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Archive for January, 2011

Sometimes I amazed at the process of putting something together on the web. It’s all about processes. Oftentimes, the process itself is easy, if you know how to do it. Finding the exact process that works is the hard part.

Today, I was presented with the problem of getting a podcast to play on a Lifeyo website. Actually, I worked on this for a few hours last week with no luck. Lifeyo will accept widgets, but I could not find a decent widget that would work, and then, on top of that, I had to find a place to host the audio files. I finally gave up. That was Friday afternoon. Sometimes a weekend of not thinking to hard will help the mind clear.

Today, when I cam in, I sat down and the whole process fell together rather nicely. I ran across a site called Podbean which is a blog site that encourages the use of audio and video streaming. The cool thing about the platform is the ability to get the html code for a particular broadcast and embed a small player on other sites. This is exactly what I was looking for, and it worked great.

So, here is the process for this particular project.

1. Students are going to record their podcasts using Audacity.

2. The files will be uploaded to Podbean, which will act as a “file host” for the recordings.

3. Once uploaded there, the html code can be obtained and inserted on the appropriate Lifeyo page.

Podbean does have a limit as to how much can be stored, but with the nature of this website, students will be adding new material on a weekly basis, and the old material can be deleted.

Now, we just have to put this process to the test. It never fails that when I take something like this to a class, something goes haywire. I’ll let you know how it all works out.

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Last Thursday, I watched the live stream of Youtube’s “Life in a Day” film, and honestly, I was quite impressed. As I sat there watching, I started thinking of how this could be used in the classroom. Unfortunately, the film is not going to be released for several months, and then it will only be in theaters for some time. It is going to be a while before the actual film can be used by teachers. However, a quick visit to the film’s homepage got me to thinking, and there are still some pretty cool activities that can be done with the video that they have collected.

With a bank of videos that have been collected from all around the world, an obvious class to use the videos in is geography. Later in the week, I am going to be working with a geography class on the following project.

To start, I am going to explain to the class just a little bit about the background of the videos. The main point is that they were all shot on July 24, 2010 as a part of a project to give a visual representation of life on the  planet earth in a 24 hour period. To me, this is a pretty awesome concept.

Then, I am going to pull up the site. On the homepage, I will click “Explore” and be taken to a page with a globe made up of video thumbnails. The globe is made up of random videos from the project and will be the main focus for the rest of the activity. Basically, the rest of the activity will involve watching videos chosen from the globe. I am going to have students come up to the Smartboard and click on a video for the class to watch. This will be quite random, but I think it will work well for what we want to accomplish with the project.

The learning and thinking part will come in evaluating each video using two handouts. The first will have a chart with each of the five themes of geography. Students will have to write down as much as they can for each video concerning each of the themes. The second handout will have these questions on it:

1. What do I love?

2. What do I fear?

3. What makes me laugh?

4. What do I have in my pocket?

By filling out the 5 themes sheet and the looking at how these questions are answered, students will gain a greater understanding of the similarities and differences in cultures across the globe. The fun part is that many of the videos are not tagged with a location, so students will have to try and guess where the video was shot. This will have to be done  based on the 5 themes. The main hope for this activity is that students gain a greater sense of community with the world in which they live.

Click here to view the handouts.

There is one other tech related part of this activity that I failed to mention. I am also going to set up another projector and screen in the room with a Wiffiti board. Students will have the opportunity to chime in with feelings and also answers to questions for the whole class to see. This will be a collaborative piece. Instead of having the students work in small groups, they will be working as an entire class. I’ll be honest. I am not sure how this part is going to pan out, but I think it will be quite effective. I think I will also encourage students to use the Wiffiti board to make guesses as to where the videos were taken.

Well, that’s the activity. If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments. It’s always good to hear another perspective. I will let you know how it all goes the first of next week.

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I have been thinking quite a bit today about the reasons that we use technology in the classroom. There is a camp of people that are pretty convinced that technology is not going to help students learn. They feel that teachers who are using technology to teach are doing so out of an attempt to entertain students in hopes that they learn something.

While I don’t agree at all with this thinking, I do think that the entertainment factor of technology does have its benefits. However, this is not the main reason that it should be used.

Student engagement is the reason we need to be using technology in our classrooms, and there is a stark difference between a student being engaged in learning and being entertained. I think one of the biggest problems is that the definition of “using technology in the classroom” is wide and varies from teacher to teacher.

Having a classroom of students watch a video might be deemed by some a use of technology to teach. Many school districts are buying interactive whiteboards by the truck load and installing them in classrooms as fast as they can in hopes of bringing up test scores. Then there are the teachers that video every class project they can and post them on Youtube. No one can argue that these teachers are not using technology in the classroom, but there is definitely an argument in whether or not they are actually using the technology to teach. There is a very good chance that none of them are.

Here is the problem. Teachers often use gadgets like projectors, computers, interactive whiteboards, and calculators to teach, but these tools are not used to help the students think. They are often used to teach students at the most basic levels of Bloom’s. It seems that there are number of teachers who are cramming as much knowledge as possible into students minds, and they mean well. After all, that is how most of us learned. We sat in the room and copied notes off the board and had a test at the end of the week. Now the teacher can make a fancy PowerPoint with nifty animations and even videos, but many of these lessons still amount to “cramming” the mind with knowledge. For many, this constitutes using technology to teach.

I am going to apologize now to those who see the interactive whiteboard as the greatest teaching tool to ever come along, but I am having a hard time with it as a stellar teaching tool. Sure, they are a great tool to use for writing on the board, and I can prepare some pretty cool lessons with interactive activities for the students. They are definitely a great thing to have in the classroom, but they do not require a whole lot of upper level thinking. Those districts that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on them hoping to raise test scores are spending money in the wrong place. It’s kind of like paying for the dentist to fix a broken tooth when you really have a broken arm!

Even something as simple as a calculator, if not used to make a student think, is a waste of that student’s time. What good is the knowledge of how to graph a line if the student has no idea how this knowledge can be applied to life?

What we need to do is carefully evaluate each lesson we do and make sure that we are pushing student to think with each one. Technology, if used correctly, can help do this, and it does so in a manner that truly engages the mind.

Engagement is another word that is used loosely in education. Oftentimes, student engagement is recognized as a teacher who has a class full of students looking at the board or projector screen. As long as no one is sleeping then the class is engaged.

That is not what an engaged learner looks like. An engaged learner is thinking and then acting on what they have learned. Even better, they take some information or knowledge from the teacher and then run with it. They are engaged in their own learning because they want to. They want to use their new found knowledge and come to understand it on their own terms. This is learning, and technology can help students achieve this kind of learning when they are allowed to.

I guess my point here is that we need to make sure we are using the tools we have to their fullest potential. In these days of high stakes testing. we cannot afford not to.

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I was working with the art teacher yesterday and decided to throw together a quick video showcasing some student art work. Animoto has to be one of the quickest means of putting together a quick video that looks very professional. With Animoto, users simply import pictures, choose a song, and hit the done button. They take the pics and music and mash it together with all the cool animations. The video can then be exported to Youtube for everyone to see.

This is a great way for teacher to show class work. In this case we were showing off student art work, but the same thing could be done for several different classes. You know all those projects that your students spent hours making at home for the five minute presentation in class? Take pictures of them, make a video, and post it on your class blog or even the school website. Poster projects are popular in many classrooms, but they are hung in the corner of the classroom for a few weeks and then thrown away. Again, take pictures of them and put then into an Animoto.

One of the great things about Animoto is the small amount of time it takes to make a video. This video took about 30 minutes to put together, and that includes taking the pictures and shooting the video.

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This past week, one of the science teachers I work with had the students in his class create videos to teach each other about weather. Each of the small groups were assigned a particular aspect of weather. The groups then spent some time researching the topic and putting notes together on what they thought was important. Then the students worked the information into a script and created a storyboard. Before students could start recording, the script and storyboard had to be approved by the teacher. This was to make sure the students would be sharing relevant knowledge with the rest of the class.

The cool think about a project like this is that it really engages the students in what they are learning, and they are not only getting strait science. They are also covering their reading and writing standards, as well as oral speaking and presentation standards. It was all packed into 3 weeks of fun!

Like all video projects, it seemed to take a little more time than we thought, but the product, as is almost always the case, was super. Most of the students really stepped up and went all out with their work. Several of the groups experimented with chroma-key screens (green screens) to make their videos. One group wrote a four minute song on the workings of the water cycle. Another group had some inventive special effects. I was really amazed at what the students put together. I have posted one of the videos, but if you want to see more, click here to go to SuperMraragon’s Youtube channel and watch the rest.

Honestly, if you are teaching the water cycle anytime in the near future, one of these vide

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I spoke too soon yesterday. The video I chose as an example was not really all that good. However, I did some more exploring yesterday around the GoAnimate site and found that they now have a dedicated educators site called GoAnimate for Schools and Educators. There are several good videos there that could be used in the classroom. I especially liked the adaptation from Of Mice and Men.

This would be a great way for very low level learners or ELL students to  participate in the reading of story that is typically “grade level” but that is too hard for them to read. An adaptation like this will also help them to visualize what is going on in the story.

Click here to see the video.

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There’s not much to say about this one except that it is good. I love a good education video to get me fired up for work tomorrow!

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