Tuesday, February 26, 2013

E-mail is So Last Century - Start Collaborating With a Wiki!

I remember way back when I was in graduate school and my colleagues and I were given the responsibility of collaborating with each other in order to complete a group project on a topic in education.  Our group divided the major topic into subtopics among the members of the group.  Then we exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses in order to communicate with each other and then the collaboration began.  Each member of the group completed his or her tasks and e-mailed the other members.  The problem was that our e-mail inboxes became flooded with group e-mails.  On top of that, in order to modify information that was submitted by a fellow group member, we had two options, neither of which was better.

1) We could copy and paste the original text into the body of the new e-mail we are preparing to send, then add our new message in a different color of text or different style of font.
2) Just reply to that message (without copying and pasting the original text) but make sure others have access to the original text in order to refer to the previous e-mail.

Just typing the above scenario alone is confusing me.  If only we would have been able to set up a wiki in order to ease our group communicative and collaborative efforts.  By using Wikispaces among educators or even in a classroom for the purpose of collaboration, the process of communicating with each other is much smoother.  Here are some of the many benefits of using Wikis in Education:

1. Easy to Use - Wikis are very easy to set-up.  Creating a general wikispace is free and can be customized to meet your needs.  Just visit http://www.wikispaces.com/ to get started.  Then click on the Education tab.

2. Gather Internet Resources - It is very easy to build a great wiki with content from anywhere on the web.  Widgets like video, calendars, and visitor counters can make your wiki more attractive, engaging, and useful.

3. Learn from your peers - Every educational wiki lets you organize members into project-related teams, each with its own pages, files, and permissions.

4.  Deeper engagement with the course material - With a Wiki you are able to create a discussion forum for the whole wiki, answer questions on a page, or leave comments on any passage of any page.

5.  Out-of-classroom/Asynchronous learning - Wiki members can access the wikispace 24x7 from anywhere in the world.  No more excuses for being absent from class.

6.  Flexibility and scalability - You can determine who sees content and how they use it with wiki-, page-, and file-level permissions.  In addition, you can make changes to any page on your wiki from any computer or web-enabled device with the click of a button.

Here are some examples of how Wikis can be used in Education:

  • Student Portfolios
  • Professional Development
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Student Assignments
  • Curriculum Planning
  • Distance Learning

There are so many possibilities.  I wish I would have been able to use wikis when I was completing group assignments.  Using a wikispace would have enabled my group to complete the assignments much more efficiently and also would have kept it much more organized.  I know there are those who oppose using wikis as a means of collaboration.  These opponents claim, "Wikis are so 2008."  My response to them is that if they have something better to offer, than please pass it along my way.  Perhaps create a Wikispace to collaborate on collaboration?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Brush of Truth - an Interactive Storybook App Tailored to Your Child's Needs

Brush of Truth, developed by Story Bayou, Inc., is an extremely clever interactive book app. It can be customized for the needs of the reader by the reader. In Brush of Truth, two tweens discover an enchanted paintbrush created by a medieval sorcerer. The paintbrush is magical – whatever you paint with it comes to life! There are many adventures included in Brush of Truth. Some of these adventures include helping a sea goddess find the key to the oceans dying sea life, exploring dark tunnels under the earth, and fleeing talking vultures.

What makes Brush of Truth a great storybook app?  According to my son who is twelve and a bit of a reluctant reader, there is something about Brush of Truth which sets it apart from other interactive storybook apps. In fact, it puts the user in the perspective of the character in the story; the story is told in second person. This specific app allows the user to choose how the story will actually unfold. Throughout the story, there are 65 checkpoints, which are opportunities in which the reader is faced with a decision to make. The reader never knows what will happen next – it all depends on the choice that he/she makes. The book features twenty possible endings and the user has the ability to go back in the story and make new choices which will yield new characters and new endings. Note: there are 65 decision points!  In order for the user to finish reading the story, he/she has to find all twenty endings. Upon finding all twenty endings, the app provides the user with a reward. With so many adventures and so much built in creativity, I witnessed my son becoming totally immersed in the story himself. The user is actually the main character of the story. Brush of Truth is an engaging tale for tweens eight – twelve years old, including reluctant readers. It also includes illustrations as visual aids for the user. The app is native and therefore is saved on the device and does not require an internet connection in order to use it. Brush of Truth is a wonderful interactive storybook app – we are eagerly looking forward to its sequel, titled Brush of Secrets!

When selecting books for youngsters to read, there are many important points to consider. We want our students and children not only to enjoy reading the stories, but we want them to be completely immersed within the story. A good book is  one you do not want to put down. Obviously, the content and vocabulary of the book need to be at the reading level of the child. If a child is delayed in language skills, it is likely that his or her vocabulary and comprehension skills will not be up to grade level as well. All of the above applies to choosing interactive storybook apps as well. Educators and parents need to choose and use the technology that suits the needs of the audience.

When we corresponded with Julie Laviolette she gave us this quote, “As a mom, I’ll do anything to get my kids to read. That’s why I developed Brush of Truth as a longer-text app. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but for this age group, I wanted more reading and less game. So I designed it to engage kids through the choices they make in the story. If you give kids a compelling story, they will stick with it.” And about marketing the app- “I’ve found through marketing this app that parents and teachers like Brush of Truth because it gets kids to spend more time reading. Teachers have used it in class to inspire creative writing exercises and to get kids excited about reading. I now have Common Core StateStandards-aligned lesson plans on my website,www.storybayou.com, that work with the app, and I’m in the process of developing more.”
This app is available on other platforms, including iPhone,  Kindle Fire, Android and Windows 7.  
This blog has been cross-posted from http://teacherswithapps.com/brush-of-truth/

Where Will Your Class Be Going With YouTube Today?

The students entering our classrooms are not the same as they were 20 years ago.  Therefore, our expectations of what our students are able to do and what they know should not be the same as they were back then.  In regards to educational technology, we are no longer living in the "Computer Age," to the surprise of many people.  We are now living in the "Digital Age," and according to others, the "Interactive Age."   All we have to do is click - and we're there.  Many teachers are considered to be digital immigrants, yet their students are considered to be digital natives.  The students are becoming more proficient with technology at a faster rate than the teachers are.  Technology needs to be integrated in education Most students have access to the Internet and mobile devices with Internet access at home.  Keeping our lessons restricted to the pages of the textbook just aren't going to "cut it."  Learning needs to involve the real world. Therefore, teachers need to provide “living avenues” to help their students interpret multiple perspectives or ideas that may exist.

Unfortunately, in many classrooms, the textbook remains, as it has since the beginning of the common school movement, the main source for knowledge. This form of passive learning needs to be revisited. Students need to experience rather than read and answer questions. One way to allow students to step outside this textbook world is to take them on field trips.   Unfortunately, regular field trips can amount to be a burden.  When adding up all of the permission slips, transportation costs, and admission to the event, it adds up to an awful amount of money.  With today's budgets, teachers need to be very creative.  So why not bring the learning to life and take the class on a virtual field trip?  With YouTube you can go anywhere in the world - all without leaving the walls in the classroom.

One of the keys to effective teaching is to make the learning relevant. We have the students ready to listen, but they don't quite know why they should. The students can see that we clearly care about the lesson content as we exhibit our high levels of enthusiasm, so they smile and go along but they still want to know "what they get out of it." And this is where the strong teacher captures his or her students -- the combination of a student who's been enticed into open-mindedness, the presentation/performance of an interesting lesson, and a direct answer to the question of why they should care -- and real learning starts to occur. This is what teachers work for, not power or prestige or personal gain, but for that moment of clarity when a student's mind opens just a little more, and takes in that new concept.  This is the concept or message that may seem unfamiliar to them - the message the teacher is trying to teach. In other words, the teacher needs to find a way to connect the new information to the students' lives.  The learning needs to be student centered and taking into account the students' interests. Using YouTube for virtual field trips can connect the students at a greater extent to the lesson content much more so than the textbook alone.  In addition, there is a much greater chance that students will extend their learning at home if the content is relevant to them.  Virtual field trips are exciting.  Since YouTube is free, the possibilities are endless.  Of course,  parental supervision is advised as anything can be posted on YouTube.

Virtual field trips tailored to every grade level are springing up all over the Internet. Trips range from the simple, such as a photo tour of a famous museum, to extremely detailed and high-tech field trips that offer video and audio segments to make the visit more interactive.  On top of that, one can add video conferencing with a representative from the site of the field trip, in order to provide a more interactive experience, in order to tailor the trip to needs of the class.  However simple or complex, virtual field trips can take your students to a completely new world -- and the trips are as close as your computer.  On a virtual field trip, you and your students can go just about anywhere on Earth - whether it's to a zoo, a farm, an aquarium, another country across the globe, or even into the solar system.  A couple of weeks ago, I took my class on a virtual field trip via YouTube to Yellowstone National Park to visit the famous geyser Old Faithful.   There is simply no better way that I could have brought the content to my students than to have them experience it via a virtual field trip with YouTube.  So where will your class be going with YouTube today?

Monday, February 11, 2013

You Mean Google+ is Not Just For Chats and Hangouts?

As we educators are aware, our jobs in the classroom do not get left behind in school when the dismissal bell rings.  Rather, our jobs come home with us.  From calling parents during the evening hours, to grading papers, to preparing our lessons, it's as if teachers are always "on call."  To complicate our lives even more, we live in a world of instant gratification; we are constantly waiting for an phone call, an e-mail, a message, a text, or a tweet.  In short, a teacher's job never ends.  Even while on vacation, teachers spend time refreshing their current curricula and methods since professional development is critical in order to avoid burnout.

One method of professional development is connecting to other educators via Social Networking.  Believe it or not, it comes as a shock to many teachers (specifically those who are unfamiliar with Web 2.0 Tools) that the terms "professional development" and "Social Networking" can be used together in the same sentence.  The purpose of social networking is to communicate with others in order to learn, advance, and extend what we know.  By networking with others, we are able to share ideas and information with them.  There are many free social networking websites and you can find a detailed list by visiting the following link at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites.  Some of the more popular social networking websites include: FacebookTwitterPinterestMy Space, and Google+.  Many people object to Social Networking websites; they consider them to be a waste of time and/or dangerous.  My answer to that is going to be the same as everything else in life - it all depends on how it's used.  For the purpose of this blog, I am going to reflect on my experiences using Google+ as a professional development tool.

Several years ago, I created a Gmail account for the purpose of chatting with family.  As Google and its apps slowly crept their way into my everyday life - especially with its acquisition of YouTube in 2006, I was using Google more and more.  Several months ago, I began using Google+ for the purpose of Google Hangouts in order to connect with other educators who are participating in my Educational Technology program.  We set up weekly Hangout sessions on Sunday mornings to discuss the topics that we were learning.  Although our course is online and is asynchronous, having "real time" with the other course participants and with our course facilitator has been extremely beneficial.

There is much more on Google+.  As a Social Networking site, there are many communities that educators can join in order to share and collaborate with other educators.  For instance, one community that I joined and have found to be very helpful is the Google Apps for Education - Education in the 21st Century! community.  As there are close to 2,500 members in this community, there is no lack of collaboration here.  Since members of this community are located all over the world, I have received prompt responses from other educators regarding my technical issues with Google Apps.  In fact, I have received faster responses from fellow educators in this community than answers from Google when posting on the forum through the Google site.

Another community that I have joined via Google+ and have found to be very helpful in education is the SEE-SMART Exemplary Educators community.  This community was created for SMART Exemplary Educators.  Through this community, am able to connect with other SMART Exemplary Educators around the world.  We discuss ideas in education, integration of technology in education, and of course, using SMART products in our classrooms in order to increase student achievement.

Using Google+ has been very easy for me.  Not only do I enjoy sharing and collaborating with other educators, but it's a great feeling to be connected to educators all over the globe who share the same values.  Google+ is easily accessible from anywhere - including from mobile devices.  Have an iOS device?  Then try the Google+ app.  It's simple to use.  One of the many great features of the app is that I can set up instant uploads of my photos and videos.  Gone are the days of connecting my digital camera to my computer via cable or by inserting a memory card into the slot.  Instantly uploading my photos and videos with Wi-Fi is definitely more efficient and I don't have to lift a finger in order to do it.

So go ahead and try Google+ today!  With all of the communities focused on Education, you are bound to find one - or several that you would like to join.  From Google, to Math, to Mac, to Libraries to Raspberry Pi and more, there are definitely many communities for you to discover on Google+.  And, if for some reason you do not find one that suits your needs, go ahead and start your own Google+ community and invite your fellow educators to join.  You will be very glad that you did!  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dragon Box - the Revolutionary Algebra App

Dragon Box, by WeWantToKnow AS - I vividly remember the days long ago, when I was in middle school learning algebra. There was “y”, there was “x”, there was “x+y=5”, there was “1/x + 2/y = ⅓”, and so forth. Most middle school students would not find learning pre-algebra or algebra that exciting. On the contrary, they might find it quite boring. Sitting and learning a bunch of letter and number combinations, which have no meaning to the students whatsoever, is just not appealing or engaging. In addition, the equations and formulas being taught are abstract; they are not something concrete that the students can relate to. It is the teacher’s job to teach the material in a way the students can relate to… to make it meaningful to them.

As we are moving further into the 21st century, students are expecting that their learning include digital devices. In addition, it is becoming increasingly common that the content being taught is presented in a way that includes online gaming, simulations, and/or augmented reality. What better way to teach abstract content, such as algebra, than to teach it with games?!? Teaching with games motivates and engages students.
Dragon Box is highly beneficial for students in middle school. Although, those who are younger and even adults who are “young at heart” will enjoy it as well. I gave my son, who is in seventh grade, a chance to field-test the Dragon Box and I played it as well. We both enjoyed it immensely! Even more so, it was quite addicting! Rather than giving a problem such as “x+y=5” to solve, the app game starts at a very basic level. For instance, instead of starting with solving equations and problems, the game first teaches the user how to discriminate between two characters and to separate them. It affords the opportunity to practice the same steps that are involved in Algebra. However, they are presented in such a exciting way, that the user would never know it. This includes such steps as applying the same strategy to both sides of the equation, looking for like terms, and changing whole numbers into fractions. It also gives step by step directions early on and directs the user as how to proceed. Instead of characters such as “x” and “y,” the game uses avatars and other objects. This is so important and beneficial because these things are concrete and much easier for children to relate to, as opposed to just random characters that are more abstract. A child has a greater chance of retaining the skill or content being taught when it is presented in a meaningful way, that he or she can relate to, as opposed to something abstract which has no connection whatsoever.
As I said, after my son had the chance to play Dragon Box, I decided to play the game and found it to be very addicting! If algebra had been taught this way when I was in middle school, I would definitely have had so much more fun and success! I love how it uses little avatars, fish, animals and other objects to act as the symbols (representing the numbers and letters). The app’s development was clearly well thought out, it’s very thorough and impressive. There are a few steps or directions that are added in here and there, but not on each level. Eventually, I got stuck on a level….  Which brings me to this – I have one suggestion that would make this app even better. Currently, there is no support or directions within the app itself. When the user gets stuck on a level, there are no hints, suggestions, or help as to what would be the next step. It basically just starts over and over again, keeping record of what steps worked and didn’t work. A walk through or user guide within the app would be very beneficial. Overall, Dragon Box is a great app. My son really enjoyed playing it and so did I, for that matter!