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:


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:


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)




Teacher Feature: Catherine Boisvert (CQSB) and Shanna Loach (ETSB) – What is Gamification?

May 19, 2014

Teacher(s): Catherine Boisvert, individualized FSL at the Eastern Quebec Learning Centre (CQSB) and Shanna Loach, individualized English at the New Horizons Adult Education Centre (ETSB)

What is Gamification: Gamification can be defined as taking a closer look at the engaging and motivating aspects of video games and then applying these elements to a learning environment. Gamification is NOT about playing games in the classroom.

What is Catherine’s project? Catherine and I began collaborating on a project to “gamify” elements of her FSL classroom. Catherine was looking for a new way to engage her individualized learners, as seen in the following video (in French):catherineWant to know more about Catherine’s project? You can read more about our experience by reading “All Fun and Games: Gamifying a Language Classroom” on the LEARN blog. The article provides an overview of gamification and what worked well (and didn’t!) so far in our project.

How does it work? In a nutshell, a Gamified classroom should present students with a clear outline of the course goals in addition to providing students with a system to recognize their efforts as they go along. A gamified classroom should encourage learning from mistakes, choice when to tackle different topics, more feedback, differentiation, and allowing students to progress at their own pace.

What does a gamified course outline look like? Shanna Loach is an English teacher at the New Horizons Adult Education Centre (ETSB) who is also gamifing elements of her multilevel CCBE classroom. Shanna has generously agreed to share a snapshot of her Gamified course outline that we are in the process of developing for the 2014-2015 school year. Our ultimate goal is to create a simple and straightforward way for her students to track their progress as they tackle the prescribed elements of their CCBE course:


Additional Gamification resources: I maintain a collaborative gamification board on Pinterest with my colleague Marc-André Lalande. There’s lots of great videos, web links, and also a link to our recent presentation at AQIFGA 2014.

Comments: What have you heard about gamification? Do you think it would work well in your classroom? Questions? Concerns? Please feel free to leave a question or comment below! Special thanks to Sylwia Bielec for interviewing us and featuring us on the LEARN blog.

ICT Tip: How to dial a rotary telephone

April 1, 2014

dialingGotcha! April Fools Day!

It’s funny how something so simple can seem quite complex when the technology is relatively new. Take for example this AT&T 1950’s instructional video that steps people how to dial a telephone, something that seems second nature to us today. Will future generations be equally at ease with our current “complex” technology? For a other retro videos that provide a speculative view of the future (which is arguably now our present) please take a look at the following:

  • AT&T’s “You Will” ad campaign from the early 1990s: (Predicts: GPS, faxing from the beach, buying tickets on-line, videoconferencing, Netflix, flat screen TVs, on-line courses, and more. Eerily accurate, most predictions have come true!)
  • Apple Computer’s “View of the future” from the early 1990s (Predicts: videoconferencing, connected classrooms, mobile devices for learning,  bulky “iPad” like devices.)
  • AT&T’s “Seeing the Digital Future” 1961: (Predicts: dial up punch card modems, brick cell phones, grocery delivery by rocket, and on-line shopping)

In closing, what do you think the classroom of the future should look like? Eventually, will new technologies change how and what we teach? Leave your comments below!

Google Ngram Viewer: How has the English language evolved over time?

March 11, 2014

Link: books.google.com/ngrams

Quick overview: How has the English language evolved over the last few years, decades, or centuries? Google Ngram is a free tool that searches through millions of digitized books and “graphs” out how English words and phrases have changed in popularity (i.e. – frequency of appearance in print) within the last 500 years.


How can it be used in the classroom? Ngram is a neat way to start a class discussion around the use of similar words or phrases over any given period of time. Simply enter the date range you’d like to search (i.e. – 1800 to 1950) and enter a list of words or phrases, separated by commas. Hit the search button and see what comes up! What historical or societal shifts do your students think caused certain words to rise or fall out of fashion? Does adding or removing words build a better picture? Are you open to allowing your students to find and present their own unique Ngram findings?

What are some examples? How has terminology for the on-line world changed in the last twenty years? Since when did we become a society with serial killers? What kind of road do you take to get to work? How are countries ruled? Are you really surprised? What decade did we think things were the most groovy? What have been the most popular forms of communication and media over the last two centuries?

What about more advanced use? For those that are a little more adventurous, here are some tips to play with advanced search syntax.

Benefits and Limitations: As with any tool, if you dig a little deeper, you may discover some inconsistencies. This article does a good job at explaining them.

Use Weebly to create a class website

February 10, 2014

Link: education.weebly.com

Quick overview: Are you interested in creating a class website but don’t have technical experience, time, or budget? Weebly is an on-line tool that allows one to EASILY create a website without any knowledge of programming. In a nutshell, it’s a website building tool for non-techies. It’s also completely free, unless you want to upgrade to a Pro account for some additional advanced features.

How can Weebly be used in the classroom? I thought the most authentic way to present Weebly would be to provide you with two testimonials from actual FGA teachers who are using the tool:

Isabelle Bertolotti at Place Cartier, LBPSB shares: “My class website is my most important teaching tool. It is my virtual office where I communicate with students about my calendar, daily agenda, links and course notes. I can add or change information at a moments notice, and/or make special announcements. This has enhanced my students learning in that they can review class notes, videos, handouts at all times to suit their learning styles and levels. I am never worried about attendance because when they see the demands of the day through the daily agenda they can actually see the amount of work that is planned and how their absence will have a negative impact on their learning.”

Isabelle’s class Weebly: www.isabelleplacecartier.weebly.com

Matthew Kennedy at Place Cartier, LBPSB shares: “I use Weebly for my English class in order to provide students with access to content inside of the classroom on the SMART Board, at home on their computers, or on-the-go on their mobile devices. For my purposes, Weebly is primarily an organizational tool — one that provides a digital representation of everything I cover with my students. I include all of my daily lesson plans on the website, so students can review what we completed in class at the end of the day, or catch-up on what they missed if they were absent. I upload all assignments to the website for access outside of the classroom. The website is particularly useful when providing extra help for students in the computer lab or after class, because we can review elements of a lesson at the student’s own pace. The same goes for when students seek additional support at my school’s academic resource centre — support staff can access the website to help my students with a specific assignment, and even view daily lesson plans to learn the context of the assignment. The website also has a great blog function, which is useful for communicating with students between classes and also for generating friendly discussion and debate.”

Matthew’s class Weebly: www.english5062.weebly.com


Benefits and Limitations: Weebly utilizes a straightforward WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) interface, which makes it much easier to create your class website. In regards to content, a Weebly site (like most other traditional websites) is often designed to share information in a “top down” approach, i.e. – information delivered from the teacher to the students. In comparison, a tool like Edmodo is often used to create a forum for ongoing class discussions between multiple students and the teacher.

(Huge thanks to Isabelle Bertolotti and Matthew Kennedy at Place Cartier Adult Education Centre, LBPSB for telling me all about Weebly and providing me with their testimonials. Thanks a lot guys!)

Coggle, the no-frills mind mapping tool

February 4, 2014

Link for Coggle: www.coggle.it

Quick overview: Coggle is a basic, no-frills, minimalist, “mind mapping” web tool that allows students to explore and expand upon their ideas in a visual way.

What is a Mind Mapping tool? Mind mapping is a different way to organize your thoughts. A mind map is setup like a tree, whereas you begin with one main concept and then branch out to related topics. With Coggle, each concept in the mind map is represented by a single word or a short sentence. The lines drawn between the words indicate the link between the concepts.

How can Coggle be used in the classroom? Coggle can be used by students to brainstorm, consolidate information, plan tasks, or present a topic. As a teacher, you can use it to organize and present information on your interactive whiteboard during class. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to dislike mind maps but I now use them to collect everyone’s ideas when I’m leading a meeting on a digital projector.

Benefits and limitations: Coggle was designed to be as simple as possible so there are no bells and whistles.. and that’s OK! However, if you’d like the ability to insert images or want multiple students to edit a mind map at the same time, check out my previous blog post on Popplet. To create an account on Coggle, you’ll need to sign in with a Google Account, which is safe to do.

Want to know how to use Coggle? Please watch this short video tutorial:coggleict_25

Source: ISTE 2013, San Antonio, “Collaboration in the Cloud: Tools that Talk!” Jennifer Parker-Moore, Macomb Intermediate School District with Janice Harding, Carolyn McCarthy and Melissa White and Phillip Vinogradov: Technology Integration – 21st century classroom Prezi.

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