Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Google Education Edition

Our school district recently signed up for Google Apps Education Edition which gives our staff and students common access to Sites, Gmail and Apps. It's being rolled out first with three of our high schools in order to build up a cadre of teachers with some expertise. This cadre will then help spread the word to everyone else. I asked (begged and pleaded sounds so unmanly so I went with asked) to get our high school included in the pilot program.

Why was I excited to be involved in the pilot program? I wanted all my kids to have an easily accessible school email account which this program allows. I wanted them to have an easy way to post web pages (without any html background) and possibly build their own blog. I think Sites will make this possible.

I jumped right in and built a support site for my Multimedia classes. I'll be introducing this application to my building staff in the near future, so, I wanted to get some pages up and working and get comfortable with the interface before I had to stand in front of my peers and answer questions. Here are my thoughts so far:

  • It is easy to get a site up and running.
  • Sometimes frustrating if you are used to creating your own pages or using a more advanced web editor (like Dreamweaver). Doubt this will be a problem for the majority of staff or students.
  • Took some experimenting to get the hang of changing the different page elements. I'd like a help page that better describes things like column widths, header sizes, logo size, etc.
  • Being able to embed a Google Calendar is a plus even though I still tend to have problems with maintaining multiple calendars. I seem to constantly be posting something to the wrong calendar. Maybe it's my age? Maybe it's my color disablity?
  • The ability to put up documents for download is a big plus. We had this capability before, but this simplifies the process.
  • Interface makes it easy to update/change information on my pages. I am experimenting with keeping a running list of assignments and activities for my class. Ease of use may make it possible for me to do this on a daily basis.

I'm waiting for student access to be completed, at which point, they will be creating their own pages. That experience will give me a better feel for the pitfalls and advantages. I'll keep you posted on what happens.

Here's a brief video introduction to Sites from Google.

[Image: Created by Al Gunn: Based on "Cliff jumping in S. Korea"; Flickr: Uploaded on May 17, 2005 by bzo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bzo/14417290/ and Google logo captured from www.Google.com]

Monday, September 29, 2008

MySudiyo not quite what I'm looking for...

Last Wednesday, I wrote about building an online quiz through Mystudiyo and this past week I had the opportunity to use it in my classroom. Here are my follow up thoughts.

Set up for kids was easy. I was able to get a class to the site and have them create an account with little or no problem. I sent them the URL for my quiz and they all successfully navigated to that spot and started taking the quiz. The results started popping into my reports section almost immediately. Some kids took the quiz several times and their highest score was posted. Most of them figured this out before me and took the quiz 2-3 times until they got a perfect score. I couldn't figure out a way to go in and see all their scores, just the highest. Don't think it's possible to look at anything but the highest?

We explored the program a bit as a class and discussed how they might use this application for their personal use and then moved on to the day's lesson.While I liked the setup and ease of use in the classroom, I was a little disappointed in the information I got back in the report. I won't be using this application for formal testing because:
  • No way to limit number of times a student can take test or at least see their first score.
  • In timing mode it gives me an adjusted score. I just want the number of right and wrong. I wish I could set this up in the reports also.
  • I'd like a way to limit it to just my students. Having more names than kids makes grading a bit more difficult.
I'll use Mystudiyo for review activities. I see myself setting it up so the students can test themselves or compete against their classmates, but not as a tool for a formal grade. Some of the kids liked the program enough to say they would come back and use it on their own as a review tool.

This is still a beta program and I'll come back and take another look in a few months but until then, I guess it's back to the search engines to find something a little more suitable to my needs.

[Images captured from Mystudiyo web site: http://www.mystudiyo.com]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whole Earth Catalog

Back in the early seventies when I was barely making ends meet while attending college, I would hang out at the school's book store reading the Whole Earth Catalog. I couldn't afford to buy it but with daily visits to the store everyday between classes, I was able to read most of it.

I bought every iteration of it after that and when they started a magazine, first Co-Evolution Quarterly and then The Whole Earth Review, I was a faithful subscriber. They had the best recommendations for books and tools. I found the book that enabled me to fix my Volkswagon on the side of the road when it broke down. I believe, it was there that I had my first glimpse into computers and how I could better access them and the capabilities they promised. What I lacked in advice from a savvy father or handy uncle, I got from those publications.

I have often thought the web is like a big Whole Earth Catalogue, but not as well edited. Turns out that Kevin Kelly, editor and chief of the WEC, has also had thoughts along this line.

"The opportunity of the catalog's 400 pages of how-to-do it information attracted not only millions of readers but thousands of Makers of the world, the proto-alpha geeks, the true fans, the nerds, the DIYers, the avid know-it-alls, and the tens of thousands wannabe bloggers who had no where else to inform the world of their passions and knowledge. So they wrote Whole Earth in that intense conversational style, looking the reader right in the eye and holding nothing back: "Here's the straight dope, kid."
I wonder if this is why the Whole Earth Review finally folded? The web was able to do what the magazine could do, only faster. Kelly says the web "does it better" but I sure do miss hauling my magazines and books around, dreaming of the tools or books I wanted to own.

(via boing boing or read the whole article on Kelly's site)
[Image: "Whole Earth Catalogue"; Captured from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whole_Earth_Catalog]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

MyStudiyo for online quizzes

I've been wanting to implement online quizzing in my classes for quite some time. I want something where I can quickly put up a few questions. I want the application to have most of the following functions:
  • Short answer or multiple choice
  • Include pictures in the question
  • Track students so they can't take quiz more than once or at least I'll know if they do
  • Give the kids immediate feedback
  • Inexpensive or better yet.... free
I mentioned Larry Ferlazzo's post "The Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education" the other day and in that article he ranked My Studiyo as number six on his list and said:

" It’s without question, I believe, the best way to create online tests and quizzes. It’s easy to use, you can include multimedia, and others can add questions (that are moderated before they appear)."
That was enough recommendation for me to give it a try. I signed up for a free account (which was straight forward and painless) and jumped right into creating a quiz. I decided to make a quiz for my web design kids where they could look at a piece of bad html code and then pick the correct formatting out of four choices. Seemed like a good idea at the time but turned out to be a bad choice for my first try for a reason I shall soon reveal.

I had the opportunity to add an introduction. I wrote only a few words with the plan to come back and write something more informative after I finished the quiz. This turned out to be a problem. I couldn't seem to get back to that introduction page to write a nicer intro? Might be a glitch, but in the future, I will spend a bit more time here just in case.

I wrote five bits of bad code that I've seen in m
y class over the last week. I felt a little limited by how I could enter the question. I seemed to be able to write only one line. It wasn't until I was all done that I remembered the "Select Media" option.

This allowed me to write out something more similar to how a snippet of code might look. I grabbed this picture of a sample question (above) to show how what I wrote and how it would look in finished form (below).

I wrote out my questions and answers and got the whole thing put together in about 20 minutes. Took me this long as I had to think up questions and reasonable wrong answers along the way. If I had been better prepared, I think it would have taken about as long as it took me to type. Only wait time was when I moved to each new question and that was around 10-20 seconds.

I previewed my quiz and immediately thought, "This was a waste of time!" Half of my questions and answers were blank. I was about to blow the whole site off when I realized that the blank questions and answers were where I wrote html code. I suspected the program was reading my code and trying to implement it. I tinkered with a few answers and that turned out to be the case. I quickly went in and made a few changes and got around this glitch that is only going to come up for those of us teaching html. There are work arounds so I'm not too concerned.

I had the option of giving feedback on each question and so I did. I could set a time limit for each question and set it at 60 seconds just to test out how that works. I also set it up so that the questions would appear randomly so students sitting next to each other would less likely be looking at the same screen.

I was given the opportunity to have two different endings and opted for scoreboard for this first quiz. It will give each student their score and an opportunity to see their ranking.

Then I got a unique URL where I can send my students to take the quiz. I won't post this until I try it out in the classroom so
feel free to go take a peek.

I can also embed the quiz on a web page such as a personal blog. So, here it is that way. I have yet to get the embedded feature to work. Maybe you'll have better luck?

After going to the URL of my quiz, I realized my students would all have to create a login in order to take it. I went in and created a separate login pretending to be an eager 16 year old and took the test. That part worked fine. When I logged back in as myself, I was unable to see the student score? Another glitch?

I'm going to go ahead and try this out with my class and see what happens. I'm a little worried about getting their final score and I don't like that they all have to create an account. But, I'm willing to give it a spin in a "real classroom".

My thoughts so far:
  • Easy to login and get my first quiz set up
  • Editing a little slower and clunky than whey your first set it up
  • Had a hard time testing the report functions.
  • Wasn't able to get a working quiz to embed in either my Blogger blog or a Google sites page.
  • There is a cookie that allows your browser to remember you when you return to the site. Great for a single user at a single machine but I am a little worried about this in a lab that sees 5-6 different users on each machine every day.
I'll be back with more info after I try it out with my students. If any of you have had experience using the program, please leave a comment.

[Images: All captured from http://www.mystudiyo.com/: Sept 20, 2008]

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blocked YouTube

My school district blocks YouTube. I understand why. I still don't like losing access to many video's I use in my classroom. There is a wealth of valuable content mixed in there with some of the more questionable not-appropriate-for-school stuff. Most of the videos I post on this blog can't be watched at my school by either my colleagues or my students.

What's a teacher to do?

I download the videos and then burn them to CD. I use a free application available for the Mac platform called TubeTV for this task. It's worked for me reliably and my only complaint is how long it takes, roughly 5 minutes for every minute of the original. I don't think that is a problem with the program but a reflection of my internet connection at home and the size of the movies I'm grabbing. It is also a reflection of the impatience of an old man, we are talking video files here. Once converted to an .m4v file, it is available in iTunes and I can easily burn it to disk from there.

My school librarian recommended another option a few weeks ago. It's an online service called zamzar.com. Give zamzar the url of the video you want to convert, pick what format you want it converted to and give it an email address. As soon as it's finished converting you'll get an email with an url from which you can download the video. You have 24 hours from the time the email is sent to get the file before it is deleted.

The nice thing about this system is you can do this all at home and then download the video at work. It does have a 100 mb file size limit for the free version so you won't be able to convert any really large files. You can buy into a plan that lets you convert larger movies and gives you some online storage. How fast it converts your request depends a lot on how busy they are at the moment. They prioritize their paying customers first. This can be a slower process than using TubeTV. I ran a test on the same movie I converted using TubeTV and it took 30 minutes from the time I set it up before I got an email in my inbox. This isn't a big deal if you are setting things up at home and then downloading the film the next day at school.

So, don't let a pesky block stop you from including some great content in your classroom presentations.

[Image: Mashup of famous Orson Wells shot from the Third Man (1949) and the YouTube logo captured from their site: http://www.youtube.com/]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Walking at my desk

I'm currently reading Brain Rules by Jon Medina every night before I go to bed and enjoying every minute of it. One of the things he discusses in his book is that our brains not only work better if we exercise more often but that they work better while we exercise. This point was supported in this article by Mandy Katz for the New York Times, "I Put In 5 Miles at the Office". She talks about a new desk called the Walkstation that has been built around a treadmill. It lets you walk slowly while you work at your desk on your computer or making deals on the phone.
"The Walkstation, which Dr. Levine helped develop, costs about $4,000 and comes in 36 laminate finishes with an ergonomically curved desktop. Its quiet motor is designed for slow speeds, said David Kagan, director of marketing communications at Details, a division of Steelcase."
I sent the link to my principal begging to be the first guinea pig and the first out of my little cubby hole of a desk. In this year of budget cuts, I don't hold much hope for a Walkstation.

Plan B is to get out the tools and modify my wife's treadmill. I shall call it Al's Work Mill and it will make me famous amongst my cubical cell mates. I think our motto will be, "Walk your way to a better mind and a smaller behind". My classroom model will be called the "Student Step to Success Desk Mill". If the kids start getting out of hand, push up the speed! Listen to that chatter disappear as they start walking faster and try to type in html code at the same time. Classroom management and better learning. I may get rich out of this?

[Image: Captured from article "I Put In 5 Miles at the Office"; http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/18/health/nutrition/18fitness.html?_r=2&no_interstitial&oref=slogin&oref=slogin]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thirty One Online Applications

Ran across this link to "The Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education" on Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… He has a list of thirty-one free online applications that could be used by your students and/or yourself. There is a brief write up on each application and I didn't see one that I'm not planning on checking out. I was going to write about a couple to fill out my weeks worth of posts but there is too much here to hoard. If you are like me and still trying to flesh out your lessons for this first semester, this might be the place to find an idea or two. Or just possibly thirty-one!

I often think that I am more aware than the average web-head of a lot that's available out there in cyberspace and then I find a resource like this where I discover I am just a babe in the woods playing with twigs while there are lumberjacks out there harvesting lodge pole pines. I may have to just send my wife packing so I can spend more time searching and surfing the internet. Or... I could keep the wife, learn to be satisfied gathering sticks and just add this blog to my RSS feed?

Image: Flickr: "She's Leaving Home": Uploaded on August 7, 2006 by Thomas Hawk
: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/208990544/((CC)Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Picnik: Online photo editor

I was looking for an easy, convienient and free way for my students to do some simple photo editing. We have Photoshop available in my lab but it isn't loaded on every computer in the school. Not a lot of kids have it at home as it's pretty expensive. So, I went and looked at Adobe's online editing site thinking it might be an alternative. I liked it. It let you do more online than I expected but you have to create a login and register before you can get started. It didn't take much time but it was one extra step. Plus, one more login and password for my students to forget.

I remembered reading about a free online editing site and after a little searching, I found the one reviewed. It's called picnik and it doesn't require any pre-registration before getting started.

When you enter the site you click the Get Started Now! button. This will take anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds depending on the speed of your connection. Only time it's taken longer to start it up for me is when I've been at home and running several programs at once, checking my mail and singing along to a Bob Dylan song. In my lab, with all my kids logging in at the same time, it took about 15 seconds.

You'll be prompted to sign in or create account. You can if you want or you if you just want to get in and edit a picture look a little further down the page and you'll see an Upload Photo button. Click this and you can then navigate to the photo you want to edit and upload it from your computer. It even has a little progress widget to show you that it is working. Once again, this has always taken less than a minute to finish. Once it's done you'll see your picture and this toolbar.

I uploaded an image of a lilly from my backyard.

I clicked on the auto-fix tab to see how well the program could fix simple exposure flaws.

Not a huge change but it did lighten the picture a bit. I've used this feature on other photos and have seen a big difference. Other times, I like the original better or I ignore this button and tweak the settings in Exposure. I shot a picture of that control bar so you could see your options.

I picked the Crop tab next and got a nice surprise. The crop screen is divided into thirds. In my multimedia class this led to a good discussion of the Rule of Thirds. (Nice explanation here if your not familiar with this term.)

Before leaving the editing section, I wanted to test the red eye tool so I found a picture with a bad case of "demon eyes" and used the tool on that image. I felt the results were perfectly acceptable. Here is a close-up of before and after.

Next I went into the Create section of Picnik and here's a random selection of a few of the effects available applied to my lilly.

Drop Shadow

Focal Soften

Heat Map

Pencil Sketch

Polaroid Frame

I like this program. I've had kids in my building using this for a couple of weeks now and haven't had any complaints. It's easy to use. It's easy to upload and download your picture. It's free.

[Images: All pictures and graphics created by Al Gunn and he gives up all rights to these photos. Use them as you will.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Waste of time?

Michael Schmidt made an interesting comment on his blog, Melodic Metanoia, recently about learning to play music:

"... the other thing about making music that absolutely amazes me is that even at the basic level of playing a simple song and singing it, people will say, “I wish I could do that.” I have never heard of someone that listened to a musician and said, “Wow, I’m sure glad I didn’t waste my time on that.”
I agree. I have heard numerous people who wished they had learned to play an instrument or had continued on with their childhood piano lessons. My advice is always, "Start now. It's never too late." I am one of those folks who in my thirties was wishing I could play and was cursing myself for not picking up an instrument in my teens. I had the realization that I didn't want to say the same thing about my thirty year old self when I got into my fifties. I signed up for lessons that week. Now in my fifties I have nothing but gratitude to that thirty-something Al for finally picking up the banjo.

This got me to thinking about learning and education in a broader sense. Let's contrast these common positive comments about music with a comment I overheard in a fast food line the other day. A couple of men in their late twenties were talking about the higher level math they took in high school and how they never used it once they graduated. They felt they had "wasted their time."

Wow! Wasted their time. As a teacher this makes me a tad sad. Can learning a topic truly be a waste of time just because you never have or never will use it specifically? I've been told in several educational gatherings that one of the best indicators for success in later high school and college is learning Algebra. Why? No one is really sure. It's suggested that the process of learning Algebra prepares you better for learning more abstract concepts in other subjects.

That argument would not have motivated me in ninth grade when I was struggling to find the value of x in an equation. My motivation was my mother telling me to stop complaining and just get through it. I did. I hated it. But, I passed. I've felt that way about lots of classes, workshops and lets not forget multi-hour faculty meetings. Were those minutes and hours really a waste of my time? Is our real challenge to not only get our students motivated about the topic but about the process?

Tough question. Anybody got a good answer?

[Image: "M. Eli Jackson January 29, 1921 - August 15th 2008" Flickr: Uploaded on August 27, 2008 by coalandice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/coalandice/2802918677/: ((Creative Commons))]

Monday, September 15, 2008

Anayak Kayaks

Sean Gallagher, the kayak builder featured on an episode of Design Squad I blogged about several months ago, left a comment recently with a reference back to his site, Anayak Kayaks. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. Interesting history about the kayak. Lots of pictures of the construction process. Opportunity to take workshops in the Washington area. I am also assuming he sells kayaks but didn't see a specific page dedicated to that, though he does include contact information if you wanted to inquire.

I was intrigued at how he is replacing some of the traditional materials used with modern ones and the reasons behind his choices. Check it out. Don't forget to take a peek at his blog page where he has more photos including a few on building a dug out canoe.

Link to Design Squad episode page that included Sean.

[Image: Captured from Sean's blog: http://anayakkayak.blogspot.com/]

Friday, September 12, 2008

Funny: Too Broad

[http://www.nearingzero.net/master.html: ‘Cartoon by Nick D Kim, nearingzero.net. Used by permission.]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fantastic Contraption: Physics Simulation

I just lost a couple of hours playing this online physics game, Fantastic Contraption. My high school students spend huge amounts of time playing similar games that aren't as complex. Usually while I am in the front of the room praising the beauty of a perfectly placed HTML tag. ( Classroom management, that's a story for another day)

Today, I want to praise this simulation and the learning that occurs unbeknownst to your unwary child, student or spouse.

Years ago I used a similar program ( the name escapes me?) in my 6th grade technology lab. It gave the kids a chance to create and test mechanical contraptions without getting their hands dirty. I observed a lot of crossover when they went to build an actual contraption and referred back to an experience they had in the computer program.

I had to justify that game every time my principal walked through.
Al, It looks like they're just playing a game.

No....really, they have to do some higher level critical thinking.

But they look like they're having fun.

Those are just nervous smiles. Some kind of adolescent stress related facial rigor.

Oh...all right. Just turn it off when I give a tour of the building. I don't want people to get the wrong idea.
I eventually won her over when I had her sit down and try it out. Who knew that learning could be fun?

(Via GeekDad)
[Image: Captured from GeekDad because I never thought to grab a picture while I was playing and now it's late and I feel rushed. Oh the pressure!:http://blog.wired.com/geekdad/2008/08/what-a-fantasti.html]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

3-D Print your house

Someday in the not so distant future, you'll design your house on a CAD program and send it to a contractor who will download it into a large 3-D printer. That big old printer will then build your house from the foundation up out of concrete or a similar building material in a matter of days (rather than weeks) at about a fifth of the cost.

Read about it and see more videos of the process at Contour Crafting. (I think the YouTube video below is a compilation of all the videos from the site.)

[via BotJunkie]
[Image: Captured from Contour Crafting: http://www.contourcrafting.org/]

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hacking a Birthday Cake

My wife is a junkie for those competition cooking shows on the Food Network. They gather together a group of chefs and challenge them to create a cake or an ice sculpture or gingerbread house based on a certain theme in a limited amount of time. Don't tell my wife, but I now find that even when she isn't home, I will turn on one of these shows and wish I had followed my dreams of becoming a chef or at the very least, landed that job I wanted when I was 16 at Dunkin's Donuts.

Coolest thing I've seen watching these programs. That sugar can be blown and shaped in the same way that glass is blown and shaped. The added bonus.....you can eat your mistakes and failures. I am so going to try this soon!

Anyway, a friend was throwing a birthday party for a mutual teaching buddy. She asked me if I would make the cake and I said sure even though it was the next evening and I didn't have much time to prepare. I approached it just like a food network challenge. I had a time limit. I had my building material. The birthday girl's passion is Earth Science. She loves those rocks with maybe dinosaurs coming in a close second. So, I had a theme. I knew I didn't have the skill yet to blow a dinosaur out of a lump of melted sugar so I ran down to the local toy store to look at the plastic variety. I found a six inch tyrannosaurus and I was off and running.

I built a base out of a 9 X 13 chocolate cake. I created a tranquil lagoon out of cream cheese frosting tinted blue. It flowed off the side of the cake as a majestic waterfall. (As majestic as a two and half inch drop can get!) I piped a happy birthday message on the lagoon along with a few lillypads in green. I tried to create a frosting frog but ended up scratching that idea as it always ended up looking like that slime monster from Ghost Busters. Then I created a barren landscape with chocolate frosting and topped that with broken malt balls to give it a rocky appearance. I was going to try to create some sugar trees but time was running out and I needed a nap before the party. So, I just finished it off with the plastic dinosaur.

My only competition at the party was a pan of brownies. The woman who made them beat me hands down in terms of taste. Although, I think my presentation and adherence to theme made me the overall desert winner!

Happy Birthday Cyndi!

Monday, September 8, 2008


A few years back another technology teacher and I had seen a video of a robotic leg that used gyros to help it balance. Later we sat drinking refreshments, eating pretzels and wondered why gyro technology had never been applied to wheelchairs or bicycles. I guess it has, at least for bikes. A company called Gyrobike has developed flywheel technology for your family bicycle. It should make learning to ride a bike easier since it is will be easier to balance at slower speeds. Here's a quote from the website that explains why:
Gyroscopes are spinning wheels that exhibit a special property called precession. When a force is put at the top of a spinning wheel (such as a rider falling on a bicycle), rather than falling, the gyroscope simply turns, or precesses, in the direction of the fall. This occurs on normal bike wheels when the bike is traveling at higher speeds. Hence, it is easier to ride a bicycle once you "get going". GyroBike takes advantage of this property even when the bike is moving slowly. The fly wheel inside the GyroBike spins independently of the bike wheel. Thus, even when a rider is moving very slowly on his or her bicycle, the precession of the GyroBike is still felt. If the rider begins to fall, the GyroBike causes the front wheel to precess under the rider's weight, restabilizing the bike.

See this article to learn a bit more about the four engineering students who developed this idea as part of a class project at Dartmouth.

[Image: Captured from Wired:"GyroBike Teaches Kids How To Kill a Spill":http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2006/04/gyrobike_teache.html

Friday, September 5, 2008

Funny: Senior Moment

Only funny if you learned to type before word processors otherwise just odd behavior. Ask your grandparents...they will explain it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How a Dog Drinks Water


Cool slow motion video of a dog drinking.

How do you think your pup gets the water into his toothy little muzzle?

  • Suck it in like a Hoover deluxe.
  • Create a ladle with their tongue.
  • Doggie magic.

My guess was wrong. Watch the video and see if your's is better.

The video is from a television show called Time Warp on the Discovery Channel. I've not seen an entire program, but after watching a few clips on YouTube, I think I'll set my Tivo to catch a couple.

[Image: Captured from video, "Exclusive time warp discovery ultra slow dog drinking water": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWlVbgCKjkk&eurl=http://www.google.com/reader/view/]

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Voice Exercise

This is a short follow up to yesterday's post regarding Set Your Voice Free: How to Get the Singing or Speaking Voice You Want by Roger Love. I neglected to say that the book does include sections on how to care for your voice and exercises specifically for speaking. It was written for both singers and speakers. He has several other books out and one is specifically for the speaking voice. I went with Set Your Voice Free because of a recommendation. I am pleased with the results I got and may check out his other book for speakers. (Anybody out there a little wiser in the ways of the voice have any recommendations. Maybe my music teacher friends....Steve?....Chuck?)

One fun exercise I might recommend from the book for those presenters who speak in a monotone voice with no inflection or passion. The author suggests you write your lecture out and then sing it. Not to the kids but in the privacy of your own home, while hiding in the basement if you want. (Note...Roger Love doesn't actually say to hide in the basement, that's my own spin on places to practice.) It helps build some different phrasings and inflection that will then be reflected when speaking the lecture. I've had young teachers ask me for advice on this in the past and I was at a loss as to what to tell them. Now I'll suggest they sing their lecture to the melody of "Happy Birthday" or "Old Macdonald" or possibly Madonnas, "Like a Virgin". Or maybe I'll just suggest the book.

[Image: "Sing"; Flickr: Uploaded on April 6, 2008 by ktylerconk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ktylerconk/2394470300/]

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Strengthening my voice

I get hoarse or loose my voice every year during the first two weeks of school. I believe this is related to not talking near as much during the summer as I do when teaching. I read something a few months back about professional speakers needing to take care of their voice as much as a professional singer. I thought, well I may not be a Anthony Robbins or Conan Obrien or Larry the Cable Guy, but I sure do use my voice professionally. Every day.

I decided to do a little research into the whole thing and found several referrals to a book called, Set Your Voice Free: How to Get the Singing or Speaking Voice You Want by Roger Love. I figured what's the worst that could happen....?
  • I'm out a few bucks and I still get a sore, tender throat at the beginning of the school year.
  • I still get hoarse but I am able to sing like a nightengale.
  • I strengthen my voice and I am able to project out into the classroom with such amazing clarity that people travel from other countries to hear me recite this years bus schedule.
  • My teacher friends laugh and point at me and won't let me sit with them during lunch.

I was willing to take the risk. So, I bought the book and read it. Unhappily, I discovered the voice exercises I needed to do were singing exercises. Even if you just want to improve your speaking voice, the author still asks you to do the singing activities. Interesting but I wasn't sure I was ready to sit in my office singing scales while my wife, the neighbors and the dogs listened from the sidelines. I'm shy!

I eventually put the exercises onto my iPod and practiced them in my truck. I can work through the basic scale exercises in the time it takes me to drive to my gym. Other than the occasional odd look from folks sitting next to me at a stop light, it was easy to do while I drove. I did this roughly 3-5 times a week for most of the summer.

Did it help?

After two weeks of classroom instruction, I would say yes. My speaking voice seems stronger and my voice felt a little tired just one afternoon out of ten days, but never sore or hoarse. I have also noticed some improvement in my singing voice. I can recommend the book and the exercises as being helpful to me.

My training for speaking in the classroom consisted of "Don't mumble and face the children." Considering that presentation is such a large part of our job, might it not make sense for teacher's in training to get some help with their speaking voice? If I had, maybe I wouldn't have suffered through a quarter century of the September Sore Throat Syndrome.

[Image: "Day8-A little Froggy": Flickr: Uploaded on January 8, 2008by John Carleton: http://www.flickr.com/photos/johncarleton/2178902878/]