My Third Grader’s Project

My nine-year-old came home with a project from his gifted services teacher last month linked to Art History Month. He was asked to select an artist, musician or playwright whose work has stood the test of time and determine which of the Habits of Mind this person demonstrated.

My son selected Vincent Van Gogh, probably because the art teacher at my son’s school had delivered a great lesson on Van Gogh recently. We got books from the library, found websites, and my son started taking notes in Inspiration.

After a while, he thought that one of the habits of mind that Van Gogh demonstrated was “Listening with Empathy and Understanding,” because of his compassion for the poor. He consulted with his art teacher, who suggested that “Determination” would be another hallmark of this artist. Another online connection through a professional learning network (an art teacher who is a friend’s mother) suggested that Van Gogh’s experimentation with color might demonstrate “Creating, Imagining, and Innovating.”

My son browsed online galleries, collected the paintings that he thought best represented each of these Habits of Mind, and began assembling his tri-fold board. He’s done a nice job on it, and I’ll post a photo of it here tonight.

Somewhere in the process, he asked me if we could do something using some of the technology that I use every day with students in the district where I teach. I wasn’t sure what that would look like, but he collected the paintings in a folder on our computer, and started keying in some notes about what he wanted to say about each one. He really liked the idea of using the green screen effect and the Alpha Tool in Keynote, so we assembled the project there.

I was really proud of him for learning so quickly how to import, crop and edit photos in iPhoto, export them to Keynote, layer the photos after removing the green, and then resize himself appropriately for the paintings. It reminds me a bit of the book Katie’s Picture Show.

He then set to work writing his own scripts for each slide. He rehearsed them and recorded them (patiently, as I had not done that before, and we kept making mistakes.) Then he happily ran off to play while I worked on exporting the Keynote to a QuickTime movie so that his school could show it.

But then disaster struck. The exported version made all the timings go wrong. So we re-recorded the audio and re-exported it. It was even worse than the first one. Suggestions from my online PLN came in, and we opted to try to reconstruct the whole thing using Audacity, GarageBand and iMovie. So that meant having to re-record the audio AGAIN.

He got most of it done Sunday night, but was just too tired. So get this — he got up at 5:45am on Monday morning to record the last four audio clips before I went to work. THAT’S dedication.

Anyway, it took a little tweaking and editing, but he completed it. He added some cool transitions. (Gotta love Keynote for those!) And he selected the parts of Don McClean’s song that he wanted. I’m proud of him for wanting to do something different, something 21st century and beyond the trifold board. I’m proud of him for recording all of the narrations three times. And I’m really proud of him for all of the tech learning he’s done in the last week.

So proudly, proudly, I share with you… his presentation.

Please leave your comments for him here or on the fliggo site.

An Inauguration, in Two Respects

After a couple of snow days at the end of last week, followed by Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, my brain was racing to find a way to allow our students and staff to view the Inauguration of President Obama. We don’t have access to TV broadcasts, and I worried about streaming video on our network.

As I suspected, streaming video was not really an option using our school district’s T-1 lines. Several teachers tried it throughout the morning, and it kept cutting out and/or slipping back into the buffering mode. Our principal and network manager worked together to ask teachers not to attempt to pull up the live streams in their classrooms as we tried desperately to find a reliable stream to project in the gym for all students to see.  We weren’t having much success.

So I pulled out my Blackberry Curve. I just learned on Saturday morning how to use the “tethering” option. This basically means that the Blackberry acts as a modem, and “dials” the Verizon network, accessing the internet from there. In order to activate this, I actually had to disconnect from the school’s wireless network. After that it was just a couple of clicks and my MacBook was connected to the CNN’s live coverage. It wasn’t “perfect” and the video did freeze up every now and then, but only briefly, and we didn’t miss anything. But that wasn’t our fault; I am sure that the freezing had to do with the remarkable number of people accessing that site.

Over 500 people in our school — students and staff — watched coverage for over an hour. They cheered, applauded, giggled, became somber, cheered some more, and put their fists in the air in victorious gestures.

I sighed in relief. This “tethering” option proved itself to be quite handy, on its inauguration.

Postscript: I  didn’t think to take the photo of the set-up until hours later, when the President and First Lady were walking the parade route.

Who’s Assessing Whom?

The end of the quarter is just days away, and I decided to give my three classes a pop final exam before they leave me.

You see, I think that what I teach them really does impact their future, and they should not need to “study” for this exam if I have taught it well.

The official name of my class is “Computers,” but my name for my class is “Under Construction: The Digital Me.” In my class, we talk about the results of the reports being released by the Pew Internet Group, and whether the students think these reports accurately reflect their own online experiences and behaviors. As we begin to create the students’ online identities, we discuss how each Web 2.0 tool introduced to them allows them to “personalize” their online identity without making it “too personal.” As they practice commenting on other student blogs around the world, we reiterate the importance of expressing opinions respectfully. By the time they earn their own blog space, they are able to rattle off a long list of the types of things that they should never reveal about themselves online.

And these are not things I expect them to forget.

Those of us in educational technology leadership roles know that even as the true integration of technology into the American classroom crawls along at an unbearably slow rate, the “connectedness” of the average American child has been racing along at a breakneck speed. Most parents have no idea that their school age children compete against virtual strangers in their online gaming, either on the family computer or the family Wii. Most parents are unaware of the contents of their children’s text messages with “friends,” and a disturbing number of parents are unaware of the existence of websites built by their children.

In these times of economic crisis, many school districts are being forced to cut technology budgets and technology personnel. It is becoming more and more unlikely that students will get any formal training in the online ethics — although they are spending an increasing amount of leisure time online in their off-school hours.

Who will teach our students how to make good decisions about their online identity, if we don’t? Some will say that it is the parents’ job. And while I concur in theory, I can only shake my head at that prospect, since I know how many parents can’t open or send an e-mail attachment, can’t access their child’s grades online without a call to the HelpDesk, and openly admit to asking children for help on the home computer.

So I take my role seriously. I teach children how to think through the tough decisions. I question their thought processes, and I hold them accountable to protecting each others’ safety online. I want each of them to leave my classroom this week with a clear understanding of how to be safe online while continuing to be an active contributor to their online world. They shouldn’t have to study for my final exam.

They should be prepared to articulate these concepts so they can live by them.

Today I handed the students a list of questions, from which they were each to choose one question and either blog their response or videotape their response. I did not assign the questions, but did not allow more than two people to choose the same questions to respond to, ensuring that I would get a reasonable number of questions answered in each class. The full list of twenty-one questions is below:

  • Explain what a Wordle is,and why we made them.
  • Explain what a Voki is, and why we made them.
  • Explain what Glogster is, and why we made them.
  • Explain how other teachers you have are using anything like Wordles or Vokis or wikis or glogs in their classroom, and how that compares to other “more traditional” reports or projects you have done.
  • Explain “Responsible Commenting”.
  • Explain how you learned about (and how we practiced) commenting.
  • Explain Blogger Bucks. How do you earn them, and what are they used for?
  • Explain WHY we blog.
  • Explain the “rules” of blogging. What don’t we reveal in our blogs and why?
  • Give some examples of what you CAN write about for blogging. Why are these topics OK?
  • Explain why you had to write a “Top Ten” list of ideas for blogging. Did it help or not?
  • Explain why your topics are not assigned by me.
  • Tell about your personal experiences with MySpace or Facebook (if a friend or a cousin or someone you know has an account). Has your opinion of these social networking tools changed in the last quarter? Why or why not?
  • Tell about something you have seen or heard about online that is just a little risky or dangerous. (You don’t have to use any names.) How would you have dealt with this before this class, and how would you deal with it now?
  • Tell about anything you have learned in this class about being safer online.
  • Give the pros and cons of the ePals blog space we use. Would you recommend it to another class?
  • If you wrote MORE than the required five blog posts, tell why.
  • If you like blogging, explain why you might want to continue to blog, even after you are done with this class.
  • Tell about your favorite post you have written, and explain why you like that one.
  • Tell about the post for which you got the most comments. Were you surprised that that post got the most comments? Why or why not?
  • Tell about a surprising comment that you got, and what your reaction was. Did you reply to the commenter? Why or why not?

I haven’t looked at the students’ blog posts or videos yet. But I do think that these responses will give me a pretty good idea of how effective my teaching has been.

Seven Things You Probably Don’t Need to Know About Me

Me and My Dad

I have been tagged by Skip Zalneraitis for the “Seven Things” meme. I am grateful for this, first because it’s so nice to have friends, and second because my blog needs a jumpstart — again.  (Yes, I tend to be very dependable in my blogging, if you count once a month as dependable.)

The “Seven Things” are intended to help others get to know you, and are supposed to be things your PLN doesn’t already know about you. This provides quite a challenge for me, as I have encountered (and initiated) some deeply personal conversations with my plurk friends. Is there really anything they don’t already know about me? Hmmm.

1. OK, here’s one that only one or two people know if they have met me in real life. Where others may proclaim to be “directionally challenged,” I am volume-and-distance challenged. When I add milk to my coffee, I add it until the color is right — which often results in the cup overflowing. I also have difficulty estimating distances, being only able to compare them to things I know, such as the length of a football field, or the height of our ceiling. My husband would undoubtedly add that this volume-and-distance disability applies to our family budget, but this is MY blog, not his, so…

2. I’m soon to be a grandmother of five. I think all of my plurkbuddies know a lot about my two sons, but when I met my husband 20+ years ago, I met his adorable 7-year-old son Brian. Now 31, Brian and his beautiful wife Sara live in the southern California desert and have a blended family of four gorgeous and smart children. Newest Baby Mulford is due this summer. If you ever want to hear an unbelievable story with gut-wrenching twists and turns and cliffhangers — just ask me about their visit to Illinois last August.

3. I was a foreign exchange student to Germany in high school, and my host family owned one of a very few summer cabins in the Austrian Alps that were surrounded on all sides by nationally-protected areas. We hiked five kilometers in from the road to reach a tiny hut with no power or water. Not being much of a camper, I didn’t appreciate the charm of bathing in an icy waterfall, but it makes for a good story these days. (And yes, I did belt out every single song from “Sound of Music” while I was there, much to the chagrin and amusement of my host family.)

4. As a 9 year old girl, I attended a 10-week class called “White Gloves and Party Manners”. My father’s new wife had been tasked with making my sister and I into “ladies,” so I was promptly signed up for this class, ballet, piano, violin, and French. I rebelled by learning German (see above) and preferring blue jeans and sneakers for life. (Do you suppose I would have been more prone to acting ladylike if they hadn’t cut my beautiful long blonde hair into a “pixie” for easier maintenance?)

5. I’m a firm believer in the payoffs of a serious scholarship search. I received excellent advice on this from my high school counselor in the late 1970’s, and shored up 27 of the 29 scholarships for which I applied. While the last thirty years may have produced some modifications in the process, I believe the formula for success is still the same. We’ll put that to the test in the next two years for my oldest son and let you know if my theory stands.

6. As the daughter of a public high school teacher, it was both an honor and a terror to be sought out by an Ivy League college. My father’s chest swelled to the point that his shirt buttons strained, and the family budget suddenly strained even more. There was a “need-based” process for financial aid, so a tremendous portion of my tuition was paid by alumni donations. However, the work-study program was demanding, and the student loans were a definite challenge to pay off. My husband was so pleased when we actually accomplished this that he turned my framed diploma around and proudly displayed the letter stating that the loan was paid in full.

7. My parents spent my third Halloween night with the California State Troopers, scouring mountain ravines for their lost daughter. Apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to let me Trick-or-Treat with a neighbor lady who had a larger group of kids than she could keep track of.  I can’t imagine the conversation that took place between the neighbor and my parents, as the neighbor returned to my house to report that she had lost me somewhere along the way. I can only imagine the surprise of the other poor woman who turned around to count noses in her station wagon and found that she had one too many children — and that this small “Indian Princess” (with long blonde braids, LOL) didn’t know her last name or address or phone number…

Whew! Coming up with those “Seven Things” took me almost a week. (Thanks for your patience, Skip!)

And so now… I have to tag others. This will be a great challenge, as much of my PLN has already been tagged. How about the following – consider yourself tagged!


Promoting All Things Good at Christmas

I’ll spare you the excuses about why I haven’t posted in months. (Gulp.) There are plenty of you out there who work full time and parent full time, too — and still manage to commit regular blocks of time to blogging. I admire you, and I wish I had your dedication. Somehow, my dedication gets spread around too thinly to other things. Ah well.

For the past several months, I’ve been working on a project with my 15 year old son, Alex, who is a gifted pianist.

His newest CD, Christmas Keyz, is now available for purchase on Amazon.

As you can imagine, there is much to tell about this. I tend to get wrapped up in the details of how long he’s been playing (11 years), the contests he’s entered and won (another post someday), and the remarkable paths he has ventured down that have each contributed to his musicianship, performance abilities, and altruistic maturity.

But what really matters is that he’s accomplished something unique, something beautiful, and something that brings joy to other people.  He stands a little taller these days, and that’s a sight that makes any mother’s heart nearly brim over.

This holiday season, Alex will take his music to a number of community events, including the local library’s “Visit with Santa” and a local elementary school’s “Santa Shop.” But his favorite audiences are the ones he’s been playing for since last June — the residents of a few retirement centers. He most enjoys playing for “the regulars” who gather to hear him play, who grasp his hands and look him deep in the eye as they thank him for bringing his music again, who cajole and tease him and press candies into his palm with a sidelong glance at mom.

You can check out clips of his music on his website at The Music is Key. You can watch him play his original arrangement, “Noel the First” from that site or on YouTube and Facebook. His MySpace page has a complete MP3 file of another of his original arrangements, “Away in a Manger”.

Alex is currently in discussions with a number of charities. We hope to have a special promotion sealed in the first week of December. For now, he’s watching sales closely, hoping that they edge up to the point where he can recover production costs on the CDs, website design, and marketing. He hopes to make enough to be able to fund his next two projects, a CD of his original compositions and a CD of his favorite anime themes (hauntingly beautiful works from various scenes in lesser-known video games).

I couldn’t be more proud of him. I hope you’ll stop by his website and read a little more about him. I hope you’ll consider purchasing a CD or two — as a proponent of the arts, as a supporter or young enterpreneurship, and/or as a voice of approval to a teenage volunteer musician giving back to the greater community. Thanks — and Merry Christmas.

Testing a Voki

I’m wondering what this will look like when I copy-paste the code into here. Will it work?

So far, my Voki played nicely on the Voki site. I copied the code (from the options I chose “other” since Edublogs was not an option like Blogger) and pasted it in. It appears in Preview mode on my blog but I don’t hear any sound. I’m going to be brave and hit “Publish”. If you don’t hear sound (and your speakers are turned up), maybe I did something wrong. Any ideas?

I Hereby Resolve…

Inspired by the beginning of a new school year and the fresh new faces that come into my computer lab each day, I hereby resolve to set a better example of blogging daily — or at least as close to that as I can manage.

I’ve been busy with learning my way around my new job, but EVERYONE is busy. Honestly, I have been doing more microblogging than before, and that’s taken time that I could have used to write a quick post here and there. (And yet, my colleagues on Plurk have actually SAVED me hours by offering quick answers to my often complicated questions. The collective knowledge of my network of online friends who are educational technology experts all over the world – my professional learning network, hereafter referred to as my PLN –   is amazing! And worthy of great awe on my part.

At any rate, in order to teach my new fifth and sixth grade students the importance of blogging and commenting (and how they are inherently related), I need to step up and walk the walk. So, here we go.

Yesterday’s challenge to myself and my students was to see if we could manage to get all of the network permissions in place to allow all students in my two computer labs to create their own personal avatars on Kidzui. We did get this accomplished – sort of. As I perused the results of yesterday’s class time after the students had left, I discovered that a few of students did not follow some specific directions that I had given for the set-up of their accounts. As I was very clear about how watchful I would be over their accounts and avatars’ behaviors, I had no qualms about promptly deleting those students’ accounts and avatars. Those students and I will talk briefly about this today, and they’ll have another opportunity to follow my specific directions. I will be very clear that additional instances of not following directions will be noted and considered when looking at other opportunities for students to interact with others online; yet, if this was a “one-off” (and possibly related to the 10-minute interruption to class for a scheduled tornado drill) then no other consequences will come of yesterday’s blip. (But I must note that more than 85% of the class was able to follow the directions, and they had the same interruption.)

Anyway, today they will navigate their way around the extensive world that Kidzui has provided. Some will dabble there this weekend, no doubt. It’s a pretty cool place!

But next week, we begin our investigation into the concept of student blogging. Due to MAP testing, we’re computer-less for three days, so I plan to use that time to do some rare teacher-directed reading of a variety of student blogs using the LCD projector. This will give us an opportunity to talk about the purpose of blogging, how it relates to their learning (even state standards, wink, nudge), and why reading/commenting on other students’ blogs is an important and awesome responsibility as a part of the process.

By Thursday, when we return to our lab, I hope to have the shell created that will become the home for their blogs. I’m still waffling between using a Glogster home page for each student on a class wiki space or a cleaner/simpler student blog space. Hopefully, my PLN will be able to help me sort that out this weekend!

In the meantime, please DO leave a comment if you have any advice, words of encouragement, or suggestions for student blogs that are currently up and running and open to comments from my awesome students!

Coming Soon: The Music is Key

I am SOOOO excited!

I really should wait until the website is up, but… I can’t.

I’ve hired incredible talent to put this site together for my talented teenage son.

I’ll have lots more to say about HER (the website designer) later. (Believe me when I say her work speaks for itself. You’ll be impressed.)

But for this moment I want to share a few audio files with you… Please bear with me on the awkwardness of this post… MP3 files don’t play as nicely here in the body of this text, or at least I’m dorky enough to not know how to best share them seamlessly…

Here are some recordings my son made tonight… guess I’ll have to delete this post eventually, hm? For now, let’s use the guest password of “alexander”.

Roxas’ Theme, Someone I Can Trust, and Colors of Wind are all his arrangements of Japanese composers’ original works — anime themes through and through.

The last piece, Novelette in Various Minors, is an original composition — which here is a very much re-made version of a piece he composed when he was eleven years old.

I will pull this post down soon… but I just can’t STAND the idea of not sharing with my PLN and very small readership of this blog!

Enjoy! These will be posted only briefly!

Late addition: Copyright info for those of you asked about downloading the MP3 files. “Novelette in Various Minors” is an original composition by Alexander Mulford, ©2005. You may use it under Creative Commons licensing. Please cite him as the composer/performer.

The other songs are his arrangements of others’ work:

“Someone I Can Trust” (Original Title: “Itonokogiri Keisuke”) composed by Masakazu Sugimori, ©2001.

“Roxas’ Theme” from composed by Yoko Shimomura, ©2005.

“Colors of Wind” (Original Title: “Kaze no Shiki Maachi” ) composed by Masaki Kurihara, ©2002.

A Brand New Beginning

I’m so excited! It’s official. Next month I am going back to working with kids and teachers, as an Engaged Learning Specialist at the middle school level!

I love the fact that my new job title places the focus on Engaged Learning, and that it is a multi-faceted position. I’ll be working with students in a computer lab part of the time, so I’m delving into the brand-new NETS publication eagerly, looking for the changes and seeing how they align with my current thinking about digital citizenship. I’ll be working with teachers to integrate technology part of the time, so I will get to apply some of that new knowledge shared by friends who attended NECC this summer and do what I love most – collaborate and facilitate. I will also be making some changes to the media center, so I am very grateful to have the insights of so many colleagues in my online PLN who have been investigating and blogging this past year about the changing role of the library.

Best of all, my new superintendent and new principal “get it”… They have used the phrases “breaking down walls” and “getting in the way of students’ learning”. Not surprisingly, my superintendent shared with me the highlights of various conversations he’s had recently with Will Richardson, David Jakes and Meg Ormiston. How refreshing to speak to an administrator who doesn’t give me a blank look when I talk about who’s on my aggregator!

This announcement is so new that I haven’t even seen the spaces I’ll be working in next year, so it’s a little hard to “envision” at this point. I’m looking forward to meeting new friends, getting oriented to a new culture, and beginning this wonderful adventure. I’m sure that it won’t be long before my To Do List grows to immense proportions, and surpasses the length of my current list of questions… so I’m getting organized now! I’m looking at Moodle and nings and wikis, and investigating student blogs and podcasting tools…

What tools have been most beneficial to you in your quest to integrate technology? What suggestions do you have for me — things you wish you’d known when you started your last new position? What would you do with a brand new opportunity like this one?

Photo Credit:

The Great Blog Off

Tonight I am honored to be a part of the Great Blog Off!

My post for tonight is Social Media and Conferences. It addresses the recent controversy regarding information sharing at a major conference for educational technology. Since drafting this post, several updates to the “controversial policy” have been posted on the NECC Ning. I invite you to follow them, as all of us in this field of educational technology will. Even as I write this, a new update has been posted from ISTE on the topic.

I am honored that this post has been selected by Colleen as a guest blogger on BuzzNetworker after I submitted my original post to my Twitter-colleague Kelly at Taxgirl.

This post is part of the b5media Business Channel Great Blog Off! Find out more about the Blog Off here: The Business Channel is supporting Accion International for the Great Blog Off. You can make a tax-deductible donation directly to Accion.

My post is directly linked here — in case you didn’t catch the link above!

Thanks for reading! Please comment!