This is my first post regarding the Connectivism and Connected Learning  (CCK) course.  The course is a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) facilitated by the Connectivist gurus Stephen Downes (@Downes) and George Siemens (@gsiemes).  It’s like learning about Math from Euler or Fermat.  You can find out more about the course if you want to jump in to the course, find out more about Connectivism, or what a MOOC is at

If you are reading this and you have never heard of Connectivism, please read about it first.

As I write this, I have just finished participating in my first live web session for CCK12.  I found the meeting helpful.  I have taken an online course before (but not a MOOC) and I think the meeting is useful to feel connected (see what I did there) to the course, its participants, and the facilitators.  It was also a chance to hear a bit of a different take on some of the explanations of Connectivism.  This was helpful since this week I have been reading a lot of posts, research, and opinions on Connenctivism, and to be honest it was a bit overwhelming.  This is not for a lack of explanation, but in my mind, the complexity of the topic.  If you combine that with a rusty knowledge and vocabulary of learning theories, you create your own tidal wave of reading and information.

One of the things in my own personal and professional development that has been great, is that just before Christmas I began reading The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nussbaul-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall.  I plan on writing a full review when I finish, but in the meantime, I can say that the the book is excellent.  Why I bring this up, is that the practices of teacher professional development (PD) explained in The Connected Educator flows nicely with a Connectivist view of learning.  I thought about writing that the CCK12 course and getting the book was serendipitous, but that is inaccurate.  These aren’t two events that happened both by chance.  By following along with the activities and suggestions in the book, I discovered the CCK12 course offering.  The book helps teachers to set up an network (infrastructure) of their own professional learning.  In a short time my own Personal Learning Network has expanded greatly, and its usefulness has increased exponentially.  Or perhaps more pragmatically, I can say that a PLN has become more than a education buzzword.  Having (started to have) read the book, it has given me a bit of grounding in reality in terms of what Connectivism is, as well as what it looks like, and how it is experienced.

My own experience with becoming more connected, and using that connectedness to drive my learning (or perhaps the lens from which to view), has been powerfully useful.  The understanding has been created within the network has already been more practically useful for my teaching practice than so many traditional professional development activities.  One of the things that Stephen brought up in the web meeting (that I will paraphrase) is that the learning: “Is not a magnification of the individuals knowledge.  It was created as though it is a crystallization of the group.  Not as if,  where adding more carbon makes it more carbon-y, but rather it crystallizes into something new.”

One thing that I look forward to is seeing how a deeper understanding of Connectivism can change my teaching practises.  It has certainly already changed my view of my own learning.  But that is quite different from shaping my teaching directly.  So my learning has been shaped by focusing on a connected development network by bringing in the collective experience of other educators, researchers, authors and experts. And my learning has begun to shape my teaching.   But that is my learning.  My learning is inherently self directed.  My student’s is not.  They have certain concepts that they have to learn under our current system.  If a student isn’t drawn to learning about Algebra, we can’t learn about butterflies.

Are IWBs Worth It?

Posted: March 31, 2009 in pedagogy, technology

Whether it’s a SMART, Prometheum, 3M, or any other, is an interactive white board (IWB) worth the great expense to your school?


Oh I wish it was that simple.  I am going to preface this article by divulging that I have a SMART Symposium in my classroom.  I also currently teach in a lab with a 1:1 student computer ratio.  But I have taught grade 9 math in a room with the standard SMART Board setup.

I find IWBs scary.  Not scary to use.  I am a huge gadget fan and I love new technology, and I am pretty adept at picking it up.  What scares me is when I hear phrases similar to “I don’t know how I could go back to teaching without a SMART board.”  I hope these people don’t actually think that.  I hope this is a case of people drinking the IWB Kool-Aid.  Some people are so caught up in the hype that they think their usefulness is beyond reproach.  But why shouldn’t they think this?  After all, when they changed the marker to blue the children’s eyes got brighter.  The teacher uses the screen shade and their pupils dilated; the spotlight tool had them drooling.  One kid passed out when the new magic wand pen was used to zoom in.

Sure student engagement is necessary for learning.  But what are you engaging them with?  If I juggle periodically in class, certainly that would grab their attention as well as a happy face pen.  Some will argue that the tools in the SMART software package are indispensable.  I am a little more accepting of that one.  I really like being able to use the clone tool I have used it in a variety of ways.  But many others, like the screen shade, are just repackaged legacy techniques, like placing a piece of paper on the overhead projector.  Either way, the software can be useful – even without the physical board.

In many cases it is the projector that is providing the magic.  It is what allows us to show videos, flash files, images and more.  The only thing I need to get up there fo,r is to get in the way and cast a shadow.  Using a board solidifies the teacher’s place at the front of the room.  My real fear is that for many teachers an IWB becomes a crutch.  It made walking easier, but now they can’t leave it to find new ways to run.  way I have seen (or viewed in a video) most teachers keep their “sage on the stage” delivery.  The dazzle of the IWB is what may keep students focused.  It seemed educators were really getting the message out to try and get away from the teacher at the front delivery model.  And as we started to move away, even just occasionally, we were shackled back in place by a shiny interactive ball and chain.

Offended yet?  Well if you are, perhaps theme truth there.  Are you still challenging yourself to be a better teacher?  And I mean better teacher, not put together an even more polished looking Notebook file.  A technology shift does not equate into a pedagogy shift.  It may lead to one, but only maybe.

What would I spend my money on?  Well, I have this pretty great piece of technology.  They are small enough to go on desks, but large enough for students to collaborate on.  So I can have a small group of students creating, editing, refining and more.  Unlike a IWB this tool is infinitely multi-touch, so there is almost no limit to how many students can use the device at once.  And I was able to get a class set for a fraction of the cost of a SMART Board.  I of course am referring to pieces of regular whiteboard I bought at Home Depot.  Oh, and markers I bought at Staples.  I certainly did not invent this method, and I wish I could remember how I learned it from so I could give them credit.

My over-arching message is the following: Let’s look for what we want to achieve, then find the tools for the job.  Or, figure out where we ant to go, then decide upon the vehicle.  And finally teaching is a tough gig.  Even if you have the best students, it is tough because you always have to ask yourself how you can improve.  If we expect our students to question and improve themselves, then we should do the same.  Happy questioning

In case you aren’t aware, Google offers schools free access to its Google Apps Suite.  This means your students could have access to Google Mail, Calendar, Chat, and Sites.  Well, they always could, but now it could be part of a domain you control.  For example, if you manage a domain for your school called, students could have email addresses like “” or “mr.smith@jameswoodshigh.”  The back end of the services run on Google’s servers.  I think this could add some streamlined collaboration between students if implemented and directed properly.


  1. Easy to manage
  2. Gives great collaboration tools
  3. Ability to control addresses.  Only an administrator can create an address
  4. Ability to allow only “” addresses to be received by other “” addresses
  5. Keeps information private, there are nor worries of students accidentally sharing their calendar
  6. Helps prevent cyber-bullying from anonymous addresses


  1. Board policy – As far as I can tell, my board states something along the lines that any information saved on, or sent from a board computer is owned by them.  As far as I can tell at my board there is no official policy against this
  2. Maintenance – while IT maintenance is limited because Google takes care of the work, someone still needs to be in charge of creating addresses and groups, and other minor maintenance

Your thoughts?  Please comment! I would appreciate some fresh perspective on this idea as I am thinking of taking it out for a test drive.  Maybe creating an address for each of the students in my class, or just for some students involved in collaborative extra-curricula rs like yearbook, newspaper, student council, etc.  I’ve already heard some mixed opinions from some colleagues.

Reducing Student Stress

Posted: December 6, 2008 in Quick Tips
Tags: ,

No two ways about it, students are stressed.  Students experience stress for different reasons, and they handle that stress in different ways.  Your highly academic students may be stressed as they are desperate for an A, or for the highest grade in the class.  Your struggling students may be stressed as they try just to pass your course.  Of course all your students have to deal with stress from their home life, and the stresses associated with trying to fit in with peers.

All students have stress in some way.  As teachers, we should help teach students effective ways to manage stress.  We have (hopefully) learned some strategies over time, but are students are still learning to adapt.  I think teaching students stress management is a part of developing students.  The following are some strategies you may think about sharing with your students.

Time management

Manage time wisely by setting up a schedule on a daily or weekly basis. This will allow you to plan your studying ahead, remember an upcoming test or paper submission, and allocate time to study for it. Keeping up with a plan can greatly help by breaking up your school work into smaller chunks.  Keep in mind any extra curricular activities or sports that may also take up your time.

Get better organized

Always organize your notes, keep track of assignments and file papers that you need for reference. This will help you remember deadlines and test dates. Moreover, a well organized system allows you to quickly find the resources that you need.  Keep an agenda.  Some students think it’s uncoolto use an agenda, or they think they can remember everything without one.  But teachers, lawyers, doctors, contractors and plenty of really really smart people use agendas.  Between classes, clubs, sports, an after school job, you have a lot to keep track of.  Write them down.

Find a good study environment

For quality studying, ensure you do your study in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed or distracted. Using aromatic scents, putting on classical or meditative music can soothe your senses and may enhance your concentration.  Studies suggest that Baroque music at around 60 beats per minute helps people think.  It causes your brain to produce alpha waves that help keep you calm, allowing you to stay focused.  Baroque music is best, so put back that Beethoven, and get out the Vivaldi.

Know your learning style

All of us learn differently and may do better using one style than the other. Try out different methods and adopt the one that you are most comfortable with.


  • Visual learners tend to prefer using diagrams such as mindmaps, charts or illustrations. Learn to doodle, draw and add color to your visual diagrams.
  • If you are more of a listener, an auditory learner, then you might like to do recordings of yourself going over the notes or tape down the lectures. Transfer and organize the recording clips on your computer so that you can quickly review them when necessary.
  • You may be a kinesthetic learner who remembers information better by role-playing. You can study with a close buddy or play the different roles yourself.

There are plenty of online quizzes to determine your learning styles, take a couple – you might be surprised as the results.

Get enough rest

During exams period or crunch time before submitting an assignment, many of us cannot find time to rest enough. Not only will this impact your ability to learn and remember, your energy level will be a notch down and unable to focus. Learning to take 15 minutes power naps can help to give you that boost during the day, but a few hours of quality sleep at night is necessary too.

Learn stress management techniques

Using some of the simple techniques, such as visualization and deep breathing, will help to calm your nerves before an exam. Using them as and when you feel the pressure, even in your daily routines, can reduce the chance of developing chronic stress.

Studying for good grades is important for a student. There are ways to keep you focused and get the quality study you need. You can manage your time by having a plan and breaking your study down into chunks. Being organized and having a good study environment allows you to find resources more efficiently, as well as being able to concentrate better. Find out if you are a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner for a more effective learning experience. But for all these to be effective, you need to have enough rest and applying stress management techniques to prevent any chronic stress. There is a lot on the plate for a student to manage. However, do remember, it’s not how much you study but how well you do that counts. Study smart, not hard.

Thanks to BenSanders and Ezine Articles for original article.

The Silence of Thought

Posted: November 24, 2008 in personal

At the 2008 ECOO Conference I had the pleasure of attending a performance by Talyor Mali.  Taylor is a teacher and poetry slam artist.  He had some inspiring and hilarious spoken word poems to share.  His spoken word performance means that his poems were written to be heard as a performance rather than be read on a page.  His performance was great and inspired me to have my own “spoken word” moment in my grade 9 math class.  Although it has nowhere near the eloquence of Taylor’s work, I’d just like to share this.  At the time, the students were working silently on problems involving opposite angles.

“Synapses at the end of neurons.  Trillions of synapses connecting neurons in your brain, give rise to your thoughts, your calculations, and your dreams.  And these tiny branches work to help send tiny electrical signals across your brain to allow you to think.  And when you work wondrously silent, amongst the sound of pencils scrawling across paper, I hear the dull roar of trillions of synapses firing across the classroom.  Like the dull roar of the ocean, it may only be barely audible, but it fills my soul with joy.”

Naturally this gave rise to some odd stares and smiles.  Apparently I wasn’t done, as later when discussing their homework, I emphasized opposite angles.

“Yes I suppose it is odd that they are called opposite angles – considering they have equal values.  Usually things that are opposite are not the same.  Maybe whoever came up with the name was thinking of ways to confuse 14 year old math students.  Or perhaps it was because the angles are formed by intersecting lines; and the left hand side of one angle, becomes the right hand side of the other.  They are mirror images of the other.  You know, when you raise your right hand in the mirror your reflection raises its left hand.  So if you’ve ever had the dreamlike I have,  where your reflection comes to life – if you are right handed, your reflection would be left handed.”  This gets some puzzled looks and giggles about my ‘reflection’ dream.  I can’t resist the opportunity to continue.  “And naturally you have to fight your reflection to the death.  So if you ever come to class and notice I am left handed – it means that I have lost.”

Teacher Tools, So What?

Posted: November 14, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

I will later be posting a slightly edited version of a presentation I gave at the 2008 ECOO conference.  The topic was on Journalism and New Media for students.  Throughout I referred to podcasts, blogs, wikis, etc.  And while these tools can be great, we must remember one of the newer catch phrases uttered in the halls of workshops, conferences, and professional development sessions – “They are only tools.”

I do not think that adequately captures my sentiments about these technologies in the hands of eager teachers; born into the the world of web 2.0 and like the foal, struggles to walk too quickly.  I get excited speaking to teachers that are learning about ways they can improve their practice and getting excited about it.  There are too many teachers (isn’t one too many) rigid in their practice, unwilling to change or grow.  But what I like to tell them is that yes technology is a tool.  But the dilemma is, what should you be asking yourself, “What a great tool!  Now I have to figure out how to build something.  But what to build?”

I visualize someone waking up in the 18th century divinely inspired, and creates a toaster.  Radiant in its stainless steel glory, its shine only dulled by the radiance of his beaming smile, he shows his friend.  They are equally amazed, after all it is new and has that cosmopolitan name “toaster.”  Of course, no one knows what to do with it.  Perhaps we should be asking “What do I want to build?”  Let’s ask this question before we go rooting through the toolbox looking for a new gadget.

I am not saying not to stock up on tools.  By all means.  Save links people send you, keep informed about new technologies, listen to colleagues.  But then think about current problems you have, and then look at the tools at your disposal.  Or let the knowledge of the tools you have percolate in your brain for just a little bit.  If you first don’t ask yourself “What do I want to build today?” you are walking around the house with a new hammer – looking for something to fix.  And while you may indeed fix something broken, you may end up with a house full of holes in the walls.

Be problem centered.  This means looking at a pathway of Problem -> Tool -> Implementation -> Solution.  Do you think your students need to learn how to collaborate?  Or you know students may have a hard time physically getting together to work on a group project? Then consider introducing them to a wiki.  This, after all is what we often try and teach our students: How to look at a problem and then find a solution.  Because if you develop a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist – is it still a solution?

Many teachers of an older generation are not really familiar with blogs.  I think it is important not only for teachers to be familiar with blogs, but also to understand what their significance is in the lives of their students.  Now, not all your students will be reading blogs regulary, they will probably fall into (one or more of) the following categories:

  • Has blogs he reads regularly and leaves comments
  • Has her own blog
  • Reads blogs only as he is sent links to entertaining posts
  • Visits blogs – but doesn’t even know what a blog is because she just sees them as websites like any other

Let me clarify the last point.  I was discussing blogging with my students and I was surprised how many appeared to be confused about what a blog is.  That was until we visited a few.  I soon realized that they had seen blogs, after all “Web Logs” are about a decade old.  Blogs are so pervasive on the web now they don’t remember a time when most websites didn’t have a blog component.  Which leads me to my first main point…

1.  Blogs Are Already Ubiquitous With a Student’s Online Experience

With 77% of active Internet users reading blogs (Technorati) your students are reading them.  But do your students realize the difference between a blog and a website like  There are differences (more on that later) that your students need to be aware of.  There is the issue of credibility, bias, and fact checking which can be questionable with blogs to say the least.  It is increasingly important for students to be cognizant of the source and credibility of online material.  To do this, students have to be able to understand what a blog is and how to recognize one.  Then teachers can help teach them how to analyze the credibility of a source.  Determining a blog’s credibility, however, is also becoming increasingly difficult.  For example:  If a Physics professor from a University posts to a personal blog, how does this compare to an article in The New York Times?  This can be somewhat addressed with point two.

2.  Blogs Are Fundamental Shifts in Communication

You may or may not be familiar with most of the different types of online communication.  There are so many different sites and services that allow different ways to communicate.  At the bare minimum, your students will be familiar with email, instant messaging, websites and social networking.  As experts in social networking (Facebook), your students are already familiar with communicating online in an way alternative to reading a webpage.  This is the jumping off point for having your students realize how blogs are different.  Blogs can have s sense of immediacy.  They can be updated quickly, even from a mobile phone.  There are many differences, but I feel the biggest is that a blog is more than a dispensing of information.  It is a conversation.  Active blogs with active readers create something very interesting.  When readers comment, the experience becomes interactive; there is a give and take as the person is transformed from reader to participant.  For your students, this means that they can contribute, and their input is just as valid as anyone else’s.  But unlike a conversation (or group discussion) there is time for your students to articulate properly what they would like to say.  No thinking on your feet required.  But perhaps the strongest case for helping students to be masters of the blog, is that blogs are changing the communication universe.

3.  Blogs WIll Continue to Shape Communication

I should first point out that I despise the word “blogoshere.”  It basically refers to the realm of communication going on at the level of blogs and other social networking sites.  It was first used in jest, however, mainstream media picked it up and began to use it regularly – usually to describe the online community they didn’t understand.  But now the blogosphere has grown so much that it is not so easy to see its boundary.  And now the line between “journalist” and “blogger” is becoming blurred.  Journalists have long since condemned bloggers for shirking journalistic responsibility, but then again journalists have long since seen there market share shrink to a growing readership of blogs.  (More readers means “more eyes rson the page” which means more advertising dollars.  Something bloggers and traditional media fight for.)Shel Israel points out:

“Let’s look at this “journalist” word. It is my view that a journalist is not defined by WHERE he or she writes but by WHAT he or she writes. Not everyone who blogs is a journalist. In fact few are. Nor is everyone who writes for traditional media a journalist either. It seems to me that crap is fairly evenly distributed between social and traditional media contributors. So is quality.” (Global Neighbourhoods)

As bloggers have become prefossionals so has their work become professional.  The definition of a journalist is already changing and will continue to do so.  We may very quickly find ourselves living in a world where we are all journalists.  Where everyone is both a producer and consumer of information.  It would be a place where everyone is part of the conversation and everyone has a stake in the game.  Are your students ready? Are you?

For an awesome look at blogging today, follow the link below to Technorati’s “State of the Bloggosphere 2008.”


This is a continuation of my report on the ACER Our Schoolyard: Measuring our Resources Summer Institute I attended August 18-20th.  Read about day one here, as well as an intro to ACER.

Day 2

Don MacIver

Don MacIver was welcomed in the morning to speak with the learning teachers on environmental issues, more specifically, biodiversity.  Don MacIver is Director of Adaptation and Impacts Research Division (AIRD) for Environment Canada, a former professor of Climatology, the Mayor for the Municipality of Amaranth, and the author/co-author of numerous publications on environmental issues.  Don spoke with us about current research done on biodiversity, which in the case of Canada – is surprisingly little.  One of the problems is that “climate change” is the big issue, used more and more as a political buzzword.  Much of our real research on climate change and biodiversity has been increasingly cut over the past decades.  He told us that ACER is the ony organization doing this type of data collection which contributes to research at a global level. Mr. MacIver delivered a great presentation and is definitely very knowledgeable.  He was able to relate how different elements fit together: climate change, biodiversity, economics and more.

Tree Identification

The afternoon was spent learning about tree identification.  We were taught to use “bark key” (a kind of decision tree based on observations on bark, branches, buds) to identify trees.  This was a bit difficult and certainly more difficult than using a leaf key for identification.  The ACER project is usually completed in late fall to early winter when the leaves are gone, thus we had to learn the bark key.  It was a bit of a chalenge but by the end we were all getting the hang of it.  The team from ACER was supportive and promised to continue to be supportive once we begin projects at our own schools and run into tree id difficulties.



Day 3 was largely about going back to using GIS software.  GIS (Geographic Information Systems) are used in a wide variety of industries, howver, we were using GIS software to map he location of our trees.  What we covered today was much of what we didnt get to on day one.  On day one I missed the afternoon, we had learned how to import data from our GPS units into Excel, and then into the GIS software.  I wasn’t too worried about having missed that session as the manual provided by ACER was clear and straightforward.

We created a map with a satelite image of the are with the buildings and roads layed on top.  Using the data from the GPS we were able to show the location of the trees on our map based on their GPS locations.  The GPS software even allows us to see visually the locations of same species, or established vs new trees, or the range of tree height represented by colour.  We are able to do this because we actally imported a file of ACER’s data completly filled in.  It had all the data regarding tree hight, diameter, health, ID, etc. that we would have filled in at our own location.  The ACER team tried to cram in as much instruction as possible, we definitely got the basics and plenty of ideas on what else we could do with this tool in our classrooms.


Two of last years “graduates” came and shared their stories of what they accomplished with ACER at their own schools.  The ACER program helped them to further enhance their environmental clubs, and even helped them achieve gold and silver eco-school status!  We also had the chance to discuss with each other the possibilities and hurdles for implementing the program at our own schools.  Every one had a different concern, but hopefully we’ll all be able to make it happen.

That Wraps It Up…

The ACER Summer Institute was great.  It was a lot to take in over three days, but it was also a lot of fun.  Not only is the program incredible but so was the ACER team that worked with us.  It was also great to meet and discuss ideas with teachers from other schools across the region.  We are all looking for ways to educate and inspire students in environmental education, and it’s always helpful to find ou what other teachers are doing.

I strongly recommend to try and attend the Summer Institute as a representative of your school.  Contact ACER to get the details; this type program of only survives as there is a need for it.

Today I was off to Appleby College in Oakville.  Appleby was hosting the 2008 Our School Yard Summer (OSY) Institute organized by the Association for Canadian Educational Resources (ACER.)  I had read about the ACER OSY program earlier in the year and really had only a basic knowledge of the event.  All the same, I was very excited to find out that I was able to attend this years program.


For those interested in monitoring trees on their own land or schoolyard of any size or shape, ACER offers a program that enables students, clubs, groups, or individuals to accurately collect data to monitor tree growth.

For teachers, this is a cross curriculum, multi-grade method where students can combat climate change hands-on. We teach you how to roll this program out at your own school, and support you on the way.

That’s the basics and I will try and fill in some more pieces as I continue through the three day course.  I am going to focus mainly on the day to day events of the course.  If you would like to read about ACER’s great work in the domestic and international communities, please visit the ACER homepage.

Day 1 Begins

I should start by saying that I had to miss part of the afternoon session.  I only found out I could attend the OSY seminar after I had an appointment that I couldn’t change. I found out later that day three would allow me some time to go back over what I would miss.

The day began (like any good workshop for teachers) with coffee and muffins.  These were given by Appleby College in addition to them hosting the event free of charge.  We then were greeted by some of the ACER team and introduced more thoroughly to what we would be doing over the next few days.  Much of what we would be doing this first day is learning what duties we as teachers would have our students perform.  The buzz of eco-excitement was in the air as we sent outside for our first session.

Activity 1: Sketch Mapping

Our first task was for our group to sketch the courtyard outside Appleby’s Dining Hall.  Students normally would be sketching whatever area on school grounds being monitored.  This was done mainly with long flexible measuring tapes.  We began with sketching the perimeter and adding in notable structures.  We also placed courtyard trees on our map being sure to measure their distances to their surroundings.  The actual sketching was done by myself (I will add a copy here when I can.)  Our leader Doug lead us through the exercise and provided it us with some information on compass use, and bearing.  After all – every map needs a compass rose.

Activity 2: Tree Measurement

The protocol used by ACER states that we are going to record trees that have a diameter of greater than 4cm at 1.3m up the tree.  That obviously eliminates young trees – we are recording “mature” trees.  This involved using a clinometer and tan tables to determine tree height, a diameter tape or graduated calipers to measure diameter, as well as a regular tape measure for crown width.  It was pretty interesting and with all the hands on work I’m sure students would enjoy the activity.  Our leader Alice also showed us how to look at tree health as well as a brief introduction to tree identification (something we will be doing later on.)

Activity 3: GPS Plotting

Using GPS units we went out to mark the locations of our trees.  This was pretty simple as GPS units have some sort of marl waypoint feature.  We marked our trees as waypoints and renamed them in the GPS so we would be able to identify the plots later.  These plots recorded as x,y coordinates will be entered into GIS software to create a map and a digital representation of our courtyard.

Actvity 4: QGIS

Ok, so this is where I unfortunately had to leave.  But I was able to later read the walkthrough in the resources binder we were given.  I feel pretty comfortable that I would be able to muddle through creating a map and importing the tree waypoints thanks to this guide.  Again, I will be able to go over this again on day three and will fill in this gap.

The day offered a great deal of information to absorb.  It is shaping up to be a great experience and something I will definitely try and share with my students.  I don’t teach Science or Geography so this may be something that gets done by our schools’ environmental club.  I may also try and work with a Geography teacher to incorporate some/all of the activities into their coursework.

Looking for a way to engage your students in a podcasting activity?  Try making them journalists.  Better yet, make them journalists without the confines of time and space.  Let’ face it, it would be great to have your students podcast on a current event.  Let’s say on an upcoming election for your Politics class.  But that isn’t always practical.  Don’t count on Fermat’s Theorem or the golden spike making it into today’s news.

Have your students report on a past event, but in the present tense.  This can be done in a couple different ways.

  • Individual: acts as a regular reporter reporting on an event (ex. Battle at Vimy Ridge)
  • Pairs: Journalist and interviewee (Nothing like a sit down with Niels Bohr)
  • Group: 1 anchor, 1 reporter, 1 interviewee, 1 guest expert etc.

The different groupings have different benefits in terms of getting students to frame their thinking in a certain way.  Since something is taking place “now,”  the journalist needs to be concerned with the context and surroundings of the event.  Different roles in the group setting will also frame their thinking a certain way.  An expert may be all about facts.  The journalist may have a certain angle.  The interviee may just be a bystander that has a certain viewpoint; maybe as a mother, or a business owner.  The anchor may be concerned with summarizing the story, or to ask questions as to how the events relate to another topic.

The key part here (and with other podcasting tasks) is that you are challenging students to shift their thinking.  They have to deepen their analysis before synthesizing some information as a podcast (yes I did just use two Bloom’s Taxonomy words in one sentence.)

I have given students a series of questions they need to ask themselves (as journalists/anchors/etc.) before they write their script.  Some may include:

  • What is the culture of the time?  war, poverty, prosperity, disco?
  • What demographic does the story affect, or who will you report for?  everyone, young, old, blue collar?
  • Does the event have a mood?  somber, joyous, fearful?
  • Does location matter?  What does it sound and smell like?
  • As a character (ex. Queen Victoria), what is my personality?  What do I sound like?  What kind of words would I use?
  • As an expert, do I have an agenda?  How can I relate how much I love this topic?

These don’t necessarily have to be answered formally, but it helps get students thinking about the style of their podcast ahead of time.

Specific Ideas

Ranging in terms of creativity, some may not appeal to you – but often the more creative ideas appeal to students.  You may wish to combine a couple if students are working in groups.  I haven’t tried all the styles, so please share your results if you have.

  • Report on current event
  • Interview with famous explorer/inventor/scientist/artist/etc. (ex. Coumbus, Peter the Apostle)
  • Report on “opposite” side.  (ex. A Russian reporter during Cuban Missile Crisis.)
  • Report on possible future event (ex. The banning of combustion engines, first human clone)
  • “As it happens” report (ex.  “Sir John A MacDonald has just become the Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada!”)
  • Debate with Experts  (ex. pro vs. anti impressionist art)
  • Fictional Debate(ex. Gatsby vs. Holden Caulfield on moral decay)
  • Impossible Debate(ex. Darwin vs. Neo on evolution)
  • On the Street (ex.  several quick responses on how plate tectonics just caused “that” earthquake)