Sunday, March 25, 2012

Can't wait for an iPad Revolution in my classroom!

I just reviewed a videocast session at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) 2011 conference in Philadelphia called The iPad Revolution: Innovative Learning in the Classroom. Woah am I blown away! Camilla Gagliolo of Arlington Public Schools showed many examples of students ranging from Kindergarten through elementary school and special needs students using IPad’s in the classroom. She gave the talk with such enthusiasm that made me eager to pay attention throughout the entire one hour lecture. The iPads gave these students the ability to think differently and think deeper about a subject matter that their teacher had just presented. It was amazing and exciting to watch video footage of the students in action. My own school is just getting on the iPad bandwagon. We are so close in getting a mobile cart of 20 machines for our teachers to share. I know it’s not enough but it’s better than nothing! From the video, it seems that the most obvious reason for mobile devices in the classroom is the ease of implementing differentiated instruction. Every single student can be using a different app to cater to their specific interest or need.  Apps can also be used by small groups of students who can then discuss what they learned as well as collaborate on a task together. For example, in a Language Arts lesson, one group can be using an app for spelling (Spell it Rite), a word scrambler (scrambler 2) or a third app called Word Work. Then they can all switch! The final result is that each students builds their spelling and vocabulary skills in a fun interactive way without getting bored or frustrated.

The most fascinating concept that I went away with is that students showed a very small learning curve when using the iPad for the very first time as evident by the adorable and intelligent special needs child shown just learning to use the device. In the first iPad lesson, the little boy was enamored by the device, touching every icon and sliding this way and that. It was thrilling to see the excitement he had for the new toy. Only 2 weeks later, you saw the same boy totally focussed and answering every question on the interactive game correctly. You should have seen the smile on his face beaming with confidence. That smile is worth 1,000 iPads!

With the boom of ebooks and curriculum textbook companies rushing to create ebooks from their paper books for use on mobile devices, I can see huge financial benefits to iPads. At this rate, between ItunesU, iBooks and other ebook apps, it’s going to be possible for students not to have to carry a backpack to school any longer! Schools will also be able to keep up with their textbook purchases and updates.  In addition to textbook information, applications like TED Talks and Kahn Academy will allow students easy access to other resources beyond standard books. They will have access to podcasts, videos etc. that will enhance their learning and make them deeper learners. One TED talk showed a lecture by an ebook author who published an ebook with text, photos, video and voice, all interactive within one book. Amazing progress! To take it one step further, students on the video were able to create ebooks of their very own to publish and share with classmates and their parents. We can create a generation of writers and better communicators than the generation before us.

There are so many wonderful advantages to using mobile devices including iPads in the classroom that I think it trumps any disadvantages. Of course, the number one obstacle is expense. iPads are an expensive investment for a small school like mine but it seems that the only way to educate digital students is to join the digital revolution that is going on right before our eyes.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Talk to the Wiki!

A wiki is a webpage that (permitted) members can collectively add to or change. The benefit of wikipedia is that it is an “open-source” document and has the potential to be current and up-to-date.

There are so many uses for wikis in the classroom and as part of a subject and teachers curriculum from writing, collaboration and resource usefulness. I would like to focus on the value of out-of-class online discussions as part of a classroom component. Using Wikispaces as a discussion and forum tool allows educators to engage students in a text-based dialogue between the teacher and students as well as the students with each other. This tool can facilitate a meaningful learning dialogue amongst students who would normally not be creating such dialogue, if any, in the classroom face to face with their peers. A discussion tool like wiki also helps develop students‘ written communication skills  which is an added benefit to a language arts or reading teacher, for example. Wikis are a great way to document changes made in the writing process. During the editing and revising stages, you could have students do peer reviews on each others work and offer comments and suggestions for improvements or clarifications. Discussion forums allow time and space for educators and students to articulate their thoughts, ideas and opinions clearly and thoughtfully when engaging in classroom related dialogue. Sometimes people get their second wind in the evening. What a better time to share your ideas and thoughts to your peers or teacher then when you are “on!” In addition, with the onset of digital and mobile tools like social networking and smart phone texting, students are practically raised communicating online to their peers, we might as well take advantage of that environment and bring it into the classroom. Wikis also allow us the flexibility to engage with any and all students. The shy ones, the class clowns, the intellectuals whenever and however its suits the needs of the class and in a way to get the best of each student.

Discussion forums like those available on Wikispaces are an exceptionally useful tool for getting students more involved in curriculum and creates a sense of equality and commonality among the students in the classroom.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A virtual world takes “real” time to learn

Second Life is a 3D virtual world where people can create avatars and communicate with other people in the Second Life world. Avatars can simulate almost any real-life actions. It is basically a game taken to the next level. It’s can be used in education for online role-playing games which teaches analytical skills, team building, and problem solving techniques.  There are over a half a million acres of virtual lands and users can interact with people from around the world and visit any location or historical landmark. Teachers can teach their students about the world and its inhabitants through a virtual world of information. The students can voice chat or text chat with others and they can participate in a virtual world of learning. Students can learn firsthand how science, math and literature are used in the real world and they can gain knowledge while having fun. Virtual worlds can have a positive impact in the classroom.

That being said, there is one big disadvantage that I see when introducing a virtual world like Second Life. The extensive amount of time it takes not only to get comfortable enough with the tool but also to use it efficiently.  It takes so much more time than average web tools to learn and train students how to use properly and safely. First, the system requirements needed to run Second Life are pretty specific. You need to run it on a decent video driver for it to work well. My brand new laptop didn’t cut it!

Secondly, once you login, it takes a while to get situated and get your bearings. You need figure out where you are and where you are going and how to interact with people along the way. You need to find some purpose in your adventure or you will find yourself lost hours and hours later. Second Life allows you to meet people that you would not normally meet in person. You can expand your PLN but you can also meet people that may not enhance your learning experience. Since it’s in real-time, you need to excuse yourself from a room. There seems to be a little more etiquette involved in Second life than with Facebook or Twitter. You might be stuck in a sticky situation!  Maybe you had some fun and you were in a zone, but did you accomplish anything or did you waste time? We all need to keep up with our emails, social networking sites, blogs, meetings etc. Do we really have time to learn a new world when we barely have enough time to figure out the world we live in today? Do we have time in our classrooms and curriculum to introduce a new world to our students when we struggle to teach them about the basics of this world barely integrating  technology into it. Unless you are very proficient in Second Life or have very techno-savvy students, be cautious of the amount  time you spend on teaching and learning in virtual environments. You may lose sight on what you wan to accomplish!

For your reference, the Discovery Educator Network Leadership Council, a group of volunteer educators who assist other educators in beginning their own journey into the virtual world, share tips for those starting out and setting them on the right path to begin their own explorations in the virtual world. Also EDTECH Island is located in Second Life, and is a free resource for all teachers and offers a variety of spaces for educational events and teaching, a sandbox, and an informational center.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Using Jing to Teach the Teacher!

I have been using Jing for several months now. I encountered the product out of frustration with my non tech-savvy co-workers. One of the most frequent technical issues that our new or techno-phobic teachers encounter is basic account information, access to student gradebooks, and posting student reports using the Edline student information system. I answer the same questions over and over. Some of the educators understand me, and some of them don’t. Sometimes, I have a hard time seeing the problem from their point of view. It’s one of my professional (and personal) issues regarding patience. I don’t understand “Edline is not working” or “No one can see my reports - its broken”. After I look into the problem and try to explain the steps to them, and they still don’t get it, I am just as frustrated as they are. We don’t seem to speak the same language! But now that I have Jing....we do!

Jing is basically a screen sharing tool. It allows you to capture anything on your computer screen either as a still image or as a video up to 5 minutes long. It is an excellent tool for narrating and sharing what is on your screen. Screen capture tools allow you to make a narrated video showing how to do something on a computer. It records your mouse, and everything you click on and show on your screen. Once you’re done recording, it will automatically upload your video to Screencast – where you can store up to 2 GB of storage, and access direct links and embedding code for your videos.
When the teacher tells me that they would like to change their password or forgot their password. I forward them a link to the Jing “movie” I created showing them exactly what to do. They can watch it once, many times as they want! If a teacher would like to add certain fields to their gradebook reports to parents, I forward them a Jing video that shows them exactly what to do. Now when that still fails, at least we both can speak in the same language. I can better understand what they did and what didn’t work and they can understand me, with my techno language and all. This trick has helped me solve the work-related issue of having to explain over and over again to your users how your library systems work. It’s a great compromise!

There are many more possible uses of Jing that I would like to provide our Educators as part of general technical support and professional development:

  • Create a wide variety of training videos for all areas of our School Information System and online activities required by their supervisors
  • Record presentations on how to use certain tech tools in their classrooms
  • Record presentations on what technology tools can be helpful for different projects/grades/subject matters.
You can download a free version of Jing at