Monthly Archives: November 2009

Why Teachers Should Display Their Degrees

diplomaI’m sure some people will dislike this post, although I am not sure why. Have you ever been in a doctor’s office? Well, if you haven’t then knock on wood and let me tell you why I ask. Whenever I go into a doctor’s office, or sit in a waiting room for what seems like an obscene amount of time I frequently gaze around the room and see degrees in ornate frames perched lovingly on the soft colored walls. Not only do I see degrees, but also awards or memberships to organizations. I have also (cough cough) heard that you can see the same thing in a lawyer’s office, I know that I have seen them displayed in the offices of my university professors. But walk around your school, go into the classrooms, how many of your colleagues are displaying these things? Are you? Why?

I asked myself this same question, and I asked it of the teachers in my building. Some of the teachers honestly hadn’t given it much consideration. Some (first year teachers) were frankly too busy to worry about it. But many felt that the reason these things are not displayed in classrooms has something to do with self-aggrandizement or promotion. This last sentiment is one that is emblematic of a larger problem that exists in public education, and that is the union mentality of not wanting to stand out or apart from the collective, but that is a post for another day.

I say hang up your degrees, hang up your awards, heck hang up your high school diploma for crying out loud. You worked hard to get those pieces of paper and what they represent. They will also engender questions from your students like: “Oh, you went to *fill in university*, what was that like?” or “What did you study?” Hanging up your degrees and awards does not make you arrogant, any more than any other highly trained professional who displays theirs is arrogant.

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My Failed GTA Application Video

I worked so hard on this video that I had to share it, maybe next year right?

GoAnimate.com: GTA Application by MrRog
http://goanimate.com//api/animation/player
Like it? Create your own at GoAnimate.com. It’s free and fun!

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How to Have a Nearly Synchronous Discussion With Your WP Blog

I have discovered some neat ways to use a blog in a classroom and I thought I would share them with you here. Using a few plugins you can facilitate a pretty engaging online conversation with your students while still maintaining a reasonable level of security. I use this technique to discuss literature that I assign to students, but I could be applied to any topic.

Step 1: Technical Preparation

You will need to have a computer for every student as well as one for yourself, you can either use a 1 to 1 laptop set up or a traditional computer lab.

You will need to have a WordPress self-hosted blog set up (I suppose you could use WordPress.com or another blogging platform, but my experience is with WP). Once your blog is up and running install the following plugins (for instructions on installing plugins click here).

  • Admin Management Xtended – this plugin allows you to quickly edit, approve, delete or reply to comments in-line without a page refresh which is essential for moving quickly.
  • WP Comment Remix – this plugin adds some useful functionality to comments including a quote button and a link to all comments that you haven’t yet replied to.
  • ReloadEvery Plugin for Firefox – this plugin for Firefox will make a page reload at a certain interval that you set.

The following plugins are nice but not essential.

  • Minimum Comment Length – this plugin does what it says, allowing you to set a minimum character length for comments.
  • GD Star Rating – a pretty comprehensive set of rating tools. Lets users give star or thumb ratings to nearly every aspect of the blog including posts and comments. Great for enhancing interactivity.

Step 2: Content Preparation

Assign a reading to your students in advance. It can be anything and in an format. Be sure to tell your students that they will be expected to answer questions on the reading in the future. Next before you begin the activity write at least three new posts containing questions about the reading. The more open ended you leave the questions, the more discussion you will generate.

Step 3: Running the Conversation

Open the comments administration page of your blog, you should see a vertical list of all of your comments here. Right click on the page and set the ReloadEvery time (see video). I like to set it at 1 minute because I am kind of a slow typist and if the page reloads while you are responding to a comment you will lose it, but if you are a faster typist set it at 30 seconds.

Now simply moderate and respond to the comments as they come in.

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Google Wave is Only Underwhelming Because We Are Educators

google_wave_logo_finalSo after begging and pleading with my PLN on Twitter and submitting no less than five beta requests to Google (including one telling them that I would name my next child Google I was finally granted an invitation to the exclusive test. My first reaction to using the Wave was that the UI was not like anything I had seen, but after using it for a few days I quickly got over that. My next reaction was “what’s the big deal”, which was a sentiment shared by many members of the PLN. At first Google Wave just seemed like a chat client that might be a little novel because you could see what the other participants were saying while they were saying it (a feature slightly embarrassing to those of us who are less than stellar typists). Then, ok you could share files, or images or videos and all the while we were saying…”but I could do all of this before.”

As educators we pride ourselves on making it work. If a piece of technology doesn’t work like we thought it would during a lesson we immediately switch to a back-up plan on the fly and keep going. And that is what all of us have been doing with Web 2.0 tools. If one tool doesn’t work exactly like we want it to or is missing something we need, we make it work, finding another tool to fill in the gaps. After that we go through the often painstaking process of tying it all together with hyperlinks, email, presentation tools, wikis and whatever else we need.

After using Google Wave for a week, I see what Google is trying to do. Think of this scenario you and three of your classmates are working on a presentation for your class, before you would have to either be in the same room or email various copies of the presentation back and forth to each other. Because we are educators, we all have made that scenario work with conference calls, instant messenger, ftp sites, and very carefully worded file names. Now think of this scenario with Wave, when it is up to its non-beta full-strength version. Google will allow all of its products to function in-line in the wave. You will use Google Docs to create the presentation in real time with your partners in the wave, while using voice or even the just announced video feature of Google Talk. One of the group members is using the search features already available in Wave to find images, while another is creating a spreadsheet for the presentation all on the same wave.

I hate to toot Google’s horn too loudly here, but I think this is a sea change in terms of collaborative work flow, it just isn’t immediately easy to see because we are educators and we have always just made it work.

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Podcasting Test

[podcast format=”video”]http://www.edtechswami.com/wp-content/uploads/RomJulAct1Scene1.m4a[/podcast]

I am testing a podcasting plugin – let’s see how it works.

Incidentally, I made this podcast a few years ago. It is the beginning of Romeo & Juliet, all of the voices in it are mine altered with Garageband. The reason it launches in a video player is that I intended to add still images to it eventually but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

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How to Set Up a Classroom Site With WordPress

I am surely opening myself up to ridicule a little for this one, but I have recently had a few people ask me how I created my classroom site. My school purchased a web hosting package from SchoolCenter which is a web-based design software that I hate. It quickly became inadequate for my needs and is becoming inadequate for my colleagues. WordPress to the rescue. I won’t waste time here espousing the greatness of the platform, just know that it is great.

Note: This article is intended for a self-hosted WordPress installation and takes for granted that you already have a web-host and have installed WordPress. If you haven’t, look here.

1. Theme

When setting up a WordPress installation for a classroom website you will be using what is primarily a blogging software as a Content Management System (CMS). Although this is not the platform’s primary purpose it does an excellent job thanks to the amazing community behind it. To that end you need to be careful when selecting a theme for your CMS. I recommend you select a theme that is simple and easy to customize. I use a theme called Atahualpa, which has the most sophisticated customization options of any WordPress theme I have ever seen (and I have been through a lot of themes). This theme will allow you to use 1-3 columns in any page configuration you wish. It also has a built in CSS menu bar and SEO options.

2. Essential Plugins

I employ many plugins for aesthetics and for ease of use on the back-end of the installation, but these are the plugins that I feel are essential for a classroom website.

Contact Form 7. Of course we need a way for parents and students to get in touch with us.You could add a mailto link to your site, but that would launch another program. The more elegant solution is a contact form. Simply put, Contact Form 7 is the most customizable and user friendly contact form plugin there is.

NextGEN Gallery. The most feature rich way to manage all of the images on your site. Set up a slide show, sort by tags, interact with Cooliris, this plugin does it all.

WordPress Download Monitor. You need to have a way to make resources available to your students and to parents. WordPress Download Monitor is the easiest way that I have found to do this. This plugin has an interface that will upload and tag your files for you. It will also count the number of times your file has been downloaded. If you need to have protected files that only registered users can have access to you can set that up with this plugin as well.

WP Events Calendar. The built in calendar widget for WordPress will only post information about your blog articles, not so handy for things like test dates or conferences. WP Events Calendar will let you place any information on the calendar that you want and will also allow you to make a separate calendar page, which is handy for parents and students.

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