Friday, March 12, 2010

"I Been Thinkin' With Keke Parker"

"I Been Thinkin' with Keke Parker is a weekly video blog produced by Keke Parker and the DMA Video Department.   Keke has a great way of telling it like it is, she's sarcastic, a little cutting, and she doesn't pull any punches, but it's her great big smile and her fantastic wit that make her spots shine.  Go to to view her site and watch her first episode.

Monday, March 8, 2010

LiveBinders and CorkShare Rule, Toobla? Well...

A month or so ago, I found Toobla, a site that allows you to compile bookmarks online and share them with "friends." Like many other sites, Toobla gives you a bookmarklet to add to your browser's toolbar, so that you can easily add a site to your collection. The big difference between Toobla and other bookmarking sites, like Delicious or Reddit, is that rather than posting and sharing your links in long boring lists, Toobla creates organizational folders full of thumbnails of the sites that you've posted. 

When I signed up for the service, the whole thing looked very cool.  One side of the screen displays your folder and on the other side is a larger representation of whichever bookmark you have highlighted.  
The best part is that Toobla's folders are embeddable - I had big plans to turn all of my "links" lists in my Moodle classes and other sites to Toobla embeds. 

Unfortunately, the day after I presented Toobla at a PLC meeting, my account stopped functioning for me. Instead of displaying my sites graphically, I got a gray clock telling me that my preview was generating... forever.

My colleagues started accounts and experienced the same problem. I tried it at home and at work, on a Mac and on a PC, I even tried starting a couple of new accounts... no dice. 

I posted something on the site and received an email from Toobla's Jake Saxbe that same night: 
"The preview generating issue should be fixed by next week.  It is a lingering bug that has caused to to replace our old programming team with a new team that is working to now to solve the problem.  I will let you know when it has been resolved."
Great response time on addressing the complaint, too bad the problem was never fixed. I checked back this weekend and even started a third account, just in case mine was somehow corrupted, but the results were the same: "generating preview." The frustrating thing is that if you go to any of the examples that they post on twitter or elsewhere, they look great.

Frustrating for a start-up with such promise to be such so glitchy. On March 6th, I posted this on twitter: 
"So frustrated with @toobla account. Previews won't generate. Acct will not deactivate. Good idea, not an impressive site."
Within hours, representatives of two social bookmarking start-ups contacted me via twitter: CorkShare (@JimEngland) and @LiveBinders  (not a peep from @toobla, who is a follower). 

LiveBinders is not visually stimulating, but I think it may become a big part of my online classroom.  It's like a file cabinet for websites. You can create as many "binders" as you want, each a collection of related websites.  The sites are tabbed like a browser, but can also contain subtabs under each tab. Take a look at the LiveBinder I created, documenting my Internet footprint.

LiveBinders can be embedded to your website or blog, allowing you to share your bookmarks in an unusual, but organized way.  I'd like to see it become a little bit more customizable - maybe some skins or the ability to upload my own background - but on the whole, I like LiveBinders a lot.

CorkShare looks like what you'd expect - a browser-size cork-board. Users upload links, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and post "sticky-notes" other widgets to the board to share them with a network of "friends." You can also share the URL of your board to share it with non CorkShare users.

You get one board per account, and when your posts become old or unimportant to you, you archive them to a more typical list format. I can see this as a great tool to share things with students in a paperless classroom.

Unfortunately, at the moment it is not embeddable, but England twittered me that they were about a month away from upgrading to an embed option, as well as thumbnails for link posts.

I put together a CorkShare with a few sites and videos, but I had trouble with the interface. As I note on a sticky on my board, some of the posts didn't work and they would not delete from the board, so I'm now stuck with them.  When I took a look at the feedback page, there were other, similar complaints, so hopefully these kinks will be ironed out. (Note: about an hour after I posted my sticky note, England wrote to me solving one problem and promising to look into the other.)

Even though I'm disappointed with Toobla for now, and despite my annoyed tweet about the site, I'll probably keep checking back, it is an incredibly good looking and useful site. 

As soon as CorkShare becomes embeddable, I can see myself using it to post notices for my hybrid classes or on a class blog, so I'm hoping they keep improving as well.

I'm also happy about discovering LiveBinders. It's a great way to group web pages for works cited, presentations, and "links" pages for your online or hybrid classes.  I'm looking forward to some improvements in the look of the site.

I'm happiest about my twitter experience. Twitter continues to be a fantastic professional tool for me. I posted a frustration, got two great solutions, and was able to interact with the people running the businesses.  Fantastic.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Just Because I Bought You Donuts Doesn't Mean I'm a Serial Killer

Unhappy teachers are not effective. And it's the little things that can pull you down. Sometimes they happen sporadically, but sometimes they come at you in a rush.

The other day, I listened to one student tell another that if you graduate from our school, you are not eligible for the Marine Corps, because "we don't go to a real school." When I asked him what in the world he was talking about, he repeated that you had to go to a "real" school to join the Marines.

Last I heard, charter schools like ours are not pretend.

Yesterday, I was cleaning some graffiti off of a wall - mostly random pencil marks. A student of mine watched me for a minute and then asked why I was bothering. I told him that if you let the vandals know that their tags would be cleaned up immediately, they'd eventually stop putting them up. He laughed, turned to another student, and said, "how's he think he's gonna stop the tags? We go to a gang school."

A gang school. Is that what they call it?

Today, I stopped at the student bathroom to wash my hands. When I entered, I saw two kids with money in their hands. There wasn't much I could do, they weren't doing anything wrong that I could see, but I was suspicious. I asked them what they were up to and one of them said he was getting change for the soda machine. I eyed them as I dried my hands, and even decided that I may have jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Just then, a colleague entered the bathroom, saw the pair with the money in their hands, and said, "Come on guys, can't you find a better place to do that."

The pair protested: "Why ya'll always think we're dealin' drugs or something, I just want some change."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he replied.

I stood stunned. A staff member just implied - directly to a student - that it was okay to deal drugs in school, just not where you might get caught. How do you improve the attitudes of the children when the adults have given up?

Later, I decided to walk across the street, get a dozen donuts, and hand them out to my co-workers. According to "Dexter," that's what normal people do to cheer each other up. I'm no sociopath, but sometimes, like Dexter, I feel like I live in a world full of people I can't quite comprehend.