Techie Teacher Tools

Teaching is an increasingly digital job.  Every day, I see new online tools that claim to make teaching ‘easier than ever’ and will ‘give me the free time I deserve.’   Most of these are, just as I’ve stated, claims.  I have, however, found a number of excellent teacher tools that have helped me be more effective and productive as a teacher.

1. GoAnimateI have used this tool in two different ways; as an engage tool at the beginning of a new unit or topic and as a tool for students to present.  In this tool, users create simple video’s using ‘comic book’ style characters. Once the character animations are set, you are able to add voice overs with your own voice or a computerized voice that is provided on the site.  There are free and paid options available but I find the free option more than enough for classroom use.

2. PowToonAlong the same lines as GoAnimate, PowToon allows users to create quick and easy presentations that look amazing.  PowToon utilizes a simple ‘stick-man’ style that comes across as clean and is very engaging.  I have had one of my students create a PowToon and it helped to elevate his presentation from a simple PowerPoint to something stylized and beautiful.

3. PollEverywhereAn old University favourite, I have used PollEverywhere to help gauge students prior knowledge before starting a new topic.  PollEverywhere allows you to ask multiple choice questions and get quick responses from your students from computers, smart phones, and other electronic devices that connect to the internet.  I have also used it as a ‘no-pressure’ math pre-assessment that lets me quickly see what areas need more attention without singling out students who are struggling.

4. TodaysMeet – It is amazing what can happen when you allow students to communicate with each other over the internet.  TodaysMeet allows you to create a close chatroom for your class.  Students who never raise their hand or seem to have nothing to say during classroom discussions come alive online.  The best part is that you can print a transcript of the chat session, giving you a lot of data for formative or summative assessments.  I find this tool works the best when I ask a large group question and wait to see every students response. I then allow students to respond to what other students have written and a dialogue occurs. 

5. Planboard Planboard is a tool I use everyday.  I have been trying to find an online Day Planner since my first moment in the classroom and have finally found one that work like it should and makes my job easier.   The ability to add classes on a rotation, move lessons to the next day with one click and add standards make this online planner stand out.   The ability to add and track standards take things to the next level.  On top of all this, the support is available all the time and I have literally received an answer to a question seconds after asking it.   This is one tool you definitely need to try out.

6. CCPensieveA pensieve is an ongoing record of what a student is doing.  The online version found at CCPensieve makes recording anecdotal records easier than ever.  This tool is designed to be used with the Daily 5 instructional strategy in literacy, but is also easily used in all other subject areas.  If you want to take your formative assessment to the next level, you need to check this one out.  Just a warning that it does cost $24 – $39 per year but this tool is more than worth the cost.

7. KeepVid Tired of having videos buffer halfway through showing them to your class?  Worried about showing video and the potentially inappropriate ones sites suggest you watch afterwards? If yes, KeepVid is for you.  This tool allows you to download videos from popular streaming sites allowing you to show video to class without worrying.  I love being able to download my videos before a lesson and having full confidence that the video will play as intended.

There you have it; my list of must have Techie Teacher Tools.  The tools listed here have made teaching easier for me and have made me a more effective educator.  If you have any other sites you thinks are a ‘must’ for teachers, please add them in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!!

Classroom Blogging

This semester, I am doing a three-week interning block in a Grade 7/8 split class.  Coming into the classroom in the middle of the school year has been challenging and learning who the students are in a hurry was one of my top priorities. My teaching partner and I attempted to do an activity that introduced us to the students and them to us.  It was interesting and informative, but quick.  Thinking back now, I do not really remember much of what the students told me and they probably remember less about me.

The idea of Classroom Blogging was first introduced to me in my ECMP355 – Introduction to Computers in Education class at the University of Regina.  I decided that I would give Classroom Blogging a chance and set out to set one up for my class.  The first website I tried to use was edublogs.org and at first glance it appeared perfect.  Unfortunately, as I dug deeper into the site, I realized that many of the features were disabled until you ‘upgraded’ to a better version.  I was only teaching this class for three weeks and decided that it would be worth it to ‘upgrade’.

The next site I found was KidBlog.org. This site was perfect.  It allowed me to set up a classroom blog, monitor the posts and comments done by students, restrict access to the site (which I would use until I had the chance to teach my students about protecting themselves online) and it was all so easy to manage.

During class, I had my students sign in and read their first task (a post which I had written earlier). It instructed students to write their own ‘About Me’ page (the typical ‘starting point’ of any blog).  This was originally meant to simply give students a chance to try blogging, feel out the site and try some different things.  What I didn’t expect was to get such and in-depth look into the lives of my students.  Each ‘About Me’ post was filled with interesting facts about my students and I was able to learn so much more about them then I had in the week that I had already spent with them.

When I start my full-internship next Fall, I plan to use a Classroom Blog from the first day.  Blogging allows students who are quiet in person the opportunity to speak-up through their words. I also love the commenting abilities of a Classroom Blog.  Not only does this allow my as the teacher to provide formative feedback to my students, but also allows them to give constructive feedback to their peers.

If you haven’t tried blogging with your class yet, I highly recommend it.

Happy Blogging!

Rise of Nations. Fit for the Classroom?

This week our Tech Task in my ECMP335 class was to find and play an educational game and write a short review about it.  I have always been a fan of RTS (real-time strategy) games, and thought that the historical context of Rise of Nations may make it suitable for classroom use.  The game itself is quite similar to the Civilizations franchise in that it allows you to start with a small group of nomadic people and slowly grow their colony into multiple cities, eventually advancing to the Information Age. The game includes historical information the the Wonder’s of the World and asks the players to find a balance between developing your economy, your military, and expanding the size of your nation.

While very entertaining and engaging, I found that I would not have noticed the connections to the historical world had I not been specifically looking for them.   While I feel that educational games (or games that include educational elements like Civilizations or Rise of Nations) can be used to teach while at the same time creating an exciting engaging environment, I don’t believe that this translates well into the classroom.  I think as a future educator I will need to look at everything I do with a critical lens and examine the best ways to teach.  I don’t think technology should be used simply because it is the ‘next greatest thing’ or that it will ‘make teaching easier’ but instead should be viewed as another tool.   A tool that needs to be used in a calculated way to maximize its affect on students.

As a teacher, I always want to be doing the best thing for my students and if I am being honest, I don’t think that games like Rise of Nations facilitate a deeper learning than researching a textbook. That said, I know different people learn differently, but I feel that a game like this is something that would teach students, but one that should be played in the home instead of some other games.  I also think that as educators, we need to look at what games are doing correctly that engages participants so deeply.  By understanding those elements, perhaps we will be able to create lessons that spur the same connection and ultimately, deeper learning and understanding.

More to ponder I suppose.

D.

The Simple Life

As the semester continues to pick up steam and work on assignments or studying for mid-terms consumes more and more of my time, I like to take time for myself.  I use this time to unwind and, for a short moment, pretend that I have not a care in the world.  The recent addition of a smart phone (Android, not Blackberry… PTL) to my arsenal of technology has made my life more convenient but at the same time increasingly more complex.   Never before have I had so much to check, look at, or be involved in.

Photo by: Augapfel

It wasn’t too long ago (about 3 months) that I only possessed a flip phone with its only features being texting and phonecalls.   I would often leave it at home when I went out, or if its battery was dead, I wouldn’t charge it for a week or so. My reasoning?  If someone really had something important to say to me, they would call, text, or email and if something REALLY important happened, I would find out eventually.

With my new phone, I am connected 24/7.  Connected to work and to school, but also to news, family, friends, sports, entertainment (and the list goes on).  If someone tweets, emails, comments, or posts anything to me, the assumption is that I will have seen or read and will respond shortly.  I had one situation where a person actually emailed to ask if he had done something to offend me (which he hadn’t… I just hadn’t checked my phone yet).

Photo by: David Schmidt - http://www.LastMountainPhotography.com

All I’m trying to say is that while this new technology is amazing and wonderful, there is still nothing as presious as getting lost in a good book, or walking in a park hearing nothing but birds and the rustle of leaves.  There are now two worlds on this earth.  One that is digital (that exists on monitors, phones, and T.V screens while floating somewhere unseen through the air or cable) and one that is real and natural.  I think to be a functioning person in today’s society requires a working knowledge of both.  Like most things in life, balance is the key.

Just my two cents for this morning 🙂

D.