Saturday, April 26, 2008

FM in my classroom

I'd like to hear about the cool things you're doing in your classrooms, and I'm a little glowing with the success of what happened yesterday, so here it is:

I actually bought the stuff for this last fall, but I never had a compelling reason to use it until yesterday (Friday). First I'll tell you about the stuff I bought, then I'll tell about the situation that arose that made me want to put it into use, then I'll tell you the beautiful thing that happened in my classroom.

On second thought I'm going to do it backward so it better tells the story of the need driving to the tool---I'm too often guilty of finding out about a tool (envision a screwdriver) and then looking around my school for screws that need my tool.

The Beautiful Thing in My Classroom
Yesterday in my two study hall classes, nobody was bored. Nobody, not even the kids who have caught up their work and don't really care to sit and read (that's what they normally do), asked if I needed any help with anything. It was pretty much perfectly silent in my classroom, as half the kids worked on missing assignments and the other half . . . watched the screen at the front of the room with rapt attention.
Two questions: What were they watching, and why was it silent in the room?
They were watching podcasted sessions of TED Talks (more about that in a minute), and they were each wearing a mini FM radio and tuned in to my frequency.

The Situation That Arose
I had seen some TED sessions before, but I'd never followed through to go to the iTunes Store in iTunes, search TED, and subscribe to the free video podcast. Wednesday night at our Regional EdTech Event someone mentioned it again, so I took a moment and subscribed. Then on my commute I played a couple of episodes and was impressed anew at the ideas that are expressed there. I listened to the one on String Theory and a funny one about North Korea, and once again I said to myself . . . "I wish my middle schoolers could be hearing this stuff!"
Simultaneous with this wish to share the ideas with my student audience is the fact that many of my study hall kids don't need study hall as much as they thought they would, so battling boredom is a constant.

The Techie Tool
Last fall I bought a little FM transmitter from Crane. Actually I bought another less powerful one first that didn't work, but I like the Crane and was able to open it up and increase its broadcast power (I just followed someone else's instructions they'd posted online--it was easy enough). I also bought 30 little FM radios at the Dollar Store. Some of those didn't work, so I threw the radio part away and sold the headphones to kids for a buck. :)

My total cost is a bit over $100 plus batteries, and it's fully cool. I hooked up the Crane transmitter to my computer and projected the video on my screen. The room is silent, with 15 kids watching TED Talks and the other 10 busily finishing their math so they can watch, too.

I warned the kids not to waste my batteries listening to the radio, and then I decided to check up on them. They had just listened with rapt attention to Stephen Hawkings (okay, I admit to disrupting the silence by talking about Hawkings and the machine he was using to communicate), and I was ready to start them on the talk about North Korea. I leaned in close to my computer and whispered "Hi guys. I'm just checking to see if you're listening. If you can hear me, please put your thumb on your chin, okay?" Since I use a Mac, the software I used to pass my voice from input to output is called LineIn (sorry--I don't know what I'd use on the PC, but if you can help me with that I'd like to know). Everybody in the room with headphones responded by putting thumb to chin EXCEPT for Aaron, and I leaned in again and whispered "Aaron, are you listening to the radio or to the TED Talks?" Everybody looked at Aaron and grinned, and he suddenly grew embarrassed and said "What?!?" I said "Better give my headset back, bud."

Kids left study hall with their math homework done (which is good) and other kids left study hall with their brains stretched a little, which is maybe even better. I got to try my little invention and was very pleased with its success.


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