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)




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.


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)


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.)

Duolingo is a revolutionary new way to help learn a second language!

September 10, 2013

Quick overview: Duolingo is a free tool that helps students learn a second language at their own pace. Duolingo is available on the web or as an iPad/Android app for mobile devices. In reviews, Duolingo is often compared positively to Rosetta Stone. This tool is definitely worth checking out, highly recommended!

How can this be used in the classroom? First and foremost, I see this tool as an excellent fit for a student in an individualized FSL class. Using concepts borrowed from a gamified classroom model students progress at learning a language at their own pace and progress through skill trees which requires them to master concepts before moving onto learning more complicated material. Students will be asked to speak, listen, and read in French. For my international readers, it works in other languages too! (Source: Adam Bellow’s “Make Your Classroom Rock” ISTE 2013, San Antonio)

Duolingo web: www.duolingo.com
Duolingo iPad: link
Duolingo Android: link

Benefits and Limitations: If you plan on using this tool in your school’s computer lab but don’t have enough microphones to go around, you may want to consider using the Duolingo App on an iPad or Android device instead. These devices already have a microphone built-in. If you’d like to read more about the effectiveness of Duolingo, please take a look at this detailed report.

Socrative: A quick and easy way to obtain immediate student feedback during class

September 3, 2013

Link: http://www.socrative.com

Quick overview: Socrative is a “student response system” that allows teachers to poll students and obtain immediate feedback throughout a class lecture. Socrative works on any computer, smartphone, or tablet. What I like best about Socrative is that there’s a VERY low learning curve for both teachers and students. It’s also easy to get up and running on a moment’s notice. This tool comes very highly recommended. Free!

How can I use this in my classroom? This tool is best used for formative assessment purposes during a lecutre. Using Socrative, you can ask your students to respond to a short answer question, multiple choice, or true/false question on their computer or mobile device while you are teaching.

How does it work? Let’s say something tricky comes up and you’d like to measure your students understanding during class. Simply ask your question out loud or write it down on the blackboard. There’s no need to touch a computer. Next, use Socrates to send a poll to your students from your teacher computer. Your students will either be prompted to write in a short answer or select either A,B, C, or D from their mobile device or lab computer screen.  As the different responses come in (which can be anonymous) they’ll be displayed to the rest of the class. Even if you’re someone who’s not too comfortable with technology, it literally takes seconds to setup and initiate a poll:socrtiveOther neat features: After class, you can choose to export results to a spreadsheet. If you’d prefer to prepare a detailed quiz in advance, you can import saved quizzes too. If any inappropriate short answers are submitted during class, they can be immediately deleted by the teacher by clicking on the “red x” next to student’s answer.

Benefits and limitations: Any old computer will do, there’s no need for fancy hardware for you or the students. There’s minimal to no preparation needed (i.e. – you don’t need to prepare any quizzes in advance) which is great for impromptu teaching moments. Accounts are not needed for students to use the tool either. Please keep in mind that you need to be in a room with computers (i.e. – school lab) or have a set of Internet enabled tablets or smartphones available. In my opinion, Socrative is great tool to use in a BYOD classroom, but always remember that if students use their own devices, they should be on the school’s wifi or they can incur data charges to participate.

One last thing: I firmly believe that this tool should NOT be used for summative assessment purposes but rather to get authentic feedback from your students as you go along. Have fun! (Source: Rob Zdrojewski’s “Using Socrative.com to Engage Your Students” ISTE 2013, San Antonio)



Mobile Monday: Explain Everything for creating “flipped” video explanations for your students

May 20, 2013

Info: Explain Everything for the iPad.

Cost: 2.99$

Quick overview: Explain Everything is a an iPad app that enables you to EASILY create short video explanations on your iPad in just a matter of minutes. Your voice is recorded with the iPad’s built-in microphone while you write on the screen with a stylus. It’s a great tool for teachers looking to “flip” elements of their classroom!

Wait.. doesn’t this suggestion sound a little familiar? In May 2012, I posted a blog article article about Explain Everything. Since then, there’s been a lot of changes to the program (the app has been updated to version 2) and it has been improved dramatically. As so, I’ve created a new video tutorial to explain how the new app works.

What has been done with Explain Everything since I last posted an article? I’ve done a lot of workshops with Explain Everything since last May. It’s currently my ABSOLUTE favorite way to create short “screen recording” video capsules for the classroom. If you’re sitting on the fence about getting your own iPad to use at school, this app is a great excuse to go buy one!

How can Explain Everything be used in the classroom? Math teachers could use a stylus to write out a math problem and explain step-by-step how to solve it. Language teachers can create small capsules to help students with pronunciation or commons grammar concepts. Biology or science teachers can import an image or video (anatomy, cell structure) and use the app to highlight or move different parts of the image while narrating. Students can be provided with these videos capsules during class to help them better understand a tricky concept. Once they’re done watching the video, you can sit down with them if they need any additional help.

Where do I put the videos? Video capsules can be exported to YouTube, Dropbox, Evernote, or left on the iPad’s Camera Roll. If the videos are placed up on YouTube, students can bring them up by scanning a QR code or typing in the YouTube address manually. If you’re curious about making your own QR codes (which is surprisingly easy to do) please watch this video here.

Benefits and limitations: While I’ve covered other iPad apps that allow you to create a screen recording, you’re forced to do the entire lesson in one take. The great thing about Explain Everything is that it allows you record ONE slide at a time. This means if you cough or make a mistake, you’ll only have to re-record the slide you were working on and not the entire presentation! The iPad microphone is also extremely sensitive so it will pick up sounds of your clothes shuffling or other sounds around the room. Be sure to record in a very quiet environment.


Teacher Feature: Tina La Rosa’s Smore project (EMSB, Galileo)

April 30, 2013

Featured teacher: Tina La Rosa (CCBE, English Literacy)

Centre and School Board: Galileo Adult Centre (EMSB) in conjunction with the RECIT FGA Regional Service.

What was the project? Tina’s literacy students (Accessing Services B124-4) used an on-line tool named Smore to create on-line posters to help develop writing and speaking competencies.

What did the students do? The goal of the Accessing Services course is to help adult literacy learners use oral and written discourse to deal competently with real-life situations related to obtaining access to public services. As so, the focus of the Smore project was to create an on-line poster to promote the benefits of the Access Montreal Card and what services can be accessed with it. Please watch the following two minute video that will give you a better idea of what Tina did with her students. Awesome work Tina!


What is Smore? Smore is web 2.0 tool that can be used on any Mac or PC. If you’d like to know more about Smore, it was featured on my blog in January 2013.

Mobile Monday: Remember everything with Evernote!

April 15, 2013

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

Link: www.evernote.com

App: Mac and PC, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Android, and Blackberry

Quick overview: Evernote is a cloud based app which effortlessly syncs notes between your Mac, PC, tablet or smartphone. It also does photos and audio too. Free!

Why this article? The other weekend, I came across an web article that asked readers what’s their absolute “can’t live without” app on their tablet or smartphone. I immediately thought of Evernote! For the last two years, it’s an app that I use EVERY SINGLE day, both in my personal life and for work. It’s definitely one of my top five favorite apps. It was just then that I realized that I’ve never mentioned anything about Evernote on the blog! (Better late than never.. eh?)

Who should use it? If you own a smartphone or tablet and often take notes with it.

How can I use it as a teacher? Whenever I come across printed documents or other important information, I’ll often use my phone to take a “picture” of the text so that I can read it later. However, if I decide to take the picture in the Evernote app (or type a note) it gets saved to the Evernote “cloud” instead of my phone. This means that I then can then pull up the image or note on my laptop or desktop computer for further reference. I also use Evernote to take written notes during meetings on my iPad or when I’m writing my lesson plan on my laptop. Using Evernote, I know that I can always pull up any of this information on any of my other other devices.

How can students use it in the classroom? Do you allow your students to take a picture of your notes on the blackboard? Using Evernote, they can snap a photo of the blackboard on their smartphone and it will appear on their computer or tablet at home to study from later on. If they prefer to use Evernote to take written notes in class (or a laptop or phone) they can use tags and keywords to search through any of their notes at a later date. Language students can even use Evernote to record small audio snippets, like asking the teacher to pronounce a difficult word and then play back the recording at home. This all being said, students need to respect your guidelines and rules when it comes to using their own mobile devices in your classroom. Perhaps having a designated time to take note snapshots (i.e. – at the end of each slide or before you erase the board) is a good model to follow.

How is this different than Apple’s iCloud? This is not a service from Apple. Evernote works on any device and uses it’s own “cloud” system. It’s designed primarily to sync your notes.

If it safe? Personally, I consider Evernote to be very safe, but like any other service they have had security breaches in the past. Like your e-mail, be cautious about what you put in there.

Why not just use Word or the notes app on my phone? When you use Evernote, you don’t have to worry about where you save your information. No more forgetting about leaving your laptop at work or your phone in your bag with all your notes or photos on it. Using Evernote, ALL your notes travel with you wherever you go, sort of like how we all use webmail nowadays (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc..) to get our e-mail wherever we happen to be.

How much does it cost? A basic account is free and is MORE than adequate for most uses. However, if you get really serious about Evernote (and want a few more bells and whistles) you can buy a premium subscription.

Mobile Monday: iPad apps organized by learning objective (not just a huge list of apps!)

February 25, 2013

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

Link: http://tinyurl.com/learnobjapps (EdTechTeacher.com)

Quick overview: A list of iPad apps organized by learning objective, rather than by subject.

OK, so what’s different about this list? If you’ve ever tried searching for iPad apps to use in your classroom, you may have found websites with long lists of categorized “educational” apps. Upon closer inspection, these compilations often contain way too many apps to sift through and it can be difficult to find a meaningful link of how they can be used with YOUR students.

My advice: When I’m using technology in the classroom, I always like to start with the learning objective (start with the why) and then see which technology would fit best to help the students reach their goal. In regards to mobile devices, this means you may want to avoid finding an app first and then seeing where “it fits” afterwards.

How do you use this list? Using this resource, try starting off with the learning objective (click on the image below) and then see what apps are recommended for the task. Next, test the apps yourself before giving them to your students. If you find a good fit, then try it out with them! (Sources: “Learning Objective Apps” list shared by Paul Rombough, LEARN and “Technology Poster” shared by Paul Laplante, FGID/QLWG)


Mobile Monday: Phoster allows students to create simple printable posters on an Apple mobile device

February 11, 2013

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

App info: Phoster for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod / Cost: 1.99$

Quick overview: An app that allows students to easily create posters on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. This app can be used for any course that requires students to produce a very simple presentation or idea. Phoster is similar to the Smore website I posted a few weeks back. The main difference is that Smore is a Web 2.0 tool that is meant to be used on a Mac or PC (and allows for more complex posters) while Phoster is an app that allows you to create quick and simple posters on Apple mobile devices.

How does it work? Students start by picking the look of their “Phoster” poster by choosing from a list of included templates. Once they choose a template, they can add their own image from the built-in camera or the Internet, a little text, and then export the whole poster by e-mail (JPG) to a computer so it can be printed on a color printer. It’s easy to use too!

How can this be used in the classroom? Literacy students could create a “Phoster” about accessing a service in their community or a PSA about a civic responsibility. As each Phoster can only contain one image and a very small amount of text, students could be asked to create a whole series of simple posters around a central theme. This activity could be used as an opportunity to help Literacy level students with very basic writing skills, such as grammar and spelling. Otherwise, individual posters could be created by the students as a “my name is” sign and include a picture of themselves (taken with the iPad’s camera) to be used at the start of the term. Higher level students could use this app as a way to create a class announcement to post up around the school, classroom, or community.

How does it work? To see an overview of how it works, please watch this 4 minute “quick look” video by AdoramaTV:

Mobile Monday: 6 neat ways you can use Apple’s “Siri” with your students

January 21, 2013

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

Quick overview: Siri is the name of Apple’s artificial intelligence assistant that is built-in to Apple’s newest iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Much more than just a gimmick, did you know Siri can be a useful tool for your students too? No app purchase required.

How does it work? If you hold down the home button on a newer mobile Apple device and a Siri voice prompt will appear. Simply ask your question by talking to your device. It may sound like science fiction but it works surprisingly well!  Here are some things your students can ask Siri:

1) Ask Siri to define any word in the English language: Not only will Siri give you a definition of the word, but she’ll provide you with the spelling too. This is a neat trick when know how to pronounce a word but aren’t sure how to spell it! (You would say: define conjunctivitis)

2) Ask Siri to perform simple or complex mathematical calculations: Siri can do mathematical calculations or provide students with comparisons of statistical information sourced from Wolfram Alpha. (You would say: What is 18% of 934? plot 4x + 12, compare the GDP of Canada vs. Sweden, what is 4.2kg in pounds? What is the boiling point of lithium?)

3) Ask Siri to show you any geometric shape or an image: Ask Siri to show you an isosceles triangle, a circle, or even a velociraptor! You’ll get an image along with other pertinent information (You would say: What is an isosceles triangle or What does a velociraptor look like?)

4) Ask Siri to transform your voice into a written e-mail or note: This is what Siri does best. Students can dictate and Siri will transform their spoken words into text. (Talk to Siri in a regular speaking voice but include all punctuation.)

5) Ask Siri to translate individual words from English into any other language, such as French: Use Siri for on-the-fly translation.. (You would say: What is Breakfast in French?)

6) Ask Siri for important dates:  Yes, Siri does history too! (You would say: When was the battle of Hastings or when did the Beatles break up?)

Can I see an example? Watch the following video (make sure to set YouTube to full screen or you won’t see much) if you’d like to see Siri in action:

Should I let my students use their iPhones or iPads in-class with Siri? Absolutely! However, there’s a time and place for everything. Just as you wouldn’t allow your students to talk to friends while you’re teaching, they shouldn’t start “speak” to Siri either. The idea is that perhaps we can start using mobile devices to help with lower level blooms (i.e. – remembering facts, dates, or calculating by hand) and start using more class time to do activities that promote higher order thinking skills. At the end of the day, I’m not saying Siri is THE reason to start using iPads in the classroom (far from it) but I feel that it’s one way to show how mobile devices can provide students with almost instant access to information.

Benefits and limitations: I think we’ve covered the benefits in this article. As for limitations, Siri requires an active Internet connection to work. She also won’t work well if you student has a thick accent. Last but not least, it takes a little getting used talking to a machine. Whenever I talk to Siri in public, I often get more than a few stares!

Mobile Monday: Managing the installation of apps on multiple iPads in your classroom

December 10, 2012

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

This article was updated March 28, 2013:

Quick overview: OK, so you got a set of iPads for your classroom and have no idea how to manage them. How do you pay for all the apps? What is legal? What is not? Help!

The problem: Shortly after the iPad was introduced, teachers saw it was a natural fit for education. Many schools started buying iPads in bulk and placing them in the classroom. Sometimes the iPads were managed by IT, but often it was up to individual teachers or school administrators to figure out how to do it themselves. One has to keep in mind that the that iPad was designed first and foremost as a single user device. Quite simply, iPads are very easy to manage when the person who owns the device is able to manage it themselves. No issues with installing apps, creating iTunes accounts, and so on.

How is the iPad different from managing school computers? When schools purchase a set of iPads, they’ll likely be shared between multiple classes and students. As so, IT departments need to set the iPads up as they would a multi user device, such as a Mac or a PC. Not only does this make the initial setup of the iPads pretty tricky, it can affect a student or teacher’s ability to quickly install apps since the account or payment information may be restricted to one person or department. Granted, if your school is nice enough to get you a set of iPads for your classroom, what’s the best way to go?

Sharing one Apple ID, not a good plan! In the beginning, many educators set up ONE single Apple ID and placed it on all the iPads in their classroom. Teachers would pay for one instance of the app and then it would magically appear on all the iPads. While Read the rest of this entry »

Mobile Monday: An app to help students create simple eBooks using their own text and spoken dialogue

November 19, 2012

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

App info: Book Creator for the iPad / Cost: 4.99$

Quick overview: An app that allows students to create interactive eBooks on an iPad. The app is extremely easy use, even for beginners. Books can contain images, student voices, and music. A must see for language teachers!

How can I use it in the classroom? I’d highly recommend that you take one or more classes to help your students create their short texts (just a few descriptive sentences) before even touching the app. Once that’s complete, ask your students to gather images on the iPad using the built-in camera or images from the Internet to support their text. If you’d also like to make this into a speaking exercise, you can ask your students to narrate their written text using Book Creator’s built-in voice recording tool. Books created in the app can be exported (e-mailed) as a PDF file or Apple’s iBook format to maintain the audio recordings.

Who is this most suitable for? I’ve found that this activity works best with lower to intermediate levels of English or FSL students. We have also used the app to create interactive storybooks with Ruth Thomas and Eugene Abram’s “Step-Up” students, a special needs program at ACCESS Riverside. The goal is for students is to create a short situation using only a few sentences of text revolving around a central theme. The activity helps students with basic writing skills, grammar, and (optionally) speaking. Please watch the following video for a brief overview to see how the app works:Can I see an example of some actual student work? Yes! Two students in Tina La Rosa’s ENG-B124-4 Accessing Services course at Galileo Adult Centre wrote their own text, took pictures, and recorded their own spoken dialogue for their eBook. To demonstrate what is possible, they have graciously allowed me to share their work on the Blog. You can download their book in either PDF or ePub format. Alternatively, if you’d like to see a video of their work (including their recorded dialogue) please click on the video below: Source: Karen Rye, RECIT at Riverside School Board. A special thanks to Tina La Rosa and her two students Kader and Fateh for their contribution to the blog, along with Eugene Abrams, Ruth Thomas and the Step-Up students at ACCESS. I would also like to thank Susan Powers, and Sharon Meehan at ACCESS for being the first teachers to explore this resource with me.

Mobile Monday: A roundup of the best iPad “notetaking apps” for both students and teachers

October 8, 2012

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

App #1 info: Notetaker HD for the iPad / Cost: 4.99$

Quick overview of app #1: A notetaking app for the iPad which simulates a pen and paper. Students can also import photos, draw perfect shapes, and move around handwritten text as one would in a word processor. Notetaker HD automatically sorts notes by date and time to keep students organized. Notes can be edited at a later date, e-mailed, or printed on a computer.

How can app #1 be used in the classroom? I always find amusing whenever someone compliments me for being organized. Back when I was in high school I had one binder for all my subjects (imagine torn loose papers falling out from all sides) and I constantly scribbled my notes anywhere I could find a spare page. I only became more “organized” when I started storing all my files, calendars, contacts, and notes digitally. If you have students that also struggle to keep organized and they have access to an iPad, you may want to suggest they experiment with this app too.

Are there any other advantages to app #1? Typically, one of the disadvantages of writing on the iPad screen is that it’s hard to hand write at a “normal size” with a stylus or your finger. i.e. – Letters tend come out much bigger than if you were writing with a real pen. This particular app addresses this problem with an ingenious zoom mode which reserves a space at the Read the rest of this entry »

Mobile Monday: Brainscape enables students to create their own flashcards

September 24, 2012

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

iPad version: Link / Web version: Link / Cost: Free

Quick overview: An iPad app that allows students to create their own sets of flashcards to be used as a study aid.

How can it be used in an individualized classroom? Ask a student to come up with about 10-20 flashcards (i.e. – both question and answers) around a topic you are covering in class. Next, work together in order to validate whether the flashcards are correct or not. The student can then practice with the flashcards in class or at home. For classrooms without iPads, Brainscape is available on the web too! (Source: Sandra Piperni, Readaption Officer at ACCESS St-Lambert)

How can it be used in small groups? Do you have access to more than one iPad in your classroom? If you are interested in exploring a collaborative, student centered activity, place your students into small groups and provide each group with an iPad. Each group would be responsible in creating 10-20 flashcards around a particular topic. Once complete, ask each group to exchange iPads so they can try out the other students’ flashcards. Alternatively, you can connect iPads to the class projector (with an Apple VGA adapter) to discuss and validate the sets with the whole class.

Does this type of activity challenge the students? While I generally prefer to highlight apps that focus on higher order thinking skills, this app is a great fit for students who need help memorizing core concepts, grammar, etc. I believe that asking the student to come up with both the questions and answers provides a better understanding of the material and a higher chance they’ll retain the information.

Mobile Monday: Complete Class Organizer helps students keep track of their homework and class schedules

September 10, 2012

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

Info: Complete Class Organizer for the iPad / Cost: $4.99

Quick overview: This week we’ll look at a student-centered tool. It’s the start of a new school year. Have you already identified certain students that tend to forget about quizzes and homework? Do you suspect that part of the problem is that they are having trouble keeping organized? There’s an app for that!

How can this be used in the classroom: In a nutshell, this app is an electronic organizer designed specifically for students. The app can help students keep track of multiple class schedules, class info, textbooks, upcoming assignments, quizzes, and exams. Not only is it simple to get the app up and running, it’s also relatively easy to continue using it throughout the school year. If desired, students can also take notes directly within the app but I’d recommended using a specialized app like AudioNotepad or Notetaker HD if they’d like to use an iPad to take notes during class. (Source: Sandra Piperni, Readaption Officer at ACCESS St-Lambert)

Can multiple students use this app on one iPad? This app is intended for students that have exclusive access to their own iPad. If your classroom shares a single iPad, this tool may not work well with multiple students using the same iPad.

Mobile Monday: The Explain Everything app allows you to illustrate a video lesson with your iPad

May 21, 2012

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

Info: Explain Everything for the iPad.

Cost: 2.99$

Quick overview: Explain Everything is a screen recorder app that allows you to annotate as you write words or move images around the screen. Your voice is recorded with the iPad’s built-in microphone. Great for Flipping the Classroom!

How can this be used in the classroom? This a very handy tool if you’d like to explain a concept before or after a lesson. As a math teacher, you could use a stylus to write out a math problem and explain as you solve it. If you are biology or science teacher, you can import an image (anatomy, cell structure) and use the app to highlight or move different parts of the image as you narrate. Last but not least, this app works great if you’d like to start producing materials for “flipping your classroom” regardless of what subject you teach. Videos are exported to MP4 format which can be played back or further edited on a computer.      

Benefits and limitations: While I’ve covered other iPad apps that allow you to create a screen recording, you’re forced to do the entire lesson in one take. The great thing about Explain Everything is that it allows you record ONE slide at a time. This means if you cough or make a mistake, you’ll only have to re-record the slide you were working on and not the entire presentation! The iPad microphone is also extremely sensitive so it will pick up sounds of your clothes shuffling or other sounds around the room. Be sure to record in a very quiet environment.

Video Tutorial: For a video (2 minutes) recorded using the Explain Everything app on the iPad, click the play button below:

ICT Tip: Mathboard is an iPad app that helps students with basic arithmetic

March 19, 2012

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

Info: Mathboard for the iPad.

Cost: 4.99$

What is it? Mathboard is an iPad app that can help students work out basic arithmetic problems with minimal intervention from the teacher.

How can it be used in the classroom? So far, we’ve used the Mathboard app in an individualized math classroom. Before the students arrived, the teacher and I selected which math problems (subtraction, addition, square root, etc..) would be generated by the iPads. We then paired same level students and asked them to work out the problems in the Mathboard app. The Mathboard app keeps a running tally of all the math problems the students worked on. As the students were working, we were able to see (at a glance) which math concepts the students were struggling with. What impressed me the most was how the students worked side-by-side and helped each other out on tricky concepts. Two groups worked together on one iPad, while another group used paper and pencil in conjunction with an iPad. The app also has a “chalkboard” mode which students can pull up and work out with a stylus (or their finger) directly on the iPad’s screen. It also has a “problem solver” mode which will explain how to solve the problems step-by-step, if the student is stuck. (Special thanks to Cathy Hortop and her group of individualized students, New Horizons, ETSB)

Benefits and limitations: The app costs 4.99$ which is relatively pricey for an iPad app. It also defaults to a multiple choice mode when the app is first installed. I’m not a fan of multiple choice as students can simply guess answers and throw off the teacher. Thankfully the settings in the app can be permanently changed so that the students have to manually input the correct answer. As a side note, it’s often difficult to find applications that deal with basic arithmetic that aren’t targeted for young children. Thankfully, the Mathboard interface is free of “cartoons, balloons, and puppy dogs” and is a perfect fit for adult education students!

Video Tutorial: For a video (4 minutes) how to use the Mathboard app, click the play button below:

Mobile Monday: Using Videolicious to help students with oral presentations in a language class

February 20, 2012

This ICT tip is for the mobile devices category:

Info: Videolicious for the iPad, iPhone, iPod.

Cost: Free

Quick overview: An overview of how we’ve used the Videolicious app with FSL and English students to help develop writing and communication competencies. An advantage to using Videolicious is that it allows students to present an oral presentation without being put on the spot in front of the whole class.

How can the app be used in the classroom? Students were paired into groups of two and were provided a topic by the teacher. Before recording anything on the iPad, the students were asked to research their arguments and write out a bullet point list of what they’d like to communicate. In the next step, students used the iPads to select pictures, videos, and music to support their spoken text. After everything was recorded, the class reviewed the videos together. The entire activity can be done in about two hours.

What about different levels of students? For higher level students, the activity was geared towards using English language to persuade or arguing a viewpoint. Lower level FSL students used the app as a springboard to get them talking in a second language about a particular theme (i.e. – what I’m doing over the holidays, what I saw on my way to school, etc..)

What advantages did the mobile technology bring to the classroom? The app limits the student to 50 seconds of speaking time, similar in format to a TV commercial. This forces the students to present short, concise speeches. It was not uncommon that the students had to record multiple takes to get things right, providing them with lots of practice! The way the app is designed, it does not allow the students to fiddle with editing, which could take away from working on the language. Last but not least, if you’re considering this activity with your students, it’s VERY important that each group of students has a quiet place to record their videos. (Special thanks to following teachers who graciously invited me into their classrooms to try this activity: Shanna Loach and Megan Maclean, New Horizons, ETSB – Stephanie Sabbagh, Place Cartier, LBPSB – Darlene Brown, The Learning Exchange and CDC Vimont, SWLSB)

Interested? We have enough iPads and iPods to accommodate your FGA classroom. Please contact me to discuss how we can adapt this activity for your classroom!

Video: To see a 1 minute video demonstrating how the app works, please click the play button below:

Mobile Monday: What are QR codes?

February 6, 2012

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

Quick overview: Ever notice those strange patterned boxes (see first image below) that are popping up on printed advertisements and everywhere you look nowadays? They’re called QR codes. The neat thing is that they can be used in your classroom too.

What are QR codes? QR codes are computer generated patterns that are meant to be deciphered by mobile devices with a camera. Think of a QR code as a secret code that can’t be read by humans. To read a QR code, you’ll need to hold your mobile device’s camera up the QR code and you’ll instantly get linked to a website or shown a large body of text. A QR code looks something like this:

How can they be used in the classroom? Second language teachers could record audio clips which are linked to QR codes to model pronunciation or provide a definition. During class, the student points the camera at the QR code (let’s say on an object in the classroom or on a field trip) and hears an audio clip of the teacher speaking. Another popular use for a QR code is to setup a virtual “treasure hunt” for second language students. The idea is to place QR codes around the school or  Read the rest of this entry »

Mobile Monday: Speech-to-text with Dragon Dictate for the iPad

January 9, 2012

This ICT tip is for the mobile devices category:

Info: Dragon Dictate for iPhone, iPod, iPad.

Cost: Free.

What does it do? The app will transform spoken speech into text. No training required, just speak and go!

How can it help my students? If you are an ESL (Literacy) teacher, this app could be used to help your students with pronunciation. Students could practice individually by dictating short sentences to the app. If the app repeatedly has trouble recognizing certain words, this can be a cue for the students to ask the teacher for the correct pronunciation. Students could also benefit by seeing grammatical errors “written out” that might otherwise slip by unnoticed when they are speaking. Lastly, this app could be beneficial for students with disabilities that may prevent them from typing on a regular keyboard. Text generated in this app can be e-mailed or copy and pasted into other apps. Definitely worth checking out!

Video Tutorial: For a 2 minute video on how to use Dragon Dictate for the iPad, please click on the video below:

Mobile Monday: Using the iPad with ESL/FSL students and the ComicBook! app

November 21, 2011

This ICT tip is for the mobile devices category:

Info: ComicBook! for the iPhone, iPod, iPad.

Cost: 1.99$

Quick overview: Using the ComicBook app in a literacy (ESL) classroom to help students develop basic writing and communication competencies.

How can the app be used in the classroom? Sharon Meehan teaches a literacy level “Building Foundations” course at ACCESS Riverside in Brossard, Quebec. Using the ComicBook app in conjunction with the iPad’s built-in camera, Sharon’s students took pictures of each other to create a simple comic. Students used the iPads to insert written captions to simulate real life situations, such as ordering at a restaurant. At the end of the exercise, the iPads were  connected to a digital projector so students could collaboratively edit grammar and spelling, or rearrange the placement of the written captions.

What advantages did the mobile technology bring to the classroom? The app’s easy to navigate interface (symbols and pictograms) helped students focus on the activity, rather than getting bogged down by a complicated computer interface. It was surprisingly easy for the students to create the comics, even if they didn’t have a strong grasp of the English language. The limited length of written “comic bubble” style captions also ensured that the students wrote short, concise interactions. 

Interested? The activity was closely linked to the prescribed elements of Sharon’s ENG-B122-4 course and it mainly focused on developing writing competencies. Would you like to do a similar activity in your Literacy or French second language classroom? We have enough iPads to accommodate your class and we are booking now for January 2012 and beyond. Contact us to discuss how we can adapt this activity for your classroom!

Video: To see a 2 minute in-class video demonstrating how Sharon’s students used the app in the classroom, click the play button below:

Mobile Monday: Explore the solar system with the tap of a finger!

November 7, 2011

This ICT tip is for the mobile devices category:

Info: The Solar System for iPad only.

Cost: 13.99$

What does it do? Are you teaching your students about the solar system? If so, this app presents your students with easy-to-read information about the planets and celestial bodies in our solar system, accompanied by interactive “touchable” 3D models based on real life NASA imagery. All the information is presented in a non-linear fashion and could be a beneficial approach for students who enjoy learning at their own pace. Last but not least, the intuitive interface is similar to The Elements app we reviewed in another blog post. Check out the video below if you’d like a quick demo of how it works!

Video Tutorial: For a video (3 minutes) overview of The Solar System app, click the play button below:

Mobile Monday: Screenchomp helps explain tricky concepts through an iPad whiteboard recording

October 24, 2011

This ICT tip is for the mobile devices category:

Info: Screenchomp for iPad only. Free, with no in-app costs.

Quick overview: An iPad app that allows teachers (or students!) to create a live recording of whatever they write or draw on on the iPad, along with their voice. Easily share the resulting video with others.

How does it work? Choose a color, talk, draw, and then share! What I like best is that there’s a very low learning curve involved to use the app, it’s almost effortless to create and share videos. In order to write in the app, you can use your fingers or purchase an inexpensive capacitive stylus, such as the Targus stylus I use with my own iPad. In order for students to view the videos, all they need is a regular computer with a web browser (no iPad required!) and the unique link. No accounts or passwords are needed either.

How can it be used in the classsroom: Teachers could use Screenchomp to quickly explain complicated concepts for students study at home without a huge investment of prep time. Students could use Screenchomp for peer teaching or oral presentations. Teachers could even hook an iPad 2 up to a digital projector and record parts of the lesson as they teach. Lastly, younger students could draw and simultaneously recount a story to mobilize language skills.

Video Tutorial: For a video (3 minutes) how to use the Screencomp app, click the play button below:

Mobile Monday: Algebra Touch – rearrange, slide, and tap numbers and operations to solve problems

October 10, 2011

This ICT tip is for the mobile devices category:

Info: Algebra Touch for iPad (HD) and iPod touch.

Cost: 2.99$ (or free demo available)

Quick overview: An app that allows math students to use their fingers to move around variables in order to solve an algebra problem. Elegant, minimal, visual, beautifully simple. I really wish I had this back in high school!

How can it be used my classroom? This app could be useful for students struggling with the traditional approach to learning algebra. Students use the app to drag and rearrange single-variable polynomials so that like terms are together for easier adding. Students can tap the operator between the terms to compute answers. Terms can be factored or combined until the variable is isolated. Students or teachers can also create their own problems to rearrange and solve.

What do students think? A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to use this app with students in an Adult Ed classroom (thank you Mr. Robert More!) and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. One student commented that the app was like a game at first, but she needed to figure out the rules (i.e. order of operations) in order to solve the equations. Walking around the classroom, we quickly noticed that the students started downloading it (and paying for it!) on their own iPods and iPhones. A picture is worth a thousand words, but we had 31 “thumbs-up” from the a classroom of 31 students at the end of the day!  If you’d like to try this in your own Quebec FGA classroom, please let us know!

Video Tutorial: For a demonstration of how the app works, click the video below:

(Source: Certain parts of the “How can it be used in the classroom” description have been quoted/paraphrased from the Common Sense Media website. Due to YouTube being blocked in many of our schools, the demonstration video has been re-packaged from the Algebra Touch YouTube channel)

Mobile Monday: The Elements is an amazing way to learn (and enjoy!) the Periodic Table of Elements

September 26, 2011

This ICT tip is for the mobile devices category:

Info: The Elements for iPad HD, iPod touch/iPhone 4. Also available in French for the iPad.

Cost: Cost varies by device, see links above.

Quick overview: To some students, the periodic table may appear to be just a bunch of confusing letters without any meaning. This app helps students make a connection (through sight and touch) between everyday objects and the elements they are comprised of.

How does it work? Elements on the periodic table are represented by beautifully detailed 3D animated models that the students can touch and rotate. Students click on an element to bring up a brief description of the element along with an interesting anecdote or out of the ordinary fact about its history… even the most jaded students will want to keep reading!

How can it be used in the classroom? I think this app is great for self directed learning. If you are teaching in an individualized classroom, provide a student with an iPad and ask them to explore the elements on their on own. You can ask them to focus on one element and create a presentation about something new they’ve learned. For students wanting more detailed scientific information about any element, they can access the Wolfram Alpha website directly from within this app. This is currently one of my favorite reference apps for the iPad.  Did I mention it’s ridiculously easy to use too? A must see!

Video Tutorial: For a video (2 minutes) overview of The Elements app, click the play button below:

Mobile Mondays: A new feature coming to the ICT Blog this school year

September 12, 2011

This ICT tip is for the mobile devices category:

What’s this all about? Like it or not, mobile devices like the iPad, iPod, and various smartphones have exploded in popularity. As a result, we’ve been seeing a significant shift towards educators exploring the potential of these devices in their classrooms. Our students love using these devices in their own personal lives, so why shouldn’t we take advantage of a new approach to learning in our classrooms?

What about the ICT Blog? At the blog, our first priority will remain focused on bringing you easy to use Web 2.0 suggestions each week. However, in addition to our regular web 2.0 suggestions, we will start highlighting pedagogically relevant educational apps for mobile devices every odd Monday, hence the term Mobile Mondays!

What are Apps? See “apps” in our ICT Terminology section. Apps for touch based mobile devices open up new ways of learning that simply aren’t possible with laptops or computers… and that’s the part we hope to start highlighting here each week. It’s often easy to get up in the “wow” factor with mobile devices and we’ll be doing our best to avoid all that.

What happens if I don’t have access to any mobile devices? If you’re a Quebec FGA teacher and see something here that you’d like to try in your own classroom, please let us know! Alain and I have access to our own mobile lab (iPads, iPods, etc..) and would be happy to help you setup your own pilot project.

We need your help! We’d like to know more about what you’d like to see in future “Mobile Mondays”. Please take a few seconds to fill out both polls below. Thanks!

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