Archive for April, 2011

20071220 Scott holding aching headphoto © 2008 Scott Granneman | more info (via: Wylio)The web is overflowing with tools. On a daily basis new apps and programs are added to the list: tools that will help the user manipulate photos, make and share videos, and collaborate There are so many others uses that just thinking about them all makes my head spin. One thing is for certain, there are a bunch, and they are just going to keep coming.

Despite the deluge of new apps and programs, there are a few that I use often enough to call my favorites. Some of them I use every day, and some I use every few weeks, but I thought it would be good to share these, especially for those that who might be suffering from “over-appatitis” (the definition is “one who has seen so many apps and programs, they can’t decide which one to use for any particular task ūüôā

Here’s the list:

1. Picnik: This is an online app for photo manipulation and is photo editing at its easiest. Users can crop and resize photos, add text, and using a long list of effects, change the entire look of pictures. This is a fun way to spruce up pictures. On top of being a super app, it’s also free.

2. Google Reader: I don’t know if I could live without my Google reader. This app allows me to read through a bunch of information in a short amount of time. Granted, I don’t think you have to use Google reader, but I think everyone should use some sort of RSS reader.

3. Any Video Converter: I spend quite a bit of time making videos, and I could not do it without this program on my computer. It will convert almost any video format that students can throw at me, and it is easy to use.

4. Movie Maker: I know that this is a simple program and there are much better video editing programs out there. However, this one is simple to use and free. You just can’t beat that combination.

5. WordPress: I like the WordPress blogging platform. I have used several different blogging platforms, and this one is easy to use. Every time you read this blog, I have been using it!

6. Twitter: I am not a twitter junkie by any means, but I enjoy the conversation there, especially on #edchat Tuesday. Every Tuesday, there are several #edchat discussions centered on different educational topics. This is one of the best places to go for stimulating conversation centered on education. I have never participated in an #edchat session and not come away with a bunch to think about.

7. Animoto: This site rocks for throwing together a quick video. It is one of those apps that you can learn in a few minutes and produce a video that look like it took hours to create.

8. Grooveshark: Okay, this one may not help me create much in the literal sense, but I use it constantly as a source of music while I am working, which helps me get all the things done that I need to. With Grooveshark, I can listen to just about any song by any artist. It is a huge base of music and it’s totally free to listen to.

9. Prezi: This app is like a drug. Use it once and it is the only presentation tool you will ever want to use again. Prezi makes the coolest presentations, and it is super easy to use.

10. Lifeyo: This is the best free website creation tool that I have found so far. I like it because it is a click and drag platform, and users start with a blank slate to build the site. Many of the other site building platforms have limitations in how the page can be built. Lifeyo is wide open.


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I love the title of this video. This is definitely how classrooms and instruction need to be designed. Technology should be such a part of what goes on in school that the students don’t see it as a big event. Instead, technology should be the normal way for how learning happens. When this becomes the norm, there is going to be a whole bunch of learning going on.

The last speaker in this video is a young student, but he should be a spokesperson for getting technology into the classroom, proof that profound wisdom often seems to come from our youth. He says,

“With technology, it makes you want to come to school to learn, and you learn a lot more.”

What gets me is that this is not a new concept. Several of the leading tech and education gurus have been talking about this for years, yet not a whole lot has changed. I think that it has come to the point where students see the use of tech as a gimmick in some instances. What will make this change in our schools across the globe?

p.s. If anything, this video has some great examples for how to use different forms of technology to teach. Remember to take notes!

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Often, in English classes, students are asked to summarize the plot of a story. This is usually done in an essay format, and I think that there are definitely appropriate times for this. However, for a change in tempo, have students show the plot of a story using one of the following activities:

1. Make a video of the plot acted out by the students. This is probably the most labor intensive of the options. This isn’t a projet that will be done in a few class periods. The other hard part with video is that if the story is long, the plot is also quite involved making the video project a long one. To get around this, make different groups within the class responsible for the different parts of the story. Then, take all of the videos and watch the story from start to finish.

2. Make a video in digital story format. This activity does not take near the work that a normal video project will take, but it is quite powerful. Basically, students draw a storyboard, take pictures of the storyboard, import the pictures into movie maker and record a narrative that goes along with the storyboard. The end product is a video with the student’s plot summary read to pictures. This a great introductory video project for students and teachers.

3. Make a comic strip or story board using a comic creator. There are several comic creators¬† hosted online that allow students to make a comic strip using templates and characters. These allow those students who don’t feel they draw well to produce a great looking comic or storyboard representing the plot of a story. Pixton and Bitstrips are two of the best apps for making comic strips.

4. Use GoAnimate to make a cartoon representing the plot of a story. This app is a lot of fun. Like making a full video representing the plot, making a cartoon will be quite time consuming, so again, it is a good idea to split up the story for individual groups. Another option is to have the students do 5 shorts that represent the progression of the story, much like a storyboard, except this one will include animations and music.

5. Make an Xtranormal video. Xtranormal takes as much or more time than Goanimate, but the end result is really cool. The best way to use this app to show plot is to have the students choose 5 different parts of the story that show the progression of the plot. Students will then animate those portions of the story. This will force students to think about what parts in the story are important to the overall plot.

All of these activities stretch the thinking of the students. Much of this is because they are no longer just writing out a plot summary, which is pretty much the regurgitating the facts. With these projects, student have to think about what happened and then show what happened. The “showing” is the important part because when successfully done, students will have taken material, synthesized it, and then used that for their own creation. This is thinking at its best.

These ideas are certainly not limited to the English classroom. Really, all of these have a place in any classroom of any subject. I would love to hear ideas on how you have used these apps in your classroom. Leave them in the comments.

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I have been thinking a lot lately about the reasons that teachers don’t use technology in the classroom. Yesterday I wrote about what keeps technology from being used, but then I started thinking about the excuses I hear from teachers and why they should never be used. There are no excuses for these excuses:

1. I don’t know how. Admitting a lack of knowledge is the first step in learning, but do something about it. Don’t just sit there. As an educator, you know that “doing” is the best way to learn. So, DO.

2. I don’t have enough time. This excuse doesn’t fly. What would you tell your students if they came in to class without a homework assignment and said, “I just didn’t have time last night.” The key to having time is making time, and learning a new computer application doesn’t take long. After the initial learning curve, you might find that it actually saves time. One of the best ways for a teacher to find extra time is to stop grading so much. We spend a great deal of time grading that has no real educational impact on students.

3. I only have one computer in my room, and the labs are full. Using technology in the classroom doesn’t mean that every student has to be using a computer. There are a bunch of activities and lessons that can be taught with one computer and projector. Now, if you don’t have a projector, that makes things a little more complicated but only a little. Apply for a grant, ask local clubs, beg on your knees before the school board. There is usually money to be found with a little extra work.

4. Technology is too expensive for my district. This is a valid concern in the face of severe educational budget cuts. However, technology seems to be the one part of education (along with sports programs) that always finds money. You might also reread the remarks in #3.

5. Not every student has access to a computer outside of school. Besides remembering what you read in #3, consider this: students often have more access than teachers think. Public libraries, friends, and other family members are good sources for computer use. Computers are becoming accessible enough that most student can find one to use if they look a little.

6. Everything at my school is blocked!  I am guessing that not everything is blocked. Sure, there may be some strict filtering, but chances are there are still a lot of apps a teacher can use with students. It may just take some looking.

7. Students get rowdy and distracted when working on the computers. They might, if they aren’t engaged in the lesson. Okay, they might, even if the lesson is super engaging, but since when did that stop teachers from teaching students. Students may be quiet during a lecture, but it is because most of them are sleeping, not ¬†because they are listening to the teacher’s lesson.

Full view of the liviing room where this teacher now holds class. The chalk boards were recovered from the school before it completely collapsed.photo ¬© 2010 Emma Taylor | more info (via: Wylio)8. I learned the old fashioned way, and it worked for me. This is my favorite! Actually, every time I hear this excuse, I have to remind myself that I am a respectable person, so I don’t say something I will regret. This excuse drives me nuts. I do believe that many of us learned the old fashioned way, in the old fashioned days. For many of us, computers were not a part of school, but schools used the current technology of the time: tape players, slide projectors, television sets and overhead projectors. Times have changed and so have the tools.

Really, I am not sure I can think of a good excuse for not using technology in the classroom. It is the way students learn. Getting technology in the classroom just has to be done. Case closed!

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There are several reasons that we don’t have more technology in our schools. First and foremost, money seems to be one of the biggies. Computers, Smartboards, document cameras, and projectors cost a lot of money, but so do television sets, overhead projectors, and text books, all of those things that are currently in our schools. Schools have always spent huge amounts of money in the name of education. In the past, schools have never had a problem being on the cutting edge of the current technology. Districts usually find the money somewhere. I will admit that money can be a problem, but it is not the biggest hurdle.

Another logical reason is that laws prevent teachers from using  technology to the fullest extent. Between CIPA and antiquated district policies, educators find themselves with a list of restrictions that is daunting. However, the list of possibilities far exceeds the restrictions. If an educator wants to use technology, the list of activities is broad, even with the strictest of policies in a school or district.

This brings us to the biggest road block that keeps technology out of our schools: knowledge. This problem is as simple and as complex as that. A general lack of knowledge on the part of teachers and especially administrators stands as a wall blocking rich technological learning experiences for students around the world.

I don’t mean to say that teachers and principals and superintendents aren’t smart. That’s not the point at all. What I am saying is that many teachers and especially principals and superintendents don’t have a sufficient knowledge of two things: first, how to use technology, and secondly, the benefit of doing so in the classroom.

Not knowing how to do something often breeds fear, and when people are scared of something, they often stay as far away as possible. This is the case with technology. I was like that myself at one time. I can remember not wanting to touch a computer because I was afraid I was going to mess something up. I talk with teachers on a daily basis that have this fear. The truth is that, yes certain bad things can happen on computers, but it usually takes more than a few taps of the keys or clicks on a mouse.

Teachers and administrators need to learn more about how to use the technology that is at their disposal. How is this done? The best way is to play with it and become comfortable with several different programs and computer applications. Some of this comes down to being comfortable with using new programs and apps and expecting that they will not all work all the time. Expect the unexpected and be comfortable with that. This is a hard thing to do.

The second area where many lack knowledge is in how to use these apps and programs successfully in the classroom. With the thousands of blogs and websites devoted to this subject, the thought that there is a lack of knowledge on this subject seems ludicrous, but the truth is that an infinite number of blogs and websites do not help those that are lacking knowledge because these people aren’t reading blogs and websites.

Logical thinking would point to professional development training. Surely, this would be a way to help teachers use technology in the classroom, a way of spreading that knowledge, but it does not seem to  be the best way either. Granted, it is the place to start, but it is not enough.

I like to think about this and compare it to the way I learned math. I did not learn much from my teachers when it came to math. The classroom instruction helped me get started, but the real learning came from working problems late at night, over and over, until I figured out how to solve the problems correctly. I had to learn it on my own. Only then did it sink in.

The same goes for learning to use technology as a tool in the classroom. Teachers need time to learn on their own. They need time to play and explore. The spark may be started in a professional development training, but that spark needs time to turn into a fire. When I say this spark needs time, I don’t mean months or years. This is a spark that quickly turns into a forest fire, one that hopefully consumes all that fall in its path. Even an hour of time might be sufficient.

So, here’s the challenge for administrators. First, take some time. If you aren’t comfortable with the computer, sit down right now and explore a new application. Don’t worry if it’s relevancy to a particular class is clear at the moment. Just play and see what possibilities arise. They will, and this is where things get exciting because now you will have a spark to share with your teachers.

Next, give them some time to let the spark grow. Set aside some time, remember it doesn’t have to be long, where the teachers can play and explore and apply. Most teachers I work with know that technology is one of the best ways to reach and teach their students, but the lack of knowledge is holding them back. In order to gain this knowledge all teachers need is a little time. A little time and a spark.

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Fakebook is a great way to present notes to students instead of using the dreaded PowerPoint. This week, I did some digging through Fakebook pages and came across a page on Josef Stalin. Instead of preparing notes on slides, this teacher created a fake wall page for Stalin including wall posts, video, and likes. What a great way to engaged students in the lesson. Click here to see the page.

What I like about the page, is that students are going to be engaged in the lesson from the start. The page has all the information the students need for the lesson. The wall is also published online, so students have access to the page after the lesson is over. This also means that the teacher will have access to the page to use in the future. What a cool way to present information to a class.

In a past post, I talked about different projects student could do using Fakebook. After seeing this lesson on Stalin, I think that teachers can do the same thing. I think that this app can be used in almost any class as a way of changing up the normal routine. Just imagine how students will respond to notes in this way. It will be both engaging and fun, and to top it off, students are going to walk away having learned something.

I would love to see some examples of how teachers have used this in the classroom. Please leave your links for all of us in the comments.

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Video projects are one of the best activities a teacher can have students do. Making a video is a  highly differentiated activity that force all students to think at the highest level possible. They teacher students to work in groups. They teach discipline. Most of all, they are just plain fun. Video projects are a total win-win in the classroom.

Today, I wanted to list the video applications that I find most useful for students to use. I guess you could say that this is my essential video tool box.

#1 Movie Maker:

There are several different forms of video editing software that will work, but for me, Movie Maker is king. I’ll tell you why. First, it’s free and very accessible. Many students already have it on their computers. Second, it is easy to use. The interface is easy and straight forward. With less than an hour of training, students are cutting, editing, and producing movies complete with titles, transitions and credits.

#2 Jaycut:

The only thing I don’t like about Movie Maker is that projects pretty much have to be built on one computer. Students cannot easily save work and take it home and work on it. Enter Jaycut, a video editor that is hosted online. This means that students can work on a video project from any computer. Because of this, it takes a little time to upload video, but once that is done, the interface is similar to Movie Maker. It is a great alternative.

#3: Animoto:

Animoto is a great tool for making slide shows with students. Basically, students upload pictures, choose a music track, and click the submit button. Animoto does the rest of the work and produces an amazing slideshow. If you have never used Animoto before, you will be amazed at how simple and amazing this app is. I love it!

#4 Audacity:

Audacity is a free recording sofware that allows students to record audio for their movies. This is particularly helpful when doing voice overs for slideshows and stop motion animation films. I really like audacity because it is so simple to use, it is free, and it works great. I have been using if or years and never had a problem with it. I also find that students are fascinated with how it works, and despite how much students say they hate to hear their recorded voice, they love it.

#5 Jamendo:

Jamendo is a great site for downloading music that comes with a Creative Commons license. Students can use the music all they want as long as they give credit to the artists. This means that there are no problems with copyright infringement, and videos can be uploaded to Youtube without any hassles. Granted, students won’t find any popular music on the site, but there is a good selection of music that sounds similar to music the students are familiar with.

#6 Sound Bible:

Students love putting sound effects in a video and Sound Bible rules in this area. There are sound effects for just about anything a person can think of on the site. Once downloaded, sound clips are easily added to movies, and all downloads are clean and free.

There are, of course, a bunch more tools and resources for making videos, but like the title says, this is the essential tool box. I really feel that if teachers and students know how to use these six tools, there are endless possibilities for movie projects in the classroom. These should be more than enough to keep everyone busy for quite a while!

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