Archive for February, 2013

My experience in computer labs as a teacher has been frustrating and I have spent my time touring the class trying to keep students


on-task and off inappropriate sites. The school server can only control so much. This week one of my practicum classes was booked into the computer lab. I was curious to see how a large highschool handles these challenges.

Now this lab was a whole different story. It was set up by a spartan decorator with simple tables, flat screens and towers on custom blocks on the floor to the side of each table. Teachers can see all wires, feet, hands and towers at all times. Brilliant.

Layout aside, the lab has a monitoring system called Insight created by Faronics. My praticum teacher calls it Night Owl due to the logo and the vision it offers her.

The program allows the teacher to monitor every computer screen in the room. The teacher can see what the student sees. It essentially looks like this:
screen shot insight

If you mouse-over a screen it enlarges allowing you to confirm your suspicions of facebook usage. But these are only basic usages. I discovered the true feeling of power when I enlarged a student’s screen and then by clicked on SHOW (by mistake of course). The class let out a collective yelp and I looked up to see everyone was looking at what I had enlarged on my screen. WOW! What a tool!

Here is what all 25 student saw when I clicked SHOW

Here is what all 25 student saw when I clicked SHOW

The interactive options are exciting here. If student A seems to have found something interesting, I can just bring up his screen and simply show it to everyone without stopping the class. The fact that I have interrupted their games gets their attention just fine (as I discovered). A short on-screen message tells them why I am showing it to them, after all, texting is their language anyways!

As I played around in the application some more I found tools to send individual messages to kids like “Hey, I think you have been on this page the entire class… are you actually working?” You can create documents in any application and share them with the students, for example the assignment rubrics, project criteria or important points to remember.

Teachers can use Insight for evaluations. Students can complete questions or responses as given in a shared document as an evaluation and the teacher can monitor that they are uniquely on task. These evaluations can be printed and handed in, or digitally sent to the teacher with a time stamp. In-class participation tools are there as well. The teacher can pose a question and students can respond in a vote-like format with statistics automatically visible to the teacher. As the Faronics blog claims, “Textbooks [are] going digital”. Insight is trying to bridge this textbook gap for teachers.

The subject of digitally based classrooms and blended approaches to learning is another subjects of the Faronics Blog. Faronics, the creator of Insight certainly hopes so.  The blog Tech Learning found no cons in their review of insight.  They also mention that the teacher station can manage up to 256 computers!  This is likely a tool for the IT department since teacher unions would not let class sizes get that big!!

It was not easy to find user-reviews for this application since it is kind of a dry subject.  Insight is a ITC department purchase so it is not something teachers feel like bloggin about.  Most reviews seem to be like the one found on Innovate my School:  Prices, options, features etc.

There are other applications that offer similar capabilities
Smart has SmartSync -boasts the collaborative aspect

Dyknow – I found this on a forum as a recommendation. Dyknow has a suite of products and published a case study if you have too much time on your hands.

Netop – found on the same forum. The description seems to focus more on lesson development and classroom presentation. They have recently come out with Vision Pro – supposedly the new generation of netop.

And the good news is… there are open source options!
iTALC had several positive comments from users. There is no mention of testing and presentation features, but if monitoring is what you want… it is available FREE!

All in all. I am encouraged to see that the symptoms of computer lab anxiety can be relieved, at least for me. The future looks blended.


School White out

Posted: February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

Kids love the Interactive White Board (IWB) in the classroom. In a grade 1 classroom it is hard to keep their greasy little fingers off of it when I am lining them up for lunch.

Having said that, my experience is in english language schools teaching kids core subjects like science, math and language arts. In these subjects, I have used the IWB for math manipulatives, calendar time and as a open canvas. Teaching English as a second language is another story.

For the teacher:
I see an IWB as a gneral tool for presentation to the group. For example showing the same page on the board as the kids need to turn to and completing examples from the book. This might help alleviate the panic of “what page are we on?”. IWBs make presenting lessons consistently to different groups and animating groups a little easier for teachers.

For the traditional whiteboard/chalkboard space an IWB takes up in the classroom – the options are endless. My only problem is that the surface is never big enough for me. I am a drawer and a doodle advocate. I illustrate explanations as I talk. Kids love this and when I click the arrow… I can always go back to my previous drawing to remind them, or explain further, adding colour and details if I want. Dr Mary Ann Bell lists 12 reasons why she likes the IWB. She notes the less obvious benefit of NO CHALK DUST or SMELLY MARKERS!!! It used to be my job in grade 4 to clean the chalk brushes, which, although I was proud of this job… could NOT have been good for my health.

But having said that, the point of a IWB is not supposed to be for the teachers… it is for the kids. If you digitize it – they will stay awake … Right?

For the kids!
An IWB could be great for workshop style activities. This means that one group each day would have use of the IWB for the activity. Last week I saw two 7yr olds who never write anything, spend a full 15min working together to creating a story on the smartboard during their writing activity.

Access to the web as a group is a huge plus with an IWB in a classroom. Google Earth makes me feel like I am flying and interative historical maps bring history to life. Any interactive teacher application is open to a classroom with an IWB. Check out my article about Kinect for Xbox 360 for some great ideas.

Show it off
SHOW it…. just the practicality of having the screen ready to go attached to your computer is amazing. This also means that presentations by kids are low maintenance for the teacher. Since they know that they will be able use digital tools and the internet for their presentation, the students are excited about creating their presentation. The best way to get primary kids to create quality is promise them they will get to show it off. Offer Animation, powerpoints, filmed skits and anything they can present on the IWB and you will see them work.

Fill ‘er up!
My favourite use of the board is really the filler activities. In elementary school content is planned, covered and evaluated but school is build around transitions and different pacings for each student. IWBs offer endless activities to allow for catch-up, sponging and rewarding for the kids. Hangman is always a winner as is just doodling. Bill Zimmerman’s website encourages doodling and teaches kids to expland their mind through their pens with starter drawings.

Be careful!
Technology offers the temptation of consumption to many. Chris Betcher rants on his blog about the use of IWB to watch fancy content. His IWB mantra is “it’s not about what happens on the board. It’s about what happens because of what happens on the board”. So true! I have seen teachers only use the IWB as a glorified projector.

The only question left for me is… when can I have an IWB that covers my fridge?

Animate Learning

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

I am a nerd for all creative pruduction. Some years ago I got hooked on animation. I was already an Adobe Suite nerd and I wanted to make things move. I struggled to learn Toon Boom, a somewhat sophisticated animation software. After many hours of fun, my pruduction was low… only a couple of walking men and a truck bumping along a road. Life went on and Disney did not call.

Last year I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop offered in our school board through a partnership between Learn Quebec and Toon Boom. The software we used was a beginner version of Toon Boom called Flip Boom Alstar (Flip Boom Classic is also available).

At the end of the workshop, we all produced mini animations. The ideas were flying on how to integrate this into classrooms. Here is what I made furing the workshop.

Check out Learn Quebec’s blog post about the workship in June 2012 and see some of the work of teachers and students.

Price Point: $49 for personal license … Worth it!
Go and check it out for free right here!

Check out a quick tutorial here.

This is a tool that works best with a tablet tool for drawing directly. Bamboo pen tablets are popular and start at under $100.

Check out this kid’s review of flipboom:

Animation is great for Daily 5 routines, media lessons as well as production evaluation. Teachers use it as a tool for creating interesting lessons (if they have time on their hands). As a teacher, you can require students to add recorded dialogue to the animation and use it as C3 oral production evaluation (Quebec Curriculum link).

Another bonus is that a teacher does not even have to teach students how to use this program, they will figure it out in less time that the teacher will take to explain how to open a new file.
Check out what this 7yr old produced:

And it can be free! There are many open source software programs and online tools to allow anyone to try animation.

As Jackie Gerstein writes in her blog “My ultimate goal for using technology in education is having students love learning and creating.” Her blog offers a hug list of open source and online animation tools that can be used in the classroom. She even offers curriculum links for projects.