by Martha Bogart
Fred McKissack died last Sunday, and the world just isn’t the same place without him. Fred was one of those men that you always hear about on the news when they die—he was so nice, so friendly, such a good heart, etc. etc., except—Fred was the genuine article. I don’t think I have ever met a better human being than Fred. He and his wife, Pat, helped us here at CSD to create the New Links to New Learning videoconferencing program from scratch. This was at a time, back in 1998, when if you asked someone to do a videoconference, the response was, “A what?” But, CSD had received a grant from Southwestern Bell and Ruth Block’s task was to get schools interested and participating in videoconferences with students. She approached Pat and explained what she wanted to do—provide students with videoconferences from children’s authors—and Pat and Fred were immediately in. They didn’t know what it was, exactly, but if it helped kids, they were going to do it.
And do it they did! Those first videoconferences were scary—Would the equipment work? Would the school personnel be able to dial in? What should the programming and content delivery look like? Would the kids like it? Would they learn anything? But from the very beginning, the author visits were magical. The camera would zoom in, and there would be Pat and Fred, smiling and talking, and answering questions from children about the books they had written, how they got their ideas, their writing process, how they went about researching for each book, which book was their favorite, and so much more. How wonderful to be speaking directly to the authors of a book they had just read right from their classrooms, no matter where they were in the world! And eventually, as we worked together to perfect the process, the students even got to do some original writing and have it critiqued by real authors.
No videoconference would have been complete without their signature sign-on—a map of Missouri with a star on the city of St. Louis. Pat would say that they were from Missour-ee, and Fred would say that they were from Missour-ah. Then they would explain that people living on the east side of the state used the French pronunciation with an “e” on the end, while people on the west side used the Native American pronunciation with an “ah” on the end. The kids got a kick out of it, and I never tired of that intro.
So many wonderful programs, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Like the one where the kids developed a service project after they read Messy Bessey, and they collected toys and clothing they no longer needed to donate to others. Or, the study of winter holidays around the world students did after reading Messy Bessey’s Holidays. Fred was the main presenter of the research process that he went through when he and Pat wrote Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, a wonderful book that takes place on a plantation during the Christmas before the start of the Civil War. Then, there was the summer reading program we did with the St. Louis County Library where every student got a signed copy of Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba. Children came to several branches of the library, and we did multipoint videoconferencing with Pat and Fred who were broadcasting from CSD.
Fred was in his element when he talked about the research process. He emphasized the use of the library and the reference librarians, and he talked about primary sources and all of his and Pat’s trips to various locations around the globe to gather first-hand stories and information that formed the basis for much of their books. He also loved to talk politics and was up on current affairs and the state of the union. I remember having long talks with him that were interesting and insightful—with lots of laughter in the mix! Fred was a real gentleman, and a truly “gentle” man.
What a role model Fred was to young African-American boys! Here was a brilliant, funny, sweet man who had traveled the world, written books, researched in libraries all over the place, and yet was so approachable and willing to talk to kids and answer their questions no matter what they were.
We will miss you, Fred. Thank you for all that you did for CSD, for the children of our region, and for embracing new technology and taking risks. God speed, my friend.
It was my pleasure to visit two outstanding classrooms recently in the Normandy School District as part of our ITEF Grant involving iPad use in the classroom. One was a fifth grade classroom and one was a combined 2nd-3rd grade gifted classroom. In both rooms, students were engaged and on task with their goal of creating book trailers using video editing apps on their iPads. Teachers had already taken them through the script writing process, and they had created storyboards of the movies they wanted to make. In each classroom, students were busy finding pictures on the Internet or on other iPad apps that illuminated their stories. They were using higher order thinking skills to decide what kinds of pictures they needed, how to download them and how to edit them, so that they would fit into the book trailers. Some students were using the camera feature on the iPad to actually take pictures. This was a highly engaging task, and students rose to it well. I had the opportunity to read some of the scripts, which were actually persuasive pieces, and they were excellent. It was very gratifying to see that the teachers that I had worked with in professional development sessions were implementing their knowledge so well in their classrooms. Congrats to these teachers and their terrific students!
Martha Bogart, Program Manager here at CSD, was honored to be selected to attend the SMART Exemplary Educator Summit in Calgary last week. Out of 130 who applied, 50 were selected. She attended an intensive 4 days of training on all the SMART products. In addition, she got a peek at some of the new things on the drawing board (she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement) and had a great time meeting and collaborating with other SEEs from all over the U.S. and Canada. New applications for SMART Table are being created frequently, so be sure to check the SMART Exchange.
Martha says the highlight of the week had to be on Thursday, when everyone thought they had been transported to the Oprah Show. Each SEE got to go home with brand new SMART Document Cameras, SMART Slates, and SMART Response systems!! This was greeted by shouts of joy, jumping up and down and weeping. It was heartwarming to see educators from all over so excited about implementing technology in their classrooms. SMART is really committed to listening to their customers, so be sure to submit feature requests on their products to http://www.smarttech.com/featurerequest. In addition, if you absolutely love a feature, and never want them to change it, let them know that too.
The 5th day of the workshop was spent on a beautiful trip to Banff, where the SEEs got to browse the shops, take in the scenery, eat lunch at the Banff Springs Hotel buffet, and take a gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. What an experience!
Did you know that SMART has an extensive social media presence? Be sure to stay connected with them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TeacherTube. We are all in this together, so please share what you are doing with SMART products to help kids learn and grow. What’s your SMART Board story? Leave your comments below.
Yesterday, high school students from two schools in St. Louis, MO, a school in Michigan, and a school in Texas had an opportunity to meet and visit with Pulitzer Prize winning author, Edward P. Jones via videoconference. His award winning novel, The Known World, looks at the lives of African American slave holders before the Civil War. His latest book, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, is a collection of short stories about African Americans living in Washington, DC throughout the 20th century. Mr. Jones, widely respected for his ability to provide readers meaningful glimpses into the lives of memorable, unique characters, focuses his stories in one location, thereby giving readers a creative view of the history and changing culture of the community.
The videoconference was broadcast from CSD, and we were able to provide students with this opportunity through our partnership with the St. Louis County Library, since he was scheduled to speak and sign books there during an evening program. Students from Ladue Horton Watkins and Lafayette High Schools in St. Louis, and St. Joseph High School in St. Joseph, Michigan, and Kopperl High in Kopperl, Texas participated. The format was just a basic Q & A with the author, and we did a roll call, going from school to school, in turn. The students were well prepared and asked terrific questions. The author said afterward that he had had a great time and enjoyed talking to the group. In fact, later that evening, while taking questions from the adult group at the library, he referenced the students’ questions that he answered during the afternoon.
Of course, the inevitable question came up from the students (whereas adults rarely ask), “How much money can you make as an author?” The answer? Not much, unless you hit it big or win the Pulitzer. Mr. Jones said he had been given the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and he added, “I now get $100,000 a year for doing nothing!” Other questions dealt with his writing process: how does he comes up with ideas, what is the most difficult part of writing, does he plan his symbolism, and do his stories contain any parts of his own life. Other questions dealt specifically with certain parts of his stories and/or novel, and it was clear that these students had read them as part of their class assignment. Interestingly, to the question about what he advises young people who are aspiring writers to do, he replied, “Read, read, read.” He also plugged school, which the teachers really appreciated. He told the students to stay in school and take the advice of their teachers and other adults in their lives because these people were viewing life from a greater vantage point. “If you stay in school, twenty years from now, when you are driving a nice car to your nice home or condo, you’ll see people on the street who dropped out, asking you for a dollar.”
The technology performed flawlessly. It was a picture perfect videoconference and the evaluations we received from the teachers indicated that it was a resounding success. We were fortunate to be able to have Mr. Jones come to CSD, and the technology enabled students who would not otherwise have been able to dialog with him do so. Another testament to the power of videoconferencing!
BTW: We taped the whole thing and got Mr. Jones’ permission to disseminate, so if you would like a copy of the videotape, contact Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org, and she will mail one to you. New Links members, supply us with a blank tape in exchange; others, $10 per tape.
Last week, the members of the ITT here at CSD, Nancy, Ruth, Stephanie, and Martha, all had the opportunity to hear Dan Pink speak about his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. He spoke in the morning at St. Charles Community College, and then again at a lunch gathering at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA). If you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, we highly recommend it. A polished speaker, having worked as a speech writer himself for Washington pols (Al Gore among them), Mr. Pink had the audience in the palm of his hand. Using jokes, anecdotes, and funny pictures, he presented a persuasive message: left-brain jobs that rely on routine are being outsourced and automated. In this new conceptual age, where there is an abundance of goods and services, it will be the people who can provide significance to the things that are sold–the designers, the big picture thinkers, the empathizers, the storytellers, who will be in demand by employers.
I couldn’t help thinking about how all this relates to NCLB. If the main focus of schools is now to teach students to take tests, how are we going to help nuture this right-brained thinking that will be so necessary to our world? Seems to me that schools are even more focused on left-brained skills than they ever were. Some schools are even eliminating art, music, drama (fine arts)!
Linda Perlstein, who was recently at CSD talking about her new book, Tested, related an incident that happened in the school where she spent a year. The school was struggling to get its low-achieving student body to pass the state test (sound familiar?). They were adopting a new textbook series. The new text actually had scripts that the teachers were supposed to read, and the staff developer touted it as “so simple, a bank teller could come in here and teach from it.” Is this differentiated learning? Comments please.
Well, I’m back from the SMART Technologies Chicago Teacher Conference where I learned all sorts of wonderful things about the SMART Board™ and how to use it to create powerful interactive lessons for students. It was a packed 2 days in Chicago where we stayed at the Chicago Athletic Association on Michigan Ave. We walked back and forth to the SMART offices, which were about 5 long blocks away with our laptops each day–not to worry! It was great exercise! The teachers that attended were all superior. These were the cream of the crop and a joy to work with and learn from. They all very generously allowed everyone to download their best practices SMART Notebook lesson files, so I have lots to share in my next SMART Board™ class.In addition, SMART gave us a preview of their new “clicker” system, Senteo™. All I can say is, WOW! If you’ve ever used these types of assessment systems, you know that there can be a bit of a learning curve. Not with Senteo™. It is so easy to use, you won’t believe it. They also gave us a sneak preview of a brand new software (beta version) that adds capabilities to the Gallery that they are going to roll out at NECC in Atlanta in late June. You will be blown away by how great it is, so watch for a new SMART Notebook version 9.7 after the end of June plus this new software that works with it. We were sworn to secrecy about it, so that’s all I can reveal.Another fabulous resource is the NAG (Notebook Activity Guide) which is a pdf that is downloadable from the SMART Tech website. Great for workshops on SMARTBoard. We will definitely be using this in our tele classes this summer and any on-site workshops we do.I can’t say enough good things about the folks at SMART Tech and how willing and eager they were to take our suggestions and ideas. They are definitely pro-education, and they know that the bread and butter of their company is the software that runs the SMART Board™. The next traveling that the VLC does is to a tech conference in Omaha, Nebraska where Nancy George will be going on April 25th. We’ll look forward to your posting about it when you return, Nancy!
This week at CSD the focus seems to be on SMARTBoard. Our tele class, Using the SMARTBoard in the Classroom, is scheduled for Tuesday April 10th and Thursday, April12th from 4-7 pm here at our Craig Rd. location. This class is full, but we will be offering more SMARTBoard training during the summer: June 7th from 9:00am-4:00pm and July 30th (9-4). To register, go to http://csd.org/tele, and for more information, contact Joan Forrest at email@example.com or 314-692-1259.
In addition to classes held here at CSD, we can also come to you. This week, we are scheduled to do SMART Ideas trainings in Hillsboro on Tues. April 10 (3:4–5:45pm) and Friday, April 13th we will be at Ladue High School in the morning for SMARTBoard training with the math department. If you have special requests for trainings, we can customize. Charges are $180/hr. for one insturctor, and an additional $140/hr. for a second instructor. For groups of 16+ we recommend 2 instructors. For more information, or to schedule workshops on-site, contact Nancy George at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-692-1251.
I am excited about my upcoming trip to Chicago to the Smart Tech offices to participate in a Teacher Conference to learn even more about SMARTBoards and how to implement them in the classroom. I’ll post more here after my return. Hopefully, I’ll learn more tips and tricks about using these interactive whiteboards to their fullest!