Friday, June 26, 2009

The Technology of Michael Jackson

No matter what you call him - "The King of Pop", "Wacko Jacko", or even "MJ", Michael Jackson transcended music of his day. He was groundbreaking, always pushing the boundaries of both music and music videos. While this may be a little off-topic, I felt the need to highlight some of the ways that Michael Jackson utilized technology in ways that made him iconic.
  • The first and most obvious thing that comes to mind is "Black and White" with its impressive never done before video morphing technology. It was so ahead of its time that many music video networks cut off the last four controversial minutes of the video. Not to mention the theme that typifies all that Michael Jackson represented.
  • Billie Jean and Moonwalking. While not technical in the traditional sense, the moon walking first revealed to the world in Billie Jean made seemingly walking forward while actually walking background a natural occurrence. It was also the first video by a black artist to appear on MTV shattering racial divides that existed at the time.
  • You can't talk about Michael Jackson and Technology and not talk about Thriller. The first music video that was more like a featurette, his choreography, costumes, music and the transformation of himself into a werewolf and a zombie was trendsetting.
  • In Beat It, Michael Jackson used real gang members (80 in fact!), not actors, to portray the story.
  • Scream was his attempt to speak out against the media backlash and criticism Michael had been receiving. It was not only the first video response, but a classic example of digital citizenship at work.
  • Another music video featurette, Remember the Time set in ancient Egypt, was recognized for groundbreaking visual effects and appearances.
  • Even Rock with You, an early video, used visual effects in ways that hadn't been done before.
  • The stunning images in Heal the World and We Are the World, inspired and produced by Michael Jackson, reveal his passion for tackling big challenges and helping others. He was perhaps the first to realize the power of music and video for sending a message to the world.
These are just a few examples from the huge legacy that is Michael Jackson. Today, with Web 2.0 technologies, students can create amazing audiovisual effects and send powerful messages through multimedia. Michael Jackson was one of the first to do it - with less flexible tools (and obviously more money) - and we will always remember him as a legend of music and storytelling. Michael, you will be missed.

Thanks to the Examiner for some of the facts in this post.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Colonial Values Webquest Lesson

You may remember my post from about 2 months ago on Webby Webquests. Well, I'm back to talk about the actual implementation of this Webquest. You might recall that I used my husband's 4th graders as the target audience. Today, I actually worked on this "Colonial Values and America Today" WebQuest with them. Due to time constraints, we had to narrow the project down from it's original intent so we only did the Patriot & Loyalist roles and instead of creating a video with a question to the President, they wrote it. We also eliminated the group presentations. Other than that, it pretty much followed the same format. My assessment and notes follow:

The first group of fourth graders seemed to catch on pretty easily. I explained the concept of a WebQuest, went through the introduction/background and the task. For homework the night before, they were given a list of "values" vocabulary words. I explained participatory democracy and played Obama's Open for Questions video that invites all Americans to ask questions at These students were very excited by this idea and wanted to know if they could start with that! However, we then moved into group work. I used the Native American role as an example showing them how they can click on links, and listen/watch the multimedia content. I then played both the Patriot and Loyalist videos asking those in the respective teams to pay particular attention as they will find useful information for completing the worksheets. I emphasized that there was no "one right answer" but they still had trouble with this. Some of the students made good use of the links and media to fill in the charts, but others seemed to be relying on what they had already learned. My husband also wanted them to complete journals as if they were Patriots or Loyalists writing to family "back home" but we didn't have time for that. He plans to have them continue this in class tomorrow. This group also requested feedback so I shared with them my answers explaining that they are not necessarily "correct" but rather my beliefs. They struggle with this concept and I could see them erasing answers as I started to speak to reflect what I was saying. To prevent them from changing their answers, I collected the packets while I shared my answers and then returned them. To wrap up, we came back together as a class and I asked each of them to write their questions to the President. This packet, plus their group work and participation, will be used to evaluate the Social Studies unit instead of an exam. Some liked this idea and some did not.

The 2nd group of 4th graders did not work as efficiently. I skipped the Native American demonstration in the interest of time. They had a lot more trouble filling in the charts although they paid a lot more attention to the content of the videos. In their groups, they were much more focused on playing the other videos on the site than reading the text for "answers". This caused bandwidth issues in the lab and I had to ask them to stop playing the videos and show them on the SmartBoard only. The problem this caused was less work time, so my husband is going to have them finish the charts today and then get to the diaries tomorrow. They also did not ask to review the answers and so we allowed them more time to work on their questions for the President.

Lessons Learned:
1. 4th graders need a lot more time to read, even when those sites/pages are kid-friendly.
2. Group work is only as conducive as the group participants and work environment allow. Some of the students ended up working alone and did not like the idea of sharing their answers even though this was encouraged. Also, the room layout was not ideal for group work.
3. Websites should be loaded on the computer before the students come in so they don't have to first type the URL in the browser.
4. SmartBoard usage helps as long as students aren't blocking it. In this lab, the computers were set up in such a way that some students kept leaning on the Smartboard and inadvertently changing the page.
5. Always be prepared to change on the fly.
6. Testing that all the links work and the Smartboard is displaying the content properly ahead of time is important but not enough. It's also important to think about how simultaneous usage will impact performance when the students are using the sites on limited bandwidth.