Category Archives: Technology

On the Dalai Lama, Shane Koyczan, and Back Channels

The Dalai Lama waved at us!

The Dalai Lama, sitting with his interpreter.

The Dalai Lama, sitting with his interpreter.

And then he bowed to welcome us!

The Dalai Lama acknowledging the participants.

The Dalai Lama acknowledging the participants.

Well, you may have figured out that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not in our classroom–though somehow his gentle smile and warm laugh made him feel very near. He was in Vancouver to meet with students and educators at the Youth Heart-Mind Summit. The theme was Be the Village. Through the wonders of technology, we joined classes from many locations to watch and listen to a conversation he had with high school students. The topic was about cultivating kindness, empathy, and compassion in all people.  I have to say, I was very impressed with the poise of the grade 12 MCs and panelists. How very thrilling that day must have been. 

Can you imagine being on that stage?

As well, Shane Koyczan, a fabulous spoken word artist (I think “poet” works for me) performed. More about that in another post.  And more about Heart-Mind learning later.

Back Channel

Using Netbooks and Backchannel Chat during the presentation

Using Netbooks and Backchannel Chat during the presentation

We tried something new while watching. We had our first Backchannel Chat, an online private virtual conversation room which each student accessed via our Netbook laptops. The chat gave us an opportunity to discuss our thoughts, observations, and questions among ourselves. I purchased a year-long access to the features of Backchannel Chat for about $16.00 to give me access to all the features of the program. 

I learned a lot from this experience. So did the students, as you’ll see. Not everything was positive, but it was not a complete failure either. If other teachers have tried or are considering using a back channel, I’d appreciate your feedback.

Here are a few screenshots of the archived chat (click thumbnails to enlarge). I sprayed out the names as I promised the students this analysis was not about embarrassing anyone, it was about finding solutions.

We broke into groups of four and wrote Plus – Minus – Solutions posters. Students talked about and recorded their thoughts, then shared with classmates.



I’ve summarized their feedback:


  • It’s a great way to show what you’re thinking and see what others are thinking.
  • You can see what others think of your ideas–they can respond to you.
  • You can respond to the entire class more easily.
  • It stays quiet while a presentation is on.
  • Someone is able to moderate the chat.
  • As the chat went on, people were more serious and on topic.
  • We become more tech savvy.


  • Because the sound quality of the webcast was poor and because we are not used to the Dalai Lama’s accent, we couldn’t hear very well and comment meaningfully.
  • Some people didn’t know what they could write about.
  • Some students got off topic fast and began talking about battery life, naming favourite actors, injecting hashtags, and making other random, pointless comments.
  • A conversation about the Dalai Lama’s nationality, appearance, and ethnicity lead to misunderstanding and maybe some hurt feelings. (We processed this after the fact.)
  • Some students used texting language.
  • Too many one word comments reduced the usefulness of the chat and made information flow too quickly.
  • Some students logged in and out to change their name and their avatar, wasting time.


  • Create criteria for comments that everyone follows.  (Yes, that came from the students!)
  • Think before you type!
  • Run two different chats so people can read and respond to the comments. This would slow the chat down.
  • We need to work on writing complete, thoughtful, on-topic sentences.
  • Have more than one person monitoring the chat.
  • People who are disrespectful or off topic would be warned and then would be kicked out of the chat.

Final Thoughts
I learned so much from the experience of this back channel about my student’s strengths and needs. I had no illusions that it would be a flawless event, but I sense that taking a risk with this technology will be rewarding for us.

The next time we use Backchannel Chat as a learning tool, we will share our results here.

Do you have suggestions? Are there other tools that can help encourage dialogue about big ideas? Does communicating in virtual space improve or inhibit dialogue when we are  face to face? Please share your thoughts in a comment.



Playing with Glocal

We had a bit of artistic play time this week, with some creative results. We used photo manipulation software that we were given many years ago by an organization called Arts Umbrella as part of the Glocal Project. Using the built-in webcam on our Netbooks, we captured images, layered and manipulated them and–Voila! What do you think? What do you notice about these images? Please check out the student blogs for other examples of Huzzahnian creativity.


King and Ace by Evan


Seeing Red by Ethan

Seeing Red by Ethan

Many-Me  by Tengis

Many-Me by Tengis

Hearts by Mia

Heart of Hearts by Mia

Blogging friends, have you ever used photo manipulation software or apps before? Do you like photography? Perhaps you have some tips for us. We look forward to reading your comments.


Our Robot Dance-Off

Robots are pretty fascinating. And, as we have discovered over the last few weeks, a great challenge and a lot of fun. Here is a video of our efforts.

We are really grateful to our guest judges, Mrs. Mooney, Ms. Janine, Mrs. Crawford, and Mrs. Timmins. Thank you for taking the time to give us feedback!

Huzzahnians, please comment below and tell us two things: 1. what was your great aha! and 2. what was your personal victory in this competition?

Huzzahnian Robot Dance-Off from Jan Smith on Vimeo.

Christmas Dance Off

Woohoo! Can it be we are ready to share our dances with Mrs. Braidwood’s class? Well, some of us are, and more are on the way. Our finished Pivot stick figure dance animations are beginning to roll in. Find Mrs. Braidwood’s friendly challenge here. She also shared with us a great site for finding Creative Commons  music.

We were plagued by technical difficulties and slooooooow performance in Windows Movie Maker, but we persevered. We hope to have more videos posted on student blogs soon.

We developed criteria together to help us be successful in creating our animations:

  • Use a Creative C0mmons Christmas image, and give credit
  • Design realistic movements, not jerky or impossible movements
  • Include creative moves and transitions
  • Animation should fit with the background, and make use of it
  • Visibilty of dancer (if the background is dark make dancer light)
  • Pivot is dancing, not just moving
  • Music is Creative Commons, and give credit

Tyler, who happened to be the first done, was the great trouble-shooter and technical support guy to the whole class. Here’s his creation:

Christmas Pivot by Tyler from Jan Smith on Vimeo.

Creating, Critiquing, Curating, Collaborating

We have been truly privileged to this week to be working with Josh Hite of Arts Umbrella from Granville Island in Vancouver. And fortunate, too, to have the assistance of Franzeska, who is visiting the Valley from Germany. By some lucky fluke, our school was chosen for an outreach opportunity.  Josh and I met ahead of time to do some planning around creative use of some free, open-source software created through the The Glocal Project.

Josh lead us through a process of thinking about image making through a new lens–both literally and figuratively. We talked about abstraction and representation, appropriation and remix, and how to represent an idea through metaphor. Students created images around two themes: electricity and justice. One aspect of the process that was particularly illuminating was providing critiques of images; this extend much of the work we had been doing on how to provide quality feedback.

In the two weeks we created almost 1000 images. Josh printed of many of them and we then collaborated to create (and curate) a gallery of images which we installed at our neighboring high school. Some grade 11 and 12 students took part in providing feedback, again adding to the richness of the experience.

It was a phenomenal learning experience for all of us. The students and I learned a tremendous amount about creativity and design through the process, and most of all we came away feeling fortunate to have met and worked with Josh and Fanzeska.

The images below offer a taste of the eye-catching images we created. Check the student blogs for their reflections.

So You Think You Can Dance?

Break Dance, that is!

We are taking part in a friendly Christmas challenge with Mr. Kirkpatrick in the UK. His students have been playing with Pivot stick figure animation, and so has Huzzah. We used Creative Commons images and music–and a bit of creativity–and voila! Christmas cheer on the dance floor! So this is a friendly exploration of creativity–not a competition like “So You Think You Can Dance”!
Below are two videos, both by Sam. One was posted to YouTube, the other to Vimeo. Can you notice a difference in quality?  Students have started to embed the videos on their blogs. Take a look at Sophie, Nicholas, Blake, Micheal G., Chelsea, Haley, Kris, Daniel C. and Max, who got their videos embedded today. The rest of the class will be loading the rest of the videos onto their blogs over the next few days.

Break Dancing Pivot from Jan Smith on Vimeo.

Our Name in Pictures

Many I have a word with you?

Pastry Cutter H u Pastry Cutter Z Z A Alphabet Block h

There are many clever tools created by designers that use images.  The tool that made our name in pictures is called Spell With Flickr. It was developed by a 28-year-old programmer from Springfield, New Jersey named Erik Kastner. We will link to his site soon. He created a program that chooses letters from a pool (collection) of pictures on Flickr. We will learn more about the site which allows users to load and share pictures. The pictures are published under Creative Commons licenses. This will be important to you when you start using and sharing images.

H Pastry Cutter U Münster coloured card disc letter z a-spo H

In the mean time, what do you think of these? Which one do your prefer–and why?

I would have included the exclamation mark, but there wasn’t room on our page