Course 3 Video: How I Got Stronger

Here’s my Course 3 video. I didn’t finish it in time for the Course 3 Reflection, but better later than never, right? It was a fairly straightforward process to create it, but for me it looked like:

  1. Brainstorm in my head, come up with initial concept
  2. Outline on notebook paper
  3. Match images to outline
  4. Match music to outline
  5. Write script & record voiceover (2 hours to this point)
  6. Find images and music (4 hours to this point)
  7. Add voiceover to iMovie; then add images and music
  8. Shoot footage; add to iMovie (another 2-3 hours)
  9. Tweak, tweak, tweak (probably 7 hours total from inception to completion)

I didn’t use a storyboard template to sketch out my scenes because I shot little original footage and relied mostly on images from the web. For the footage I did shoot, the purpose was instructional so it wasn’t as important to have creative cinematography.

I made my video using iMovie, still images, and the original footage that I shot on a handheld Panasonic camcorder recording to an SD card. Of the hours and hours that I spent, some of it was in figuring out how to work with clips in iMovie, but more of it was in tweaking the pace of the audio and figuring out when to cue music, video, and images. In other words, my problem was creative and artistic, not technical.

Here’s the video:

And here’s everything that could have been done better:

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Toys for (Travelling) Teachers

Kuwait is expensive, so I use my summers to stock up on all the gear that I can’t get cheaply and/or easily abroad. Also, buying from Amazon and Newegg is cheaper and easier than brick ‘n’ mortar retailers. This summer I’ve made two purchases that I’d say are staple technology upgrades:

1. In-ear monitors (IEMs) – noise-isolating earphones Shure SE215

I travel frequently – 3-4 times per semester for conferences, long weekends, breaks, and swim meets. The drone of airplane engines makes it tough to listen to movies and music, though. Many travellers swear by noise-cancelling headphones: older audiences like Bose Quietcomforts, while Beats by Dr. Dre are the unchallenged favorites among my students. I was seriously considering getting a pair of JVCs or Panasonics, which both are in the $100 range, but after reading the comments on David Pogue’s piece, I decided that a pair of IEMs – which sit inside your ear canal and effectively act like earplugs – had the triple advantages of not requiring batteries, isolating a wider frequency of noises, and being significantly smaller than headphones. Also, I can use them outside on a summer day without my ears getting terribly sweaty.

I considered IEMs from Etymotics, Ultimate Ears, Klipsch, and Shure. Customer reviews on Amazon revealed the following:

  • Etymotics have amazing noise isolation, but they don’t have much bass (or, to audiophiles, they have “natural” bass).
  • Ultimate Ears sound great, especially their top-of-the-line monitor that has three drivers, but they are fragile enough that they must be treated like porcelain dolls.
  • Klipsch S4s have great bass and noise isolation, and are often found for $70-80.
  • Shure SE215s have great bass and noise isolation, are around $100, and come with both rubber and foam earbuds

So on my trip to NYC last weekend, I picked up a pair of Shure SE215s from B&H Photo (which I consider to be a tourist attraction in and of itself, on top of their oustanding selection and prices competitive with Amazon).

Read more on my NEW, UPDATED website at

Summer Projects

I accepted that something wasn’t right with me when I realized that what I was looking forward to this summer was… doing work. Specifically, getting my digital footprint up to snuff and taking care of work-related planning and organization. Here’s an excerpt from my lengthy to-do list (kept, of course, in Evernote):

  1. Update my personal website at
  2. Transition to a new cloud service
  3. Finish annual teaching reflection
  4. Complete planning maps for my world history courses

My work thus far has been steady but plodding. First off, I wanted to select a cloud service that I would use next year to keep my work and home computers in sync (Win7 and Mac-Lion, respectively) – not only with work files, but also my 50GB music collection. Furthermore, I needed a service that would allow me to easily share files and folders with my two co-planning teachers. After a feature and cost comparison between cloud services Spideroak, Skydrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox, I settled on Skydrive. It’s among the cheapast of the options, and it offers 7GB to free users – a better deal for my co-planning teachers who probably won’t shell out $50/year for extra storage. I quickly find this to be the wrong choice, though. Skydrive suffers from strict file name limitations (no symbols like ; ” , / etc), so I had to use a mass filename replacer to fix the hundreds of errors that Skydrive had. Then I had to trash the app’s preferences to get it to sync properly. I still haven’t completed a full sync since I’m on a limited data plan here in rural Canada. If I could do it over again, I’d choose Google Drive. It’s comparable in cost, offers similar sharing features, and I doubt it faces the same filename restrictions (or if it does, it deals with them more gracefully).

My personal website has also been a time sink. I signed up for 1and1′s unlimited web hosting package on the recommendation of a friend – it’s $3 or 4 a month for all-you-can-eat bandwidth and web storage. They also claimed to offer 1-click WordPress installs. But my 1-click install didn’t work, so I ended up having to install WordPress and set up the domain manually. Admittedly, it wasn’t complicated – the WordPress install takes five minutes. But still – more complicated than it should have been.

Then it was on to customizing my WordPress install. I chose a theme, imported content from my Coetail blog, and tinkered for hours. The results are alright for a first attempt – But I let the tail wag the dog, choosing a theme and tweaking the CSS styles before deciding what pages and content I wanted to have, instead of vice versa. I anticipated regular changes to what’s posted there now.

The past week has been all about the tools. Next step: using these tools to actually accomplish something.

Cold, Hard Numbers: Technology

Since joining COETAIL I have made a conscious effort to include technology in my classes. I’m partly doing it simply for the sake of using technology, but it has benefited both me and my students: I find them more engaged when working collaboratively, and I have pushed myself and created new assignments because of my use of technology.

Over the course of the year, I used several technologies on which I polled my students:

Technologies_Used_by_Mr._Kelsey title=

Long story short, I’ve reached the following conclusions about my use of technology:

  • Students enjoy collaborating, and do it more effectively with online tools (kind of an obvious conclusion, I know)
  • Moodle is very useful for the students who choose to use it
  • Although Facebook and Twitter are popular outside of school, students want to keep a separation between academic and personal life.

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Cold, Hard Numbers: An Introduction to My Year-End Reflection


Whether we admit it or not, people love watching other people make fools of themselves. Our delight is compounded when the subject is unaware of their suffering.This is what makes American Idol auditions so sickeningly funny; the off-key notes, ecstatic expressions, and wild gesticulations of willing participants are wrapped in a warm blanket of obliviousness to how ridiculous they look. Some of these poor mules respond by getting in on the joke and rising above it – take William Hung, for example, who had his 15 minutes of fame and maybe a few more. But we teachers don’t have the luxury of lampooning our own incompetence. Our effectiveness depends on becoming aware of our shortcomings and fixing them.

In a bid to avoid such ignominy, then, I had all six of my classes fill out a year-end survey that I created using Google Docs. My goal: to assess the effectiveness of a) my technology use, b) instructional practices, and c) classroom environment. Over the next week or two I’ll be analyzing that data and sharing the results here.

A few caveats:

  1. I’m aware that this is not a statistically valid analysis. While I got most of my students (sample size = 84), I don’t have the background in stats nor the resources to control for variables that might help me make decisions as to causality. So I’ll be discussing a lot of correlation and making educated, though anecdotal, guesses to explain the results.
  2. This is the first year that I’ve given this particular survey, and I’m the only teacher at school who gave it (since I made it up myself). So I lack a quantitative measure of change over time, as well as a measure against the efficacy of other teachers. For example (and I’m giving away the big finale here), my students rated the overall efficacy of my class at 8.23 on a scale of 1-10. But that doesn’t mean I’m in the 82nd percentile; it doesn’t make me a B- teacher. Maybe most teachers would score a 9 or higher, and I’m sub-par. Or maybe other teachers would score in the 7-7.5 range, and I’m a rockstar. The point is that my survey doesn’t help me quantitatively define my develpment over time or give me a context in which to judge my overall efficacy compared to other teachers.
  3. The results represent the students’ perceptions about my instruction, so you should trust the results to the extent that you trust adolescents’ judgements about what education is and should be. I don’t mean to imply that this makes them invalid, but rather it should be part of other external assessments of a teacher’s efficacy.

External links:

Mr. Kelsey’s End of Year Evaluation

William Hung on Wikipedia

William Hung’s Official Website

Textbooks: Evolving, but not Disappearing

Via ArsTechnica’s Future U series of articles:


Textbooks are a thing of the past, says the common wisdom. Well, the common wisdom of the Technorati maybe. The problem with that thinking is that the number one publisher in the world is Pearson, a textbook publisher, who brought in $7.75 billion in 2009….To say textbooks are big business is like saying bullets are ouchie….So writing the obituary for textbooks would be putting the cart before the horse. But pretending like they are not changing their shape, if not their nature, is to proclaim, from one’s buggy, that automobiles are a passing fad.

On the other hand,

teachers are mainly bringing in content from materials available on the Internet, the teachers and students are producing their own content, and we provide some district-wide subscriptions to additional online content. Students and teachers are wanting relevant materials that are provided just in time rather than static textbooks.

The article concludes:

In much the same way that the classroom of the future is evolving away from the unidirectional transmission of knowledge via lecture and toward dialogue and project-based learning, the textbook is responding to the same strains. Like the classroom, the textbook is likely to become more collaborative and customizable.

Collaborative and customizable textbooks? I do think it depends on the class. It’s not like history is changing, for example, so I’m not as worried about having a static collection of facts. And basic scientific principles don’t (always) change that fast. But classes like IR and philosophy could benefit from fluid content. How do you see this trend playing out in your classroom?


Be Acceptable.

Some rights reserved by Gord McKenna

Here’s the AUP. I collaborated with my colleagues Justin and Tara for it. Go ahead and read it – it’s only two pages! No legalese, no laundry list of “don’ts,” no ridiculously intricate stipulations about how to use resources. Just positive, common sense guidelines. It’s aspirational, not contractual.

When we wrote it, we followed the following guidelines:

Language Level: Written for high schoolers by high school teachers. This is not to say that the guidelines couldn’t be used in a different school level, but phrases like “Adopting transparent and honest online identities” would have to be translated into direct, kid-friendly language.

Topics Covered: It’s streamlined compared to other AUPs that we reviewed because our school has more limited technology resources (such as print queue systems, school email for students, 1:1 laptops, etc). Therefore, it wasn’t necessary to set out guidelines for such systems. Instead, we focused on how we wanted students to interact with others and participate in communities.

Issues of Focus: We address on students behavior online and in real life (IRL) by covering three topics: surfing the web, use of personal electronic devices (it’s not uncommon for our students to come to school with two phones), and utlization of the school’s physical resources (including our limited bandwidth). Once again, it’s fairly limited in scope, but a detailed document is useless if no one bothers to read it.

Sharing with Students: We haven’t discussed this, although I recognize it’s an important component that ties in with the topics of Weeks 3 and 4. The school currently gives a handbook quiz at the beginning of the year, and it would be easy to incorporate elements from the AUP into that. However, I’ll reiterate my admiration for Kim Cofino’s Digital Citizenship Week because such an approach allows a school to highlight a topic that doesn’t fit effortlessly into many existing curricula. If such an option isn’t available, I’d make it part of a unit on digital citizenship in the technology curriculum.



Student work exemplars: using technology to “Shock and Awe”

In my Course 1 Project, I used this past quarter’s UbD unit, which contained several assessments requiring the use of technology. The students submitted two of the assignments last week – a group project in which students created a propaganda video for the fictional state of Totario, and a Prezi timeline of significant events in World War Two. I was quite frankly blown away by some of the products the students turned in, and am showcasing some examples below.

The first is a video promoting the leader (Great Magister) of Totario. For this assignment, students were really creative, filming mock scenes, writing their own anthems, and remixing YouTube videos (especially of North Korean and Chinese military parades). The video editing skills shown by those students were impressive, especially since I followed Tara Waudby’s advice to give less guidance to stimulate creativity. But one student went totally new media, using the tool Garry’s Mod to create an almost completely professional machinima video. I’ll let the video speak for itself:

The timelines also evinced a high level of professionalism. Students demonstrated their understanding by using Prezi’s Path feature to show cause and effects and significance – it was a visual way to make connections. They also did a great job of finding relevant images.

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