Well, today starts the second week of school, and marks the official kick-off to the IVC program for the 2009-2010 school year. If this year is anything like last year, it’s going to be a busy one.

With the beginning of each new year, I think we all tend to make some new goals as well, much like the New Year Resolutions we make in January. Hopefully, I’ll have better success with keeping these.

My goals this year include some changes in the way the program is run. Hopefully, this will translate to more usage at the schools and better support from me. So here are my goals for the 2009-2010 school year:

  • Each school will participate in at least 2 video conferences per semester.
  • To schedule 2-4 virtual field trip opportunities per month.
  • To schedule 1-2 classroom to classroom connections per month.
  • To offer schools more opportunities for selecting programs for their school through mini-grants.
  • To find, and schedule, more programming for grades 6-12.
  • To conduct at least 2 after school PD sessions per semester via VC.
  • To blog 2-4 times per month.

What are your goals for the year?

So for me, this has been the summer of “Jazz”. I hosted two summer sessions, one in June and one in July. And while tremendous amount of work, it is truly worth it. While I enjoy most training that I do, this is my favorite by far.

What makes “Jazz” so special? While there are many answers to this, I think I would have to say my top answer is relationships. “Jazz” has been described as “a summer camp for adults”. You get to spend a little over 30 hours getting to know your participants. This is a far cry from our normal 3 hour trainings. And from this, lasting relationships are created.

In addition to the participants that you have locally, you are also connected with 2-3 other sites. While you may not get to know all the people individually at the other sites, you do get to know them as a group, and you get to know the facilitator. Again, forming relationships for future projects and support.

The second reason why I love “Jazz” is its uniqueness. During the week you experience not only the operation of videoconferencing equipment, but classroom based projects, content providers, and numerous Web 2.0 tools, such as Google Docs, blogs, wikis, Skype, Flickr, and, this year, Twitter. That’s a lot of tools.

Now imagine all that without any direct instruction! That’s “Jazz”. Learn by immersion. With all of the tools that we use, you are developing, while you are learning. And having fun doing it!

So, thank you, participants and facilitators of Jazz, for giving me a great summer!

If you would like to know more about what we do and to see some great pictures from the week, check out the following links:

So the past month has been incredibly busy with videoconferences of all kinds, classroom to classroom collaborations, content provider, point to point, bridged, them calling us, us calling them, almost any configuration you can imagine. While most of the time things went smoothly, we did hit an occasional snag. Here are my observations about those snags. :-)

  • Good notes are essential! When you are dealing with a large number of connections in a small amount of time, you will never remember the connection details for each connection. I was amazed at how many schools I tested with for RAP that I received an email or phone call from the day before the conference wondering who was placing the call.
  • If possible, go ahead and test the computer connection whether you think you will use it or not. It doesn’t make the test call much longer and can prevent some stress during the conference.
  • Make sure plan B is in place. If the computer has not been tested and isn’t working, and your whole class presentation relies on Power Point, what do you do? Make sure you have a second way to present so that the conference can go on.
  • Again, make sure plan B (C and D) are in place and ready to go, “just in case.” This year seemed to be the year of RAP gremlins. Several calls did not connect for the actual conference the way they connected for the test. It’s a plus to have multiple ways to connect.
  • An IVC troubleshooting class is needed. Something along the lines of “What to do when… they can’t see my computer/doc camera; I don’t have a picture; they can’t hear me; I can’t hear them; etc.”
  • Always, always, always make sure you have a way to contact the other side in case there is a problem. Something besides email. While this is pretty easy if you have a domestic US conference, it can be a bit challenging if you have an international conference and can’t place an international phone call. :-) Try to get a skype contact or something that can be used as a back up.

I would love to hear your thoughts as well.

Well, the RAP (Read Around the Planet) 2009 season is coming to a close. We still have a few more connections going on over the next few days, but the majority of our connections are now over.

This year we had about 40 RAP connections. This is a slight increase over last year, which I’m excited about. And while I would have to go back and pull records from last year to be positive, I’m pretty sure that the number of schools participating also increased. Which I’m really excited about.

This year we connected with schools from all over the US, Canada and even Costa Rica! Classroom stories, original plays, and book adaptations were shared among the classrooms. In addition, our students  learned about other regions of the world from the classrooms they interacted with.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch many of the connections, but one of the ones that I did get to watch was just great. It was a primary level pairing, I think with Kindergarten classes on both sides. I believe the partner school was from Michigan. They did an awesome job of getting our class involved. For each child in our class, they cheered, “Friend, friend from over the way, who has come to play today?” Then they inserted the “friends” name. “Julie, Julie, from over the way. What do you want to play today?” The the student on our side would respond with something all students on both sides would do, jumping jacks, clapping, whatever. All the students seemed to have a great time with this.

I think this would be a fun activity to adapt to incorporate the use of patterns, math problems, spelling words, or just to get to know the other class. :-)

I can’t wait until next year!

Over the last month, we have had several different types of connections. And have connected with many different places. As a result, I have learned a lot about videoconferencing. Here are some of the things I have learned.

Visuals
For the African-American Fact or Fiction conferences, it was a requirement that they have a visual of their clue so that they other class could easily write it down, or at least that was the thought behind it.

One of the things I learned is that this requirement leaves a lot to the imagination. :-) We had visuals that ran the gamet in quality. Some were typed, some handwritten, some on flip charts and others in powerpoint. Also, the mode of displaying these were diverse. Some were hand held, others set on a stationery object, some used the document camera, while others were on the computer.

What I found that works the best are the following:

  • Typed in a LARGE font size, 72 pt or larger.
  • Using a stationery object is prefered. Either some kind of stand that the visual can be placed on or using a document camera.
  • List only one clue per visual. A list of the clue is too hard to read.
  • In all of the above cases, it is important to ZOOM in so that the clue can be seen clearly. This should be done with a preset so as not to make the remote site sea sick. :-)
  • While PowerPoint works, there is a tendency to put too much on it so the font size is not big enough. Also, people tend to leave it on the presentation and we never get to see the students.
  • And more of a “techie” thing than a instructional thing, but I’m not a big fan of Duo Video or H.239. I’ve only seen it work really well in one situation. Most of the time, it just seems to mess things up, and the other side can’t always see it. I would much rather just change the input for the main video.

Here are some examples. You can decided for yourself what you think works well. Click on a thumbnail for a larger version.

Audio
The placement of the mic is essential. Most people place the mic in the center of the room thinking that this is the best location. However, the mic that we have, actually has a “front” and “back”. If the student is in front of the mic, they are heard fine. If the student is behind the mic, their audio is muffled and sometimes barely audible.

mic-placement

The best place for the mic is on a chair or table towards the front of the room, facing all of the students. In most cases, this is sufficient for most students to be heard when talking in a normal voice. However, if a student is soft spoken, they may need to be moved closer to the front of the room.

Changes for next year for the Fact or Fiction program
This was the first year for this program and as such I think it went really well. But there are a few things that I think could be improved upon.

  • Make sure the person being featured is communicated beforehand so that the classroom teachers is able to gather appropriate resources and credible research links.
  • Give examples of good clues. The best clues seemed to be date related or truly based on fact. Just the way some of the clues were written, left the answer up for debate.
  • Ban the use of wikipedia. While you can get a lot of good information there, you can’t count that it is always accurate.

If you participated in this project, I would love to hear your feedback.

February was quite a full month for us in the area of videoconferencing. We did three different types of connections in celebration of African-American History Month.

African-American Fact or Fiction
I got the Fact or Fiction idea from a classroom teacher and then adapted it to the Mystery Quest model. Each class researched a famous African-American. They then came up with 7 statements about that person. The statements could be true or false. Those statements were then presented to the remote class, who was then given time to research the statements to determine if they were Fact or Fiction. Answers were then revealed. The agenda we used is below.

Videoconferencing agenda (60 minutes):

  • 5 minutes: Class introductions – This can be a class cheer, a school song, or a simple “hello”.
  • 10 minutes: Class A presents their famous person and their 7 statements.
  • 10 minutes: Class B presents their person and their 7 statements.
  • 20 minutes: Classes research the statements given to them to determine if the statements are Fact or Fiction.
  • 10 minutes: Reveal – Class A asks Class B “Fact or Fiction?” for each statement. Repeat with Class B.
  • 5 minutes: Goodbyes

This was the first year for this project. We had 8 district schools and 2 out of state schools participate in 5 conferences over two days. We all had a great time and I hope to continue this project next year.

African-American History Exchange
This project is a simple exchange project where classes can share anything they are doing to celebrate African-American History Month. Projects ranged from presenting famous African-Americans and having the other class guess to sharing of poetry and African-American Jazz artists.

This was the second year for this project. We had 7 district classes and 3 out of state classes participate in 5 conferences throughout the day. A little smaller than last year, but I think it is due to the number of choices they had this year.

I’m not sure I will continue this one next year. It is easier for the teachers to prepare, but I think the African-American Fact or Fiction has more curriculum rigor. But I guess if people are willing to participate, I shouldn’t knock it, right?

A New View of Black History
This videoconferencing  was presented by the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. It focused on the art of William H. Johnson and “explored the lifestyles, struggles, and spirituality of African-Americans in the United States during the early twentieth century.” (taken from the Amon Carter program description.)

We connected three schools at a time for the conference for a total of 12 schools participating throughout the day. The conferences were apapted for K-2 and 3-6 audiences. Nancy Strickland, the presenter, did an awesome job of facilitation a multi-site conference and kept all the schools engaged. They also sent out awesome support materials. The teachers loved this conference.

On February 10th, Dallas ISD celebrated the 100th day of school. If you have ever been around a primary classroom (grades PK-2), you know this is a big deal. Classes have songs, cheers, art projects, etc., all revolving around the 100th day of school and the concept of the number 100.

For the second year in a row, we have shared our 100 days of school activities among schools. This year 28 classrooms from 17 different school participated in 12 different videoconferences.

Activities ranged from sharing collections of 100 things, stories of “If I had $100″, art projects, and even 100 jumping jacks. A great time was had by all. We hope to have you participate with us next year.

Here are a few pictures of things that were shared.

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