Saturday, September 27, 2008

Creating a Personal Montage

Exploring Web 2.0 can lead you down roads you didn't expect. I was on YouTube, just looking at a few montages created by people I got to know through my Flickr group, and I saw the little button on the One True Media sign that said "Create Your Own", and so I just had to try it (I am an impulsive Teacher Librarian after all!). An hour later, and I'm still playing with it, adding photos of the boys and choosing background music. I liked the idea of adding text, but it is a premium feature and costs about $39 a year. I'm not that ready to commit, so I made the basic montage. I'm going to try to add it here, but please keep in mind that I didn't have much luck with embedding my Flickr slideshow. I'm crossing my virtual fingers here!

View this montage created at One True Media

I think this site would be very useful in the classroom. We could create montages of fieldtrips, and if the text did not cost money to add, or if I invested, the students could use it to recount the events of our trip. Hopefully focusing on what was learned, and not just the social side of an outing, though that may have a place in building a classroom community that we can share beyond the walls of said classroom. Hmm, that is more photo food for thought.

I imagine this site could be used across the grades as well--I would have easily used it when I taught Kindergarten to record activities such as show and share, using building blocks, baking, book making, finger-painting, puzzle making, just about anything. In middle years I would have used it to record volunteer endeavours such as working for the food bank, cleaning a green space, visiting a nursing home.

What I think would be really interesting, would be to ask the students how it would be best used in the classroom. Especially for those of us who have worked or are working in school divisions that restrict access to such sites. Having students debate the educational virtues of such sites and writing persuasive letters to the administration and school board might be a very useful activity indeed!

You Tub[ing] in the Family and then at School

It's funny with new technologies--they become such a part of our lives that we forget just how new they really are. I was amazed to read on Wickipedia that YouTube was created in 2005. Not that long ago--and yet it has become a part of our daily life in much the way that the radio plays in the car when we run our errands, or the TV goes on to relax before bed.

Personal Context

I was first introduced to You Tube last year by my husband who loves to look up clips of 'classic' old TV programs like Get Smart, You Bet Your Life, Ed Sullivan and so forth. Its a pop culture treasure chest. Even tonight before the boys went to bed, they and their dad spent some quality time together looking up performances by the Beatles, Buddy Holly, and Elvis. Together they chat about the people/performers and often connect them to a timeline that involves other family members. For example they'll get a kick out of a TV Batman clip from when their Uncle was their age. They also are making connections to other media, including books, that they come across in the clips. They were especially impressed that the actor who played Grandpa Max in the recent film version of one of their favourite cartoon stories - Ben 10 - played the Six Million Dollar Man when he was much younger. My middle son (5 years old) has bookmarked a couple of videos about Star Wars Transformers, where basically the person putting on the video holds the transformer up and talks about its components. It's like a new-age show-and-tell, and my son is completely hooked. My husband and I are very aware of the inappropriate content that is too easily stumbled upon. Even though our computer is in a space of high traffic in our household - some clips slip through. I'm thinking particularly of a scene from Episode Three of Star Wars where there is a particularly gory scene. We've told both boys that they need to be older to watch it on DVD - but they have caught bit sof it as they surf through Star Wars toy and information sites.

Oh, the Places You Can Go with TeacherTube!!

I was excited to see this simple TeacherTube video called Our Favorite Robert Munsch Books at It is not complicated but very effective: the student's drawings of their favorite books are shown then they explain why that book was their favourite.

Another wonderful example of what students and teachers can view or create on TeacherTube is more complex but replicates the type of quality we can be striving for. It is rather long, but try watching just for a few moments, it's worth it! The Cat and the Hat Meets the Grinch:

Safety Concerning Me

Before watching An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, by Michael Wesch, I felt YouTube had enormous potential in the classroom. That potential included access to video clips that could be used to enhance teaching and learning. Safety here did not concern me because I would ensure that students did not have "free range" over the site. I imagine that I would be showing them a clip that was previewed for appropriateness.

An exciting aspect of YouTube was the potential to create meaningful videos that could be viewed by other students around the world. But the more I watched Michael Wersch take us through the wonderful world of YouTube, the more wary I became. There are so many "what ifs" with YouTube. What if our innocent video was mashed up and remade and became subject to what Michael Wesch called "context collapse?" What if our little video took off and gained a life of its own that made us uncomfortable? What if an on-line predator was able to identify a student despite our deligent efforts to not use geographically identifying content? And perhaps a common fear for teachers: What if the technology doesn't work when I need it to?

I think the answer for me, and for many of my colleagues, is to take baby steps. Get comfortable with the technology ourselves before bringing it into the classroom. But while we are all about "baby steps" in education, our students, today's generation, is all about leaping in and having a go. They don't read the manual, they learn by trying. The other thing is that the teacher doesn't have to be the authority in the classroom (perhaps something which makes a lot of us uncomfortable); Web 2.0 is all about the social aspect of learning. More than one person takes on the responsibility for understanding and for representation of that understanding. Web 2.0 platforms like YouTube and TeacherTube provide maybe less than ideal platforms, but still real platforms for students and teachers to construct knowledge together and share it with the broad and diverse audience that is the Web.

Last Rant About Filters

As I examined YouTube and TeacherTube I had a little thought at the back of my mind, "none of this really matters because I likely won't be able to access it in the elementary school due to restrictions, just like last year..." Then I came across Will Richardson's blog at: in which my frustration of filters was presented, and his wisdom and eloquence gave me hope. He says:

"I truly believe that filters make our kids less safe. They step off the bus into unfiltered worlds with no context for making good decisions about the stuff coming at them. It’s a huge problem. But on some levels, the bigger problem is what we are doing to our teachers. It insults the profession to not at the very least provide desktop overrides for teachers when they bump up against a filtered site. Have a policy in place to deal with incidents where teachers make poor choices if that’s what the concern is. Seriously, am I missing something? Why is that so hard to implement? The only way we’re going to get students, or teachers, to master the Web is to let them use it."

I am hopeful to see a future where more administrators and school boards take such words to heart. I can't help but feel that YouTube and TeacherTube are only the beginning...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Arriving or Departing--More thoughts on Photo Sharing Sites

The educational possibilities brought to us by photo-sharing sites seems immense and perhaps a little daunting. In an attempt to organize my own thoughts on the subject, I have listed and commented on a few of ideas that I hope are meaningful to someone out there in the blogosphere.
Photo Sharing Sites--Random Thoughts
1. A simple introduction might be to have groups of students working on the same photo, then let them experiment with the editing tools to see how they would alter the photo to suit their personal tastes and style.
2. Use photo sharing sites to capture "moments of inquiry", or "love of reading", or whatever else is important to your school. The school I worked at last year incorporated the Aboriginal Seven Teachings. Each month we focused on a different concept such as wisdom, honesty, respect, humility, etc. I created a lift-the-flap bulletin board to represent each of those concepts with titles such as "glimpsing wisdom", or "a representation of courage" (for this one I had a photo of the Wright brother's first flight), or even just "a photo to make you smile" (a picture of a smiley baby). I attempted to replicate the on-line experience of being able to comment on the photos, so I built in the space to leave comments and hung pencils with ribbon from the board. Students of all ages seemed interested and would lift the flaps to see the photos, but it was the sixth graders who really got into leaving comments (our school was K-9).

3. I used photos I borrowed from Flickr as a slideshow backdrop at our Poetry Cafe last year. I searched photos related to poetry readings, and e-mailed the photographers to ask permission to use their photos at the event. Everyone granted permission (they seemed especially pleased to be used educationally). But not everyone wanted their names attached, so we need to remind our students not to assume they do.
4. Teachers can't control the images that other users post on the photo sharing sites. I don't believe there is a way to fully protect students from coming across objectionable images, but I also don't think that is a valid reason why we should avoid such sites in the classroom. David Jakes (author of "Using Flickr in the Classroom" suggests that "[i]n all cases, caution should be used when searching specific topics and a discussion with students about what should take place when inappropriate imagery is located should be done prior to use." One way of exercising such caution would be to limit internet users to small groups and have an adult supervisor close at hand to assist students working on sites such as Flickr. The presence of an adult could help to control students accessing inappropriate images (whether intentional or not); and if they do unintentionally trip over what we perceive to be objectionable content, then we can discuss appropriate steps to avoid such mishaps in the future.
5. Flickr could be very interesting for schools with a high immigrant and ESL population. Students could revisit their country of origin through photographs and share the images with classmates.
6. Flickr can take "Flat Stanley" to a whole new level. See Flat Stanley's Photostream at
7. Not surprisingly, there is a Flickr site for teachers wanting to use Flickr in the classroom. Go to "FlickrEDU: Using Flickr Images in the Classroom" at This page has many wonderful examples educational Flickr sites.
8. Amy Standon, author of "My Friend Flickr-A Great Photo Opportunity" (, provides reassurance for teachers wanting to use the resource without the risks. She says that one way to do this is to use the group photo pools, because you have more control over who participates in the site (members in groups can be by invitation only).

Experimenting with Picasa

Posted by PicasaI am trying out Picasa, since I'm already familiar with Flickr. I'm not nervous, exactly, but I am out of my element. It is rather easy to get started, and sending a photo right to my blog from Picasa was very easy (I liked that). What I think would be a really cool and authentic activity would be to have students do a comparative study of the photo sharing sites (Flickr, Picasa, and Photobucket). I'm sure that critical comparisons have been done already (I'll look that up in just a moment), but it would be an interesting project to do with a class. The students could create their own rating scales, and test the sites according to the criteria they have set. They could journal their discoveries in a blog, and invite other photographers to comment on their findings. Perhaps groups could present their findings as if they are trying to convince their school which photo sharing site they should support.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I Flickr. . . a love affair of sorts.

I've been Flickr-ing for almost 2 years now, and I'm completely addicted to it. I first discovered Flickr after my son Aidan was born, and we discovered that he had Down syndrome and three holes in his heart. I was in a bit of shock, and found it very therapeutic to browse through images of happy, lovely children with Down syndrome who looked like they were living wonderful lives. There was something almost meditative about going through the photographs at the end of the day when my boys were in bed. I found three group sites for people with Down syndrome, and joined them. I started posting photographs of Aidan, and felt really incredible when people started leaving comments (mostly about how cute he is!). I didn't realize back then that what I was doing was building up a community of people I could turn to when I needed advice, support or encouragement.

Before I Flickr-ed though, I CarePage-d. We started a CarePage for Aidan through the Stollery Hospital site and I posted comments and photographs of Aidan and his brothers. Friends and family were able to post prayers and hellos to us, and in turn we were able to keep everyone up-to-date on Aidan's health. It became really important to me to be able to post from the hospital when Aidan had his heart surgery, and we could see that friends and family from all over Canada were thinking of him. The CarePage had a way of monitoring who had logged onto our page, and how many times and when. So, even if they did not leave a message, we knew they were thinking of Aidan. It did our hearts good. So good in fact that when Aidan was finished with his surgery and was considered "all fixed up", I felt I needed to continue posting, but no longer felt the CarePage was the venue. That was when I turned to Flickr.

One thing that I've discovered in comparing the two was that the CarePage was great, but not nearly as global as Flickr. The people who viewed the CarePage were invited to do so--the site was not public. In going public with my photos on Flickr I've made connections with families from around the world. I got so inspired I started my own Group site called "Down Syndrome in the Family". It's a spot to share photos of our children, highlighting the whole family and the enormous love that a child with Down syndrome brings to us. My little group now has 45 members. We comment on one anothers pictures, how much the kids are growing and cheer them on when they reach certain milestones.

Where I think Flickr offers the most potential is in the Discussion section of the Group sites. Flickr also has some fun tools where students could make posters, badges, hockey cards, magazine covers, etc. One idea I had was to create a school buzz around reading. Like Canada Reads, only it would be your school name (Victoria School Reads). The discussion site could have book reviews or students commenting about certain genres they like. Students could interview other students and staff and make magazine covers highlighting their information. There are so many possiblities, it is mind boggling (but in a good way).

I'm going to stop there for now, but have plans for another post about Flickr. If you have time to explore our Flickr photo pool--check us out at:

Our family is the 3 Little Billy Goats.

About the blogginess of it all

I'm very excited to have a blog dedicated to one area of my life--the Teacher-Librarian side. This blog is required for the EDES 501 class on Web 2.0 in schools and libraries. There is nothing I love more than learning hands on skills while I'm learning the theory behind it all--so I'm looking forward to this class.

I chose the Blogger publishing tool because it seemed like the most intuitive site, and the one that I am most familiar with. While I would love to explore other options, I have 3 small children who are still very demanding, and time to surf and experiment is cut to a minimum. Another reason I chose this blog publisher is because it is the one I've seen used most often, and I suppose I am susceptible to familiarity. If I think of myself as an emergent learner in Web 2.0, then blogger is what has been modeled most for me, and therefore what I can easily slip into.

Using the blog as a vehicle for my own learning makes me all the more aware how powerful blogs can be in the classroom. The potential is enormous! I loved Will Richardson's example of his class using the blog to create a study guide for A Recipe for Bees. The writing involved had purpose, and an authentic audience--reminding me that as educators it is not enough to blog for blogging sake. It's what you put into the blog and the assignment that makes it meaningful to our students and ourselves.

In case anyone is reading this blog from outside of our EDES 501 class, I would highly recommend our class text, "Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms" by Will Richardson. It is an engaging text, full of insight for using Web 2.0 tools in our schools.