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.”


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.


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)


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:


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...

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: A website with over 1,100 video tutorials covering basic arithmetic, algebra, physics, chemistry, biology and finance!

March 16, 2010

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: Hundreds of videos covering topics from basic arithmetic, algebra, differential equations, physics, chemistry, biology and finance.

What is this resource? These videos are provided free of charge by the non-profit educational organization, Khan Academy. The goal of the Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) is to use technology to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Each video on the site is individually recorded by Salman Khan. The site has been positively reviewed by CNN and USA Today and receives over 35,000 hits a day! Salman Khan aims to bring his videos to people who can’t afford private tutoring or in poorer countries where traditional classrooms may not be available. If you’d like to know more about Salman Khan and the Khan Academy, please click on this link.

How can this be used in the classroom: Videos should be screened in advance (by you) to determine which would be most useful for your students. These videos can then be provided to students in an individualized classroom or provided as supplementary study material.  The only caveat is that a connection to YouTube in your centre is required.  If YouTube is blocked in your centre, I have created a Blog posting which offers you a possible solution to download specific videos in your own home and then bring them into your classroom as “off-line” video files, therefore bypassing YouTube in your centre. (Source: Guillermo Bautista, Math4allages blog)

Note: Sections of the “Quick overview” and “What is this resource?” have been paraphrased from the Khan Academy website.

ICT Tip: Two Canadian websites that aim to educate adults about everyday financial concerns, available both in English and French

February 23, 2010

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

loon-2Quick overview: Two Canadian websites that aim to educate adults about everyday financial concerns. Both sites contain loads of reputable information that can be used within a learning situation or courses dealing with finances. Available in both English and French.

How the Money Belt website can be used in the classroom: The Money Belt website aims to teach financial life skills in easy “down-to-earth” language. The website is primarily intended for young Canadian adults but is also useful for adult learners of all ages. On this site your students can test what they know (and don’t know) about managing their money. Some topics include how to avoid high levels of debt, avoiding fraud, choices that exist when choosing credit cards, loans, bank accounts, and general financial knowledge. The Money Belt website is maintained by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) a federal government agency that aims to protect and educate Canadian consumers of financial services.

How the CBA website can be used in the classroom: The CBA (Canadian Bankers Association of Canada) is a Canadian website that contains a large amount of information regarding Canadian banking and financial services. In particular, the consumer information section contains information on banking basics, financial rights and responsibilities, saving, investing, and identity theft. There is also a very useful glossary (the link can be found on the top right hand corner of the CBA webpage) containing definitions in relation to finances. (Source of websites: Nancy Sher at the CDC Vimont Adult Centre, SWLSB)

Note: Sections of the Money Belt description have been quoted from the about section of the Money Belt website.

ICT Tip: A huge collection of easy-to-follow interactive math and science examples

March 17, 2009

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: A huge collection of visually interactive on-line math and physical science concepts. Concise and to the point, each example can be used to illustrate potentially complicated topics to your students in the classroom. The content on Daniel Mentrard’s website (http://tinyurl.com/6odcbl) is well organized, interactive, straightforward, and great for visual learners.

What does it do? Daniel Mentrard’s website contains over a thousand interactive math and physical science examples that he created with the Geogebra software and then placed on-line to share with others. However, this amazing web resource does not require you to install any special software to use with your students – it can be accessed just like any other web page! Most of the interactive examples on his site contain “sliders” that can be moved into different positions (representing different values) to dynamically change the equations on the computer screen. Below is an animated sample of a teacher demonstrating a “Slope and Intercepts” example using this type of technique:


How can it be used in the classroom: Instead of using a traditional blackboard to teach your students, you would use a computer connected to a digital projector (or Interactive White Board) in your classroom. Specific examples can also be shared with students who are weak in one area and need extra curricular study aids.

Important Notes: The math and science examples on this site were created by Daniel Mentrard, a teacher from France. As this is the case, all the examples on the site are written only in French. However, most of the math and science concepts can easily translate to an English language math or science classroom. On a technical note, if you happen to receive a “Java error” when opening examples on the site, please contact me by e-mail for assistance. The above animated sample image has been linked from the Math 247 PB Wiki site.


ICT Tip: World Clock “odometers” of world statistics (births, deaths, consumption, etc..)

February 19, 2009

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: The World Clock website (http://tinyurl.com/5bqgdx) provides “odometers” of world statistics. This site is similar to the Worldometers website that I highlighted in an earlier ICT Blog posting, however, the World Clock site allows students to change between daily, monthly, or yearly world statistics. It also offers a different set of statistics.

What does it do? The World Clock website allows your students to see “real time” world statistics updated every second. This includes statistics such as births, deaths, consumption, etc.

How can it be used in the classroom? This site can be used to stimulate a real life discussion in regards to statistics in a math class or a math Learning Situation. It can also be used as a source of inspiration in a language class to bring up a discussion on environmental awareness or carbon footprints.


ICT Tip: Using GeoGebra to construct dynamic geometry, algebra, and calculus equations

January 15, 2009

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview:GeoGebra (http://www.geogebra.org/cms) is a mathematics software designed for education. It helps teachers or students construct dynamic geometry, algebra, and calculus equations.GeoGebra works great for visual learners who may otherwise have difficulty following along in a math or science class with more traditional teaching approaches. It’s free too!

What does it do?Instead of using a traditional blackboard to teach your students, you would bring a computer connected to a digital projector into your classroom. GeoGebra then allows you to perform constructions with points, vectors, segments, lines, conic sections as well as functions and change them dynamically afterwards.In addition, equations and coordinates can be entered directly. GeoGebra has the ability to deal with variables for numbers, vectors and points, finds derivatives and integrals of functions and offers commands like Root or Extremum.

How can it be used in the classroom? Using GeoGebra, you could create interactive equations and then dynamically change them in front of your students.For example, using GeoGebra you could demonstrate how to construct a right angle triangle.Once the triangle is constructed, you could then dynamically change the relationship between the points.This is accomplished by either entering in different numerical values on the keyboard or moving the points with the mouse along the axes.Modifying these values will immediately cause the triangle to change.Furthermore, you can save any of your GeoGebra examples as a file to use again later in another class or provide printed or electronic copies (see example) for your students to study from.


Additional Resources: If you’d like to get started with tutorials of how to use GeoGebra in your own classroom, I highly recommend you visit the “Math 247 GeoGebra” page at geogebrawiki.wikispaces.com

Advanced ICT tip: If you are a math or science teacher already using an Interactive Whiteboard (i.e – SMARTBoard) in your classroom, you or your students can take things to a whole new level with GeoGebra.Using GeoGebra on your Interactive Whiteboard will allow you or your students to touch and manipulate the visual math equations with their hands!

Source: Sections of the “Quick overview” and “What does it do?” definitions in this ICT suggestion have been paraphrased from the GeoGebra website.


ICT Tip: Real-life budgeting activities for a math class

August 7, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: Budgeting and savings activities for a “real-life” situation in a math class.

How can this be used in the classroom? If you are looking for a “real-life” situation activity in your math class (or hoping to kick start a Learning Situation) then I may have a useful and easy to use ICT suggestion. Using the Vancity HomeBudget Analysis website (www.tinyurl.com/vancity-homebudget) your students can input their expenses and income and obtain a visual breakdown of all their expenses. For students not currently working, it can also be used to compare potential jobs with different salaries compared to their current expenses, as seen in the screen caputre below:

Anything more? For teachers who want to take things one step further, you may also want to visit the MyCalculators.com “Savings-Investment Calculator” (http://tinyurl.com/6sx68m) website with your students. Using this calculator, your students can see how much of a return they’ll get from depositing regular contributions into their savings account. Variables can be changed such as intrest rate, years to invest, or the frequency of contributions. I should note that while I find this page isn’t very flashy, it gets the point across well. It can be used if you wish to cover more in-depth topics on savings and investments.

ICT Tip: WebMath – A math calculator with a twist!

August 7, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: A website that contains a variety of math calculators which provides a detailed explanation of how each problem was solved.

What does it do? At first glance, the WebMath site may only appear (http://www.webmath.com) to be on-line calculator for different types of math problems. However, the WebMath site does not simply solve equations and spit out an answer… With WebMath, you or your students can punch in any variables you’d like, and then the site will explain how it solved the problem with a VERY detailed explanation. Definitely worth checking out!

How can it be used in the classroom? Weaker students can use this ICT application to punch in different math problems and then get an explanation how the problem is solved. It may help them work through the problems that you may have covered in class but had difficulty following along.

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: Calorie Calculator

July 4, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: The HealthAtoZ website (http://tinyurl.com/2pqtdk) contains a calorie calculator where students can specify the activity, the person’s weight, and hours spent, to determine the amount of calories burned.

How can this be used in a classroom? You may want to try using this in a math, science, or biology learning situation to help students realize the amount of calories burned in different types of physical activities.

ICT Tip: Sparknotes study guides (aka Coles Notes)

July 3, 2008

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

Quick overview: On-line study guides for students. Similar in concept to Cole’s Notes but free and on-line.

How can it be used in the classroom? The Sparknotes website (www.sparknotes.com) contains comprehensive study guides for English Literature, History, Film, Math, Biology, Shakespeare, etc. Even if on-line study guides aren’t useful for your particular class, you may still want to be aware of this site. Why? Like any other on-line resource, some students may often choose to go here as an easy way to plagiarize information.

ICT Tip: Creating dynamic graphs in Excel

July 1, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: A tutorial on how to create graphs in Excel.

How can it be used in the classroom? Using Excel, your students can easily create a graph that will dynamically change with different variables. Great for visual learners, easy to setup.

Video Tutorial: If you’d like to know how to create your own Excel graphs, please click the play button below:


ICT Tip: Venn Diagrams

June 25, 2008

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

Quick overview: A website that allows your students to create printable Venn Diagrams.

What does it do? The ReadWriteThink.Org site (http://tinyurl.com/3huews) features an on-line Venn Diagram creator page. Using this page, your students can quickly create Venn Diagrams and then print them.

How can it be used in the classroom? Here’s a great definition from the Schools of California, Online Resources for Education (SCORE) website: “The Venn Diagram is made up of two or more overlapping circles. It is often used in mathematics to show relationships between sets. In language arts instruction, Venn Diagrams are useful for examining similarities and differences in characters, stories, poems, etc. It is frequently used as a prewriting activity to enable students to organize thoughts or textual quotations prior to writing a compare/contrast essay. This activity enables students to organize similarities and differences visually.” (Source: Vince Jansen (LEARN) Cool Tools Duel workshop)

ICT Tip: Worldometers – World statistics updated every second

June 19, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: A website that provides “odometers” of real time world statistics.

What does it do? The Worldometers (www.worldometers.info) website allows your students to see “real time” world statistics updated every second. This includes statistics such as births, deaths, food consumption, etc.

How can it be used in the classroom? This site can be used in conjunction with student projects on carbon footprints or mathematical statistics. It can also be used as a source of inspiration in a language class to bring up a discussion on environmental awareness. (Source: Vince Jansen (LEARN) Cool Tools Duel workshop)

ICT Tip: Manipulative Math, Utah State University

May 22, 2008

This ICT tip could be applied to the following subjects:

Quick overview: The Manipulative Math site (http://nlvm.usu.edu) contains many interactive “hands-on” math activities.

How can it be used in the classroom? When I was out visiting the Western Quebec Career Centre to provide an ICT workshop in May 2008, I picked up some great Math ICT resources from Judith Miller, one of the WQSB math teachers. Judith explained that while there are many ICT math resources out there, this particular resource (Manipulative Math, Utah State University) is popular in her Adult Ed classroom and provides a hands-on experience with her students. (Source: Judith Miller, Western Quebec School Board)

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