Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Teaching Trololo

Like so many of my students, I am a sucker for viral YouTube videos. One that has been making the rounds recently is of a Soviet-era guy lip syncing a cheesy song with no lyrics.

YouTube is not blocked in our school, so I must have heard this 30 times last week. Most viral stuff is fun fluff. Good for a laugh and it is on to the next thing. This one seemed a little different, though. This wasn't created to give teenagers something to laugh about and imitate (albeit screamingly funny to see our biggest linebacker "trololo" out the door). To add fuel to the viral fire, Mashable had just posted that Russian Singer’s “Trololo” Meme Gets an iPhone App! One student said "Dude - this is my new ring tone!"

A student asked "Who the heck is this guy?" An excellent question that prompted an exhilarating teachable moment. The hunt was on for the back story. A group of students jumped online and together and we were off on a tour of history.

The Week in Viral Video is a great portal for new videos getting a surge in hits, and gives a little background. It is a really valuable tool for keeping current with the next potential viral video and gain perspective on one that is currently popular. (A friend in my social network told me about this one. Thanks, Lisa!)

The performer, Edward Anatolevich Hill, is a highly honored Soviet-era performer, and the song I am so happy to finally be back home (like a "worm in your ear" as one YouTube comment said) was easily recognizable during  that time.  The musical style is vokaliz, in which the singer uses no words, only sound.  It is analagous to scat in vocal jazz, in which nonsense syllables are used instead of words, with the goal of turning the human voice into a pure instrument. Placed in context this is more than a viral video. It had meaning to the Soviet audiences of the time. Another version performed by the Azerbaidzhani singer Muslim Magomaev in a film from the early 1960s, The Blue Spark, and which Soviet audiences would have been very familiar with, is embedded below:

The really compelling part is the performer's name. Edward Hill. How did this English name show up with honors, medals, and tra-la-las in the Soviet Union?  The source article (Justin Erik Halldor Smith) has one intriguing sentence: "As for the peculiar name, I could find no information, but imagine that he is descended from the English elite that had established itself in western Russian cities by the 17th century."

The English Civil War (1641-1651) was a seismic shift for post-Elizabethan England. This was the era of the dashing yet doomed cavalier, and the short version is that a sizeable contingent of elites fled England and resettled in Russia. What happened to the English who took flight after the execution of Charles I? Could this be how Edward Hill came to be a star of the Soviet era? How ironic that they fled to a land that would soon be collectivized.

Digging around a little further and there was a revealing interview from August, 2009, where Edward Hill is referred to as Edward Gil. Of course, none of us could read Russian, but with help from Google Translate we got a pretty good version in English. Hill/Gil believes "Gil - the Spanish name. There's even a play "Don Gil - green pants." My ancestors came from Smolensk, the grandfather of the Berezina. Near Brest station is Tevli, there's plenty Hiley live.  Perhaps a Spaniard who was wounded during the retreat of Napoleon's troops remained on the Berezina.  The name of the Gil I have met in Latin America, Portugal, Europe, Sweden and Russia - everywhere.  And I traveled a lot."

A doomed cavalier fleeing post-Elizabethan England? A Spaniard left behind after Napoleon's retreat? All we know for sure is that Edward is an honored artist and more than a cheesy viral video.

What a rich, rewarding, fascinating experience it was, poking around history in this way. Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Google, JSTOR (yes, an academic source mixed in with social media) were guides. And yet how many of these are filtered by schools? YouTube is arguably the greatest archive of digital media the world has ever known. The best, the worst, the trivial, pornographic, mundane, historic, moronic, genius - a vast digital, searchable collection of global human achievement. And it is free.

The students and faculty in my high school are blessed with minimal Internet filtering. YouTube is not blocked. In our learning commons I have the luxury of being able to use these platforms to teach students research skills using a symphonic approach that includes social media. Our teachers use YouTube as an extension of the textbook for historic speeches, science and math content, foreign language classes, and even aggregating uploaded student video projects. (Many teachers use SafeShare to crop YouTube videos to remove ads and distracting sidebar images.)

I learned a lot, thanks to Edward Hill, and so did our students. Aside from the history of the English Revolution of 1640, Marxist interpretations of this era and a smattering of the Napoleonic War, we learned the value of looking behind the viral video, musical vocabulary from a different time, building context, and the true wealth of social media.

It is time for research and information skills to go viral, and these days this includes social media and YouTube. I wish everyone strength in waging your own revolution against the filters.

As a final ode to vokaliz, Trololo cat:

The English Revolution 1640
Source: The English Revolution 1640;
Written: in 1940;
Published: by Lawrence and Wishart;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden, 2002.

Photo Credit:
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
The Wounded Cavalier

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Google for Teachers

Have I mentioned how much I love my RSS feed lately? Via Joyce Valenza's blog, here is Richard Byrne's 33 page donloadable/embeddable ebook Google for Teachers. Focusing on the less visible but just as powerful options,  it has "21 ideas and how to instructions for creating Google Maps placemarks, directions creating and publishing a quiz with Google Docs forms, directions for embedding books into your blog, and visual aids for accessing other Google tools."

The generosity of educational bloggers never ceases to amaze me. Pass it along. (Click full screen for a great, readable version.)

Google for Teachers -

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The BEST reading incentive program evah!

This will be the best 5:07 minutes of your day.

They get it at the Ocoee Middle School. Taking a Black Eyed Peas hit and a flash mob dance this (as originally seen on the Oprah Show) is a beautiful example of a joyous celebration of reading. These students will never forget this event, and reading will always be associated with fun and achievement.

This is also a great example of the adaptive use of copyrighted material. The Black Eyed Peas should be very, very happy.

Congratulations and kudos to the teachers who pulled this together, and the administrators who supported the project.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Social convergence

Another great post from  Stephen's Lighthouse
got me thinking about about convergence. So much is going on with technology that at times it is overwhelming. Our students are also overwhelmed with multiple platforms and developing strategies for merging their work with presentation formats.

Two examples from this morning.
  1. A teacher walked in with a stressed student before the first bell. She had spent the weekend trying to merge a powerpoint with audio, a downloaded YouTube clip, images and other elements of her project into an video presentation using iMovie. She had been emailing her teacher, who was out of town, and the two of them were trying to trouble shoot long distance. It was frustrating for both of them, and ate up a lot of their Sunday. She is coming back later today for help and instruction in how to generate this project.
  2. A student creating a digital book trailer using Animoto stopped by for advice on how to embed his photo and music credits. After a couple minutes of brainstorming we came up with a very elegant solution. He would type them up as a document, save it as an image and then upload the image. Easy, but we needed to talk it through.

Creating knowledge in the digital age can be really challenging, and it can be frustrating. This is what learning looks like today, and it is very different than it was a short five years ago. Learning, information, technology, social media, and globalization have changed the landscape of work, and this is the future our students face.

The Economist agrees. In October of 2009 they hosted a global conference on media convergence in New York. They created this short video on the topic as a wake-up call to the captains of industry.

Teaching academic content now includes convergence. Teachers as well as students have a lot on their plates. This is the new terrain of the learning commons. A place where students and teachers turn for instruction and support in navigating the new world of work in a media rich environment.

Every day there is something new to learn, and challenges to troubleshoot.  This is my world of work, and I wouldn't change a thing.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

12 Differences

A re-mix from thewikiman  on Doug Johnson' s original post Yesterday's libraries, tomorrows libraries - 12 differences. The use of Prezi in interpreting the post is very effective. This serves as a great self-reflection tool.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bait and Switch

I am peeved this morning.  Specifically, with vendors who make in-roads in launching their products by offering free educator accounts, and then once they hit the big time, revoke or add hurdles to educators. As someone who works hard to promote web-based tools to teachers this sort of bait and switch is very frustrating. To add salt to the wound, I emailed one of our really popular web app platforms to ask about purchasing an educational site license and was told "we are reassessing our educational program." (see below.)  Man, this burns me.

Photo Credit:
Flickr Creative Commons

Bait and Switch (detail)

Uploaded on January 22, 2009
by ian f thomas

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