Going Beyond the Tools!

September 5, 2014

Welcome back everyone! I hope you had a great summer. I’m excited to announce that Avi Spector’s ICT Blog is evolving into something a little different this school year. In the spring of 2008, Avi Spector’s ICT blog was started to collect and share web-based tools that could be used in our classrooms. It’s hard to believe that just six years ago smartphones were rare in the classroom, and apps and tablets didn’t even exist. Technology integration mainly involved using interactive websites to supplement teaching materials and there was lots of buzz around our new SMARTBoards. As such, a big part of my job was visiting FGA centres to provide one-size-fits-all technology demos to large groups of teachers.

Over time, I discovered that focusing solely a tool was not necessarily the best approach. Many workshop participants had trouble applying the tool in their own classroom environment, and therefore, they did not use it. As I got closer to the teachers I moved away from a one-size-fits-all approach and began working more collaboratively with teachers and smaller groups to come up with individualized solutions. We now start by first looking at the learning objective(s), rather than designing a lesson or learning situation around a particular tool.

This is the motivation behind my new website, Beyond the Tools. I want to help teachers move beyond the tools and work together to share our best practices in regards to technology integration. Rather than simply providing information about an app or tool, I will be focusing instead on sharing stories of successful projects and connecting teachers with similar goals.

I’ve also ported over my full history of app suggestions, interactive whiteboard content, and web tool suggestions from my old ICT blog. These may come in handy as you brainstorm about projects and look at what you would like to accomplish in the classroom. These all can be found at my new site at www.beyondthetools.com.

As many of our schools have opened their wifi networks to students, a lot of us now find ourselves teaching in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) classroom. Students might be experts at using their own devices but often still need a teacher’s guidance in knowing how and when to use their technology for learning. How can we help our students with information literacy skills (critical thinking, search strategies, copyrights) and safe on-line behavior? How can concepts like the Flipped Classroom and Gamification help in a BYOD classroom?

These are just a few of the topics I’d like to address on the new site. As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback. I’m also interested in hearing about you and showcasing your projects on Beyond The Tools for others to see and learn from throughout the year. Be sure to check my “speaking and events” section for upcoming events and links to resources from past workshops. See you around!

Note: If you’re already subscribed to Avi Spector’s ICT Blog by e-mail, I will automatically move over your e-mail subscription to Beyond the Tools. Nothing needs to be done on your part.


Students tell their own stories with Adobe Voice!

May 27, 2014

Link: Adobe Voice website

Quick overview: Adobe Voice allows your students to narrate in conjunction with images, icons, and text. The app is incredibly easy to use, yet produces very polished results. Great for ANY language classroom and encourages a student-centered approach. Free!

How did we use it in the classroom? I first used Adobe Voice with Megan Maclean, an English teacher at the New Horizons Adult Education Centre (ETSB). Megan’s learning objective was to help her multilevel English students (Secondary Levels 4 and 5) articulate their ideas in an organized, concise manner. In preparation for the Adobe Voice activity, students were asked to research information to support their viewpoint(s). They then used the app to put together a complete presentation. Here is an example from one of Megan’s students:

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How did it go? Adobe Voice took the pressure off the students as they no longer had to stand up in front of the class and present. The students could re-record each spoken segment until they were happy. This gave them more practice speaking compared to the “one-shot deal” of an oral presentation. The following week, I worked with Darlene Brown (SWLSB/TLE) to adapt this activity to her multilevel CCBE class at CDC Vimont. I should note that before either class touched any iPads, we spent time helping students develop their viewpoints on a paper sheet. We formatted the paper sheet so that it would help keep the students on track as they were recording in Adobe Voice:

adobe_voice_blog

Benefits: The app is free and easy to use. Both groups of students were up and running in less than ten minutes. The app includes access to a plethora of copyright free images, icons, music. Activities done in the app can scale from Literacy to Secondary level language students. Our test students liked the app so much that they kept asking how to download it on their own devices! While the interface is in English, it could also be used in a second language classroom too. For those of you teaching at the elementary level, I successfully tested it out with my 5 year old daughter and (with a little help) she created a simple story about loosing her first tooth.

Limitations: Students must create an Adobe account or log-in with a personal Facebook account to save and share their work on-line. Currently, you cannot save projects in the iPad’s Camera Roll. That being said, you can still view completed student projects in the app without saving them on-line. At the moment, the app is only available on Apple’s iOS platform.

Downloadable resources: Darlene and Megan have generously offered to share their lesson plan and prep sheet so you can reproduce or adapt the activity for your own class. Huge thanks to both Megan and Darlene!

  • Adobe Voice lesson plan by Megan Maclean
  • Adobe Voice paper prep sheet concept by Megan Maclean, updated and adapted by Darlene Brown (for the students)

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3 simple web tools to create on-line posters

November 26, 2013

Quick overview: Three web 2.0 tools to create on-line posters that can help language students develop writing and communication competencies:

poserts

ThingLink: ThingLink allows students to create an interactive poster with links, text, or videos. For example, here’s a Martin Luther King poster created with ThingLink. If you’re looking at the poster on a computer, you’ll notice that you can hover your mouse over the different icons on the MLK poster to bring up different multimedia elements. Here’s 27 ways of how ThingLink can be used in the classroom. ThingLink works on Apple mobile devices too.

Automotivator: Automotivator allows one to create motivational-stytle posters. One way this tool can be used in a language classroom would be to explore proverbs in a more visual way by asking students to create posters around proverbs. Often the meanings of the proverbs cannot be interpreted literally, so there’s lots of concepts to play with! Here’s one poster I threw together for a quick example of the tool. Visit the “50 most important English proverbs” website to get your students started.

Smore: Last year, Tina La Rosa’s Accessing Services (B124-4) Literacy students at Galileo Adult Centre used Smore to create detailed posters to help develop writing and speaking competencies. One reason Tina chose Smore was because it allowed her students to work with more text in comparison to other poster creation tools at the time. Please click here if you’d like to know more about Tina’s activity.

Benefits and Limitations of the three tools: Automotivator works well when you’re working with a small amount of text and would like to provide your students a novel way to play with a simple language concept, such as proverbs. ThingLink is an easy way to make a poster that links to other content on the web. Smore is your best bet if you’d like your students to make a more complex poster with pictures, lots of text, and YouTube videos. As a reminder, always remind your students to use copyright free images when working with any of these poster tools.

Automotivator: www.wigflip.com/automotivator
Thinglink: www.thinglink.com
Smore: www.smore.com

Source: Simple K12’s “101 Free Tech Tools for Teachers“, ISTE 2013 San Antonio

Special note: There’s still space in my webinars next week! Please click the following links if you’d like to register for the Flipping the Classroom (12PM-1PM, December 3rd) or the Bring Your Own Device (12PM-1PM, December 4th) webinars.


The “new and improved” Animoto allows students to create short video trailers

October 15, 2013

Quick overview: The completely redesigned Animoto allows students to combine images and video clips to create a short video montage. The resulting video montage looks somewhat like a movie trailer, with slick transitions and professional looking effects:

snowballHow does it work? Animoto allows you to choose a theme and copyright free music. Students upload their own digital images and videos and place them in the order they would like them to appear. The resulting Animoto video clips are stored on-line and can be shared with other students by means of a unique web link. A free account is limited to 30 second video clips. However, if you’d like to apply for a free “Animoto Plus” educator account (with less limitations) please follow this link on the Animoto website. Works on PC, Mac, and mobile Apple and Google devices.

How can Animoto be used in the classroom? Even with a 30 second limit, there’s lots of different ways that Animoto can be used in the classroom to create a:

•    Public service announcement (PSA)
•    Student video introduction (Literacy, FSL)
•    Teacher created video to introduce a new concept
•    Point of view on a product, service, or political party
•    Introduction for a book or movie character
•    Short clip to demonstrate historical or geographical information

Benefits and limitations: Students cannot narrate over the video. If you want to create more complex videos with narration, then you may want to look at iMovie on the iPhone, iPad, or Mac. That being said, there’s a pretty low learning curve for Animoto and there’s no need for fancy hardware or expensive software. To cut down on the amount of time that students fiddle with the music and look of the video, Animoto provides pre-made templates. However, not all templates are available with the free account. Last but not least, the 30 second “limitation” on the free accounts can actually be beneficial as it forces students to choose the most relevant images and text to get their point across. As always, make sure students use copyright free images or student photos when using this tool!

Last but not least: When choosing a template for a new Animoto video on the web, the link to continue (using the free account) may not be that prominent. Be sure to look for the “make a 30-second video for free” as seen in this screenshot. Have fun!

Web link: www.animoto.com
iPad/iPhone: Link
Android: Link

Source: Adam Bellow’s “Make Your Classroom Rock” ISTE 2013, San Antonio


Create a written skit between one or more people with Doc Story Builder

October 8, 2013

Quick overview: Doc Story Builder tool simulates a written (i.e. – typed) conversation between one or more people writing in a simulated Google Document. While incredibly easy to use, it produces a result that looks like a polished TV commercial. This tool works on any Mac or PC computer. The tool helps students focus on writing competencies and communicating/storytelling.

Link: http://docsstorybuilder.appspot.com

How can it be used in the classroom? App Story Builder can be used to create a simulated conversation between two or more people to:

- Simulate a conversation between two or more historical figures
– Demonstrate spelling/grammatical mistakes in an FSL or Literacy class
– Introduce a new concept to your class in the form of a funny skit
– Ask student to create their own skits around a certain topic

How does it work? First, you choose the names of the characters in your skit. Next, write in the text and preview what it looks like with your choice of the included (copyright free) music. That’s it! App Story Builder will then put together a little animated story that can be shared with others via a unique link. See example:
docstoryBenefits and Limitations: There’s no need to create an account, it’s easy to use, and produces great results. That being said, ask students to keep things short and I highly suggest you limit the amount of times you use this with your students. If used too often, the tool will likely become tiresome and the novelty will quickly wear off. The background music does not (currently) work on Apple iOS devices. (Thanks to Elizabeth Walhof, Educational Technology Specialist at Douglass County School District for telling me about this tool at one of our sessions at ISTE 2013!)

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Duolingo is a revolutionary new way to help learn a second language!

September 10, 2013

Quick overview: Duolingo is a free tool that helps students learn a second language at their own pace. Duolingo is available on the web or as an iPad/Android app for mobile devices. In reviews, Duolingo is often compared positively to Rosetta Stone. This tool is definitely worth checking out, highly recommended!

How can this be used in the classroom? First and foremost, I see this tool as an excellent fit for a student in an individualized FSL class. Using concepts borrowed from a gamified classroom model students progress at learning a language at their own pace and progress through skill trees which requires them to master concepts before moving onto learning more complicated material. Students will be asked to speak, listen, and read in French. For my international readers, it works in other languages too! (Source: Adam Bellow’s “Make Your Classroom Rock” ISTE 2013, San Antonio)

Duolingo web: www.duolingo.com
Duolingo iPad: link
Duolingo Android: link

Benefits and Limitations: If you plan on using this tool in your school’s computer lab but don’t have enough microphones to go around, you may want to consider using the Duolingo App on an iPad or Android device instead. These devices already have a microphone built-in. If you’d like to read more about the effectiveness of Duolingo, please take a look at this detailed report.
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ICT Tip: Smore allows students to create on-line posters

January 29, 2013

This ICT tip could be best applied to the following subjects:

Link: www.smore.com

Quick overview: English, Literacy, or FSL language students can use Smore to create on-line posters to announce a community event, advertise an mock product, create a class newsletter, and more! What I like best about Smore is that students can quickly choose the poster’s look from a choice of templates, which helps keep the main focus on writing (i.e. – learning a language) rather than fiddling with the design.

How can it be used in the classroom? As an example, if you have students who are in the process of learning what’s involved in renting an apartment or organizing a community event, this tool could help them put new vocabulary they’ve learned into practice by creating a digital poster. Furthermore, if students present their finalized posters to the class, you could use the opportunity to address common mistakes (grammar, vocabulary, content, etc..) that may be present across the various groups. Since the poster is all digital, students can correct errors as they go along. YouTube videos can be embedded too. Last but not least, as the posters often don’t contain too much text, you may want to ask your students to create a series of small posters around a single theme. A free account sign-up required. (Source: 60in60 with Brandon Lutz, San Diego ISTE 2012, tutorial video from Theresa Quilici‘s YouTube channel.)


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