Nov
07
2010

A Social Media Experiment at #NABT 2010

For those of you attending the NABT conference in Minneapolis this year, you might have noticed this card (above) in your bag of goodies from the registration booth.  The card urged anyone posting content related to the conference to add the identifying “hashtag #NABT10 to their postings. A hastag is a short character string, preceded by the # sign, that serves as a marker.  A tag. An indentifier, so that others can find your stuff in the fast sea of information known as the world wide web.

For those of you who were not able to attend the conference, this hashtag makes it easier for you to tap into the stream of content coming from the conference – photos, blog posts, tweets (from Twitter), Powerpoint slide decks – any of those items posted online that include the hashtag “#NABT10″ can be easily found.

Screenshot of Tweetchat, displaying the stream of tweets with the tag "NABT10"

Here’s an example.  If you go the web site Tweetchat (a Twitter application that makes it easy to search Twitter with a particular hashtag), you can pull up all of the Tweets posted with that hashtag.  Here’s a glimpse of those (the real list is much longer and must be scrolled through:

In there, you’ll find tweets that I posted during Sue Black and Nancy Monson’s excellent “Biology Best Bets” talk – their fourteenth such talk at NABT. Sue and Nancy give their audience the benefit of their combined 40+ years of teaching experience and share the most incredibly creative ideas for demonstrations, labs and activities.  So, even if you weren’t with us in the room, you could get a “feel” for their talk from my tweets.  Not only that, I shared the link to their handout (the url of which they gave us during the session).  It’s the next best thing to being there.

Here’s another example.  On Saturday morning, Richard Dawkins gave a featured speaker address – a Q/A session, attended by every biology teacher there.  The room was packed.  Scrolling through the list of tweets, you can see that both Stacy Baker and I were “live tweeting” the session, passing along quotes and summaries from the points that Dawkins was making.

And another.  Brad Williamson took photos of all of the 4-year divisions poster session posters on Friday evening and posted them in a Flickr slideshow.  Since he added the conference hashtag, that slide show is a breeze to find.

A little hashtag like this….just seven characters long….might sound like a small thing, but it’s a big step forward for the NABT organization.  A sign of good things to come as our community steps into the future in order to begin to realize the benefits that social media and online communities can offer to the NABT membership.

What’s next?  Livestreaming NABT talks over the internet?  Communities of new and experienced teachers, tapping into each other’s strengths in online work groups?  The AP Biology community contributing and conversing on this NABT Bio Blog? Professional development webinars?

Written by rheyden in: Conference Info | Tags: ,
Aug
12
2010

#Edchat

If you’re an educator, looking for a reason to get up to speed on Twitter, take a look at Edchat.  This is a live event that happens each Tuesday at  two times – 12pm EST/ 5pm GMT and 7pm EST/ 12pm GM - on Twitter.  Educators from all over the world chime in with their answers to a question, proposed by the organizers,  Stephen AndersonTom Whitby, andShelly Terrell.

Here is Shelly’s blog post, describing Edchat. Each week, the Edchat topic is voted on by the group.  You can send suggestions to Shelly, Tom or Stephen and then, on Monday of each week, they post five possible topics.  The topic with the most votes becomes the Edchat topic for that Tuesday.  Any Tweet that bears the hashtag - #edchat - will appear in the stream.  You can either search on the hashtag to pick up the stream, run it through an RSS feed, or if you’re using Tweetdeck(a sort of dashboard for Twitter), you can set up a column just for that steam.  Here’s a video tutorial on how to use Tweetdeck to monitor the stream.

If you have questions about how it works, you can get in touch with the moderators. For the 12pm EST #Edchat the moderators are @ShellTerrell and @Rliberni. For the 7pm EST Edchat the moderators are @MBTeach, @KylePace, and @TomWhitby.

People pose questions and answer them. They contribute suggestions, links, anecdotes, and arguments.  It’s a very lively bunch. In addition to the quality of the Tweets (mostly quite high), what struck me most was the power of the medium.  Here I was, in my own home, listening to 1000′s of smart, savvy educators – from all over the world – chime in on a conversation about a topic that interested me.  It’s the kind of experience you live for when you attend a national conference – that chance meet up in hallway or over a beer, where a group of interesting professionals gather for a few moments and exchange really helpful ideas about something important.  But this “meet up” was scheduled and it included 1000′s – and I didn’t have to get on a plane to listen in. A global brainstorming session, with (according to “what the trend“) 3500 contributions.

I was also struck by the courtesy of the group.  People responded to each other, supported concerns, and thanked each other for suggestions. No flamers here – what a welcome change.

Of course, it’s not perfect.  During the hour that I sat, scanning my Tweetdeck stream, I found myself getting irritated over the number of retweets (people forwarding on a Tweet they liked), resulting in bombardment with the same Tweet over and over again.  As you’d expect, there are a few spammers or advertisers that get in there (not too bad).  There are a few ridiculous comments that don’t bear mentioning.  But, on the whole, there’s some extremely good stuff.  I would say that, over the course of the hour, I learned a large handful of things I’d never heard before, laughed over a few very poignant stories, linked out to at least 50 different web sites (most of which were extremely useful), and choose 4 or 5 new people to follow in my regular Twitter stream.  There were teachers taking polls (trying to get a feel for opinions or patterns), teachers trolling for ideas (first day suggestions, how to use classroom blogs,

Fortunately, the organizers have developed a wiki site to accompany their Twitter live event.  There, you’ll not only find a directory of all the active Edchat participants (including their email addresses and interests) but a complete transcript of each Edchat session, listed by date. Here’s the transcript from this week’s Edchat session, ”Should teachers have students write blogs, develop class web sites/wikis, create student PLNs?”

To help with the retweeting problem, I turned to Paper.Li, which is a nifty online tool that turns a particular Twitter stream into an online newspaper, complete with categories and highlights.  You can read more about Paper.Li in this blogpost of mine, from a few weeks ago.  This was a great way to read the #Edchat stream because it eliminates the redundancies, promoting most mentioned items to headline status.  Great way to see all the videos together as well.  Here’s what this week’s Edchat looks like in Paper.Li:

The organizers have also started a Personal Learning Network (PLN), using Ning, for those educators who want to continue the conversation.  On the Ning site, I see that some educators have formed subgroups to start projects at their own schools or carry on a conversation about a related topic.  Nice. And here’s where I get to repeat a frequent (not-original) conclusion of mine – these participatory media tools are so much more powerful when they are used in combination with each other.  In this case…. Twitter, a Ning site, and a wiki.  Magic.

Jul
13
2010

Thinking – at Wash U with the Life Sciences for a Global Community Teachers

“The Thinker” on the Washington University Campus

In the middle of one of the Washington University quads is this wonderfully whimsical re-imagining of August Rodin’sThe Thinker – a lanky looking rabbit, assuming the well-known, contemplative pose.  I just returned from a quick trip to St. Louis and, while there, the sculpture caught my fancy.  A nice flash of quirkiness on an otherwise, very traditional looking brick campus.

I traveled down there to join my friend and colleague, Liz Dorland, for a participatory media workshop for the Life Science for a Global Community (LSGC).  This is an amazing NSF-funded program, run out of Washington University byPhyllisBalcerzak, for high school life science teachers.  Teachers accepted into the program come to Wash U for a three-week, residential summer program for two summers running. Then, during the academic year, they take online courses and put what they learned in the summer into action in their own classrooms. During the 3-week summer program, they get top-notch mini courses from some of the best Wash U faculty on topics like neurobiology, photosynthesis, and genetics.  The teachers work together, as a cohort, to do experiments, go on field trips, start their own research projects and take what they learned back to their home campuses.  At the end of the two-year program, they’ve earned an MA in biology from Wash U, along with a community of like-minded colleagues that will last into the future of their teaching career.  They also stand a little taller – as a result of their expanded science knowledge, research expertise, and professional development.

Phyllis invited Liz and I to come work with the teachers on their use of new social media and web 2.0 tools – for the LSGC projects, for their students back at home, and with each other.  We had two sessions with them – Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.  On Friday afternoon we gave them an introduction to blogging (with WordPress), wikis (usingWikispaces), and podcasts (using cell phones, Flip video cameras, Garageband, and Audacity).  The workshops went well and the teachers caught on very quickly.  They came up with some pretty creative suggestions for using these tools with their students:

A multi-author blog to document a field trip

A science “newsreel” created by students – shown weekly to the school

Collaborate with students from another school – pool data

A wiki site for each course they teach, with a page for each student to hand in lab reports where the teacher could discuss the lab report on the discussion page and keep a record of the year

Students use video to record short tutorials on how to use various lab instruments (post them on a wiki site)

Student blogs used to reflect on their labs (or just reflect in general)

Create a podcast to narrate a field trip to a zoo or museum – turn it into a scavenger hunt

Students video interviews with experts (parents, other teachers, professors at local universities)

Use short podcasts as vehicles for reflection (as in, “before you leave the lab/test, just record a few minutes of your impressions/take-home lessons/what was the main point”)

Podcasts as assessments

Student-created podcast libraries of tough topics (use for future classes)

Wonderful stuff.  And, as always, when I meet with teachers, I was inspired by their persistence, endless creativity, and their overwhelming enthusiasm for their students.  Of course there were low moments too.  Like when I listened to them talk about their frustrations – school districts that blocked all the web sites they’d love to use with their students, administrators who seemed bent on foiling their every new plan, lack of resources, over-crowded classrooms (40 students in an AP course?!)…Sigh.  And one bleak moment when a teacher asked me, “but if we use all of these web sites, podcasts, and blogs, it just seems that the students will no longer need teachers and we’ll be putting ourselves out of a job.”  Oh, no.  Guess I didn’t do as good a job as I hoped I had at the beginning when I talked with them about all of these skills their students were going to need (that they don’t have now)….Like how to read in linked environments, how to validate information they find online, understanding the notion of a “digital footprint”, knowing how to work privacy settings on social networking sites, how to produce a safe and effective video, how to look for their teachers, how to behave in an online community, how to leverage a network effect.  Who is going to teach them all of those mission-critical skills if not their teachers?  That is our job – and we should be taking it very seriously.

On Saturday, we put together an (optional) Second Life workshop for them.  After a hard week of all-day sessions, we wereglad to welcome 10 of the 30 teachers who came to the session. They arrived, registered, got their avatar, and went in world for the first time.  In three hours, they went from never having been in a virtual world to flying, teleporting, managing their inventory, chatting, joining groups, and making friends.  It was wonderful to see.  Here are a few shots of our cadre of newbies exploring a really interactive museum on the American Chemical Society’s island (check out the simulation of nylon formation) and running through the foreston Tempura Island.  I suspect they were frustrated to learn that they couldn’t bring their (under 18 years old) high school students into this virtual world but the way that Liz approached this was to suggest SL as a professional development tool for them.  A place to experiment, to meet other like-minded teachers from all over the world, and – possibly – a place for them to meet and collaborate with each other, once they are no longer together on the Wash U campus.  We wound up our short SL romp with a fireworks display – everyone lighting sparklers on a platform, 300 feet up in the air over Jokaydia, with the sun dimmed for maximum effect.  It was quite a morning.

New LSGC avatars setting off fireworks in Second Life
Mar
02
2010

Wisdom from the Niles High School District

Photo credit:  Tom Denham

Photo credit: Tom Denham

I just returned from moderating a teacher workshop at the Niles District’s (just out side of Chicago, Illinois) Institute Day.  Ruth Gleicher and Anne Roloff invited me to spend three hours with a group of 10 high school teachers from the two high schools in the Niles District.  The workshop was called, “Participatory Media, Learning, and Literacy” and it sprung from a session I offered at the 2009 NABT conference.  Ruth Gleicher, who is a biology teacher at Niles West HS, attended that NABT session and thought that it might be a good fit for her colleagues.  Together, she and I designed an experience with a little presentation and a lot of hands-on and discussion.

The session went well, I think.  I sure enjoyed it!  I was so impressed with this group of teachers.  They were biology, chemistry, earth science, english, and special ed teachers.  And they were all – to a person – hard working, creative, and very committed teachers.  We started off the session, going around and introducing ourselves.  I asked them to share with the others how they’re currently making use of new media tools with their students and to describe one new thing they wanted to try.  So we spent the first hour or so in a candid exchange of ideas, things that worked and didn’t, questions they had, and plans for the future.

I love these conversations. And I suspect that you do too – here are a few of the gems that the Niles teachers shared with each other….

Students aren’t as proficient as we think they are with online tools….they don’t know how to download a photo, they’ve never edited a wiki, they don’t understand intellectual property.

Amen to that.  And I would add that many of them don’t know how to set the privacy controls on Facebook, they don’t know how to create and post a video in a safe and responsible way, they are unaware of their digital footprint and how it might work to their benefit, and they forget about replicability, forwarding and the persistence of content.  Our students need help with all of these things.  They must become more aware of the power of online information and they must be more exacting judges of the credibility of what they find there.  They need teachers to help them understand, respect, sort and discern.

As teachers, we need help sorting out what’s the right tool for the job and which – if any -  of the options is worth our time.

Another good point!  There are so many intriguing online options these days – fun tools to try, capabilities to explore, and a huge range of ways to express ourselves, demonstrate our understanding, and deepen our experience.  But how to evaluate them?  How to decide if the time it will take to learn how to use them well (and then show others how to do the same) will be worth it?  With this conundrum, my advice is  – try it yourself first.  Get inside whatever the new thing is with your own projects or interests (a hobby?  a small thing – just enough to learn, or maybe on something you need to do anyway).  Make failure cheap.  Discover the affordances of the tool for yourself and then you’ll be in a good position to judge whether or not it’s worth using it in your classroom.

What I don’t evaluate or grade, my students won’t do.

Yeah, I hear that a lot.  The point these teachers were making was, if we don’t give credit for blogging, contributing to the class wiki, or creating an animoto, our students won’t do it.  I feel their pain.  I can’t help but think that much of this behavior stems from conditioning.  We’ve trained our students (in our assessment-crazed, high-stakes testing world) to think in these terms.  Intrinsic motivation seems to have left the building. But I don’t think that’s due to any character flaw in our students – I think that “we” have set it up this way (I was talking to a friend yesterday, who relayed the story that her kindergartner came home with homework on which “points” would be given by the teacher).  But even if we agree on that, what’s to be done about it?  By the time teenagers get to high school (or college) they are steeped in that tradition.  What’s an individual teacher to do, in order to break the cycle?   I would love to hear your thoughts on that – comments?  ideas?

Jan
29
2010

A Different Kind of Educator’s Workshop

Spiral Theas and Chimera Cosmos

Spiral Theas and Chimera Cosmos

A friend and colleague of mine, Liz Dorland and I decided to organize a Second Life Eduator’s group.  We kept meeting these fabulous teachers who wanted to learn  more about the application of the virtual world to education and so, we thought, what the heck – let’s set up a workshop series for these teachers. We’ll meet for just an hour – two times per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) for four weeks, as an experiment.  We can show them beginning navigational stuff, introduce them to basic building skills, and take them to other educational builds, favorites of ours, for inspiration.

For those of you unfamiliar with Second Life – it is an online virtual world that consists of a flat-earth simulation of roughly 1.8 billion square meters (if it were a physical place, it would be about the size of Houston, Texas). First launched in 2003, SL is an example of an immersive, three-dimensional (3D) environment that supports a high level of social networking and interaction with information.  Visitors can access the virtual world through a free, client program called the Second Life viewer. You enter the SL virtual world, which residents refer to as “the grid”, as an avatar (Second Life “users” are referred to as “residents”). Once there, you can explore environments, meet and socialize with other residents (using voice and text chat), participate in group and individual activities, and learn from designed experiences. Built into the software is a three-dimensional modeling tool, based around simple geometric shapes, that allows anyone to build virtual objects. These objects can be used, in combination with a scripting language, to add functionality.

While virtual worlds with their 3D landscapes and customizable avatars, seem similar to popular massively multiplayer online games, they do not adhere to the traditional definition of a game.  Virtual worlds, like SL, are more focused on socializing, exploring, and building.  As a result, there is an active educational community in SL. Over 300 colleges and universities have “builds” in SL where they teach courses and conduct research. A number of organizations (NASA, NOAA, NIH, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, National Public Radio), along with a host of government agencies, museums, and educational groups stage regular events, seminars and workshops in world.

Since I started exploring around in Second Life last year, it’s seemed to me to be a great way to involve students in science.  But before we can think about the applications with students, I knew we needed to get teachers in there.  So, Liz and I thought we’d start with these simple workshops.

Comicbook-Style Handouts, designed by Liz Dorland

Comicbook-Style Handouts, designed by Liz Dorland

What sounded like a relatively simple (and fun idea!) has turned out to be quite a bit of work – but it’s also even more fun that I would have imagined. First of all, it gives Liz and I an iron-clad excuse to investigate lots of interesting places and activities we’ve been wanting to learn about any way.  It’s also forced us to be more systematic about understanding the basics of getting around in Second Life (as always, you learn the most when you are going to teach). We’ve created handouts and step-by-step instructions for the participants. Then, of course, we needed an online place to store and display all of those, as well as a place to keep the schedule – so we built a wiki site for the group.  And then we wanted to document the sessions – so we started a Koin-Up group where everyone in the class can post photos.  Now, I’m experimenting with recording options so that we can archive the sessions.

This week, we had our first session.  13 teachers showed up (there will be 17 when everyone attends) and they’re from all over – Great Britain, Colorado, Missouri, Indiana, and Boston.  Some teach college students, some are curriculum developers, some teach primary years, and some secondary grades.  Men and women – older and younger – some experienced in SL and some brand spankin’ new.  I love the diversity.

Teachers in our Second Life "Skybox' Classroom

Teachers in our Second Life "Skybox' Classroom

We started with some basic navigational stuff (creating landmarks, map reading, inventory) and then we teleported up to our skybox classroom.  Everyone learned how to “buy” a chair, find it in their inventory, and then rez it on their spot on the classroom floor.  Then we had a little lesson in camera controls, learning how to zoom in/out and focus.

Chichenitza – view from the top (taken by Kirsten Loza)

After that. we teleported down to the ground and then bounced over to Chichenitza for a bit of fun.  Everyone picked up the free Mayan costume and then climbed the magnificent stairs to take in the view from the top.

I was very impressed with how well everyone did.  They seemed to follow along beautifully and were patient with the various technical hassles one inevitably has with a platform like this.  For Liz and me, it was great fun and a welcome challenge (that’s us, up there in the photo at the top of the post – I’m the one with the  yellow hardhat).  We work well together – trading off the various responsibilities, and supporting each other (I would never do this by myself!).  When one is leading the class, the other is adding helpful explanations to the backchat, taking snapshots, and giving extra support to those who need it.

Next week we’ll be visiting Yifeng Hu’s Department of Communications Studies virtual location.  Yifeng Hu is an instructor at The College of New Jersey (in Ewing, NJ) where she teaches a course called ‘New Media and Health Communications’.  As part of her course, Professor Hu take students into Second Life for activities, lectures, and touring. We’re going to visit her virtual campus and hear how she uses the virtual world with her students.  They’ve used their time in Second Life to, among other things, examine whether the communications theories they learn about in class are applicable in the virtual world. Here is an article about Professor Hu’s work.  We also hope to visit Michael Demers virtual classroom.  Dr. Demers teaches geology at New Mexico State University and has done some really interesting things (including how to use GIS equipment) with his students in the virtual world. Here’s an article about his experiences.

All in all, this is turning out to be a worthwhile experiment.  I’m learning so much from our “students” and seeing my way toward a path to make this work for students.  If anyone is interested in joining us, in world, drop me a line!

Nov
01
2009

Using QR Codes in the Classroom

QRtattoo
QR code billboard in Japan

QR code billboard in Japan

Raise your hand if you know what that funny looking black and white tatoo is.  That is a QR code. What, you may well ask, are QR codes?  QR = Quick Response.  A bit of an unknown here in the U.S., but they are all over Japan (and have been for years) and are starting to make headway in Europe.

Think of them as fancy, 2D bar codes.  First introduced in 1994, these are matrix codes that, when scanned, redirect you to whatever digital information has been encoded there (urls, whatever).  They are a very efficient and reliable way to provide a url in non-networked situation – e.g on paper, on a billboard, on a painted surface – anywhere.  A QR code can hold a lot of information  - up  to 4,000 characters.  Even a simple jpeg can be scanned into a QR code, faxed, and then read at the other end.

But how are these QR codes read?  With any one of a number of free QR code readers – free apps that can be downloaded to a cell phone.  In fact, most new cell phones come already pre-loaded with QR code readers.  Once you have the reader, you just aim the phone’s camera at the QR code, the camera registers the data, and redirects you to whatever information was programmed into the code.  If it was a url, your phone will kick start the browser and take you to the desired web site. Bee Tag is the reader that I use, and i-nigma is a very popular one. Here’s a very simple, short video, showing you how it’s done.

And how do you generate these QR codes?  With any one of a number of free QR code generation sites.  Like Kaywa orQRStuff.   You just enter the url (or other data) you want to encode and the site spawns a printable QR code for you. Voila!

A QR code embedded with my contact information.

A QR code embedded with my contact information.

Here’s what QR codes look like.  This one, by the way, is embedded with all of my contact information, the url for this blog, my skype and twitter IDs.  I use it on my business card.

QRcocde.usages
Clever uses of QR codes (Creative Commons)

So, how might they be used in teaching?  At the simplest level, you could include them in a printed worksheet (for homework or on an exam).  Another idea would be to use small QR code labels in a lab – print them on ready-to-peel labels or tape them onto basic lab equipment (microscopes, glassware, sensors, binoculars, cabinets or drawers). The codes would would lead students to teaching videos or amplified safety information. QR codes printed on labels could be applied to bones or preserved specimens to lead students to further information or investigation.  Perhaps you could assign students the project of creating these QR codes for your lab supplies and equipment? Another possibility might be to use QR codes in an assessment – they go to the pre-determined site, watch a video or an animation, then answer questions about it. Use them for orienteering in an outdoor education course or on a field trip.  The QR codes could connect to maps or destinations on Google Earth. Have students create their own QR codes that they submit as an assignment. Maybe a “get-to-know-the-lab” scavenger hunt at the beginning of the year? Maybe have them printed on t-shirts as end of the year prizes?  Put them on business cards, luggage tags or make temporary tatoos out of them!  Just for fun, check out this video of a summer project, sponsored by a Japanese company to make a dramatically scaled QR code, out of sand.

What ideas do you have for using QR codes?

Oct
22
2009

Sounds Downunder

Around the World in 80 Blogs


We know as biology teachers that the entire world is our classroom –or should be.  The Internet certainly makes that easier then it was when I started to teach.  We have been “talking” about using Internet resources to make our teaching more personal, more interactive, more current.  Here is a way to open up the other side of the world to your students–>  Read a blog that is posted by an Australian biology teacher.  My best friend is a biologist in Melbourne, Australia (or as he says–Oz.)  07 Eastern Grey KangarooOver the past few years as I started to post my observations and exploits on my own Biology Teacher Blog (http://benzbiologyblog.blogspot.com/) my friend Stewart Monckton started to put together some ideas for a blog of his own.  Well, it is live now and I find it fascinating.  I love to see the biology around my own world as I walk, drive, bike or paddle around.  Now I can “see” and “hear” and learn about the biology around the environs of Melbourne, Australia.  I find that writing a blog entry makes me see better, hear better, and learn more about my environment.  When I read Stewart’s blog I find that his entries and my responses are making me see more of the world, hear more of the world and of course, learn more about the biology in other parts of the world.  Last week he described a recent trip to an area called The Grampions west of Melbourne–or as Stewart says–> “The Grampians sit West and North of Melbourne. A four hour journey by car, longer with kids, an eternity if they are bored, restless and fractious. Luckily eternity does not beckon.”  Here is a comment that his recent entry elicited from me–>kookaburra
Benz said…

Another delightful “hike.” We often ignore sounds around us just to keep ‘peace of mind’ I suppose. Where I live I can alternately listen to a pileated woodpecker (had to mention that since you brought up your Crimson Rosella,) a noisy titmouse looking for peanuts in the mix of feeder fodder I put out, a helicopter flying overhead going from highway to hospital, and the background of long distance motor trucks on the highways obscured by the trees and forests. But my ear and mind seem to filter the wanted sounds from the unwanted ones. I can go out on my deck and listen to the rustling of leaves as the small herd of white-tail deer browse my trees and shrubs. I can concentrate on the dropping of acorns and the tapping of the hairy and downy woodpeckers–and ignore the cars and planes and school busses (this is a little easier since I retired from the classroom.) Just last Wednesday I led a night hike at a nearby Environmental Learning Center. The night was pretty overcast, therefore fairly dark. Rain was in the air, but the air was still. As we walked down the starting trail we were forced to ignore the distant highway, and were rewarded for it. A lone Great Horned Owl was making his presence known. Wait, there was an answer. Or maybe just an echo. At any rate, we ignored the highway and enjoyed the owl–our choice, our joy. RB

As you can see, he makes me think.  Stewart has asked if other biologist are interested in learning about his own environment.  I said “You bet they are!”  So here it is–

http://payingreadyattention.blogspot.com/

Check it out.  Learn about the environments on the other side of the world.  Oz is a fascinating place.  When you read about the wildlife, remember, they are on the “other side ” of the Wallace Line (see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Line)

Rich Benz (and friend)

Rich Benz (and friend)

Sep
18
2009

Using Bookmarking Tools to Start a Conversation with Students

A set of Darwin bookmarks on my Diigo page.

A set of Darwin bookmarks on my Diigo page.

I’m becoming increasingly fond of electronic bookmarking services like Delicious and Diigo. Diigo, in particular, has become my bookmarking tool of choice, because of their collaboration tools.  You can highlight, add sticky notes, search, make lists, and create groups. Here’s a 4-minute video showing how the Diigo collaboration tools work.

But the best way to get a feel for what you can do, is to take a look at an annotated article. Here’s an example, from Will Richardson.  What he’s done is to bookmark an article (from the Wall Street Journal) in Diigo and then highlighted key passages and made comments on them.  When others use his Diigo-created link to navigate to the article, they see his highlights and comments (roll over the highlighted comments and his sticky notes appear).  In addition to reading the bookmarker’s comments, the reader can comment right back – agreeing or disagreeing with him, asking further questions, seeking clarification.  With time, you can imagine a whole conversation started (and recorded) around an online article.

What an interesting idea to try with biology students.  You could start by bookmarking an appropriate (pick a fairly straightforward one) scientific journal article and highlight it to point out the key elements.  You can add your own comments (with the sticky notes) to make points that support what you’ve been talkingg about in class or lab.  For instance, “here’s the researcher’s hypothesis” or “notice the basic structural elements of the paper”  - or ask them a question “which is the control group?”.  When students access the url you provide, they will see your annotations and can add their own.

Let me know if you try it – would love to see a collection of Diigo-marked articles with teacher-to-student conversations.

Aug
23
2009

E-Rate Funding to Re-Imagine Schools

Meet Chris Lehmann, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Lehmann is a interesting guy – he started out as a High School English teacher and technology coordinator.  Over the years, his abiding interest in and thoughtful blog (Practical Theory:  A View From the Classroom) about new technologies applied to teaching and learning has put him in the national spotlight.  On 8.20.09 he gave a talk at the FCC National Broadband Planning Workshop in Washington, DC.   The blog entry I’ve linked you to includes the ustream video of his talk as well as his notes.

I found his talk inspiring. I particularly appreciated his very well articulated point, that if all we do with new broadband technologies is find a more efficient way to deliver content, we are missing the boat. What do you think?

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools | Tags: ,
Jun
10
2009

Twenty of my Favorite Things

my favorite things

Recently, a colleague asked me what ideas I might have for interesting student projects that would take advantage of these new, participatory media tools.  I thought about it and started to make a list.  I came up with about 30 ideas but some of them were a little weak…. so I whittled the list down to 20 of my favorites.  And here they are.  With linked examples, where I had one. I hope you like…(and a yellow jelly bean to anyone who can name the song from the photo above).

1.  5-Photo Story
Plan and storyboard a five- (or ten?) image story. Take the photos with a digital camera and post them to a Flickr group. Ask all members of the group to comment on each others photos. Design a rubric to guide the comments (in order to avoid platitudes or uniformed praise)

2.  Annotated Reading
Start a conversation around an article. Bookmark the article’s online location (using Diigo) and insert comments/questions. Provide the group with your bookmarked version (url) and then they add their comments/questions. Example.

3.  Wiki Process Journal
Create a wiki space for a group to use over the course of a project or an experiment. Team members keep their notes and observations about the process.  The group’s final product will be in some other form; the wiki is there to document the process. The process journal could be organized chronologically or by team member (with each team member owning a page).  The team could document their process with video, photos, or text.

4.  Project Timeline
Use a web-based time line creation tool (xtimeline, timetoast) to document a product/process or to plan a future project.  Comments are embedded in the timeline, document/photos are attached, and links embedded. The timeline is stored online so that others can view it, edit it, and add to it.

5.  Self-Published Book
A book is identified as the outcome of a particular process or project. The team works together to write the book and then self-publishes, using one of any number of online publishing sites (LuLu, Myebook).

6.  Animated Movie
Make an animated movie to tell a story, present a case, or explain a principle. (Goanimate makes animation easy, xtranormal is a unique movie generation service that converts a text description to a movie)

7.  Introduce Yourself
Make a media piece that tells your personal story (or your school’s story) to use for group introductions (back to school night?).  Animoto, IAMUNIQUE, Eyejot, or Wordle are all good tools for this sort of high-impact, at-a-glance”capture”.  Perhaps post all individual “introductions” to a wiki page?  Example.

8.  Create a Bell-Ringer
To wrap up a chapter, a unit, or slam home a complex topic, have students create a “bell-ringer” (using Animoto) to summarize the main points or the experience. ExampleAnother example.

9.  Put it in the Funny Papers
Use a comic generator (Pixton) to create a comic strip to explain a concpet, describe an assignment, or model appropriate team behavior.  First build the story with a mistaken conclusion or a wrong answer and then build it with the right answer. Have a discussion around the two scenarios.

10.  Build a Collaboration
Use VoiceThread to create a conversation around a series of images, a concept or a scenario.  Use the audio recording to narrate a series of still pictures/photos. Once complete, provide the link and all members of the team can comment on the story (leaving their own voice recordings embedded or commented through text).  With time, the recorded observations, insights, and suggestions from all team members are captured within the case’s VoiceThread file. Maybe even invite an outside expert to add comments to a class VoiceThread. A VoiceThread allows a group conversation to be collected from anywhere and then shared in one simple place. Here’s a terrific example of a Voicethread created by Tod Duncan (UC Denver) for his cancer biology course. And another example built by Kelly Hogan  (UNC Chapel Hill) for her non-science majors’ biology course.

11.  Prezi Presentations
Traditional Powerpoint presentations can be boring and they don’t travel well without the presenter.  Create your presentation in Prezi which allows you to narrate, annotate, and focus the students’ eye on the points you consider most important.  Post your Prezi on your web site or put it on a CD. Students can create prezis too.  Here is an excellent example prezi presentation created by one of Cheryl Holinger’s (Central York High School) students.

12. Broadcast Yourself
With an internet connection and a webcam, you can create a live, broadcast show online with any of the interactive web streaming platforms (Livestream, Blogamp, or UStream). Broadcast an event, a talk-show, an interview, a field trip, a debate or deliver a live conversation with participants in different locations. Viewers can pose questions or comment in the chat window. The show can be recorded and archived for later viewing and reflection.

13.  Tell a Digital Story
Use digital tools to tell your story (a project, a personal story, a success story, a retrospective on a failure).  The Center for Digital Storytelling has a number of helpful tools and articles.  Example Stories.

14.  Produce a Film
Using small, easy-to-use low-cost video cameras (like the Flip camera), it’s relatively easy to create simple videos.  Video is an effective way to model behavior, demonstrate a successful encounter/experiment, document an event or a field trip, record an interview with a subject-matter expert.  Post your video online and use either veotag or bubbleply to annotate your video and direct students to particular segments.

15. Podcast It
Ask students to create a podcast (or a series of podcasts).  Short (3 -5 minute) descriptions or explanations, based on a script they write.  The podcasts can be simply audio or they can enhance them with video or still graphics (using Garageband or Audacity).  Podcasts can be posted and distributed online through iTunes or Odeo.

16.  Crossword
Use Crossword compiler to create an online crossword for others to complete.

17.  Analyze What You’ve Written
Challenge students to use Wordle to take a critical look at a report, an essay, or an assessment. Paste the entire document or block of text into Wordle and analyze the resulting map.  Are the most prominent words what you expected?  Does the document reflect the major points you wanted to make? If not, why not?  Make changes to the document and then paste the new version into Wordle.  Compare the before and after results.

18.  Locate Yourself
GoogleEarth works well for creating location-based stories (Darwin’s HMS Beagle Voyage, WWII battles, the expansion of the Roman Empire). Use it to visualize all of the member locations in a particular group or provide location context for research or world events.  Take someone on a tour of a city or a neighborhood by pre-locating place pins and recording your commentary with built-in audio recording.  GoogleEarth 5 also now includes historical imagery from around the globe and ocean images.

19.  Join the Blogosphere
Start an individual blog (your letter to the world) or do a group/class blog with rotating posting responsibility.  Blogs can be text-based or video blogs (vlogs). The best blogs have a strong voice, something worthwhile to say, and invite commentary.  Example, Howard Reingold’s excellent vlog.

20.  A Little Online Brainstorming
Online, shareable white boards (like Skribl or Scriblink) and mind mapping applications (like text2mindmap) can make a group brainstorming activity more interesting. Upload images, doodle, share the pen, chat and when you’re done, print, save, email the results.

Send me a few of your “favorite things”, and we’ll get the list up to 40.  Or more!

May
29
2009

Say “hi” to Google Wave

picture-14Looks like there’s a new tool in town – Google Wave.  It’s basically a real-time communication platform.  One-stop-shopping for email, IM, wikis, chat, project management, and social networking. The press about it so far has been very, very positive.  One reason for the raves is that it is open source – so extensions and applications can be fitted to it in order to modify it to your specific needs.  It will be released later this year (according to the Google site).

Here are a few links to help you get a feel for it:

GoogleWave sneak peak (from Google).

Article about its release.

A guide to the terminology (but of course, there’s new jargon!).

A video clip showing a demo of it.

A few of the extensions that have already been demonstrated will allow collaboratin with maps, auctioning extensions for selling things, rating /reviewing items, and extensions that push content out to an existing blog.  Looks like this could be very interesting.  Keep your eyes and ears open.

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools | Tags: ,
May
27
2009

Dung Beetles

Horned BeetleWhen I grow up, I want to be Terry Gross (the host and interviewer on the NPR show, Fresh Air).  She’s got to have the best job in the world.  For those of you who are fans of the show, you know that Terry Gross interviews the world’s most interesting people – from politicians, to artists, to scientists, to authors, to musicians, to entertainers.  And she’s so good at it.  She asks the best questions and always gets the full story.

She didn’t let me down this month when she interviewed Doug Emlen (University of Montana) who is an entomologist who studies dung beetles and has become an expert in insect weaponry.  Dr. Emlen described the creatures he studies and their amazing horns – so elaborate and intricate.  He walked Terry through a vivid description of the beetle’s turf battles and how they use their fancy armor to protect, defend, and establish sexual dominance.  His tales of collecting dung beetle specimens from around the world were entertaining and delightful.

Past Fresh Air episodes are all available online as podcasts.  Here is a link to the 40-minute interview with Emlen.  You can also find some amazing video of the dung beetles fighting.  And Dr. Emlen’s web  site includes a gallery of gorgeous photos of the beetles he studies.

This stuff is like biological bon bons.

May
24
2009

Make a Book Online

picture-2

Here’s an online utility that you might want to consider using for student projects – - online book creation sites.  Sites like Lulu, XLibris, and Bookemon are free utilities that allow you to create a book, using your own assets (text and images).  These sites are well designed, easy and intuitive to use.

picture-13

In order to build your own book, you go to the site of your choice, create a free account, upload your pictures or text (word documents) and the site creates the book for you.  On Lulu and XLibris, you can create your own cover design. In the case of Bookemon, you can go further and design your own layout, adding text boxes, borders, and frames.

Once your book is just as you want it, you can publish it and  – if you want – buy a copy.  The price of the printed book depends, of course, on a variety of factors (e.g. length, color, type of binding) but you can typically purchase a 50-page physical book for about $20.  On the Lulu site you can list your book in their online catalog for others to purchase and you can offer up ebook versions of it for people to download.

On the Bookemon site, you can share the online version of your book with others either by providing a link or embedding code into your web site or social networking site.

Here’s a 41-page book on Acadia National Park that one of Cheryl Hollinger’s (Central York High School) students created using the Bookemon site.  The photos above are pages from this students’ book.  Her wonderful creation gives the reader a very good feel for the park – both scenically and biologically.  And she was careful to provide references and options for more information at the end.

Poetry, cookbooks, memory books, or books on a topic (like Cheryl did with her students) all sound like useful and creative ways for students to express themselves.

May
22
2009

Data.gov

The new Data.gov web site

The new Data.gov web site

The federal government just launched a new web site:  www.data.gov.  It’s a compendium of pretty amazing (and amazingly huge!) data sets and tools – all free and available to the public.

In the “About” section of the site, they explain that the “open government” priority of the Obama administration is the driving force behind this new site.  It is an attempt to improve access to Federal data and expand the creative use of those data beyond the walls of government.

I’m thinking there might be some good stuff in here for biology teachers.  Here’s a sampling of a few intriguing data sets that I found on the site:

- FluView:  a natioanl flu activity map (there’s also a state-by-state map)

- Cancer Incidence:  Surveillance, epidemiology and end results

- Residential Energy Consumption Survey:  conducted every four years, provides national statistical survey data on the use of energy in residential housing

- American Census Data

- American FactFinder:  a tool designed to search the American Community Survey, Decennial Census, Economic Census, and population estimates.

Fun stuff.  There’s a handy search engine on the home page of the site where you can indicate the kind of data you’re interested in and which federal agency(ies) you want to query.

It’s not perfect (of course).  The data available is limited (they’re promising to add more) and, curiously, there’s nothing from the Securities and Exchange Commission (hmmm…).   I would love to hear ideas about how this might be used in teaching.

May
11
2009

Video Tools

picture-1Video is a powerful medium.  No doubt about it.  Not only does it have an emotional quality to it (that amplifies its impact) but it packs information efficiently.  The only catch is that when we show a video to students, we like to sort of narrate it, explain it, or at least provide context.  We like to point out important things, ask questions, or make sure that the students get all the connections. Those requirements usually mean that valuable in-class time is required to show video.

There are a couple of new online tools that could help with this dilemma. The first one I found is called Veotag.  With this application you can make a table of contents to go with a video (with chapter or topic headings).  The video plays side by side with your constructed table of contents. Students can jump to the various parts of the video by clicking on your pre-created links.  You can also add notes, tags, and comments to further explain or amplify what’s going on in the video. Your notes and the table of contents display next to the viewing window.  As an additional benefit, if you are working with one of your own videos or a student-created video, these veotags are apparently automatically picked up by search engines so you’ll get more search engine traffic to your site by posting veotagged videos.

The other one you might want to try is Bubbleply.  With this tool you can add a data layer to run on top of any existing, online video. You can put text comments, images, or links in that data layer.  When you’re done, Bubbleply generates a new link. You then send your students to that new link and they’ll see your annotated version of the video. So, with this tool, they will see the video and your comments simultaneously in the same window.

At first I was thinking that these tools could be used to create teacher-annotated content videos so that students could watch them outside of class, even when you’re not there to narrate them. But it occurs to me that they could also be used by students to create their own narrated videos.

Any other ideas?