Thursday, February 28, 2013

Week 7: Top Ten Tech Tools

Top Ten Technologies I Couldn't Live Without

    1.   iPhone-  I would never want to be without my smartphone.  It is like having a mini computer with me at all times.  First and foremost, it allows me to stay in constant contact with my children.    Of course, I could do that with any cell phone, but with my smartphone I have an awesome camera, a scanner, and zillions of really cool apps that allow me to check the weather, compare prices, and even automatically find music that matches my running pace.  Siri's pretty cool, too.

    2.   Laptop:  My laptop allows me to work on the go.  With three children in my house and a rule that none of them will ever have their own computer in their rooms, having a laptop allows at least two of us at a time to be able to complete schoolwork.  What I don't like about it? It's not a Mac.

    3.    Digital Camera:  I used to be into darkroom photography.  I really enjoyed it, but it is labor intensive and you never know what the results are until you the pictures are developed.  The biggest advantage of using digital cameras is that you immediately see if the picture you took is acceptable.  You can easily take many shots per second so you are assured to get a good one, and then you can easily delete the ones that you want.  Memory cards allow you to take over a thousand pictures, and if you were using a film-type camera that would constitute a large amount of film to carry around.

    4.    Global Positioning System;  I love how I can easily determine how long it will take to get my destination.  Besides telling me what route to follow, I can see how bad the traffic is, what my arrival time will be, and being the earth science nerd that I am, what elevation I'm at.  Makes life much easier, even though it's not always accurate.

    5.    Calculator:  No-brainer.  Not a big fan of math and the Texas Instrument scientific calculators are a necessity.  They can even be hooked up to a computer and the screen can be projected.

    6.    Instant Streaming:  There are so many great educational clips to access through Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Discovery.  No need to have a million dvd's or vhs tapes and a place to store them. I can find Nat Geo films, Bill Nye movies, and interviews with the great Neil DeGrasse Tyson to share with my students, not to mention having them at home as well.

    7.    Skype:  When I first learned to “Skype” I was really impressed.  It is such an easy way to stay connected to loved ones and good friends who live so far away.  I would like to someday connect with a class in another country and have regular Skype sessions with them and my students.

    8.    SmartBoard:  I have always had an interactive white board in my classroom.  I cannot imagine teaching without one.  I can draw, connect to the internet in a second, play game, and a myriad of other things using it. It is a great tool to take advantage of if you want a great way to keep students engaged.  Using it with the “clicker” system is a quick and fun way to evaluate student knowledge.

    9.    Social Media like Facebook and Twitter:  Another great way to stay connected and abreast of what's happening with your community, your friends, and your family.  You get less in depth with Twitter, but brevity is sometimes more desirable.  I really love Facebook, as my husband and I have made a great many friends during our time in the military, and they are spread across the world.  I get to see pictures of my niece’s daughter growing day by day. 

    10.    My electric toothbrush- I'd hate not having it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Week 6: Apps for Earth Science

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don't know how Earth Science teachers survived without the technology that we have today.  I will be the first to admit that Earth Science can be very dry and abstract if one is not enthusiastic about the subject.  It is nearly impossible to ignore the tech advances that have been made, and to operate your classroom without some of the great applications available to us today is almost criminal!  I remember when I was student teaching not so long ago, my sponsoring teacher couldn't believe the simple animations that I used to show the students horizontal sorting in a stream.  He had me show another E.S. teacher, one whom he'd been teaching with for over 25 years.  They had internet access available to them already, but hadn't taken advantage of all the internet had to offer.  Anyway, what follows are a couple of the apps that I think are amazing and go a long way in helping students fully grasp concepts that they need to learn in a language they already understand- tech speak.

In no particular order:

 Earth Viewer- This is one that I just recently discovered, and haven't used with my students yet.  It is an app that describes Earth's vast geological history.  It is very in depth, and I haven't even explored everything it can do.  The geologic time scale is on the left, and one can move through periods of time and the corresponding environment on Earth, all the way back to the Hadean prior to the formation of Earth's continents.  You can observe changing temperatures and continents throughout time, and learn about or things, like what happens to insolation as it enters Earth's atmosphere.  The period of rotation is shown during each time period (at the beginning our day was only 17.5 hours!), as well as the atmospheric gas changes through 4.6 billion years (only Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide).  And loads more.....

Solar Walk and Star Walk-Space at your fingertips!  Solar Walk one is chock-full of information about planets, asteroids, and other fun stuff.  I can explore this one for hours, learning about each planet and its place in our solar system.  This is a great educational app that is really engaging and informative.  There are even videos one can watch.  To go beyond our Solar system, check out Star Walk.  Most students love anything astronomy, and Star walk helps one identify objects in the night sky (forget the tv, go look outside!), including satellites.  One of my favorite iPad apps.

Skeptical Science-  With the controversy surrounding global climate change, there is a lot of confusing information out there.  This app, while specifically attempting to debunk any doubt about climate change, has loads and loads of scientific papers concerning climate change, both pro and con.  I like it because it can help you locate specific scientific papers, right at your fingertips.   Often missing in discussions about climate change is documented, peer-reviewed research references, while a lot of misinformation is thrown around.

Flashcardlet- This app, which also works on iPhone, lets one create flashcards to study for an upcoming test.  I like that it can be used on a phone so it's always at the ready whenever a student feels the urge to study.  The cards that you create can also be emailed to someone else. Flashcards+
is also a flashcard app, but with this one you can't create your own. You can, however, download lots of premade cards for free.

Pictures are from the Apple Store.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Week 5: Digital Citizenship

 We all take great care (most of us, anyway) to keep a "good" reputation (though "good" can be subjective, can't it?).  We want people to think of us with great regard, or at least deserving of their respect.  Often when we are on the internet we have a feeling of anonymity, and may believe that we can leave all of our good manners by the wayside.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We are not really anonymous. When using the internet, we must be diligent to follow the same rules that guide us "in real life".  Not only will this safeguard our "reputation", but it will protect our safety and our property, besides helping to preserve the integral part of a community- civility.

Keeping a good digital reputation involves that old adage: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything" (as opposed to quote attributed to Mae West- "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me!").   Don't be rude or say unsavory things about anyone or any business, don't post or text pictures that you wouldn't show your grandmother, and don't write about any activities that should be kept private and personal.  Future employers (or future spouses, for that matter) may do some digging around and could find things that you'd wish were never put out there in Web Land.  Recently a mom who had given her son his first iPhone made the news because she gave him a list of rules along with the phone, and included items that are generally considered good digital citizenship.

Part of being a good digital citizen is to be aware of the certain fact that there are people who are looking to take advantage of your good reputation, your files and contacts, and your finances.  Always operate with this in your mind- giving out personal information willy-nilly to every site that asks is asking for trouble.  Pay attention to sites that have https when giving personal information, because the "s" on the end means that it is a secure site, which is what you want (as opposed to just "http".  Never click on an email in your inbox that leads to alink that asks you to give personal information, even if it seems like a legit email (like one from your bank).  It could easily be a fake one, and you could end up giving personal information to people who will access your bank accounts, your credit, or your good name.  

If you are prudent and judicious about your online habits, you will have a low risk for being robbed of your name and your fortune.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Week 4: Material Generators

This week's topic for my grad class?  Material generators for the classroom.  I just got my teaching degree in 2008, and many times I have wondered how educators managed to teach Earth Science without any of the technology that we have today.  I mean,  I would truly have to be an entertainer, I think, to keep most of my students interested in rocks and weather at a time in their lives when they're really only interested in their social lives.  Just having internet access is incredibly useful to me;  I can really show some exciting stuff like volcanoes exploding, earthquakes shaking, and extreme weather events, often not long after they've happened.  And that's just the beginning.

Here are descriptions of three materials generators that I wouldn't want to be without in my classroom:

1)  SmartBoard.  I've always had one in my room, and was lucky enough to receive several weeks of training that allowed me to become a certified trainer.  I use it just about everyday.  It is so much more than just a "whiteboard" or another way to deliver a boring PowerPoint.  I do usually provide notes from it, and can draw whatever I need right into the notes (like showing how a fossil forms during sedimentation).  I can print those notes just like a PowerPoint program to give to my students who missed class or require a printed copy.  But the ability to create games is one of the best features.  I try to make it a goal to get my kids out of their chairs at least once a day, and the ability to throw in a game that lets them interact with the board is a great thing.  I love the ability to go right to the internet during a discussion or if a student asks a question that I don't know the answer to, or if I need a different way of explaining a concept, usually I can find one within seconds. 

2)  Test Generator-  This is an invaluable time saver.  My students are required to take an Earth Science Regents exam comprised of 80 questions in order to pass the class and receive an advanced diploma.  The test generator is loaded with previous Regent's exam questions, and I can modify them in any way that I like (choose the font, number of answer choices for multiple choice, change wording in questions, etc).  I can have two or more versions of the same test print, and I can easily revise a test after I make it. I cannot imagine having to make tests up without an easy option to change it.  It makes it so easy to modify a test for a student with a learning disability, also.

3)  Game Makers- One of my favorites is being able to make Bingo cards (my kids *love* Bingo).  They love any games, actually.  It makes for a great way to review (especially if there are prizes).  I can post games on my website like Jeopardy games files.  In fact, teachnology has all kinds of material generators for the classroom, for free.  I use their site often to create different games and worksheets.

All of these are incredibly helpful in the classroom.  Every class is different, and having tools like this at one's fingertips helps to keep students engaged & have their needs met are invaluable time-savers.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Week 3: Only five types to write about....

 Drill and Practice!  Based on direct instruction, Drill and Practice software was popular when programs were first being developed.  D & P software allows students to work on simple problems, gradually working to more difficult problems.  Students answer questions, get feedback, and advance or regress to different levels of difficult depending on the number of correct answers.  Many children find this kind of drill and practice (which has definite value) much more entertaining than completing fifty or so math problems on a boring worksheet. There are many different kinds of drill and practice software, and the first one that comes to my mind is the one that my kids would bring home from school during the fundraising effort for St. Jude's every year called the Math-A-Thon.  My kids really liked it.  They would get pledge money for every problem they completed correctly, and would move through the different levels in the program. Click here for an online version.

Tutorial- A directed method just like the D & P programs, tutorial is kind of like a virtual tutor that can take the place of a teacher entirely.  However, this one includes instructions and explanations to help teach a concept, rather than just measure knowledge like the D & P, though it utilizes drill & practice.  Some necessities of a good tutorial program, according to the text "Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching", includes having extensive interactivity, ability for user to adjust how fast/slow program works and which pages can be viewed (self-paced), loads of feedback, and is at an appropriate level for the learner.  One that I've used in the classroom (and is also mentioned in the text) is found at The Physics Classroom .

Simulations-  Simulation programs are very popular in the science domain. They are programs that "simulate" an environment or situation, allowing the use to experience it using the computer controls rather than authentic hands-on experience.  One of my first experiences with a simulation program was the time I got to "fly" a BlackHawk helicopter some years ago when I lived in Ft. Wainwright, Alaska.  Simulators can be a very useful tool in the classroom.  These programs fall under both the directed and constructivist strategies in that they allow problem-solving to occur.  One can find loads of examples of simulation software, "Sims" comes to mind, a once-popular program that allowed people to build a virtual life for themselves.  One that involves effective instruction (especially for the squeamish) is a sim program that allows for virtual frog dissection

Instructional Game: These are essentially what we call educational games.  These are computer games with an instructional bent.  Obviously, kids would find games appealing, and the added benefit of learning is a great thing to bring to the classroom.  The best of these should be appealing, exciting, challenging, and flexible to the user's abilities.  They must be carefully evaluated to be certain that these really *do* help children learn the desired objectives. Jeopardy is an all-time favorite in my classroom, and there are many sites that allow you to use the content that want when creating your self-tailored Jeopardy game.  There are more science games at this website

Problem Solving-  This kind of software focuses on higher-order thinking skills.  Problem solving software allows the student to develop the skills of analyzing and solving problems.  One that my kids use on their ipads (my own kids) is called "Bridgebuilder" which is a lesson in physics- they construct bridges and then try to drive trucks across them safely.  Problem solving games utilize both directed and constructivist strategies, and increase motivation to learn.  They can be used to teach a concept, and  reinforce a concept.  A middle-school science example can be found here

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Web 2.0

So, this week we were asked to use and describe some online sites that could be used in an educational setting.  Only one was familiar to me, and it was a lot of fun (even if occasionally frustrating) to check out the ones that were new to me.  Things certainly could have gone a lot quicker if everything had worked easily, but it always seems that there are (small) glitches. This site allows you to create a concept map.  We'd already used this for an assignment last week, so there wasn't much difficulty in using it this week, save for a few minutes when for some reason I could not type into the bubbles at the very end of my project.  I even changed the batteries in my keyboard, thinking that was the problem.  It wasn't.  So I switched out of Safari (I was informed that FireFox, my first choice, doesn't work so well with Bubbl.) and back to FireFox, and it worked just fine, no problems at all.  I discovered at the end, when I was rearranging and resizing all of my bubbles, that one can make smaller bubbles disappear behind the larger idea bubble and then have them pop out when you want.  I like that, and I know that I will be using this with my students, and will especially teach them how to use it themselves.  It is a fantastic way to organize one's thoughts and a great study tool that I think they'll like using, and maybe actually study!

Glogster-  I am familiar with Glogster, but haven't used it since last year.  I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder!  No, I really do like Glogster, but I had forgotten some of the maddening unexplainable problems I'd run into before, like not having certain pictures show up in the final product.  Right now I am trying to work on my background photo, which I uploaded myself and it showed up in the first few times I viewed my Glogster as a visitor.  It'll show, then it won't show, then it'll show again.  Maddening, and lots of time wasted.  That said, I really do like the whole idea.  The site seems faster at loading videos and pictures than the last time I used it, and this time I even uploaded the sound of thunder to go along with my Thunderstorm bit.  I still have to go back and tweak the background photo and one other photo that refuses to show up in the final product.  Hopefully they're working on those problems and it won't be an issue in the future.

Animoto-  This site allows you to create your own 30-second film (no voice-over) for free, or you can pay a monthly fee to create a longer one.  I uploaded 8 pictures about weather, sorted through their library of free songs to choose from for background music (choosing one called summer sunshine) and created my "Weather" video.  It was pretty boring, but I do see how it could be a great tool if you subscribe for a longer length.  However, if I wanted to make a movie for class, I'll  just use my computer's iMovie program.  Lots easier and looks much better.

Voki- I don't know about this one.  I created one voki, which is essentially a talking head that you can create (down to lips, even).  You talk into your computer's microphone and the voki speaks, using your voice, of whatever topic you want your students to get information about.  I am going to play around with this one a little more, but I do think that I am going to check out one of the other sites that we can chose from, especially the one where you can create games.  I am always looking for sites to create games for review.  I think a game would keep my students' interest more than a voki would, except if they were the ones creating the Voki.  Then they really may be into it.  Sounds good to me, let them create!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Week 2: Should Students Play Games In School?

Video games are a part of our children's lives whether we'd like them to be or not.  As a mom, I fought off the "demand" (by commercials, culture) to get a video game player to have in our home, but eventually acquiesced, much to children's happiness (not without rigid rules, though!).  As my children progressed through school, that video game player wasn't the only place where my kids played games- they also played them on the computer, because they were playing educational games for practice of their academic subjects.  Never would I be able to entice them to practice math riddles or science quests as much as those games.  They loved playing them, and they were all the better for it.

As a teacher, I also see the value in using software to play games.  There is definitely a time and place for those instructional games, but they definitely can and do get kids excited about exploring a topic for the first time or honing their skills.  In my physics class, we played all kinds of games.  Of course, this was a driven group to begin with, so they loved the challenges of the games that were mostly produced by universities, such as the University of Colorado Physics Department.  Great games they had, including being able to shoot a Buick from a cannon, after calculating how high and at what force you would have to use to hit a certain distance.  When we were studying electromagnetism they could position positive and negative particles on a board to try to move a particle into a "goal".  They would race to see who could move the particle the fastest to the goal.  Yes, we had lab exercises where they practiced some of these principles in real life, but nothing like what was available to them via software.   In my Earth Science class, students would love to team up and play a "Jeopardy" game to review a topic.   We could also use software that had been developed to simulate the viscosity of lava depending on characteristics such as water content, silica content, etc., and they could create Hawaii-like "gentle" volcanoes or super explosive ones like Mt. St. Helen's.   These games would capture the interest of almost all my students.

  I would go as far as to say that maybe the naysayers about software games in class are those who are not yet comfortable using a computer, or don't have much experience.  Of course the software has to be evaluated as to its effectiveness, just like any other teaching strategy, and it does not take the place of the teacher who facilitates learning.  That goes without saying.

I can't imagine a classroom without incorporating some of the most effective ways to catch a kid's attention in today's world.  Software games are here to stay and we should take advantage of what we can.