Friday, December 11, 2009

LISTEN - A Song Mosaic

Image: 'Megaphone' - http://www.flickr.com/photos/57498517@N00/158790381
My good friend and colleague is at it again - incorporating his love of composing and performing music into his teaching and the learning that takes place in his classrooms. I wrote about Ryan Miller several months ago (Rockin' The School Community) when he had written and recorded a song celebrating one of the schools in our division.

Ryan was recently the recipient of a provincial grant that enabled him to develop a project that focused on student engagement, student voice, social justice and the infusion of technology across the curriculum. He tied all of these themes together through music, by composing and recording a song that showcases lyrics that were contributed by individual students.

The result is LISTEN - check it out:


Ryan refers to LISTEN as a 'song mosaic', as it unites so many voices and important ideas in a very meaningful way. The collective and collaborative nature of this project serves to demonstrate the power of banding together to make a difference.

Thank you, Ryan, for allowing me to share this project in such a public way and for providing your students with such rich learning experiences. It will make a difference :-)

For more information about LISTEN, or to access the song/video where access to YouTube may be filtered, check out http://mckiel.ca/listen

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Digital Artifacts & The Twitter Test

Last night, I had the opportunity to present a couple of sessions at ManACE's 'Making Connections' TIN. I've sat on the board of the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators for several years, and have had the opportunity to present many sessions and take in lots of great presentations through our Technology Information Nights (TIN's).

We host TINs around the province several times a year, and often have between 20 & 50 people in the room. The sessions that are presented often demonstrate the use of leading edge technologies, and I've always wanted to increase the profile of our TIN sessions to include even more participation from around the province and around the world.

This has led me to consider different ways of connecting with an audience, and I've played a pivotal role in pulling together some innovative events through ManACE over the last couple of years. Events like the Manitoba Edubloggercon and Awakening Possibilities have involved Skyping in presenters and uStreaming the content out over the intertubes so that we could engage our virtual audience and impact more than just the people who were in the room.

These events have given birth to several other events taking place within the province, like Windows To The World last spring and, more recently, the Media Literacy event that Manitoba Education Citizenship and Youth (MECY) and the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) organized as Manitoba's contribution to our national Media Literacy Week celebrations.

Through these events, and through my affiliations with the ManACE Board and membership, I've had the opportunity to collaborate with many amazing educators. I've learned a lot from my network and, I'd like to think, I give back to my network in many different ways. I think that one of the greatest strengths of planning and delivering sessions as described above is that all of the content is archived on the web. This allows for professional learning opportunities to take place anytime and anywhere. These digital artifacts that have been created will continue to impact the educators who stumble upon them (or actively seek them out) for many years to come. We're leaving a legacy of learning online so that educators can continue to reap the benefit over time.

On that note, several people were hoping to attend last night's ManACE TIN but were unable to be there in person. I had several requests to uStream the presentations so that they could participate from a distance. I wanted to make the content available to a virtual audience, but we didn't have the time or resources to pull it together on short notice. But it got me thinking about how I could archive the presentation in a different way. I thought about whipping out my Flip Mino HD to capture the sessions. Instead, I opted for trying out a little experiment.

For the last couple of years, I've been dabbling with an application on my Mac called Screenflow. It's a very powerful app for creating polished screencasts, and you can also capture external audio and video at the same time. I wanted to try capturing the presentation as it appeared for the folks who were in the room & record the audio to accompany the presentation.

All I had to do was click record the content of the session, then stop the recording at the end. When I got home, I opened the recording in Screenflow, exported it to Quicktime (coincidentally, it's only 66mb for 33 minutes of footage...) and uploaded it to Vimeo. I chose Vimeo over YouTube simply because not as many school divisions block/filter access to Vimeo.

It took no time or expertise to crop, render or encode the video. Just a couple clicks of a button and I was done. I'm extremely impressed with the ease of capturing this presentation, and am happy to say that it has now been archived and made available for your viewing pleasure :-)

BuildingYourPLN from Andy McKiel on Vimeo.



Due to the ease of capturing and sharing this presentation, I plan to adopt this technique a little more often over the coming weeks and months. I'd love to hear examples of how other educators create and share digital artifacts :-)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Outta This World!

This morning I got to be part of something very cool - connecting a handful of high school students with Dr. Robert Thirsk, a Canadian astronaut who is currently orbiting earth aboard the International Space Station.

This was an incredible experience for everyone involved, and a moment that will live on forever in the minds of these students.

Dr. Thirsk graduated from John Taylor Collegiate here in Winnipeg, so this was a very unique home-coming celebration. In fact, Dr. Thirsk made reference to his high school chemistry teacher, George Bush (no, not that George Bush...), who was actually in attendance this morning. Must be nice to re-connect with your former students when you can see how far they've come ;-)

Each of the students who participated in this event had the opportunity to ask questions of Dr. Robert Thirsk. You can have a listen to the entire audio content here:



This event was attended by some local media, so I would expect to see some coverage in the local newspaper (Winnipeg Free Press) as well as on television (CBC News).

This was an experience that I won't soon forget. I just wish I had enriching opportunities like this as I made my own way through high school years ago :-)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Am I Media Literate?

Over the past few weeks, I've been working collaboratively with some amazing innovators from around Manitoba. We've been planning a series of projects on the topic of 'Media Literacy', which has forced me to continuously ponder the question, "What does it mean to become media literate?"

Here in Canada, the Media Awareness Network offers some great resources to help teachers, parents and students understand what it means to be media literate. They've broken media literacy down into several components, including the ability to access, consume, evaluate and create information. The Media Awareness Network is also responsible for establishing Media Literacy Week, an annual event that's celebrating its fourth occurrence November 2nd-6th, 2009.

Media Literacy Week will feature a variety of live events taking place across the country. Here in Manitoba, we're (MECY & ManACE) planning a unique event that features short virtual presentations from many innovative educators across the country. Mark your calendars for the evening of November 2nd, as you won't want to miss this event! Even if you're nowhere near Manitoba, the presentations and the panel discussion that follows will be broadcast via uStream to facilitate virtual participation :-)

Another project we've been working on has to do with demonstrating media literacy. We've created a short video to spark people's thinking about what it means to be media literate. It's been posted to YouTube, and our hope is that this seed video will prompt teachers and students from around the world to post their video responses to demonstrate their own media literacy. This video should generate some great classroom discussions about what it means to think critically & creatively, and to use technology ethically & responsibly.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this video that we've produced. And I'd love it even more if you shared it with your students and/or your fellow educators. If you took the time to pop over to our YouTube channel to post a video response, that would REALLY make me happy :-)

* CREATE - PARTICIPATE - CELEBRATE *

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Tides of Change

Image: 'time disappears' - http://www.flickr.com/photos/14576317@N07/2427479094

As Google Wave begins to wash over us, we're bound to see another dramatic shift in the way we access ideas & information, and the way we connect to friends, family and experts in the field.

Over ten years ago, Google began to shift our thinking. For years, they've been increasingly impacting our online experiences. Google has been the dominant factor in shaping the internet r/evolution...

Google's success comes with a price - they have to answer a LOT of questions. While Google can provide quality answers to some excellent questions, they're also required to address many questions that are trivial, mundane, ludicrous and even absurd. Google doesn't have a choice - they must instantly produce an answer to any question that is asked.

As an educator, I've often told my students, "There's no such thing as a silly question". Well, that's just not true. By taking a look at Google's auto-complete entries when typing in a question, you'll come to discover that there are, indeed, many silly questions. And what's worse - millions of people around the world are asking the same silly questions! Here are just a few examples of the questions that are being asked of Google:

Are you one of the 17,500 people who've already asked Google this question?

Okay, maybe this is a good question ;-)

1.3 million young males with low self-esteem just gotta know...

Almost 3/4 of a billion people have gone to Google - hoping to see their own name atop the list?

No, really... to whom were these questions asked before Google???

How many times have you thought to yourself, 'If I had a nickel for every time I answered that question...' Well, Google's found a way to do just that - it's how they've built up their billions...

And that's just the beginning. Let's sit back, relax, and watch what happens as Google Wave spawns the new tides of change :-)

Now I just have to wait until I get to dip my toes in the water - I'm hoping Google Wave washes it's way toward me soon...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Into The Unknown

Image: 'They came...' -www.flickr.com/photos/17537227@N00/514419261

I've been travelling a little bit this summer and it's caused me to spend a fair amount of time pondering the places I've been - the paths I've walked and the sights that I've seen.

I've come to the conclusion that too many of my trips are repeats. I'm often forced to return to previous destinations out of obligation. The paths I walk are well worn and the sights I see have been tainted by experience.

I long to explore new spaces and visit different places. I have a strong sense of adventure and always want to see what's around the next corner. I need to venture into the unknown and explore the many possibilities that exist.

All the while these thoughts are running through my head, I'm thinking about my kids. I understand how important it is to lead them into different places. It's up to me to show my kids a world of opportunity and to keep them safe while they explore it.

It's our responsibility, as parents and as educators, to expand the horizons for our youth. We don't want our students to feel stuck - we want them to take the reins and control their own destiny. But many of our kids need to be shown some of the paths that exist and they want someone to walk down those paths with them - just a helping hand to get them started.

Technology holds the key to showing our kids all of the many paths that exist. There are so many worlds that they can begin to explore with just one click.


Where will you guide them?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Take a Number...

Image: 'Happiness Queue' - www.flickr.com/photos/58971759@N00/3347552602

So, a couple of weeks ago, I tossed a tweet out on Twitter about how happy I was to have successfully set up a wireless router at the lake. Little did I know, the novelty would wear off way faster than I had anticipated, almost to the point that I wish we still weren't connected while spending time at the cottage.

First, a little context. The cottage is a log cabin located in Siglavik, which is a series of dredged channels along the shores of Lake Winnipeg, just south of Gimli, Manitoba. Siglavik is a little slice of paradise, less than an hour away from my doorstep in Winnipeg, yet it feels so incredibly remote. While spending time at the cottage, it's so easy to forget about the commitments and the responsibilities that await your return in the big city. We go for boat rides, we kayak, ride our bikes into the town of Gimli, walk along the beach, golf a little - life at the lake is far from roughing it. Check it out for yourself - it's a really unique location:


View Larger Map

Up until this year, the only thing I thought we were lacking to complete the experience was the internet... boy, was I wrong! Yeah, it's great to be able to Skype with friends and family who are far away. I love the power of being able to access Google to find out what kind of bird has built it's nest in our yard. And having the opportunity to share photos of this location with my online network is very powerful, indeed.

But it comes with a price - the downfall of being connected. When there's easy access to the internet, you feel compelled to check your e-mail several times a day. You find reasons to open up your laptop or pull out your iTouch on a regular basis. Being connected takes away that remoteness that used to go hand in hand with coming out to the lake.

And it's not just me who feels this. The thing that I've noticed above all others is just how much EVERYONE has come to value the ability to stay connected. My wife has spent more time online in the last two weeks than she did in the last two months - just because she can... My mother-in-law's been surfing YouTube for days, viewing and sharing all kinds of questionable content. My father-in-law's been monitoring weather forecasts several times an hour and reporting the updates in real-time. What ever happened to looking out the window or stepping outside to find out what the weather's like?

It's almost gotten to the point where I can't even get my hands onto a computer because everyone else has too many technology related things to do. All of a sudden, I'm not the only geek in the room ;-)

I've gotta take a number just to get a turn on my own computer...

I've come to the conclusion that life at the lake should always be

UNPLUGGED

Friday, July 10, 2009

Building a Sharper Image

In my role as a technology coordinator, I've been asked to provide some input regarding the next 'image' that's prepared to roll out onto over 1000 Apple MacBook laptops across our division. My recommendations could seriously impact the tools and resources that are readily available to over 500 teachers and thousands of students.

Obviously, we'll include a wide variety of licensed software on these machines. But, in addition to the basics, I'd love to include a wide variety of open-source software so that our users can hone there skills more effectively.

Here's a partial list (in alphabetical order) of some open source apps that I'd love to see available to all teachers and students. While many of these apps can be included easily, a couple of them are in beta (or private beta), so some considerations need to be made before going ahead and installing them onto a slew of machines...

After glancing at this list, what other open source titles would you include? I'd love some more feedback from my network on this one ;-)

ATMOSPHIR
An amazing cross platform video game design application that allows users to upload, share and edit all levels that are created...


AUDACITY
A no-frills audio editing and recording application which makes it very easy to produce audio podcasts...


GIMP
A great photo editing application that can introduce students to layers, masks and other powerful image editing tools...


GOOGLE EARTH
Instantly take your students on virtual field trips anywhere in the world for free - without having to deal with permission slips - what more could you ask for?


PHUN
A simple to use physics engine where students can dabble with creating objects and solving complex problems...


SCRATCH
A simple programming language developed by Mitch Resnick at MIT - introduces students to action scripts and allows uploading and sharing of files...


GOOGLE SKETCHUP
A comprehensive 3D design environment that allows users to create models to scale - features an online object warehouse so that objects/models can be easily shared...

SKITCH
A great little application for annotating or marking up photos - also makes it very simple to crop and resize image files...


SKYPE
An amazing application that allows you to freely and instantly connect with anyone, anywhere in the world...


SMART Notebook 10
An object oriented application that is used to create interactive lessons and activities for use with SMART interactive whiteboards. Why not encourage students to create and share their own Notebook files?

STELLARIUM
A very cool application for viewing constellations in great detail - allows zooming, searching, and even enables users to manipulate the passage of time to track the paths of orbiting planets...

VLC
A great little media player that handles some video formats that Quicktime may not like very much...

Preserving Oral Traditions

If a picture could talk, what would it say?

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. But no matter how well a picture captures a scene and a snapshot preserves a moment in time, there's no way that a picture can tell the whole story. The picture above conveys a message, but it can't tell you that it is quite content living in a garden that's lovingly maintained by a 90 year old gardener and that it's surrounded by equally beautiful flowers and produce...

In this day and age, we're bombarded by media from many sources. While I love the instant access to this visual and auditory media, I find that it's actually contributing to a loss of our oral traditions. We rely too heavily on a picture to tell the whole story and we leave out too many of the details.

More and more these days, I've recognized the need to preserve our oral traditions. We still need to be story-tellers first and foremost. Because pictures can't always speak for themselves.

I'm currently visiting family in Southern Ontario. While I'm here, I get to spend time with all four of my grandparents, each of whom are entering their 10th decade of life. I'm also spending lots of time at the other end of the spectrum with my two year old nephew. One of the things that's really struck me throughout the last couple of days is the ability that some people have to weave their webs through stories. To add value and meaning to their stories through the subtle little nuances of their speech and to embellish their stories with actions and artifacts.

I've got my camera with me but, to be honest, I haven't pulled it out as often as I thought I would. I've also got my Flip Mino HD in the bag, but it, too, has remained in the bag more often than not. While I really wish to capture and preserve all of the stories I'm privy to out here, nothing can really bring any of these stories to life as well as taking them in firsthand.

In order to preserve our oral traditions, we don't need to do away with all of the media. We just have to find better ways of merging it with our stories. Tools like VoiceThread are amazing for this purpose, providing you with ample opportunity to add more meaning and context to the images that we share. And then there's all of the web 2.0 tools that provide you with different ways to tell your stories and focus on the content.

And now, I'm off to historic Fort Henry, to hear some of the stories it has to share...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Remixes & Mashups - It all started with a cover song...

With the ease of creating content on the intertubes, it becomes increasingly difficult to create truly original work. This has led to the growing trend of remixing content and mashing up content. Educators can lead their students to vast collections of Creative Commons licensed audio clips, videos and photos, and these resources can be combined to create original content, even though they didn't necessarily create all of the pieces on their own. Mashing up data and remixing content is definitely one of the trends that we should all be aware of as we access content on the internet.

However, this is not a brand new phenomenon. Bands have been remixing content and mashing up multimedia for years. Think back to some of your favourite cover songs. That's what they're all about - remixes and mashups. The best cover songs are the ones where bands add their own twist to the original song to make it truly unique and set it apart from the original, rather than trying to replicate the original tune.

All this to say that I got to catch The Watchmen performing in front of their hometown supporters a couple nights ago. I grew up feasting on Watchmen shows and was sad to see them call it quits several years ago. However, when they announced that they were playing a couple of shows again these days, my spirits rose. And after hearing Danny Greaves, the lead singer, mention that they were in the studio last week, I was elated. They put on a really tight show here in Winnipeg this week, which included a couple of brand new tunes. I am hopeful that this is just a sign of what's to come :-)

I recorded a few tunes and shot some pics. And with all this talk of cover songs here's The Watchmen's take on Billy Bragg's 'A New England':



Also here, for your viewing pleasure, are a few photos that I shot during The Watchmen's set at the Red River Ex in Winnipeg on June 16th, 2009:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

i Type, therefore i Animate

I've been playing around a bit with Xtranormal, a cool new online application that allows you to create really cool animated videos simply by typing in your script. This application allows you to customize your characters and backgrounds, add actions and sound effects to your videos.

Xtranormal is extremely simple to work with, and it takes all of the production time out of creating animated videos, and I can think of many students who would love to get their hands on this tool :-)

While anyone can use an e-mail address to sign up for a free account, there are some benefits that come with upgrading to one of the premium account options. Not only can anyone view your videos on the Xtranormal website, you can also embed your published videos on websites, blogs and wikis. They also have a feature that enables you to instantly post your videos to a YouTube account...

I just created the following video in 30 minutes using my free Xtranormal account:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rockin' the School Community


Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day with several teachers at one of our Divisional elementary schools. I always appreciate the opportunity to meet informally with teachers to share ideas and find out about some of the innovative things that are happening in our classrooms.

While I was there, an old friend shared one of his recent projects with me. Ryan Miller, who was once a student teacher in my classroom, has found a way to successfully integrate his musical background with his current role as a teacher and guidance counsellor within our school division. While Ryan has long been an accomplished singer and songwriter, his foray into music within the context of education is beginning to flourish.

Earlier this year, Ryan attended one of our divisional workshops that explored several classroom uses of GarageBand. Although he hadn't played with GarageBand prior to this workshop, he's become hooked on writing and recording songs with this powerful Mac application.

This spring, Ryan wrote a song for his school. As word got out about this project, he's had other schools approach him about the possibility of recording songs on their behalf. Most recently, 'Mr. Miller' recorded Strathmillan Stars for one of our other elementary schools. The school provided a series of phrases that they wanted incorporated into the song, and Ryan involved the school choir and a student soloist within the song that he wrote.

I'm thoroughly impressed with Ryan's dedication and commitment to involving students in projects of this nature. What an incredible way to build community and celebrate school successes. I'd love to see more projects like this one being created across our division and around the world :-)

Please take a few minutes to have a listen to Strathmillan Stars and leave a comment with your reflections on this song and the concept of connecting and collaborating through music. On that note, I proudly present to you 'Strathmillan Stars', an original composition by Ryan Miller:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mining Our Resources


Last night I gave a short presentation at the ManACE Annual General Meeting. The focus of the presentation was to talk about the benefits of 'uncovering' technology tools and resources. For me, the highlight of the presentation was having Clarence Fisher join us virtually for a little while to discuss the impact mining has on his life and his community. Clarence also described some of the 'struggleware' that he and his students have unearthed...

You can view the slides from my presentation here, clicking on pause between slides:

video

Both of the presentations from the ManACE AGM were broadcast over uStream and they've been archived on the ManACE blog. Check out ManACE Memos to view these presentation :-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's Well Worth The Trip


This past weekend, I took my family out for a visit to the snake dens just north of Narcisse, Manitoba. At just an hour's drive from my doorstep, this was an incredible way to spend a beautiful day.

Each year, tens of thousands of garter snakes make their way to the unique geological landscapes that are found in this region. They spend the winter below ground in limestone caves. When they emerge each spring, they engage in a mating frenzy before moving on to their respective homes to spend the remainder of the year. Everywhere you look, garters are slithering through the grass and across your path. If you're lucky enough to come at the right time of the year, you'll even be privy to large 'mating balls', where many of the smaller male garters are writhing around one large female garter in an effort to reproduce. A day at the snake pits is an awe-inspiring experience, and people from around the world are attracted to see these events unfolding first-hand.

Yet, many of the Winnipeger's whom I've spoken to about the Narcisse snake pits over the last couple of days have never made the trip. It's not that they all dislike or are scared of snakes. Rather, they just haven't taken the time to explore the resources that they have so readily available.

I often see the same barriers with the infusion of technology in too many classrooms today:
- with technology, teachers have incredible tools at their fingertips, yet so many of them choose not to use them
- there are literally thousands of tools available for the taking, each of which provides ample opportunities for teaching and learning
- access to many of these tools and resources is free

If you live in Manitoba and haven't taken the time to witness the Narcisse snake dens firsthand, do yourself a favour and go. Millions of people from around the world have beat you to it.

And if you haven't yet explored the use of some of the free and easy onine tools that are available to benefit your teaching and learning, don't wait any longer. Millions of people from around the world have beat you to it. Just get started. And if you're not sure how to begin, Alan Levine's 50 Ways (errr... 67 Ways) to Tell a Story will serve as an excellent starting point to launch you on your way :-)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air - #wttw

Wow, we had a great time last night! It was nice to have an opportunity to chat with others in the room, and it was exciting to be able to bring so many talented educators into the room virtually from around the world. Some of our online participants came from as far away as the UK and Australia :-)

One of the first things that took place during this event was the creation of a wiki (thanks, @charbeck) to record the Twitter usernames of a few Manitoba educators - http://mbteacherswhotweet.wikispaces.com/ - if you're in Manitoba and on Twitter, please add yourself to the list :-)

You can catch many of the evening's festivities by watching our Windows To The World uStream recording here:


Many thanks go out to everyone who participated in this unique event...

So, when should we do the next one???

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Red River's Relevence

Photo credit: Joe Bryska, Winnipeg Free Press

Living in Manitoba, we're no strangers to flooding. The Red River basin collects water from a vast region of the heart of the continent and whisks it north into Lake Winnipeg just as quickly as it possibly can. However, every so often we're left in a bit of predicament when we receive more precipitation than usual and the ice that covers the mighty Red River each winter doesn't break up as quickly as it should. This spring, we're facing one of these potential disaster situations. The last time we were hit with a flood this bad was 1997, when hundreds of millions worth of damage was inflicted upon our province from the overland flooding that was caused by the mighty Red River overspilling it's banks.

Most of the people who live in Winnipeg aren't affected too badly by the flooding. But there are some low-lying regions within the city where high water levels and erosion combine to threaten the decimation of entire neighbourhoods. Take, for instance, Kingston Row & Kingston Crescent - it's just a matter of time until this meandering segment of the river becomes another oxbow lake along the shores of the Red River. No matter how hard we try to slow Mother Nature, she will eventually run her course...

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

One of the reasons that Winnipegers don't have to worry too much about the flooding Red River is the floodway that was created just over 50 years ago to divert floodwaters around the city. Once they open the floodgates, the excess water flows east of the city and spills back into the Red River just before Lake Winnipeg. Provided the powers that be are able to open the floodgates in time, disaster can be averted.

While the flood of 1997 was devestating, we did experience some flooding a few years ago, in 2006. Unfortunately, the provincial flood forecasters underestimated the magnitude of the flooding that would occur and decided that it wouldn't be necessary to use the floodway. The headlines in all of our newspapers reassured the general public that we had nothing to fear because the situation was under control. Then, within one day, there was a surge in the water levels and flood officials were forced to eat their words and scramble to throw the floodgates open before our fair city was inundated by floodwaters. I took advantage of this situation to grab my video camera, hop on my bike, and document the power of the Red River Rising...


I threw this video together within a few hours back in 2006, and it's the first video I ever uploaded to YouTube. This winter, I noticed that it surpassed 2000 views. Much to my surprise, I just discovered that this video's been viewed over 1500 more times within the last month. Interesting how the content that we post online can sometimes become so much more relevent long after we upload it to the 'net.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Tools Have Changed.


One of the things I was really looking forward to on my recent trip out to southern Ontario was a visit to the 'ol sugar bush. I have so many fond memories of tromping through the maples with my Grandpa when I was a young lad and I was hoping to recreate this experience for myself. I was also hoping to treat my daughters to their first taste of fresh maple sap and soak up the atmosphere that can only exist within an old sugar shack. We stopped in at Drummond's Maple Sugar Bush in Spencerville, Ontario, just a little south of Ottawa. Drummond's is a family owned and operated outfit that's been in business for over 200 years in the same location. One of the first things I saw after climbing out of the car was enough to burst my bubble. It was this sign:


The methods have changed.
Completely.
The experience of visiting a sugar bush is nothing like it used to be.
It's smoother. It's slicker. It's far more efficient.


Looking around the sugar bush, all you see is a maze of nylon tubing. This tubing strings from tree to tree, it gathers and collects the sap and it transports the sap instantly to the central collection area. While there's no question that this method of collecting sap from the trees makes much more sense than the traditional methods that were used, I was disappointed that my children couldn't experience this process first-hand. The tubing has allowed Drummond's to tap and collect sap from over 1600 trees, far more than they'd be able to manage with the old school ways...


However, there was one bucket set up beside the parking lot to appease people like me. My kids could see the tap in the maple tree. They could see how slowly the sap flowed from the tree. We talked about how long it would take to fill that one bucket with sap. This one bucket doesn't shed too much light on the entire process of creating maple syrup, but it made it so much more relevant than staring into a sea of nylon tubing.

Of course, this is a technology blog, and not sugar bush blog. The reason I'm posting about this experience in this space is that I've been hung up on the tools that we choose to use in our classrooms. As educators, technology provides us with many tools and resources that can make our teaching so much more meaningful for our students. These tools can help us tap into our own professional learning networks. These tools can help us, and our students, to be far more efficient and effective than we used to be. But even though these tools are readily available, some educators opt to stick with the more traditional tools.

My recent trip to the sugar bush reminded me that we shouldn't push teachers too hard to adopt the new tools that are available. Many teachers are steeped in tradition, and are quite comfortable using the tools that they know best. Only when we really see the merit of adopting these new methods will we be comfortable letting go of our traditions...

The tools have already changed.
Now we're changing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Announcing 'Windows To The World'

Adapted from: 'BCE Toronto' - http://www.flickr.com/photos/7578081@N07/2409088184

Over the last couple of years, ManACE has organized a variety of forward thinking events. You may have participated in 2007's Manitoba Edubloggercon. Or you may have heard about the innovative approach that we took with presenting 2008's Awakening Possibilities. These events were all about bringing together educators from around the province of Manitoba (and around the world) to showcase some of the many talents that exist in the vast region of Canada where we are situated.

Enter 'Windows To The World'. This event aims to throw the windows open a little wider in an effort to connect with more people in even more meaningful ways. Windows To The World will provide a greater opportunity for face to face networking with educators from around the province. For participants in the room, there will be opportunities to connect and collaborate with the other like-minded educators who are in attendance.

In addition to bringing people together, we'll turn our own walls into windows by sharing what we're doing with other educators from around the world. Using a variety of video conferencing tools and techniques, many distinguished guests will join us throughout the evening. We will have an opportunity to ask questions, highlight successful collaborative projects and connect with our own circle of experts by showcasing the benefits of being a connected learner. We will also broadcast the live video feed from this event out to our global audience, to facilitate increased virtual participation.
If you plan to be in or around Manitoba the evening of April 15th, we hope that you'll consider joining us in person for 'Windows To The World'. If you'll be in another province, country or continent, we hope that you'll join us online for this event to help us demonstrate the power of networked learning.

There is no cost to participate in Windows To The World. Everyone is welcome to attend, and refreshments will be provided for participants in this event. Virtual participants --> BYOB :-)

Register to attend this event in person by emailing: andy@mckiel.ca

Please help ManACE spread the word about Windows To The World by posting, printing and sharing this open invitation:

We look forward to having you join us for Windows To The World :-)
Andy

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Power of The Pen...

For those of you that know me, you are well aware that technology is just one of my many passions. I am a devoted dad, an dedicated director, an enthusiastic educator and an avid audiophile. I love many genres of music, and I try not to pass up too many opportunities to catch live shows by local and touring musical acts.

What does technology have to do with music, you might ask? Well, I've become increasingly aware of the power of the pen, and the growing ease of sharing our experiences with a wider audience. Many edubloggers have noted the recent rise in both the quantity and quality of citizenship journalism - ordinary people reporting on both ordinary and extraordinary topics. No longer do you require a degree to publish your work and share it with a wide audience. Everyone has the ability to cover any story that is important to them. We are all entitled to share our opinions and ideas with the world.

But technology doesn't just provide us with the ability to share our experiences using the written word. We can now use a wide variety of media to tell our stories and highlight our experiences.

Last night, I was fortunate to catch a great show by one of my personal hometown heroes, Luke Doucet. Luke is an extremely talented songwriter and a guitar virtuoso. His songs span many genres, making it difficult to label his music. He's worked closely with many artists over the last couple of decades, including touring regularly with Sarah McLachlan and Blue Rodeo. His most recent string of tour dates was spent opening for James Blunt (that's right, the 'You're Beautiful' guy). But, for me, watching Luke headline his own tour and showcase his own songs is the best way to see him up on a stage.

Although the show was sold out and many people were denied entrance due to a lack of space, the tool that I brought with me to the show last night has allowed me to share my experience with everyone who couldn't be in the room. I had my digital camera, which I used to snap over 300 pictures (many of them duds...) and capture video of a few songs. All of this with just a camera - something that many of our students carry in their pockets day in and day out.

Here are a few pictures that I took during Luke's sold-out performance last night at the Park Theatre in Winnipeg:



Also, a few of the songs that I captured throughout the evening have been posted to my YouTube channel. Here's Luke performing Broken One:



We can all tell our stories using a variety of media. I love seeing examples of stories that are told through the blogs that I read. I've gained so much knowledge from listening to stories told through podcasts. And I'm always looking for new ways to allow and encourage students of all ages to tell their stories.

Why must we always require our students to keep their tools in their pockets, rather than allowing them the freedom to tell their stories in different ways?

I wanna hear your story.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My First Keynote...

I've had months to prepare for this occasion and it arrives first thing in the morning. I've been asked to deliver the keynote address at the 2009 BYTE Conference, being held February 27th in Minnedosa, Manitoba. Just over 400 participants from across Manitoba in attendance. As nervous as I am about the prospects of delivering my first keynote address, I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be :-)

For archival purposes, I've used SlideShare to create a slidecast of my keynote address. Here it is:


I've also created a wiki for the 2009 BYTE Conference, to share and archive resources from the many sessions that are offered at this year's BYTE Conference. Check out the BYTE Resource Wiki...

I'd gladly welcome any and all feedback, so please don't hesitate to post your comments ;-)

Please feel free to share this resource as you see fit...
Thanks in advance,
Andy

Monday, February 16, 2009

Building a Better Block

Image: 'La tour Block Buddies' - http://www.flickr.com/photos/49462908@N00/141488559
As kids, how many of us spent an eternity building teetering towers with blocks? How many of us learned to combine letters to form sounds and words with these same blocks? Blocks are one of those universal 'toys' that provide a solid foundation for learning by allowing all children to manipulate and create.

And now, thanks to technology, a whole new generation of building blocks have emerged that will up the ante. In the following TED Talks video, David Merrill, an MIT grad student, demonstrates the capabilities of 'Siftables'. I wish I could have gotten my hands on some of these when I was a kid. Actually, I'd really love to get my hands on some of these as an adult, so that I could share them with my kids :-)

Check out Siftables, and imagine the possibilities...


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Twitter 'follower' Mosaics

Image: 'Poster #2 - Test Run' - www.flickr.com/photos/94832693@N00/7966141

It's been far too long since I posted here. I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to tie up too many loose ends. Combine this with preparing a whole bunch of sessions and the keynote address for the upcoming BYTE Conference, and it leaves me with little time to post on my blog.

And then there's Twitter. Over the last month, my Twitter network has doubled in size and I'm finding that the nature of my blog reading has changed. I rely less heavily on my RSS aggregator and pay more attention to the trends and discussions that are surfacing in my Twitter feed instead. I still read the same blogs, and discover new blogs, but I hear about and read the latest posts long before I read about them in my blog reader.

I love this Twitter Follower Mosaic tool that I first discovered in a recent post on Rodd Lucier's blog. I found many new people to follow, and have been privy to many great discussions by building off of other people's Twitter networks.

Click on any avatars in the following mosaic to find a few more people to follow in your own Twitter network :-)

Get your twitter mosaic here.