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.


Desmos is an on-line graphing calculator that allows students to dynamically interact with equations

October 1, 2013

Quick overview: Desmos is a powerful graphing calculator that works in a web browser or on Apple iOS devices. Desmos can graph color coded functions, plot tables of data, transformations, and more. Free!

What does the tool do? To start, here’s a simple example of an intercept slope from the Desmos website. For other possible uses, I’ll provide you with a description from the Desmos website, “The calculator can instantly plot any equation, from lines and parabolas up through derivatives and Fourier series. Data tables open up a world of curve-fitting and modeling. Sliders make it a breeze to demonstrate function transformations. As browser-based HTML5 technology, the graphing calculator works on any computer or tablet without requiring any downloads. It’s intuitive, beautiful math. And best of all: it’s completely free!”

How can I use it in the classroom? Use the tool as another way to explain trickier concepts to students. For a more student centered approach, you could allow your students to experiment with the tool on your Interactive White Board (SMARTBoard) during the hands-on portion of class. Students can also use the Demos app on an iPad/iPhone to pick apart and play with equations at their own desk. (Source: Adam Bellow’s “Make Your Classroom Rock” ISTE 2013, San Antonio)

Web Link: www.desmos.com
iPad/iPod App Link: Link to App storedesmosict_50


Two different “infographic” tools to simplify complex information

September 17, 2013

Quick overview: An Inforgraphic allows you or your students to create a professional looking visual representation of real world data. Piktochart.com and Easelly are two on-line tools that allow one to create an infographic in a simple interface. No graphic design experience needed!

What is an infographic? Here’s a perfect definition from Wikipedia, “Infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly. Infographics can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends.”

ease2

How can I use infographics in the classroom? Are looking for ways to bring some visual impact to statistics in a math or economics class? Why not ask your students to research statistics (on a topic related to your course material) and demonstrate their findings in an infographic?

Where do I get raw data? A good place to start would be to ask your students to look through some of the data sources below:

- Statistics Canada: www.statcan.gc.ca/start-debut-eng.html
– Number of things: www.numbeof.net
– Wolfram Alpha: www.wolframalpha.com
– US census: www.census.gov
– Datamarket.com: www.datamarket.com
– Google Public Data Explorer www.google.com/publicdata/directory

Benefits and limitations: I’d go out on a limb and recommended that you first start out with Piktochart and see if it fits your classroom needs. It’s user friendly and allows you to easily insert charts and graphs into your Infographics. Easelly is also very user friendly, but there is (currently) no way automatically create charts and graphs based on collected data.

Word to the wise: I recommended that you set a predetermined time limit on how long they can spend on adjusting the “look” and theme of their infographics. The focus should be on interpreting the data. As I’ve mentioned with other multimedia tools, students might spend more time focusing on the bells and whistles (i.e. – making things pretty) rather than focusing on the learning objectives of the project.

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Source: ISTE 2013 San Antonio: Carmella Doty, Prince George’s County BOE with Renee Henderson, Infographics: Learn How to Create and Present Information Visually and Adam Bellow’s “Make Your Classroom Rock” ISTE 2013, San Antonio


Mobile Monday: Two apps that can help students in an individualized math classroom

March 18, 2013

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

App info: Khan Academy for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad / Cost: Free (No official Android version, but many 3rd party equivalents exist)

App info: Wolfram Alpha for the iPhone, iPod and iPad / Cost: 4.99$ (Android version available too)

Kkhanhan Academy: If you haven’t heard about Khan Academy, please read my earlier blog post. Khan Academy now has an iPad app that students can use to view hundreds of math related videos recorded by Salman Khan. The benefit of the iPad app (compared to simply watching his videos on YouTube) is that the majority of the videos are broken down into small “one sentence chapters” which allows students to skip back and forth to any part in the explanations. This app could work well in an individualized classroom when you may not have enough time to re-explain a concept to one particular student, he may benefit from another explanation, and/or learns better at his own pace. While they are lots of sites that have math tutorial videos, these videos are all recorded by the same person (i.e. – consistent) and Salman Khan’s explanations are considered by many teachers and students to be top notch. Definitely worth checking out.. Free!

wolfWolfram Alpha: While I covered Wolfram Alpha in an earlier blog post, this amazing iPad app can bring a whole new dimension to problem solving in a math classroom. In a nutshell, Wolfram Alpha is a very advanced calculator, which you can see in these examples. Not only does the app allow you play with a plethora of real world statistics but it also allows you to solve algebraic math problems too. If you notice that a student made a mistake on a traditional paper worksheet, you can ask him to plug the math problem into the app and then use the “step-by-step” problem solver. With the assistance of the tool, the student may be able to figure out on his own (or with your help) at what step he made the mistake on paper. You can then sit down and work on the problem area together. (Thanks to Cathy Hortop for exploring these two apps with me at New Horizons, ETSB)

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ICT Tip: Instacalc allows your students to generate their own “real life” equations

November 13, 2012

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Link: www.instacalc.com

Quick overview: An on-line tool that helps students calculate different variables using plain English terms. Students can create their own calculators to generate real life equations and then share the calculators with the other students using a unique link.

How can it be used in the classroom? If you believe in the “See one, Do one, Teach One” philosophy towards learning, ask your students (ideally in groups of two) to come up with a calculator that calculates something interesting to them. Provide them with a challenge to come up with a working calculator that calculates something they would encounter in their every day life or an interesting statistic they’d like to demonstrate. The goal is to get them to create something that makes the math more relevant and share the results. Can another student validate if their classmate’s calculator is working properly? If so, what math did they use to do it?

How could they use the tool? Students could go on the Internet and collect raw data or statistics. Next, which of these variables do they need to plug in from their data to come up with a working calculator? Please follow this link to see a feature tour of what’s possible with this tool.


ICT Tip: The Scale of the Universe… and everything in between!

November 6, 2012

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Link: www.htwins.net/scale2

Quick overview: An ingenious approach to help students explore and understand the scale of everyday objects and their size relative to each other. Do you know how big objects are that are measured in micrometers, kilometers, gigameters… or even a zettameter? Hint: some are way bigger than you think! Truly inspiring, a great conversation starter for a math, science, or biology class. I’ve spent hours playing with this website, it’s definitely worth checking out!

How can it be used in the classroom? Start with an object as small as a quark and then slowly zoom all the way out to see the entire observable universe and everything in between! On this website, similar sized objects are compared to one another in metric units as students zoom-in or out using a slider located on the bottom of the screen. Clicking on any of the objects will bring up an interesting fact about it. Fully interactive with an almost zero learning curve. Your students might also be interested to know that this entire tool was programmed by two 14 year old brothers in high school. Adobe Flash required, will not work on an iPad or iPhone. Source: (Terrific Tools for Teaching with Blooms Taxonomy, San Diego ISTE 2012)Looking for more material like this? Check out the classic 1968 NFB film “Cosmic Zoom” at on YouTube. This NFB film might appear a little dated to your students, so you be the judge before showing it to your class.


Consider this: What is “schoolisyzation”?

December 6, 2011

This post could be best applied to the following subjects:

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Quick overview: Did you ever come across a school problem, especially in math, that uses a real-life context, but still didn’t make any sense?

What is this about? In this 6-minute video presentation, my colleague Marc-André Lalande presents his thoughts on the subject of “schoolisyzation” and how he thinks technology can help us improve our pedagogical practices. (Source: Marc-André Lalande, RECIT FGA Pedagogical Consultant, via r.u.aware blog)

Feedback: Comments? We really want to hear what you have to say! Please feel free to leave your comments on our blog with the “leave a comment” link below this post. Also, if YouTube is blocked in your school, you can view Marc-André’s original SlideRocket presentation from his r.u.aware blog...


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