Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lesser Known Google Search Tools

Here are some lesser known Google search tips.

Do you have some favorites you'd like to share? Please add them to the comments section.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Using iBooks Author to Create a Digital Handbook

Before technology became available in my classroom, my students would create a paper handbook at the end of the year sharing what they learned with next year's students.  Now with iBooks Author, they can create a digital version.

  1. Students can work in groups of three or four.
  2. The following pages are required: Cover, Message from the Authors, Table of Contents, Chapters, and About the Authors.
  3. Chapters must include: "Classes," "Skills Learn," "Teachers," Front Office," "Extra-Currcular Activities," and something of their choice.
  4. I tell students to keep the handbook positive.  Balancing honesty with tact and diplomacy is a good skill to learn.

Animation for Beginners

GoAnimate is an easy way to make video animation for your classroom.  Adding characters, dialogues, and a setting for your story takes only a matter of minutes.  They offer free personal accounts, but you can upgrade to two different accounts for more features.

Here are some ways I see how it can be used in the classroom:

  1. Math - Explain concepts
  2. Science - Present the Scientific Method on a particular question or problem
  3. History - Provide a timeline of events that led to an important moment in history
  4. English - Show character analysis or theme.  Illustrate the most pivotal moment in a novel or short story.
  5. Health - Create a Public Service Announcement on a health tip.
Recently, my students created Public Service Announcements using GoAnimate to speak up against bullying.  My detailed post can be found on GoAnimate's Educator's blog.  Click here to read it.

What do you think?  What are some ways GoAnimate can be used in the classroom?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Let the Guessing Begin

Last month, I stumbled upon the Mystery State Project. In this activity, two classrooms video chat with each other but do not reveal their individual locations. Before meeting online, both classes research facts about their own state and create clues about their location. Then, each class takes turns asking yes/no type questions in a race to solve the mystery.

The first clue should be rather general and vague with each subsequent clue becoming more specific and obvious.

The other class went first and our exchange were as follows:

  1. Other class:  Our professional baseball team is very famous.
  2. My class:  Are you on the East Coast?
  3. Other class:  No.
  4. My class:  We are west of the Mississippi River.
  5. Other class:  Are you located in one of the central states?
  6. My class:  No.
Some classes like to assign specific roles to students (i.e. greeter, clue giver, questioner, researcher, runner, photographer, videographer, notetaker, etc.).  However, I like giving all my students some camera time with the other class so this is the method I implemented.

  1. Form teams of three or four students.
  2. Set up three or four chairs in front of the camera.
  3. Each team gets a chance interact with the other class by giving clues and asking questions.
  4. Teams waiting in the wings can strategize as they wait their turn.  They should also be furiously researching and debating over the answer, maybe even tweaking their clues or questions if needed before they sit in front of the camera.
  5. The team that guesses the location of the other class can win a prize.

It was a fun activity for both my students and myself. I loved how they immersed themselves in researching our state so that they can come up with the best clues. Inadvertent learning. Which teacher doesn't applaud that?

When the day came for our online meeting, both classes were really excited. Our mystery partners were enthusiastic and welcoming. Both sides worked hard to guess the other's location with the use of search engines and maps. The period flew by quickly, and soon we had to say goodbye. Later my students asked when we could do it again.

To find other educators who are involved with mystery video calls, you can join Google+ Communities like Connected Classrooms or my friend Jo-Ann Fox's Mystery Location Calls.

What do you think of this activity? How could you adapt it to your classroom? If you'd like to join us in this activity, please contact me. I look forward to working with you!

Why I Chose Schoology Over All the Rest

With so many Learning Management Systems (LMS) to choose from, which one should you adopt in your classroom?

Without a doubt, Blackboard has the largest market share in the field of LMS's, and I believe it's because they were one of the first companies to offer a product many colleges and school districts needed.  However, being the biggest company out there doesn't equate it to being the best.  I've tried Blackboard and found it frustrating.  Their layout is clumsy and their features are illogically named.  One of my colleagues told me that they actually sell a Blackboard for Dummies.  Surely an LMS shouldn't be that complicated.

Many dissatisfied users of Blackboard have turned to alternatives such as Moodle, Haiku LMSCanvas by InstructureEdmodo, and Schoology.  Not having truly tried Moodle beyond a superficial dabbing, I can't render an opinion.  However, I have used the latter four extensively with my many classes.

Haiku and Edmodo are great products.  These sites are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and are easy to navigate.   I know many who love these products, and I do, too.  I thought my search was over.  I could easily have chosen either of them for my classes.

Until I found Schoology.

Schoology has a Facebook-like feel to it, with its news feed (called Updates) and the ability to upload your picture or avatar.  Students and teachers can post to the Updates page and "like" or add comments.  Since most of my students are 13 or older, this similarity to Facebook is a big plus.  No need to purchase a Schoology for Dummies with this product.  I'm sure such a book would never exist.

What makes Schoology a clear winner is that it works well multiple platforms - whether you're using a web browser, smartphone, tablet, or even the Kindle Fire.  I can't think of many products that offer this last option.

So what about Canvas?  Canvas also has a clean interface and is definitely superior to Blackboard in its ease of use.  As a matter of fact, Canvas was created by two computer science graduate students who were inspired by the comment, "Think of the worse software you use and you probably have a business idea."  They realized that it was Blackboard, and thus, Canvas was born.

I really liked Canvas, too.  Navigating through their website is easy, and they have an awesome iPad app called SpeedGrader that allowed me to give audio and video feedback for student assignments while reclining on my couch.  However, it was originally created for colleges and graduate schools, and it looked serious and plain, not quite as appealing for the younger students.   (Nevertheless, it looks like Blackboard has some competition here because in December of 2010, the Utah Education Network of 17 colleges chose Canvas to replace Blackboard, and they've continue to convert many other universities since then.)

In the end, I found Edmodo to be most similar to Schoology, but I discovered that Schoology has richer features and does everything I want.

In my English language arts class, discussions are vital to my needs.  The only place to host discussion on Edmodo is on its "wall," which over time becomes buried.  I appreciate the fact that Schoology has its own discussion section, and I can create different topics for my students to discuss.  These discussion threads are always stored separately, and I can go back at any time to check them or view a student's response.  Plus, Schoology offers analytics so all  I have to do is click one button and instantly I can see how many times a student participated.

Additionally, I can embed videos, insert a link, or host my Google Slides in these discussion threads.  This is great for flipped learning because students can react to these teaching resources in the comments below.  Lastly, I am given the option to score their responses if I wish to grade them on their contributions.

Schoology also has some nice features like creating students groups.  If your class sits in teams like mine, this comes in handy if you want to issue group assignments.  A quick click to assign work to a pre-determined group, and you're go to go.  You can also assign work to individual students.  Another nice feature is the ability to align your lesson to the Common Core or to your specific state's standards.  This is helpful if your site administrator wants to see how your lesson meets these standards.

Being an English language arts teacher, I tend to assign written responses and essay exams, but I think many teachers who teach other content areas would appreciate the rich features offered by Schoology when it came to quizzes.  Here's a brief overview of what options you have as a teacher.

  • Create timed tests.  You can time the entire test or time each question.  This deters cheating since students won't have enough time to look up the answers on the Internet.  
  • Randomize the questions and the answers.  Students who sit next each other will have different questions even if they're on the same number.  On top of that, even if they're on the same question, the multiple choice answers can be randomized.
  • Create math tests with formulas in the test question and test answer.
  • If students are taking the test on the iPad and they exit the Schoology app, the test will end and be scored at that point.  This also prevents students from going on the Internet to look up the answers.  (Of course, if you allow students to retake the test multiple times, then they can try again so keep this in mind.)
  • There are many types of test questions available: True/False, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-Blank, Reorder, Matching, Short Answer/Essay.
  • The quizzes can be self-grading.
  • There's an option to allow students to retake the quiz multiple times (as a teacher you determine the number of tries you will accept).
  • You have the ability to score answers on the best score out of X number of tries or on the last score.
  • You can configure it so that only one test question is viewable at a time.
  • You can determine when the quizzes will be available 

Here's a screenshot of one of my classes in Schoology.  I love how organized it looks.

I've been converted.  And I'll never look back.

Here are a couple more resources to check out.

How about you?  Which LMS do you like and why?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Two-way Sharing with the Dropbox App

You're using iPads in the classroom.  Now what?  How do you collect the work they created?

I found Dropbox to be a great two-way sharing tool.  Students can share their work with you, and you can share files you want them to access, too.

According to their website, "Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring all your photos, docs, and videos anywhere. This means that any file you save to your Dropbox will automatically save to all your computersphones and even the Dropbox website."

This is my setup:
  1. I have two Dropbox accounts: one that I use to store all my teaching files (I'll refer to this as my teacher account), and a second one that I use only for my class set of iPads (I'll refer to this as my iPad account).
  2. I create a folder called "iPad Language Arts Folder" from my teacher account and share it with my iPad account.
  3. I create subfolders in this "iPad Language Arts Folder" for each of my classes (i.e. Period A, Period B, etc.)  My students would upload their work to their specific class folder.
  4. I also have subfolders of the unit we're studying (i.e. Short Stories, The Outsiders, etc.)  I usually leave those folders there for students to access all semester.
This setup allows me to easily drop any file I want to share with my students.  What do I share?  They're typically files I create just for my students.
  1. A word document
  2. A presentation file I want them to follow (You can turn off your LCD projector to save your bulb!)
  3. A PDF file
  4. An audio file
  5. A video
  6. Pictures (I take pictures of the participation points they're earning in my class.  I also take a screenshot of their current grades from my computer.  Both are posted anonymously.  You no longer have to post paper grades on your wall for everyone to crowd around.)
What kind of work can your students share with you?  The Dropbox app allows you to import images and videos from the iPad camera roll.  It could be any picture or video they created on the iPad.  It also could be a screenshot of any work they created on an another app.  See my post on "How the iPad Transformed My Classroom in 30 Days" to read about the different apps you can use with iPads.  I also describe in detail how I use Zoodle Comics in my classroom on a different post.  

How do you use the Dropbox app in your classroom?  Please share in the comments section.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How to Use Zoodle Comics in the Classroom

Students can create their own comic strip by using Zoodle Comics.  It comes with the ability to add speech bubbles, captions, and characters.  Students can import their own images to personalize the comic strip even more.  They can use a non-copyrighted image from the Internet or take their own photos.  Just make sure they save it to the iPad's camera roll in order to import these images.  There are two versions, free and paid.  The paid version has more features, but I found the free version to work just fine for my students.

It's a great way for students to express what they've learned.  In science and math, students can explain a concept.  In history, they can depict a historical event.  In English, read on.

Tableau vivant: A group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history.

Goal:  Students will analyze a character or theme from the story they read.

  1. Students will sketch four scenes in the style of a tableau vivant from the story they are reading.  
  2. They will depict a character or a theme from the story on a storyboard.
  3. After students finish the storyboard, they need to take a photo of each tableau vivant they created.
  4. Next, launch the Zoodle Comics app and have students import their tableau vivant photos.
  5. Students will add speech bubbles and captions to explain their scenes. 
  6. Save work to the camera roll.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jing? Snagit? or Camtasia?

Recently, I was asked by a colleague what I thought of Jing and Camtasia by TechSmith.  It's a question I asked myself in the past when I first started researching screencasting tools.

Last year, I started using Jing, and for a free product, there's lots to love.  It's simple and easy to use for your first dabble in screencasting.

With Jing, you can take screenshots of your desktop and add annotations to get your message across.  You can also record what you're doing on the computer.  You can easily share your captures via email, your social network, or host your videos on their website.

However, it is a beginner's tool so if you're looking to do more, then you might consider Snagit or Camtasia.  What's the difference, and do you want to pay more?

Obviously. paying more means more features.  For example, with Jing, you're limited to a five minute video but Snagit has no such limit.  Also, with Snagit, you have full image editing capabilities, and I have to say, those tools are very cool to have.

How about Snagit and Camtasia?  There are two major differences upon first glance.  You can use Snagit to capture images.  You can't with Camtasia.  However, Camtasia has video editing capabilities.  Snagit does not.  Of course, there are many other features that differentiates the two, and  I think this TechSmith employee's explanation is well-written and quite detailed.

Here's also TechSmith's product comparison chart on their various products, which includes Jing, Snagit, and Camtasia.

Snagit and Camtasia both come with a 30-day trial so it's a great way to try them out if you aren't sure which one you want.  They also have an educator's discount so if you decide Jing isn't enough for you, try Snagit or Camtasia at their reduced price.