If you are reading this blog, there is a chance that you know a few things about technology. I don’t want to alienate anyone who does not consider themselves an “expert”—I don’t consider myself an expert. But chances are you know how to get online, know how to check your email, and know better than to send your credit card information to a Nigerian Prince.
If you know these things, then chances are that you know more than the average person about technology, and chances are you are the go-to person for parents, fellow staff, and members of your own family for technology help. I have spent more than my fair share of evenings using Join.me to fix my mother-in-law’s email. You may have encountered more than a few families that enlist their children to maintain their computers, an often unwise and unsafe situation.
There are a few really great options for bringing families and parents up to speed when it comes to technology, especially the kind of technology that relates to their child’s education. I have heard of more than one student use the excuse “I need it for school” as an excuse to talk with their friends on the computer or waste time surfing the web (okay, that was me).
I recommend using a portion of your school’s open house or beginning of the year orientation to hold a brief primer on the technology in the school and cover thoroughly what their child will be using and how often. This serves the purpose of bringing parents up to speed with what is required and lets them know what resources they have available. For example, a parent who wants to know how they can help their student in math may not know that you have online tutoring videos, or that your school subscribes to a practice service such as Ten Marks.
Then make sure that you have your most tech-savvy staff on hand for an open forum where parents who have concerns or want to know more can talk one-on-one with a teacher about their personal tech issues, such as: “How can my child write a Word document without buying Word?” (Answer: libreoffice or Google docs) or “What apps should we get for our child’s iPad?” (a few tips here) or “What is a great free antivirus program?” (Microsoft Security Essentials)
Have your students interview their parents about what skills they would like to know more about, then point them to Teach Parents Tech. Developed by Google, this great site seeks educate non-computer people in how to better use their machines by providing them a great list of simple-to-follow instructional videos on how to do such tasks as sharing a photo, setting up a webcam, getting on the internet, and more. Making it into an assignment for your students will serve the purpose of helping parents know more about technology and starting a conversation about computer use at home that most parents would rather avoid.
A new trend has begun showing up in sixth grade. Many of my students have been showing up with eReaders. It’s not surprising. The price of entry-level readers has gone well below $100, even for name brand readers such as the Kindle or the Nook. With prices this low, most parents seem happy to give a reader as a birthday or Christmas present.
I, for one, am excited about this development. A student can carry dozens of books with him or her and read them at leisure. But there is also another benefit. In a recent study by Pew Research, it has been shown that the average person owning an eReader reads 24 books per year compared to 15 by the rest of us. This is good news for the publishing industry, since eBooks are cheaper to produce and distribute than paper books. To me, it is all irrelevant when compared to what I see in my classroom: kids reading who did not read before.
Maybe it is the novelty of the medium; maybe a time will come when eReaders are considered boring and turn into the 8-track of literature. I think it has something to do with the convenience factor, that from that simple device they can pull up what they want to read when they want to read it. For those of you who live near a well-stocked library or a giant book store, that might not seem important. But for my students, living in a rural setting, acquiring things to read is harder and the ability to read something at the push of a button makes that first step a lot smaller.
As a teacher, I hope to see more of these devices, not just for reading, but also a wider move to a ‘bring your own device’ policy, where we welcome more electronics into the classroom just as we would books, notebooks, and pencils, treating them not as novelties (though they may be filled with novels) but as vital and useful tools for learning.
My favorite tool for online image editing, Picnik, was bought by Google a few years back. On April 19, Picnik was shut down so that its image editing tools could get wrapped up into Google’s master plan of having services such as Picasa (their image hosting service) and Picnik (providing the editing) all incorporate into their Google+ social network. My beloved little online image editor was sacrificed—a causality of Google/Facebook wars of the 2010’s.
That made me wonder what I would use instead of Picnik to teach my students photo editing. Sure, there are options out there; Aviary Suite or GIMP comes to mind. But most are trying to be Photoshop, and that is completely over the heads of my students. What I wanted was something more along the lines of Instagram: cropping, basic filters and effects, and above all, SIMPLE TO USE.
The market it seems is an ecosystem, and in the void created by Picnik, PicMonkey has taken hold. PicMonkey copies many of the features of Picasa and Instagram to create a simple, registration-free photo editor on your browser. No email needed for setup, no installing software. Just lots and lots of fun.
If you have a digital camera in your classroom, you will want to go to this site right now and give it a spin.
I am very spoiled by my Interactive whiteboard; it makes a fantastic tool for instruction. But it can also make a great resource when you are not using it.
A few years ago I started collecting interesting and funny photos I come across on the web. Most of them are of cute animals, funny looking cars and pictures that I find inspiring or thought-provoking. This lets my students see all kinds of neat images during study hall or similar downtime when the screensaver kicks in. Then, this week I walked into a colleague’s room and saw her board filled with live a live video feed of an eagle’s nest. It occurred to me that the eagle’s nest was for the kids, a window to something new, as though the eagle was the classroom pet that they were checking in on.
This got me thinking of other live feeds I could put up during our downtime. Here are some of the more interesting ones I found:
NOAA undersea robot cam: live undersea feed from miles below the Gulf of Mexico
National Zoo cam: pandas, gorillas, lions and naked mole rats (You can also have an aquarium that never needs cleaning with the Amazon cam)
San Diego Zoo: elephants, apes, and more pandas
Monterey Bay Aquarium: penguins, otters and sharks
Eagle Cam: live eagle feed from Norfolk Botanical Garden, also another feed from Alcoa
My SmartBoard feed:
Not to be messed with.
Has technology gone too far? The iPod has replaced my CD player, my datebook, my calculator, my remote control, my radio, and my alarm clock. My iPad has replaced my newspaper, much of my library, and my laptop for a good portion of my surfing. I am a huge technophile, but everyone has their limits, and today, I am sorry to say, I reached my limit.
The tag-team of the iPod and iPad have joined forces to replace something near and dear to my heart: a replacement so diabolical that it almost makes me want to renounce all things digital and take up with the Amish I see every day on my way to work. Sure, the life is hard, but it beats the evil that has been done to something so dear to my heart.
The company Amidio has created a dual app that uses the iPad and the iPod to create a ‘virtual’ ukulele. I have seven ukuleles in my classroom (with an eighth one on the way; this one hunter orange). A group of students meets three times a week to practice. And now this? I feel like a candlemaker who has seen his first lightbulb. For shame.
Found a great site floating around the blogs today. It’s called instagrok, and it can help your students narrow down their web searches. File it under “things I wish I had in school.”
Let’s say your students want to do a report on Einstein. If they do what my students do, they type “who is Einstein” into Google, pick out Wikipedia, and go from there. But all of those searches are horribly broad, covering EVERYTHING about the keyword. Instagrok puts the search results into a movable graphic organizer, breaking down subjects related to your search and listing the associated sites along the side.
If you are inclined to sign up for their deluxe service, you can “pin” the articles you want into a document of all of your collected and annotated notes.
This could be a great resource for research projects, allowing students to really think about their subject and narrow down what it is that they want to know.
A few weeks ago I introduced my students to the world of video editing through Windows Movie Maker. Not the best, I know, but it’s free of price and strings and (provided that you convert all the video) pretty easy to use.
This week we made several entertaining videos. These met with mixed results. I would not call this lesson a failure exactly. But I definitely should have given my students more parameters in making it. A few started with very clear ideas, such as making a video of Hatchet by Gary Paulson. Another group parodied Twilight. A few had good ideas that fell short very quickly, such as the monster movie that resulted in more prop-building than actual filming, and a group that wanted to make The Jeremy Lin Story only to get frustrated with details when they couldn’t make convincing jerseys.
On a side note, it makes me a little proud that in a town that is 99.9% Norwegian, my students still felt that the only hurdle to making a film about their favorite ball player was the lack of jerseys.
Then there were the short and sweet films—the ones with a clear idea and low production value. For example, one group made a movie consisting of K-3rd grade students telling knock-knock jokes. They had enough time left over to make a ‘documentary’ on Japanese candy. Another group made a great short lesson on how to play a simple 3-chord ditty on the ukulele.
Would I do something different next time? Probably the usual teacher-solutions of controlling the size and members of groups, and making the movie a contract/project: In order to get their grade, they would have to make the product that they promised to make, much like a real producer demands results. Their final assessment using these skills is to make a documentary that ties in with their environmental science essays. It’s a project where every student has to make a movie—no freeloading.
But in the meantime, I sit back and enjoy a chuckle on behalf of my students: