Looking for Skype partners

The Supervisor of Technology from Montclair Public Schools contacted me earlier this week looking for ways to spark interest in collaborations with the students in Watchung Science and Technology Elementary School. The Principal of the schools, Peter Turnamian, had reached out to her regarding a project they were working on. (The school serves 460 students in grades K-5.  Their primary language is English.)

The question the students are looking to discuss via Skype is “How are we all connected?”  The primary objective for this project is to increase cultural awareness for students.

We know we have the following invaluable Skype resources:

But if you are interested in kick-starting this discussion, please fill out the following form so that someone from Watchung Science and Technology Elementary School can contact you directly.

Please click on the form to complete it.
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What My Droid Does – Part 5

If you are a Droid owner, you should have by now received your system update. It came with some pretty cool enhancements like:

  • New support for voice-to-text entry – tap on the microphone whenever a text-entry box appears on the virtual keyboard and speak (this has worked fairly well for me)
  • New Gallery application with 3D layout. (This reminds me of http://www.cooliris.com/)
  • Supposedly there’s a new night mode in Google Maps Navigation that automatically changes
    the screen at night to adjust to the lighting, but I haven’t had a chance to try it.
  • Read about the rest on the .pdf that Verizon sent out to Droid owners here.

Also, If you haven’t already, take a look at the Google for Android web page. Your Android powered phone most likely came with these applications already installed, but here you can find videos, more information or even the link to download the mobile app should you want it. Some of the applications listed here are:

Many of us have been waiting for Skype to come to the Android phone. Actually, I have blogged about using Skype Lite on my Droid to use the chat feature of Skype, but this is the full application – WITH ONE THING MISSING. Verizon has set the limitation that you can only use Skypemobile on the 3G network. So if you thought you were going to save on data charges by using your wifi to make Skype-to-Skype calls, it’s not going to happen.

Here are the Terms of Service that come up when you go to install it on your phone:

“Skype mobile is available within the National and Extended National Enhanced Services Coverage Areas, but not when using WiFi. Skype mobile features may vary from Skype on your PC. Domestic calls made from Skype mobile are carried by Verizon Wireless, not Skype, and are billed according to your Verizon Wireless plan. Skype calls to international numbers are billed by Skype at Skype international rates. Calls to 911 will be completed by Verizon Wireless. Skype mobile is not available when using per-line or per-call caller ID blocking. In the event of a conflict between these Verizon Wireless Skype mobile Terms and the Skype EULA, Skype TOS, or any other applicable terms, the provisions of the Verizon Wireless Skype mobile Terms shall apply.”

Yet, this is pretty cool as I communicate with many educators via Skype that I don’t have cell phone number for, and now I can talk to them without being tethered to a laptop/desktop.

I know from some Tweets I’ve seen that many Android users have been waiting for a version of Tweetdeck for the Android to be released. In the meantime, we have HootSuite. As listed on their site, here are some of the benefits of HootSuite that I would utilize when away from my laptop. (Actually, I frequently recommend Hootsuite to educators that use Twitter in school but don’t have the administrative rights to install Tweetdeck to their computers.)

  • Managing multiple identities and accounts
  • Creating custom views for tags and searches
  • Adding followers to lists and accounts
  • Sharing photos and shortening URLs

There’s a paid version for $2.99  and then the HootSuite for Android Lite for free.

ChaCha Droid

ChaCha – this neat little app allows you to query by voice and returns the answers by text right on your screen. Some of us have used ChaCha in the past by calling their 1-800 number or using a text message to send our question in, but this bypasses that process and the bonus is you can query by voice. I tried a few with success. If you go to the ChaCha Droid for Android page, their is a QR Code you can scan and install the app on your phone.

If you were a user of wpToGo to edit your WordPress blog from your Android phone, you may want upgrade to the new and improved WordPress for Android app. I don’t typically post from my Droid, but I will approve and reply to comments right from the WordPress for Android application. wpToGo is going to be discontinued, so upgrade soon. Here’s their video:

Google Buzz for the Android used to be just a web shortcut. Now there’s a widget that can be added to your Android desktop one of two ways. The first way is you can find it in the Android Market. The second way is you can scan the QR Code.   I scanned the code using my Barcode Scanner and then it brought me to the Google Buzz Widget.

I read the four points listed on the installation screen

  • Quickly post buzz publicly or privately
  • Add photos to your post from the camera or gallery
  • Share your location or place
  • Quickly access buzz.google.com

and realized that this widget was for posting to Buzz and not for staying connected to your Buzz contacts. So I went back to the site to read some of the comments. There was some concern about this as well as it not working on all Android phones and a desire for the QR Code (which had been added). Still, if you are using Buzz, this is a handy widget to have.

www.cooliris.com/

What My Droid Does – Part 2

On January 5, I sat waiting for the live feed from CNN on the new Nexus One, but all I got was this Twitter update. Bummer. I was able to watch the recorded video a bit later and read about the phone to determine if I had made the wrong decision purchasing the Motorola Droid rather than waiting for the release of the Nexus One. I remain happy with my decision.

Here’s what my Droid does:

I recently uninstalled Skype Lite on my Droid as all it let me do was chat. That was nifty for about a week. But what I really wanted to be able to do was use the features of Skype. I started searching and found Fring. You have to check this out!

Fring allows me to call and chat with my Skype contacts using 3G or wifi. I have the option to add additional accounts as well including AIM, Google Talk, Twitter and Yahoo, but as of today I have kept it just to Skype and it is working very well.

Source: http://www.geardiary.com

The next app I wanted to write about has been around for iPhones and iPod Touches a while now. I was excited to see that there is a Bump app in the Android Market. Before I explain what Bump is, let me just say that the applications are compatible from iPhones to Androids, so Bump away.

Bump was designed so that people can easily swap contact information. There is no longer the need to manually type in someone’s cell phone number or any information. All you need to do to use Bump is for both users to have it installed. (It is FREE). You literally bump phones (but not too hard – just ask the folks I hung out with last summer at BLC09).

Make sure to install this app before your next conference, convention or social gathering.

I mentioned Twidroid in my first post about the Droid. I don’t think that this application could be any easier to use. (Of course this is coming from someone who Tweeted from a Blackberry.) I can:

  • easily follow the hyperlink in a Tweet
  • easily RT (re-tweet someone)
  • look up someone’s profile
  • send someone a direct message
  • attach a photo or video to a Tweet
  • Search by hashtag
  • save a search and then revisit it another time
  • view lists I subscribe to
  • check out the Twitter Trends

There are more features available if you purchase the Pro version, but for right now, this version suits me just fine.

Something to look forward to:

Tether – formally Tetherberry is working on an Android app. You can sign up for their Beta here http://www.tether.com/android-beta. This is something that I miss and am looking forward to being able to tether my netbook to my Android when I need to.

5 Changes To Education Meme

Image Source: http://www.medicalpracticetrends.com
Image Source: http://www.medicalpracticetrends.com

I have been tagged by Beth Knittle for this meme. TJ Shay began this meme with the following rules.

List FIVE changes you would like to see in the educational system.  Your responses should represent your perspective and your passion for learning and students.  If you have been tagged, tag as many people as you choose, but try for a variety.

This is the first semester in many years that I am not taking a graduate class in the evenings. I decided to take a break so that I would have more time with my family and to devote to the astonishing amount of professional development offered through the folks in my PLN via distance. Last semester, as I sat in a room without wi-fi listening to the class discussions, I found myself really feeling like I could spend my time more wisely participating in EdTechTalk events, the DEN or ISTE in Second Life or even some of the impromptu gatherings that happen via UStream or Skype. I just wanted to make sure that I was putting myself in an environment where I could learn.

One thing that stuck with me from one of my recent classes in supervision was that when you go into a school or a district as a new administrator, you should not make immediate change. You should observe and learn the culture before you can make decisions as to what would make improvements.

So, though a part of me wants to make changes in education, the other part of me knows that these things take time, and I’ll keep working towards making improvements within the districts that I have come to know the culture and populations of. The teachers that I work with know that I believe in “taking baby steps” and that things take time.

Here is my list. There are a few that are a bit more achievable, but I can dream big, right?

1.  I would like teachers to view themselves as professionals so that the portion of the population that doesn’t, that sees teachers as working from 9 to 3 and having summers off, will know how much we are devoted to our profession. There are so many devoted educators that put in countless hours to improve teaching and learning in their classroom and to make sure that they meet the needs of their students. Let this be known.

2.  I would like all educators to see the positive in each and every student. I know it’s difficult, but they are all someone’s child and they all need love, understanding and sometimes extra assistance or compassion.

3.  I would like students to play a larger role in the writing of curriculum. If we give our students more opportunities to take ownership of their education, then maybe there will be more success stories. Students need to invest in their futures as well and this is one way for them to do so.

4.  I would ask that administrators find the needs in a district before taking on an initiative to fix something. There is always more than one way to look at something. Let’s make sure we are addressing the right issues before determining what we think are the right solutions.

5.  I would like all teachers to “be teachable“. Mandated professional development is not always the way to go. Educators, and people in general have to WANT to learn in order to truly learn. I would love it if all teachers were open to trying new things, open to doing what they already do well – more, and willing to share resources. How do we accomplish this? Well, I do believe that enthusiasm is contagious…

If you are reading this post, you most likely have thought about this list of 5 things to improve in education. Perhaps you’ve even implemented changes to make these improvements. I’d be curious to know what other things you are looking to change. I therefor tag the following bloggers, but anyone is welcome to leave a comment or post the meme on their site.

Clif Mims

Chris Craft

Cheryl Oakes

Liz Davis

Bud Hunt

Are We Idealistic or Optimistic?

feb2009-misc-010

One of the responsibilities of my job at the CMSCE at Rutgers University is to offer sustained professional development in Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Some of the districts that I have been working with are part of a grant through the NJ Department of Education called the INCLUDE grant and some of them have taken it upon themselves to begin to embed UDL principles in their curriculum. In either case, I get the opportunity to develop a rapport with the teachers, work with them over a sustained period of time, customize the professional development to their needs and the needs of their students and in some cases have the opportunity to go into their classrooms and co teach with them.

One of the topics that we spend a large chunk of time talking about in our professional development on UDL is removing barriers from our lessons, curriculum and classrooms so that more students can reach the objectives of the lessons. We show teachers all types of digital tools that help students decode directions using text-to-speech tools, highlighters and even something as simple as just making fonts larger. We talk about using mind maps and imagery to help visual learners. We offer the concepts of allowing students to represent that they have met the objectives of a unit by a means of their choice versus a single choice assignment or assessment.

I urge educators that are involved in UDL to make use of social bookmarking. I share my Delicious and Diigo bookmarks with them and encourage them to explore the “tag” for UDL. I try to show them the power of collaboration not just with the teachers they are working with, but with other teachers in the state and the nation that are also embracing these same techniques in their classrooms. We join conversations in the UDL4ALL Ning and look for other schools and educators that are implementing these same principles in their classrooms to share their experieinces with us.

During one of my recent UDL sessions, I invited my friend, and UDL guru, Karen Janowski to Skype in with us. When I had first met the group of teachers they told me they were “just not getting UDL”. I talked to them for about an hour and made some suggestions about how I might help them move forward and then explained to them that I don’t learn alone. I learn from and with others.  I asked them who they had learned from and they mentioned Karen’s name and her Toolkit.  I indicated that I would ask her if she was available for a Skype with us and it seemed as if it was a completely new concept. (Many of the folks in my PLN wouldn’t think twice of video conferencing with someone who had the answers to some of the questions they had.) I explained to the group that by making this connection, the answers might be a bit more meaningful to them. They would see Karen’s toolkit not just as a list of valuable links, but as resources from a thoughtful educator from Massachusetts that took the time to speak with them.

Karen gave us some great suggestions after we told her we were still looking for ways to increase our Activity Toolkit. We talked about general tools to help remove barriers for different types of learners and specific ways to make accommodations in our classrooms for the three Brain Networks. Since these teachers were part of the INCLUDE grant and had a focus specifically on middle school math, she suggested Mathcasts and MathPlayground as resources for activities to integrate with the curriculum.

Then the conversation went down a different road. One of the teachers brought it back to a topic we had been discussing before Karen had joined us on Skype. The teacher spoke of three specific barriers that they felt could not be removed from the situation.
The Three Barriers:

  1. Teachers cannot count on support from home. Most students go home to older or younger siblings and do not see parents until much later in the evening.
  2. These are classified students, ELL students and students that tend to not test well. We can’t change that.
  3. Time. There is never enough of it and they are told to get through the curriculum by the end of March so that all content is covered before the State testing. Then after testing they can go back and redo anything they feel needs reinforcement.

After the teacher laid it on the line so clearly, there was really nothing Karen or I could say that was going to bring her back to what she COULD do. These barriers are the realities of her challenges.

What are the realities of your challenges? Karen and I both commented that we might be idealists…

Yesterday I shared these three barriers with the group of teachers I am working with in another NJ district. In this group, there are some non-public school teachers that join our sessions. This made for interesting conversation, since a non-public school might make different requirements for its teachers than a public school with its union teachers.

He offered his districts answers to some of these barriers:

  1. Each teacher is to offer “Office Hours” once a week. These are to be the same day each week from the end of the school day at 2:45 until 3:45. Students are to make appointments and parents are to arrange for transportation. These hours are designed so that students that need help from their teacher outside the typical school day, can get it.
  2. Each teacher is to make themselves available to help students during their recess time. (Recess in this school is held before lunch time.)
  3. In this particular non-public school, the text book guides the curriculum for mathematics. Get done what you can.

I have yet to find anyone who has all the answers. But collectively, we do a pretty good job. I don’t know if I’m an idealist or an optimist. I know there are at least two sides to every story. Really, what are the realities of our challenges in the classroom? Are you the teacher that throws up barriers or walls or excuses at every accommodation that is suggested or are you this teacher? Thanks Chris Craft – you had perfect timing today.

crafty