Branching out with Technology

I like to think that I am fairly technologically savvy.  However, truth be told, if I want to figure out how to do something I usually figure it out myself with lots of trial and error.  I can figure out how to use technology to complete my goal but I don't think I will ever have the brain to understand technology or how it works.  For example, I am still trying to figure out the fax machine and how it transfers words and pictures on the same phone lines that transfer sound waves.  Just saying. 

This spring I decided to branch out in the world of technology and try something I have wanted to do for a while - videoconferencing!  A big thank you to our technology integration specialist for making it so easy!  I wish I could tell you how to do it, but I know there are some technological specifications that must be available to make it work - at least for interactive video conferencing.  I can tell that on my side of the computer it was as easy as facing the camera toward the students, logging in to our video conferencing system and waiting for the party on the other end to start. 

We started our videoconferencing experience off with 2 conferences with NASA!  We did one conference on the moon and one on the sun on different days.  I cannot say enough great things about this conference.  The scientist that we talked with had a background in elementary education and he had it all covered:  interesting information, cool pictures, and classroom management to keep the noise down.  Both of these video conferences were interactive which means that my students could answer and ask questions.  The scientist called them by name when talking to them.  Pretty amazing!

Next up, we connected with the Plains Museum in Texas to learn about dinosaurs that were found in this part of the world.  The kids loved it and it was a great addition to our study of animals.  They really loved learning about the different types of teeth, and how you could tell if an animal ate meat, plants or both based on their teeth.  This was an interactive video conference but only with 4 selected sites and we were not one of them.  But we still enjoyed learning and listening to the questions asked by other classes. 

Last up we connected with Discovery Eduction and their animal video conference which kicked off their new series North America.  My kids loved learning about the animals and watching the amazing videos of the animals.  This conference was interactive but in a different way.  For this one you could go to the main page and type and submit a question for the hosts to answer.  We learned the hard way though - only one question can be submitted.  I would highly recommend the Discovery Education video conferences as you don't need any special equipment.  You just sign-up and then go to the specific web page they give you and that's it!

Video conferencing is also a great way to collaborate and connect with other classrooms.  Although I have not done this yet, it is on my to do list!  We did have a dual language teacher at my school who connected his class with a Spanish class in another state.  The student's were able to talk with each other and finish out a project they had started!  Anyone interested in trying it out with me next year?

If you are interested in video conferencing in your classroom the first thing you need to do is make sure you have the capabilities in your classroom.  I would check with a district or campus tech person.  Then start looking for video conferences that you would like to be part of.  I will tell you up front that some are free, but some are not.  Here's some resources to get you started.

Berrien RESA Video Conference Database
A great database of video conference providers.  Easy search capabilities.

CILC Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration
This is a great site for finding video conferences (FREE and PAID)
as well as finding other classrooms to collaborate with


If you happen to be in Texas, here's another great resource!

I hope this inspires you to get out of your comfort zone just a little and try something new.  Feel free to post questions and I will do my best to answer them.  If you have done video conferencing before, what are some of your favorites?  Let us know in the comments!