The Relative Advantages of Using the ‘Basic Suite’ for Learning

Using the, ‘Basic Suite’ of software tools has become part of my life as a teacher. I use these tools myself to create and organize resources, as well as try and simplify my life as a teacher. With my students they can be transformative tools, lifting their learning to a different level. The ‘Basic Suite’ refers to the Big Three software tools which are: word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software.

One of the most important reasons that I use these tools with my students is that the real world uses them. There are few businesses I can think of that still hand write documents. Fewer still that have employees work out data calculations longhand or expect presentations to be given without visual support of some kind. I have many roles as a teacher but the main one is to play a part in helping prepare kids for the world after K-12 education. That world will most probably require them to use some form of these tools.

(Roblyer, 2016) suggests a number of benefits that using these software tools offer. Increased accuracy, productivity, appearance and greater support for interaction and collaboration (p109) are cited as the main benefits to pupils.

Word Processing

Word processing tools such as Microsoft Word, Pages or Google Docs are all in their most basic form, designed to let the written word be presented in electronic form. As they have developed over the years they have changed into powerful collaborative tools where users in different places can work on the same documents in real time. Spelling and grammar tools are built in and the ability add graphics, track changes or comment on a document has become relatively easy. What were formerly programs to record just words have become multipurpose desk-top publishing solutions.

This affords students many opportunities to develop both their thinking and writing skills. In 5th grade, we use Google Docs to collaborate with each other and pupils in other classes on different activities. We write and edit in Word and publish our finished work on the school moodle page for parents to read. Pupils with specific learning needs use Word to support their writing in a number of ways. Displays of our writing are often typed up so that they can be formatted in different ways and extracts taken out. We don’t use word-processing for all our writing but when we do, the pupils are more excited, engaged and can clearly articulate the possibilities of what can be done with the words once they are captured. There is a fun factor that seems to engage pupils.

Recently we edited some writing in Word and a pupil asked if we could blog our extracts in Kidblog. Great suggestion, easily done with copy and paste and then the students had great discussions about their writing. All possible because the words had been captured electronically.

Spreadsheets

Whether you are using the most widely used spreadsheet software Excel, or maybe Google Slides, the main purpose of the software is to enable collection and manipulation of data. Data is collected in cells and then formulae and rules can be applied in order to draw some kinds of conclusions. Graphs and charts can be created in order to help visualize data. Spreadsheet software is incredibly powerful and is commonplace in the world business.

A 5th grade context is maybe a little easier to introduce the use of spreadsheets because of the cross curricular opportunities which exist. We can teach maths skills while collecting data about Greek Gods, analyze traffic data during a geography study or make charts following an entrepreneur project. We can use charts to illustrate historical data when studying the Egyptians. One of the most important skills though is to teach children the power of data. Understanding what points on a line graph represent is important, helping them to start to figure out what is happening between those points and why it is happening is a valuable analytical skill which can carry over to many other subjects.

Presentation tools

I have a personal loathing of slide transitions! Without guidance, 5th graders navigate towards animations and transitions like bees to honey and will happily spend hours finding the exact way to spin in paragraph word by word! The number of bad training sessions I have sat through in which I was read to is burned into my brain. Presentations are easy to get wrong.

As long as I have had access to a projector in my class, I have used presentation software to try and engage pupils. Looking back now, many of my attempts probably did not help learning much. Powerpoint became synonymous with presentation software so much that my pupils still refer to presentations as, ‘Powerpoints’ even if they are using Google Slides or Keynote. It has been that influential. Now tools such as Prezi and Emaze make creating different types of presentation much easier – but can lead to a focus on the visual tricks and take away from the important aspect of what is being said. The technical skill of using the software has to be matched with an understanding of how to create an effective presentation. Roblyer states that, “The effectiveness of interactive presentations depends largely on the designer’s authoring skills.” (Roblyer 2016, p135)

In 5th grade we use presentation software in almost every subject area over the course of the year. For sharing solutions to maths problems, group research projects or developing presentation skills in Literacy. What the tools all give is the opportunity for pupils to share their thoughts and ideas in a different way. To support them in their learning as they learn to stand up and talk in front of their peers.

Conclusion

To not use these types of tools in your class, (if they are available) does not make you a bad teacher. Likewise using them in class doesn’t make you a good teacher. They are simply tools which can be used to enhance the learning experience. If used reflectively the ‘Basic suite’ can: engage students, hold their attention and even offer new previously impossible collaborative opportunities. The real world uses these tools and so to not at least try and find a way to incorporate them into lessons might be to do your pupils a disservice.

References:

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.

 

Screen casting for the first time

My final assignment for my EdTech 513 Multimedia class was to create a screencast. My challenge was to try and apply the principles and theories which I have been learning about to a finished piece of work. Screen casting is not too tricky, the software does all the technical parts, what is important is that you have a script and have rehearsed what you are going to say and do.

I decided to make a screencast which would serve as an introduction to Thinglink for teachers and pupils in our school. I was familiar with Thinglink and so it seemed to make sense to choose something which would actually help and be used. Overall I am happy with the finished piece of work. There is one part in the middle where I tried to pull up a link and it didn’t work. I stopped the recording and adjusted but did not edit it out in the final piece. Voila doesn’t let me do that and so I left it it. I don’t think it detracts from the overall quality too much…

I tried hard to keep my voice sounding natural as possible and I am pretty happy with the outcome. In order to add some dimension to the video, I added questions with Education. If you have not used it, it is a great resource which lets you add a variety of different questions to videos really easily. It adds a layer of involvement to the watching experience. I have only used it once before so my timings are a little out.

Have a look and do please leave feedback.

Great class, great semester. All the best to those of you who are graduating.

www.educanon.com/public/99153/228135

Andrew

Digital Storytelling: The light

This is the video which I created for my Multimedia class at Boise State. We were tasked with creating a digital story after having looked at and studied some examples last week. I chose to reflect on the importance of education to me in a very personal way. Over the last 8 months cancer has affected both my mother and wife. Almost everyone’s lives are affected in some way by cancer. Studying kept me going. It became my light. The one thing I could control and shape and take ownership of. This video is my personal reflection on that process.

I wanted to keep the images simple but high quality. I wanted  imagery to play a big part. I wanted to apply what I have learned. I keep the audio simple, the images are times and chosen to match the words and towards the end they transition from black and white to color which is a pretty crude attempt to show our progress into brighter things. It’s maybe a little cliched as a film but I am proud of it because it is real and it tries to communicate my feelings and motivation.

All images apart from 2 were sourced from creative commons licenses. I hope you find something in this that helps you should you ever be in a similar position.

Thanks

Andrew

 

Using HTML templates

This week’s learning in our EdTech 502 class involved using HTML and CSS templates. On paper this sounded like fun. It was fun looking at them all. I spent hours looking at different templates. When I decided on some I liked and downloaded them. Then I hit  a wall. I got myself into a mess with where to put files, which files were important and wanting my page to look far better than I was actually able to understand. I learned  lot this week and have tried to summarize some observations below.

1. I am not a business and do not need an overly fancy website.

2 It was really easy to get sucked into things that looked great but that I didn’t really understand. It was like passing my driving test and wanting to drive a Ferrari on day one. Good things don’t happen.

3.There are some clear trends in website design at the moment which don’t lend themselves to a simple portfolio homepage (big images, fancy graphics, sliders etc)

4.Give yourself time to play and troubleshoot.

This week I was on holiday and so had some time to play with. Luckily for me! I worked on this for a few days and only got it all together on the final day. I was distracted by the beauty of some websites which were far too complex under the hood for me to understand. I eventually settled on a template I loved and discovered it was XHTML which brought up problems with differences in code that I had to learn along the way. I really didn’t know where and how to save my templates so that they were in the correct part of the 502 folder. I figured it out eventually but it took some time to reconnect css files in the correct way.

Overall, I am really happy with the page I created. I like the look and everything works. It has potential to expand and change and grow with me over the next couple of years. Once I figured where to save the template I enjoyed playing with the code to try and get it to do what I wanted. I created some icons and managed to solve the most number of errors I have ever had with my validation. XHTML is different and I had to really read up to problem solve. I will work on using different templates in the future and hopefully I will get some feedback from my peers.

I can highly recommend templates.co as a resource for free and premium templates. A tough week with a good end result.

 

Cheers Andrew

Techy Talk for Teachers: an adventure in podcasting

This last two weeks I have been creating my first ever. . . but hopefully not last, podcast. As an activity for my Multimedia course, I had to write, record, edit and publish a podcast. The technical side of things proved quite easy. I had previously used Audacity but for this longer episode switched to Garageband which I had not used for a podcast before. It was straightforward to edit and add little jingles and sound files and I managed to save as an mp3 with no trouble.

The hard part was coming up with a topic. I spent most of the two weeks going back and forth on how I could create content that was actually useful to someone else and could be relevant in a nice simple format. I hummed and hawed on a lot of topics but eventually settled on the idea which I have detailed below.

The name of the podcast series is: Techy Talk for Teachers.

The series of podcasts will cover Ed Tech ideas and resources which are aimed largely at elementary school teachers but which really can be used across all areas. It might seem easy taking the EdTech option but I felt it was what I could get excited about and what other teachers might be able to use. I wanted it to be pretty jargon free and easy going which I think I have accomplished. Hopefully it is a podcast which someone with limited ICT/EdTech experience would not be intimidated by.

The first episode, has an introduction and reviews of thinglink.com and classdojo.com as well as a reflection on the power of Twitter for professional development.

I enjoyed writing and recording it. Listening to your own voice is never fun but then my students have to do it all the time so I was probably due it! I hope you enjoy the episode and I am actually going to try and keep it going  – certainly as a resource in our school and across our group of international schools.

Hope you enjoy and thanks in advance if you make it to the end.

Andrew

Here is a link to the file in dropbox. 

RSS in Education

This week I learned that RSS was one of the biggest gaps which I had in my knowledge and skill set. I was vaguely aware of what RSS was when we began but had never used it and did not consider it something I could use with my pupils. Once again, this course has led me to re-evaluate my preconceived ideas about an aspect of technology.

I knew that RSS involved the feeding of information directly to me from different sources but did not know how it worked and had never tried using it professionally or personally. I followed the instructions we were given, reading up on the topic and quickly set up an account on Feedly for this course and another one on Flipboard for my personal interest. I wanted to try two different services so that I could compare their differences and effectiveness. Both were easy to set up and very intuitive.

I have enjoyed using Twitter as a source of professional development for about a year now but one of my biggest frustrations  has been how much information there is. There is no real selection process and as a result I can sometimes feel overloaded with information. That is where I see one of the main benefits of RSS. It can enable me to be more selective about the sources I choose to ‘feed’ me information. I have been reading all week and have enjoyed the blog posts from my classmates – using RSS has made their work more accessible and easier to find.

In planning a lesson, I decided that two things were important to me. Firstly, that I planned a lesson which I could actually teach to my 5th grade class and secondly, that the lesson would be about using RSS. I am a big believer that if I can use the technology then my pupils can as well. Therefore, I have planned a lesson that I will teach and which will fit into our current curriculum. Each pupil will be able to sign into Feedly using their Evernote account and will learn about RSS and how to use it to help them collate information from sources which have been approved.  (Because of their age and school policies, prescreened websites will be provided for them to select from)

Essentially they will be learning the same as I did. I am pretty confident that none of them currently use RSS feeds so the topic will be new. In my lesson plan there are links to documents which I have started but will populate with content over the next two weeks. I am excited to share this with my pupils and look forward to finding out if it works like I think it will. I hope so.

Andrew

My Lesson plan

My Graphic Representation of Educational Technology

I think I made this harder than it needed to be. One of my goals in this program was to learn new skills and apply them as a new learner. In many ways to try and recapture the feelings my students have when faced with the same thing. When I read the task I saw the word Glogster. I had no idea what it was and so felt compelled to find out and then to try and use it. I am pretty confident with Photoshop, Prezi, Keynote etc. but had not heard of Glogster. Having done my reading earlier in the week and reflected and digested with some scribbled notes, I sat down to have a go with GogsterEdu today.

Hmmmmm. Pretty straightforward. You have a canvas and images you can add and drop into it – nothing my 5th graders would not master in 20 min. But then there are a number of multi-media resources which you can add. You can link videos, sound and images which all add to the experience. I did not have time to explore these today but will revisit this site – hopefully with my class to create some posters this week. I did get far too caught up in the variety of images and became frustrated with some of the limits of the program – or rather my limits in knowing how to use it!

My actual graphic is a little different. I put Study and Ethical Practice at the bottom, but placed them on pillars – meant to represent their importance and influence. Without these two foundations, everything else falls down. I used arrows to represent the relationship they have on  the ‘use, create, manage relationship’.  The triangle I created encompasses the resources and processes – which I represented with tech objects and a humanoid head. Maybe getting too arty for my own good. I used key words from the chapter to sit alongside the 3 main headings.

I represented the facilitation of learning and improvement of performance at the top of the page and put them inside a brain. To me the brain is learning. While this is not physically at the heart of my graphic I tried to show that this is a never ending cycle by adding a final arrow to a repeat command with a 0, which was meant to represent the idea of constant repetition.

I can’t say I am very happy with it. I should have played with Glogster earlier in the week and planned my ideas based on its limits. I am glad I learned to use a new resource and reflected on my practice. I learned new skills while reflecting on the concept.

The link below will take you directly to the image, I was not sure if I could embed it in wordpress – never done that before – any help gratefully received.

My Glogster Ed Tech Graphic

Andrew