Reflections on China, Part 1

This post is likely to be the first of a couple of reflections about my recent experiences in Beijing for the Learning 2.012 conference. There is so much to absorb; the organisation and location of the conference itself, the experience of spending a week in China’s amazing capital city, but mostly the genuine privilege of being able to spend time with a remarkable group of talented educators from around the globe.

The Pearl MarketFirstly, China. This is my second trip to China, the previous being for the same conference two years ago in Shanghai. I wrote some thoughts about that trip at the time and how awestruck I was by China’s rapid growth. That certainly hasn’t changed. China is still full of surprises, and especially so in Beijing where there is such a dramatic contrast between the ancient and the modern. On my first full day there I got to go shopping for pearls with Julie Lindsay and Lucy Gray (trust me, that Julie knows how to shop!) and then later that day Lucy and I explored the Forbidden City together. The size and scale of the Forbidden City was hard to comprehend, as was the fact that the buildings were three times older than modern Australia! We entered from the south gate and wandered all the way up to the north gate. We even, allegedly, met a guy who is the nephew of the last emperor. I didn’t buy his calligraphy, and I’m not sure I buy his story, but it was still a great experience. On the way home we were driven past Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People, and although we were unable to stop and explore them on foot, just seeing the enormity of them was impressive enough.

Me on the Great Wall of ChinaThe next day, Adrian Camm joined Lucy and I for a trip to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China with our very entertaining driver Charlie. It’s easy to see why the Great Wall is one of the Wonders of the World. At over 5000 km long and over 2000 years old, the wall is breathtaking in scale and built along the craggy ridges of a rugged mountain range. The engineering required to construct this ancient wall is almost unimaginable. At Mutianyu, you can drive right up to the base of the mountain and then get whisked to the top of the Wall by a chairlift, which surprised me. Even more surprising was the fact that your return trip is by tobogganing down the winding S-curves of a steel sled track built into the mountain! I did not expect that.

The Great Wall itself was quite an experience. Words can’t adequately describe what it felt like to be standing there on top of a structure as old as the Roman Empire and having it continue along the mountain ridge as far as we could see (which admittedly with the Beijing smog was not all that far). The Wall is quite a strenuous walk and Lucy, Adrian and I wandered along it until we really couldn’t go much further,and then with lots of great photos and memories (and even a FourSquare checkin)to take back home, we backtracked to our starting point.

After a fun toboggan ride back down the mountain (please can we do it again?!) we lunched at a place in Mutianyu called The SchoolHouse where we found an open wifi access point for more FourSquare checkins, Facebook updates and even a quick Google+ Hangout with Linda.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the tombs of the Ming Dynasty, including the Sacred Way. Oh, and of course Charlie treated us to his personal rendition of Chinese opera as we drove along. As you do.

Later that evening, after being driven around all day in a French Peugeot, we sat in an Irish pub, owned by an American couple, eating Italian Pizza, before we went back to the hotel to listen to music being played by a group of Filipino musicians.

Welcome to China.

Philly to Sydney with Year 2

If you like, you can skip right to the bottom of this post and just watch the video, but I always find the story behind the story kind of interesting. So I thought you  might like to know a little bit about how and why this video was made.

It started out with a simple tweet from my buddy Kim Sivick in Philadelphia.  It started a conversation that went something like this…

Do I know anyone who might make a quick Welcome to Australia video?

I sure do.

And besides, I owe Kim a favour. When I was running blogging workshops with our staff last year I was hoping to tap into the experiences of some very blog-savvy educators by getting them to Skype in and talk to our teachers about the realities and the practicalities of using blogs in the classroom. When I asked for volunteers on Twitter (where else?) Kim Sivick  was one of those who generously responded and agreed to spend time talking with us to share her expertise.

I also got to meet Kim in person at ISTE in Philadelphia last year too, so it was nice to “close the loop” on our virtual meetups.

Kim’s idea was deceptively simple. Get our kids to make a short video about a virtual trip to Australia, and in return her classes would make a video about a virtual trip to Philly for us.

With virtually zero planning, I dropped into one of our Year 2 classrooms and asked the teacher there, Lisa, if her kids would like to make a video for these students in Philly and she jumped at the chance. In no time, Lisa and I had a bit of  a brainstorm on what sorts of things we might do, and she started working with the kids to write a script using GoogleDocs. The script gradually evolved and took shape over the next few days.

I’d been wanting to do some work with chromakeying, or greenscreening for a while, but had just never gotten around to it. It wasn’t something I’d done before, but I suggested to Lisa that if we shot the video of the kids in front of a greenscreen, then it might be fun later to try and drop in the images of various parts of Australia as backgrounds. She thought that sounded pretty cool, so I went to our IT Director and asked if I could buy an inexpensive greenscreen kit. It was one of those things we’d talked about buying for a while, but never quite got around to it. With a reason to need it now, we went online and ordered it on the spot.

When it eventually arrived we set up a date for the shoot. The classroom was transformed into a studio for the morning with lights, camera, and plenty of action. I used iPrompt Pro on my iPad to transfer the script, and then held it up just under the camera lens as a  scrolling teleprompter so the kids could read the script as naturally as possible. We shot it on a Sony HiDef camcorder at 1080i/50. It took a few takes to get things right, but the kids really worked hard to do it was well as possible. Being able to repeat a section over and over in order to get it right was a valuable part of the learning experience.  When it came time to shoot, we all had fun calling out things like “Quiet on the set!” and “Rolling!”  and “Action!”, and running things just like a real movie set. I think the kids had a lot of fun recording it.

I took the footage back to my desk and dumped it all onto my MacBook Pro to ponder out the best way to edit it.  Although I definitely do want to get the kids doing more video work themselves, getting them to edit the footage was not really the learning goal for this particular exercise… it was all about their performance for the camera. After some experiments with iMovie I eventually decided that I’d cut it together with Premiere Pro instead. Premiere Pro was certainly not a program that I knew well, but this seemed like a great chance to get cosy with it. I’m glad I did… it’s a very impressive NLVE tool and I like it a lot more than Final Cut Pro 7.

I always try to make sure we set a good example for students regarding copyright, so it was important that all the background images were available under a Creative Commons licence. I think it’s really important that we demonstrate to our students that you can actually make worthwhile digital media without continually breaking copyright law. All the background images are CC licensed, as are the two pieces of music that I included, both from jamendo.com. The two videos were not released under CC, but using their YouTube contact address I wrote to the owners of both and both were more than happy for us to use their clip. One even offered to send us the hi-def footage! Most people are pretty generous if you just ask. Remember, Copyright doesn’t mean “you can’t use it”, it just means “you can’t use it without permission”, so if it’s not CC, then do the right thing and get permission! It’s just not that hard. (Publishing works under a Creative Commons license makes it much easier of course because it’s essentially an “up-front” permission which is pre-granted as long as you stick to the uses stipulated by the copyright owner)

After a couple of days of editing over the weekend, I did the final render to a 720p .m4v file and uploaded it to YouTube as a private link so the Philly kids (and our kids) could see it the next day.  Here’s the finished product…

It always nice to ceremonialise things that are a bit special, so we set a date for a premiere screening and invited all the Year 2 mums and dads in to watch. When the Year 1 Philadelphia kids watched it, they all wore Aussie bush hats and set up their classroom like the inside of a plane to watch the video.  We had our screening this morning and the movie played to a packed classroom of excited Year 2 students and their parents. Proud parents. Excited kids. Performing for a real audience. Making opportunities to create and practice and iterate. Immediate feedback. And lots of fun and laughs. An authentic learning experience?  You better believe it..

Kim tells me that her kids are working on the sequel for us, showing us their virtual trip to Philadelphia, so we are looking forward to that.

Lisa, our Year 2 teacher, now keeps asking me when we can do our next global project, and is coming up with lots of cool ideas for how it will fit into next terms syllabus.

Overall, I think I’d consider this whole thing a win, wouldn’t you. 🙂

ISTE in less than 140 Characters*

Pennsylvania Convention Centre
It’s been a big few weeks. I’m currently writing this while flying in an Air Canada Boeing 777, seat 40J, somewhere just south of the equator and slightly west of the International Date Line, chasing the sun around the globe on my way back to Sydney.

I’ve been in Canada for much of the last few weeks, visiting our Canadian family and friends, something I wish I could do more often. But for three days I managed to slip away down to Philadelphia PA for my first ISTE conference. If you know me, or read this blog at all, you may know that I tend to get around to a few conferences in various places, but the ISTE Conference (and prior to that, a NECC) has eluded me so far. For whatever reasons, I haven’t been able to get to this event so when the opportunity came up this year I jumped at it. And I’m glad I was able to… it is an amazing event.

In thinking about ISTE 2011 to decide what to blog about it, there are a few notable things to mention, but for me, one really stands out as the highlight.

First, there was the sheer size of it. With (I’m told) 20,000 delegates this year, the scale of ISTE is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Pennsylvania Convention Centre was simply enormous and easily housed the hundreds of exhibitors, vendors, workshops, presentations, displays, poster sessions, and of course, the thousands and thousands of attendees. I don’t know exactly how big the PACC actually is, but it’s huge.
Ed Tech Karaoke with David Wees
Secondly, the number of presentations taking place at any one time was mind boggling. There was so much choice, so many options, it was hard to know where to be. I only attended a few actual presentations, but the quality of the presenters and the information was very good. Whether your interest was in learning about the various edtech tools, in hearing about new pedagogical approaches, or finding out about new ideas for what works in today’s classrooms, there was something for everyone. Some sessions were huge, like the keynotes with 6000+ people, to presentations with a few hundred, to classroom-sized workshops, to poster session conversations; the choice available through the organized sessions was astounding.

There were also the fun events too. The Google Party held at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, held among the dinosaur bones and the fluttering butterflies, was great fun, and being invited to the invitation only Google Certified Teacher cocktail party beforehand was pretty special. The Edtech Karaoke Party the next night (#etk11), where we all had a few drinks and got up and sang, was one of those events I’m sure I’ll remember for a very long time.
Leigh Zeitz and I
But the thing that really made the ISTE event most valuable for me was the opportunity to meet and mix in person with the people in my PLN. It was, as someone observed, like having your RSS reader come to life. I was constantly bumping into people I knew, whose blogs I read, who appear daily in my Twitter stream, whose YouTube videos I’ve watched. Some I’d met before, but most I had only ever known online.

As you’ve probably experienced yourself, the best parts of most conferences are the serendipitous conversations, bumping into people in the corridor, having a chance to chat face to face. For me, ISTE was all about the people I met.

After the conference was over, I jotted down a list of all the people I’d had a conversation with over the previous three days, and the size of the list surprised me. In no particular order (other than that dictated by my slowly deteriorating memory!) here is a list of all the characters I met, chatted with, or had a meaningful conversation with over the three days I was at ISTE…

The (less than) 140 Characters

Me, Mike Gras and Paul R Wood
Paul R Wood @prwood
Mike Gras @mikegras
David Warlick @dwarlick
David Jakes @djakes
Sharon Peters @speters
Amanda Marrinan @marragem
Roger Pryor @pryorcommitment
Wes Fryer @wfryer
Jason Arruza @jarruza
Vinnie Vrotny @vvrotny
Martin Levins @levins
Angela Maiers @angelamaiers
Kevin Honeycutt @kevinhoneycutt
Carl Anderson @anderscj
Holly Hammonds @libraryquest
Angela MaiersLinda Swanner @lswanner1
Melanie Burford @mwburford
Lisa Neilsen @InnovativeEdu
Dvora Geller @teachdig
Mark Wagner @markwagner
Nancye Blair @engagingEDU
Lisa Thumann @lthumann
Wendy Gorton @wendygorton
Cathy Brophy @brophycat
Paula White @paulawhite
Erin Barrett @erinbarrett
Charlene Chausis @cchausis
Cheri Toledo @cheritoledo
Karen Fasimpaur @kfasimpaur
David Wees @davidwees
Wes and ILeigh Zeitz @zeitz
Brian C Smith @briancsmith
Roland Gesthuizen @rgesthuizen
Marg Lloyd @?
Tony Brandenberg @tbrandenburg
JamieLynn Griffith @jgriffith2
Steve Hargadon@stevehargadon
Beth Still @BethStill
Christopher Craft @crafty184
Maria Knee @mariaknee
Molly Schroeder @followmolly
Dean Shareski @shareski
Julie Lindsay @julielindsay
Lisa Parisi @lisaparisi
Diana Laufenberg @dlaufenberg
Brian Crosby, Lisa Parisi, Sharon Peters and IEllen Sheerin @esheerin
Chris Walsh @chriswalsh
Adrian Camm @adrian_camm
Tom Petra @RealWorldMath
Pete Moran @pjmctm2010
Brian Crosby @bcrosby
Maurice Cummins @mauricecummins
Jennifer Garcia @mrsjgarcia
Ginger Lewman @GingerTPLC
Alice Barr @alicebarr
Susan van Gelder @susanvg
Dean Muntz @?
Diane Main @dowbiggin
Benjamin Grey @bengrey
Kim Sivick and IKim Sivick @ksivick
Becky Crawford @Becstr9
Scott McLeod @mcleod
Bethany Smith @bethanyvsmith
Sam Gliksman @SamGliksman
Rob Griffith @rgriffithjr
Gail Lovely @glovely
Henry Theile @htheile
Chris Lehmann @chrislehmann
Bud Hunt @budtheteacher
Gary Stager @stager
Jim Marshall (Promethean)
Frank Augustino (Luidia)
Jason Orbaugh (Smart Tech)
Maria Knee and IJohann Zimmern (Adobe)
Adam Frey (Wikispaces)
Anita L’Enfant @anita_lenfant
Paul Fuller @paulfuller75
Linda Dickerson @?
Kyle Pace @kylepace
Michelle Baldwin @michellek107
Steve Dembo @teach42
Robin Ellis @robinellis
Dorothy Burt @dorothyjburt
George Couros @gcouros
Liz B Davis @lizbdavis
Kelly Dumont @kdumont
Kristina Peters @mrskmpeters
Alfred Thompson @alfredtwo
Bernie Dodge @berniedodge
Pamela Livingstone @plivings
Jason and Dawn (from Wisconsin, not sure of last names, met them on the train back to PHL airport)

That’s nearly 100 people and nearly 100 great conversations. (*I was aiming for 140… there were actually about 120 people on my original list but thanks to the lack of an undelete feature in Pages on the iPad, I lost a bunch names that I now just can’t recall! Grr! My apologies if I left you off the list!)

I think it just goes to show that the real power of an event like ISTE is in the people you meet and the conversations you have. That’s where the real connections are made and strengthened. Between the catch-ups with people I already knew quite well – like some of this year’s significant Aussie contingent – through to the folk I have previously met in the past, to the many who I have only ever known through our online connections, meeting in person and having the chance to connect and share and talk was what made ISTE truly priceless for me.

Thanks for being part of my network! See you in San Diego next year?

PS: If I have missed your name, or was unable to include your Twitter contact, please let me know so I can include it.

*PPS: Apologies (or thanks) to @lasic for the idea of the name for this post