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.


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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.


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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Voki.com

This week I am showing the site voki.com. 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.


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