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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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.”

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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.

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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


ICT Tip: Zygote Body allows students to explore a 3D model of the human body

November 27, 2012

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

Link: www.zygotebody.com

Quick overview: Formerly the Google Body project, Zygote Body is a free online tool that allows you or your students to interactively explore a full 3D model of a male or female human body. This tool really comes to life if you can use it in-class with an interactive whiteboard (i.e. – SMARTBoard) so that you or your students can touch the board to rotate, pan, and zoom around. The tool contains highly detailed models, yet the interface is shockingly easy to use. Free!

How does it work? Using the slider on the left side of the screen, you can pull back the different layers of the body see the skeletal layer, muscle tissues, nerves, etc.  If you’d like to focus on one body part, you can use the search function in the upper right hand corner to zero-in on specific body parts. Zygote body requires an up-to-date browser such as Google Chrome or Firefox to function properly. Lastly, as the site uses highly detailed 3D models, a modern computer will definitely help speed things up and run more smoothly.

Looking for something similar on mobile devices? I haven’t had a chance yet to test Pocket Body for the iPad and iPhone but I’ve heard lots of good things about it. Like Zygote Body, it also includes 360 degree rotations of the human body. You can check it out at this link.


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.


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:

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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: Documentary Storm contains hundreds of catergorized on-line video documentaries

January 25, 2011

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

Quick overview: Documentary Storm (www.documentarystorm.com) is a website that has categorized hundreds of on-line video documentaries found across the web. Simply browse, click, and play!

How does this site work? You can search for videos by keyword or browse through the different categories. Categories include biography, science, crime, health, history, art, society, war, biology, politics, the universe, etc..

What works best? I find this site works best when you browse through the different categories instead of searching by keyword. For example, if you were teaching a world history course and searched for “ancient greeks” you may not find much. On the other hand, if you were to browse the history category you may stumble upon an interesting documentary on engineering ancient empires, which may be just as interesting and pertinent to your world history class!

How can this be used in the classroom: Documentaries can be used to start a class discussion or used as a source of inspiration for a written essay or class project. If you have a digital projector in your classroom, documentaries can be screened in class. If students all have regular access to computers at home, you can even assign a documentary to be viewed for homework. (Source: Lise Demers, Place Cartier Adult Education Centre, Lester B. Pearson School Board)

Important notes: The documentaries on this site come from YouTube, Google, Megavideo, Vimeo, or a variety of other video sharing sites. Since some of these sites may be blocked in your school, always test it in your actual classroom (or use an offline solution like keepvid) before showing to your class! For copyright concerns, please view the disclaimer on the Documentary Storm website.


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.


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