Tag Archives: RUS Grant

35 Staff Meeting VC Demos

Part of our RUS Grant requirements for each of the buildings with new videoconferencing carts this year has been to participate in a 30-90 minute staff meeting overview of videoconferencing. Today’s session was rescheduled three times due to snow days and fog delays, and we almost had a snow day today! Yes, that’s the view out my window this morning!

These professional development sessions were all conducted via videoconferencing, and most of them were during regularly scheduled staff meetings.

Overview of RUS Grant
We start with a quick overview of the USDA RUS DLT grant and how it came to their building, along with an explanation of the eligibility requirements of the grant. Some of the districts in our service area weren’t eligible, so I always explain why they were included.

Overview of VC Equipment
Next we talk about what they see in front of them. I always like to ask teachers questions that they can ask their students to make sure they understand this isn’t broadcast quality TV. “How can I see you?” “How can I hear you?” We talk about muting and etiquette. I compare the pixelation to the blocks you see on digital TV and joke about a local student who thought the presenter was morphing into a monster. Then we play a game with the remote. I ask for a volunteer and have them “pick on” another teacher and zoom in with a nice head shot. We set a preset and then that teacher gets to pick on someone else. I usually do 2-3 of these depending on how much time we have. Then we process how fast presets are and how long it takes to move the camera without them.

VC Projects
Next we cover the three main categories of VC use in our service area. I always start with projects since they are free! I put on my hat and talk about Read Around the Planet. I tell them about the MysteryQuest sessions available for their grade level(s). I usually show a video clip of MysteryQuest World for middle school. For elementary I show either Where in Michigan or my tape with clips from Read Around the Planet and Michigan Week. I talk about projects they can come up with on their own, usually using my worm farm story for elementary or the ESL story for middle school.

ASK Programs
I talk about our ASK programs and feature upcoming sessions with openings. I show them a picture book kit and explain the difference between connecting to an author and connecting to a specialist. I emphasize that these programs are free to them but not to me! REMC funds these programs because we believe they are powerful learning experiences.

Content Providers
Finally, we end with content providers. If time, I show them how to search and we talk about possibilities for each grade level represented. We cover local scheduling procedures and how our mini-grant program works. Finally we take time for questions and wrap up.

It’s a very quick overview, but it sets the teachers at ease with the idea of videoconferencing and helps them realize the potential for their curriculum. This year, buildings who did the demo earlier in the school year were more likely to have more teachers participate in videoconferencing throughout the year.

So, how do YOU introduce your teachers to videoconferencing? Share a comment!

Sea Me Read

This afternoon Eagle Lake Elementary connected to Mote Marine Laboratory for the Sea Me Read: Smiley Shark program.

Before the program started the students enjoyed a flash(?) show of interesting shark and ocean facts. In the beginning, enthusiastic presenter Kasey reads the story, Smiley Shark, to the students in a high energy fashion, and students interact throughout the student with actions, Q&A and more. Check out how Mote Marine inserts Kasey into the book! Mote Marine’s visuals are exceptional, a feast for the eyes.

Next the students play a game with comprehension questions about the story, followed by pictures of different types of shark smiles and visuals showing various facts about sharks, including the size of their teeth.

After 15 min. of instruction, Kasey switches to the shark tank view and answers questions from the students.

Eagle Lake students had carefully studied Sharks and had a great set of questions prepared. Mote Marine showed pictures & visuals to help answer their questions.

This program is targeted to K-3 students and is perfect for short attention spans. It’s short & sweet; packed with facts and comprehension questions, and visually rich. If you haven’t been to Mote Marine yet, now’s the time!

The Giver Skits

This morning Marcellus Middle School students are sharing skits and vignettes in response to reading the book, The Giver. They also shared posters and other visual representations that captured the essence of the book and the issues within it.

These students prepared this presentation for Read Around the Planet, but had put so much work into the skits they wanted to share them with more classes who had read the book. So we ended up with 6 classes in Michgian, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The students made their presentation.

Then they asked all the sites some questions about the book:

  • Can you see yourself living in a town like Jonas with no color?
  • What are some benefits to living in a community like Jonas?

Then, again in round robin fashion, each site had a chance to ask questions or give a comment on the presentation.

  • How long did you practice the skits?
  • How long did it take to make the props?
  • Did you come up with the skits all by yourself?
  • Did you read the book yourselves or as a class?

We did have a few classes who hadn’t read the book, so Marcellus posed a few questions specifically to those who had. Questions such as, “What do you think happened to Gabe and Jonas at the end of the book?”

I’m so proud of Marcellus Middle School, one of the RUS grant buildings that received equipment this past summer. The use of camera presets, good strong audio from the students, visuals, good questions and interaction. They’ve put their learning to work and this videoconference was a great example of how they’ve become pros at videoconferencing!

International Wolf Center

Today Chikaming Elementary connected to the International Wolf Center for their program Wolf Tales. After a tour of the wolf center (6 remote cameras to see them live), the session focuses in on several books about wolves.

For example, students identify what things the wolf does in the story that makes us feel he is bad, or they identify the fiction in the story.

Finally the program ended with a time for students to ask questions. This is a great new provider! Check them out if you haven’t visited yet!

VCing Within the District

One of my districts in our RUS grant has 7 buildings with new videoconferencing equipment. The district is spread out and has fiber connecting all but one of their buildings. So they’ve started off with simple connections between buildings. Having the middle school students read to elementary students, etc. They are having so much fun with it! Learning the equipment in a much less stressful situation, since they already know each other. Here’s a comment from one of the coordinators:

This was a connection between 2 schools (elementary and middle) in our district. It was the second program we tried of this kind and we were even more pleased than the first time. The middle school students read How The Grinch Stole Christmas to 2 elementary classes. Students at both sites were exceptional! They were engaged, courteous, and very enthusiastic. We hope to have many more of these storytimes, as they are beneficial to all the students in so many ways.

Yet another effective way to get started with VC…..

35 Polycoms Up & Running

Yesterday we hit a milestone for our RUS grant. All 35 units are now up and running and tested in all the buildings. The last two buildings had serious networking issues to be resolved. We do have a few buildings that are locked down to 128K due to bandwidth issues within the district network, but most of them are connecting at 384K.

It’s interesting to me that when you’ve struggled with a connection and the building coordinator has seen a black screen or horribly choppy video many times, when those problems are finally resolved, they are thrilled with the connection they see even though it’s 128K. But for those who are spoiled with more bandwidth and no problems at the beginning, they see the 128K quality and scorn it. It’s all a matter of perspective, right?!

Another Excited Media Specialist

Yesterday two of my new RUS grant buildings did their first VC between the middle school and preK students at one of the elementaries. They did a simple little story presentation. There was a lot of nervousness at both buildings before the conference, but it went so well they are sold on the idea of videoconferencing. In the words of my media specialist….

We just finished our storytime program with McKinley Elementary and it was GREAT!!! We ended up connecting for almost an hour! The little ones were just a great audience, and even entertained us with a couple of songs. We want to do another one with a Christmas theme before the holidays! This is all just too fun!

So, you’re thinking, it was fun. So what? What did they learn? Think about the skills the middle school students practiced: speaking, presenting, storytelling language arts skills. And what did the little ones learn? Listening skills! And for all involved, a love of reading and books! So worth it!

Why it's been quiet here…

Yes, my blog has been a little quiet lately. Here’s a quick run down of some interesting things happening…. So much to write… so little time!

November 15 we did an awesome Operation Montserrat Training with CET Challenger Learning Center. Teachers were excited and jazzed and we’re scheduling 9 sessions with them this year. Stay tuned on the results of those VCs.
November 16 I finished the last all day training of building contacts for our RUS grant. 60+ teachers and local staff trained over 4 days! Lots of excitement about VC keeping me busy. The new building coordinators are so excited. Tonight one building is presenting to the board connecting between two buildings in the district to show how it works. With students showing a sample of what they could do in the Read Around the Planet project (and they haven’t participated yet!!).

November 17 we had two sessions of ASK: Monkey Island in celebration of homelessness awareness week. Andrea Israeli blogged an excellent summary!

I’ve been scouring high & low for Canadians to connect to in January & February for 6th grade classes studying Canada. Things are coming along on that custom project.

November 20 TWICE hosted Margaret Willey for ASK: Clever Beatrice. Wrote about it last year.

The Read Around the Planet project has been expanding insanely, with a not-so-smooth ride on the new database this year. But everyone has been patient with the process and we seem to be in for another record year of participation. Thanks to TWICE and Polycom for making the expansion possible this year!!

Requests for VCs from my 18 districts are coming out of the woodwork! Last year at this time I had 102 requests for the year, and totalled 279 programs for the whole year. Today I already have 245 and I haven’t advertised RAP to my schools yet! Yikes! I’ve hardly advertised anything at all. Usually I’m emailing them constantly with things they could do. This year we’re swamped and it’s a great feeling to know everyone is interested in using VC.

And I have to mention Andrea’s blog on the Cisco ad. Did you see it? While it’s cool that VC in classrooms is getting ads on TV and the quality looks cool, I wish that the example was a bit more educational. And more realistic on the time zones. It implies an Asian connection during the day for both schools which is impossible. Still it’s a step in the right direction of helping the general public understand what we do!

Hope things are hopping in your VC land too!

First After School nonVC PD

Tuesday we had our first after school professional development VC about something other than videoconferencing. We’re doing a series as part of the RUS grant. I know you’re wondering, so, sorry, I am only offering this for our county this year. But feel free to take the idea and do it locally! The Lorain County Distance Learning Consortium is offering programs like this too (for their members).

Tuesday’s session was on Best Tech Tools. Kevin Clark, Berrien County ISD Instructional Technology Consultant, facilitated a discussion of various tools and ways they are used or could be used in the curriculum in each participating building.

We had 28 teachers from 7 buildings in two sessions. Not bad for the first time. We switched between full screen showing Kevin’s computer, and the discussion format for sharing between the buildings. It was a neat low key informal conversation and worked well.

Here are some participant comments on how the VC part of the workshop worked for them:

Thanks for the great hour! I have heard of and played with many of the sites you showcased tonight, but I was madly making notes for myself as you went through things. Sitting in on sessions like this even when the particular sites aren’t new to me give me so many ideas.

Ten minutes after you finished up, three of the five of us had to be at the high school gym to play volleyball for a charitable function. Had we had to have gone anywhere, even to the ISD, we wouldn’t have been on time to play our first game. Just going to the library in your buildin beats the heck out of taking time out of the classroom to travel elsewhere to attend conferences.

Of course I enjoy videoconferencing. And I feel it makes learning more convenient and less expensive for everyone.

Seems we’ve hit on a format that will work well. Stay tuned for reports from future sessions. (And feel free to leave comments on how you’re using VC for PD in your area!!)