The Idea Hive 2013/14 Begins

Today the tag line that follows my blog title “Teaching with technology in a Gr. 7/8 classroom means sometimes you fly by the seat of your pants.” was relived-in a positive light. The Idea Hive, heading into another year, was set for our first Skype call at 10:55 EST.  While my teaching partner, Clarence Fisher, in Snow Lake, Manitoba, has very patiently tolerated the many snow days, and therefore class cancellations, we’ve put him and his students through over the past few years, I’m sure he (well, no one actually) expected today’s potential cancellation due to fog and bus delays, that almost offset our first classroom connection.

Actually, it was perfect! It gave me time to train two of my students, Jake and Riley, to run and broadcast the event live from our internet radio station, 105theHive, which I’d thought of while setting up this morning (there’s that “flying by the seat of your pants” mantra). They were awesome!

And by the time the students arrived and were directed into the largest classroom that could hold all 80 +, we were right on time.

With a grade 8 student body this large, none of this happens without the support of my fellow gr. 8 teachers. Mlle. Riley, the French teacher, offered her large classroom as the Skype site. Mr. Westra, my Language teaching partner, is supportive of jumping our language program into whatever unfolds during this adventure. And Ms. Martin, the math teacher, was willing to give up teaching time, in an unusually chaotic day, so all students could participate. As we re-introduce the Wingham end of the Idea Hive with gr. 8’s on a rotary schedule, we are not only bigger in student number, but in supportive teaching staff as well. I’m excited for this new transition.

Jump over to the Idea Hive to view more pics and listen to the broadcast recorded live today.

New Connections in the Idea Hive 2013/14

Strengthening Compassion via Half Brother & Project Nim

This year the Idea Hive read aloud featured the book, Half Brother by Canadian author Kenneth Oppel. The Idea Hive is two grade  7/8 classrooms located 2 700 km. apart in Wingham, Ontario and Snow Lake, Manitoba.  The story which was included in this year’s Red Maple selection (and the resulting winner) centres around 13 yr. old Ben and his relationship with a baby chimp Zan. Ben’s scientist parents are trying to prove that chimps can communicate with humans by teaching them sign language. Oppel’s synopsis:

“Ben Tomlin was an only child for thirteen years. Then his parents brought home a baby chimp. It isn’t long before Ben is Zan’s favourite, and Ben starts to see Zan as more than just an experiment. His father disagrees. Soon Ben is forced to make a critical choice between what he is told to believe and what he knows to be true — between obeying his father or protecting his brother from an unimaginable fate.”

Similar to our read aloud last year, my teaching partner Clarence Fisher or I read the novel to the students via Skype or on our radio station, 105theHive. One of us interacted with the students in the chat room while they listened. At the end of each reading, students posted their comments and reflections on an online sticky note. You can find links to all the chats and reflections on the Idea Hive site. Throughout the readings, students were asked a variety of thought-provoking questions including whether or not they agreed with the researcher’s distant approach to Zan, or life lessons that emerged as the characters developed. Some questions dealt with the humourous sections of the story as Ben attempted to win a girlfriend and so they provided relationship advice for Ben.

Once we were finished the book, Clarence and I planned to have our students watch the documentary Project Nim which mirrors the storyline in Half Brother. Before doing so, I posted the following on the Idea Hive website:

Summary from NPR article:

“In 1973, an infant chimpanzee was taken from his mother’s arms and sent to live with a human family as part of a Columbia University psychology experiment. The goal of the project was to see if the animal, named Nim Chimpsky, could be conditioned to communicate with humans if he was raised like a human child in a human household. He learned some very basic words in American Sign Language, but Nim continued to act like a chimp — he bit the children in the house and didn’t understand how to behave like a human child. It was decided that the family could no longer care for Nim, and he was shuffled from caretaker to caretaker for several years.”

Sound familiar?

We will be watching this recently released documentary, Project Nim, over two class periods. Afterwards you’ll be asked to write a blog post addressing the following issues:

What similarities and differences do you notice between Half Brother and Project Nim (characters, story line, setting etc.) ? What surprised you most in the documentary? What were you most disturbed about? What were you happiest about? What did you learn from the documentary that you hadn’t thought of before?

Students noticed a number of similarities, particularly the traits between the two key researchers. They were shocked at the differences portrayed between the chimps’ behaviour. In the novel, Zan was portrayed as a cute and intelligent chimp with a tendency for mischief and the odd bite. In the documentary, the dangerous, aggressive nature of mature chimps was much more evident. Students were disturbed by the scene showing chimpanzees being strapped onto a table for injections. Chimps who were raised as humans were stripped of their comforting toys and surroundings once the research trials had been disbanded. Frank and honest comments were posted on some of their blogs. “They made a huge commitment to Nim, treating him like a human,  and then they left. That’s animal cruelty.”

“We learned about how much of a traumatic change it was for Nim to go from living with humans to living with other chimps.  He wasn’t comfortable with them, and he suffered a lot.” Alyssa

After students had commented on each others’ blogs, they had questions surrounding the ethics of animal testing, so we asked a local veterinarian, Dr. Suzanne Baird, to address these. Dr. Baird visited our Wingham classroom and both classes listened to her either live or via 105thehive and a chat room. Dr. Baird provided a very balanced approach to the topic. Students learned not only about regulations regarding animal testing as well as the advances in human health that have come as a result. You can listen to the entire broadcast: Interview with Veterinarian, Dr. Suzanne Baird. Following her visit, students raised money by selling freezies at their annual ball tournament. This money was donated to Dr. Baird with the students’ request that it be used for the treatment of an animal where finances were limited.

Half Brother paired with Project Nim not only engaged our students, this project forced them to address some powerful, challenging questions regarding issues of animal testing. It strengthened their compassion for others.

#105theHive: Live Student Broadcasting Begins

(Give the files some time to load)

Turnberry 1st Broadcast Feb. 28    Turnberry 2nd Broadcast Feb. 29

Turnberry 3rd Broadcast Mar. 2

This week in the Turnberry Gr. 7/8 classroom, 32 students began their journey into a new learning space, an internet student radio station, 105thehive. In my previous post, I described the purpose of using this new media layer in the classroom, a space brought about by a handful of educators working together. Create a different online space for students to share, develop and support each other’s passions and learning in a safe and supervised place. Our latest idea emerged from the #ds106radio community and focuses on creating a similar internet radio learning space for our students to create live broadcasts and programming.

Prior to their first broad, students had completed a music project which would be the basis of their show. Several volunteered to be the first, along with two radio hosts, Kori and Ethan, who wrote their own programming script. Two student, Brad and Dylan, needed only a few lessons using the software, Nicecast, before feeling confident enough to organize the playlists and transition between itunes and voice during broadcasts.

Using Twitter to communicate the schedule, many supportive people tweeted in during the live broadcast. With the Twitter stream the #105thehive hash tag posted in full view on the smartboard, students began to experience “community”. There were familiar faces they knew dropping by (their Idea Hive teacher, Clarence Fisher, Andy McKiel) and others I’d told them about (Andy Forgrave, Alan Levine, Grant Potter, Jim Groom). Teachers and their students cheered them on from across North America via twitter. Other classes in the school were tuned in. When I took a moment to step out of the classroom, the school halls were literally buzzing with Metallica. Thanks to the ds106radio folks who cross-cast the show on their stream, students had truly gone global. Alan Levine blogged about the event.

Our web host, CentovaCast, allows the user to view current listeners, providing the number and map.

By the second broadcast, students demonstrated confidence in their voice. New hosts, new presenters, and they were realizing the power of twitter. Several who had accounts asked if they could join in the conversation, and so a very quick lesson on hashtags and protocol took place. Our principal, Suzanne Irwin, asked one of the students to teach her how to tweet in. How cool is that?

By end of the week, the students were onto their third broadcast, expanded now to include additions they wanted: a Leaf’s rant, school sports and jokes. They owned the process. And just as we hoped, another class took the stream. After our show, Bryan Jackson, a seasoned ds106radio performer, streamed in his B.C. high school guitar students from GleneagleMusic as they performed their projects. Bryan even created this video intro the previous day so our students could see his students in their classroom space. I love this idea. While the live broadcast was scheduled over our lunch break, several students stayed in to listen and tweet encouragement to students 3 time zones away. The community was growing. Parents and grandparents!! were listening in. One grandparent, listening in from Hawaii, even commented on Alan’s blog.

After the first live broadcasts (and their exuberance had somewhat settled), I asked the students to briefly write their thoughts on the experience. After the third broadcast, I had them add next steps. After all, they were now experienced radio broadcasters, programmers and writers.

Their thoughts… Besides being a ton of fun…

Things we loved:

– monitoring the map to see where the listeners are tuning in from
– amazed how everyone stayed quiet when we were broadcasting
– I was really nervous to go up and talk, but it’s not that bad. No eyes on you, only       ears.
– the hosts wrote good questions for the presenters, which made them feel more   relaxed
– loved listening to the different types of music. It was interesting how diverse we are    (rock, classic rock, techo, pop, classical).
– everyone was organized
– now my parents can hear how smart we are
– we made history today
– reading the twitter stream thoughout the broadcast made me feel a little less nervous


– a lot of people were tweeting in, and it was hard for Mrs. D. to keep up and reply
– there’s a 30 s or so delay between the live person speaking and the broadcast

What we improved on:

– spoke with more personality and enthusiasm
– we got better with our timing
– added more segments to keep everyone hooked
– students writing and supporting each other through twitter (and helping me keep up!)
– on the 3rd day, we turned our classroom into the sound booth, and those listening    sat in an another room

Next Steps

– always do a sound check using the built-in server before each broadcast
– rehearse our lines more so we don’t stumble
– speak up when talking into the Snowball (the microphone)
– bring in more guests (teacher, principal, community members)
– create a wider variety of segments (there’s a 105thehive group in the Idea Hive    where students will be posting their ideas)
– convince other teachers from around the world to let their students broadcast here

While I knew the students would take to this new learning space, I hadn’t predicted their level of excitement, engagement and sidebar learning. This was demonstrated by a Friday night tweet from one of my gr. 7 boys:

@105theHive Unfortunately it’s the weekend so no more music projects… But I can’t wait for Monday!!!

or the tweet from another student home sick during the week: “Hey Mrs. D, this is Isaac. Can you broadcast the Idea Hive reading over 105thehive? Brad and I are going to tune in.”

The engagement and learning my students have demonstrated this week is evident. By giving them a place to practice their knowledge on a new oral platform, students become the programmers, experimenting with their peers and interacting with others while developing a new global community. Their enthusiasm is contagious. There’s room for more participants, whether that’s as a listener or student broadcaster. Andy and Clarence’s students will be broadcasting very soon. Consider having your students join in. We’ll help you get set up. Follow 105thehive on twitter for programming details.

Today while channel surfing, I came across, and watched a Marshall McLuhan biography. I think Mr. McLuhan would have approved of 105thehive.


#105theHive Student Radio: A New Learning Space

My Idea Hive teaching partner, Clarence Fisher, and I had an idea.  Our classroom stretches 2 700 km from Wingham, Ontario to Snow Lake, Manitoba. We use a number of online learning spaces (WordPress, TodaysMeet, Google Apps to name a few) where our students connect and create together. Online spaces support the growth and development of global student communities. Depending on how they are used, they provide opportunities for students to share, develop and support each other’s passions and learning in a safe and supervised place. Our latest idea emerged from the #ds106radio community and focuses on creating a similar internet radio learning space for our students to create live broadcasts and programming. Trouble is, we both knew little about how to use it, let alone set it up. But we knew others who did!  With that in mind, my goal over Christmas break was to learn how to broadcast a radio show from my laptop.  With the help of Andy Forgrave, my sons, and a host of other #ds106radio friends, it happened something like this…

Pre-Show Prep: Nicecast Setup
Nicecast provides a way for users to “broadcast music from your Mac. Broadcast to listeners around the world. Nicecast can help you create your own internet radio station or allow you to listen to your iTunes Music Library from anywhere in the world!”

Ten minutes to show time. Fiddles are tuned, music is organized, and Andy is there via Twitter to walk us to the stage.

Living in the country means we deal with bandwidth issues, which meant streaming without losing the connection became an issue. And so when the music cut out numerous times, Bryan Jackson jumped in to help.

 “Although we’ve played in front of audiences many times, there was something unique about this experience; we’re performing for people we couldn’t see.  We were nervous at the start, but after awhile, we just played like the computer wasn’t even there.” Ethan Durnin

     cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by hdurnin

By relying on the support of friends and the generous #ds106radio community, I took, what for me was, an enormous and uncomfortable leap into an online space I knew little about.  What motivated me was knowing my students would also love to someday have the same opportunity in a space they previously didn’t know existed.

After taking the first steps, we were directed to Grant Potter by Alan Levine and Jim Groom (all ds106radio gurus). Grant laid out various options for developing a student radio station. Most importantly, he showed us it is possible and very affordable. Andy, also an intermediate teacher, and I worked together to move the project forward. We decided on the $20/month package on MyAutoDJ. Chatting via Skype, we had the station up and running by the end of the first day. And so began the life of 105thehive student internet radio. Andy took things a step further by setting up a Twitter account  and the beginnings of the web page. We had lots of fun sorting out the details of playlists, station identifications, and streaming URLs, and we were so exited when 105thehive was online!

Last week, my students worked on a music project identifying the elements of music on a piece of their choice. I’ve used a similar assignment in previous years, but there was a noticeable difference in engagement this year. My students know they will be sharing their projects on the radio. On Friday they created radio bumpers together using Myna, part of their Aviary package in Google Apps. The student teacher working in my classroom couldn’t believe it. Twice that day when the bell rang, no one moved – every student kept on working.  They’re excited and together, we’ve come up with many more meaningful ways to connect and share their passions with others in this space.

Live internet radio supports the strengths of our oral learners. It provides a new type of online learning space with an authentic audience where our students can collaborate and connect in various roles. But we don’t intend this to be a space just for Idea Hive students. Next steps involves bringing other classrooms into this community. There’s space for many. In fact, Andy’s students will be broadcasting in the very near future. The ideas are limitless: interviews, radio plays, commentaries, Rich Mercer style rants, public service announcements…  As 105theHive evolves, we’ll be sorting out the protocols such that other interested groups can join in and contribute. In the meantime, we’re just excited to get our experiment up and running, and look forward to hearing our students’ voices grow as they explore this new medium. And the students are excited too. Friday night, one of my students posted this comment on our class wiki: “I’m so exited to get started with this radio station. I hope everything goes well at 105 the hive. I’m also quite excited to hear our final bumper.”

Tune in Tuesday, February 28, 12:00 noon to #105thehive for the first student broadcast. To tune in to 105thehive, point your browser at, and click on the “Listen to the Stream” link. If you want to go fancy and use a streaming client like FStream or Tunein Radio on an iDevice (or Tunein Radio for Android), simply use the URL to listen in.

A Long Journey is Finally Complete

Last year the Idea Hive students spent a considerable amount of time studying Markus Zusak’s award winning novel, The Book Thief. As a follow-up activity to our read aloud, the students wrote their own novel, A Field Guide to Molching, based on the story’s fictional town. After Markus read the online version of their novel, he agreed to Skype simultaneously from Australia with my students in Wingham, Ontario and Clarence’s students in Snow Lake, Manitoba. Unfortunately, the Skype connection from Manitoba was a fail. While the experience was wonderful for those of us in Ontario, we felt saddened for the opportunity missed by the rest of the Idea Hive classroom.

The students from Ontario and Manitoba signed and sent copies of their book to Markus, who shared his plans to give a copy to his father as a Father’s Day gift.  He also told our students they were to expect something in the mail from him.

Several weeks into our summer break, two autographed promotional posters of The Book Thief arrived from Australia – one for each of the Idea Hive classrooms. Markus, who had been saving these special double-sided posters, knew our students would appreciate what they meant to him.

After Clarence and I decided to laminate the posters, I took them to Carman’s Foto Source, located in the centre of my closest town, Goderich.

The next day, an F3 tornado moved through the main part of town, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.  Our community was shocked as news of the devastation unfolded, and it wasn’t until the following day that I realized the posters were likely lost as well.  While this was nothing compared to what others in the community had suffered, I couldn’t believe that once again, the events for our students had taken another disappointing turn.

Unexpectedly, I received a phone call 3 weeks later – “We have your posters”.  The town engineers and police had allowed owners of the many damaged buildings 15 minutes to gather what items they safely could. Instead of taking expensive equipment, the employees of Carman’s saved their customer’s belongings – including the posters.

Since the store in Goderich was (and still is) closed, the posters were laminated and returned to the head office in another town.  Imagining the chaos involved with a sudden merger of the damaged goods, it’s not surprising that the posters again went missing.  I wondered if our students would ever see them.  However, three weeks ago, once again, the posters turned up, and so the next day, after driving to Stratford and collecting them, I breathed a sigh of relief – and sent Clarence a tweet. “I have the posters!!”

After shipping Clarence’s poster off to Snow Lake (registered of course!), Clarence and I agreed to wait until he received it and we could present the posters together to our students. Today was the day.

We started the Skype call by sharing the journey that we all took last year with this year’s new gr. 7’s, and then shared a picture I’d taken of the posters before being dropped of  in Goderich. In order for the students from Snow Lake to visualize the impact of the tornado, we played the first half of this video showing the town before and after.  It was a sobering reminder for all of us so close to the community.

When we finally finished the story and produced the recovered posters, there were smiles of relief and clapping from everyone as the students realized the posters were safe.

While Clarence can tell the news to his former gr. 8 students, who are still attending school in the same building, I’ll be sending an email with a link to this post to my former gr. 8 students.  I can already imagine the smiles on their faces.

The Idea Hive students are thrilled and appreciative of Markus’ gift. After travelling over 15,000 km and surviving an F3 tornado, we are thankful the posters’ long journey is finally complete.

Achievements in the Idea Hive

It’s year two in the Idea Hive, and the learning continues for our students. The seasoned gr. 8 students (our 7’s from last year) seemed to pick right up from where we left off in June. As my teaching partner, Clarence Fisher, wrote in a previous post, these students have got “Skillz”. Similar to last year, we continued to foster the connections between our students through an Interest Survey and Flickr photo contest.

As we move towards a shared read aloud of the novel Half Brother, by Canadian author, Kenneth Oppel, our students have begun researching topics covered in the novel in order to better relate to the context: animal research, sign language, chimpanzees, and life in the 70’s, to name a few. Working in groups, two from Wingham, two from Snow Lake, they’re moving onto creating a shared Google Presentation, complete with the updated chat feature, which they’ll present to both classes via Skype.

While our students have become quite skilled at working together in a shared Google Doc, the skills required to create a shared Google Presentation needed some focus. Students struggled to agree on a number of issues including types of images, background themes, and the amount of text on a slide. New to this collaborative process, there were hick-ups and bumps, so we took some time to regroup as a class of 59. That included a shared class writing activity which we call the Knowledge Care document. Via Skype, our students shared their insight on what they need to consider and practice as they write and create together. We ended the call with guidance on how to apply these skills as they create their collaborative Google Presentation.

Clarence then spoke about the “Achievements” points that the Idea Hive students could earn through their activity in the Idea Hive site. The goal is to have our students strengthen their connections in this community. The more time our students interact with each other in this learning space, the more points they earn.  After our call, I had my kids spend the last few minutes of the day adding a comment to the Passions forum where some of Clarence’s students had previously posted on their interest: music, pets, sports, hunting, and more. And once again, I had to beg my students to log off and head out for the bus home. However, this time it wasn’t just a few – it was the entire class.

And the day ended….or so I thought.

Two hours after the school day ended, one of my students began to write about his passion – hunting. He shared the doc with me, and after dinner when I discovered it, he was still writing. While this might not be unusual to some, it was particularly moving for me. This student struggles with writing, and has never seen himself as a writer. Yet clearly, he wants to share; he has a voice.

I wondered if the “Achievements” had something to do with this. And so I asked my student, “Can I share this doc with Mr. Fisher?”. He responded with the same drive that lead me to his doc in the first place, “What’s his email? I’ll share it with him myself”.

Within minutes, both Clarence and I, the Idea Hive teachers, were in the Google doc chat room with my student, guiding him as he looked for feedback.

Teaching in a collaborative classroom helps support our students in unexpected ways and in learning spaces and lesson times driven by our students. “Achievements” came in several different forms today. Are the mindsets of educators ready to recognize and value these different forms?

It’s year two in the Idea Hive, and the learning continues for me.

Author of “The Book Thief” Visits the Idea Hive Classroom

The Idea Hive classroom is almost out for the summer. But just before the year ends, the students had, as one of them described, the “opportunity of a lifetime” – a Skype visit from the award-winning author of  The Book Thief, Markus Zusak.

Clarence and I have written about the Idea Hive class activities surrounding The Book Thief in previous posts. The story is set in the fictional town of Molching, Germany during WW II.  It’s a beautifully written story of a young girl’s relationship with her new foster parents and neighbours. Narrated by “Death”, it’s full of humour and heartbreak. A few of my favourite passages..

As Liesel attempts to explain the reason for her first stolen book to Hans, her foster father: The soft-spoken words fell off the side of the bed, emptying to the floor like powder.

The scene where Liesel intrudes upon her step-mother, Rosa, as she cradles her husband’s accordion after he’s sent to war. Mama was snoring again.  Who needs bellows, she thought, when you’ve got a pair of lungs like that?

And of course, the last quote from “Death”: I am haunted by humans.

Our classrooms connected via skype almost daily as Clarence and I read the story aloud to our students. While one teacher read, the other was in the TodaysMeet backchannel room, helping students as we answered questions or posting compelling phrases. After the book was finished, the students wrote their first book, A Field Guide to Molching, which is inspired by the characters and events in The Book Thief. Using Google Docs, and working in groups of 4 (2 from Manitoba, 2 from Ontario) the students came up with the topics that should be included before moving into this two month project.

After presenting the books to our students, we contacted Markus Zusak, from Sydney, Australia, who graciously agreed to a group skype call with our students. It took some planning, as we all live in different time zones. So with a willingness to make it work for everyone, Markus agreed to an 11:00 p.m. call, while Clarence’s students in Snow Lake agreed to come to school an hour earlier.  Each class had previously prepared questions, and two students from each classroom wrote as the event unfolded in the TodaysMeet chat room.

Unfortunately for Clarence’s students, skype was not connecting that morning for them.  As we got started, we assumed Clarence and the students in Snow Lake would be joining in shortly. But when we got towards the end of the call and still no Snow Lake, I had some of my students ask the questions that Clarence’s students had planned.

One of my students had videotaped most of what was happening in the classroom in three sections. I was able to upload the first section, which was under 300 MB in size, and share it with Clarence via Dropbox. Not so easy with the next two sections which were over 357 and 959 MB. Even the Dropbox upgrade still wouldn’t allow those size of files. My call for help on Twitter was answered by my son’s friend, who recommended sending the large files through Mediafire. Thank-you James!

Luckily, the audio quality from the videotaped files was clear, so the Snow Lake students could hear the discussion. Markus spoke very openly as he answered many questions from the students, including one on what it takes to gain success as a writer. His philosophy on the value of failure and making priorities could apply to many goals in life.
1) Embrace failure.  It means you will grow as a writer.
2) Make writing a priority. You need to enjoy that time alone and being alone with your characters.

Markus emphasized the importance of time in the writing process – time needed to develop and revise ideas, which often means moving sections around. He shared, he inspired, and he made kids laugh. Student reflected on their linoit sticky notes

“It was like he was right here with us. It was so much fun to listen to the answers that he gave. Markus put a lot of thought into each answer. It was a great experience.”

“After reading his book and getting to know all the characters it was nice to know how they came to life.”

“I am glad that Markus gave out some advice on how to be a good writer. Now I am thinking of writing a fly-fishing book over the summer.”

“I hope that when I’m in grade 9, and the Idea Hive is still working away, I get to hear about what is going on. I would never trade away this experience.”

After reciting the opening to his new book, Markus asked the students about their next publication. While they didn’t have a specific answer, the students hope to publish another book next year as our classrooms continue working together in the Idea Hive. Our soon-to-be grade 8 students already have a solid foundation to build upon.

While not without its share of struggles, our goal of creating a connected classroom has changed how our students learn. They value the fact that “we learn better together”.  They’ve learned that the definition of “teacher” has moved beyond being just the one in their classroom. In their connected classroom, “teacher” can be anyone in the world, including Mr. Fisher in the chat room or even an award-winning author of a beloved book.