students are now using footage taken by more than one ADE in Saint Andrews to make a 30 second TV commercial for this gorgeous town. We've finished this project and are on to the next one, but here's how to do it:

1. Get students to 'research' promotional videos for other towns and cities on Youtube. I love that I can call checking Youtube research with the multimedia classes.
2. Students then blog about what makes up a quality promo video.
3. Use student responses on the blog to have a focused discussion about criteria and assessment. The beginnings of a rubric comes out of this activity.
4. Students learn about Final Cut Express with daily 10 minute lessons about how to edit.
5. Take the student developed criteria and link it to the curriculum outcomes for the CTS COM courses I am using for this unit. Create a rubric (easier said than done, I know!)
6. Get feedback from students about what went well and what didn't. It's always good to get feedback when you try something new!

Here are the student generation criteria after I massaged the wording a bit for their promotional video. Next time I will be adding guiding questions to help them to be thinking about what each criteria will look like in their finished product.

1. Clip selection

2. Narration

3. Music selection, genre

4. Transitions-effective use

5. Editing/timing of clips

6. Slogan for St. Andrews

7. Titles (Livetype)

This assignment really separates those who want to learn how to edit and those who are just along for the ride. I'm ready for them to start their group assignments and I'm excited for our Iron Chef projects coming up. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Multimedia Madness with Stop Motion

We are back to work and it's week 3 at our new school. I've revamped my MM program to allow for more student choice for each project. I want to share with you my approach to our first unit which is animation.

First, let me say that my PLN which is almost entirely Twitter based has come in extremely handy. Last weekend I tweeted asking about animation software and within a few hours I had many suggestions of great software (some free, others not). In the end I chose 2 programs which have worked very well so far.

First software freeware gem: Frame By Frame. Last year students had to use Photobooth and import photos into iMovie or Final Cut Express. While this had it's merits and they learned a lot in terms of the Final Cut interface and time code, Photobooth let us down. I should rephrase that. Photobooth did what it was supposed to do, capture images and store them for easy access later. It was not designed to have thousands of pictures taken by 3 or more groups a day who are curious, and like to delete each others' pics. Photobooth doesn't give an onion skin view of the previous picture, which is a MUST when doing stop motion. Enter Frame by Frame. This little freeware gem has an onion skin feature, frame rate that can be easily adjusted and easy connection to external Firewire video cameras. Win, win, win!

Students are blogging about their experiences and sharing tutorials as part of the class this year as well. There is a minimum of 2 posts per week. I'm not looking for novels here, but having them think and reflect about their projects will pay great dividends, not to mention the sharing of their frustrations and successes with others. Some are related to video clips of stop motion on Youtube, some about upcoming Hollywood Films, like Fantastic Mr. Fox. I encourage you to take a couple minutes to watch the 3 short videos about the making of this amazing film. 24 pictures per second added up to over 125,000 separate images for this movie!

I even share some stop motion from 1974 done with super 8. Just out of high school my dad did a "study of animation" in his bedroom with two incandescent light bulbs and some onion skin paper. The result was great, and the students appreciated the work that goes into animation, while learning that nerdiness certainly runs in the family!

The students' final project for the unit is a showcase of all they have learned. They can do pencilmation, stop motion with the isight cameras or use another great freeware program called Pencil. Currently 95% of my class is using it for their final project. While it takes some getting used to, the ability to create keyframes and again use onion skinning in addition to drawing tools make it prefect for animation class.

The coolest application of this Pencil is for rotoscoping, one of the most amazing ways to animate. Taking individuals frames of video, you trace over each frame and then put back together and you can add the original sound back. I was inspired by the film Julian in the Woods to try it on my own last weekend. It took me several hours just to trace a few frames of my son.

Assessment of their stop motion films has come from class discussions and blogs guided by me. Student generated criteria is molded by yours truly into working rubrics that students can relate to. email me if you would like a copy of our Stop Motion rubric, we'd be happy to share: coolpoolteacher at

How awesome is it that I get paid to make creative, cool projects with students?! Samples of their work will be posted on our class Youtube Channel at the end of the week! Meanwhile, here's a short clip of a student who is experimenting with lines in Pencil:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Starting a Video Arts Program Over Again

It's that time of year again folks! The difference for me is that I get to smell that 'new school smell'. Not too many people get that in their teaching career. We've moved to a new building here in Cold Lake, Alberta connected to the community recreation facility and community college. It's absolutely amazing! My class shares a service hallway with the performing arts theatre with a HUGE projector screen, Blu-ray and massive sound system!

My Multimedia classroom is almost setup, but the bulk of the work is still in it's infancy for program development. While this will be my 3rd year with 5 multimedia sections, so much has happened that I've decided to throw out the old approach and start fresh.

In is blogging and weekly reflection, out are students who don't hand in module paperwork. In fact, there will be no paper forms to fill out. Google Forms are in.

In are weekly technical assignments for students to do individually, out are students riding the coat-tails of others until the end of the module when the projects are due. It's called accountability- get some!

In are Youtube and an emphasis on Social Media. Students live this and whether people like or it not, we need to use it to engage students.

In are collaborations with others schools like last year. I hope to expand my network of media arts teachers to share resources and assignments. Project ideas are always in high demand and this course always needs to be fresh.

In are larger module assignments for students to shine and showcase their talents in the course. These will be done in pairs or individually. Remember that teacher that stuck you with someone who didn't work at all? Or were you that student that sat back and let the keener kids to all the work? Well I did the work and so I always give the option for students to do the projects solo. That doesn't mean they don't have to be interacting with others, but they now have to ask others in the class to act and operate cameras, like a director.

In are daily 10 minute lessons about editing in Final Cut to help them with their project that week.

In are a large selection of projects that students can choose from to meet the requirements for each module. If they are working on level 3 modules in grade 12 they will get to design their own video projects through a proposal and show me what they can really do!

In is an openness and willingness to share even more with others. Out is teaching in isolation and hoarding knowledge. I've never been one to NOT share, and whether it's through blogging, presenting locally or provincially, everything I do this year will be accessible online. The greatest compliment to me is to have another teacher take an idea and use it, adapt it and share their experience. Plus I usually get 3 more ideas in return. One piece that I find is lacking in sharing of ideas through PLN's is the assessment portion. This is because as Neil Stephenson said to me last week over a beer, "assessment is hard." I totally agree. If assessment were easy everyone would be talking about it instead of avoiding getting better at it. This year I will be sharing all evaluation tools that I tool that I develop and use in my class. Openness is cool.

Just a few things I've been pondering lately. There's so much to be done before Monday when students arrive, but I'm definitely looking forward to this year. Browse my course planning and drop me an email at coolpoolteacher at if you can give me any other project ideas or approaches to video arts. It would be greatly appreciated! If you know of a media arts teachers out there send them my way on the web. Conversations between us media geeks can prove to me invaluable for resource and idea swapping.

Plus I may get to make iMac box furniture like this guy! How cool is this?!

Best to you this year...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Teachers are like Twin Otters

Yesterday I spent the morning in Edmonton at the Alberta Aviation Museum to witness and be a part of aviation history. While serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1951 to 1978, my grandfather, Maj. Jack E. E. Nichol flew many airplanes including the F-86 Sabre. This year marks the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada, and to celebrate, a team of people has worked tirelessly to restore a Sabre called Hawk One. This special Sabre was part of a demonstration team from 1959-1964, and is now flying across Canada at air shows and events. I was fortunate to be able to meet one of the pilots Lt. Colonel (Ret'd) Dan Dempsey who is also the team historian and former colleague of my uncle's with Cathay Pacific Airlines. Dan served with the RCAF and was one of the last pilots to fly the F-104 Starfighter. The highlight of the day for me was sitting in the plane that my grandfather flew over 50 years ago! (Check out my Flickr set of the event). While sitting in the plane, opposite the lucky hulu girl, I noticed that there was a Garming GPS in the cockpit which got me thinking... 

Last week I watched a news story on CBC about the great Twin Otter that was originally broadcast last February. I have been inspired by a blog post this summer by Wes Fryer who talked about airplanes and technology during his visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. After watching the story about the return of the Twin Otter, and spending an amazing morning with family and Hawk One I can now conclude that many teachers are like Twin Otters and Sabres when it comes to technology. 

How? I see many teachers who are like these planes. They are beautiful, do amazing things and are workhorses. The Twin Otter is such a good airplane that it is now being rebuilt using original plans and documents for use around the world. Over 650 of 850 Twin Otters built are still flying today, a true testament to their quality and usefulness, however as they are being built from scratch on the outside, they are getting totally renovated on the inside. New technology including mode
rn wiring, communications and navigation systems are making this Twin Otter "2" a plane that is relevant, functional and safe to operate today. The Godlen Hawk has a GPS, a hulu girl and a new seat from another plane to make it safe to operate. 

The same needs to happen with teachers.  

That is our job as early adopters. To help the Twin Otters and Sabres to be refitted with new technology that will
 help them to continue to be great educators. To help them see that without embracing the use of technology in the class they too may become like so many Sabres: left behind when newer planes (students) come in the doors of their classrooms and are demanding that the teacher catch up. This must be done delicately, but swiftly because education as a profession is already behind the 8 ball. Viking Air president and CEO David Curtis said in his interview with the CBC that their purpose is not to build a replica of the Twin Otter, but to build a contemporary aircraft. The same should apply to teachers and technology. If we try to replicate the use of technology in the classroom from 50 years ago to as recent as even 5 years ago, we will not be doing our best as educators. While it may seem that it is taking a long time and many of us want others to catch up, I need to constantly remind myself that many of these Twin Otters are already flying overtime and putting in long hours in the air. Giving them small, easy to install tools in their classrooms is a great place to start. I am also encouraged by how so many are taking it upon themselves to be refitted with new technology skills. These planes who are first in the hangar will eventually help to lead and pressure others to come in for an overhaul themselves.

Photos: Jack E Nichol (top), myself with Dan Demspey in the Hawk One (middle), my son Jack admiring Hawk One (bottom). 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ed Tech Sandcastles

While here in the beautiful Okanagan Valley surrounded by dozens of wineries, comes a new type of blog post from me. A reflection on why education technology and it's careful use in the classroom should be like sandcastles. Yes, I said sandcastles. 

I found myself working really hard this past year to hone my skills with technology. One negative of the existence of all of this wonderful technology at our fingertips in the tendency to do too much or use too many tools. Thinking about this and watching my son play with the sandcastles at the beach I have been pondering some points to keep in mind as the new year starts. 

As with all sandcastles, eventually they're going to get knocked down by someone or it will rain and they will melt. Similarly, I encourage all those who are old hats at incorporating technology into their classroom or just starting out, not to get too attached to a certain tool. Be open to others that will improve the experience for you and more importantly, your students. Treat each of your projects as a sandcastle that can be rebuilt very easily because you have access to technology. 

Case and point was this year when I was using Animoto to make poetry movies. Students had to import the mp4's into iMovie, add text and transition, then over to Garageband to add voiceovers and music, and finally to Voicethread for peer review! It's tiring just typing about it. This was one sandcastle that wasn't going to last! The sandcastle for that project was kicked over the next semester when we used images which were added to an enhanced podcast in Garageband where they added all voiceovers and music in one application. Less headaches for me and the focus was more on the students' voice and oral communication of their chosen poems. 

What sandcastle will you kick over this summer in an effort to rebuild it and make it better? Event though your students may knock it over like so many of mine this past year, your willingness to adapt and build a new castle will pay off many times over.

Photo: My son Jack after kicking over a sandcastle! 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Collaboration in Review- Nings in the Classroom

A very powerful and organic way to collaborate between classes around the world is through a Ning. For my multimedia classes, this was the "it" thing that hooked a majority of students. 

Starting at the Apple Learning Interchange
I searched for other teachers who were teaching with Final Cut and voila! Jim Billings was on the list. After a quick email and a couple iChat conversations we hit it off and both figured out our approach to collaboration. What was so great about working with Jim was that he is a very devoted teacher who is not afraid to try something new. He has an immense amount of
 knowledge with television production and editing, which was something I wanted to learn. I knew a few things about web 2.0 'stuff' which he wanted to learn, and honestly, I originally thought that it was I who would be getting the most out of this collaboration because Jim is such an expert in his field, and I didn't have much to offer. While this may be true on paper from looking at our experience, this is a common misconception among many educators. We each took away new knowledge and gained skills through sharing our experiences. If you are considering a collaboration using online tools  like Skype, iChat, a ning, Facebook or other tool, go for it! 

The Ning was a hit!
Students connected with it right away. Feel free to sign up here, and I'll approve you as an educator and you can snoop around to see the movies and products created by our students.  Some words of caution here: when you set up your own ning, don't allow students to have and much control as I gave them over their own pages or blogs. I would like to have a little more control in the admin settings to not allow personal page customization or allow them to comment on each other's home pages. At first I wanted to be more hands off with the ning and let it grow and change, but let's be clear- this was not intended to be another Facebook, and that is what some students wanted it to be. There were sometime upwards of 10
0+ photos from Photobooth posted for approval each day! We wanted a place to share videos and collaborate with on, not a social network. 
Expectations ahead of time are a must, which I will need to revise for next year. 

The Ning grows! 
We added an Apple Distinguished Educator colleague of mine from St. Catherine's, Eric Moccio, part way through the year. His students Skyped with ours and commented on videos we created. I look forward to working with the students from Eden High School next year. There are a couple other teachers who have expressed interest in having their students join the ning next year, which I would like to participate in an online Film Festival for our classes (Thanks to Jason Sand for this great idea!). 

Alternatives to The Ning
Could this be done elsewhere? Sure. Youtube could host all the videos on our own channel, but the security of the ning and login process keeps the videos relatively safe from unwanted outside views. This may or may not be appealing to you as an educator, so you'll have to balance your own need for protecting students online versus educating them and guiding them towards developing a responsible, ethical modus operandi while posting material. Students did like the control of uploading videos and watching their views and rankings increase.  For me the ning was a good solution because it was a one stop shop, and because they will go and post them to Youtube anyways when they get home. What alternatives might you suggest?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rescuing A PPT

First off, let me just say congrats to the grads of 2009 from my school! This will be the last grad class from Grand Centre High School as we're moving to a beautiful new facility in September! It's the last day of school and I was inspired to write this in my bed on my iPod touch. Sad, I know.

A grad came to me yesterday and asked for some help exporting a PowerPoint presentation to a DVD. The PPT was a simple slideshow of each grad as a baby as well as their grad photo which will loop on a screen at the dinner. I cringed.

After importing it onto my MacBook pro we found a font error so 180 grads later I changed all the fonts for all the grads' names. Not fun.

In PPT for Mac I love the export to movie feature. This resulted in a movie that was 6:30 in length with 5 seconds for each slide. I could have been done then, but I wasn't happy with the resulting flat, boring typical 'slideshow'.

Here's how I 'remixed' the grad slideshow. I exported the slides to pictures becuase I didn't want to start from scratch and put all the names back on toneach grad's photo again. I then uploaded all 185 pictures to Animoto (which took a while, so I walked away). Animoto was giving me a warning that they did not have music that was long enough to display all pictures, which concerned me. My workaround came from Garageband. I took a techno loop, repeated it 7 times and exported it as a 7 minute MP3. After uploading the MP3 to Animoto I waited 30 minutes for the Movie to be made and what you have is a totally remixed but way more interesting presentation that will loop all night at the dinner on Saturday. Plus. I can link embed it on our school website or give a web quality mp4 to a student to put on their grad 2009 facebook page.

Those with the Animoto app for the ihone can also watch their own movies directly. Animoto is free to signup for. I would like to see all the mobile tweeters with iPhones start taking advantage of the ability to take photos on their iPhones, upload them to Animoto, add catchy music and tweet the link. It would be a fun and entertaining way to share your pics from NECC for each day!

Next time you have a stagnant, boring PPT that is looping over and over, consider spicing it up with Animoto!

-- Blogged from my rockin' iPod touch

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Technology in PE class

This post is going into uncharted territory. 2 weeks ago our staff was fortunate to have John Maschak from Apple to work with us on designing technology infused lessons and units. The best part of the 2 days was having John give us time to work in small groups to create something that we can use next year including. This could have been a lesson, project or unit; the only caveat was that it must include the use of technology in the unit. 

The great thing about the opportunity to work and collaborate during PD sessions is the conversations that occur. After listening and sitting in sessions for the past 8 years of teaching, the best ones have built in time for applying and discussing what we have just learned. 

I connected with one of our PE teachers Kelly Gallant, and we were off to the races! Kelly is an energetic and dedicated teacher who has embraced technology and is eager to work with the carts of Macbooks that will be available to all teachers starting next fall. By the end of the afternoon, we had worked together to design a project where her students in our new Sports Performance class will create a workout video stretch routine as a culminating activity. 

While we developed this, I tweeted out to my PLN about other PE teachers who are using technology. I was directed to another Jarrod's blog who has done amazing things in PE with technology. His blog is called "The P.E. Geek" and is a must read for anyone who is thinking of using technology in physical education, and for that matter, any classroom. From QR codes, to Skype to Wii Fit, he's done a lot of amazing things. 

My goal while working with Kelly is to build capacity in her students. They will then be able to create these workouts routines to be used again and again in future classes! Great work Kelly! The future of Sports performance will be bright with personal reflections, blogs, video diaries and using technology regularly to track progress of students achievements. 

Have you heard of tech being used anywhere else in PE class? Ideas? Please share...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

End of year feedback

I thought that since this was my first full year in a pseudo 1:1 environment it would be a good idea to ask my students what they enjoyed about learning with technology on a daily basis. I also threw myself out there and asked what I needed to do to be a better teacher with technology, including getting marks back sooner! It was a powerful reflective tool, and I can now look at assignments and evaluate why I am doing them, and how I can make them better. 

It's often tough for us to put ourselves out on the line, but hopefully the students will welcome the chance to share with us. Give it a try with your students, you'll be surprised at their honesty.

Check out my students' responses.  

Have a great summer all, I've got a few more posts to share over the next couple weeks! Apple Summer Camp, here I come! 

Monday, June 8, 2009

Collaborating with Technology: Multimedia and Biology

So, three posts are coming up summarizing 3 collaborations between my students and others in my school, across Canada, and North America. Here goes...

With so many FREE web 2.0 tools, teachers have the ability to easily reach out beyond their classrooms to engage in meaningful, curriculum-based interactions that will live in the memories of students for a long time. 

Ultimately I would like some of these projects to be the topic of discussions in years ahead when a student reminisces, "Remember in Nichol's class when we..." 

My multimedia students completed a cross curricular project with our Biology classes this semester. They were told that the bio students were the 'clients' and they were being retained as the contracted production house. The topic was recycling and the audience was grade 4. After some meetings with the Biology department, I involved the students in the process of rubric development through class discussion. I asked what they thought their responsibilities would be as the head of the film studio. Most of what they said fell in line with the CTS module that I was using for this project. They commented about:

- quality/flow of editing 
- audio levels 
- types of shots with the camera
- lighting, natural and use of our lighting rig

To which I added
- use of planning time/shooting time with clients
- aesthetics and timing of titles, credits

The central message and script of the movies were the responsibility of the Biology 20 students. They were marked with their own rubric. When I discussed this rubric with the two biology teachers an interesting point about assessment came up. Should the biology students be marked on the quality editing of the movie? Prior to working with Neil Stephenson and our own in-house assessment guru Dean Senn, I would have said yes. On this project, I didn't agree. Biology students should be evaluated based on outcomes from the Biology curriculum and the same goes for multimedia.

Is this wrong? Still being a newb trying to wade my way through new approaches to assessment is sometimes very challenging. Please weigh in with your thoughts.

The project took about 2 weeks with 5 days for direct collaboration between the two classes. We planned and created storyboards on day 1, shot the video for 2 days, and did rough edits on the fourth day. My multimedia students then had 5 classes do the final edit including titles and credits.  The 5th class together the following week was for my students to present the final edit to their Biology 'clients'. 

Overall it was a very positive experience. One group even emulated the Commoncraft style of videos with cutout characters. It was a huge hit with the grade 4's!  (Link to come, as the video is at school on my class HD). 

The next step is for me to work with my colleagues to build their capacity. Ultimately, I would like to see their students using the carts of MacBooks we have coming at our building next year. Using the Kodak zi6 cameras and Canon FS200 cameras made shooting and importing a snap. All of my students used Final Cut and wowed their clients with their use of Livetype for titles and credit, well most of them anyways. Tripods were mandatory so these recycle movies didn't turn into homages to the Blair Witch Project!

Samples to be distributed once I get back to school. Drop me an email if you would like to see either the Biology or Multimedia sides of the rubric. coolpoolteacher at

Photosource: Moria from Flickr

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Power of Twitter in Education

A quick anecdote about how Twitter is the best communication tool for sharing ideas among those in education. 

At 9:47 I retweeted something from the Alberta Teachers' Association about Bill 44. Don't get me started on this issue, but let's just say the government is not going about this in the correct way. I applaud the members at our Annual Representative Assembly of the ATA for condemning this proposed bill. 

Jonathan Teghtmeyer, the Executive Assistant to Government in the ATA was then kind enough to retweet my recent post about movies in the classroom a few minutes later. The ATA is very progressive in adopting web 2.0 technology as a communication tool for their members. It is something that individual locals could look at as well to share local news, retweet ATA news and post links of interest for local members.

By 10:10, or 23 minutes later I had 4 more followers and an email message from a teacher in Edmonton Catholic who is at ARA this weekend. He was asking about a rubric I used for movie making which I shared with him. Aaron Ball is a grade 6 teacher who uses his class blog and web tools to infuse technology into his teaching each day. Those are some lucky grade 6 students! Drop by his blog or follow him on Twitter: @TomalakChop . I'll be picking his brain in the future about his work with video games as instructional tools. 

Keep up the great work @albertateachers and Aaron (@TomalakChop). I think we've just scratched the surface of the many possibilities where Twitter can be used to further education. 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Creating Movies in the Classroom part 1

As many of you know I like to share the 'real deal' when infusing technology into teaching. Creating movies is a double edged sword that must be approached carefully keeping the curriculum outcomes close at hand. The excitement of movie making can leave your outcomes/standards in the background.  Here is one of two recent activities in which I incorporated movie making...

Part of the Language Arts 9 curriculum in Alberta outlines that students need to:

4.3- Present and Share
- select, organize and present information to the interests ... or various audiences
- integrate a variety of media and display techniques... to enhance the appeal of presentations
-  use effective oral and visual communication

The 4-5 day assignment was for students was called "Shakespeare in 2 Minutes." Students had to take a scene from Taming of the Shrew, rewrite it in their own words, change the setting of the play to a high school (hey, we're going with what we know best), and record it. Later, they used iMovie 08 (or HD it was their choice). 

To start the assignment I asked them what makes a good presentation on our class blog. Using blogging has been the best way to get students to "buy in".  Most often it's a guiding question that focuses their thinking on the task ahead of them, and asks for them to outline possible expectations for the assignment. As you can read from their responses, most students were right on. They talked about the quality of the acting, camera angles, the lines are loud and clear, and so on... 

Some even commented that they should be mindful of how they translate the original into a modern setting in order to preserve the essence of the scene:

I then shared with them the rubric that my students from last semester had developed based on the same guiding questions. It was one of those "a ha" teaching and learning moments where the students' opinions were validated. I reminded them that I was not solely evaluating them on the quality of the videography or the editing, because these things are not in the curriculum. In fact only 12 out of a total possible 60 marks were in what we called the "support"  category.  

Email me (coolpoolteacher at and I'll send you a pdf or Word version for you to edit and use at your leisure. 

Total introduction time was about 25 minutes. Students got the rest of the 80 minutes to work on translating their assigned scene. All students used Google Docs in their groups to rewrite the scenes. This allowed them to finish it collaboratively at home when time ran out in class 1. 

Classes 2 and 3 were given as filming days. Students got a 10 minute lesson on shot composition and use of the cameras and they were off! We used the Kodak Zi6 with a tripod for each camera. I'm lucky to have many of these at my disposal as part of my multimedia program. I can't stress enough the importance of the tripod here. Whether it's a $20 mini tripod from Walmart or the $100  Velbon D500's that I have, make them mandatory for each movie project you assign because your eyes and your stomach will thank you! Have students film in VGA with the point and shoot video cameras. They won't notice the difference in the end, and your computers don't need the file size that HD footage can bring. Hopefully you can make them available for download on a wiki or other site so students can load them onto their iPods.

Last Thursday and Friday were editing days. about 1/3 of my class had taken my grade 9 multimedia option last semester, so I didn't have to do any instruction on how to edit as there was at least 1 person per group who was comfortable with iMovie. 

I found that half of the groups finished after 4 classes, and so I had a final blog post ready on our class wiki for them to work on to wrap up our unit. We will be sharing and evaluating the movies on Tuesday. Students will be given a group self-evaluation using Google Forms which they will complete as they watch their own movies with the class. Feedback will come from the class and formally from me. 

Stay tuned. I will send home permission slips for parents to sign so I can post the videos on our class wiki. 

How might you incorporate movie making into your teaching?


Monday, May 11, 2009

Video Cameras with Students

Last week my school division hosted a HUGE youth conference in Cold Lake. The theme of the conference was CARE TODAY: IT'S OUR TOMORROW! We had Farley Flex (Canadian Idol judge) as the emcee of the event. In addition to Farley Flex there were speakers like Spencer West, and Craig Kielburger from Free the Children. Theo Tams (Canadian Idol contestant) and local artist who has been very successful in the Canadian music scene Lex Justice were among them many other performers. 

Basically the whole day was a rock concert environment to bring awareness to local and global issues and to encourage our youth to play an active role in trying to make a difference no matter how small. 

I gave my LA 9 class 6 Kodak Zi6 cameras to use for the day to get some of the mayhem from the crowd. You would not believe how much noise 800 grade 9 students can make! (actually you probably can if you're a teacher). I just thought it was a cool way to get an alternate perspective. 

Following the event I asked my students about what they thought was good about the day, what needed to be improved and what they learned. Here is what they blogged. Some posts give an interesting look into the mind of our impressionable grade 9 students. 

I was the 'video guy' along with my high school multimedia crew who shot the event and will be editing our highlight video for our school board. We shot with 2 Canon FS200 SD memory card cameras, which I highly recommend. You get manual exposure and focus plus a mic input all for around 300 bucks Canadian. I got ours from Vistek for 309.99. 

Once we get permission from the artists for our 10 minutes highlight video, I'll post a link to it on Youtube. 

Has anyone else used video cameras? What do you use? What projects have you incorporated them into?


How are teachers assessing with technology?

So it's been 3 weeks since I blogged last. Thanks for sticking with me. Last time I blogged I talked about the Shakespeare podcasts that my students were working on. Overall they were good, and after talking with some colleagues who have been allowing students in their classes to make videos with my class cameras I have learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes technology becomes the driving force and the curricular connection is lost. 

The Shakespeare podcast project was meant to have students learn about Shakespeare's Life and Times, and it did that very well. Students had to use to maintain logs of the websites they gathered information from, and then had to write a script from that research. Students added complimentary pictures and Shakespearean era music to add to the presentation of their enhanced podcasts. I did not however evaluation them based on these items. How the podcast sounds, the fading of the music and the quality of the pictures are not in the curriculum. How the product "engages the audience" is. 

This is were focus on the curriculum outcomes is critical with teachers who incorporate technology into their teaching. Here are the outcomes that I assessed when marking this project (Alberta LA 9 curriculum):

2.3- summarize the content of media texts, and suggest alternative treatments

3.1- select types and sources of information to achieve an effective balance between researched information and own ideas

3.3- use own words to summarize and record information in a variety of forms

3.4- integrate appropriate visual, print and/or media to reinforce overall impression or point of view and engage the audience. 

No where does the curriculum say, "students will using ducking, fading, images timed to the voiceovers, and audio editing through enhanced podcasting to learn about Shakespeare". 

While many teachers get excited and want to incorporate technology because it can create "cool looking products" that look great, its the learning through curricular outcomes that must be a priority. I can only hope that I can help other teachers focus on the outcomes sooner than later, so they don't have to learn the hard way, like I did. The first time I did this project, I was not focused on the outcomes. 

My advice is to ask yourself some questions before embarking on that technology infused assignment:

1. What are the students REALLY learning? Specify the outcomes, and if you can't get your program of studies out! 

2. How is technology INFUSED into the project, and not just a stand alone gimmick. Going to the lab to type out an essay, or do research is not seamlessly infusing technology. 

3. What have others done like this before? Don't reinvent the wheel. Use all of your 2.0 resources to get ideas. Tweet your idea and watch people return great advice! 

Hopefully next time you embark on your next technology infused project you'll have your program of studies out! How do you plan your assignments? 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Podcasts in Language Arts

This week we're starting our Shakespeare Unit for Taming of the Shrew. It's my favourite comedy by Shakespeare, but before technology this unit was quite boring in my Language Arts 9 class. 

Picture the old class: students struggling to decifer the original text, answering mundane questions, and tuning out on a daily basis because this "Shakespeare stuff" was "too hard". Students sat through note-taking in a lecture about the life and language of Shakespeare. Students did a Reader's Theatre in front of the class and that was it. A couple of quizzes and tests later and a final essay and we're done the unit!

Jump to my unit this time with technology infused and we are starting with Shakespeare's Life and Times podcasts. Students are given a topic, and must create a 1 min enhanced podcast with complimentary photos and Elizabethan era music. The podcasts are then posted on the class Shakespeare wiki for download and studying. There will end up being 22 separate podcasts for listening and studying from. I have never done this research style project this way, but so far it's been well received. While researching students were also asked to add to their delicious bookmarks and add our class tag for the unit (LA9Shake). Students are not catching on to Delicious as I would have liked, probably because I don't use it as much as I should. At some point all of the web tools out there reach a saturation point in your life and you're not as open to some things. Delicious is amazing, but I just don't find I have the fortitude to use it. 

Taking information from the podcasts, I will use their research to make quizzes for the unit. Once they are handed in tomorrow I will post them on our class Shakespeare wiki. Students will be responsible to upload more information as the unit progresses.

Technology wins again as students use the web to access  modern language versions beside the original text, which helps with answering their knowledge and comprehension questions. So should students still answer questions? It many cases, yes, but many teachers live by "chapter questions" for learning which I feel can become a crutch, a safety net, and a distraction from deeper themes that can be explored within literature. 

Today we finished the podcasts and watched the first 15 minutes if the 1960's version of Taming of the Shrew. Instead of Twitter we tried Chatzy with a private room and had great success. If I had a choice between Twitter and Chatzy for student backchannel, Chatzy wins hands down. Great control features and the ability to clear the chat room make it an excellent choice for educators. It's immediate and is not plagued by a bloated whale screen! If you're looking for a longer term discussion over a period of classes or really like to have outsiders participate then Twitter is the choice. I noticed today though that students didn't respect each other as much with their comments and tone due to the fact that they knew the chat room was private and password protected. After 5 minutes I stopped the movie, cleared the log and reviewed the backchannel rubric I developed for my Twitter adventure a couple weeks ago. 

With podcasts finished, I'll be using many of the teaching strategies described in Barrie Bennett's book Beyond Monet. In the next few weeks we'll be creating online mind-maps and concept maps, studying original source documents to learn about attitudes towards women in 16th Century vs. the 21st Century, and using our Kodak Zi6 cameras to record, edit and post modern interpretations of selected scenes in iMovie. 

I'm also contemplating the idea of students doing an audio essay instead of a traditional hand written essay. Has anyone done this before? Ideas on how to approach/plan it? How have you used podcasting in your teaching?

Stay tuned! 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Twitter in the Classroom Part 2

So here's the real deal on using Twitter for a backchannel in the classroom. It was a very rewarding experience that overall students responded positively to. Read my previous post to see the marking rubric I developed for the activity and how I introduced Twitter to my class. 

Some things that didn't go very smoothly.

1. Twitter was having major pains while we were trying to tweet! I don't know why this was the case, but I've never seen the bloated Twitter whale so much! Some students' accounts were so slow that they were only able to tweet a few times in the 80 minute class. Consider using Chatzy or some other chat provider that you can control.

2. We started to trend on Twitter, but then we got outside spam for all sorts of things. This could be a privacy issue with your students. IF you have educated your class about their account settings in Twitter and teach them how to block unwanted followers you should have no problem. The cool things about trending was the exposure and the conversations that it lead to.

3. Watching a movie and tweeting at the same time is too much for some students. This was a common feedback item from the activity. (3 out of 22 said this).

Other things were awesome about using Twitter for a backchannel discussion:

1.  The majority of students were highly engaged in the task at hand. The side conversations were almost nil, and as part of the assignment they had 3 windows open on our iMacs. One was the rubric, plus their twitter account and a window with the search for our class tag, #nicholLA9. They were busy and HAD to be engaged. Take a minute and check out our tweets.

2. Students had a voice. So much of our work this year with blog writing and using web 2.0 is increasing the students' role in learning. By asking them to be partners in education with me and being willing to be guinea pigs to try these tools out, they have really bought into and have taken more responsibility for their own learning. Backchannel is another tool in the technology toolkit that teachers should definitely look into.

3. Friendly peer pressure and positive reinforcement reaped high rewards in terms of participation. I retweeted (RT for those of you who aren't Twits yet) many students' questions that were ones that were more in depth. I also praised the first student who included a quality link to reinforce his tweet, which encouraged others to follow suit. A nice by-product of this was that they wanted to know how to shorten their web links, which became a teachable moment about and!

4. Social connections to the outside world. I was hoping there would be more interactions with my students' discussions as we went live. Unfortunately my own Twittersphere is not very large, and most of my followers are teachers so they were probably teaching while we tweeted. Consequently there weren't many outsiders that tweeted with us. Then came @anniemalia. Her comments created the most discussion and buzz in our class and really demonstrated the social power of Twitter. This would NOT have happened if we were in a private chat room. Her question was the perfect compliment to wrap up our discussion.  
5. Feedback Galore! Using this online self-assessment in Google Forms, I included an opportunity for the students to tell me what they really thought about this. Very encouraging indeed. Do not forget when using technology in the classroom to ask for your students' opinions. They are brutally honest and this is very helpful.

6. Accountability and responsibility.  Discussing the rubric and impressing upon them that the whole world could see what they were tweeting was a motivator for many students. Very often students think that as soon as the lights go out they get to turn off. Teachers have tried worksheets, questions, fill-in-the-blank pages, quizzes and many other mundane methods to make students pay attention. I haven't been teaching for very long (8 years) and this was the best experience I've had with showing a movie in class. 

So there you have it. The real deal on Twitter in the classroom. Based on feedback I will try another chat provider for the backchannel next time. Twitter did present some problems but it was overall a worthwhile experience. 

Where could you use backchannel in your classroom? Would you use Twitter?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Using Twitter in Language Arts Part 1

A quick post today about the Twitter experiment I performed in my Language Arts 9 class. Following what many are doing at conferences, I introduced a tag in Twitter for my students to use while tweeting about the movie Into the Wild. 

Introducing Twitter to Students

None of my students had Twitter account, nor did any of their parents. So, I started with introducing them to Twitter in general with a Commoncraft video, and explained how we can use tweets in many different ways. Showing them my own Twitter account I had them see the difference between a personal/social and a professional/educational tweet. 

We then look at a quick rubric I developed. The rubric included the following 4 criteria:

1.  Responding to 'teacher tweets', questions and topics I give them and they need to respond to.

2. Student initiated topics that encourage discussions.

3. Student responses to topics/discussions started by their peers.

4. Respect for their peers and the online community.

Note About the Rubric
After a short meeting with our Technology Integrator Terry Kaminksi, he came up with the idea for the "Respect for classmates and online community" portion of the rubric. I am still working on connecting the wording in the rubric to the students in a meaningful manner, and this is what we came up with. I explained to the class that they need to be thinking of their Tweets in terms of a conversation with various groups  that they might encounter during the day, and how much 'off topic' talk there might be in each situation. 

4/4- a conversation with adults that would make your parents proud.

3/4- a discussion in class with teachers and peers with the occasional off topic comments.

2/4- a discussion during a student led project that goes off topic quite easily.

1/4- a discussion among friends in the hallway that is often off topic and is sometimes not appropriate.

Introducing Twitter Took Time
This pre-movie introduction of the concept of Twitter, showing the difference between a personal/social and professional Tweet, and the explanation of the rubric took about 40 minutes of our 84 min period. It proved to be very helpful and the vast majority of Tweets were on topic while watching the movie.

But then Twitter threw us a curveball...

Twitter was extremely slow while the internet raced right past it. I suggest you don't try this on a Friday afternoon when everyone and their dog is trying to waste time Tweeting what their plans are for the night instead of working. We kept getting the Twitter whale message that the service was overloaded. Tweets were taking several minutes to show up in our search. Check out our tag search here and see what we did with the first few minutes of the movie. 

Will We Tweet Again?
The short answer is YES! We will try again on Monday afternoon with the rest of Into the Wild. I will definitely use Twitter again in the class for discussions, watching films and if was lecturing (which rarely happens, but I can see it's application). The slow afternoon of Tweeting will not deter me from seeing Twitter as a great educational tool with many applications. How could you use Twitter in your class? Will you give it a try? 

Participate in the Discussion
Remember to follow our tag starting at about 12:30pm mountain time on Monday, April 6th. Feel free to tweet in about the movie or book and answer or ask questions of my students! I'll drop a few lines to summarize the experience after tomorrow's class!


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Assessment of Blogging In the Classroom

A few months ago if someone had asked be about evaluation of blog writing in my classroom, I would have given them the same look that my son did this afternoon.

It's my son at our latest outing to a 3D movie, but that's exactly the deer-caught-in-the-headlights kind of look that I might have given. Blogging in the classroom is one thing, but blogging with a purpose was something quite alien to me. Not to say that there wasn't a purpose, but I was using blogging solely as discussion starters and getting through writers block with my grade 9's. This was working very well, but as I got a new set of students in semester 2, I wanted to take our blogging to the next level. 

Thanks to my growing PLN I have worked to develop the first of 3 types of blog posts based on the grade 9 Alberta Language Arts curriculum (this link opens a PDF document). 

 A special thanks must be given to Neil Stephenson for his revisions and especially Deana Senn for her time, patience and guidance with this!

The first type of blog post that I created is called a "Discovery Blog". I pose an issue based question that students must take a side on and then must investigate further. After introducing the rubric (linked below) I realized that I was going to have to get them to practice this type of writing to gather exemplars, because I had none. We looked at several blogs (from many of you out there) and talked about the formats, and how most blogs include links to supporting sites and details. They then wrote about the journey of Chris McCandless, and I asked students if they thought that the publicity in print and on the silver screen would bring about copycats. This was their practice blog. At the end of the week they responded to the question of whether or not Chris McCandless cheated his family and friends by leaving it all behind, which I am going to evaluate this weekend. 

The Discovery Blog has 3 main components that are evaluated:

1. Defending and supporting your own opinion (with links to relevant articles, 
posts, etc. on the web)

2. Acknowledgment of the opposing viewpoint and identifying possible support details. 

3. Reaching a personal conclusion/reflection as to whether or not your opinion has changed after looking at both sides of the issue.

Here are the guiding statements that accompany the rubric:

Justification your opinion/point of view 

- Support with examples from personal experiences and the experiences of others.  

- Keywords are linked to sources that support your opinion on the issue. 

Shows consideration of other points of view 

- Examine the issue from an opposing point of view, what are the pros to their arguments? 

- Ask yourself, how do others' opinions affect your point of view? 

- Explore the differences in your opinions further. Where can you get more information on the issue/topic?

- What do you now know that you didn't before you started the process? 

- Provide evidence of your consideration and link to it in your blog post. 

Shows deeper understanding (reflection) of the issue and draws conclusions

- After considering the sources and listening to others, how do you see this issue?  

- Do you see it in another way? How has listening to others and considering other sources affected your view 

on this issue? Why did it change/not change your mind? 

- Communicate your understanding of the topic by responding to other's blogs.

The rubric for evaluation is as follows (email me: - and I will send you a word document so you can amend it as you please):

The students used this to practice with the first topic of publicity causing copycats. I used this first submission from their writing as exemplars. Here are two samples of their writing of varying levels. Take a moment or two and click on the large size to really read their writing. 

So, it's off to develop blog assessment #2 and #3. I'll finish them up in the week ahead to share with you, and I'll post some exemplars from the final drafts of my students writing for the Discovery Blog. PLEASE comment on what I have developed and make suggestions via email or on this blog. If you would like I can also "share" the original Google Document with you for even easier editing!

Hopefully you can now take a look at how you are using blogging in your classroom. With some work you can help take something that is still "Alien" to your students and wake them up from what can become a writing slumber.

(the popcorn and movie in 3D meant a much needed nap on the ride home from the theatre!) 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Could you take a break from technology?

I had posted on Facebook and Twitter that I was going to take 48 hours off from technology (that related to teaching and learning, that is). Now, 2 days later, I'm catching up on reading all of your blog posts, links and tweets! 

Admittedly I am addicted to technology. But what I think I'm really addicted to is the connectedness to other like minded people that technology has afforded me. However not checking email or my Google Reader or Twitter or adding to my Delicious account or Facebook.... was enjoyable for the weekend. My wife certainly like the idea. She even tempted me a few times by checking her blog roll with my iPod Touch that I had handed over to her! Now, thanks to advice from Terry Kaminksi and my wife, I'm putting the laptop and iPod touch away by 9pm to give my brain a break. 

This year has been a blur with new connections and learning for me and my students. I must say it was nice to take a break for a short amount of time (even though it was a weekend during our Spring Break). It's no wonder why many hotels are now offering technology packages where they take your Blackberry and laptop away for a period of time. I recommend that every teacher who uses technology as much as I do take some time off to refocus and then come back with a fresh perspective on teaching and learning.

Could you take a tech time out? Let me know if you are considering it or have done it!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Google Maps in the Classroom

I've now created my first Custom Google map! I know this isn't new, but it's pretty awesome! Our class has just read the first chapter of Jack London's famous tale The Call of the Wild, and John Krakauer's tragic tale of Chris McCandless who goes Into the Wild. Using the easy interface of Google maps I added the approximate location of the farm where Buck the dog lived in the Santa Clara Valley. Next, as Chris McCandless' journey was described, I put 3 more locations on the map in Alaska on the Stampede Trail, the Teklanika River, and the exact location of the famous bus where he perished. Here is the map.

There was already a link on Google Maps to several pictures of the Fairbanks bus-turned-outdoor-shelter, so I added the link to my 'pin' on the map. Embedding the map was easy, and within a few minutes while students read their novels, I had the map on our class wiki. Students then listened to the audiobook of Into the Wild and they used the map to zoom in on the harsh wilderness that Chris travelled through, observing photos of the bus and its surroundings.

That's when the REAL in REALity set in for the students. Many of them hadn't connected that the story of Alexander Supertramp was real, and it really hit home while looking at the photos at the same time as listening to the novel being read. Their faces said it all, and I knew I had them hooked. 

I gave them a link on the wiki to our class blog and asked them to read a blog post of a group of guys who spent the night in the famous bus. Using, I then asked them to tell me if they would spend a night in the bus, and again I embedded the results on our class wiki which updated live as each student voted. So far, only 25% of my class said they would spend the night for various reasons. The @ replies on this issue were also very interesting as I challenged each student to acknowledge one post of a peer whose opinion was different that their own. 

Tonight I rediscovered, and thanks to Mr. Thomas Cooper's students at the Walker School in Georgia, I was able to download and amend my custom Google map that they have completed of the travels of Chris McCandless. Anyone interested in creating a Google map for a novel study, for a history related unit, or for a virtual field trip, I highly recommend you use this tool. You can drop pins, customize the look of the map, add photos, links and so much more. 

Also, look around the web and install a KML file that someone else has created and import it into your map. You may not have to reinvent the wheel. I will share my custom map when it's done for The Call of the Wild for others to use. 

What would you do? Would you spend a night in the bus? Visitors please use the window below to vote. I will share the results with my students, by embedding the results on our class wiki. Thanks for your participation!
Create your own sms poll at Poll Everywhere

Happy mapping!