Thursday, August 6, 2009

Google Maps Excitement II: The Screencast

Here's my world debut as a screencaster. In case the written description in my recent post wasn't clear enough, I try in this video to demonstrate how to use Google Maps Street View to help students and myself get a visual understanding of the natural regions of Texas and other geographical areas we want to study.

Although I practiced a number of times and did a number of takes, I managed to omit a couple of points. I should have noted that as soon as you remove Mr. Street View, aka "Pegman," from his perch, the map lights up with blue lines indicating where the Google Maps camera crews have snapped. I misspoke in saying you can alight anywhere you see the green circle.

I also want to say that I am particularly eager to see what my/our students will come up with using Google Maps and Street View. The creative possibilities are myriad. My narration seems quite a bit more "top-down" and teacher-directed than I intend for the classroom. Google Maps has been useful in several learning activities; I'll delineate these in a future post once we reach those lessons during the school year.

Screentoaster is really cool. It's free and easy to use. All I needed beside the computer was a microphone. (I used a headset with mic.) In case you want to use Screentoaster, be aware that your video will be limited to around 20 MB. For my first couple of run-throughs, this worked out to around four minutes. When I added the bit showing the PowerPoint map of the regions, it reduced the time to around three minutes. I found myself really pressed for time in trying to make the main points I wanted to make. As a highly imperfect perfectionist, I finally decided to go with Take #191. I hope it works for you.

Please do make suggestions. I purposely left the "production" a little clunky (for example, showing the starting and stopping clicks) for two reasons. First, I wanted it to be instructional, to demonstrate Screentoaster for people who might be using it for the first time (which of course included myself). Second, the instructions say you can go to the window you want to start at and then use Alt-S to start and stop your recording. That worked fairly well with my Windows-based PC (until Java crashed and froze my computer), but none of the relevant keys worked that way with my MacBook. The MacBook did, however, a flawless job of recording the presentation.

I wish I had noticed and been able to point out that I alighted in Perth, Scotland and then near Perth, Western Australia. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on Google Maps Streetview here.

Anyway, I look to improve and, as I said, would appreciate suggestions and ideas you might have for anything involved here: Google Maps, studying geography, screencasting, perhaps even the making of toast.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Google Maps Excitement: Street View & "Road View"

A lot of you (yes, I'm already dreaming of hordes) probably know this one, but I found an exciting new (to me) use of Google Maps. It's amazing how far Google Maps Street View has progressed during the past year. Of course not everyone is pleased with Street View, but I've found it fascinating. With mixed feelings of joy, wonder, nostalgia, gentle melancholy, and disgust (for example when seeing my childhood neighborhood razed and "resurrected" as a commercialized surburban wasteland), I've visited past haunts, gazed and remembered antics at former schools, walked Trumpington and Trinity Streets in Cambridge, checked out my neighbors' property values, etc., etc. Mostly I've been focusing on street views, that is, on a micro level.

The other day , though, my trackballing hand slipped while dragging the little orange man ("Mr. Street View"??) across a broader swath of my home state and accidentally plunked him down in some vast deserted stretch of West Texas. Voila! A small "road view" picture of that precise location appeared on the Google Map. When I let go of the clicker the whole picture zoomed out, ready and willing to let me reclick and get a 360-degree rotational view. Mr. S begged me to take him to some place less Godforsaken (sorry, West Texas compatriots), and I complied. As we toodled across the state, new pictures kept popping up, inviting us to stop and stare and rotate. We had fun.

As I realized I could plop Mr. S anywhere that showed up in blue, classroom implications fired my imagination. Now I had the power, the force, if you will, to survey the geographical terrain all across the state, nation, world, uni-. . .well, I guess we'll have to wait for Sidereal View, but who knows, maybe someday.

I very much want my students to be able to visualize people, places, and things we are studying and will find Google Maps Street View invaluable in this regard. It will, for example, offer an alternative to the following, which my students did last year.

Regions of Texas with Pictures

Perhaps you and your students will find this useful in studying your own geographical areas of interest. Please let us know what you discover and if you have further ideas on how we might use Google Maps to educate ourselves and our students.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Historians Disagree? What a Concept!

Click to enlarge.

I was a little wary about using that picture as the masthead for this blog. I mean, it is so very 19th century, yes? But I'm in transition, and it does serve a purpose, as I hope to show. Oh, and if you're short of time, let me immediately offer links to probably the most useful part of this particular post, Alan Brinkley's series of historiographical essays summarizing how historians have disagreed about various topics in American history down through the years. You can find the entire list here and the first essay here.

I establish from the first day of class that history is contested ground. I carry this concept into the third-week lesson illustrated above and develop it right through the year. History cannot be reduced to an authorized version, except perhaps under authoritarian regimes. The Florida Legislature was woefully misguided in its Gradgrindian insistence that history be taught as "just the facts," especially when the facts themselves are sometimes in dispute. The clash of competing interpretations of the past is part of the framework for every history course I teach.

Perhaps some techie types are put off by that dusty photo. And I must admit I had to shift my classroom computer several times to keep it from sucking the residue that wafted down from that board, perhaps from those very letters. What's written there, though, illustrates a basic approach I use in my classes. I begin most lessons by asking the students to hypothesize as to possible answers to whatever question we are considering. I call it "plowing up the furrows of their minds before sowing the seeds of knowledge," or something. They wince but usually respond with valuable insights. (By the way, I'm happy to report that last school year, a newly acquired document camera allowed me to shine student responses onto a large screen via a laptop/projector hookup. Thanks to various edubloggers, I will be able to do the lesson more collaboratively this coming school year. At this point I'm planning to do the lesson in a computer lab and have the students themselves write their ideas onto some kind of projected online whiteboard such as Skrbl, Twiddla, Thinkature, or Dabbleboard. That way we'll be able to analyze all the students' responses at once. If you know of better online whiteboards or some other, better approaches, please let me know in a comment or email.)

For this particular lesson, the "seeds of knowledge" came from an essay in Alan Brinkley's excellent college-level textbook, American History: A Survey (McGraw-Hill, 1999). Brinkley initiates a series of historiographical essays with one entitled, "Why Do Historians So Often Differ?" Before reading the essay, I ask students essentially the same question. The hypotheses by one class of eighth graders nicely anticipated some of Brinkley's main points. (Click on the chalkboard image to enlarge it or read the English translation below.)

Sadly, I couldn't find a link to Brinkley's introductory essay online, but the other essays--from pre-Columbian culture and the origins of slavery right through to Vietnam, Watergate, and women's history--can be accessed at the website to The Unfinished Nation, a slightly modified trade version of the Brinkley textbook. I think you will find the essays to be interesting and useful.

I hope to say more about this lesson once we get to it during the coming school year. In the meantime I would appreciate any suggestions and insights you might share for teaching differing interpretations of the past and how I might use computer technology, or any other media, more effectively in this lesson.

Greetings, Welcome, Intentions

Greetings and welcome to MYOUR Edublog. I hope through these pages to learn with you how to help my students, your students, our students to learn and become better people, individually and as members of the one and many societies to which we belong. I want to share insights and learning activities you and I have developed and continue to develop. Yes, I put “to learn with you” first because most of whatever success I have had as a teacher I owe to the superb teachers from whom I learned in the classroom and as colleagues. It’s an ongoing, collaborative process.

During the last several months I have learned an enormous amount from teachers all over the world. I blush to say I was essentially unaware of the possibilities for online interaction with this amazing cohort of gifted, generous educators. I have generally been a highly motivated, enthusiastic learner/teacher, but the concept of an online personal learning network and the wealth of strategies, applications, and lessons I’ve recently come across have raised my interest and motivation to an ever higher pitch.

I have mostly been lurking, in an attempt to learn some of the ropes, and even now must admit I have much more to learn than to share in the use of Web 2.0 and Classroom 2.0 strategies and tactics. That is not to say I haven’t been using online technology and some of these strategies in the classroom for quite a few years now. My students and I have benefited greatly from the opportunities they afford. But the explosion of possibilities I’ve come across of late is staggering and very, very exciting. I’m actually quite happy to lurk (it’s kind of congenital) but I also want to engage with other teacher-learners and explore together the ever-expanding opportunities for professional and personal growth that will translate into better lives and learning for our students.

With apologies to Clausewitz, what is teaching but “learning by other means?”