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 backchannel tools to encourage active learning

January 28, 2014

What is a backchannel? A backchannel is a live, text-based, conversation that takes place while you teach. Students can pose questions to the group or make public comments without having to wait their turn or ask for permission. The goal of using a backchannel is to encourage passive students to become active learners.

today

What are the benefits and limitations? OK, so let’s address the elephant in the room. A lot of you may be concerned (and rightly so!) about introducing an interactive chat tool while you are teaching. Students could post inappropriate comments, go off topic, or simply not participate! I definitely agree that there needs to be some firm ground rules established before any backchannel tools are used. However, when used responsibly, I can personally attest that backchannels have the potential to get more students talking and participating in a lecture. A backchannel can be good for shy students or those Read the rest of this entry »


Mobile Monday: Chirp allows you to quickly share text, links, and photos between mobile devices

November 4, 2013

Quick overivew: Chirp is a free app that allows you to quickly to share text, links, and photos between Apple iOS and Android devices.

How does it work? This simple little app emits a short little song (called a chirp) to send data to other mobile devices. Any other mobile device that is “listening” with the Chirp app installed will immediately get a note, link, or photo. You can even “chirp” things to multiple devices at the same time. This 30 second video sums up the app perfectly:chirpHow it can be used in the classroom? Chirp is useful in a BYOD classroom where students are allowed to use their own mobile devices. Do you want to quickly send a link to all the students at the same time? Use Chirp. Want students to send notes or pictures to another device or without exposing their personal e-mail addresses? Here’s your solution!

Benefits and limitations: One limitation is that you cannot send files or videos over Chirp. You are only allowed to send text, links, and photos. Photos are shared in a “square” format, which means they might show up slightly cropped. In regards to classroom management, I would suggest that only the teacher is allowed to “chirp”, unless permission is given otherwise. If all the students “chirp” at the same time, not only will you have a very noisy classroom, no one will know who is sending what! Last but not least, you need to have an Internet/wifi connection for Chirp to function.

On a closing note: “Chirping” and “Tweeting” are two completely different things. Tweeting is for sending messages on Twitter and Chirping is for sending data with the Chirp app. The two are not at all related. Got it?

Website: www.chirp.io
iTunes for Apple iOS: Link (free)
Google Play for Android: Link (free)

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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


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 bulletin boards tools that allow you or your students to share “bite sized” ideas

September 24, 2013

Quick overview: Padlet and Lino allow teachers and students to assemble a variety of text, images, or videos on a virtual bulletin board. Either one of these tools allows one to share a collection of related “bite sized” ideas. Multiple students can work on the same board simultaneously. Boards can be public or private.

What are Padlet and Lino? Padlet and Lino are actually two different tools but are quite similar in regards to functionality. Both tools allow you to add text, images, and videos to a virtual board. You can even attach Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents too. Both tools work on smartphones, iPad, and Android devices.

How can use these two tools be used in the classroom? I’ve linked to detailed tips how padlet and how lino can be used in a classroom. For a more broad overview, these two tools can be used for:

– Class research board(s) around one topic
– Class brainstorming/suggestions/questions
– Gathering needs or goals from multiple students in one place
– Debates/Viewpoints (on a private board)
– Vocabulary/Verb boards

I’m confused! Both tools sound exactly the same: It really comes down to looking at both and seeing which one you think would be a better fit for yours students. I’ve included a link of how the tools work and a detailed comparison between the two.pad-v-sinoOn Brainstorming with these tools: In an earlier blog post, I highlighted how you can use Wordle used to break down text and allow your students to literally “see” the most predominant words (i.e. – themes) used throughout the text. A neat idea is to manually copy all the text from a finalized Padlet/Lino into Wordle to create a Wordle word cloud based on the class brainstorm.

Link: www.padlet.com and en.linoit.com

Doesn’t Lino look a little familiar? Yes, Lino is similar to Corkboard.me, a tool I blogged about in March 2012. However, Corkboard.me is no longer available in its old format. (Source: Jim Hirsch’s “Learning Jams: Improvising BYOD Learning Opportunities in Your Classroom” ISTE 2013, San Antonio. Also thanks to Tony Vincent’s Learning in hand and The Teachersfirst website.)


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