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.

Teacher Feature: Catherine Boisvert (CQSB) and Shanna Loach (ETSB) – What is Gamification?

May 19, 2014

Teacher(s): Catherine Boisvert, individualized FSL at the Eastern Quebec Learning Centre (CQSB) and Shanna Loach, individualized English at the New Horizons Adult Education Centre (ETSB)

What is Gamification: Gamification can be defined as taking a closer look at the engaging and motivating aspects of video games and then applying these elements to a learning environment. Gamification is NOT about playing games in the classroom.

What is Catherine’s project? Catherine and I began collaborating on a project to “gamify” elements of her FSL classroom. Catherine was looking for a new way to engage her individualized learners, as seen in the following video (in French):catherineWant to know more about Catherine’s project? You can read more about our experience by reading “All Fun and Games: Gamifying a Language Classroom” on the LEARN blog. The article provides an overview of gamification and what worked well (and didn’t!) so far in our project.

How does it work? In a nutshell, a Gamified classroom should present students with a clear outline of the course goals in addition to providing students with a system to recognize their efforts as they go along. A gamified classroom should encourage learning from mistakes, choice when to tackle different topics, more feedback, differentiation, and allowing students to progress at their own pace.

What does a gamified course outline look like? Shanna Loach is an English teacher at the New Horizons Adult Education Centre (ETSB) who is also gamifing elements of her multilevel CCBE classroom. Shanna has generously agreed to share a snapshot of her Gamified course outline that we are in the process of developing for the 2014-2015 school year. Our ultimate goal is to create a simple and straightforward way for her students to track their progress as they tackle the prescribed elements of their CCBE course:


Additional Gamification resources: I maintain a collaborative gamification board on Pinterest with my colleague Marc-André Lalande. There’s lots of great videos, web links, and also a link to our recent presentation at AQIFGA 2014.

Comments: What have you heard about gamification? Do you think it would work well in your classroom? Questions? Concerns? Please feel free to leave a question or comment below! Special thanks to Sylwia Bielec for interviewing us and featuring us on the LEARN blog.

Teacher Feature: Ali Ghassemi’s Top 11 iPad Math Apps (NFSB, Nova)

February 5, 2013

Ali Ghassemi teaches Sec. 1-5 Math at Nova Career Education Centre, which is part of the New Frontiers School Board in Châteauguay, Quebec. This school year, Ali’s centre acquired a set iPads. As soon as Ali got his hands on an iPad, he began to pour over hundreds of different math apps in an attempt to find new approaches to help his students succeed in greater numbers.

Ali recently presented alongside Tracy Rosen (Resource Teacher at NFSB) at the QPAT 2012 teacher’s conference and demonstrated 11 of his favorite Math apps. If you’d like to learn more about their session about increasing student engagement with iPads, I’d highly encourage you take a look at Tracy’s detailed blog post from her education focused blog, Leading from the Heart. Without any further ado, here are Ali’s top 11 apps sorted by category:

Educreation: Record math lessons on screen. View hundreds of various lessons from other teachers.

Converter: Easily convert units from one to another.

Algebra Touch: Rearrange, slide, and tap variables to solve equations.
Tritutor: Shows how to solve quadratic equations, step-by-step.
Ace High School Math: Step-by-step math videos (needs internet connection)
Polynomials by HUP: Helps students work with polynomials through video.
Math Quadsolve: Solves quadratic equations.

Mathgraph: A graphing application for the iPad.
Winipossible Geometry Tutor: Videos to help students with geometry.
Unit Circle Helps students understand triangles and how they relate to trigonometry.

General Math:
Math Aptitude: 1500 Math questions with step-by-step solutions.

(Source: Tracy Rosen, resource teacher at Nova Career Centre. Be sure to check out Tracy’s blog at http://leadingfromtheheart.org. Also thanks to Ali Ghassemi, math teacher at Nova Career Centre.)

Teacher Feature: Learning Links by Darlene Brown (TLE, SWLSB, CDC Vimont)

May 8, 2012

Link: www2.recitfga.qc.ca/learninglinks

Quick overview: Darlene Brown, Executive Director of  The Learning Exchange and English teacher at CDC Vimont (Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board) maintains a site full of useful web links for multiple subjects. Learning Links can be used as a professional resource for teachers or used directly with your students. As Darlene teaches in the FGA classroom herself, you can expect to find material which is relevant for your Quebec general adult education students.

What is it? Quickly and easily find interactive, printable activities on interesting topics without having to search through numerous sites: Multimedia resources, videos, puzzles, information, quizzes, interactive materials, references, lesson plans and games organized for easy use. Sections include enjoyment and entrainment, workplace skills, law, basic ICT usage, and so on. Thanks Darlene!

Teacher Feature: Hilda Smolash (EMSB, Marymount)

February 14, 2012

Teacher: Hilda Smolash (CCBE, English Literacy)

School Board and Centre: English Montreal School Board, Marymount Adult Centre, in Montreal, Quebec in conjunction with the RECIT FGA Regional Service.

What is the project? Hilda’s video project aimed to help literacy level (ESL) students improve their communication and writing competencies through the production of short video skits, based on real-life situations.

How did it work? In the first class, Hilda’s students were placed into groups and each group was asked to recreate a real-life situation in which they wanted to improve their spoken English. The situation had to include an exit strategy (an ending). Hilda reported that the initial part of the activity sparked lots of animated discussion as the groups had to reach a consensus. The following class, each group practiced their skits, but without written lines – they had to improvise the words just as they would need to do outside of the classroom. Next, they filmed their skits. With some assistance from Hilda, students were then asked to summarize the main parts of their skits by writing short captions in the third person narrative. In the last class, the students acted as “directors” and worked with Avi to incorporate their written captions into their video skits. Avi took care of the video editing so the students could continue to focus strictly on language learning, not on the video making process.

Are you interested? If you’re an FGA teacher who would like to develop a similar activity in your English or FSL class, please let us know. We can provide pedagogical support and technical guidance, along with equipment.

Video: To see an in-class video (2 minutes) demonstrating Hilda’s project, click the play button below.. Also don’t forget to check out the official press release!

Teacher Feature: Ann Fairhurst-Lozyk (EMSB, James Lyng)

May 26, 2011

Teacher: Ann Fairhurst-Lozyk (Basic Education)

School Board and Centre: English Montreal School Board, James Lyng Adult Education Centre in Montreal, Quebec.

What is the material? Ann’s project instructs teachers how to illustrate a dialogue between two students using a variety of readily available ICT tools. The project prepares the students for a visit to the doctor’s office by using the Internet to help them learn how to research the necessary medical vocabulary, how to clearly describe symptoms, and how to construct appropriate questions to ask the doctor.

How will it help students? The final product of the project is a doctor/patient PowerPoint role play. The use of ICT is a great motivator (while helping students develop speaking competencies) and makes a star out of even the most reluctant students.

Download: Please click this link (27MB) if you’d like to download a copy of Ann’s PowerPoint project. If you’d like to contact Ann for more information, please let us know and we’ll put you in touch.

Video Tutorial: For a how-to video on how to setup an activity seen in Ann’s project, please click the play button below:

Teacher Feature: Marie-Christine Kovacs (ETSB, New Horizons)

May 6, 2010

Starting this month, I am starting a “teacher feature” to spotlight individual FGA teachers who have created exemplary ICT materials that they’ve used successfully in their own classrooms. With the teacher’s permission, these ICT materials will be shared on the blog and made available for my readers to download.

Teacher: Marie-Christine Kovacs (Level 4 French)

School Board and Centre: Eastern Townships School Board, New Horizons Adult Education Centre in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

What is the material? Marie-Christine created a SMART Notebook presentation for her level 4 French class. Her presentation was a review of one of the chapters she worked on with her students in her class. The main subjects were: The subjonctive, movement prepositions, the interrogative pronoun “Quel”, directions, questions, pronoun “en vs y” and a review of vocabulary seen in the chapter they were working on.

How did it help her students? Marie-Christine explained to me that because the presentation was so visual and hands-on, it helped her students more easily grasp the concepts they were reviewing. Marie-Christine also found that her students were more interested, focused, and enjoyed learning in a fun and different way. They were also more successful with the test that followed the presentation!

Download: Click below to download a copy of Marie-Christine’s SMART Notebook presentation “revision.notebook” from the ICT Blog. Believe it or not, this is Marie-Christine’s first SMARTBoard presentation! If you’d like to contact her, please let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

Click on image below to download a copy of Marie’s presentation:

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