Saturday, July 13, 2013

     Well, I have finally completed all of the requirements for my Instructional Applications of the Internet grad class.  Between this course and my other summer grad course, I’ve learned about a lot of new pieces of technology and how to incorporate them within my classroom!  I am very excited about adding more technological components to my classroom this coming school year (especially ones geared towards communication).
     As for the Instructional Apps. of the Internet course, some of the things that surprised me the most during the course was how my thoughts about Twitter and blogging changed.  Before this course, I had pretty much sworn off Twitter and never actually acquired an account because I saw it as a purely social tool that people used to share information that’s usually irrelevant.  However, over the course of this class, I really came to like using Twitter as a communication tool with the rest of my classmates.  Most classmates made purely class-related tweets, and it was a great communication tool.  I now see how helpful Twitter can be if used effectively.
    Just like Twitter, I had also avoided blogging before this course because I saw it as a personal journal that’s open to the world to read; I felt like “who wants to read my personal thoughts and ideas about things in my life?”  However, I now see that blogs can be used as a means of sharing important information (beyond just personal stuff).  For example, I made quite a few blogs about interesting technology topics that sparked my interest over the past couple of months and received comments from others who read my posts and were interested in the topics.  I definitely think blogging would be a good way to communicate with parents within my classroom; it’s a quick way to provide parents with information and tips in a format that’s easy to follow.          

     I can’t wait to utilize these new pieces of technology next school year!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Discovering New Technologies

    I have to admit that one of my favorite things to do now is to discover new technologies that I can use within my classroom.  Even though this can be frustrating at times (we know how technology can be), it usually pays off in the long run.  You just have to be prepared to accept that fact that things are not always going to go exactly the way that you planned.  I have found quite a few pieces of technology through the text book for the Instructional Apps of the Internet grad class this summer and am excited to use them in my classroom next school year.  I have also discovered some programs through exploring and researching for my summer grad courses.  Two of my favorite programs that I've found this summer are Padlet and BiteSlide (as I've mentioned in previous blog entries).  I have recently discovered that you can embed the BiteSlide slidebooks that are created (if you enable this feature).  Here's a sample slidebook that I created about Dolphins.  

     I'd also like to share a program that I found at the beginning of last school year and have been using since then.  Animoto is a great program that makes it super easy to turn a collection of photographs and short video clips into a professional-looking video to share.  It's a great way to share photographs and videos online!  I used it last school year to help parents see what we were doing in class.  I would simply take pictures of the activities with my camera, upload them to my computer, upload them to the Animoto website, quickly produce a video with music, captions, and effects, and then post the link to the video on our class website for the families to view.  I received a lot of positive feedback from the students and families!  The students were excited to show off what they were doing in school, and families were excited to actually see what their children were doing at school.  I feel like it brought the two environments (home and school) closer together. 

     Here's an example of an Animoto video I made about a family reunion (I didn't want to post one of the videoes that I created of/with my students for privacy reasons).  It's so quick and easy!  If you are interested, there is a free account available but it is limited.  However, if you are an educator, you can register for a free "Animoto for Education" account which is not as limited - that's what I use. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Instructional Tools: Podcasts and Screencasts

     Well, I successfully finished both a podcast and a screencast in the past few days.  The podcast, which I mentioned in my previous blog entry, was created to assist students with reviewing content and completing a homework assignment; I think this is a practical use of podcasts in education and can be very helpful for students.  Just as our textbook suggest, I like to use Audacity to create my podcasts.  For the screencast, I created a tutorial for how to use BiteSlide to complete an assignment that I created for a graduate class.  I hadn't made a screencast in quite some time, so I was a little rusty with Camtasia Studio.  However, Camtasia Studio was just as great as I remembered it being!  I was able to whip out the screencast tutorial (with editing) in a reasonable amount of time.

     All in all, I think both podcasts and screencasts can be very helpful.  I think screencasts are more helpful for creating computer tutorials because it is usually easier to explain and demonstrate how to use programs by actually showing people (as opposed to audio-only instructional podcasts).  On the other hand, podcasts are more helpful for recording and sharing personal thoughts, informational reviews, interviews, and other material that only requires only audio transmission to be helpful.   

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Practice with Podcasting

     So, I finally finished creating my second podcast with Audacity, and I have to admit that I think I like creating them.  I've decided that podcasts could be a good way to provide extra help for students and reviews of the content that was explored in class.  I can see myself creating such "Homework Helper" podcasts for use within my classroom and posting them on our class website for students to access from home.  I created my "Homework Helper: Water Cycle" podcast with the thought that it could be accessed by students at home for a quick review of water cycle information and for further clarification of their homework (a water cycle experiment).   

     All in all, I think podcasts are a quick and easy way for teachers to share information on the web so students can access it at home.  Students can play the podcasts as many times as needed in order to sufficiently review the content matter.  The short amount of time that it takes to record and edit podcasts is well worth it when it benefits student learning!  I encourage you to give podcasting a try! 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fostering Technological Innovation

      Once again, while watching a TED Talk video (which is a great way to stay informed of emerging technologies and what’s going on in the world of education) I felt compelled to blog my thoughts.  So here it goes….

     In grad. classes (such as Instructional Apps. of the Internet) we are pushed to use technology to create instructional materials (such as instructional websites, podcasts, webquests, and screencasts) that foster learning within classrooms (whether face-to-face or online).  As educators, we also encourage students to explore and use technology to create projects and share ideas.  However, sometimes I think we get so wrapped up with trying to keep up with emerging technologies that we fail to think much about where they come from and how they come to be.  I enjoyed Catarina Mota’s “Play with Smart Materials” talk that focused on describing and demonstrating a variety of “smart materials,” such as plastics that change shape, paints that conduct electricity, pigments that change color, fabrics that light up, jelly that makes music, and a window that turns from clear to opaque at the flip of a switch; she went on to stress how important it is that we really begin to understand, explore, and tinker with smart materials because “innovation has always been fueled by tinkerers.”    

     As I watched Mota’s talk, I was compelled to think about the way schools are typically structured today and how kids are expected to use technology and learn.  Does our current education system promote creative thinkers who are encouraged to tinker with materials and ideas in order to create?  Sadly, the answer is usually “no.”  Our educational system is set up to fill students with knowledge; however, we need to do a better job of encouraging students to explore that knowledge and discover how to apply it in creative ways.  It is not enough that students know how to use different types of emerging technologies; they should be encouraged more to invent new ways of using current materials/technologies and even to create new materials through discovery learning. 
     As educational technologists, it is our responsibility to help foster the creativity and innovation within students.  We need to lead by example how a 21st century classroom should be structured to promote learning through creative and exploratory means.  Students need to be provided with opportunities to problem solve and use critical thinking skills in a variety of meaningful learning experiences.  Learning needs to be authentic, engaging, and problem-based.  What good is having critical thinking and problem solving skills if students do not know how to effectively apply them to real-world situations?  For example, instead of simply telling my second grade students about magnetic poles and magnetic force, I have them experiment with magnets in learning centers.  I use problem-based learning activities (like how to move a metal toy car around a track without touching it) to get students to experiment with magnetic force, explore its properties, and find new ways to use it (not simply to stick stuff to the refrigerator).  Not only is this approach to learning exciting, motivating, and engaging for students, but they must use creative thinking, problem solving, and critical thinking skills to build their knowledge and create.  They become more independent learners and acquire a thirst for knowledge that is fueled by curiosity.  The students we help prepare today are the innovators of tomorrow; they are the key to a bright future flooded with emerging technologies.

Friday, June 28, 2013

BiteSlide: A New Digital Presentation Solution

  Exploring and keeping up-to-date with web 2.0 tools is an never-ending task.  There's such an ever-growing abundance.  During my recent search for a tool to include in the Instructional Apps. of the Internet's wiki assignment, I came across BiteSlide.  I immediately feel in love with it!  This website allows students and teachers to create more engaging and creative digital school projects.  It is very user-friendly and my second graders would love it!  BiteSlide was even voted EdTech Digest's 2013 Award Winner for Best Presentation solution (K-12).  This is the best program that I have found so far for students to use for making digital presentations.

     Yes, presentation software has been around for quite awhile; however, I feel like BiteSlide is an emerging technology because of the way it is structured and its target audience.  It's a great tool for project-based learning because it simplifies the integration of technology and keeps the focus where it should be-on the project and content.  It allows even young students to collaborate on projects online - which is difficult to do because most collaborative online technologies are above the early elementary level.  For example, I tried getting my kids to use a wiki that I thought was kid-friendly that they could collaborate on to make a site about penguins, but it was a failure because the students could not handle all of the steps and the way the wiki editing process and such was set up.  They also were not able to incorporate much creativity because they struggled to get even the basic text onto the wiki and in an appropriate location (let along creative design elements and illustrations). 

     BiteSlide, on the other hand, allows the teacher to essentially create a "Project Folder" in which the students can then create individual "books" within that folder.  Their smaller projects can then be combined to create an overall class project; students learn to collaborate by using technology and 21 century skills.  During the creative process, a project’s SlideBooks are open for teachers and other students in the class to view. This means that teachers and classmates (if the feature is enabled) can give feedback during the project creation phase - which promotes digital communication and collaboration!  There is also an option to involve people from the outside world (perhaps students' family members, friends, or even guest "experts"). BiteSlide can be used to invite outside parties into the project to also add comments and give feedback as the SlideBooks progress. This is a great way for students to hone their final presentation with authentic input from the outside world. 

     Overall, it seems like BiteSlide is emerging as a great digital stepping-stone for young kids as an introduction to online digital self-expression, collaboration, and communication! 

Check it out!  How do you think it can be used within a classroom?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Coding for Kids?!

     After finishing my WebQuest project and beginning to focus more on my instructional website assignment, I have been thinking about students using technology in different ways.  The concepts of having students interact, communicate and learn through WebQuests, wikis, blogs, and instructional websites are becoming more common in schools now.  However, these usually involve “teacher-prepared” technology activities that students just access or interact with.  Most kids are not truly fluent with technology because they usually just interact with new technologies instead of also creating new technologies.  What if kids were encouraged to create their own?  What if kids were taught how to code starting at a young age?
     While exploring the website, I was shocked to hear that “1 million of the best jobs in America may go unfilled because only 1 in 10 schools teach students how to code.”  This fact really emphasizes the importance of coding as an important life/career skill for students.  However, what really interested me was how available and easily accessible programs are that teach individuals how to code.  I did not previously realize that there were programs like Scratch, Khan Academy, CodeHS, and Codecademy that teach coding; there are even apps for iPads (like “Move the Turtle” and “Robo Logic”) that help teach even young children the basics of coding.  Opportunities to learn how to code are far more plentiful and accessible than I had originally thought. 
    I think it would be beneficial for children to learn how to code so they can read and write new technology.  Also, coding helps students strengthen their critical thinking, problem solving, creative learning, cooperative learning, and higher-level thinking skills; exploring and practicing these concepts within the context of coding is meaningful and motivating.  I think coding is becoming an increasingly important life skill. I can definitely see the possibility of integrating it within my elementary classroom.  I think I would begin by using it as an enrichment challenge for students (especially the ones who finish assignments quickly and need a challenge).  I could also use it as a learning center during center time because it would promote critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Once students know the basics, they could create products via coding that display their content knowledge in other areas of the curriculum; for example, they could create an animation that illustrates the water cycle.  All in all, I think it’s a great idea to teach kids to code because it can better prepare them to live and work in an increasingly technologically-saturated world . 
I guess I better learn how to code soon…. 

Want More Food For Thought?