Thursday, January 22, 2015

Digital Diner Idea Explosion

   I lead a series of training for my faculty called the Digital Diner.  The sessions are held throughout the year and focus on a different technology application.  Topic get selected based on the conversations I have with teachers throughout the year about their technology interests as well as survey data I collect.  Teachers are invited to attend on their prep hour and earn professional development credit for their participation.  The "diner" element of the trainings is that my wife cooks a home made treat for each session.  There is always a joking question if teachers attend the trainings because the instruction is so good; or if it is because of the food.

   Recently I led a Digital Diner session on screencasting during December with my faculty.  The session had nine teachers attend throughout the day, including three teachers who attended a Diner for the first time.  We used the video capture features of Tech Smith Snagit as our platform for the session.  

   During the session, I modeled how the Tech Smith Snag it extension worked and showed them the options to save/post them online through Google Drive or YouTube.  Then teachers were asked to a create a practice screen cast presentation and  share it. We also looked briefly at how to combine presentations with Educannon and add assessment questions throughout their video creations.

   My original goal with the session was to teach the teachers how to create brief screencast presentations which could be used to assist absent students in getting caught up or to faciliate learning. opportunities during snow days.  (This was why the diner treat for this session was snowcones) However, throughout the day, teachers continued to offer great ideas of ways screencasts could help their students that went way beyond helping students to stay caught up.  Among their ideas, were to allow students who master content earlier than their peers to create screencasts of concepts and to have students who serve as tutors in a new peer tutoring program at Lakeside to develop them for the students they are assisting.          

   Another great idea that came out during the day was to use screencasting as a parent involvement piece.  Teachers who create these screen casts and post them online could help our parents to "learn" the content their students are working with in class each day.  This could put parents in a better position to assist, and also to have a clearer picture of what their students are learning.    

   In many ways this was one of the most successful Digital Diners yet.  Several teachers attended the Diner for the first time.  But it was also a great success because of the explosion of possible classroom applications that the attendees generated. I look forward to seeing where my teachers will take the concept of screencasting and how it will benefit our learning community!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Books vs. Movies... That Age Old Debate

  My wife and I had a rare night out with some friends this past week.  We got to see the film version of Laura Hillenbrand's fantastic work, Unbroken.  I read Unbroken, over the summer and it made my top 5 list of books over the summer out of the 25 or so I read.  Admittedly, I enjoyed the movie version of Unbroken, although I have to say that the movie certainly does not measure up to the book.

   Although the movie itself clocks in at 137 minutes, in that 2 hour plus span, it fails to plumb the depths of the original work on several accounts.  At it's core, Unbroken is a tale of redemption, but in watching the opening scenes of Louis Zamperini's life, it paints him as a typical kid who gets himself in some minor spots of trouble; not as the youth tottering on the edge of reform school portrayed in the book who has his life literally saved by his brother's insistence that he join the school track team.

   The film version of the book also inadequately captures the tension and fears of bomber pilots hopscotching between various island outposts on bombing runs in the South Pacific.  There is no footage of the looming temptation pilots shot down in the ocean faced to attempt to quench their thirst in vain by drinking salt water.  There are also only a few shark attacks in the script, and the movie does not capture the desperation of being shot down literally thousands of miles from the nearest atoll without food.

   Even the main relationship of the film between Zamperini and the Japanese prison guard Watanabe receives short shrift.  While in the book, "the Bird" as Watanabe is known, literally seems to be following Zamperini from prison camp to prison camp across the South Pacific, the movie features only 2 occasions where the are in the same camp at the same time.  This fact somewhat limits the scope of the desparation Zamperini must have felt thinking he was finally rid of his tormentor the Bird only to seem him again and again.

   Director Angelina Jolie also cuts the movie short without addressing what life was like after Louis Zamperini returned home.  There seems to be a suggestion that he returned home and lived happily ever after. According to the book, those first few years back in the United States were anything but fairy tale, since Louis dealt with alcoholism and the scars of war through nightmares and other traumas.  Jolie may have been concerned about having to include a religious element in the story-since Zamperini's life changed after attending a Billy Graham crusade in the late 1940's.  If Jolie had chosen to include these details in the script, it would have only added more power to the film.

   Inspite of its deficiencies and glossing over of some of the important details of Zamperini's story, Unbroken is still a movie worth seeing. I was struck by the fact that my wife and I were the youngest by at least a decade of the partons in the theater that day.  Unbroken is a movie that the younger generation needs to see.

  Albeit incompletely, the film Unbroken still tells the story of a true American hero.   It is my hope that more of the teenage students I teach will go see the movie Unbroken.  Hopefully along the way, they will be inspired to wander back to the library to get the rest of this great story by checking out the book version of Unbroken!