20/20 icyte

I first came across a “cyte” a few weeks ago. It was sent to me by my brother and I looked up the web-page that it referred to and took it no further. I assumed that icyte was just another bookmarking program and I was very much into using Diigo (as I have written about in an earlier posting) and therefore did not really look it up in any detail.

I decided that I would give the program a look at a day or so ago. It turned out to be one of the most interesting and powerful programs that I have yet come across. It does duplicate some of the functions of Diigo and other bookmarking sites but it does so with very intuitive software that makes highlighting, sharing and then discussing  text (or sending it to someone) very easy indeed.

I have saved  a cyte that I made about developing STEM in the 21st century class It can be accessed on http://www.icyte.com/saved/www.eschoolnews.com/277793 The highlighting is seen in the original webpage and then it can be sent to a friend or observed by them and comments can be made. This is where I find the whole thing very powerful. It can lead to collaboration and discussion and since it is so very easy to use, it would be the ideal tool to teach young students to start to use the web for effective study.

If you open it you can see at the top where there are chances to comment.  The comments can be a two way discussion and therein lies the power of this program making a simple highlighting tool into a means for students to use the power of  social networking. I have started the first comment which I entered by pressing Comments (1): View/Add

Please feel free to add any comment of your own and of course I could reply.

Below is a video introducing icyte. It will tell you what you need to know to get started with this really easy but powerful internet study tool.. have fun and most importantly, learn using icyte.

The textbook in an age of transition

I very much enjoyed Tuesday’s #edchat discussion about textbooks.It raised a number of interesting points for me:

(1) The role of the textbook as a central part of so many teachers’ approach to education

(2) The way that so many teachers have now gone down the path of not using textbooks and distrusting any book that purports to have all the answers to what a child needs to know

(3) The way that teachers have gone down the road of internet use for access to the many and varied sources of information out there.

It was an interesting discussion that seemed to back up the fact that we are definitely in an age of transition. We are going from the industrial age to a post-industrial information age that seems to be dominated by the internet and communications technology.

Many of the participants in the discussion were, like me, raised in an age of textbooks which were used by teachers as the main (usually only) means of getting the information that it was thought I needed to know. As I said in one of my contributions to the discussion, as a teacher, I never felt comfortable with textbooks. I remember one textbook on Geology (that I took as part of my Advanced Level Geography) that was totally forbidding in that it was almost unreadable and had difficult terms which were never really explained. I did not do very well at this part of the course.

There were the strong proponents for “don’t dump the textbook yet” and there were the “internet has the answers”. Interestingly, there were a large number who, like me, realised that we are in an age of transition and that the textbook will eventually be superceded but that we needed to train our students in effective use of the internet for their information. This raises the question, yet again, of the key importance of Information Literacy as the core subject in any future (indeed present) curriculum.

It was a great discussion and yet again, excellent  Professional Development material. If you haven’t come across it before it takes place at 12 noon EST 5 p.m. (in U.K.) and there is a second discussion at 7 p.m. EST (midnight in U.K., if you can stay up that long). The discussion can be seen (and participated in) on Twitter (where else?) using  #edchat in search. I would advise anyone following the discussion to use an online program  like Tweetgrid http://tweetgrid.com/ just put in the #edchat search and follow the discussion, join in and express your ideas.

My Twaud.io

I come across many new ideas in Facebook and of course on Twitter.

I actually have very few friends on Facebook and do not really use it to make new ones or communicate with my friends about social events. What I do like about Facebook is the chance to connect to interesting organisations and follow important individuals. I am a follower of Gustavo Dudamel the brilliant young conductor whose work with the young musicians of Venezuela (and now Los Angeles) I have written about in an earlier post.  I follow people like Mitch Albom because I find their work interesting and like to keep up with his ideas and projects. I also follow organisations like UNICEF because I am am a long time supporter of this organisation.

Being interested in web 2.0 and the applications of technology to education I follow a website called “Mashable”. This site has a huge following and reviews new developments in technology on a daily basis. There have been many new Apps and ideas that I have picked up from Mashable. Yesterday I read their latest input in Facebook called “HOW TO: Send an Audio Tweet”   http://mashable.com/2010/07/26/how-to-audio-twitter/

As usual with Mashable articles I found this very easy to read and to follow. The idea of being able to broadcast using Twitter was quite exciting and I therefore decided that I would attempt to send a recording as a Tweet to my followers.

I then embarked upon a learning process that I always use to understand and use any new program. I decided to look at the suggested downloads until I found the one that looked the best for me. I decided that Twaud.io was the best download for my purposes… this is how it appeared in the Mashable article:

3. Twaud.io

Twaud.io is another service that lets you both record online and upload files. Recording online is easy: Just sign in with OAuth, authorize use of your mic and you’re good to go for a generous thirty minutes worth of record time, which is practically podcast length.

Just hit the record button, hit it again to stop, and then press play to review whatever it is you’ve just uttered. Once you’re done on the same screen there’s a box to enter up to 100 characters of text, then just press the “Twaudio it!” button and you’re done.

Twaud.io’s URLs are super short (http://twaud.io/ls4) and play automatically when someone hits the link. Those who listen to your recordings also get the option to download them, get an embed code, retweet them or comment on them, which is sent as an @reply to the creator.

Sound quality is good, and the site tells you how many listens you’ve racked up, which is also good for an ego boost.

This had all the features that I was loking for. It was free, easily accessible through the web and easy to sdet up. I therefore went onto the site and found that I could record directly or upload a previous recording. I decided to do the latter as I could make my recording directly onto my netbook.

I tried this and I made a pretty decent attempt to record an audio review of “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer which I had just finished reading and was the subject of my last post in this blog.

The recording finished up as a Windows Media Audio file (WMA). Unfortunately Twaud.io does not allow for WMA uploads! I now had a perefectly good recording that I couldn’t upload! I therefore decided to go to Google and put in a search on WMA to MP3 conversion programs. I found that there were quite a lot of them and that, mostly, they were freely downloadable.

I tried one and found that it didn’t work for me. This is not an unusual event but due to the fasct that these programs are free they are no longer a big outlay for me that later proves to be a waste of money (and  I can tell you that I’ve had quite a few of those in my time!).

I therefore went back to the drawing board and tried another program called “Switch Sound File Converter” http://www.nch.com.au/switch/index.html This worked perfectly and I was able to change my WMA recrding to MP3. I then went back to Twaud.io and uploaded my audio Tweet.

Because Twaudio comes with a counter I was able to see that, within a couple of minutes, my audio posting had been heard by 34 people. This may not seem world shaking to you but it does show the potential of the technology. I shall be doing more audio Tweets to my followers.

“The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind”: a reflection

I have written about William Kamkwamba after I had seen his TED Talk  (July 2009) “How I Harnessed The Wind”  (see https://malbell.wordpress.com/2009/12/19/william-kamkwamba/ (see the video of the talk below to get a feel for the story and the man)

It took me quite a long time to actually get round to reading the book that he co-wrote with Bryan Mealer. I had always promised myself that I would then review the book as I have done for some others that have moved me and influenced me  in the past year.

Having read the book though I felt that the best blog entry I could make would be my reactions to it.

I was moved by it…. in particular the harrowing recount of the famine in his native Malawi that forced William out of school and into the fields to support his family that, like so many others in Malawi at the time, was on the point of starvation. I was especially moved by the putting down of his dog…. this scene was graphic and I lived every moment with William as he had to let his friends put the starving and sick dog out of his misery in what was, at that time, almost a metaphor for the fate of the thousands of humans whose physical decay due to lack of food is described so well.

I learnt from it: I learnt about the Africa of magic and superstition. I learnt what it was like to grow up in a tribal and predominantly agricultural society and the role that tradition played in their lives. I learnt about a society that had been reached by technology (he mentions the radio a lot in his book and he used the parts of cars, bicycles and other machines to build his windmill from scrap materials).

I saw in it the way that William had a powerful need to learn that was not stopped by being unable (due to the famine) to go to school. That the books that had been given as charity to a local library provided him with the knowledge that he needed to make his windmill. Interestingly, he could hardly read English at the time and therefore he understood how things worked mostly from diagrams. He talks about his use of imagination in understanding how things worked.

Lastly, I could see the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson, of finding your “element” were there to be seen in William. The driving force to him was to educate himself so as not to be like his father and his fathers fathers and work the land for the rest of his life. Here was a child (aged 14 when he first built a windmill) who was moved by science and technology. He got so excited by the prospect of building a windmill that he withstood the taunts of others in  his community that he was a “madman” and persevered in loosening bolts (which sometimes took him two hours or more) from rusty old machines that he could use in his windmill. He did all this because he had a vision and he had a passion.

I have been very fortunate to have come across William due to the fortune of looking up and watching a TED Talk. I have since become a friend of his and Bryan on Facebook and have tried to keep up with his life. I would also like to take this opportunity to say how Bryan’s knowledge of Africa (as a very experienced reporter) and his wordcraft added so  much to the production of this really good and important book. I am really pleased that it has been read by so many and that both of the authors have been able to talk about the story all over the world.

I am also pleased that a short break away in the English countryside gave me the opportunity to finally finish the book!


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My blog as evidence

I am a local authority consultant in Southend, Essex, United Kingdom. The section that I work in is about to change drastically.

We are about to be hit in the next academic year with public expenditure cuts as part of the Government’s efforts to correct the huge budget deficit that our nation has as a result of combatting the recession that we were all pitched into following the collapse of banks such as Lehmann Brothers in the U.S.

As a result of these cuts I am aware that my position as a consultant for mathematics in primary (elementary) schools is likely to disappear by April of next year.

I am therefore in the interesting position ,as are many of my colleagues, of having to see what I can do to gain employment before that time or the park bench awaits!

I watched a very interesting video last week about e-portfolios by Helen Barrett who is often referred to (according to the video) as “the grandmother of e-portfolios”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckcSegrwjkA&feature=player_embedded#! She was going on about social media such as Facebook and Twitter and how it can be used to build up a picture about your interests and concerns and can be added to your e-portfolio.

This got me thinking, as I face the coming months and have to go  out into the “storm” and attempt to get myself a position out there in the world of education how I coud best represent myself electronically. In the past I would just have filled in application forms and written my supporting statement and then hoped for an interview and a chance to represent myself in person to a potential employer.

But the world has changed. We are now into an age where future employees have access to my digital footprint. I have quite a few entries in Google because of my blog and comments that I have made on other people’s blog. Does this information give a good picture of me? Not really, it states a few of my interests and could be used as evidence but it does not really represent the width of my interests and concerns.

My blog though does. I have been writing in this blog for only eight months and yet I have a large number of  entries in it. I have collected a number of videos and shown myself able to learn from a number of sources. I have used the internet as my main learning resource. I called the blog “Malcolm Bellamy’s Learning Blog” because I wanted it to represent my learning journey.

I realised as I was thinking about what I could do to sharpen up my C.V. and jazz up my presentation of self for the future applications that I have an excellent resource that any employer can use to learn about me and why I would want to work in a 21st century learning environment (or act as a consultant or advisor for teachers who want to work or create one)… and that was my Blog!

For teachers who are thinking about the value of a blog for children I can only say that it is the best means ever invented to truly allow a child (or adult) to express themselves and represent themselves to others. It is not some portfolio that has been invented for the express reason of interesting and influencing a potential employer, it represents what that person really is, what makes them tick. In this respect, if I were an employer, I would really want to know the person I was about to hire…. would they fit into my organisation? Will they share my vision for the future? Can they collaborate with others? Are they truly creative? Are they a really useful addition to our organisation?

I would encourage any teacher to allow children to create a blog. It can act as a really effective means of assessment and, in the end, can be just what the child (or adult) needs to have a fully rounded representation of themself to present to a future employer.

Coalition of the Willing: brilliant video on combatting global warming

Global warming ubx
Image via Wikipedia

Coalition Of The Willing from coalitionfilm on Vimeo.

The above link is to a brilliant video from Coalitionfilm about using the power of web 2.0 to start a worldwide network to combat global warming.

This is the kind of video that young students should be watching as it discusses many important issues about the problems of global warming, government indecision or inability to tackle the problem (or declare war on their own citizens and their obsession with consumerism). It also discusses the way that modern means of “swarming” using the internet can transform the way that politics takes places internationally.

I really would like to see this video having a wider audience and hope that teachers will feel that it is the kind of materials that they would like their students to think about, discuss, debate and maybe make their own version of.

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In praise of school librarians

We seem to be going through strange times. The Government cutbacks are here and there are some quick fixes that schools may think they can make.

One of the quick fixes is to cut the role of the librarians and the teacher-librarians. THis is something that I find hard to understand.

The librarian has moved on a lot since the portrayal of the small Welsh town librarian by Peter Sellers in the film “Only Two Can Play“. In this film we see the sorter of books, the stamper of books the little man who constantly keeps the few citizens of the town who have taken the trouble to visit the library deathly quiet.

It is the library of my youth with rows of little cards held in alphabetically sorted trays and an overused inkpad where the date of return is entered into the book. There were a few magazines and a “reference” section which was in a separate part of the library and contained the old dusty encyclopaedias and dictionaries, atlases and other important sources of ancient knowledge that was not thought fit to be lent out to the public.

This has changed now. The internet has changed all that for good. The librarian is not just a sorter of books and an occasional advisor on where to get information. They are “information experts” who have taken the time to study the vast world that is the internet.

The ability for our children to navigate the sea of information that the internet is has become the key skill in education for the forseeable future. It’s importance cannot be underestimated. There is now an endless and ever-growing virtual library that includes text, sound and video. There are lies, damned lies and dodgy statistics. There is a real need for students to be taught how to study effectively using the web. Everything cannot come down to the inevitable Google Search and cutting and pasting large chunks of information that may be unvalidated.

Which is where the librarian and especially the new breed of teacher-librarian plays such a significant part. It is a completely false economy to feel that these people are the first who should be cut from the school budgets… in many ways they are the last who should be if the dreaded cuts are necessary.

One of the things that I have written about on quite a few occasions in this blog is the 1 to 1 Laptop use by the Van Meter Schools in Iowa. It was their wonderful teacher-librarian, Shannon Miller who first got me involved with the school because of her excellent site The Van Meter Library Voice she is a great example of someone who has become an invaluable part of a school system that is transforming itself into a state-of-the-art education for its children.. they would freely admit that they couldn’t have done it without her!

I will conclude with a plea therefore for all of us to fight for the librarians and teacher librarians (and indeed for the librarians in colleges and universities) who are an essential part of a quality 21st century education for all our futures!

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