TCEA: The Value of Collaboration

This place is exhausting.  Up early and out late for an entire week.  Sitting in classes and conferences and meetings trying to find something that we can take back to our students that will a) benefit them and b) allow us to do our jobs better, faster, and more efficiently.  When one considers the cost in lodging, meals, payment to subs, and travel time, it is vital that the benefit be quantifiable in order to justify the expense.  As educators and employees of the government we are called up (or at least we should feel an obligation) to be good stewards of the people’s money.  While that may be a novel idea to some governmental entities, it has been a part of the ethics of being a teacher since teaching became a public profession.

The best I can offer on the subject is my own experience.  I have been an attendee of the TCEA conference for 5 years and a presenter for all but one of those years.  I volunteer to facilitate classes when I am not presenting and try to be an active participant.  I know that my district spends a fairly large amount of money to send me to Austin yearly and I know that I miss a weeks worth of instructional time (although I am proficient enough in educational video to alleviate that for the most part) but does the benefit really outweigh the cost?  I am going to say yes.

The time I spend here, whether in class or not is also time spent finding ways to improve my craft.  I spend the majority of the business day either looking for tools to do my job better or reflecting on the things that I have learned and organizing them into a useable journal.  I meet other people who are trying to accomplish the same thing and I share ideas with them.  I take from them things I can use and ways of thinking I have never considered and they take from me the same things.  We return to our respective workplaces and, hopefully, implement those ideas in ways that will help our students to be more successful.

Finally, there is an energy here that can help recharge batteries that are beginning to fade about this time each year.  February is a rather tough time for teachers.  The year is drawing to a close.  The end of year pressure is starting to be felt and Spring Break is still a long way off.  It is good to have a moment to recharge.  Yes…I would say…all in all, conferences like that are worthwhile and are money well spent, at least from my perspective.

 

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TCEA Day 2 Success!

liveJust came back from a great time at TCEA presenting Arduino to some of the best teachers in the state.  We covered the basics of circuit design and building withe a bread-board.  We learned the fundamentals of making an Arduino sketch and the basic syntax for coding.  The people who shared my class were the absolute best.  They got it.  They could see how using this type of technology in a classroom might inspire a student to pursue a career and find a satisfying path in life.  What else matters?

In the end, I think that is my calling.  I’m not sure I will ever be a great teacher that turns out to be incredibly brilliant at whatever it is that I am teaching.  On the other hand, I hope that some day a student will come to me and say, “Ya know Mr. White, it was what I got to do in your class and the toys we played with that inspired me to become a famous engineer and rocket scientist.  Here’s $1,000,000 to express my appreciation.”  Well, maybe that last part might be stretching it but still….

Meanwhile I will keep doing my best to get toys for my students.  Right now my primary focus is going to be video related.  If you think it would be a good idea to present live streaming techniques for classrooms then do me a favor and comment below.  Say,”Mr. White…or if you are out of High School, call me Regan, I would like to see information about how to produce and edit video and live stream footage to YouTube.”  Actually I am going to continue presenting information like that anyhow but it is nice to know that some people actually want it.

Editing for Pace in Video

videoGreetings.  Once again your humble narrator takes a moment out of his busy schedule to offer a bit a technical advice for those interested in using video to present educational material in a flipped classroom or virtual learning environment.

Today’s suggestion concerns editing video clips to control pace and rhythm.  I am sharing material garnered from the “Video for Educator” curriculum presented by the Adobe Education Exchange.   There is a great deal of very valuable training and technical advice available here and all of it that I have found is free.  Of course, the Creative Cloud Suite of development tools is NOT free but with the advent of the subscription method of purchase, it is affordable, PARTICULARLY for educators and students as Adobe offers a very attractive academic discount.

Setting and maintaining pace in any video production is important but no where more so than in the creation of educational materials.  Often, the material is a bit dryer and more pedantic than content geared for entertainment.  Also, the audience is known for having a short attention span and a very discerning taste in video quality.  For these reasons, a producer of educational material must take care to produce footage that moves along at a good clip (clip…get it.)  To that end, here are my suggestions for controlling pace and preventing your material from dragging down the production.

Point 1 – Cut on the Action:  Often the inexperienced editor will cut from one scene to another while the screen is either empty or still.  This is a mistake.  Below is a clip that I submitted last week for a man opening a door and leaving a house.  Notice how the cut scenes from the man to the lock close-ups are cut during the action.  There is not lag and the scene moves quickly.

It is interesting to note that I could have also editing this clip, using the same footage, and made it appear VERY slow by editing the lock turns so that the turns were completed and maybe repeating the lock opening footage a few times in order to make the subject appear to be fumbling with the lock.  I could also start each of the lock scenes from and empty screen in order to slack off the pace.  Tricks like this may not seem so useful or important until you start creating video content only to have students ignore it because it drags along and is boring.

Point 2 – Have a sense of rhythm in your clips.  Notice that the cut scenes in my clip are all of a similar length and are interspaced fairly evenly.  This provides a feeling of rhythym to the clip.  The length of the spaces between cut scenes and the length of the cut scenes themselves can control how fast or slow the clip feels.  Mix the rhythm with a variety of shot distances, starting with a more long range establishing shot and working toward a more close-up focus and you will find the controlling the rhythm and pace of your material is easy.  You will also find that there is a direct relationship with steady and lively pace and student engagement.  Try this and see.  If you have questions, please feel free to comment below.

We Need Your Help!

kidsvideoOk gentle readers, I am going to take a momentary break from reviewing educational technology and ask for your indulgence for a moment (or at least for one entry). As you may know, I teach various types of technology in a very small rural public High School in Texas.  Our technology budget is limited but I would still like to expose our students to every tool that I can.  Many of these kids are looking forward to a career in fast-food or retail (think Allsup’s or 7-ll) and that is the extent of their opportunity or ambition.  My goal is to help my students find alternatives to these types of low opportunity jobs. One of the dreams I have is to be able to offer an audio/video engineering class in hopes that one of these students will become inspired and continue on to find a rewarding job in a satisfying career field.  I need your help.  I am trying to gather the necessary equipment to outfit a small but useful video studio for my students.  I am using every tool, approach, or venue that I can find to get word to the Internet at large about how deserving these kids are and how much good a few dollars can do.  One of the things I have done is to establish a crowd-funding project on http://www.donorschoose.org in the hopes of expanding my purchasing power in order to buy the equipment my students need.  This is where you come in.  I find that most people on the Internet are sympathetic to education (and kids for that matter).  They are also interested in promoting technology and media creation.  If this is you and you have a few dollars of disposable income (I mean a few…even $10 would be greatly appreciated) then please consider clicking on this link and donating to a very worthy cause. If you have never donated to anything like this before then today, being #GivingTuesday would be a great day to start.  If you can’t donate then please consider sharing, reblogging, re-Tweeting, re-Facebooking, re-SnapChatting, or repeating my plea on whatever social media you can access.  If you don’t care for social media consider sharing this link with a friend or neighbor who does.  If you have no friends or neighbors, consider sharing with a total stranger (in a well-lit public place of course) and ask them to promote the idea.  C’mon…there is so much on the Internet that is not good or not useful.  Here is your chance to do a small thing to swing the balance the other way.   Please Please Please consider helping my students with this project.  Now…back to our regularly scheduled education blog.

Here We Go Again

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Once again it is time to saddle up and prepare to ride herd on another group of technology students. With the hustle and bustle of preparing for a new year I often forget how important it is to document what works and what does not. This year my goal is to journal, at least some of my classes, with an eye towards technique. We spent the morning in a professional development seminar presented by Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame.  Needless to say, while I did not agree wholeheartedly with everything that was said, I do believe that Mr. Burgess was correct in one very important area.  We absolutely DO need to carefully consider our presentation and we need to devise ways to make it more engaging.  We are packaging and marketing a product for sale and we are competing with some of the best marketers in the world for the attention of our students.  In order to engage our students and give them the best opportunity to retain the material we present, we must make it palatable.

Before anyone grabs the tar and feathers, I have not bought into the theory that each lesson needs to be an epic presentation of Hollywood-like special effects.  I survived the “Working on the Work” phase of 2007 and 2008.  We all built carefully crafted set-pieces to be trotted out for special occasions like evaluations.  I have seen teachers with fire station poles, amusement park rides, and all sorts of props in the classroom.  I don’t think that this is a legitimate expectation for every teacher.  I do, however, think that each of us can, and should, put more care into the format and presentation of our lessons.  Any good craftsman will be interested in improving their craft because each of us, in the end, wants to do the best we can for our kids, or at least, they should be our highest motivation.

At any rate, my goal this year is as follows:

1.) Document what I am doing in class with video, audio, and careful notes.

2.) Use that documentation to improve what I am currently doing and use legitimate data collection and analysis methods to determine what is good and what is not so effective.

3.) Brain-storm ideas for more ways to present information more accurately and more interestingly.

4.) Archive and share what works and what does not in the classroom on these pages.

Having said that…Wish me luck…Here We Go Again.

WeTeach_CS – Everyone Needs to be Digitally Literate

weteachcs-stacked-orange-largeAnother conference has come and gone.  I attend  a great many of these over the course of a year and one thing I have noticed is that most of them are too big.  TCEA is a wonderful place to share and learn but it is very easy to get lost. Bringing thousands of people together to share ideas, oddly enough, makes sharing those ideas much more difficult.  This is not the case with the WeTeach_CS Computer Science Summit, held each year in Austin at the J. J. Pickle Research Campus.  (That name appeals to me for some reason).

WeTeach_CS is a program sponsored through the Center for STEM Education by  the University of Texas in Austin with the express purpose of promoting Computer Science Education in Texas High Schools.  They are deeply involved in promoting Professional Development for Texas Computer Science Teachers and probably are best known for providing $1000 stipends for teachers who are willing to become certified in Computer Science and to teach it in the State of Texas.  WeTeach_CS provides training and resources in all aspects of Computer Science with a focus on helping teachers successfully pass the TEA 141 exam to become a certified Computer Science Teacher in Texas.  They provide support and resources for currently employed CS teachers to insure that students in Texas High Schools have the best access to Computer Technology and Education available.  They also act as advocates for Computer Science Teachers and educators in general.

To those ends, the staff of WeTeach_CS, led by Dr. Victor Sampson, Director of the Center for STEM Education, and Dr. Carol Fletcher, the Deputy Director of the Center for STEM Education, sponsor a summit meeting of interested Computer Science Teachers, Administrators, Technology Support Staff, and Vendors from across the State and around the Nation.  This event, ably organized behind the scenes by Amy Werst, Manager of Programmatic Operations for the Center, is a great opportunity for educators to share techniques and ideas with their peers from across the state as well as a place be become informed on the condition of Computer Science Education in Texas.

I have been privileged to attend this summit for the last two years (2015/16 and 2016/17) and I can say that, unlike many conference type events, this one is worth the time and effort to attend.  In the past I have attended trainings where the primary function seemed to be getting as many potential customers in front of as many vendors as possible.  Many of the “educator sessions” turned into sales pitches for whatever product the vendor was selling.  While I recognize the need for sponsors and that sponsors should receive benefits for the investment they make, it is very easy to take this to a level so extreme that it ceases to have any educational value at all.  (Advice to all event organizers of this type: Limit vendor/sponsors to the absolute minimum necessary to fund the event and make sure that the content they are providing in their sessions is actually useful to people who aren’t going to buy their products.)

I believe WeTeach_CS Summit organizers hit the balance perfectly.  Aside from main corporate sponsors (IBM and Oracle this year – Thank You Both Very Much!), there were only about 6 vendor sponsors in attendance.  This for a conference of a couple of hundred attendees.  The tables were located in the common break area and the vendors were not intrusive at all.  The sessions they presented were informative and useful, even to people with no intention of purchasing anything.  In short, they were an asset to the meeting and not a distraction.  It would have been very easy to fill the common area up with vendor tables and the organizers could possibly have made more money but I believe that the conference would have suffered.  Hats of the Amy, Carol, and everyone involved for doing a great job organizing.

The facilities provided by UT were, as usual for the university, top notch.  I am anUT Associate Faculty with the OnRamps program as well as a budding Bootstrap presenter and so I frequently attend meetings and presentations at various locations within the University of Texas.  I have never had a bad experience with any UT sponsored event.  The WeTeach_CS Summit for 2016/17 was an excellent reflection upon the University of Texas and the value it places on education in the State of Texas.  (I’m saying this even though I graduated out of the A&M system so you know it has to be true).

If Carol, Amy, and the other attendees of this conference are any indication, the future of Computer Science, and education in general, in Texas, is bright. Given the projected growth of the Computer Industry and all things digital, I would say that the future of the economy and the welfare of the people of Texas is also bright.  At least it will be if Carol Fletcher has anything to say about it.

Ready to Reload

learningAnother year has come to a close.  It is time to begin preparations for the next year.  This is a most important time for any teacher, but especially for technology instructors because the material changes so rapidly and we owe it to our students to do our best to update materials.  It might be OK to teach English or Geometry with a 2 or 3 year old book but digital technology can   be obsolete in months or even weeks.

For me this will be a particularly  busy summer because I am also preparing to present Java game development at the WeTeach_CS in June in Austin.  If you are a Computer Science teacher you should definitely make plans to attend.  If you are thinking about becoming a Computer Science teacher you will be able to sign up for a $1000 stipend for passing the CS exam.  You REALLY need to consider attending.  I will also be attending a training session at the Colorado School of Mines in July to become a Bootstrap evangelist.  If you have not heard of Bootstrap, drop me a line.  It is a great way to teach Computer Programming and Algebra at the same time.  Finally I will be presenting at the OnRamps Summer Conference in Austin towards the end of July.  I am taking the family to Colorado for that presentation and we will spend a week there afterwards for a vacation.  Yes, teachers get to goof off all summer…right.

Meanwhile I am committed to revamp and polish my courses for the summer.  I am also committed to adding Captivate content to my coursework.  I have completed the first lesson in basic programming and integrated the SCORM package into Canvas.  Now it is just a matter of grinding them out until they are done.  I think I will track my progress in Captivate as I add content.  If you are interested in using Adobe Captivate then stay tuned.  I will add “how-to” content as I update.  I am also trying to introduce Muvizu animations as an instructional tool.  Wish me luck on that one.

I am also going to focus on developing video content from my class.  I have an acceptable camera and tripod.  Now I just need to figure out how to video classes without using a camera operator.  I am also doing a considerable amount of audio recording using Captivate and Camtasia to build online lessons.  My goal is to make my class completely available over the Internet for students who are absent on any given day.

If that was not enough to do for the summer, I am also learning to speak and read and write conversational Japanese.  Thus far I have almost completed Hiragana and I have begun Katakana and even started the Kanji.  If you are already a non-native Japanese speaker I would really like to hear how you managed it.  Needless to say the summer is a busy time for teachers.

Well I think that is quite enough for one summer so I am going to get busy.

夏を楽しむ

(Enjoy the summer)