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.