Saturday, June 28, 2014

At ISTE2014

It's a great morning to be in Atlanta, Georgia, high up on the 26th floor of the Marriott Marquis, with a Starbucks Dirty Chai and my honey asleep in the bed.

I just did an hour in the workout room on a treamill and a stationery bike, by turns, and now that I've stopped perspiring I'm going to shower quicklikeabunny and get out there to volunteer help for a couple hours before taking my pick of sessions presented by the leading and learningest educators in the world.

I'm going to put my pics up at http://tinyurl.com/merrickiste2014 at the book of the face, in an album titled intuitively, so if you want to see some of what I see don't hesitate to check that out.

Yesterday I spent some quality time with my dear good budd, Andy Wheelock, and I'll be seeking out more dear good budds today. Driving in from Nashville, arriving around noon, we got straight into our lovely room and after picking up something to gnosh I met Andy at the conference center. We scoped out our presentation spaces and we caught one of the last (of 5) sessions of Hack Education, a fabulous hour with Chris Aviles, techedupteacher, sharing how he gamifies his classroom and how incredibly powerful are the motivators Status, Access, Power, and Stuff. Some great resources were shared by Chris and by others in the 40 or so educator session. I'm going to jot those down then I'm signing off. Time to experience! You do the same by visiting...



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 8 and Conclusion (not): ISTE 2014

Hello, good morning, and .  Just sayin'.

I'll be at the Online Learning Network's Sunday 11a.m. ISTE Online Learning Network learning extravaganza — Blended, online and flipped learning, Sunday, June 29, 11:00 am–12:00 pm, GWCC B206 and most certainly at the Metagame: Virtual Environments Playground on Monday, June 30, 2:00 pm–5:30 pm, GWCC Building B, Level 2 (near Room B206) and floating around relatively untethered the rest of the time. Oh, I do have a couple 11-1 pm shifts in the new PLN Lounge, Monday and Tuesday, and of course the ISTE Virtual Environments Network Machinima Fest on Sunday, June 29, 5:30 pm–6:45 pm, GWCC A411. I sincerely hope to see you there, and as usual I'll be handing out free hugs. To claim yours, just hug me.

ISTE's annual conference is something I look forward to every year, and I've written lately about the innovations I've participated in there. I wonder what we will, all together, innovate this year? Hint: 10 minutes with the Occulus Rift at the VE Playground? Take your ticket and wait your turn. Hint: Your picture in a virtual world (courtesy of greenscreen photography) in the same venu? Hint: 11 speakers in just under an hour at the Online Network Extravaganza?

All this and more, and with that, I'm done with my little series on Innovation. I hope to see as many of you as can make it at my EdWeb.net webinar at 4pm EDT tomorrow, Thursday; and I hope I'm not done innovating, since doing so within a community of educators dedicated to student learning, empassioned about eliminating the dread of the desk in the row in the lecture that has for so long held a stranglehold on students' school experiences, and just plain good folks--doing so is the jam on my PBJ.

See you at ISTE!!! And drop by our booths at the Professional Networking Fair Sunday afternoon. Look for the Virtual Environments Network and the Online Learning Network, and you'll find me at one of them!!!!!!!!!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 7

Well, hello there. Thanks for visiting. Okay, by my count I'm owing two more posts to this series and for this one I'm going outside education because I want to reflect on the ways I've "innovated" in other ways, with some poetry, some fiction and some music.

Poetry

If someone had asked me what I wanted to be when I was 17, I probably would have said I wanted to be a poet. I had, after encouragement from my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Arfken, done some writing in free verse, sometime with much internal rhyme--which I note in a whole lot of rap these days--and quite possibly very informed by my interest in the popular music of the day. I know I considered performers like Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course the Beatles, as much masters of lyrics than as musicians. At the wonderfully inspirational Mr. Arfken's behest, I had entered a national poetry competition and had been chosen for inclusion in a publication, "Songs of Youth," a paper, ringbound tome the inclusion of my work in which earned me an intercom announcement over the school public address system one afternoon. I remember it came while I was hammering away on a mechanical typewriter in typing class. The clicking and clacking stopped, the announcement was made, and I felt honored and inspired at the same time. I would be a poet.

Over the years I kept that theme, while playing guitar in a little rock band, dating girls while never really committing to one or the other, and my, again, wonderfully inspirational Mr. Gaines in my senior year held a writers' group one evening a month in his home. Once in college, at UT Knoxville, I thrived in my English course and tried to get an exception to the Junior year level requirement for UT's Creative Writing course and was denied. That's when I lost interest in school. The pompous Professor told my advisor "He has nothing to write about. Tell him to go live life and then come back and ask to be in my class."

That's when I lost interest in school.

During my first year at UT I had innovated a publication, collaborating with a student from my Nashville High School, the poet and painterly artist Creighton Michael, to compile and bring to publication "Druid: An Humanities Magazine." Speaking of pompous, the use of  "an" was intentional, being the grammatically correct usage but the much lesser used. Down to earth magazine creators certainly would have said "A Humanities Magazine." But we were idealistic if nothing else, publishing our own poetry and drawings, gathering about us photographers, interviewers, fiction writers, and graphic artists and literally typing and cutting and pasting up the magazine. We had four issues before we went bust, and we interviewed Senator Al Gore, Dick Gregory, James Dickey, and, yes, Jimi Hendrix. We published black and white images of topless women as ad images. We were rebels, giving the official campus literary magazine such a run for their money that officials met with us and offered to give us that publication. When they would not promise they would not exercise editorial control, we stood up and walked out of the room.

So I did come back for part of a semester my sophomore year at UT, but I dropped out, moving in with friends off-campus, and hounding the school library administration daily for a job shelving books in the Undergraduate Library until they hired me. I worked there for 7 years, marrying and divorcing while writing poetry and submitting to little literary magazines. I had only a couple poems published, both by a rag called the New Infinity Review, out of Chicago, and all that rejection took its toll.

From my divorce, I got three kittens, my acoustic guitar, and my VW bus. That steered me into performing in local bars mainly doing covers of Jackson Browne, John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, and others and beginning to write some songs. I promised myself not to run away from my job as "Supervisory Library Associate" for a year, and after a year I was granted a leave of absence, with a promise I would have a job of some sort with the University upon my return, which never happened. I drove to Alaska with my friend Steve Bettis and took up singing in the thriving whole foods cafe circuit, hooked up with a group called the Dr. Schultz Band, and when they broke up that's when my music innovation kicked in.

I had been songwriting for a good while, playing with a friend named Scott Miller, playing solo, and eventually forming a duo with my then wife, Susan. We called ourselves "Alaskan Summer" and then "Summersong" and had some success, at one point playing for 7 sets a night, 7 nights a week, for 7 months in the holding bar in a tudor-style restaurant called the Abbey. Then the Dr. Schultz band broke up. The guitarist had just had enough of the personal tensions and power plays, I guess, but whatever the reason, the two remaining members bought my suggestion that we form a new band, just me and them, a band which would have something the Dr. Schultz band had little of, no matter what its success, and it was huge in Anchorage and around the state. They had been adopted by the Iditarod "Last Great Race" dogsled competition as their official band, they had played venues around the city to packed audiences. They were adored. But they had only one or two original songs. I had dozens.

So we had a year together, including a stint fundraising for the Iditarod, playing for 5,000 people at the Alaskan State Fair, and culminating in performance before 200 or so audience members at the Showboat Restaurant venue on New Years Eve 1979. From that performance and from others, years later I would digitize recordings from live cassette tapes off our sound board and put together a recording of just my own original songs, with a couple traditional (read "non-copywrite") ones thrown in. It's still available on iTunes and I'm still proud of it. You can listen up there. I never really expected it to go platinum, self-publishing it as I did at CDBaby. But every month or so some Alaskan (most likely) discovers it and I receive a payment to my PayPal account from CDBaby. I recently was shuffling songs on my iPhone while relaxing in a hammock by the lake and "Where I'm Bound" came up. I think that may be my masterpiece. Or maybe it's "Larceny," so beautifully sung by Dana Ward (then Dana Cox), with its rhyming of "window" and "then blow." Ha.

So I was going to talk about fiction but I'm out of time this morning. In a nutshell, I spent a year or so writing what I call "the pretty good American novel." I titled it "Lives" and classified it a "history-mystery." Its such a mashup of conceptions and conceits that I'm not sure that anyone who ever read it, aside from my dear brother-from-another-mother James Morrison, actually understood it. And I may be mistaken there as well. But I wrote it, and I worked very hard to interweave the stories of three humans in three time periods who share a soul and some related fates--one in late 60's Nashville, one in the time and setting of the American Civil War, and one in a post-holocaust dystopian future. I worked very hard never to actually state the underlying thread of reincarnation, perhaps to a fault. Anyway, pounding it out on my little "transportable" Kaypro 2x was an accomplishment, and it's another thing in the world that would not be here if I had not. It worked for me, and after several rewrites and reformats I self-published it at Lulu.com back in 2004 (I think). It's still available there, and available in ebook format, if you really are adventurous. I think it's sold like 3 copies over the decade, woo-hooo.

Let's get to work. I hope to see everyone who can make it at my webinar at EdWeb.net on Thursday at 4pm EDT. Here's a link to register. And thanks to T.H.E. Journal again! All this reflection has been good for me. Thursday I'll be sharing our good work at MNPS Virtual School, perhaps a product that I'm most proud of helping to innovate. All this other stuff is just what happens when a guy who has not much of a clue just can't stop "making."

I'm hitting Publish and I'll come back and edit. I may have made some horrible typos so I'll fix those later today.


Monday, June 23, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 6

Well, hello there. Happy Monday.

A great long weekend included fishing at my favorite stomping grounds, Lake Marrowbone, up in Joelton. I caught and released seven of the finny creatures, and if you haven't caught my fun interview at EduTalk Radio from last Thursday, it's archived here. Please join me online on Thursday for a much more detailed hour about our work at MNPS Virtual School on EdWeb.net.

I promised (what was I thinking?) to reflect daily on accomplishments related to education that I might consider would help explain or supplement the explanation for the decision on the part of T.H.E. Journal to designate me as "Education Innovator of the Month" for June 2014, and I frankly had to take a break over the weekend. For one thing, I was so impressed by my friend Lucas Gillespie's own EdWeb.net webinar on Gaming in the classroom that I spent several hours over the weekend leveling my female Blood Elf up to level 25 (of the maximum of 90) in order to be able to explore the community that is the Inevitable Betrayal Guild. I'm happy to say she's there, and the experience of getting there brought back fond memories of the year or two a decade ago when I played through all the Lara Croft Tomb Raider games. I of course watched both movies, and, yes, if Angelina Jolie runs for public office, as the skimmy has it lately, she's got my vote.

All that to say I enjoyed the writing respite, and that I want to talk briefly about ISTE SIGVE (the Special Interest Group for Virtual Environments), now rebranded as ISTE's Virtual Environments Network. In 2009, along with a group of virtual worlds in education enthusiasts, I helped innovate it. I'm not going to detail that again, because that's been done. Avail yourself of the hyperlinks in the following paragraph to understand mo' bettah.


SIGVE has taken on its own life since that labored birthing, working up a mission, writing a proposal, leading the proposal through the administrative hoops to approval, creating the wiki that houses years of research and resources (as of this writing 6,240 pages of information), all that. There is a new group of leaders emerging, many of whom I have never met in the physical world. In just a few days, we'll be meeting again at the huge annual ISTE Conference, sharing physical hugs (with no sexual harrassment, I might add) between empassioned educators who meet from a distance, regularly, in online platforms embodied digitally as avatars. It's sense of place at a distance, informing sense of recognition in person.

It was powerful in 2009, and it's powerful now. There's something about meeting someone you have gotten to know in a virtual world, meeting them in the physical world for the first time. If you haven't experienced it, you might think I'm nuts, but it's true. The closest I've come to describing that feeling is a reunion with a long-lost sibling, or a cousin you were best friends with but with whom you've lost touch over the years. It's recognition, and the immediacy and the strength of the emotion it fires is another testament to the existence of the soul. Through words and play online, one has gotten to know the soul of the avatar one has spent time with. It is the soul one recognizes in the eyes and the body of the individual one encounters in physical space. That's what fuels the hug.

Some of my best friends (you know who you are) I met and grew to know inworld long before that first hug. I look forward to renewing that bond in Atlanta beginning Friday of this week.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 5

So if you are a multitasker, I'm dishing up your favorite thing! You can read this post whilst listening to the fun 40 minutes I spent with Chris Piehler, Executive Editor of T.H.E. Journal and Larry Jacobs, host of the superb self-PD resource, EduTalk Radio.
More Education Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with EduTalk on BlogTalkRadio

I could probably leave it at that today, I'm so pleased with how that went. I knew I was in good hands when Chris said such nice things in response to Larry's introductory question asking why I qualified for the "Education Innovator of the Month" of June. But I did mention SLedupotential yesterday, and in the spirit of my pledge to blog every day leading up to my EdWeb.net webinar Thursday (register NOW, here!), here goes...

Question: What do the 35 avatars in this picture have in common?

ISTE+BEACH+SHOT.jpg 

Answer: They are all educators participating at the same time in the physical world's NECC 2008 conference session, "SLedupotential." Well, on reflection (and that's why we're here, right?) some may not have been in San Antonio at the time of the picture, and I'm guessing that Mike McKay in Japan and Gia Rossini in London are in there somewhere. We did, after all, have a packed room in the Conference center, and we did spend 3 hours learning with one another, as "9 educators from 9 states" took turns sharing why we all just knew that virtual worlds like Second Life were the shizz.

We had spent months planning, meeting in Second Life, collaborating in Wikispaces and in the new Google Docs, and when we finally got there, it was an absolutely beautiful 3 hours. I'm just realizing that I don't really need to do much description here, just claim it as my own (and as the achievement of really more than 9 educators, working around our country and internationally to bring others into our forward thinking fringe), and to point you to the still-live website for resources, reading, media experiences, and to understand the scope of the innovation. Go explore, in depth, http://sledupotential.wikispaces.com, but be sure you give yourself some time. There's a lot there! Here, I'll leave you with our sketch for the session, to which we really did adhere:

Sledupotential Sketch: 9 educators, 9 states, 3 hours, June 30, 2008, NECC2008

7-8:30: Early arrivals get help with basics. The goal is to have them sitting in a tie-died chair in the virtual room. Landmarks to that are at HQ, the Blogger’s Hut, Podcasters’ Place, and the NECC pavilion, as well as my own li’l space at Book Publishing Island. Tech set-up continues apace.

8:30: Formal welcome, ScottM emphasizes
• Learner-driven intentions
• This is an experiment in a number of ways
• The wiki is a tool/resource we have used since day one and which we expect to continue to build today and into the future (basic wiki editing for those who need it) The Attendee Questions page
• Your being here implies permission for use of your contributions for non-profit broadcast by any participant in any media, including a live audio feed for Second Life participants, podcasts, blogs, picture sets, etc.—any problems with that?
• Multi-tasking is cool
9:00: Speed intros of panelists (ONE minute each).
Name:
I work/teach in the rw in/at:
My real life family consists of:
In Second Life my primary work has been:
8:50: What is Second Life? What is the 3D internet? What other platforms are there?
9:00: Who’s doing what in SL?
9:10: SL as PLN. What is your profile and how do you edit it? SLetiquette. Prims. Building. Objects and ownership. Inventory.
9:20: Explanation of breakouts: 3 of them, 18 minutes long, 2 min. transition. Suggested topics can be changed during this period. Each session will choose a moderator and open a text edit file and save it to their computer’s desktop. These will be copied and pasted into the “Breakout Reportouts” page of the wiki during reportouts. Suggested sessions: Further Basics, Other MUVES, Further (Deeper) Education Tours. Everyone does everything, changing the assigned time.
9:30 Breakout session 1
9:50 Breakout session 2
10:20 Breakout session 3
10:30 Reportouts and time to get notes posted to the wiki
10:40 WTF? Ethics, Relationships, Safety
10:55 ScottM reports out the history of the collaboration. Others chime on on how they felt about the grand experiment
11:00 Questions, answers, unfulfilled requests and demonstrations
11:20 Giveaways. Signed books for 1st and 2nd names drawn, iPod kits for all attendees.
11:30 BFN

And that's a wrap on this Friday morning, on a day when I'm taking a vacation day from my much-loved work. Not that I'm not working! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 4

Thanks for tuning in, and in advance (as well as in retrospect), my apologies for long posts. Prose has always been my downfall.

So in connection with my being chosen as "Education Innovator of the month at THE Journal, a leading educational technology publication, I'm writing here another little reflection on something I have done over the almost two decades during which I have defined myself as a teacher, something innovative that I can reasonably claim to have "innovated." A bit more evidence of my "innovativicity" (there, I just innovated that term, though I'm not really happy with it) than I'll cover in either my upcoming edutalkradio show or my EdWeb webinar next week. Here are dates and times:

Education Talk Radio (will be linked there Thursday, June 19, and live at 11:00am CDT).
Starting and Maintaining a Virtual School, Thursday, June 26, at 3pm CDT. You can register now!

I struggled a bit for today, thinking I might share something called "SLedupotential," a 3 hour "9 educators from 9 states" event that shared some groundbreaking work in virtual environments, back at NECC in 2008. But I'll save that one and get to another virtual worlds experience, my work with 4th graders in Indiana University funded "Quest Atlantis." Quest Atlantis, re-imagined as Atlantis Remixed, now resides at Arizona University, along with its creator, Dr. Sasha Barab.

My dear friend Bron Stuckey (whom I first met in Second Life, btw) was then Quest Atlantis's international face, coming to NECCs and trotting around the globe sharing its successes and challenges; its student-centered, social responsibilities-focused, plain and simple fun; and its educational validity with anyone who would listen. In 2009, I brought my first 4th graders into Quest Atlantis, after training as a teacher online within the platform (my teacher was none other than Bron) and performing the detailed permissions-getting/registering and account creation requirement to include my students in the Questers. Here's part of a blog post from my computer lab:
 USN Lower School Technology blog at http://usnlstech.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html:
This morning (Tuesday, January 27th) marked the first 4th graders' (Ms. Hunt's class) entrance into Quest Atlantis. My goal this week is just to hand out the usernames and passwords I've set up for the kids and to have them log in and begin to become comfortable with the user interface. Though the initial distribution process (handing out slips of paper to the kids with the information printed from a spreadsheet) was a bit clunky, we got in, and we didn't crash the internet connection! Yay! I did meet our network administrator in the hallway afterward and he said there was some slowing down, and we'll be testing over this week to see if I need to perhaps stagger the logins during that period more than I did today.
4th graders in Quest Atlantis!
The kids did GREAT! I asked them to find me at the clocktower and they did, then they moved about the OTAK island exploring and laughing. The excitement in our lab was palpable. This is looking good, very good, and look for ongoing communication about the process. Here's a picture of some of our virtual citizens in their "n00bie" shorts and teeshirts.
Over the rest of the school year, and into the following one, my students quested, explored,  leveled up, and learned. One of the most compelling reasons to take your students into Quest Atlantis is its foundational commitment to what they call the seven critical dimensions. Each element of every quest is designed to reinforce understanding of one or more of these. Here's a graphic screengrabbed from a portion of their Mission Statement:


If you can argue against 4th graders spending time immersed in those concepts and soaking them up into their core value systems, you're a better (and potentially vastly more evil) rationalizer than am I. 

So this Quest Atlantis experience is not something I made up, but making the effort and taking the time to bring it all into our K-4 computer lab, I would argue, qualifies as innovation. It resulted in many moments of epiphany and beauty in that learning and teaching experience, and I'll share one on my way out today. Louie and Gabe, one the son of a highly prominent rock-and-roll songwriter performer, the other the son of a schoolteacher, had risen in skills to the level at which they could modify their avatars. Take a good look at the picture and its insert, rasta hair and all, they made themselves twins. In the physical world they never could have done this, but in the virtual one, surrounded by meaningful positive experiences that they themselves have chosen from among the many available, they are twins. Life(s) is good...



Thanks for reading. More later!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections Part 3

So, okay, I'm going out of order. Sort of. But one of my most exciting and magical innovations was devising and implementing SLedupotential at NECC 2008. That, of course, was back when ISTE called it's conferences the "National Educational Computing Conference."

All right, I'm lying again. I'll be a good boy and save SLedupotential for another post in this series.

Did I mention Snacks4theBrain? Yes I did, last post. Working one day a week for the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach, I produced and published 84 (or maybe more) podcasts, each of which you can still access at iTunes, and I've spent a little time looking for references to it. Here's one in an article at the Vanderbilt Register from 2006: http://news.vanderbilt.edu/archived-news/register/articles/index-id=28948.html.

How did I even get into this? Well, as I recall, I had been listening to podcasts from the early days, from the irreverent "Soccergirl" to Richard Vobes' "The Vobes Show," a daily online offering from a glorious madman in England. I also subscribed to Adam Curry's podcast, where the early MTV vjay held forth from his Netherlands expatriat residence, earning him the moniker "the podfather," because he claims to have invented the genre. Podcasts, of course, are online resident audio files, and after some time listening to my favorites I thought, well, how about one dedicated to emerging science? And let's make it entertaining. And let's add some music. I used

One of my favorite podcasts, The Goodbeershow, featured folks sitting around a table at a watering hole in Muncy, Indiana talking with Jeffrey T. Meyers about the beer(s) they were sampling that night, and he featured live or recorded music along with the ribald discussion. As it turned out, I was able to sit in and contribute to two shows in Muncy and to host one at Yazoo Brew here in Nashville when Jeffrey was passing through town. What fun all that was.

I proceeded to establish a format. I would open with a standard recorded intro, describe what was to come, play some independent (read: "free") music, interview a working scientist about her or his work, play some more independent music, and mess around a bunch. I would plug the Center for Science Outreach and their good work, reference the website, and play around with sound effects like a crazy person. I worked first in CoolEdit Pro, then Adobe bought that software and I moved to Adobe Audition. Eventually I was working with the freeware Audacity. And eventually, after all that work, I called it quits when I left the CSO (described in the last post).

I was "in the Cat Bird Seat," as my father-in-law would say. I'd invented something, was able to produce it mostly at home every Monday whilst working for the CSO, run in for meetings when necessary, and everyone was happy. Best of all, I interviewed a bunch of brilliant people, pretending that I knew what I was doing and, almost unimaginably, getting away with it.

You know that Vanderbilt scientist the national news always breaks out when there's any kind of viral outbreak? Dr. William Shaffner? I interviewed him about the Swine flu. Check. You know David Warlick, brilliant front vanguard for change in education? I interviewed him and we became friends. Peggy Sheehy? Of Second Life Teen Grid reknown? Check, and dear friend. Steve Spangler, the modern-day Mr. Wizard? Check. It's all there at Snacks4theBrain. Still and always. They are archived in the Vanderbilt University Discovery Archive. Go listen to one and help keep the series alive. I'd appreciate it. Hint: The best way to do this is to "Save File" and listen locally. You may need to rename it, taking out some weird characters, before it works. Looks like they need to do some maintenance on their 2008 archives. Ha. The direct link in http://discoverarchive.vanderbilt.edu/handle/1803/3186 but I've already renamed it and made it available for you at the following:

Here's a link to one episode, my replay of an earlier Dr. William Shaffner interview, so if you have 30 minutes for some weirdness and fun, go for it. 

http://abcnews.go.com/meta/search/imageDetail?format=plain&source=http://abcnews.go.com/images/Health/FLU_Snapshot_William_Schaffner 

So yeah, that's something I'm proud of. Something else I made up. More "innovation," though I was just making things up. It's what I do.

So SLedupotential next post? Maybe. Maybe not...

Stay tooned.




"Innovator" Reflections Part 2

Even though I didn't label the last post "'Innovator Reflections' Pt. 1," I'm going with it henceforth . Yesterday, in connection with the upcoming release of my selection as "Innovator of the Month" of June 2014 with THE Journal, I said I'd post daily until I ran out, or at least until Thursday of next week, when my webinar entitled "Starting and Maintaining a Virtual School" will hit the 'netz live and then be archived. I have been reflecting on the innovations I'm most proud of and I'm going to lump two into this post at the risk of running out soon.

From 1999 to the middle of 2010, my main work took place in the computer lab at University School of Nashville, after having taught 3rd grade for 3 years there. In 2001, I was asked by Vanderbilt University to leave USN to work full-time as "Teacher in Residence" for the Vanderbilt University Office of Science Outreach. I had been recruited by Dr. Susan Kuner, with whom I had done some work in the then very infant stages of videoconferencing at Vanderbilt Virtual School (not really a virtual school, but rather its own videoconferencing outreach, a very early iteration from which I learned bushels).

I loved my job at USN and my beautiful daughter Miranda was attending school there, and with my amazing son Colin just starting there as well I didn't want to leave my kids, or my students, all ~360 of them, whom I saw each week in the lab. We worked out a deal--I would work Mondays at the OSO, and my classes at USN would be compressed into the remaining four weekdays. It was doable, and we done it. This went on through 2008-2009, when the grant funding supporting the position ran out and I was let go, gently and with genuine compassion, by the Director of the by then Center for Science Outreach, Dr. Virginia Shepherd. Ginny explained that with the newly minted School for Science and Math taking off so solidly, priorities had changed, and I silently added in my mind that they had discovered that they needed the funding they had been allocating to supporting a rogue, independent, innovator for their new project and more classroom teachers for this amazingly innovative project. Learn more about it at theschool.vanderbilt.edu.

All this to say that I had a blast working with the CSO, all the way from its foundations as the OSO. That's where I first met and worked with dear friends Dr. Kecia Ray, now President of the  International Society for Technology in Education, and Jan Zanetis, now CEO of the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration). Ginny Shepherd more or less let me make up things, and the two best things I made up were the "VIA Dyer" Interactive Videoconferencing series and "Snacks4theBrain," an 84 episode podcast from the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach. Let's briefly detail these.

VIA is an acronym I used to describe "Videoconference Interactions with Astronomers and the "Dyer" is simply Dyer Observatory at the top of a hill just outside of Brentwood, Tennessee. The double entendre, in that the interactions came "via," or "by way of" Dyer Observatory, was indeed intended. I do not recall how I first got hooked into Dyer, but I believe it was that the OSO had placed one of a couple dozen grant-purchased high-end videoconferencing codecs (hardware) in school around the MNPS school district and also one up at Dyer, and I first went up there to help them get it set up. There I met with a man who has become one of my closest friends, Rocky Alvey. He's a story unto himself, then Superintendent and now Director of the Observatory and truly a Renaissance Man.

Long story short, over the course of a couple of years I helped design the website for the Observatory, upon which they have built nicely, and we served up a couple dozen weekly and then bi-weekly interactions with students around the country. A classroom would sit together in front of their own codec, wherever they were, and I would set up the videoconferencing camera on an expert in the field of astronomy, and they would do a little presentation, often a PowerPoint that I would operate as the "next slide" guy, then answer questions from the remotely located peanut gallery. Here's a snapshot from the Internet Wayback Machine (a great resource) from 2004 and here's a pic of one of these interactions featuring former astronaut and then-Director of Dyer, Dr. Rick Chappel:


Producing VIA Dyer was as much a learning experience for me as for the students. That's why I did it, really, trying as I have since I became an educator to push the technology into the service of learning and teaching. Building that program, then reluctantly letting it go (though Rocky has not--see a 2013 videoconference video from Dyer!), was a learning experience for me that prepared me for what I'm doing now. I am thankful to Dr. Ginny Shepherd for believing in me enough to let me innovate, and for Rocky Alvey for being open enough, and innovative enough himself, to support and help develop VIA Dyer. Maybe THE Journal needs to hit up my man Rocky!

Okay, that's enough for this morning: I lied. I'll share "Snacks4the Brain!" tomorrow. It's a doozy of a story that requires more description than I have time for this morning. Got to shower and get in to today's work at MNPS Virtual School, where "We Never Close."

See ya (that will mean more when you hear some S4theB!: heck, if you're an auditory learner and want a preview, head on over to iTunes and grab some Snacks before checking in here tomorrow. It's a body of work, don'tcha know.

Monday, June 16, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 1 -- "Innovator of the Month" at THE Journal--Honored, I am.

It's been awhile. I've been very busy with my work and more. Putting up our Summer School program at MNPS Virtual School, getting ready for ISTE, preparing for an upcoming EduTalk Radio interview, prepping for a June 26 webinar for THE Journal, and living life with a wife whose entrepreneurial efforts at TinWings are maxing out her time and our world!

I've also been fishing:


Catfish at Marrowbone Lake from a rented canoe


So. An editor from THE Journal, a leading publication for technology in education, emailed a query to do a phone interview because "someone" had suggested I might be a likely candidate for their ongoing "Innovator of the Month" article. This was clear out of the blue for me, and I tentatively responded affirmatively. Any given month, we're innovating at my work, as the process of building a lasting, viable, and valid online public virtual school moves along its path.

I've done my share of innovating over the past couple of decades, once I found my own path, mid-life, as an educator. Back when I was teaching 3rd grade at University School of Nashville I collaborated with a friend newly found on ePals.com, Darrick Mosser, to build what they now call Project Based Learning between my 3rd graders in Nashville and his 4th graders in Japan. To do the videoconferencing part of this, I strung 50 feet of telephone line from the nearest telephone, in the office of the Learning Specialist, to my classroom, stringing it through the dropped ceiling tiles of the hallways and dropping it to my classroom Mac, on which I had installed CUSeeMe. The students met to meet their already established ePals penpals (Darrick's kids in an classroom overnight sleepover, brave man), and together we thought about what we were going to do over the coming months. We set out an interview project, focused on the time of America's Great Depression, and together brainstormed some questions everyone would ask their "elder," someone who had lived through that time. We decided everyone would produce a portrait of their elder and a portrait of themselves and write out their interview questions and their answers and we would publish this on the internet. Only then it was the Internet. We named our project "ElderQuest."

Finally, we set a date for another classroom sleepover when we would meet again to celebrate. We did, and I put up everything on the school's website (long taken down but archived somewhere on an old hard drive), and then we moved on to cursive writing. Those were the days, well before the Lower School moved on to standardize what was going on at the grade level at any time, all in the service of common practice. I don't think ElderQuest or something so organically developed would be possible today in any classroom, public or private, though I think it should be. Those were the days that the art of teaching trumped the dictated, orchestrated practice of it.

Anyway, I"m doing the EduTalk Radio show interview live on the 19th, this Thursday, and it's to be focused on my current work. What I intend to do each morning until then (just innovated during the writing of this post) is to think back on what got me here, and to write about something I did that I consider could be thought of as "innovative," one per day until I'm played out. If it goes past Thursday, it can be a resource for my related webinar on Thursday the 26th, titled "Starting and Maintaining an Online School." This'll be fun. For me, anyway.

Here are the links to the live (then both will be archived) events this and next week:

Education Talk Radio (will be linked there Thursday, June 19, and live at 11:00am CDT).
Starting and Maintaining a Virtual School, Thursday, June 26, at 3pm CDT. You can register now!