Archive for August, 2011

Ever get so wrapped up in doing something like reading a book, working on a project, writing a paper or preparing for a lesson, that you lost all track of time? It may have seemed that while you were working, time was standing still, but in reality a few hours had passed, or maybe a whole day. This is “flow,” the state of mind where the brain is so focused on a task that time is forgotten.

If you are not sure about this whole flow thing, check out this Wikipedia article. It will give you some ideas as to how it works. Something that stood out in the article was the fact that this state of mind is shown to be very helpful in learning. It has to do with the alignment of several different emotions and a few other factors. Again, check out the Wiki.

Here’s what I am thinking about. Technology projects seem to be one of the best things a teacher can do to help students achieve flow in the classroom. Students get wrapped up in projects to the point that they don’t even really think about the work they are doing. This in turn, at least according to the Wiki, helps them to learn better. Apparently, when the mind is in the state of flow, it also has a better opportunity to learn.This is because the mind is totally focused on the task at hand, meaning that there is no thought about time, or other distractions like other people in the room and feeling hungry. All of the attention is focused on the task at hand.

I am going to have to do some more research on the subject, but I think it is definitely something to think about when preparing lessons this week. If a teacher could find a way for students to reach the state of flow once a week in the classroom, just think about how much they might learn.


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This is a pretty cute video. I wonder what it would be like if the rolls were reversed and the guy with the book asked questions about the computer. Anyway, watch it. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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No matter how much we deny it, school has already started or is going to start soon for most. Despite sounding like I might wish summer would last a few more weeks, I’m ready to get back in the classroom. I have been thinking a lot the last few days about what kind of projects I want to do with students to start the year. It is amazing how much a person forgets over the course of a few months. I find myself working hard to remember all of the cool apps that I discovered last year. Because of this, I thought it might be helpful to list a few of the apps and sites that I will consider using in the near future.

1. Animoto

Animoto is an online app that allows students to put together videos with pictures and short video clips. Teachers can get a free account for their students at Animoto for Education. I can’t think of an easier project for students that will end with fantastic results.

2. Glogster

This app allows students to make online posters complete with text, pictures, music, and videos. Projects with Glogster will have the students begging to do more work in your classroom.

3. Cover It Live

Students live in the text/chat world, and this app brings it to the classroom. With CIL, teachers can administrate an online discussion within the classroom. I am not going to delve into the benefits here, but take my word for it; students really enjoy this activity.

4. Lifeyo

Lifeyo allows students to create their own website. This is a great way for students to compile information in preparation for a paper or as a part of a project.

5. Weebly

This is another great app for making student websites. It is a little more controlled than Lifeyo. With a minimal fee, teachers can also administrate student websites.

6. Prezi

If you are tempted to have students make a PowerPoint in the next few weeks, let the students try Prezi. They will learn how to use the app in about five minutes and create a presentation that looks like it was made by professionals.

7. Picnik

This app will come in handy when students are preparing pictures for websites, presentations, and blogs. Picnik allows users to quickly manipulate pictures. It contains numerous creative filters and effects.

8. Audacity

This app is free for download and will have students recording essays, voice overs, and scripts with just a few minutes of training.

9. Yudu

Yudu is an online publishing app that allows users to upload pages created with a word processor and make an online magazine or book. It is pretty slick and makes for a great class or group project.

10. Fakebook

This app allows students to create a fake Facebook page. It is a challenging activity that takes some major mental power, a great way to start the year.



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Up until a few months ago, almost all of my computer experience has been on a PC machine. I believe that we had a few Mac’s when I was in a high school journalism class, and I did a few projects on Mac’s in some education classes in college. Other than that, I have been a PC user.

However, a few months ago, I decided to purchase a Mac Book Pro. It is what I am using to type this blog. I know that there are numerous blog posts out there, especially from former PC users who have crossed over to Macs, purporting the grandiose features and ease that the Mac’s have. The saying goes something like, “Use a Mac and never look back.” I like my new computer, but I don’t think I am ready to discount PC use yet.

Today, I found this a particularly interesting thought. The district where I have worked for the past several years was strictly PC. I don’t think that the district owned a single Mac. Since the school used PC’s, that is what I used. Now, I have moved to a district where grades K-8 use mostly Macs, and the high school uses mostly PC machines.

Having used both, I can see some advantages and disadvantages in each platform.

For starters, Macs are just flat pricy. I could easily buy several computers for the price of the machine I am using at the moment. Granted, those cheaper machines might not have comparable processing power and memory, but I am guessing that in a classroom setting, most teachers and students aren’t going to have to worry about the processing power.

On the other hand, Macs have a reputation for not needing much in the way of virus protection. There are a few things out there that will give the Mac fits, but they are far and few in comparison to the hefty pile of viruses and malware waiting to attack a PC. Even with the best virus protection, viruses get through and wreak havoc on PC machines. I racked up a considerable amount of time this year working on machines with viruses. They are a pain!

When it comes down to what should be used by schools, I think that it’s a toss up. I know that this sounds like a cop-out, but both platforms have redeeming qualities. Honestly, I think a mix of machines is good because many don’t have the choice of what they work with in the workplace. If we are are really worried about preparing students for the “real world,” then they need to learn how to use both Mac’s and PC’s. Sometimes, school administrators, tech guys, and teachers let their personal preference and prejudice get in the way of what is best for the students.

The student that knows how to use both Mac’s and PC’s is going to be ready to work in the world of computer craziness.

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Recently, Scott McLeod wrote a blog post titled, “Let the kids touch the computer.” It got me thinking about how many classrooms operate and all of the excuses that we as teachers use for the lack of technology used in the classroom. McLeod’s blog post highlights the work of a teacher by the name of Eric Marcos who has his students making videos to teach one another math concepts. Marcos says, “Let them touch the computer. That’s how the world changed for me, for all of us. If you give kids a little bit of trust and let them try out some stuff, they’re going to come up with fascinating things that will surprise you.”

As far as I am concerned, this is learning at both the most basic level and also one of the most complex. Students learn when they have the time and means to experiment and create. I should not limit this to students of the classroom. It is also how both you and I learn most successfully. Yet this doesn’t seem to jive with what happens in numerous classrooms around the globe. Instead, students are prescribed how and what they should learn with little room for any self thought or discovery.

Many teachers find that they are working in rooms that are ill equipped to give students the learning opportunities that they would like to provide, and I can certainly sympathize. As a general rule, schools do not have the tools to give every student the optimal learning experience. However, with the rate the technology is expanding and improving, this will probably never happen, so what is a teacher to do?

Use what is available and stop making excuses.

Here are a few ideas on how to use technology in the classroom when technology might be scarce:

1. If there is only one computer in the classroom, use it. Use that one computer to its fullest capacity. During class, when students are reading or working on projects, or whatever else you might have them do, make the computer available for the students. No doubt, some may say that it is not fair that one student uses the computer while the others do the work by hand, but it this world were fair, they would all have their own computer. The point is that a computer sitting dead in a classroom is a total waste.

2. Find what resources the school may have sitting in closets and cupboards. I recently worked in a school where several laptops sat dormant in a closet in the library because most teachers didn’t know they even existed. The computers were several years old and had hardly ever been used. I think they were purchased with grant money and used for a year before being put in storage. I am guessing this happens more than most of us think. It’s a crying shame when technology like this sits unused. When computers are outdated even before they are sold, we should be wearing them out, not letting them sit collecting dust.

3. Let students play (I really mean learn) with the Smartboard. While I am not a lover of the Smartboards as a premium learning tool, they are still pretty cool, and my observation is that most are used sparingly in the classroom. When they are used, it is by the teachers. Get the students out of their seats and interacting with the technology. They will like it, and this is how they will learn. This also goes for the computer, the document camera, or anything else running off of electricity in the room. Honestly, I would also say this applies for the blackboard, if that is what you write on in the room.

4. Learn to use the technology available. Many teachers are uncomfortable with the technology that is available, so it often sits unused. Those cool tools are only gadgets if no one knows how to use them. If you can’t figure it out, let the students fiddle with it. They will figure it out for you. This goes for online tools as well. Like Marcos said, the students will surprise you!

5. Do something! There is too much complaining, and believe me, I have done my fair share. “Youtube is blocked. I don’t have enough computers. The internet is too slow.” The truth is, complaining doesn’t help students learn. Use what you have and hope that things get better. Not using what is already available in hopes of having more is not helping anyone learn.

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I ran across this graphic on Mashable today and thought it was interesting. Granted, the information here reflects technology use by college students, but the facts should still have any teacher thinking about how technology is used by students, whether the students are seniors preparing for college or kindergarteners just starting their educational journey. All of our students are using technology on a daily basis. Our job as teachers is to figure out how to use all of this technology to help students learn.

Students Love Technology

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