Thursday, July 31, 2008

Common Craft does it again

Common Craft is a company run by a husband and wife team that produces short, easy to understand videos that explain complicated topics. Most videos are focused on web applications and software, such as wikis, blogs, rss, etc... However, Common Craft has just created a video long overdue. Electing a U.S. President in Plain English succinctly explains the often misunderstood Presidential election process. This is something that I think students (and their parents) may find informative. Just in time for the 2008 election season.

(Thanks to Jim Gates for posting this on his site Tipline-Gates' Computer Tips.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Top 10 things I learned in Web 2.0 Class

This week I've been taking a Web 2.0 grad class at Harrisburg University. The instructor is Jim Gates of Tipline: Gates' Computer Tips fame. This course is easily the best class I have taken in years. I am learning so many new ways to teach and to learn. My greatest challenge now is to sift through all the resources to find the ones that will work for me and my students.

To help my sifting process here is a list of the top 10 things I learned this week:

10) Pecha Kucha--A great suggestion for presentations: 20 slides, 20 seconds each. This forces the presenter to be prepared and to tell a story to keep the audience happy. Here is an example of a Pecha Kucha presentation by Dan Pink:

9) ePals --I think I like ePals, but I'm still waiting for my student blog site??? I have my profile and email account, but why so long for the blogs? Maybe it's my fault, no, on second thought I can't remember the last time I made a mistake. Early onset senility has its advantages. Anyway, I do like the fact that you can search for classrooms around the world looking to virtually get together. The email and blogs can also be moderated.

8) Creating forms in Google Docs --On the first day of class Jim Gates had us fill out a form with our name, address and years teaching. Instantly we could see the spreadsheet Jim made filled in with our information. We then viewed a scatter plot graph showing the years of teaching experiences for the teachers in class. The coolest part was viewing Google Earth with pins locating where we all lived. Very cool mashup!

7) Live Blogging with Google Docs --It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with Google. Create a Google Docs presentation and you can live blog the thing. Amazing!

6) Thomas Friedman's MIT Milestone Presentation Keynote Address
Fascinating view of how technology is changing our world. Usually, people don't realize what's happening until too late, and then are forced to be reactive to events instead of proactive. Thankfully, Friedman's thesis of the flattening of the world and the forces that are causing this to happen helps to explain the current state we face in the world. This makes what we do as teachers even more important to help keep the U.S. relevant, competitive, and creative.

5) Coveritlive --Being new to live blogging I think I like it. I will need to participate more in live blogging events to be sure I like it, but the ease at which it took to set up an event made me want to give this a try.

4) Embedding UStream into Coveritlive --Now I think I really like Coveritlive! I still need to get a cam (I'm sooo last century), but once I do watch out! Until I get a cam I could still find a UStream and embed it into a Coveritlive session. Again, the ease of embedding UStream in Coveritlive makes me want to at least give it a whirl.

3) Diigo Groups --I love Delicious, but I never knew what to think of Diigo. Actually, I'm still not sure what I think of Diigo, but I now see a feature that I like. Diigo has groups of like minded people who share links, ideas and discussions in a professional network setting. I signed up for the Educators Group, organized by Coolcatteacher Vicki Davis; the Classroom 2.0 Group, organized by Steve Hargadon who formed the Classroom 2.0 Ning Group I already belong to; and the Social Studies Group, organized by Adrea Lawrence who I don't know (virtually speaking).

2) Today, Jim Beeghley of Teaching the Civil War with Technology blog was sitting beside me -- and I didn't realize it. Earlier when we were sharing blog posts I shared one I recently read from Jim's Blog on tagging flickr photos to Delicious. Two hours later he came in to observe the class and he sat next to me, with me, of course, being oblivious of who was sitting next to me. I actually thought Jim was some sort of Harrisburg U administrator. After I found out who he was and introduced myself, I let him know that I was the teacher he blogged about in his post More Uses of Web 2.0 Tools--"Oh, you're Mr. T!" "Yep, I'm Mr. T" Funny how you sort of know someone from reading their blogs, but when you meet them in person it makes the virtual connection real. Very exciting. Can't wait to have Jim come to Hershey and share his love of the Civil War with my students.

1) It's not just about technology. It's about how technology enhances our professional communication, networking, and learning, in order to improve the learning experiences of our students. This may not be something I learned this week, but it is something that was reinforced reinforced.

What a fun and exhausting week!!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Josh Hamilton's amazing story

As anyone who knows me knows I am a huge baseball and Cincinnati Reds fan. I am also a huge fan of Josh Hamilton, the former Red and current All-Star outfielder for the Texas Rangers. Last night Hamilton put on a home run hitting clinic at the annual MLB home run derby. He not only hit 28 home runs in one round (four more than anyone has ever hit in a round and twenty more than anyone hit in this years first round), but he consistently hit them farther and harder than anyone in the competition. He even hit one off the back wall of Yankee stadium. As a baseball fan I knew I was watching an amazing feat.

Before the home run derby I knew Hamilton would put on a hitting display. Last year I watched batting practice before a Reds-Pirates game and was absolutely astounded and captivated by watching him hit. He has such an easy and free swing, yet the ball just jumps off his bat. Every time he hit the ball it sounded crisper and louder than any other player I ever witnessed. His hits were like jets streaking across the sky at supersonic speed, while everyone else's hits were like, well, er, baseballs hit by talented, yet mortal baseball players. Yet, Josh Hamilton is mortal.

Josh Hamilton is certainly a modern-day version of The Natural, a story based on Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel about Roy Hobbs, a "natural" baseball phenom who's career is cut short, but who, against all odds, makes an amazing return 16 years later only to fall from grace at the end. Only, I prefer to think that Hamilton's story is more like the 1984 movie version of Malamud's novel. In the movie version Hobbs ends his career with the New York Knights by hitting a walk off, light shattering, ball unravelling, pennant winning home run. The movie ends with Hobbs playing catch with his son.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Hamilton's story is not over. How it will turn out is unknown, because Josh Hamilton is a drug addict. Each new day may be the day he relapses. It is only through his faith in God and the support of his friends and family that he has been given a second chance. And what a second chance it's been. After being out of baseball for three years and never before playing above single A minor league baseball, Hamilton is arguably the best baseball player in the game today. Also, take into consideration that the years he was out of baseball he was a suicidal crack addict.

Josh Hamilton's amazing story should be an inspirational story for everyone. He made amazingly stupid mistakes by getting into drugs in the first place. Haven't we all made stupid mistakes in our life? Most of us haven't been to where Josh Hamilton's been as far as addiction and despair (although there are many people there right now), but we have all regretted mistakes that we have made. That is part of being human--we are imperfect, we make mistakes, but we can make things right.

Isn't this something that we need to teach our students? Try your best, but when you fail (like we all do), learn from it and make things right. And there will be teachers, counselors, friends, parents who will be there to help.

If you want to learn more about Josh Hamilton and what he's been through read these excellent articles:

"I'm proof that hope is never lost," by Josh Hamilton (as told to Tim Keown)
ESPN The Magazine, July 5, 2007

Faith brings Texas Rangers' Hamilton back from the brink, by Evan Grant
The Dallas Morning News, February 29, 2008

The Super Natural, by Albert Chen
Sports Illustrated, May 27, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

145th History Carnival

Today I took my 11 year old daughter to Gettysburg to soak up the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg [Before I continue: she went willingly and she had a good time!]. Anyway, I consider Gettysburg in early July to be a history carnival, since the town is abuzz with reenactors, encampments, book signings, and Park Service battle walks. Like a carnival it gets crowded, but for me that is part of the appeal. As evidence of the crowd, my daughter and I played the license plate game and we witnessed 35 state and 2 Canadian province license plates. I'm sure if we really tried we could have found all 50 states.

Our first stop, after driving through two parking lots to find a spot to park (and license plates, of course), was the new Visitor's Center. This is a first class facility. We first went to the gift shop which has more souvenirs than the old Visitor's Center. I tried not to spend too much time in the book section, which could get boring for an 11 year old to wait for history nerd Dad to skim through several dozen books, so we moved on to the amazing lollipops (she got a watermelon and I got a peanut butter and jelly). We then went to the exhibits. We watched the three short movies dealing with each day at Gettysburg and tried our hand at a couple of the interactives. Before we left the exhibits we went into the Gettysburg Address room and listened to a rendition of the Address while reading it on an etching on a glazed window.

By this time we were getting hungry so we made our way to parking lot 3, and proceeded to General Pickett's Buffet. We then worked off lunch by walking into town. We stopped at some souvenir shops and at the Greystone American History Store (my favorite in Gettysburg). On the way back to the car we walked through the National Cemetery. We were going to go on a battle walk in the Cemetary, but the crowd was too big and we were getting tired so we made our way back to the car. I think it's important to visit the National Cemetery. It makes Lincoln's words in the Gettysburg Address more immediate by actually seeing the graves of the men who brought Lincoln to Gettysburg in the first place. We read some of the names from the soldiers graves and then walked through the hundreds of unknown graves. Those soldiers may be unknown to us today, but they were all known and missed by loved ones 145 years ago. Just a thought to put our lives into perspective (which is what Lincoln wanted us to do).

Before heading home we made a detour to the Cashtown Inn. Since my daughter is interested in ghost stories I thought the Cashtown Inn would be the perfect stop since it is allegedly haunted. It was also a building that witnessed most of the Army of Northern Virginia pass by in the days before, during, and after the battle. We couldn't go inside so we took in the views from outside and imagined what it would have been like to be there 145 years ago.

We then went home after spending a fun day at Gettysburg. The day was relatively light on battle history but it was successful because my daughter wants to return for an overnight visit. Plus, the kicker is we just got done watching the 1st part of the movie Gettysburg. I think I may be making a mini-me, history nerd out of my daughter. Scary thought...