Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kiva: Loans that Change Lives

As educators, we strive to enable our students to become responsible citizens. With ever-increasing global connections through the Internet, our definition of citizenship has taken on more of that global flavour. Kiva is a  perfect opportunity for your students to reach out and make a difference in someone's life.

According to their website, Kiva is a non-profit organization that connects people through lending to help alleviate poverty. Here is how it works in greater detail. Basically, as a lender, you can search through thousands of profiles from people who are looking for funding to complete an entrepreneurial endeavor. Many of the entrepreneurs are trying to create business opportunities in developing nations or are living in impoverished situations. You can lend as little as $25 with the agreement that they'll pay you back when they can.

Watch this video about how Kiva works:

A Fistful Of Dollars: The Story of a Loan from Kieran Ball on Vimeo.

Is there a risk involved? Absolutely. There is always potential for your loan to never come back to you. However, Kiva has over a 98% return rate on their loans and you can increase the odds of return payment by carefully scrutinizing the entrepreneurs' profiles for feedback ratings (similar to a seller on ebay). Click here for more information on the risks of lending.

Kiva doesn't take any commission from the lenders or entrepreneurs. They are 100% funded by donations, grants, corporate sponsors, and foundations.

For me, this is the perfect way to get students involved in global citizenship. Not only can students be involved in the initial raising of funds (bottle drive, bake sale), but they can scrutinize and choose who they feel is most worthy of the money they've earned. Afterwards, students can keep track of their loan through regular updates on the Kiva site, and re-invest once that loan has been paid back.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Podcasting: What's the Big Deal?

So you may have heard of podcasting before, and maybe even listened to a podcast, but what is the big deal about them and why are they so popular?

Well, podcasts really have iTunes to thank for their popularity. If you find a podcast series that you would like to listen to on iTunes, you simply click on "Subscribe" and new episodes will be downloaded automatically every time you open iTunes on your computer. To add to this, you can set up iTunes to upload your podcasts directly to your ipod/iphone/ipad when it is connected. Incredibly easy and free.

If you haven't heard about podcasting, think about it as a combination between radio and blogging. Podcasts come in 3 different forms - audio, audio with pictures, and video. Most podcasts are not just single files, rather they usually are a part of a longer series of episodes, like a television series.

In the classroom, podcasts can be used in a number of ways. Teachers can use podcasts to record lectures or assignments, as well as listen to podcasts for professional development. Students can utilize podcasts to demonstrate their learning, as a presentation tool, documenting a class discussion, conducting interviews, or broadcasting classroom news.

Here are 3 links to different school podcasts:
Junior High - YDMS
High School - Podcast Bangladesh 

Creating podcasts can be quite simple. All you need is a computer and a microphone (headset preferred). There are a variety of programs that will allow you to create a podcast - Garageband (MAC), Audacity (PC), or web-based recording software (Aviary). Here is a list of over 70 different podcasting tools. 

Once you have recorded your podcast, you need to get it published. Our Dreamstalk websites provide the perfect place to do this. Check out this example of Eastbrook's weekly radio podcast.

For some handy tips and instructions on how to plan, record and publish podcasts, take a look at my podcasting presentation below:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Writing Prompts for Inspiration

"It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer."
Gerald Brenan

Writing prompts are a great way to get students writing on a variety of topics on a daily basis. This website was created by a teacher to share writing prompts and inspirations that he has come across over the past few years. There are about 200 hundred writing prompts if you go all the way back to the beginning. These prompts would work for a variety of grades and could easily be adapted to a variety of situations. 
Click here to preview the author's top 35 writing prompts.

Here are a few that I enjoy:

Maybe consider using a video instead. Here is one that could inspire some writing:

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Times They are A-changin'

 "the present now will later be past"
- Bob Dylan "The Times They are A-changin'"

In light of recent government cutbacks to programs supporting innovation and change in education, the present may sooner be past. In the ATA News (Feb. edition) Minister Hancock has a block quote stating that, "Engagement is key to collaboration, and collaboration is key to real and lasting change."

Have we forgotten about innovation? For change to happen, innovation is key. Innovation is the spark - the hook. Innovation is the thinking that invites us out of the box. Innovation creates engagement. Collaboration is the vehicle through which that engaging task is realized.

This is true everywhere. Take Wikipedia for example. Innovation occurred when someone came up with the radical idea of using a wiki to create an online encyclopedia where the people would become the creators and curators of knowledge. People were, and are, engaged in the collaborative creation of this current and accurate body of knowledge because of the collaborative aspect of it. Just a few short years ago, academics criticized Wikipedia for its apparent lack of accuracy. It has been suggested that university professors now access Wikipedia more than any other database for their information. Indeed, Wikipedia is now the primary body of knowledge on the planet. In 2005, Wikipedia was just as accurate as Encyclopedia Brittanica (and has been added to, reviewed, and edited by millions around the world since then!).

In challenging times, we need to look at innovative ideas in an effort to continue our journey of improving our teaching practices. We cannot give up the quest to provide our students with the best possible learning environments just because funding has disappeared or budgets have tightened. Focus on your needs. Get creative and find ways to collaborate. Together we are strong!.