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.

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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:

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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.


Rewordify helps language learners simplify difficult vocabulary in a written text

October 29, 2013

Link: www.rewordify.com

Quick overview: Rewordify is a free on-line tool that simplifies difficult vocabulary in a written text. In a nutshell, Rewordify will analyze an English text (or an entire website) and then automatically highlight all the words it considers are too difficult. Rewordify can either transform the vocabulary to something more appropriate for lower level learners or highlight the difficult passages and suggest alternate definitions:reworidifyHow can this be used in the classroom: This tool could be used to help students on an individualized basis or to deconstruct a complex text with the whole class. Rewordify works on both tablets and computers. If you teach in a BYOD classroom, this is a great tool for students to have in situations where they need a little extra help to decipher a text on their own. Follow this link from the iLearn Technology blog for more ideas of how to use Rewordify in your classroom or try the live demo if you’d like to see how it works yourself. (Thanks to Tina La Rosa, Galileo Adult Centre, EMSB and also Kelly Tenkely from the iLearn blog.)

Benefits and Limitations: As with any on-line language tool, results are not always 100%. It’s a good idea for you and the students to get in the habit of analyzing each suggestion and see if it makes sense in context. That being said, one could argue that this “limitation” is actually a benefit as it will force learners re-analyze the text and vocabulary a lot more closely. Currently, Rewordify only works with English text.

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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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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.)


ICT Tip: ESLYes contains 365 short ESL stories that include pre-recorded narration and text

April 17, 2012

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

Linkwww.eslyes.com

Quick overview: A website that contains 365 short stories designed for the ESL classroom. All of the stories are narrated by professional speakers. Similarly, there’s also a section called easy conversations for beginners which are sorted by category.

What is it? Students follow the text as the story is read out loud. Each short story is accompanied by quizzes, vocabulary, and other interactive activities. The site is easy to navigate and the printed text in each story is large enough to be seen from the back of the class if projected on a interactive whiteboard or digital projector. (Source: Mark Richards, James Lyng Adult Education Centre, EMSB)

Update 4/17/2012: One of our readers pointed out that there are a lot of distracting ads on this page. If you’d like to automatically hide  the ads, then I recommend you install AdBlock for Firefox or AdBlock Google Chrome which works great with this site.


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