Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blogging for Alex's Virtual Lemonade Stand Project this week...

I'm blogging for Alex's Virtual Lemonade Stand project this week - - so check out the posts there: http://alexslemondrop.blogspot.com/.

Students have put together some AMAZING projects! To date, they have raised more than $12,500 for pediatric cancer research. The project concludes this Friday and we'll be webstreaming the final videoconference celebration. For more instructions on how to access the webstream, see: http://www.magpi.net/programs/alexslemonade.html.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Videoconferencing Best Practices and Virtual Field Trips

On Monday, I facilitated our spring 2009 Videoconferencing: Best Practices and Virtual Field Trips seminar. Despite a rocky technical start (the MCU dropped ALL sites about 5 minutes before we were supposed to start), the seminar did seem to go rather well. It involved an abbreviated virtual field trip from the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (who did demonstrations from their All About Matter program) and a presentation from CILC about their virtual field trip resources, as well as a brief overview of the MUSE social network community, MAGPI resources and videoconferencing set-up, etiquette and tips for integrating into the curriculum.

As I was preparing for this seminar, I realized that what was really missing from it was a list of helpful links for educators new to using this tool. So I spent some time today collecting some of my favorite videoconference resources:

Finding Virtual Field Trips/Content Providers
(*not all are I2-based virtual field trips)
Finding Partners to Do Collaborative Projects Using Videoconferencing
Great Resources for Getting Started with Videoconferencing
Videoconferencing Etiquette and Best Practices
Some of My Favorite VC Blogs

Monday, March 23, 2009

Alex’s Virtual Lemonade Stand Kick-Off

Students at 38 schools across the US and in Taiwan are putting the squeeze on cancer for the next two weeks by participating in the Alex’s Virtual Lemonade Stand project. This collaboration between Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, Lower Merion School District and MAGPI uses videoconferencing as a way to bring students from different schools together around a common purpose - - raising awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research.

This is our fourth year running this project - -and every year the project gets better! Today was the kick-off virtual pep rally where students had an opportunity to show their lemon spirit. The steering team behind the project was thrilled to see so much enthusiasm from students! We had step team performances, dramatic presentations, songs, raps and cheers - - all directed toward getting one another excited about giving childhood cancer (as one school put it) ‘the boot.’ Students from Cynwyd Elementary (who emceed the entire event) did a great job. And I can’t even begin to sing the praises of the of the faculty at Lower Merion School District (who ran all of television production equipment, prepped students and wrote the script) - - they really made the event look professional!! The success of this project is that it is truly a team effort. :0) A very special thanks to Tom McGee and Nancy Einstein (LMSD) as well as Connie Screnci (from Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation) for all of their efforts!

We found out today that over the last three years, this project has raised more than $61,000 for pediatric cancer research - - - and we quadrupled our school participation from 9 schools the first year to 38 this year.

Some of the highlights from today’s event:
  • Choreography from students at North Hills Elementary as they performed their original song
  • Watching the step teams from Jacob Elementary School and East Stroudsburg Area High School South perform
  • Hearing (and seeing) the students from Kutztown Area School District ‘rap’ their lemonade spirit
  • Seeing students from Robeson Elementary School perform a dramatic presentation of how they make lemonade (complete with students dressed up as water, lemons, sugar a straw and ice - - should have seen how they ‘stirred.’)
  • All of the ‘lemon heads’ at the Career Institute of Technology
  • Connecting with Taiwan in the middle of the night! Yes - - it was almost 2 a.m. there!
  • Hearing all of the cheers from all of the schools
Personally, I get excited about this project because it shows the power of the ‘people’ network when they harness the power of advanced infrastructure networks. It’s an amazing feat to bring all of these schools together for an hour - - and we can’t wait to see what they do over the next two weeks. You can keep track of schools’ progress by visiting the Alex’s Virtual Lemonade Stand Project Blog.

You can also watch the kick-off event, in its entirety, from the new MAGPI podcast site. You'll need iTunes to watch!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Facilitating Multisite Videoconference Discussions

Earlier this week, one of our Fellows asked if I had a document on best practices for facilitating multisite videoconference discussions. I was embarrassed to admit that I had never put such a document together, although have been collecting anecdotal knowledge and tips for years. I decided to use today's post as a way of sharing some 'tricks of the trade.'

Ultimately, I believe that facilitating good multisite videoconference discussion is similar to facilitating any good classroom discussion. Although there are distinct differences on how participants (especially students) might seem 'real' to one another in a virtual setting as opposed to being in the same geographic setting. If you're interested in reading more about this, please see
Getting Real in Virtual Talk about Text in this month's edition of Middle School Journal (March 2009). Maren Aukerman (assistant professor at Stanford University) and I co-authored a paper that looks at how students interact with one another via videoconference during virtual reading comprehension instruction.

But as a quick reference, here are some of my initial thoughts on facilitating good multi-site discussion via videoconference:
  • Everything in moderation. Get more than two sites on a videoconference (especially with multiple participants at each site!) with open microphones, and you're asking for trouble. It's important that sites keep their microphones muted unless speaking in order for everyone to hear what is being said. Having a site moderator (someone at individual sites) to direct folks and facilitate participation is a good idea. Often times in an educational videoconference, this can be a teacher. This person is responsible for making sure the person speaking is in front of the microphone and that when a particular site does not have the floor, the microphone is muted. Be careful not to let this person dominate the conversation from their site - - nothing will inhibit student participation more than a teacher or site facilitator that does all the talking for them.

  • Ask open ended questions. Nothing shuts a conversation down faster than asking a yes/no question. In order to elicit thoughtful response, ask questions without having a preconceived answer in mind. For example, asking a student or participant about what they think, their past experiences, their processes, to make predictions or to summarize their understanding will take you a lot further than a question like "did you have fun creating the project?"

  • Use strategies of open dialogue. Your job as the facilitator is not necessarily to evaluate the comments of the participants; it's to engage them in discussion so that they collectively come to an understanding. Therefore, don't place value judgment on responses (try to avoid words like "good" or responses like "you're close but not quite there yet"). Instead, uptake responses (i.e. "So, Sherri thinks that the cow is blue") and invite others into the conversation (i.e. "What do you think about what's been said?"). A particular favorite book of mine on this topic (related to classroom discourse, not necessarily videoconference-based discourse - - although there are definite parallels) is Nystrand's Opening Dialogue: Understanding the Dynamics of Language and Learning in the English Classroom.

  • Promote cross-site dialogue. Getting participants at different sites to talk can be challenging. Explicitly inviting sites to talk to one another will help, even though it might take some time for sites to warm-up to one another. When planning instructional videoconference events, it might be helpful to designate a 'first response school,' especially if students will be sharing work with one another. For example, if School A is presenting, let School C know they are responsible for providing feedback on School A's presentation ahead of time. It's also helpful to provide a framework for feedback (i.e. share something that confused you about the presentation, something you were intrigued by, and a question for the group).

  • Think critically (and plan) for the visual layout of the videoconference. It will be difficult for sites to interact with one another if they can't see one another. Therefore, it's often helpful to use a continuous presence mode on you endpoint or MCU when trying to facilitate discussion. This mode will allow all sites to see one another simultaneously, usually with the speaking site in a large box on the screen and the non-speaking sites in smaller boxes on the screen. As different sites have the 'floor,' the other boxes on the screen will shift. This isn't an ideal mode for presentation (it can be distracting looking at all of the connecting sites when you're supposed to be focusing on a single presenter/presentation) but is great for discussion. As the facilitator, you can instruct sites to raise their hand if they have a comment and call on them -- which will avoid sites doing the mad dash for the unmute button in order to be heard.

  • Plan, Plan, Plan... Although you want to be spontaneous in dialogue facilitation, having a plan is very helpful. When facilitating a multisite event, your participants will be more at ease if they know what to expect. Provide discussion topics, an agenda and preparation materials (even a few website links so folks can familiarize themselves with a topic) at least 48 hours in advance. As facilitator, it's your job to stick to the agenda - - and not to let one site monopolize conversation. Be polite and judicious in your planning and your moderating; make sure that every site has an equal voice.
Of course, this list is a living, breathing and evolving list of tips! I look forward to hearing your feedback and thoughts, too! So please feel free to comment!

Word Cloud above courtesy of wordle.net (one of my favorite collaborative sites!). I encourage you to visit and create your own!

Aukerman, M., & Walsh, H.W. (2009). "Getting 'real' in virtual talk about text." The Middle School Journal, 49(4), 53-61.

Nystrand, Gamoran, Kachur, ... Opening dialogue. New York: Teachers College Press. Schifter, D. (2001)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Inspiration from Suraya Pakzad

Last Wednesday, I had the good fortune to meet an extraordinary woman who is doing phenomenal things in her home country of Afghanistan. While on a US tour, Suraya Pakzad, founder and director of the Voice of Women Organization, was kind enough to stop by our studio space and talk with students from 18 different high schools across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Suraya shared her stories of overcoming adversity and working to provide education for all in her country during times of Taliban rule. She also spoke frankly with students about the current state of education and women's rights in Afghanistan, her hopes for the future, and the role the United States can play in advancing education in Afghanistan.

The one hour program was moderated by Aldo Magazzeni, director of Traveling Mercies and friend of Ms. Pakzad. During the program, Ms. Pakzad (who answered to either Ms. Pakzad or Suraya when students addressed her) spoke briefly about her background and then answered questions from all 18 schools - - an admirable feat in and of itself! This program was streamed live by Penn Video Network and we are currently working to get the program up, in its entirety, on the new MAGPI podcast site. I know many of you were unable to 'tune in' live - - so here is a brief clip:

Before leaving our studio, I had an opportunity to chat one-on-one with Ms. Pakzad, share family photos (she has 6 children, the youngest of whom is 5) and talk about motherhood. One thing that struck me was our conversation about how one of her three daughters could not understand why her mother continually put herself in the public eye advocating for women's rights, when it could mean danger and uncertainty for their family. In response, Ms. Pakzad wrote the following poem and was kind enough to permit me to share it with you (a note, she gave me the English translation of the poem which was originally written in Persian):
My name is woman.

My daughter, my beloved daughter
you who are my whole life,
the passion of my existence -
lately your gaze has lost its light
and I fear you are distancing your heart from mine
ignoring me, even while listening
Do you fear your mother shamed?
What frightens you?

She who able and aware,
with perseverance her strength
gallops into the conflict without fear?
She who for love of her country has stirred up waves
and rejecting all the myths, today redraws the boundaries
where our identities are worthless?

Who are you asking my sweet-heart?
Your mother does not need a name;
her name is Woman,
my name, your name and the names of a thousand others
with unfulfilled lives.
Their names, despised and belittled, are discounted,
so many names just as seals on pacts.

Do not be afraid my love, your mother is not alone.
She travels with friends on the path
with one thought, one heart and one journey,
beyond name, beyond life,-
and all are in danger,
We shall prepare the path for you and your children.
We shall fight now so that you shall survive.
We shall die now so that you will live.
What a powerful experience for American students to hear from this truly inspirational person. It's amazing what live, interactive video can do for our students by opening the doors of communication and fostering cultural understanding. While many of our students may have expected to hear contempt from Ms. Pakzad, instead what they heard was a message of hope, perseverance, strength and admiration for her culture.

And even though Ms. Pakzad has been featured on the Larry King Show, MSNBC, at various world affairs councils and in The Philadelphia Inquirer, she mentioned that this particular event - - feeling like she was in each of these students' classrooms even though they were separated by a screen - - will stay with her always. After all, reaching out to these students will ultimately help strengthen communication and cultural understanding for future generations of American and Afghani youth.

We're now working with Traveling Mercies and Ms. Pakzad's organization, Voices of Women Organization, to try and organize skype video conferences between American students and students in Afghanistan. I look forward to sharing those experiences with you as they develop.

If you're interested in seeing more of Ms. Pakzad's remarks, you can watch these CNN clips:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First Ever Animal Quest

Today I ran the first-ever Animal Quest videoconference with six 3rd and 4th grade classes across Pennsylvania. The Animal Quest is modeled after the very popular multisite MysteryQuest and HistoryQuest videoconference programs started by TWICE and Berrien County RESA. (MAGPI runs our own versions of MysteryQuest USA and Where in PA? with permission from TWICE).

During this collaborative event, schools create presentations that give other schools participating in the game clues about a mystery animal. In order to make sure that everyone is presenting the same information, we provide the format for giving clues and a notetaking sheet to all schools to guide students in taking down information as they listen to the presentations. Following the presentations, all of the sites mute and have 20-25 minutes to determine what the mystery animals are using classroom resources - - anything is fair game except the teacher's prior knowledge. Then we do a round a yes/no questions to help students narrow down their guesses and they have a short period of time to reevaulate their answers. All schools have a chance to present their guesses - - and then there is the big reveal! I was amazed at how many different possibilities schools came up with when presenting their guesses - - and the creative ways in which they 'unveiled' their mystery animals. I was especially impressed with Forest Hills Elementary's snow leopard costume!

In truth, I'm not sure how much help the teacher's prior knowledge would have been during today's game because I learned about all sorts of new animals! In particular, animals that were new to me included the Okapi and the Olm. (Although, most of the schools on the call thought the Olm clues were about a salamander and I have to agree that there are a lot of similarities!)

All of the student presentations were great! Miss Fishman's class at Goodnoe Elementary in Newtown, Pennsylvania was kind enough to send me their short "clue movie" - - The ABC's of Our Mystery Animal. Take a look! Do you know what the mystery animal is?

Many thanks to all of the participating schools for a great morning event!

I know a lot of you are anxious to hear about the Afghanistan and Women's Right's Videoconference and Webstream Program that happened this afternoon - - more on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don't Miss Tomorrow's LIVE EVENT with Suraya Pakzad, Founder of Voice of Women Organization

In Celebration of Women’s History Month, MAGPI, Traveling Mercies and Penn Video Network at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce “AFGHANISTAN AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS: A CONVERSATION WITH SURAYA PAKZAD.” In a live, interactive videoconference, 17 high schools across Pennsylvania and New Jersey will be hearing from and talking with Suraya Pakzad, Founder of the Voice of Women Organization. Although we do not have space for any more interactive videoconference sites, we will be streaming this event LIVE over the Internet and Internet2 via a Real Player webstream. We hope you can ‘tune in’ and watch!

Suraya Pakzad of Afghanistan, entered into an arranged marriage at the age of fourteen years old, and by the time she was sixteen, was the mother of two children. Suraya is now 37 years old and has raised a family of six children. However, with all of these personal challenges and responsibilities she has dedicated her life to helping the women of Afghanistan by starting schools in private homes during the Taliban period, creating vocational training for women in prisons, and establishing safe shelter homes for abused women which offer medical, psychological and legal assistance. Suraya and her organization are dedicated to their cause and every day live with the threats of violence and kidnapping of themselves and family members. Join us to hear her real life stories and be inspired by her dedication and grace!

The webstream will be live at 12:45 EDT on March 11, 2009, with content beginning at 1:00 p.m. EDT.

View the program it's entirety via a Real Player Webstream at: http://beansidhe.isc-net.upenn.edu:8080/ramgen/encoder/pakzad.rm

Photo by Aldo Magazzeni

Monday, March 9, 2009

MAGPI Fellows' Collaborative Projects

Last week, I met with the 14 MAGPI Fellows for this year via videoconference for an informal training session. The bulk of the 3 hour meeting was spent with Fellows presenting about their previous collaborative projects and talking about their ideas for upcoming collaborative projects.

I’m amazed at what these diverse and innovative educators have come up with! One group of educators created a student-generated CSI-like series of forensic videoconferences for high school students to solve. Another group planned and facilitated cross-cultural book sharing between U.S. students and students in Portugal. Our third group of Fellows created a Science Career Demonstration videoconference for students in their school district - - and pediatric patients at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in New Jersey.

And while I was really impressed with the projects they’ve undertaken so far, I’m even more impressed with what their cooking up for spring 2009! The Arts and Humanities Team (which brokered the cross-cultural book share this past fall) is planning a wonderful international video project with high school students. Students will be creating videos about what it’s like growing up in their community and then discussing the video projects via videoconference. Take a look at this wonderful promotional film the team has put together!

- - and they are looking for partners! So check out the website and register if your school is interested.

The Science and Technology Team is working with Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory to design a series of interactive videoconferences (and demonstrations) that show various states of matter. And our Career Education and Work Team is working on a project that will have students envisioning what journalism will look like in 2020. They are partnering with local and regional media organizations for this project to work with students on their explorations- - talk about bringing the world into the classroom and expanding resources.

Can’t wait to report on their progress as the projects develop. And if you’re a MAGPI Member and are interested in being a Fellow for 2009-2010, please download the application from our website. Applications are due on May 1, 2009 and we’d love to have you apply!