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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Use Weebly to create a class website

February 10, 2014

Link: education.weebly.com

Quick overview: Are you interested in creating a class website but don’t have technical experience, time, or budget? Weebly is an on-line tool that allows one to EASILY create a website without any knowledge of programming. In a nutshell, it’s a website building tool for non-techies. It’s also completely free, unless you want to upgrade to a Pro account for some additional advanced features.

How can Weebly be used in the classroom? I thought the most authentic way to present Weebly would be to provide you with two testimonials from actual FGA teachers who are using the tool:

Isabelle Bertolotti at Place Cartier, LBPSB shares: “My class website is my most important teaching tool. It is my virtual office where I communicate with students about my calendar, daily agenda, links and course notes. I can add or change information at a moments notice, and/or make special announcements. This has enhanced my students learning in that they can review class notes, videos, handouts at all times to suit their learning styles and levels. I am never worried about attendance because when they see the demands of the day through the daily agenda they can actually see the amount of work that is planned and how their absence will have a negative impact on their learning.”

Isabelle’s class Weebly: www.isabelleplacecartier.weebly.com

Matthew Kennedy at Place Cartier, LBPSB shares: “I use Weebly for my English class in order to provide students with access to content inside of the classroom on the SMART Board, at home on their computers, or on-the-go on their mobile devices. For my purposes, Weebly is primarily an organizational tool — one that provides a digital representation of everything I cover with my students. I include all of my daily lesson plans on the website, so students can review what we completed in class at the end of the day, or catch-up on what they missed if they were absent. I upload all assignments to the website for access outside of the classroom. The website is particularly useful when providing extra help for students in the computer lab or after class, because we can review elements of a lesson at the student’s own pace. The same goes for when students seek additional support at my school’s academic resource centre — support staff can access the website to help my students with a specific assignment, and even view daily lesson plans to learn the context of the assignment. The website also has a great blog function, which is useful for communicating with students between classes and also for generating friendly discussion and debate.”

Matthew’s class Weebly: www.english5062.weebly.com

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Benefits and Limitations: Weebly utilizes a straightforward WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) interface, which makes it much easier to create your class website. In regards to content, a Weebly site (like most other traditional websites) is often designed to share information in a “top down” approach, i.e. – information delivered from the teacher to the students. In comparison, a tool like Edmodo is often used to create a forum for ongoing class discussions between multiple students and the teacher.

(Huge thanks to Isabelle Bertolotti and Matthew Kennedy at Place Cartier Adult Education Centre, LBPSB for telling me all about Weebly and providing me with their testimonials. Thanks a lot guys!)


Coggle, the no-frills mind mapping tool

February 4, 2014

Link for Coggle: www.coggle.it

Quick overview: Coggle is a basic, no-frills, minimalist, “mind mapping” web tool that allows students to explore and expand upon their ideas in a visual way.

What is a Mind Mapping tool? Mind mapping is a different way to organize your thoughts. A mind map is setup like a tree, whereas you begin with one main concept and then branch out to related topics. With Coggle, each concept in the mind map is represented by a single word or a short sentence. The lines drawn between the words indicate the link between the concepts.

How can Coggle be used in the classroom? Coggle can be used by students to brainstorm, consolidate information, plan tasks, or present a topic. As a teacher, you can use it to organize and present information on your interactive whiteboard during class. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to dislike mind maps but I now use them to collect everyone’s ideas when I’m leading a meeting on a digital projector.

Benefits and limitations: Coggle was designed to be as simple as possible so there are no bells and whistles.. and that’s OK! However, if you’d like the ability to insert images or want multiple students to edit a mind map at the same time, check out my previous blog post on Popplet. To create an account on Coggle, you’ll need to sign in with a Google Account, which is safe to do.

Want to know how to use Coggle? Please watch this short video tutorial:coggleict_25

Source: ISTE 2013, San Antonio, “Collaboration in the Cloud: Tools that Talk!” Jennifer Parker-Moore, Macomb Intermediate School District with Janice Harding, Carolyn McCarthy and Melissa White and Phillip Vinogradov: Technology Integration – 21st century classroom Prezi.


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.

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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 »


Cloud based tools: What are they and why should I use them?

January 21, 2014

Quick overview: This article addresses the benefits and limitations of popular “cloud based” tools.

What is the cloud? The easiest way to understand “the cloud” is to think about how you access your webmail, such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo. What all of these services have in common is that they store all your e-mail and attachments on-line, instead of on your home computer. The benefit is that you can access your data from any computer or mobile device – in a nutshell, that’s the cloud! There are also other cloud based services to store files, pictures, passwords, and notes. The one thing to remember is that not one company owns the cloud. The “cloud” is actually a generic term for any service where your information is stored on-line instead of a local device, such as a home computer.

What are the benefits? A cloud based service allows you to pull up a file, photo, document, or note on any device. Since all your data is stored on-line, there’s the added bonus of having all your important data backed up too. Many of the popular cloud based tools are free but you’ll pay more if you want more space or extra features. If you start using cloud based tools, you’ll often find there’s no need to carry USB drives or e-mail files back and forth to school.

What are the limitations? With some cloud based tools, you may not be able to access your files unless you have Internet access. There’s also an ever growing concern about security and privacy issues since your information is stored on-line and often in other countries. Lastly, it’s possible that you could lose all your information if the service is suddenly shut down or something unexpected happens. From my experience, that’s quite rare (especially with big reputable companies) and I haven’t lost a single file yet. If you’re at all Read the rest of this entry »


4 on-line tools for your students to create interactive timelines

January 14, 2014

Quick overview: A timeline tool allows students to create interactive timelines comprised of significant events. Each “event” on the timeline can be expanded on by the student to include text, images, and video. Timelines can be set private, public, or collaborative.

How can it be used in the classroom? Timeline tools can help students organize various pieces of information in chronological order but are not limited to history courses. Could you ask your students to assemble a timeline of incidents that has lead to a major current event? What about exploring their family history, creating a journal, or documenting the life of an important person? Keep in mind that some students may prefer to simply use paper and pencil to assemble a timeline.. and that’s OK! I think it’s all about giving students the choice to whatever approach works best for them.

Any suggestions for a history course? If you’re teaching a history course, you could ask your students to research and assemble an interactive timeline of a historical event. By encouraging them to analyze all the historical bits and pieces and create their own timeline, they may have a better chance of retaining the information rather than just memorizing a few out-of-context dates.

What are the four timeline tools? Since posting about Dipity a while back, I’ve also learned about TimeToast, TikiToki, and TimeGlider. All four timeline tools offer free accounts but with varying degrees of reduced functionality. Here’s a summary of the tools as of August 2013:

  • TimeToast’s free account allows you to create multiple timelines, but some banner ads will appear.
  • Tiki-Toki’s free account limits you to only 1 timeline at a time and is ad supported. The free account allows students to embed YouTube and Vimeo videos.
  • Dipity’s free account limits you to 3 timelines, limited to 50MB, and is ad supported.
  • TimeGlider free account is limited to 3 timelines, 20 images, and is only available to active students below the graduate level.

Benefits and limitations: Your best bet is to start by creating a free account and explore the tools yourself. Even if one tool is more limited than another, which is ultimately the easiest to use? Do you absolutely love one of the tools but don’t like the limitations of the free account? It might be worth signing up! (Thanks to Marie-Christine Kovacs, ETSB, New Horizons for telling me about Tiki-Toki.)


Top 5 tools to connect with other educators and curate classroom resources

January 7, 2014

Quick overview: Welcome back everyone! Are you looking for new ideas, resources, and fresh ways to deliver your content this semester? There’s often too much stuff out there to sift through… Where do you start?

Edudemic: Edudemic has teacher guides on educational technologies and current trends, the best in educational technologies (i.e. – apps, hardware) and resources for students. Very well organized, lots of useful and frequently updated content.

Appitic: Got a new tablet over the holidays? If you’re looking for apps to recommend to your students, Appitic may be a good place to start. Apps are sorted by subject area, academic level, bloom’s taxonomy, and more. In addition, you may also want to check out this EdTechTeacher site which organizes apps by learning objective.

Twitter: I’ve said this many times before, but Twitter is still my very first choice for keeping up to date with my PD throughout the year. You can use Twitter to help find classroom resources and teaching strategies and start building your PLN. Once you give a shot, you’ll see why thousands of other educators are using Twitter too! If you’re interested, I’d be happy to come to your centre and provide a hands-on workshop.

Pinterest: Use Pinterest to explore and curate PD resources for yourself or to create organized “pins” around different topics for your students to explore on their own. If you’re teaching in an individualized setting, I genuinely think Pinterest has the potential to be a game changing tool. I’m head over heels for Pinterest but I’ve already professed my undying love for Pinterest in a previous blog post.

Educlipper: Educlipper is a visual bookmarking tool, developed by leading educator, Adam Bellow. If you like the idea of Pinterest, you’ll like using Educlipper too. Designed specifically for education, it’s school safe. Click here to try Educlipper yourself.

Link for Edudemic web
Link for Appitic web
Link for Twitter web, Apple iOS, Android
Link for Pinterest web, Apple iOS, Android
Link for Educlipper web, Apple iOS

(Source: Thanks for Jason Bronsther, lead automobile mechanics teacher at WQCC, WQSB for getting me hooked on Edudemic and Adam Bellow for showing us EduClipper at ISTE 2013, San Antonio.)


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