Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Cheap voting pods

I recently found a website called through a blog/podcast I subscribe to called TechTalk4Teachers. The site was mentioned as Mr. Grissom as the tech pick of the week. The site enables you to set up either multiple choice answers or simple discussion questions that people can respond to via their the text messaging feature of their cell phone. One of the best parts about this site is that as people send in their responses to the site, it automatically updates the graphs and discussion in real time. The other best part about this is that it is all free, only ask for a simple donation if you find the site useful. Although for the price of a small donation to the site the savings to you and your school/district can be huge.

There are some potential drawbacks that are not the big in my opinion but are worth noting. Even though there is no fee for the site standard text messaging rates do apply from the phone company (if you/your students are not on an unlimited texting plan). I don't see this as a huge problem because most kids I surveyed are on an unlimited plan. The other drawback is that it does limit those students who don't have cell phones to using a computer or borrowing a friends. Because they can borrow a friends (one thing they are apt to share) it negates the need for students to access the web to submit their answers. The only other drawback is the limited selection of question types one has to choose from. However I don't see this as a huge drawback as well in that mostly this would be used to get quick feedback to help guide instruction rather than for a formal assessment.

One of the things that is all the rage now are the interactive voting pods that are accompanied with interactive whiteboards and other presentation devices. These devices can cost thousands of dollars and need a ton of setup time and training. Now don't get me wrong these devices are useful and are starting to show some impact on student learning. However with you are able to do the instant voting and discussion portion of this, albeit in a limited fashion, with just a simple internet connection and student cell phones. Now I can hear the cat calls from the balcony already, "Let kids use their cell phones in class? You have to be kidding." No I am not kidding. I know that until recently I was constantly fighting with kids to keep their cell phones out of sight, turned off, etc. But then I start to slowly allow them to use them. First as research devices and simple calculators also as digital cameras in my digital photography class, know I am starting to use them with What I have found is that as I allowed them to use them in class for academic reasons my problems with them decreased to almost nil. Plus I am hitting one of our state tech standards by teaching students the ethical and appropriate use of technology to solve problems and accomplish tasks.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Groovin communication

This is tech Wednesday for 5-6-09. There have been a few of you asking me more about Microsoft Groove lately and how I can see it being used or how I use it. Thank you for sharing your responses in how you have been using it or how your students have been using it, even if it was by accident.

My building started exploring Groove as a way to communicate between classrooms and office staff in lieu of phones. We thought it would be better as you wouldn't have the constant interruption of the phone ringing etc. We worked on it for a couple of months but found that it was more cumbersome than the good old phone. If you were sitting at your computer constantly it worked fine but as any good teacher knows you can't be tied to your computer all the time. What we did find it useful for was collaboration between colleagues on projects. As you are able to share documents, create workspaces, etc. through Groove you are able to have a mini workspace where you can edit, comment, and share, information about documents in real time and at less cost than a program such as MS SharePoint. The pluses with Groove are that if you use the public server you have much less hassle with passwords, etc. All one needs is Groove installed on all machines and then send out invite for those who you want to join your workspace. However using the public server might pose issue for security that one who is more techie than I might comment on.

Another way I am starting to experiment with using Groove is for in-class communication with students. As one of our readers pointed out in one of his comments my students (as did his) found groove by "accident" on their machines. At first I panicked, should I let students know about this, what if they get distracted, ahhhh. But then the teacher/guide took over and saw this as an opportunity to work with students in their realm so I let them go. What I found was that there was and still is some distraction going on with chatting but I have seen students use it to ask me and each other questions about assignments, share assignments with me and others (on group projects). It has been interesting watching them play with this new tool. They have taken the time to make it theirs and find ways to use parts of it that meet their needs and ignore the parts they don't need. Now I know some of you may balk at this in saying why would students in the same classroom need to use a chatting tool to communicate with each other on a project. At first I would agree with you but then again we have to think about who we are teaching. Our students (digital natives) are more comfortable communicating electronically than face to face, so if it keeps them engaged in learning and helps them get the project done then I am all for it. I can say this and not feel like I need to turn in my teaching certificate because the objectives for my class center on showing students how to use technology ethically and to solve problems. Now if I was a communications, social studies, writing, teacher I might think differently. One other cool way students are using groove is to turn in assignments to me. Instead of having to post an assignment to our district portal or print it out they simply Groove it to me. Now I only have 2 or 3 students who are doing this but it is serving as an eye opening trial for me. I am actually considering having students next year use groove in my classes have groove accounts and hand in assignments that way rather than online or in a hand in box. It will enable me to give them faster feedback on their work and will also cut down on the paper I use. I can also see this a facilitating the writing/review process as well in giving students a "high tech" way to do peer editing of their work which I find hard to get them to do unless I force them to do it.

I love to see your comments so if you are using or know of someone who is using groove I encourage you to share your ideas here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tech Wednesday:

It's been a while since my last post. We have been in the middle of our state standardized testing over the last month and that coupled with a few other things has zapped my energy. I am back now with another free online picture editing tool called is an online picture editing tool similar to Adobe Photoshop, Paint, and many others with one major difference it is free and no account is needed as all images are saved to your computer. Pixlr.come joins the ranks of gimp, Picasa, and others except that you don't need to download it to your computer which can be an added benefit. I especially like this site for those districts out there that are funning on a shoe string budget or no budget at all. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the others that are out there but for the price it comes with most of what one needs to do some pretty darn cool editing. Another potential drawback depending on your point of view is that you are limited to saving to one of three formats (jpg, bmp, png) although these three formats are pretty standard. Another thing I like about is that it will run multiple platforms just as long as you have a flash plug in installed (which you can download from their site).

For the demo I will run though some of the basic features of but I invite you to log on and share your thoughts and idea as well.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Microsoft Groove 2007

This Week I am showing MS Groove 2007. This is an instant messaging program on steroids. It gives you the ability to not only chat, but also to share voice recordings, send files instantly, as well as create a simple easy document workspace. It is a nice program that can be used to foster collaboration both locally and around the world and is fairly inexpensive. It is a great tool to use in the classroom as well to foster communication/collaboration between students, classes, and schools. This collaboration/communication tool is a great alternative for those that can't afford or don't want all the bells and whistles of a portal like MS SharePoint. If you are looking for a simple way to share files, and chat with others along with a few collaboration tools then groove is your program.

There are a few issues to keep in mind. Unless you set up and maintain a groove server within your district/school then you are forced to use the Microsoft groove server space so confidentially may be an issue. I have used this with both staff and students with mixed results. When using it with staff it worked great with those who would use it and were willing to take on the learning curve and approached it as a collaboration tool. It didn't' work for those who went in to it as a cool little chat tool. With students it is a slightly different story.

The students in my class found the program by accident and set it up by themselves. I am letting this go to see how their learning of the program evolves through their use. Currently I am watching them us it as a way to share files and talk to each other both in and outside of class. I know some are grimacing at students chatting online versus face to face, I did too, but once I took a step back and watched I found it works, especially for those that find it hard to chat face to face. I also see this as how they are used to collaborating as well as how they will need to collaborate in the real world. The one thing I am keeping tabs on the managing is the use of groove for chatting. So far it is working out quite well with the group who is using it as intended. It is allowing a rather strong willed group of boys to work together and get things done without the posturing and arguing that can happen with a group like that. If you are curious as to how it turns out let me know and I will do a follow up blog post on that issue.

I would like to hear some of your ways you can see this program being used in the classroom, please share your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Spelling City

This week I am showing you a website called Spelling city is a new twist on the good old spelling list. This website allows teachers, students, and/or parents to build spelling lists or choose from list of words already created and practice or test on those words. I remember as a kid in elementary school having to get out my spelling book and practicing over and over again word after word in hopes of remembering how to spell them for the test on Friday. This website is the same basic concept but in an online form that helps reach students in a medium they are more comfortable with.

The interface is pretty simple for all parties involved. You can choose to create either a 1, 5, 10 or a batch entry (unlimited). From there you can save your list for retrieval by students with a simple URL that can be posted on a class site, portal page, browser favorites, etc. This allows students to work with your list at their own pace on their own time or as a station in your classroom. From there students can test themselves, play games (simple games like matching, hangman, and word searches). One feature that I think is particularly useful is the teach me option. In this option the word is read out loud, spelled out loud, read out load again and then used in a sentence. This is helpful for your ELL (English Language Learners) who are working on learning sight words as well as other words by placing them in context.

All in all a very simple website that can be powerful for the elementary teacher as well as the secondary teacher in addition to parents. This can be used not only during the school year but also over the summer as well. In secondary content area teachers can use it to help students learn to spell key content area vocabulary. The one drawback is that if the word has a double meaning or is not recognized by the website, you will be asked to provide a new word, or the word will be excluded from the online exercise. For example I tried putting in some high level biology words such as angiospermae & hexadactylia (if they are spelled correctly) and it wasn't able to find a meaning in its references for those words. Unfortunately they don't take recommendations for word addition; instead they draw the words they include from lists built on the site. Not quite sure how that works since words the site does not recognize are not included in the exercise, etc. but I guess they are kept on lists you create and save.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Online Tools

I wanted to take some time this Wednesday (ok Thursday) to talk about online tools. Thanks too Google and the open source movement we have some wonderful tools that are helping to break down the digital gap. As a middle school tech teacher I sometime forget that once students leave my classroom not everyone has access to the same tools or access to tools at all as they do in the classroom. This is where tools such as Google docs and Gimp as well as many others. Giving access to these tools to both students and teachers has the potential to break down many barriers.

All too often I here staff say that they can't do something or assign something as homework because students don't have access to software at home. However with a few clicks and a quick registration and you can have a Google docs account. With this account students can work on assignments and save those online on Google servers which give them access anywhere they have internet access. Then with a few more simple steps that assignment can be converted into a PDF, Word file, and others. Along with the document program there is a presentation, spreadsheet, and form generator, with these tools teachers also have powerful tools to work off-site with. This can eliminate the need for thumb drives, CD/DVD RW drives, and etc. as everything is web based. Being web based that is one of the biggest drawbacks in that one needs internet access to access these tools. There are more online document tools than Google docs others such as, gimp (photo editing), Picasa, etc. With these programs the major downside is that they are software and require installation and some ask for donations. It is always good to be read the fine print first with software that asks for a donation as sometimes you have a specific grace period you can use a full version without a donation.

So remember that with just a simple search online one can find free and/or online tools that enable and empower students and staff to work on project both at school and outside of school. Look below for a short demo of Google Docs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tech Wednesday: OneNote-shared notebooks

I have been using Microsoft OneNote for a couple of years now as a way to keep track of meeting notes, class notes, research notes, and conference notes. It wasn't until recently I started experimenting with the shared notebook feature that I really started to see the power of OneNote The shared notebook feature allows a teacher to do more than just simply share a notebook with their class, although that in and of itself can be a powerful tool. The shared notebook feature essentially allows you to have one notebook that several others can access at the same time. You can use it as a poor man's wiki, or as a way to show your students proper note taking skills. Either way it is a powerful tool for both teachers and students alike.

There are 2 ways to share a notebook. The first way is the simple shared notebook that is static and sits on a server or shared drive that all parties have access too. The other is a life sharing session that utilizes the internet to have one on one communication. I personally prefer to use the shared notebook that sits on a server (SharePoint) that my students can download and sync up with at their leisure. It allows me to have a class discussion about a topic or project and take notes live then distribute these note to them without having to hand out. It cuts down on the amount of paper used as well as takes care of those students who "forget" to bring their notes to class. I have found the live notebook feature is too much for middle school students to handle without some ground rules and practice but can be utilized with older students and faculty very easily. Check out the attached video for how to information as well as some more ideas on how to use this till in the classroom.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Tech Conferences

This Wednesday finds me at NCCE in Portland Oregon. I have been coming to this conference for the past 8 years and have enjoyed each time coming. Conferences are a great way to see what others are doing and what new technologies are out there. However they are more than that, they are a great way to energize and infuse one's teaching with new ideas and energy.

There is an energy surrounding educational conferences that you can't find at classes, seminars, etc. You have hundreds if not thousands of teachers from around the local area to around the nation all looking for the same thing: new ideas and way of reaching their students. I have always left each conference I have left each conference with more ideas on teaching technology and other subject areas than I can shake a stick at. Sometimes these ideas blossom into curricular changes for my class or in our school in general. Although often times making these changes in classrooms other than my own is an up hill battle.

Because making change in classrooms other than our own can be an uphill battle it is important to include more than just subject area teachers at these conferences. I have found that when I have had teachers outside of the tech subject area come to NCCE or NECC they are able to see ideas that apply to their classroom/classes. When this happens it is more likely that these ideas will be adopted over time and not just as a onetime shot. However often times it is just a subject area teacher that is sent to a conference that deals with their subject area. Although along with teachers from outside the conference area, there is another group that should be considered for attendance.

Students are an often time overlooked group to take to conferences. Students are sometimes only included as demonstrators of what their teacher is doing. Student though are our costumers and can benefit from conference attendance as well. They would be able to look at ideas for the classroom from the eye of the consumer. Students have a unique way of giving authentic feedback on things that could be helpful. Students often times give brutally honest feedback and this feedback given in the context of the conference can be helpful to both the presenter and the attendee.

So when it comes time to look at who to send to ed conferences reconsider sending just subject area teachers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Animation Made Easy

A couple of years ago my students showed me an amazing tool that I am only now harnessing that of doing animation in PowerPoint. I found myself fighting to have the students work on projects and skills that I had setup for them and not these animation projects they were working on till last year. My students would be begging me to open the lab and/or stay after school to work on animation projects such as simple games, stories, comics etc. I finally decided to stop fighting them and teach them how to improve the projects they are willing to work on themselves.

This year I started a tech class called animation and game design at my middle school and I have found my life a bit easier as I am able to integrate other curricular areas into my tech class very easily. What we do in this class is use simple programs such as PowerPoint, Paint, Internet Explorer, and Photoshop (to a small degree) to teach students the importance of the writing process as it applies to multimedia projects. I have my students start out creating a simple animated story that centers around the meaning of a Forgotten English Word. With this I introduce the concept of storyboarding to them and how it fits into the writing process applied to a multimedia project. From there students then go on to animate a simple scene from their favorite book (or a book they are reading for their reading class). As the final project students need to create a simple game that incorporates animation to some degree in the game. So far we have had animated choose your own adventure type stories, and animated jeopardy. However that is not the most interesting use of animations.

I had one of the science teachers at my school talk to me about animations and how it could be applied to science. What we came up with was animating a science lab in an effort to help his students understand variables. Other ideas I can see for this type of project is having students animate selections from their reading books, to animations explaining how to solve math equations. The applications are endless.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tech Wednesday:

This week I am showing the site This is a simple voice avatar creation site. I was turned on to this site by a teacher I saw a one of the many conferences I attend this time of year. I visited her site and saw she had a Voki of herself posted to her site. She used the Voki to give her students little reminders about assignments and simple 60 second directions. I was intrigued and decided to try it out with my students. What I found was that it was a unique way to deliver simple instructions to students and staff alike. I will admit thought that when starting out with Voki's you will need to let students explore and satisfy their curiosity with the Voki especially with the younger ages. What I have found is that it can serve as a distraction from the outset and also if some ground rules are not set as well. However once the novelty wears off it becomes quite an effective tool.

The interface is very simple; it is so simple in fact that most non-tech savvy students pick up how to create one within a couple of days being exposed to the interface. You have the ability to edit and change everything from the facial features to the background and what they call the player. You have a number of predetermined voki's to choose from and customize. You have the ability to use computer generated voices or record your own via phone or microphone. What is really cool about this is the foreign language feature that is available.

As part of the computer generated voices you can select from, there are several languages you can choose from in addition to English. I am not sure how the translation is done and I have not tried this out with any of my ELL (English Language Learner) students, but I hope to try it soon and report back. If the translation is decent this would be a great way to support your ELL students with simple short instructions.

Get a Voki now!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Outlook

I apologize for missing last Wednesday's tech Wednesday post, I was a bit under the weather so I will do two this week. I am also hoping that blogger will let me post video this time. My Fold it! Post was supposed to have video but there was an error in transferring the video.

This week I will be talking about Outlook. I really love this program as both a communication tool and as a planning tool as well.

Most people use Outlook for email and as an appointment book in schools as well as keeping track of their contacts and that is what I show in my first video. To me these are pretty basic functions that everyone should know how to do in Outlook. Along with these features are some intermediate to advanced features such as distribution lists, signatures, etc. I use Outlook (at school) as my plan book and also as my to do list rather than wasting paper. I have also found some cool features if your students have access to Outlook or to use with your staff such as the voting option. It is these I show in the second video.

Video1: Outlook as a Plan Book Video 2: Outlook Basics

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tech Wednesday: is a game developed by a father for his kids and students to gain help in solving problems/puzzles involving protein folding. The game is a free download available at The developers of the game are university professors at the University of Washington and Carnegie Melon. The hope is that with all the gamers out there working on protein puzzles that maybe someday a cure for HIV, Alzheimer's, etc can be found. The game is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and can be played either online or off-line but either way must be installed on the local machine to enable game play. The interface is relatively simple with using the mouse and screen to work on the proteins. You start up with some tutorial lessons to introduce you to the tools and skills you will need to complete the puzzles. There is a chat feature built into the game to enable you to work collaboratively if you so desire. Also on the site itself there are various communications tools with a blog, wiki, and forum. Where I see this site fitting in is possibly at a junior high or high school if not a college level. I see this as a great game for students looking for a challenge and also as a possible career path exploration.

More and more we are seeing games work their way into the education world and not just in the form of purchasing a pre existing game such as WOW, Age of Empires, and various others. Individuals are starting to create what a fellow colleague of mine termed artistic games for both PC's and game platforms. These games include , world of goo, and many others. These games may seem simple time wasters but in the hands of educators and students they have the power to captivate and engage students in learning that no text book or lecture can provide.

As always I welcome your comments and suggestions until next time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Wii Fit

This tech Wednesday is about an interesting new (ok relatively new) piece of hardware, the Nintendo Wii. I have read on other blogs and podcasts about the Nintendo Wii as any of you may have in the past and its possible applications in education. The possibilities are numerous from music education to physical education, and many others in-between. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at first but now that I have played it for awhile and also worked with the Wii Fit I am starting to see many applications in the educational arena.

The two curricular areas that I see the Wii fitting into easily are music education/appreciation and physical fitness. Both would require up front purchases of additional hardware to use but I think would be sound investments in grabbing students' attention and keeping it. In the music arena you have the various Rock Band games that are a huge rage with most kids. Now I know that some of you music purists may say it is not the same as playing the real thing and I would agree, but what if… I am no music expert but if you had it at the younger ages or maybe the middle ages as a way to get kids to be interested in music or help to build an appreciation for music? Other thoughts I had were using it to have contests to see who is better at said instruments, a person who plays the actual instrument or one who plays just the Wii instrument? What about using it as your reward for practicing the real instruments? For each hour practiced at home the student gets x amount of time on the Wii at school. Or how about working with Nintendo or software companies to develop "games" that are more realistic and using them to help students gauge their interest in instruments?

On another side is the Wii fit and physical education. I have been personally using the Wii fit since getting one for my wife and I for Christmas. I have found that it is more motivating with the data tracking and little tidbits of advice that any fitness magazine or trainer has ever been for me. But then again that is the generation I belong to, the video game generation (or so I like to think). The Wii fit uses weight and height to figure out your BMI, not very accurate but accurate enough for fitness armature like myself. It then goes one to use that info and some basic balance tests to determine your Wii Fit age. This age can be older or younger depending on how coordinated and how much body control you have. Now I know that both of these are unscientific but hey it is a video game, and that is where I think the power of it comes in it is a game that can be motivating to kids.

Included in the Wii Fit package is the balance board and basic software. The software has all the data collection tools as well as some basic yoga and strength exercise in addition to balance and aerobic games. At first site these games may seem childish or easy but from the first time you play them you find that it requires some bit skill to master them. I have found that some tend to be a bit off of the actual activity, for example the downhill skiing. Being a downhill skier I know there is more to skiing than just using your hips to turn and leaning forward or back to control speed (which are the only controls you have in the game). What I am saying is that if you think you can be an expert downhill skier after mastering it on the Wii fit you are in for a big shock, but it will help you learn and tweak your balance. How I see this being used in schools is mainly as either a motivation tool to get kids up and active who are not normally active or interested in PE or as an introduction to fitness goal setting and tracking.

I welcome your comments on this issue and would love to hear of ways you may be using the Wii in your school and/or classroom.