Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow days: Double edge sword or educational opportunity?

As I sit here at home for a second day of no school I find myself pondering the age old conundrum of the snow day. A snow day to an educator and student is kind of like a double edge sword, on the one side you get a day off from school but on the other side you have to make up the time either in February (for those of us who have a mid-winter break) or in June (or whenever your end of the school year is). But what if there was a way to make up snow days without having to take away days from our breaks? Personally I would die for something like this as my first semester tech as my students lose those instructional days (and those in my 2nd semester tech class have added days they don't necessarily need).

I have spoken before on the issue of blogging in the context of professional development but what if we used blogging combined with educational portals (Microsoft SharePoint, Blackboard, etc.) to deliver instruction on snow days? Now I know the critics will bring up the issue of the technology gap and those who don't have access to a computer and it is a valid issue but I don't think we should let that keep us from pondering the question. I say this because the number of people who have or are gaining access to the internet is growing every day. I use the term have access because one doesn't need to have a computer at home to access the internet, there are several places where one can access (friend's or neighbor's house, family member, school, public library, family members work, etc.) Also, we have student who are absent from our classes at some point in time and we hold them accountable for the work they have missed. For those that can't/won't do the makeup work then we hold them accountable when school is back in session according to the schools work make up policy. So I don't see a lack of internet access as an excuse to not use and grow educational technology to be used outside of school.

I am talking about expanding on the idea of the online classroom/school that is being utilized already in some capacity. What we should be doing is on the automated messages we send out to parents, as part of the radio/TV broadcast, posting to the web, etc. we should include a message telling students and parents to check the website and/or portal for the daily lesson. Lessons could range from journaling their adventures, writing papers, participating in discussions, reviewing for tests, doing math problems, etc. Also with webcam technology teachers can record videos of lectures (or podcasts of them) for students to take notes on. The possibilities are endless and should be explored as an alternative way of making up snow days at the end of the year.

I would like to hear your thoughts? Is there anyone out there currently doing this? If so what success have you had? Do you think this is a viable alternative to making up work at the end of the year?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tech Wednesday: Santa Tracking as an Educational Tool

This will be my last Tech Wednesday post for the year; although never fret I will pick this back up in the New Year on January 7th.

You may be wondering why I chose the NORAD tracks Santa site as an educational site to share. I know it is not non-denominational but it is a cute site with some interesting goodies packed in there. Although I do recommend that you check your district policies regarding Christmas.

I like this site as an educator because it has the ability to hook kids in to a topic in a roundabout sort of way and gives you a platform from which to launch into a discussion. This site has Holiday related activities and games for the littler kids and some historical information on Santa, NORAD, and how NORAD got into the Santa Tracking business. I also think of it as a great way to introduce students to world geography because as they follow Santa around the world NORAD Officers give little trivia tidbits on specific places Santa visits.

Currently there is a video up and a countdown clock showing how long till Santa starts his journey. The video is a little teaser of what you will see as Santa makes his travels "live". You can also attach a feature to your Google Earth that allows you to see Santa's adventures in 3D.

Wishing all of you a Happy Holiday and a Merry New Year.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tech Wednesday: Xtimeline.com

For my second installment of Tech Wednesday I am demonstrating the website xtimline.com. I first heard about this site on another blog whose name escapes me at the moment. Their comments about how it was a great web2.0 tool that had excellent application in the classroom caught my interest and I ran with it from there. I am currently testing it out with my staff as I write this so more to come on what other teachers in my building think.

At first glance the site looks like a resource site with basic timelines, a search bar, tour video, etc. They have featured timelines listed in the center of the page as well as timeline dealing with current events and groups listed on the right hand side of the page. This is a great resource for teachers and students looking to do research on historical events and as a starting point for further research. It is also a fun tool to use outside of school if you want to do a family timeline or chronicle a local event.

To create, edit, and comment on timelines you must create an account. This is probably the one drawback I see in using the site with kids as you must have an email address to sign on. You can anonymously search for timelines but you are not allowed to edit or comment on them. If you want to use this site as a tool for your students to create timelines, you will need to make sure they have their own personal email account set up. That aside the interface is fairly straight forward for inputting in dates, background info, pictures, etc. and it automatically puts the events in order for you when you are completed. There are two views: one being a title and date; the other being a more detailed view.

Some ideas for using this in a class:

  1. Have students create their personal timeline
  2. Challenge students to find a need within your curricular area for a timeline
  3. School/District history timeline
  4. Check posted timelines for accuracy
  5. Chronicle the years events and compare prior years

I am sure there are many more. Please feel free to offer you comments and suggestions.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

New Feature: Tech Wednesday

I am going to be trying out a new feature to my blog in an attempt to get more traffic coming its way. The overall purpose of this blog is to serve as a forum for teachers and readers to share successes, advice, and general rants and raves about technology. In the past I have posted helpful websites and tips on minor tasks but now I would like to offer a bit of online training on programs and project I currently do and have done in the past. This is part of my bi-weekly professional development I do for my staff on Wednesday. My goal is to up-date this site every Wednesday with some bit of training I have done or am planning on doing. My hope is to share a little bit of what I know on using technology in education. Now I am by no means an expert when it comes to many of the things I am showing you so please feel free to offer your 2 cents on how it can be done better or more efficiently. Most of the training I will be sharing will be put together using a program called ScreenVirtuoso Pro

ScreenVirtuoso is a program that allows you to record your onscreen actions, add narration, and some simple onscreen graphics. As I am typing this out I am recording the video for this post as well as a future training for staff on blogging with MS Word 07. Bear with me as I switch between typing this blog post and narrate the video. This program is a Shareware program that does cost you after the trial period has expired but I find the price is well worth it if you are looking for a simple demo video program. There are several other programs out there you can choose from that enable you to do a lot more than this one does but these cost significantly more. I will be posting these videos in a WMV format as that is the format that works with the computers in my district. If you prefer an MPEG or AVI, FLV/SWF format feel free to email me and I can covert the video to the format and send it to you.

Let me know what you think of this new feature and also feel free to post different or easier ways of doing the things I share here on Tech Wednesday. My goal is to post once a week but forgive me if there are some gaps or if the posts are not always on a Wednesday. I am sharing time between my 3 passions in life: my work, my 3 kids, and my lovely wife.


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