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.

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

ICT Tip: Wolfram Alpha is a lot more than a search engine!

September 20, 2011

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:


Link: www.wolframalpha.com

Quick overview: Like Google, Wofram Alpha works with keywords. However, Wolfram Alpha does a lot more than simply retrieve information from web pages. Instead, it creates a “custom fit” for you by assembling or calculating the information you’re looking for.

Can you give me some examples? If you type in the name of any two cities (i.e – Montreal and Ottawa) you’ll get a rich comparison between the two cities. If you type in the name of a food item (i.e – big mac) you’ll get a detailed breakdown of the nutritional information of that food. Best of all, if you type in a math equation (2x + 15 = 45) you’ll get a visual representation of the equation. You can even download the results or equations as PDF files!

I want to know more! Here is a great organized list of some other possible keyword combinations to try on Wolfram Alpha. In addition, here’s a link that explains how to use some of the more important features on Wolfram Alpha. (Source: Tammy Worcester, ISTE 2011 Philadelphia conference)

ICT Tip: The Canadian Virtual Museum/Musée virtuel du Canada website

November 23, 2010

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

Quick overview: A virtual museum of Canadian heritage and history. The site is available in both English and French.

How can it be used in the classroom? The Virtual Museum of Canada website (www.virtualmuseum.ca or www.museevirtuel.ca) contains a vast collection of stories and articles relating to Canadian History. Students may want to this site to help with research projects or to use within Learning Situations dealing with Canadian or Quebec cultural identity. Some interesting areas of the site to explore with your students would be the virtual exhibits and image gallery sections. In both sections, students can browse or search for topics by keywords.

Copyright concerns: For more information on copyrights related to using materials from this website in your classroom, please refer to the FAQ section. (Source: Nancy Sher, CDC Vimont Adult Centre, SWLSB)

Video Tutorial: For more information on how to use the site, click the play button below:

ICT Tip: GoogleLitTrips allows your students to explore books in a whole new way!

October 14, 2009

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: The Google Lit Trips (www.googlelittrips.org) website uses Google Earth mapping technology to explore and expand upon real-world places featured in books and classic literature.

How can it be used in the classroom: Using this website, you can download various “Google Lit Trips” that have been pre-prepared by other teachers.  The majority of Google Lit Trips contain a teacher’s guide and Google Earth “placemarks” that allow students to explore the far away places that are described in a book. For example, Jerome Burg, creator of the site and an English teacher from Livermore, California, has prepared a Google Lit Trip with various “placemarks” for locations that the character Amir visits in the book The Kite Runner. To describe how Jerome uses Google Lit Trips with The Kite Runner, I’ve quoted an article featured on the Edutopia website:

“.. By clicking on a placemark, students open a pop-up window embedded with supplementary information. One window shows a photo of a bazaar, accompanied by a passage from the novel describing a musty marketplace. Another explains the cultural history of the Pashtun people and has links to additional information about Shia and Sunni Muslims. Most pop-ups include photos, maps, drawings, or text but also have questions to encourage students to think about the story. Exploring the placemarks involves active engagement that Burg compares with using manipulatives for hands-on learning in math. It puts the kids right in the middle of the story,” Burg explains, “rather than at a desk as the teacher teaches the story at them. Students can also add their own placemarks, highlighting locations or links that add to their understanding.”

Video Tutorial: Here’s a video I prepared that demonstrates what’s possible with Google Lit Trips and an overview of how it works:


ICT Ttip: In order to use the Google Lit Trips site, you need to install Google Earth. For more information on using and installing Google Earth, refer to my blog posting at (www.tinyurl.com/ict-earth)  In addition, if you’re technically adventurous, the Google Lit Trips site provides a guide to create your own Google Lit Tips.


ICT Tip: Google Street view allows you to virtually walk around the streets of Canadian cities!

October 8, 2009

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

Quick overview: Google has finally brought their groundbreaking “Street View” technology to Canada! This amazing technology allows your students to virtually walk around the streets of Canadian cities and experience them as if they were really there.  It’s EASY to use, no special software required, and is free. Works even better on a Interactive Whiteboard, such as a SMARTBoard.

How can it be used in the classroom: Using a digital projector, this technology can be used to take your students on a virtual tour of famous Quebec landmarks that the class may not otherwise have been able to travel to in person. French second language students can use this site to verbally describe various landmarks or buildings found in their own neighborhoods. In addition, this technology can be used as a starting point to bring up a class debate regarding privacy in the Internet age.  Would your students be comfortable having others look up their home addresses?  What would the pictures show?  (i.e – Can you see what was in the garbage that day?  Who was parked in the driveway?)  Ultimately, do your students feel this technology is an invasion of our privacy or a beneficial technology?

Video Tutorial: To see an on-line video of Google Street view, please click the large play button below:


ICT Tip: Quick access to images of various maps and flags of the world

April 14, 2009

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

world_mapQuick Overview: A website that showcases maps and flags from all over the world.

How can it be used in the classroom: Theodora’s Maps site can be used to showcase maps (links to maps) and flags (links to images of world flags) from all over the world. If you have ESL or Literacy students new to Canada, this site could be used as an icebreaker activity to enable these students to show the class their country of origin.  However, I should note that the maps on Theodora’s site fall more on the simple side.  They often cannot be “zoomed in” and are best used to simply situate the location of different countries across the world.  If you are looking for more detailed maps, please refer to the link provided below.

Additional Resources: For students looking for more comprehensive maps, you may want to visit the University of Texas Perry Castañeda Library Map Collection (www.lib.utexas.edu/maps) which offers categorized maps of the world that include historical maps, topographic maps, permafrost, etc.  (Source for Theodora’s Maps: Lise Demers, Place Cartier Adult Education Centre, Lester B. Pearson School Board)ict_10

ICT Tip: Google Earth

August 6, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: An application that allows your students to zoom, spin, and fly around the planet with real satellite imagery.

What does it do? If you’ve used ever Google Maps in your classroom, then you may really appreciate Google Earth. Google Earth (http://earth.google.com) shares the same satellite data as Google Maps, however your students can use Google Earth to effortlessly zoom, spin, and fly around the planet with real satellite imagery. Some major US cities, such as New York, even include accurate 3D models of actual buildings.

How can it be used in a classroom? As a real life ICT suggestion for a Math class, your students can use a “virtual ruler” in Google Earth to calculate distances (KM, miles, etc) between two places with actual satellite data, as seen in the screenshot below. If that sounds interesting, here’s a site that explains how to use the “virtual ruler” function in a classroom: http://tinyurl.com/5hw7oj

Extra information: Google Earth is free, however since it is a desktop application, it must be downloaded and installed locally on your computer. If you do not know how (or have the rights) to install software in your computer lab, you can ask for help from your IT department.

ICT Tip: Bing Maps – Satellite maps even more detailed than Google

August 4, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: A website that allows your students to view extremely detailed satellite maps.

What does it do? Bing Maps (www.bing.com/maps) is a website that uses Microsoft Live Search Maps technology, similar to Google Maps. However, the amazing thing about Microsoft Live Search Maps is that you can zoom in and see VERY close details of streets and landscapes when you click on the “bird’s eye” view. Instead of just seeing the tops of buildings (as you would with Google) you can actually see the streets in different 3/4 views! However, the “bird’s eye” view function may not available if you are viewing remote areas outside larger cities. To activate the “bird’s eye” view, type in your desired address, and then click where it is indicated by the yellow arrow in the screenshot below:

ICT Tip: Wikimapia – Collaborative comment mapping

June 19, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: Allows your students to explore and make comments on satellite maps.

What does it do? Wikimapia (http://www.wikimapia.com) is a website that allows your students to explore maps in great detail (using Google Maps technology) but will also allow them to collaboratively create comments on the map.

How can it be used in the classroom? Your students may be interested in a class group activity about exploring places in their own community. First, they could research certain buildings or historical places in their community using resources such as Wikipedia. Second, using Wikimapia they could provide comments on the map that relate to these historic places or buildings in their neighborhood. At the end of the activity, the entire class could collaboratively look over the comments (perhaps on the teacher’s computer connected to a digital projector) that were made by the students and other Internet visitors on Wikimapia.  (Source: Sharon Peters (LEARN) Cool Tools Duel workshop.)

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