Thursday, September 23, 2010

My first Prezi

My husband teases me sometimes when we have company and I search out new recipes. Of course it would make sense to make things for guests that I had already tested. Does that mean I'm not afraid of failure? Or just that I don't like the recipes I've already tested?

I suppose I was following the same instinct when it came to a recent presentation to the staff, and ended up going with something entirely new to me. I had chosen my month to present specifically so that I could get it done while on a long break. I took most of the photos and gathered input from my department last year. I wrote the script and put together a PowerPoint over the summer.

Because I felt it needed more oomph, in the fall I went back to an idea rejected in June that had to do with Photostory (just because I like Photostory) and audio quotes from students. But I had  reservations about being able to make the PowerPoint and the Photostory work together with the resources I had gathered.

Then I got an e-mail from my husband, who knew I was pondering all these things, about a "cool presentation tool." I had seen Prezi quite a while ago, but it had seemed complicated, and it never even came to mind as a possible way to present for this. But the moment Paul told me about a Prezi given at work that somehow seemed "more interesting," I knew the PowerPoint was history. And pretty soon Paul knew that he had gotten himself into a commitment to help me learn the new software and put together my program. Once I saw the page-long instructions for converting audio files to video for use in Prezis, I knew that I would need assistance for that part. Apart from the added audio, however, I found the program fairly intuitive and easy to use.

This was approximately six days before the presentation. In that time I had to solicit comments from students (I e-mailed them over a weekend), narrow down the comments and get students to record the quotes I wanted, learn how to do a Prezi, build the Prezi with files I had used for the PowerPoint, and take a few more photos to plug in a couple of places.

Later a colleague asked why Prezi is better than PowerPoint. There are features I didn't fully make use of such as layering, framing, drawing, or moving around with ease to specific points in the presentation, that I think add to functionality. But mostly I had to admit that it's partly because it's new, and I just think it's cool.

The presentation was well-received, and some of my colleagues inquired about the software. But what worked perfectly on my home PC was a little clunky on the laptop at school, and couple of the pans were not very smooth. 

There are a lot of Prezis online, but a quick search showed me that one has to do a bit of sifting to find good ones on a particular topic. I searched for "sacraments" and found one with misspelled words, another that had so much panning across the space that it made one dizzy, and some that were just incomplete attempts.

I don't really use PowerPoint much , but if I wanted to do a visual presentation in class, or perhaps some resources to post on Moodle, I'd like to experiment more with Prezi.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I am in the midst of a "project" of my own, a presentation to be given to the staff, as part of a rotation of such presentations, about my department. I am thinking about motivation, and whether my own experience sheds any light on what my students do.

I have spent many hours over many months discussing content with my department, taking photos, and putting together the presentation (twice, because quite at the last minute I decided to dump PowerPoint in favor of Prezi, which, by the way, I have never used before). I want it to be a quality presentation, but at times I wonder about the whether the time expended has been appropriate, since the story could be told in a more straightforward, simpler way.

My motivation, besides a desire for a true representation of my department, has been that I do not want to bore my peers. Not sure if I will succeed there or not!

But I realized that there is something else going on in my head, too. I don't want it to appear -- in comparison to what all the other departments have done or are doing -- lame.


I thought of another reason that I am more comfortable with the data projector now. It's not to say that I use it every day, by the way, but that it's less cumbersome when I need it.

My classroom is part of what used to be a convent, and not a standard size and shape. My students' desks are only a few feet from the front wall, so the projector, in order to be far enough away from the screen, must be in the midst of the desks. Awkward for presenting. I have not complained about this to anyone, because I don't want anyone to tell me that I should use a different classroom, or heaven forbid, travel to various available ones throughout the day. I like my classroom for various reasons, not the least of which is the view.

Then along came the e-mail from one of our media center folks last year (thanks, Larry D.!) asking if we wanted a long cable to connect the computer to the projector. Yes! Now I can stand at the front and look at my students while I am projecting (and so can students), and it makes a very big difference.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Parent Night

This is the first time I have used the data projector for Parent Night. It's only ten minutes per class and in the past I have filled it with talking (sometimes a little too fast). And it seemed to me that even if I wanted to use the projector, fumbling with it would take up too much of the time.

So what was different this year? I'm more comfortable with these machines, even to a certain extent with the one I have now which is new and not what I'm used to. (This reminds me of how it took me a while to get the hang of setting up those 16mm films in the projector when I started teaching!)

The other different thing was that I had a couple of things I wanted parents to see and the projector was the best way. In Justice and Peace, instead of just talking about the wiki and the blog, why not show them? The downside was that it made it seem as though those two tools dominate the course more than they do. One parent at the end seemed to need reassurance that we actually use the textbook. It would perhaps dismay some who are on the cutting edge of educational trends, but... yes, we do.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tools for communication

A last-minute idea over the weekend. (Well, an idea I had in June but decided now to act upon.) A question to pose to some of my students, one that I wanted them to think about rather than answer spontaneously in class. A deadline. So I put the question on Moodle as an assignment, and e-mailed the classes about it. By this morning (Monday) I had received significant feedback, before I even set foot in the classroom.

Quite a difference from when we first started to incorporate "tecnology," and students balked at the idea of e-mailing an assignment to me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

JP tech notes

The Justice and Peace course was new for me last year, and it's also very much about current topics; those are maybe the reasons why it's the course in which I most used "technology." But it was a little overwhelming for some at times. I think that will ease up in the future as students come having had practice with blogs and wikis in other courses. But I'm seeing if I can't somehow simplify things. Once complaint was that the students had so many places to go online that they didn't know what was what.

I'm moving away from Moodle a bit in that course. Maybe I can drop it for the most part. I had to move the wiki group assignments to Wikispaces because I have two sections glommed into one Moodle course, and it would be too time-consuming to form the groups manually. Auto-creating groups would mean students from different sections would be together.

Last semester I posted assignments on Moodle that were for the blog. Today, I thought, why not post the directions right on the blog? Duh. Maybe this will help with some of that feeling of confusion.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm lost without you

Dear  laptop,

I have been without you since fourth hour today. I had to wait to get home to check e-mails from the afternoon. When you are sick and in need of the TLC of the tech guys, it is then that I realize how much I depend on you. E-mails, grading, blogging, reading blogs, attendance, my department presentation, Moodle assignments, meeting notes...  At lunch I had to find a paper copy of the NCR to read, and later I scanned my "to-do" list, searching for things I could accomplish without you.Not too much, it turns out, and though I managed to get through my last classes, there were a couple of times when it would have been handy to have you there.

I'm glad you are all re-imaged and will be ready to go tomorrow.

The wiki

Just spent a couple of minutes catching up on some discussions on our staff wiki. We've had wiki's before, but now the time seems ripe; a few staff members have started to connect. It will be a place to see reports of conversations that have taken place in departments, especially about our CBL challenge, in lieu of e-mailed minutes. We are going to be a little less isolated this year, it seems to me. And our department is continuing a discussion that started at our meeting today, so hopefully we will make more progress than we could just waiting for our next face-to-face meeting.

Bringing the research to you

Yesterday I introduced our class blog, Google Reader and Google News to my Justice and Peace classes. We're just testing the blog right now, but I'll post links when we get going.

The other two are ways that the girls can start to get updates on what's going on regarding issues we will be studying, and maybe blog posts with some of the current thinking. Soon to come: I'll be showing them places to get encyclicals and Catholic perspectives, and through the course we'll try to do some reflecting and pulling things together.

For this class, though, I just had them find blogs and news about things that interest them. These are ways you can get current information about your own passions, without having to dig. The information is delivered to you, to your Reader or your News. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The first PCG

Today was my first PCG (professional cluster group) meeting. It's a group of about 10-12 staff members from across departments. Larry gave more explanation about challenge based learning and about our own challenge, as well as an overview of some tools.

After the meeting was over a math teacher whom I have rarely spoken to asked me about Google Docs.

The challenge is on, but maybe more importantly, the conversations are beginning, beyond departments.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Back at it

Oh. My. We discussed our summer reading, The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner during our staff days last week as the new school year was getting under way. Some of us remarked that we couldn't remember the last time we took staff meeting time to discuss education. It was refreshing indeed. In small groups I found out things that other teachers were doing that I had not known about, such as the cool projects in French IV. I have had a vague notion that there are pockets of innovation and experimentation going on around the school, but there has been no formal way to learn of it. Only Larry blogs, so I have known about him and my department and some other scattered stories.

That may change. Next week I will be meeting with my PCG, one of five "professional cluster groups" that will cross departments. So in time I will learn about what others are doing. Larry's taking on the groups to help us all move forward in implementing tools that will help us with our challenge: to design a challenged based project with our department to implement next year.

Exciting stuff happening at our school this year!