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Archive for August, 2010

I can’t believe that a whole week has gone by since I wrote last. The whirlwind known as school has officially begun. This past week I have learned enough to write ten blog posts, but obviously that isn’t going to happen, so I am going to have to just share snippets.

I spent last Wednesday in Smart Board training. Since our district just bought over a hundred of them, we decided that we better learn how to use them. I was hesitant at first in spending a whole day learning about Smart Boards, but the training was a good use of time. It always helps to have a good presenter. Now I have a head full of cool things to do with the Smart Board. I just have to figure out how to get it out to the rest of the staff.

The one thing that made the biggest impression on me during the training was the screen capture tool. It is pretty cool to use on the Smart Board itself, but it has been an invaluable tool this past week when I have been putting together instruction sheets. It is so much easier to just click on what I want and save it. Before, I would have to take  a screen shot,  put it into paint, crop it, and then put it into a document. With the screen capture tool, it is just point, click, copy, and paste. It works pretty slick.

I have done quite a bit more work with Classmarker this week, and I am finding that it is a very useful tool for the classroom. It is easy to use, and gives a good bit of data for a free app.

Today, I ran across the movie trailer for “Race to Nowhere.”  The director, Vicki Abeles, was being interviewed by Steve Hargadon tonight, but I wasn’t able to listen in. Hopefully I can catch it tomorrow. Anyway, if you haven’t seen the trailer, watch.  It will make you think a little bit.

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Today, I worked with a teacher on setting up a Drop.io wall where students can drop pictures. It should be an interesting assignment . The students are studying Native American culture, but to introduce the idea of culture, the teacher wants to spend a little time studying a culture that is easier to relate with. What better culture than their own.

We decided that it would be fun for students to spend 24 hours taking pictures of objects, people, and activities that are a part of being a teen. The pictures can then be sent to the teacher’s Drop.io wall where they can be posted for the whole class to see. By the end of class, the wall should be covered with pictures that can be used for a discussion to define exactly what constitutes a culture.

Hopefully all works well with Drop.io. I haven’t used it before, except for some trial uploads today. It seemed to work well with them. Sometimes, the hardest part is getting the students to catch on. The only big issue I can see right now is the unique url that is provided. A bunch of random letters can be hard for the students to punch in right, but I think that if we can get past that, this should be a good activity. I’ll keep you posted.

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I just sat through a webinar with Tom Kuhlmann, the author of The Rapid E-Learning Blog. The particular name of this webinar was “Don’t let the experts tell you PowerPoint sucks.” There were some good ideas presented, but more than anything, it made me think of how we use PowerPoint in the classroom.

Granted, many, and maybe even most of the attendees of the webinar work in the professional sector outside of education. Many of these people are selling products and ideas to various audiences. Their presentations have to be flashy, and in the end, they have to sell.

Is the purpose of a PowerPoint any different in the classroom? The obvious fast answer is “Yes, of course. We aren’t selling anything. The purpose of a PowerPoint in education is to inform.”

But is it? Totally?

I don’t know, but when I am standing in front of  group of students, I am pretty sure that they are not going to listen unless I do something other than just talk. I have to get them involved, at least mentally, in some manner. Showing a PowerPoint full of notes is most likely a sure way to kill whatever attention a student might have in the subject.  A teacher that creates 20 slides of notes for the students to copy down is not helping the student to remember anything that is being taught. I am not sure that teaching and a PowerPoint like this can even go in the same sentence. All of the information given to the students in this manner goes into the their notebooks, not their brains.

We need to start thinking about PowerPoint (or any presentation) in a different way. PowerPoint presentations need to wake students up. They should be sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the next slide. Research has shown that the memory is not activated by what is written in a notebook but by experience. These experiences should be coming from a combination of the teacher and the presentation.

Ok, I can hear the grumbles: “This is going to take more work. I don’t have time. I don’t have the skills.”

Dynamic presentation can take a bunch of time. However, that doesn’t always have to be the case. There seems to be a popular mantra in certain circles at the moment. Maybe you have heard it: Less is more. This can certainly be the case with PowerPoint. Maybe a slide packed with notes can be replaced with a short video that shows the ideas presented. Maybe the fifteen bullet points could be replaced by three white words printed on a black background. 

In short, we have to find ways to make our classes “experiences” for the students.

For some interesting ideas on how to make PowerPoint presentations more effective, check out Tom’s Blog.

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I spent a half hour or so on Facebook last night, and this morning when I got up I started thinking about the difference between the way teenagers and even the 20-25 year olds use Facebook compared to those users that are my age or older.

There is a reason why I feel a  little guilty when I spend a half hour on Facebook instead of doing something else that might be more productive, and it is the same reason that many adults feel that it is a total waste of time. Many adults do not participate in the social nature the site is supposed to promote. For many of us, it is a place to observe what is happening in our “friends” lives. I know that when I go on, I rarely post anything on my own wall, and only occasionally post a comment on any other walls. Sure, I like to see what others are doing, even if most of my friends that are older spend their time playing Family Feud or grow virtual gardens on Farmville. That really is the extent of most of my friends Facebook activity.

Last night, however, I was looking at my daughter’s wall and noticed a stark difference. She posts random thoughts, videos (some funny and some to show how she feels at the moment), and other various tidbits about what is going through her head at the moment. The other thing I noticed is that there was seldom a  post where several of her friends didn’t comment. Facebook for this group is not merely a spectator event, but a full out social event, hence the name “social networking.”

This made me start thinking about whether it is a waste of time or not. Do I think it is odd when my wife talks on the phone with her sister for an hour or two at a time, or when I visit a friend and end up spending hours talking about a whole bunch of things that really aren’t that important? The answer is no.  That is perfectly normal, but when I see a teenager talking on the computer, I get the thought that they are wasting their time on frivolous chit chat.  

So, I am sure you are asking yourself, “Where in the heck is all this going?” I don’t really know. I guess that maybe we  need to start looking at communication in the digital world as a legitimate mode for sharing ideas and learning, for teaching, for work, for recreation, and also  just plain relaxation. Maybe, just maybe, the younger generation is on to something here.

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Today, I was shown a cool new platform that can be used by teachers to save time. I think that most can agree that grading is a pain. Classmarker looks to be an excellent classroom app that will help teachers breeze through grading chores.

Now, I will admit, I haven’t used it a bunch yet. We only spent a few hours on it so far today.  However, from what I can see, it is going to work quite well.

Basically, Classmarker can be used to set up tests and quizzes online. Here’s what I have seen so far:

1. It’s free, at least for the basic features. Teachers can create a class with up to 1000 students. That’s a bunch!

2. Teachers can set up classes. This is nice because there is no searching for students. Just click on a class and see the results for a particular test.

3. It’s relatively easy to use. The whole thing can be set up with very little computer skill.

4. Teachers get a report on each student’s performance on the test.

5. Quizzes can be shared with other teachers.

6. This might be the coolest thing about the app; teachers can use other teacher’s quizzes and tests. Type in a search word for a particular subject or topic, and you get a whole list of quizzes to use with the students in your classroom.

I plan on using this app quite a bit in the next several weeks and will report on what I find. If anyone else has used the app, I would appreciate on hearing from you whether it is good or bad.

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