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While in school one day, I caught my son playing with a document camera.  I was amazed by his adventurous curiosity; he had no fear playing with the ELMO – trying to figure out what it can do and how it works.

To me, there is no better professional development in learning new technology than to simply get your hands on it and see how it works.

That’s my advice as a technology integrator – go ahead and play with it.  Figure it out.  See what it can do.

After that, we’ll see what else we can do with it and how it can transform your teaching.

img_1773After being frustrated with my students not being able to see all of my demonstrations, I decided to make a demo cam with some of my electronic junk.

The demo cam is simply an old Sony Handicam Digital 8 camcorder mounted on an inexpensive Videosecu Universal Camera Mounting Bracket.

The camera has an adapter that splits into an RCA video/mono audio cable, which I can easily plug into my classroom television.  Switching the input on the TV is a piece of cake, and using the TV doesn’t interfere with the interactive whiteboard.

Here are some of the benefits:

1.  I can project demos onto the television above, so the entire class can see every bit of the demonstration.

2.  The zoom function is quite impressive; I can easily zoom in on discreet parts of the demonstration not easily seen – even by the person doing the demo.  This is made even easier with the use of the remote control.

img_18133.  Safety.  The demo cam allows me to show demos without the need for the students to come anywhere near it; it also is far enough away from the demo so the camera is not damaged as well.

4.  Because I have to use the record function to keep the image on screen, I can easily capture video of the demonstration.  As there is a firewire output, I can easily capture the video with a connected laptop, and share it online (below see video demonstration of adding sodium to water).

Sodium in Water from Brian Bartel on Vimeo.

5.  I can also capture slow reactions over a long period of time, import them to a computer and speed up the video to a shorter time (see video of copper in silver nitrate solution).

Some of the Drawbacks:

1.  The angle is a little ackward because of the mounting limitations.  It takes a little practice not to walk in front of it, and to make sure that the demo is in the viewing area while zooming.

2.  In order to use the TV as a monitor, I have to use the record function.  This requires me to stand on a stool, and manually rewind the tape every hour (it cannot be done with my remote).

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In anticipating the release of Google Presentation, The Official Google Blog recently released a neat little video describing the power and utility of Google Documents. The video speaks for itself and is worth watching:

My biggest problem is that our district has blocked Google Docs via Websense for fear that students might use it to chat (in a quite convoluted way) and import inappropriate content from outside of their safe little fortress of an intranet. This same mentality has them blocking flickr and slideshare.

And this is also why the district blocks YouTube (I might remind you that Google owns them). But stupefying as it may seem, Google Video is open!

When I question these practices, I usually get this response: “what happens if a student imports porn this way?” To which I mentally reply “yeah, that is a LOT easier that plugging in a USB drive full of porn into any district computer.”

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For those of you following Dale Basler’s blog, you’ll remember that he recently posted about Mark Frauenfelder’s book Rule the Web (how to do anything and everything on the internet, better, faster and easier).

While I realize that some of you still open books and read them cover to cover, Mark has created a blog for his book that caters to some of us who like to get information in short, abridged segments.

Most of these episodes are actually short audio segments, and you can easily listen to them with the embedded Pickle Player. Here are a few of the latest ones:

You’ll note that these episodes are fairly new, so this is your chance to get on board with a new resource from its beginnings!

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I stumbled across NoteSake from a recent LifeHacker post. This little gem seems like a great idea – take notes and tag ’em, send/share them, and organize them. So I tried it out.

The editor takes a little getting used to, but seems like it has quite a few features. For instance, I can do superscripts and formulas, which is definitely important to me as a science teacher. I realized that it isn’t very easy to paste old notes (taken from MS Word) into the editor, but when you are done, you can easily export the notes out as a Word document or a pdf.


Perhaps the neatest functions of NoteSake lie in the ability to tag your notes and to share them with others. Imagine being in a class where all students took notes with NoteSake, and were able to collaborate their notes together in a group.

However, this is an ideal tool that is not realistic for most public high schools. Most kids do not have laptops or even computers in their classroom, and may have limited internet access. In order for this to be effective, students would have to transfer their notes (which is not that easy) into NoteSake instead of taking them on-the-fly.

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Wired Magazine’s How To Wiki Blog recently posted an article on how to Write a Perfect EMAIL. As educators are flexing their fingers for work after resting this summer, this is a perfect article to kick off the school year.

Here is the annotated list:

  • Be Brief
  • Put your message in context
  • Make your requests clear
  • Include a deadline (if appropriate)

Dale Basler and I recently presented The Basics of Online Communication to NSTA’s National Science Congress. We’d add a few more tips:

  • Use bcc (blind carbon copy) for multiple addressees
  • Trim unnecessary ‘fat’ on forwards
  • Choose function over form (i.e. avoid fancy formatting)
  • Don’t use e-mail for everything (not good for chatting, etc.)

You can see the video and powerpoint of that presentation at Zentation (below):

The Basics of Online Communication
Maintaining successful and effective communication in the digital world.

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After a few days of unbearable heat in my classroom (no air conditioning in my school), I decided to quantify my misery.

Using a Vernier LabPro and Surface Temperature Sensor, I collected temperature readings in my classroom (in Fahrenheit) over the course of 8 hours of school. Here is the resulting graph:


You’ll notice two things:

  1. My room got hot – up to 85ºF, which was actually cooler than the day before (~89 ºF). Our district touts equity, but seeing as the other high schools in our district both have air conditioning, I can assure you that the district is NOT equitable in providing a classroom environment conducive to learning.
  2. The other interesting thing is that there is a noticeable change in room temperature when the kids are physically present. Notice the two dips in temperature (marked by the arrows). They represent two hours the chemistry room is vacant. Thus, body heat can significantly raise the temperature of any classroom.

Keeping these two things in mind, I have a suggestion to maintain ‘equity’ – keep rooms cooler in non-air conditioned buildings with lower class sizes!

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