Monday, February 28, 2011

Open Letter to Tennessee (and WORLD) Technology Coordinators

Greetings, All,

Those of you who know me and my professional history—14  years as a technology teacher at University School of Nashville and now Virtual Learning Curriculum Coordinator at Metro Nashville Public Schools—may also know that I am deeply involved at a national level in the field of virtual environments for teaching and learning and in various other projects tied to positive change in the way we teach and learn.

On January 26, 2011 the PC version of one of those other projects launched - JamParty:Remixed. Console versions for xBox, Playstation and Wii will be released in the near future. The console versions will have a live social interaction component.

Arkansas educator and dear friend Cathy Walker was involved and helped with the design of this program and along with her I am now serving as Education and Charitable Communities Liaison for the project. I receive no compensation for this role. It has been our hope and the hope of the “game’s” creator, Dan Sullivan, that the gift of music creation finds its way to the hands of children and to the child within the rest of us.

This is a unique gaming experience and has a Studio Mode where music can be created, played, and shared. Using this mode, students can create their own music (.mp3) mix for PowerPoints, videos, dance routines, etc. I personally am enjoying using the program to make intro, outro, and background music for instructional videos and podcasts—yes, I use JamParty:Remixed in my work!  

Long story, short: We have PC versions that I can give away for free to schools, children's hospitals, community centers and such.  I asked if I could start by offering it to folks at home ... you guys here in Tennessee. My wish was granted. This Education Donation project differs from “freemium” programs in important ways:
  1. Many free programs are either “Trial” or “Demo” versions of the software they are trying to promote. The JamParty:Remixed software your school will get is the complete, fully functional version that is offered for sale at the Zivix site for $29.99. Nor is this an old program the makers just want off their shelves to promote a newer one: It’s only been available anywhere for one month!
  2. Most freemium offers limit installation to a single computer. You will receive a version licensed for UNLIMITED installation within your school. We even show you how to open up the entire program with a cheat code so your kids don’t have to “level up” to open up sound banks and genres
  3. Other offers like this (not that I think there really is one) will charge you a hefty shipping fee to send you any physical product. You don’t even pay shipping here!
  4. Many other softwares send you their program knowing that you won’t be happy just having it--you’ll want to spend dollars later on further functionality. Again, this is a fully functioning version. We’ve even created our own JamParty4Education website that will be populated with lesson plans, downloadable add-ins, and more and it will be there for you in perpetuity. It’s already shaping up with videos, tutorials, links to relevant research to support adoption in your school, and a growing FAQ.
Contact us at  jamparty4ed@gmail.com if you are interested, or simply go to jamparty4ed.com to learn more and apply for your very own school (unlimited install) copy of this amazing, potential-laden software. Bookmark that website: See number 4. above.

Importantly, we are not sure how long this free donation program will be available. If you want your own school copy with unlimited installation license, now’s the time to get it.

Please be patient.  I obviously won't be responding to requests during school hours and both Cathy and I have busy families: This is a weekend avocation for us.

This message, by the way, is in no way sponsored by any of my professional organizations and does not reflect any of my employers' or professional organizations' views or interests.

Warm Regards,

Scott Merrick

--
It's all at http://scottmerrick.net

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Educational Change Video Marathon

I'm leaving work at the end of the day today to visit my alma mater (Peabody College for Teachers at Vanderbilt University) a few blocks away from my office at MNPS Virtual Learning. I'm going there view what I think is the first local screening of the independent film "Race to Nowhere." This is a movie I've been looking forward to seeing ever since I first learned about it on Facebook. Formerly subtitled "The Dark Side of America's Achievement Culture," its trailer, which I share at the end of this post, is intriguing, to say the least.

As the father of two beautiful children and something of an advocate for change (I feel personally responsible for the word "radical" appearing in the National Educational Technology Plan: "...the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies should identify key emerging trends and priorities and recruit and bring together the best minds and organizations to collaborate on high-risk/high-gain education R&D projects. It should aim for radical, orders-of-magnitude improvements by envisioning the impact of innovations and then working backward to identify the fundamental breakthroughs required to make them possible."), I am most interested in seeing this film for myself, even if it means subjecting myself to "heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink..." as advertised at the film's website.

Anticipation has me musing about the trend for change advocates to "Hollywoodize" their views by creating videos or, as this one is, full-length films and promoting their entertainment value, even to the point of profiting from them. Again, I want to share the trailer for tonight's film here, but before I do I'd suggest you beef up your upcoming Education Change Video Marathon by adding one or more of these film/videos to the bill. Here are several I've recently viewed, along links to their own trailers and some descriptive text from their respective websites. Watch each trailer and tell me you aren't motivated to view at least one of them:

Pricele$$, from Habitat Media, about the true cost of our current political fundraising legislation -- "PRICELE$$ is a one-hour documentary journey from 4th of July revelry to America's croplands; from hopeful windfarms to our nation's capitol in search of some answers. Maybe even a solution. The colorful cast of characters will inform, move, and amuse you. You'll be privy to personal accounts of lives upended and hear how postal rates cause global warming. You'll learn the definition of "running clean" and discover the fate of two politicians who actually enjoyed fundraising. Even the third graders in our film know something has to change."


ACT Out Against SAT, from Sam Kaufman, about the unfairness of using SAT scores for college entrance -- Host Allie Kaufman says, "I'm a high school student; my father is an award-winning filmmaker, and together we uncovered startling evidence that proves standardized tests are totally unfair to many students. If you've visited our website and watched our film athttp://www.ACToutagainstSAT.com then you know the tests are biased against females, students whose second language is English, against minorities, students who can't afford quality test prep classes or tutors, and all those students who aren't good on standardized tests--even though they do great in school. And you know that the SAT Essay section is a complete joke." And here's an article from the Huffington Post describing the petition driving effort.


Waiting for Superman, from Davis Guggenheim and Michele Rhee, a stirring (and controversial) film about "the failures of the public education system in America that makes suggestions (also controversial) to "fix" it. Disclaimer--I have not actually seen this film, but just now went into my Netflix queue. I'll weigh in on the debate just as soon as I experience it first hand. 


Okay, here is the Race to Nowhere trailer, posted from TeacherTube so that even working teachers in firewall/blocked schools should be to watch it this very moment:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

If You're in Nashville, Please Consider This Great Line-up for Feb. 28

From Billboard Magazine, this article about a benefit from my neighbor, Todd Cerny:

GOOD WORKS

When songwriter Todd Cerney performed at Puckett’s Downtown in Nashville
on Feb. 11, he was overcome with pain and cut the appearance short, telling the
crowd it was likely his last live performance ever. Cerney, best-known for writing 
Restless Heart’s “I’ll Still Be Loving You” and Steve Holy’s “Good Morning Beautiful,” 
suffered a seizure Nov. 7 and was subsequently diagnosed with stage IV melanoma.

Restless Heart and Holy are just two of a long list of performers planning a
Feb. 28 benefit for Cerney at Nashville’s Red Rooster Bar & Music Hall. Ty Hern -
don, Bo Bice, Jeff Bates and Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits are on tap, along
with songwriters Wood Newton (“Bobbie Sue”), Rivers Rutherford (“When I
Get Where I’m Going”), Thom Shepherd (“Redneck Yacht Club”), Lisa Carver
(“Everyday America”), Richard Fagan (“Be My Baby Tonight”) and Casey Kelly
(“The Cowboy Rides Away”), among others.

The event will also mark a reunion of the Piggys, a rock band that had a sig-
nificant following on Nashville’s club circuit in the 1980s. The group hasn’t per-
formed in 25 years.

Admission for the 6:30 p.m. show at the Red Rooster, located at 1530 Demon-
breun St., is $15. Donations are also being accepted through the Friends of Todd
Cerney account at Regions Bank, 1600 Division St., Nashville, TN 37212. For
more information, contact Cerney’s wife, Kip Kirby, here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

JamParty4Education is LIVE!

JamParty4Ed

Promote Your Page Too

Okay, ya'll, it's live, yes, but it's not fully populated. What is there is enough to get you started on requesting you own FREE copy of an exciting new WindowsPC-based musical creativity software that offers so much hope for so many students and educators that I'm simply beside myself  [looks to the left, jumps, startled} with the potentials. With JamParty:Remixed students with little or no musical training can begin to patch together their own creations from royalty-free song banks, "Jams," using an interface very much like the Guitar Hero and Rock Band ones many are so familiar with already. Think Legos with pieces of music. Not familiar with those tools? Never mind, you don't need to be. In Wikipedia, at the top of the definition for "Intuitive," is a screengrab from JamParty:Remixed. I'm not kidding!

Okay, I'm kidding, but I'm excited and I tend to kid when I'm excited. But the coolest thing is that once they've created their music, students can SAVE their creations as .mp3 files and share them with others. Do you have older kids who are into music already? Audacity, Soundbooth, Garage Band all can import these .mp3 files as tracks and your kids can add more instruments or even vocals, singing or narration. Cool?

Cool.

Watch this:

For Educators--Getting Started with JamParty4Education from JamParty4Ed on Vimeo.

Now go request your own copy!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Anybody Coming to Music City for SITE?

I've been drafted by my good friend Jan Zanetis onto a remarkable panel session at March's Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education conference, to be held here in Nashville March 8-11. The panel, on the future of distance learning, includes Jan, Kathy Hayden, Mike Lay, and Kecia Ray. It'll be great, I do believe!

Anyone coming? If so, comment away and let's get something going during the conference, even if it's just a meetup for a few light beers and some dynamite honkytonkin' at Tootsies Orchid Lounge!

As usual, I'll be the Virtual Environments guy, and I'm looking forward to sharing our Virtual Learning experimentations with OpenSim and the great work my global colleagues and I are carrying out in Second Life via ISTE's SIGVE 3rd Tuesday Speaker Sessions. ISTE, like many other educational institutions, are greatly reducing their investments in Second Life, partly due to our national economy and partly in response to Linden Labs' relatively recent abolishment of what had been a very generous educational discount program. ISTE will be abandoning three of the four islands they've been leasing from Linden Lab for several years now, but they'll be retaining their original ISTE Island and hopefully allowing my own Bloggers Hut to remain standing. They are also discontinuing the weekly Speaker Sessions that esteemed colleague Kevin Jarret had run for several years, but the good news is that the SIGVE Sessions will continue as the sole remaining offering of its kind. Once a month, my good friends, we'll continue to see, hear, learn, and backchat about the best that Virtual Worlds have to offer for education.

If you're coming to SITE, gimme a holler!