The XO Mesh Network

I am still moving slowly on my XO Computer but I am intrigued by this concept of the “Mesh Network” system, which builds wireless “clouds” between XO users. This means that not only can XO laptops connect with each other but as long as one XO in a mesh has connection to the Internet, then every XO in that mesh has the same access. This has interesting ramifications for classrooms where wireless connections may be few and far between.

And, even if there is no wireless access, the mesh allows XOs to connect with each other anyway, and share resources and collaborate on projects together. The software “creates” a virtual wireless network for the classroom. Isn’t that cool?

This video does a better job explaining it than I ever could do.

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And this is interesting, too — looking at the XO as an e-Reader and considering ways to get books to children of the world.

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Peace (in XOs),

The XO in Action

I am sitting in the Starbucks in downtown Northampton, a place I almost never visit because of the high cost of a cup of Java. There are cooler places just a few doors down. But I am writing this post on my XO (known in my house as the Green Machine) to see how easy it is to post to the blog.

The XO is connected to the Web via a free Hotspot account through T-Mobile that is available to XO owners (for a year) and the hub is here at Starbucks. I connected with incredible speed (faster than my Dell laptop) and I was browsing in seconds.

I am curious to see if anyone asks me about the XO as I sit here at a community table. So far, I have gotten a few curious looks but that is about it.

OK — this tiny keyboard is killing me — I keep making mistakes and moving back and forth with my text. I am a fast typist so the slow progress is frustrating the connection between fingers and brain.

This morning, I was at home with the XO open and one of my sons was incredibly interested in what I was doing, so we opened up the TamTam program and played a little music. (You use part of the laptop keyboard as a virtual piano keyboard). One of my first goals is to learn the various TamTam programs and compose and record a little piece of music. I realize that I need to take this thing apart (not literally, of course) one program at a time. Music seems like a good place to start.

For now, in Starbucks this morning, I am going to use the XO as an e-Reader for some draft chapters for the book I am co-editing on technology and writing and assessment in the classroom. I have the files on a flash drive and in Google Docs, and I want to try both options for reading.

By the way, one of the things I already love about this machine is its portability — it is light, easy to carry and colorful.

Peace (in XOs),Kevin

Chalk — the school mockumentary

My wife and I invited a few teacher-friends over to our house last night to watch a DVD of the movie, Chalk, which has been sitting on our counter for about five weeks now. This low-budget flick is in the great tradition of Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and others that shine a humorous light on some aspect of society (rock band, theater group, dog shows, teachers) while also bringing to the surface some truths about those worlds.

The director, Mike Akel, was a teacher and gets inside the school in a way that you don’t see in many of the heart-breaking, heart-warming movies about education.

Chalk examines the lives of some young teachers at the start of their career in an urban city school as they stumble, mumble and groan, try to engage their students, plot their way to winning a teaching award, and just make it from day to day with their sanity intact. The main character — Mr. Lowrey — is a former computer geekwho took two aptitude tests that told him that teaching would be a good fit and here he is, losing complete control of his classroom. Other characters include the pushy PE teacher yearning for some personal life, a teacher-turned-administrator who now only interacts with the behavioral problem students and misses the classroom, and a third-year teacher who wants to be Teacher of the Year more than anything.

My friends and I were laughing through most of it as we saw ourselves, and our colleagues, in the characters and situations.

Chalk Poster

One sequence that we enjoyed was a twist on the Spelling Bee, called a Spelling Hornet, in which teachers took park in an event where they had to correctly spell various slang words used commonly by their students. The nerdy, nervous teacher wins, but only after getting some real education from his students. (And later, he kicks out a little rap rhyme for the class after being urged on by his kids).

Chalk is worth the rental and bring over a few teacher friends and have a party, and be glad that your first year of teaching is behind you.

Peace (in humor),

PS — I just found the trailer for Chalk on YouTube (where else?) and so here it is:

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“Living Your Life in Hyperlink”

A few weeks ago (probably as he was compiling his web-famous Top Ten Lists), Larry suggested that I go through our Day in a Sentence archives and cull out some of the better sentences for an End of Year Review. That’s more difficult than it sounds. There were so many good sentences and who am I to judge the quality of the sentences or the stories behind the words?

I decided on something I call “emotional resonance.”

As I went through the many wonderful sentences and read them aloud to myself, I was searching for that tingle inside of me that meant the words had touched me emotionally. I recognized that some of these same sentences were still very familiar to me, even after a few months time. (I also did not choose any of my own sentences). There really are some wonderful, reflective writers out there and I am thankful they send their words my way (or the way of our guest hosts) every week.

So, here, in no particular order at all, are the sentences that resonated with me this year:

  • “This week I learned that a friend whom I haven’t seen for a long time is quite ill and probably dying, which put into perspective the whole rest of my week, and made another comment I read stand out for me, which was that ultimately the only problem is isolation, and the only solution is connection, leading me to ask myself this week how each activity led to either connection or isolation, and to choose the ones that led to connection, and I have to say that the thing I (still) love most about being online is that it’s one vast complicated web of connection!” — Marian Thacher
  • Write this for her, write that for him, write this other thing for someone else, will there be time to write for me?“– Karen
  • On a Sunday morning when gray skies promise snow and light winds sift through barren branches, inside, with warm scrambled egg bellies, we read newspapers and listen to the humming that emerges from a newly built fort of blankets on chairs.“ — Tom
  • “As a former community organizer turned teacher, I’ve been reminded this week of the old organizer adage that taking shortcuts will bring you to detours, which in turn will lead you to dead-ends.” — Larry
  • This week’s resounding applause from parents and students at parent teacher conferences reinforced my belief, as unpopular as it may be to many, that you can reach them best if you are courageous enough to step into their world!“ — Sue
  • There’s nothing more satisfying than connecting people with people and opportunities that support their passions, their great thinking minds, and their vital voices; it’s like living your life in hyperlink!“ — Susan
  • Swimming in a murkey sea of curriculum and meetings, I grasp for moments of bouyancy, clarity, levity; a lifeboat looms ahead, providentially named NWP Annual Meeting, and I strike out for it, suddenly energized.” April
  • Time trickled slowly through meetings while outside, leaf-fall turned the grass into sunset.” — Diane
  • Sometimes it’s okay to leave your guilt bag at school for the night and focus on other things.” — Jeff
  • This has been a peaceful week as I move into conference mode next week for two action-packed weeks that I will be sharing with great friends of collaboration but first I have to get rid of a head cold and get my guitar ready to go more public to get my hands to stop shaking when I play for the world beyond my safe walls of my home.” — Bonnie
  • Monday-8:35 am-ready for the week, lesson plans set, bring em on! Monday 3:24 pm-Can I stay home tomorrow and not grade papers and not plan lessons and not read the novel we will be starting in a few weeks and play on the computer all day and watch all my Tivo’d shows and just be a kid again????? Huh, can I?”Ms. Q
  • Contemporary medicine said it wasn’t possible, but mother nature proved them wrong: my wife is expecting.” — Joe

And I leave you with this sentence, which still has me wanting to know more:

  • Everything came crashing down, but in the meantime my students and I got to murder a man.” — Mr. Murphy

Peace and please contribute (or keep contributing) in 2008,


The Puppet Show Website

Yesterday, I wrote about my investigation into video, particularly as it pertains to sharing and showcasing student work with families via the Web. (In this most recent case, it is puppets. But later in the year, it will be claymation and animation and other projects). The following website is the result of that exploration. I would appreciate any feedback you may have, since I have only been able to view it from my home desktop computer.

Head to the Norris Puppet Show Website

Peace (in the world, please),

My Long Journey into Video Streaming

Just over a year ago, I decided to try to move deeper into the convergence of video and the web (see the Collaborative ABC Project for one aspect of that investigation). When doing class projects with students, I have often burned the videos onto DVD (time-consuming when you have 80 students) and worked to share them via our class websites and weblogs (yes, we have a school website and two different blogs — one for daily homework assignments and one for showcasing work from my writing class). In doing so, I have relied on either YouTube (although almost never) and GoogleVideo (more commonly) or TeacherTube (sporadically). My concern is always the links that bring my students eyeballs to inappropriate places. (With TeacherTube, it is has been a frustration with the buffering time).

So, after filming 24 different puppet shows last week and wanting to share the videos with both students (they never get to see their own shows as they are behind the puppet theater) and their families, I decided that I wanted to find a way to host the videos and stream them myself. This way, I have complete control.

It hasn’t been easy, partly due to my own lack of knowledge about web hosting and video conversion, etc. But I think my perseverance has paid off.

Here is my journey:

First, I took videos of the 24 puppets shows on my digital camcorder, and then used MovieMaker to create small versions with titles. But the files are still huge and really not in any state to embed in websites. One thing you learn quickly about video is how huge the files are going to be if you want any sort of quality.

So, I posted a query to the Classroom 2.0 Ning Community, asking about advice, and some folks were very helpful. It was here that I began to realize that I needed to convert my movie files into a flash or Shockwave format. This makes for better streaming. I experimented with YouConvertIt and it worked but it was slow. So I bought a video conversion program called SoThink video encoder, which is very flexible and allows for converting videos to different kinds of formats. Thus began much experimenting about size of files to be created and formats. I went through a whole process of creating flash movies before I realized that shockwave is better for streaming (I am trying to cut back on the buffering as much as possible).

After converting all of the files to a SWF format (shockwave), I then thought about how to host the files. At Classroom 2.0, some folks suggested using my school server (not an option for me for both space reasons and for access reasons). I tinkered with using my Box.Net account, where I host my podcasts and store important files as a backup, and that worked but it ate up a lot of my alloted space. So I turned to a video hosting site called 4Shared Video and paid for a Silver account that allows you to embed video that you have in your account.

puppet1 (7)

So, after many hours of uploading the videos, I now had to figure out how to embed the files. I used Google Search and came upon a site called (ahem) Free Video Codes that will generate html code for embedding video files being hosted elsewhere. It was very handy and easy to use.

So now I had my videos stored somewhere, and I had the code to embed, and now what? I needed a way to showcase the movies. I tried out a variety of different things. I embedded some of the videos into my school homepage but found the buffering of multiple videos just too much. Someone at Classroom 2.0 suggested using my Wikispaces site, and I did try that but found it wasn’t what I wanted.

Once again, I turned to Google again. If you have a gmail account, you have access to something to Google Page Creator, which allows you to create websites under the Google umbrella. I realized that the site now allows you to set up multiple domains, which is nice since I could not establish a website just for the puppet shows. I then created a title page, with links to an individual page for each movie. So the entire site is now 25 pages.

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I know some students and families are going to want a copy of the puppet show videos, and I am in no mood to burn DVDs. So, what I did now was uploaded the video files into my Box.Net account, made a download link, and placed that link below each of the movies on the websites. Now kids and families can watch the movies on the web and download their own versions.

Tomorrow, I will share the actual Puppet Play Website.

I suppose that is enough informationfor now, but I hope it will help others who may be thinking along the same lines as me and want to know a path to showcasing student videos without the use of a hosting source. (Of course, you could just use YouTube or GoogleVid or TeacherTube and make things easier for yourself).

Peace (in puppets),

Testing Video

I am going to write more about this later this week but I have been on a self-exploratory mission to learn more about embedding video without the use of Google or YouTube or TeacherTube, etc.

It has to do with showcasing puppet shows for families and not wanting to have any external links, and fast buffering (we have wireless in our school and if I have 20 students viewing puppet shows, I need a quick buffer).

So here is a test:

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Day in a Sentence: Happy Holidays

It’s started out as another slow week here at the Day in a Sentence front office. I was thinking the writers were on strike, just like in Hollywood, or maybe they were just taking a well-deserved break from the action. Then, the words came pouring in and my bin was overflowing with treats. In any event, I want to wish everyone a peaceful holiday (if you are on one) and a wonderful New Year.

Here are the entries for this week:

First up is my friend, Joe, who has just joined me and some others in the Youth Radio network and he posted some of his students’ personal narratives this weekend. Joe had a bit of a pleasant surprise this week: “Contemporary medicine said it wasn’t possible, but mother nature proved them wrong: my wife is expecting.” (Big huge congrats to you and your wife, Joe).

The Mindful Teacher is ready to relax. “Survival is my goal this week of parties and pinatas and 2nd Grade buddies and holiday crafts and parties and . . . thank God it’s Friday and we all get a break!

Eric reminds us that family is most important and also (speaking as a father of three little boys, including one with an ear infection) that putting out fires comes day and night. “I have not left the house so far this week except to shovel snow for an hour, go to the pediatrician and a short refuge of yoga, due to the illness competition between my two girls, which is clearly being dominated at night by the older (7) and by day by the younger (3).”

Matt (who will be our first guest host for Day in a Sentence in the 2008) has a laundry list of things he hopes to do, although I notice that laundry is not on the list — but a new computer is (lucky man). “Vacation is a chance for teachers to catch up with old friends, play tennis, play the guitar, fix the car, visit the doctor, clean up the house, reflect on the year behind and the one ahead, read a book, straighten the virtual desktop, and buy a new 24-inch iMac.

Mary had many challenges before her this week (including writing her sentence, she notes) but I think she passed them all with flying colors. At the very least, she fine-tuned her sentence to capture her week. “Brevity was the key word for this week, and although trying to be more concise has been a challenge, it has allowed me to connect with others in new ways: I struggled with Twitter and its character limit of 140; revised my ‘Week in a Sentence’ contribution multiple times; and finally passed the challenge to my EFL students who wrote story pyramids (instead of more lengthy and detailed paragraphs) about their favorite graded readers, movies, and Japanese folk tales.

Alice may be exhausted but she is also rejuvenated by the efforts of the students. Maybe that is a sentence that can sum up the various weeks for most of us. Thanks to Alice for sharing. “As the week progresses (and I find myself recovering from short sleep, migraines, etc.) I start the day focusing on survival, but I am amazed by the amount of writing, and the effort my ELD students are continuing to put into their work–it’s made my week.”

Bonnie‘s love for the movies comes through in her sentence, as does her compassion for others. “I am filled with movies at the moment, seeing them, writing about them on my blog and planning how I can fit more in and last night Charlie Wilson’s War was outstanding, and in the midst of everything movies, I made time for contributing to charities, so it’s not just about my pleasure.

Karen thought she missed my deadline but I will always try to flex any deadlines for her. She just posted some very cool information about digital portfolios at her site. “The semester is over, my house is clean, and my children are home for the holidays so I am ready to start the one week of the year when I do little work; instead I pay close attention to my life, savor it, and give thanks for it.

Nancy is moving on (maybe to my neck of the woods? She was considering it at one time and even did some scouting of Western Massachusetts) and I hope she stays connected and doesn’t have too many “misadventures” out there. “It’s been a wild ride but on January 29th, it all comes to an end as I hang up my teacher hat and seek new misadventures.

Larry must have spent much of Saturday scouring his resources because he came up with some fantastic Top Ten lists that all of us could bookmark for future references. Thanks, Larry, for doing the work for us. I particularly like the ELL sites and they are something I will be sharing through my teaching networks. “It’s been fun, and helpful for my own planning, compiling lists of the year’s best websites of the year in various categories — Best Online Learning Games, Best Web 2.0 Applications, Best Internet Sites for English Language Learners.

Gail got caught reading (good for her) and then did some writing (good for her, too). “Started reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and couldn’t put it down – not to worry, there’s still one more day to finish Christmas shopping.”

Christina had food on her mind and invites us into a virtual festive feast.”My sister and I had a phone conversation about how our Christmas plans have changed now that our kids are grown and we don’t have to jump through hoops: she’s making French toast with sausage ‘n gravy and watching videos, and I’m having a Marie Callender’s turkey dinner and working on my website with YouTube music videos playing in the background!

And Mr. Murphy continues to find faith in his student’s ability to learn and demonstrate learning. “Don’t know how long it’ll be till I return to blogging, but what I’ve found via my new online class is that students can churn out some impressive work — one of whom weaved a magical web tying Ayn Rand’s anthem to an analysis of our culture — and that they’re happy to show up for class.

Cynthia longs for her family at this time of year (and I had the pleasure of meeting her son last month in NYC). “The trauma of giving and grading exams and the glory of the school-wide Christmas program were all mixed up the last week of school before at school Christmas vacation, but the best part of my week happened on Wednesday and Thursday when Adair, Tommy, and Tommy LaRue and Win arrived home for a long visit; family at home is what my week was all about.”

Cheryl is knee-deep in technology, helping others find a path from one platform to another. “My last week of work for the year 2007 found me reflecting on the monumental changes that have occurred in my district, namely 170 moodle pages were developed since August 2007, 50 HS teachers migrated to using Macbooks from PC without too many tears and this brings me to say have a great winter holiday break, see you in 2008.”

And Lynn sums up everything with one word: “Peace.”

Happy Holidays everyone!!!

Peace (in partnerships),

The XO Arrival

A few months ago, I decided to parlay some workshop stipends into supporting the One Laptop Per Child movement by buying one of their new XO laptops (and then they send the second one that comes as part of the purchase to a child in a developing country). Part of it was wanting to support the effort and part of it was wondering what these machines were like, as they surely are the first step towards cheap and durable computers for children around the world.

One of their missions statements that I like:

We want the child to interact with the laptop on as deep a level as he or she desires. Children program the machine, not the other way around

Yesterday, the XO arrived in a small package and in about five minutes, my three year old son and I were taking pictures of ourselves, videos of us being goofy and audio of us singing. There are no instructions (I have to go online to get some more details about using the laptop) but it seemed pretty easy to use.

The drawback is that it is slow (not much RAM, I guess) and the keyboard and screen are small. I’ll have to delve in a bit more over holiday break. Over at the OLPC wiki site, you can see how many programs come with the machine and how many are being developed for the future. Very cool.

Peace (in little green machines),

PS — here is a cool little video from the perspective of a child explaining the XO.

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Day in a Sentence: December 19

Larry did an outstanding job with the Day in the Sentence feature last week and I want to invite you all to join the growing community of contributors. And thanks to Cheryl for the mention at the TechLearning site, too. Day in Sentence Icon

It is simple:

  • Boil down your week or a day into a single sentence
  • Use the comment feature here to share your sentence (comments are moderated so be alarmed if they don’t show up)
  • Please leave your blog address so that we can link to you and expand our community of Web-based contacts
  • I encourage you to podcast your sentence — either provide a link to your own podcast hosting site or you can email your mp3 file to me at dogtrax(at)gmail(dot)com if you want.
  • I will compile all of the writing all for release on Sunday

Here is my sentence (and you can listen as a podcast, too):

I entered the delicate art of negotiations with 11 year olds this week as I tried to make them understand that a puppet play for little kids should probably not have references to Brittany Spears coming out of rehab nor should the play have characters being sent off to a “special needs facility” as some kind of punishment nor should we celebrate the life of “gangsters,” and I once again realized how much my students are caught up in the collision of pop culture and media overload.

Peace (in collaboration),