Follow a second grader's trip around the world. - #edtech

This morning while plowing through my incoming messages I came across an email from a fellow Google Certified Teacher; Darren Cannell, an assistant principal in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada. In his email he explained that he and his family will be embarking on a worldwide trip, traveling to 35 countries starting in September, and that as part of his travels, his 2nd grade son will be blogging about it.

SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN 1945  BICYCLE plate
Image by woody1778a via Flickr

I checked out his son's blog and it looks promising:

http://daxjournal.darrencannell.com

If you want to get really jealous, just check out the Google map and calendar, then you will see all of their destinations. I saw in the video section that they have used the TripAdvisor's new TripWow tool that makes really cool videos from your photos.

I think it would be a great idea for your classroom to follow this young student as he travels the globe this winter, part of his schooling grade is to participate in comments on his blog -- so get connected and be part of a cool project.

How can you use school technology to track this world traveling second grader?

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My Love/Hate Relationship with E-Learning - #edtech #elearning

Online Learning
Image by STML via Flickr

Yesterday I had an online meeting with the people at Atomic Learning to discuss some new ideas for blended learning. In the meeting were different educators from all over the world, we went back and forth about all the things we liked and disliked about online and offline learning, Atomic Learning was adamant about wanting the best possible learning experience for educators.

I have been chewing on these ideas all day, so here is my list:

What I hate about online learning (e-learning):

  1. Fluff and Filler: I remember an online class I took a few years ago that was painful to get through. It was filled with so much fluff and filler it was hard to get to the meat of the course. I had to read and participate in all sorts of weird off-topic subjects that I swear the instructor was on drugs, there was no connection between the different pieces.
  2. Unclear Instructions: Hey, I am a pretty tech-savey sort of guy, but I swear there are some courses that are so vague about the sequence of things that they should come with a number to the recommended 1-800 psychic hotline just so you can figure out what to do next. Once I thought I was cruising through an online lesson, or at least I thought I was, but then I noticed that none of my work was being graded. After I hunted down my instructor, it was finally explained to me that I had missed a step and that I would have to go back and complete it before I could be allowed to move on. I checked all the materials I had been given and there was never a mention of the step. Holy crud! A little quality-control would be nice.
  3. Boring or Sucky Lessons: With most people having a fast connection to the Internet, why do some online lesson providers still do dial-up type lessons? Come on! Let's see some videos, animations, simulations, live video chats, etc. Bandwidth is cheap -- use it.

What I love about online learning (e-learning):

  1. Blended Learning: Nobody likes to do everything online (except maybe 15 year-olds), so I love it when lessons included some offline work. Things like; reading a book, video taping a concept, interviewing a mentor, etc.
  2. Lesson Guides and Checklists: I love simple, easy to follow lesson guides that have a checklist. Most online learners have a full-time job, so we need make it easy for them to know where they are and where they need to go. I really love it when these checklists have how much time it might take to complete the task so learners can plan accordingly. For example: Task 14: Complete your rough draft of Twitter in Education paper (estimated time to complete: 1 hour).
  3. Fresh Content: I understand that textbooks are out of date by the time they get to students but online learning can be as fresh as the apple sitting on my desk. Online instructors should review their content on a frequent basis to make sure that their students are getting the most up-to-date ideas and concepts. It takes nothing to add and subtract a couple of links from an online lesson.

I'll keep you posted on the online learning projects that I am working on, I promise to follow my own love/hate relationship advise.

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Website Review - PBS TeacherSource

What I like most about PBS's new website for teachers is how nicely it is organized. Starting at the top menu-bar you can select the grade level for the lesson plans or activities that you are looking for. Once inside you can select from different sections like Arts and Literature, Health and Fitness, Math, Science, Social Studies, Pre-K and Library Media. You will notice that many of these sources are based on the award winning programing that is broadcast on PBS stations. You will also see that many are tied back to state standards and there are recommendations on how to study a topic beyond what is shown at the site. This website fits nicely into what I have been talking a lot about lately -- blended learning, mixing the online learning with the offline (classroom) learning helps our students by allowing them to excel in both worlds. To me this is the appropriate use of school technology -- to enhance what the teacher is already teaching.

The PBS Teacher Source makes finding online lessons and activities so much easier, check it out yourself.

Atomic Learning adds credit classes - #edtech

Admittedly, I use and abuse my Atomic Learning account. For years I have used Atomic Learning to make me look like an expert, however this fall the jig is up. You see, soon my school will have an account which means that everyone will figure out that I'm not really as smart as they thing I am -- I just know where to find answers and help really fast.

Now I need a new edge on the rest of the teachers in my school...

So I was pleasantly surprised when I logged on this morning to find out that they have added a new course offering what they are calling "IT4Educators" which are college credit classes for teachers that they can take online -- anytime or anywhere. Here's a sample of what is being offered (3 credit classes)...

  • Blogging for Teaching and Learning
  • Digital Storytelling in the Classroom
  • Google Docs in Education
  • Internet Resources for Educators
  • Moodle Integration
  • Powerpoint for Teaching and Learning
  • Technology Tools for Educators

The list goes on and on, I think you get the idea, teachers can now earn college credit for learning more about how to use school technolgy. Here is a link to the website itself.

So now it looks like I can earn a little college credit to go with all the other things I use Atomic Learning for.

Pay raise here I come.

#edtech - Website Review: Monster Exchange

First off, you can't help but love the name of this website -- Monster Exchange, the name will make sense in a few moments. Monster Exchange was started way back at the birth of the Internet  in 1995, the work of a parent and a teacher that got together to promote literacy among younger students. I love it because of using 21st Century Skills like creativity and collaboration.

Here is how it works: teachers register their classrooms and connect with another classroom in the program, students then email each other descriptions of monsters, which they must then draw, and back and forth things go until a story is written about this monster. There is even a chat room for students to meet and discuss the project. This is a perfect example of schools using technology to promote stronger literacy and edtech skills with their students.

I can't wait to try this with my students this upcoming year.

#edtech - Would you like to learn about it now or later?

Today I want to take a few moments to talk about synchronous and asynchronous learning, two concepts that when properly mixed could be the future of modern education. Synchronous learning is when you learn something right now from your teacher. A typical classroom with a teacher standing at the front of the room is a perfect example of synchronous learning. Great for some people, but having to always meet face to face can be really inconvenient in our modern world.

Asynchronous learning is when you are out of "sync" with your teacher and fellow classmates. Take for example an online class; you might watch a pre-recorded lecture from your teacher that was given last year, write a paper on it and submit your paper to an online wiki for a few classmates to do a peer-review. However, your classmates are spread across the globe, so they might be asleep while you are awake. The lag-time with this type of learning can become monotonous.

As you can see from my examples there are some pros and cons with both methods -- which is why I have really gotten into studying about "Blended Learning" where you mix both synchronous and asynchronous learning together to get the best of both worlds. A little face time with a teacher combined with online instruction that you can do anytime or anywhere that you want.

Now... how can I bring this into my school?

Is this the future of teaching school technology?

Buying Netbooks for Students - Where to Begin?

How to decide which netbooks to buy. When it comes to netbooks it seems that every computer manufacturer is getting in on the action. All the big players such as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Intel are now making netbooks, which explains why netbooks are one of the top selling computers.  The specifications on these netbooks from these different companies and the differences between models can make it very confusing for the average teacher or school to pick the netbook that is right for their students. The following items are some things to consider to help you choose the best netbook for your school or classroom.

Netbooks vs Notebook

There are some people who argue that with the cost of some netbooks being around $350 that schools should just buy a full-size notebook computer for about $100 more. However, price isn’t the only criteria to consider when buying a netbook. Size of the netbook is a critical component of success in the classroom. Smaller sized elementary students seem to fit the netbooks a lot better than a full-sized laptop. An additional plus for the smaller sized netbooks is that the netbook fits on student desks with greater ease. With a netbook on a desk there is still plenty of room for a textbook, but if you have a full-size notebook computer, there is really only room for the computer and nothing else.

Windows vs Linux

Netbooks that we tested usually came in two flavors: Windows or Linux operating systems. We chose the Windows system for two major reasons: compatibility with existing software and the current Wi-Fi system. One aspect to consider is how many educational software titles exist within each operating system.

Keyboards

All netbooks have smaller keyboards than regular sized laptop computers however, this doesn’t mean that all netbook keyboards are the same. For example, the Asus models have very small keys with some of the keys in different locations and different sizes than a traditional keyboard. On one Asus model, the right shift key was about half the size compared to what it traditionally would be, plus the keys were so small that a regular-sized adult hand could not effectively type on this size of keyboard. These netbooks were designed for young students, who by the way, get used to the small keyboard quite quickly. Within a week or two, elementary students didn’t even notice the size of the keys and this smaller size did not affect their typing speed. If you are considering netbooks for an elementary school, small keyboard size might not be an issue.   However, if you are looking at netbooks for a middle school, this would definitely be an area of concern since there are several students in the eighth grade that are just as big as an adult and have adult-sized hands. In our opinion, the best keyboards for larger middle-school sized hands were the Dell, Intel, Acer, and HP models with a slight preference for HP. I even found myself easily adjusting to the slightly smaller keyboards of these models and students were not even phased when coming from a full-size keyboard to a netbook keyboard on these models.

Size

The size of netbooks vary a little from manufacturer to manufacturer and from model to model. Basically there are 7 inch netbooks, 9 inch netbooks, and 10 inch netbooks. The sizes refer to the diagonal measurement of the screen of the netbook. The best size netbooks for schools are the 10 inch models. Keep in mind, the actual total size of one 10 inch screen netbook may be different from another 10 inch screen netbook. For example, the 10 inch Acer Netbook is about an inch wider than the Asus. So even though both models might be 10 inches diagonally at the screen, the Acer netbook is bigger. A larger sized netbook means that you have a larger keyboard which in turn makes all the difference in the world when you compare these two models.

Screen Resolution

When choosing netbook software, one important aspect to remember is that almost every netbook has the screen resolution of 1024 by 600. There are some software programs that simply will not work on these smaller sized screens. Double check before buying any software.

Processors, Hard Drives and Memory

Processors are the speed at which your Netbook performs. I would not recommend that you buy a netbook that has a processor speed less than a 1.6 GHz. When we have tested models with processors speeds at less than 1.6 GHz’s, they were simply not worth the savings in money. However, netbooks that operated at 1.6 GHz seemed to be acceptable. We tested the 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor and the netbook literally operated at the same speed as most laptops. Most adult testers didn’t notice a speed difference between their regular laptops and the test netbooks.

Since netbooks were supposed to be "network notebooks," many early manufacturers only put small solid state drives (SSD) in their netbooks instead of a real hard drive (HD). This was done to save money and because it was thought that netbooks would only be used to perform online tasks. While SSDs are fast and great for holding an operating system, they do not provide much room for anything else. In many instances, you may want to put more things on your netbook, including Google Earth and some photos for a project. Because of this need, I recommend selecting an HD that is at least 100 GB. By having this much space, students can temporarily store photos, music and videos on the netbook HD and transfer them to Adrive or a server when they are done.

Batteries

The question to answer when asking which batteries to buy is how will the netbooks be used on a daily basis within the classroom? There are two basic types of batteries; the three cell battery and the six cell battery. The three cell battery will give you about 2 and a half hours of operating time and the six cell battery will give you nearly 6 hours. Since most schools are open for six hours a day people tend to think that they need the six cell battery. However, students will rarely need to use their netbooks continually for six hours during the day. With just a little planning, most schools can operate using the three cell battery with no impact on instruction. To clarify this rationale, refer back to the typical netbook day to see how many times the netbooks were returned to their chargers during the day. By purchasing the three cell model instead of the six cell model, schools will save money on the overall price per netbook resulting in substantial saving. This means that school could purchase more netbooks with the savings.

Applications

Typically, most districts will not allow teachers or principals to buy netbooks personally and bring them directly into the classrooms to be used. Instead, netbooks will probably have to be taken to your IT department where they will make an "image" of the perfect netbook computer. This image is then copied to all the rest of the netbooks for your school. Teachers will want to think carefully about what they want included on that image. The image includes everything from installed software to the settings in Windows. Each school and district is a little different so teachers will have to spend some time considering this. Preplanning will be critical at this stage since if your school has already paid for a license to a particular math program, you will want that program installed on the original image. Remember, netbooks do not have a CD drive.

Installing Applications

Installing applications on a netbook can be rather tricky since it does not have a CD drive. The easiest solution is to just buy an external USB CD drive to use for installations. Another option is to just buy the digital downloadable version of an application instead of the CD version. This way you just download the install file to the netbook and continue with the install process. Some IT techs install directly from a district server and others install from USB flash drives that they have copied the application install file to. Installing applications is usually something that needs to be pre-approved through most IT departments so check before continuing with this activity.

Subscriptions

Having the right subscription with your netbooks increases their value exponentially. I know that is a bold statement but there is incredible curriculum subscriptions for netbooks that has changed our way of viewing netbooks as student's tools for learning. Here is an example of one subscription services that was critical to the success of our netbooks within classrooms.

Atomic Learning provides video step-by-step tutorials for just in time training. Imagine being a teacher who has now been thrown into the world of netbooks computers and is having to be a part-time tech teacher to all their netbook students. Many questions can arise such as “How do you make a graph in Excel?”, “How do you make a bullet point list in Word?” and “How do I save this document in a different format?”

With Atomic Learning, all we had to do is log in and then find the short video tutorial (usually under 3 minutes) to show exactly what to do. We could even display the video up on the LCD projector for our students to follow along. Atomic Learning has literally thousands upon thousands of video tutorials. The video tutorials can be “assigned” to students, so that they can learn at their own time and pace.

Atomic Learning also provides something called Lesson Accelerators which are pre-made lessons about using technology in the classroom. Teachers that were wanting to accelerated their students’ 21st Century Skills assigned these lessons to students to increase their capacity. Atomic Learning has also recently added an entire section dedicated to teaching and embedding 21st Century Skills in the classroom.

Online Applications

The concept of a netbook is that you use it online -- all the time. Which means that many applications that used to be installed on our computers now live online in the “cloud.” This is why Google Docs is used so much in a netbook classroom, but what about other applications? Let’s says, for example that you need to edit a photo. Just go to a free photo editing website like www.Picnik.com and upload your photo, edit it, and then download it back to your netbook, done. That is cloud computing, see my website link at the end of this book for more examples of this.

Optimizing a Netbook

There are a few tricks to optimize your netbook to meet the needs of students. Regarding the track pad on the netbooks, we disabled the tap feature that allows students to tap their track pad rather than clicking the button. We found that tapping the track pad was very confusing to elementary school students so we disabled it. We also slowed down the speed of the pointer and the double-click speed. We made changes to the Internet Explorer so that it had minimal menus as screen real estate is such a premium on a netbook you do not need to waste it on things like a Google bar or tabs. As a bonus, the new Internet Explorer does have a full screen option (F11) which allows students to see a lot more of a website by going to full screen mode. It also includes a zoom feature, so if students need to they can zoom out to see the entire web page. Mind you, on a netbook screen, the text will now appear very tiny. Another way to increase screen capacity on the small netbooks is to set the task-bar at the bottom to auto hide.

Near Paperless Teaching with Netbooks

By using Google Docs and emails, a teacher can almost teach without printing documents. Teaching students about having an environmentally responsible classroom is just one aspect of being a 21st Century student. As educators, it is very easy to print reams and reams of paper. Instead of printing projects to turn in, a netbook classroom teacher can check student work on a screen.

Let’s see how a nearly paperless assignment might continue. Let’s say that the student’s assignment was to gather information about the red-eyed tree frog. The teacher starts off by sending an email to all the students (a distribution list set up in his or her email program) which sends all the students to a Google Doc worksheet. This worksheet asks the students questions about the frog that they need to research on the Internet. This document also contains the list of tasks that the student is to complete such as obtaining three photos and a map showing where the frog’s habitat is and a short video about the frog which is found on SchoolTube.com. Since the teacher is set up on each student's worksheet as a collaborator, there is nothing to turn in and revisions can be done as many times as needed. When the student is done, they add the word "final" to their file name and the teacher will know that the grading can begin. To conclude the project, the teacher uses a Google Docs “form” to test for retention (i.e. a quiz without paper).