Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wiki for the Left Brained

While I am known in my district as "that podcast guy" the Web 2.0 tools I like the most are wikis. The ability to create a web page quickly that allows others to edit is like a dream come true for teachers who want to do collaborative projects but not sure how to spread out the credit for participation in completing the project. There is always one or two groups where one person does most of the work while the rest sit back and take credit. Good wikis allow people to see a history of a page's development with who has done particular edits to a page.

PBWiki has become popular because of its ease of use and its word processor-like wysiwyg interface. Now there is a new wiki for the more random, left-brain, creative types: PikiWiki. PikiWiki is like doing a scrapbook, you start with a blank sheet then paste text, pictures, video, audio anywhere on the page. Each item on the page is like a note. If you don't like the look of your page you can slide the notes around to suit you. There are also tools to help you with the alignment of your items. The concept is good and should prove popular to teachers who embrace wikis as classroom tools. Click here for a sample page I put together using PikiWiki.

Keep in mind, PikiWiki is in a public alpha which means this wiki site is just getting started and still has bugs to work out. One problem is the site does not show the page history which shows page comparisons detailing the evolution of a page. Since you cannot see the page comparisons, you cannot restore an earlier version of the page if someone attempts to sabotage the page (we all know students who might try this). Once the kinks are worked out of the system, the people of the PikiWiki told me they will, PikiWiki should become a great tool for teachers and students.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Google Presentations gets you talking

Ok, forget what I said about presentations being boring. Google has now added Presentation to its list of Google Apps. Google Presentation has been panned by reviewers for not having enough tools to create presentations like Microsoft PowerPoint. However, there is one thing I have found that I like if you teach online or have do a presentation where every participant has a computer, the ability to chat. This communication method would be useful for allowing participants to ask questions during a presentation or communicate with other participants. To access this feature you just have to post the presentation and Google takes care of the rest. You will be given a URL to share which you will give out. This could make presentations more interesting by allowing the audience to participate more.

Technorati Profile

It that a DS in your bookbag? Get it out and open it up!

A teacher telling a student to get out his or her Nintendo DS and start playing an assigned game sounds like a dream to all gamers, including my son. However, Japanese students (and adults) are using their gaming systems for educational pursuits. According to Newsweek International report the Japanese are increasingly viewing the DS as a self-improvement device instead of a time-waster. Top-selling programs include educational games that improve vocabulary, cultural literacy, math skills, and foreign language instruction. Educational games and software have sold over 20 million copies in Japan.

This trend may sweep the United States in the near future. Brain Age for Nintendo DS has been a top seller, drawing adults to purchase the portable gaming devices. The publisher recently released a sequel, Brain Age II which has inspired a bundle package with a special edition Nintendo DS. Other "brain training" games have sold well in the U.S. as well. The Nintendo Wii is also drawing praise for making players physically active, which is drawing traditionally non-gamers into the market. Soon Americans should see some of the educational and self-improvement games currently popular in Japan.

What has this got to do with schools? Last year I attended a break-out session on gaming at the South Carolina EdTech Conference. The presenters in that session pointed out something educators should take note of. In most games, to get to the next level you must master assigned tasks. Players will try different tactics, research the game, and/or work with other players to achieve the goal of advancement. Now imagine a game where a player must have a knowledge of math, science, history, etc..., to play a game and we are not talking about repetitive drills either. The hero must solve a geometry problem to cross an obstacle, then use history to crack a code, a knowledge of science to figure out a way out of a trap. If the game is interesting enough, students will flock to their textbooks or the internet to help them play the game. With the mark-up in educational software, this could prove lucrative to game designers.

Gina Hughes Yahoo Blog
Learning Game, Newsweek International

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Photo Essays That Rock!

I hate to admit this but sometimes I would almost nod off when students would present their projects. It was not the student's fault for having what seemed like the one billionth PowerPoint on some country in the world or a Civil War event. Face it, Power Points get dull after awhile. At the 2006 South Carolina EdTech Conference David Warlick closed his keynote address with a simple video done by a high school that was captivating. What made this video so captivating was it effectively used both pictures and music to help convey the message while holding the audiences' attention.

While the video David Warlick showed may have looked simple it may have taken many hours to produce given existing software a couple of years ago. Now similar videos can be created through an online application called Animoto. Just select the digital pictures you wish to use, about 12-20 for a 30 second video, add some music you can import or use music provided by Animoto, and the application will do the rest. Videos can be e-mailed or posted online to blogs or social networking sites.

30 second clips are free but longer videos will cost $3 each. Not a bad price considering what has been spent on supplies for more conventional projects. If you find yourself creating more than 10 videos per year then there is a $30 option that allows you to create unlimited videos per year. Students can now put together picture essays with the right music that no one could ever sleep through.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A touch of hope

Earlier today I was privileged to observe a group of teachers from our district present Smart Board lesson plans for a class they were taking. These lesson plans, ranging from elementary to high school, were very creative. Yet, what impressed me the most was their excitement in being able to use this technology. When I asked the group if it changed the way they teach for the better, the answer was a loud and clear YES! I also asked them how their students liked using Smart Boards. The answer was "THEY LOVE IT!" One 30 year veteran told me "I don't know how I got along without a Smart Board." Another teacher called Smart Boards "God's gift to teaching!" They believe Smart Boards can help students learn, they asked when the district was going to add more so there would be continuity in learning. I have never seen or heard such excitement from teachers about technology. After blogging about a teacher who claimed teachers who don't adapt will be heading into "the tar pits of tomorrow, what I saw today has given me hope our profession can and will change.

BCSD Smart Board Lesson Plans

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pownce on posting assignments

Yesterday I received an invitation to join Pownce, a new social networking site that allows users to post mini-blogs easily. I already am a member of Twitter which does basically the same thing. The biggest difference, and one that will be of use to teachers, is the ability to attach files to postings. This would be a great tool for teachers to post homework assignments with any worksheets or handouts needed to complete the assignment.

Won't websites do the same thing? Yes but you have to login to your website or boot the software, make your changes, save your work, then post it on the Internet. With Pownce, a teacher can have the site open on their web browser. When they need to post something, they just type it in, add any attachments, then click the send button. Students can view postings on the site directly or can subscribe using RSS news feeders. Teachers can also post any changes to an assignment just as easy.

Pownce is still in beta and users can join by invitation but when they open up to everyone, I will let you know.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How's the tar dinosaurs?

William Penn Charter School English teacher Mark Franek discovered that using web tools such as blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and other applications has improved the quality of his students' writing. The reason for this improvement? Students quickly realized the teacher is not the only one reviewing their work. As he puts it in his editorial in the Christian Science Monitor:

Teachers who are using blogs, social-networking sites, and video-sharing sites in school settings are giving young people the opportunity to tune their thinking and writing to a larger audience. When students know that anyone in the school with an Internet connection – or around the world, for that matter – can read what they have written or created, it is remarkable how quickly their thinking improves, not to mention the final product."

Mr. Franek's next observation might not get him invited to Friday after school happy hours with his fellow teachers in many schools, "The first dinosaurs into the tar pits of tomorrow will be teachers who refuse to adapt to new technology." This is fairly strong language. I know teachers who absolutely refuse to adapt because they believe their overhead projectors and slides with a video thrown in occasionally are all the technology they need to do their jobs. They are not lazy teachers either, their students score high on Advanced Placement exams. What they don't realize are students are comfortable with blogs, social-networking sites, and video-sharing sites and know how to make them work. These are the tools students will be using when they join the working world.

However, since these teachers perform, administrators are willing to over look these technological shortcomings and this is understandable. Yet, I sometimes wonder how the students of these high performing teachers students would feel if these teachers decided to update technology skills. What would happen to scores of the free response sections AP exams if students practiced using blogs going to millions of readers (some of whom might be experienced exam readers) instead of papers going to one teacher.

Web pulls world into classroom

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Educational Good and Evil: Apple's New iPods

With the September 5th iPod announcements Apple may have, or should have, started a discussion on how their products should be received in the classroom. Schools across the country are coming up with policies regarding electronic devices such as mobile phones and music players. These policies range from zero tolerance and confiscation on site to students may have the device as long as it is turned off and kept out of site.

Tne Apple products that should have schools rethinking their stance on electronic devices: the iPod Touch and is brother the iPhone. Let's put aside the phone and music players functions for a moment and focus on the Internet feature and its value to the classroom. The iPod Touch and iPhone have the ability to receive Wi-Fi which allows the devices to connect to the Internet wirelessly. The Sony Play Station Portable also has the capability to connect to the Internet wirelessly. This means another portable device that can be used to conduct Internet searches and use online apps such as Google Docs. Unlike the PSP, the Apple devices do have keyboards for easier input.

The problems with the iPhone and the iPod Touch are being a phone and a music/video player. This means administrators will have to weigh the benefits of Apple's devices and eventual clones against the devices seen as disruptions in the classroom. All-in-one devices which have Internet, phones, music players, etc... are only multiplying. Another thing, while the cost of both the iPhone and iPod Touch are still prohibitive for the average student they are cheaper than previous devices with similar features. It is just a matter of time before students will have devices that have educational benefits (Internet, writing tools, book readers) in the same package with educational taboos (phones, music players, texting) stuffed in their book bags. Now should be a time to start thinking about they will be received when they come to school.

ARS Technica article

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

If done outside of class is it still writing?

Duke University writing professor, Bradley Hammer, claims students are writing more today than in the past due to blogging, posting on social network sites, text messages, and e-mail. While they are not writings in the classical sense, he claims "...blogging and all online communication open the door for people of all ages to write, express an opinion, then back it up and defend it." There are two point that can be learned from this:

1. Like it or not, blogging and texting are not going away. They have become the pencil and paper of the new age and our students are comfortable with it. Students are using these tools to do all kinds of writing on their own.

2. Students need to learn that writing is a useful tool to convey thoughts and ideas when done properly. If writing is not done properly, then it can become a very destructive weapon.

Teachers do not have to accept the attitude of 'well its their way of doing things and I will never understand it' or . While I like technology and advocate its use in education, I have always believed the ability to write will serve one well in life. Teachers will have to accept the changes in the technology then guide their students on better ways to use it by incorporating it in their curriculm but still insist on quality when writing. Think about this, your students are writing to a potentially large audience (yes they are). Like it or not their writing is a reflection on you.

Kids Who Blog, Text Are Writing

Why the blog beats the essay in writing class

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Designing Students

TechCruch reports Swatchbox Technologies launched DesignMyRoom which allows users to decorate rooms online. The idea is simple, select a room then decorate it by dragging and dropping furniture, accents, paint, or anything needed to create your dream room. You can only have one project for free (no word on pricing for multiple projects) but you can upload your project for others to see. Also, if you wish, projects can be altered by other users. One feature I liked was that you are using real products with pricing information and links to a store so you can purchase them.

DesignMyRoom could make a wonderful art project for just about any grade. With the thousands of choices students could make some interesting creations. The drag and drop interface is easy but placement may take some practice. The cost listing feature of products would allow teachers to set a budget for the project. This would be a great assignment for economics students learning about personal finance. Finally, since uploaded projects can be altered by other users, assignments can be cooperative as well.

DesignMyRoom - Very Useful Tool For Virtual Interior Design

DesignMyRoom launched this afternoon - It’s a new product from a company called Swatchbox Technologies that allows people to decorate a real room virtually via a photograph of the room and DesignMyRoom’s library of stuff. Previously the company, which has been around for 11 years, sold 2 million copies of desktop software that has similar functionality as the online tool.

If you thought MyMiniLife was cool, wait until you spend some time playing around with this.

The first step is to pick an empty room, or upload a photo of your own room. You then start decorating it by adding a floor, paint, fixtures, furniture, etc. I made my own room during testing - see the before and after photos above. I also made the project public, so anyone can log in to it and make changes. Have at it.

Objects can be resized, rotated and moved around the room. The next step, the company says, is to allow users to upload their own images and insert them into the room. They’ve also paid attention to details - notice the shadows behind the clover and the lamp, for example, and the light coming into the room from the windows.

It also would be great if they created an embeddable version of the projects (something I assume they’ll do eventually).

There is a clear and really good business model here - selling people the real stuff once they’ve seen it virtually in their room. The company also makes money through product placement and other advertising.

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