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Interactive Whiteboards May 21, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, ICT Integration, Inquiry Model, Interactive Whiteboard, IWB.
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I have long been a fan of interactive Whiteboards (IWB’s). I have been lucky enough to teach with one for the last 6 years. My board of choice is Smart Board. I know that like the Mac/PC debate IWB users can quickly polarise over models. Let me say that I have used the Promethean/Activ boards in the past and I am not a fan, I guess that if I had used the ‘hard board’ technology first then I may now prefer those, but my basic gripe about the hard board technology is the requirement for the user to have to use the pen to interact with the board and being interactive is the name of the game with this technology. I found that I ended up playing ‘pass the pen’ with this technology. With the soft board technology of Smart Boards every child can approach the board and can use their fingers to interact, this makes the whole process more fluid and immediate, especially for the younger ones who have less fine motor control. In fairness the soft-board technology does have its drawbacks, only one point of contact is allowed on the board surface and the younger students can find this tricky to manage at first…

Enough said, I am still a fan. The boards are so immediate, they make demonstrating ICT skills and concepts so easy, I have found that students pick up skills faster when a board is used. I model then get the children to feed back by demonstrating what they have learnt on the board, it is so visual, collaborative and immediate. I also use the Smart Board software, which anyone can download and install (see Resources) to create ‘how to’ lessons using the Smart notebook software. This software allows me to publish on our school intranet a range of skill based lessons that users can refer to as they need to. As the lessons grow in number and variety they are becoming a useful induction tool for new staff members and students. Smart notebook software allows you to export into pdf or html formats. I have also taken to using their recording software to record entire lessons, the resultant AVI files are very large, but this means that as part of the A3 protocol, my lessons, in theory can be re-visited at anytime, by anyone anywhere. The free to download program CamStudio can convert these large AVI files into smaller SWF format for publishing on the Internet.

As I have said earlier this blog has been set up to chart my school’s progress towards creating an inquiry learning model and ICT’s role in that process. Well in the last few weeks we have taken a good step towards that goal. We have installed four Smart Board SB680’s into four classrooms. Needless to say each of the designated teachers is delighted with their new resource as are their students. Each of them has approached their new equipment in different ways. Mostly all have taken time to assimilate the new technology into their classes and the model they are using has been teacher modelling with little or no student interaction. However, over the last week or so, I have begun to witness a change as the teachers get more confident with the hardware and software they are starting to experiment with how they utilise the equipment in their classes. I have asked them to make little steps to plan for interaction by the students and they are now moving down that line, some are more advanced down that track than others, having had prior experience with IWB’s. What is good to see is the willingness to experiment and some really good resources are being planned to be created. This however highlights one of the issues of new technology; isn’t new technology meant to make life easier not harder? What is needed are more repositories of Learning Objects for IWB’s so that teachers can download already created files that they can use to demonstrate the concepts they wish to teach or for students to use to consolidate their learning. (This is why it is good to download and install the latest Smart Board software on all computers, so that students can use these resources too!)

The following links have a good range of Learning objects that can be used on IWB’s

Smart Technology has a lot of resources for you to download and many are country related, the country related material can be accessed via the Notebook software once you have installed it.

Gareth Pitchforth’s site: Primary Resources has loads of Smart Board and Promethean learning objects as well as Flash and Power Point. It is based on the UK National Curriculum and is a teacher collective, they welcome any resources that you wish to share, so upload your own examples.

Thanks to Fiona Grant of Team Solutions for the following links and an enlightening session at the Lead Teacher Numeracy Symposium in Auckland on Friday 18 for the links below.

Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand is a great repository of multimedia resources about New Zealand.

National Library of New Zealand has lots of digital resources for you to access and use as part of your lessons

If you are a New Zealand School then the Digistore has over 1200 Learning objects for you to use, these are only available via a username and password. Your Principal or head of ICT should have this information for you.

There is also the EPIC data base which is also for NZ schools only and uses the same username and password as the one above.

In an effort to not continually re-invent the wheel, if any of you have any links to other freely available Learning objects for use on IWB’s I would love to hear.

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Web 2.0 Assets and the Classroom May 21, 2007

Posted by davidit in collaborative, Education, ICT Integration, Inquiry Model, thinking skills, Web 2.0.
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When I first saw the following video, it really blew me away, it opened my already open eyes to the potential of the web as a fantastic educational tool. In a burst of evangelical zeal I busily sent links to all my friends, encouraging them to show everyone. One of them rather sagely said that if you showed that to the staff at school I would probably confuse them at best and completely alienate them at worst! And on reflection she was probably right. I expect that many of you have seen it, but it is still worth a second look, for what it did for me was make me think how can we harness that genuine communication and collaboration power of the Internet in our classrooms. We constantly search for authentic learning opportunities and genuine collaboration and with the newly emerging Web 2.0 tools there is much that we can already utilise to ensure that this can happen within our classrooms.

Knowing quite what web1.0, as it is retrospectively known, is or quite how web 2.0 works is not relevant and in many, if not all circumstances only serves to confuse and alienate the TT’s amongst us (see below). However, it is important to know that there are some fantastic tools out there that can be used easily in the classroom, between classes and between schools. The key word perhaps to bear in mind when thinking about using web 2.0 tools is collaboration. What the proliferation of web services like Youtube, Flickr, Bubbleshare Net Vibes, Skrbl etc allow is collaboration and interaction on the behalf of the user. The user/viewer is no longer passive but is an integral part of the Internet process. Sharing information on the Internet is no longer the preserve of the nerd or the geek, we can all communicate and share. So what is there out there that teachers can use to help collaboration happen?

If you have tried to get students to work collaboratively on a Word document you will know that it is not really possible and track changes is not the most user friendly Office tool to use, especially for seven year olds. It is just an alien concept and if you used it in your class you would probably resort pretty quickly to butcher paper and marker pens for a collaborative document! Now this is fine in a class, but it does not meet the demands of A3 learning (A Cubed or Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere). The reason is that the original source document stays in class and once the school bell has gone at the end of the day no one has access to it, so students who wish to continue working on it at home can’t. This is where the new Web 2.0 tools come into play.

Google Docs: Google Docs is just like word or Excel, but it is on the Internet, the big difference is that the document can be shared, so that it can be accessed after hours, it is simple to use and only requires that the users have an e-mail account. Its main advantage is A3 access. This is an example of asynchronous communication/collaboration, but if you are working with other schools in different time zones, this drawback is negligible and could even be considered an advantage.

Skrbl: This is my current favourite synchronous on-line tool, it is an on-line whiteboard where you can post images, or files to share with others. You can write text or even draw (in a limited way). All contributors can comment at the same time, it can be chaotic, but everyone gets a chance to say or scribble what they want. It is simple to use and great fun, but also has a real purpose. Everyone can brainstorm and the brainstorm can be seen by anyone, anywhere anytime.

Talk and Write: This is a Skype tool and is really aimed at the commercial market. It is just like Skrbl only more sophisticated, the tutorial videos are easy to follow. As with all things Skype there is a free version, but your board time is limited to 10 minutes. The fees are not exorbitant for the full service, but before I paid out for it, I would use Skrbl first in order to create a habit of use.

These three collaborative tools lack one thing, partners to collaborate with. We are using these tools in a small way within school across our network, but to fully utilise the potential of these tools and to make the learning authentic we need partners. As we start to develop our inquiry model our students are starting to look beyond their classrooms and beyond the school for other students to work with, share information with and crucially collaborate with. We are bursting with ideas and programmes such as Gamemaker, Lego Mindstorms, MSW Logo allow us all to collaborate, test and evaluate projects. If you would like to collaborate with our classes, please let me know via the comments and I will mail you back.

The future’s bright, the future’s Web 2.0!

Change Management and Managing Change May 17, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, ICT Integration, mission.
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Is technological change a continuum or a cycle? What ever it is, it is easy to feel left behind or swamped by technology. Mangaging technological change in the classroom and in classroom pedagogy is a major point of stress for teachers. Many of you will know and recognise those teachers in your schools who just go belly up with new technology, they give up before they give it a go.

As I have said before, ICT is all too often regarded by many teachers as another layer of work an extra in their already busy days. But the very term integration means that ICT and the perception of it by many has to move from the periphery to the centre. I contend that successful integration of ICT into the classroom should render it almost transparent. Students and teachers alike will use it automatically to enhance a learning intention.

The question is how to move those stressed out teachers from an entrenched position of passive / aggressive resistance to one of acceptance and change? The video below is priceless and always makes me laugh. I am sure that all viewers will fall into two camps, which one do you think that you belong to? How will you ensure that you either assist the petrified on their journey or if you are one of the petrified, how will you join the ride?

I guess that it is a matter of trust and here is the contradiction. Daily we ask students to trust us to help them learn, to develop strategies that move them from the known to the unknown, that step is called learning and we all know it. Yet as adults some of us seem to shy away from abyss of the unknown, especially with regard to ICT, and retreat to the safety of our comfort zones. Our Government asks us to inculcate within our students a love of life long learning, yet we do not embrace that philosophy when it comes to ICT! I would not say that we are hypocrites either! Maybe the nub of the problem is relevance? I do not know. What I do know is that all viewers will fall into two camps when they see this video. Ask yourself are you the technologically terrified or the technologically savvy?

If you are the latter, what simple steps can you take to help one of the technologically terrified make a small step this week? I for one have already celebrated the efforts of one terrified colleague today, I know that I can do more. But support and encouragement must be the answer on the skills aquisition battle front. Winning the hearts and minds of the relevance argument is another strategy altogether. If you recognise yourself as one of the technologically terrified, set yourself a small goal, one simple step to attain by this Friday. Ask for help, you will find lots of willing assistance once you do and remember you are not the first to ask for help as this video illustrates, we have been doing it for millenia, all that has changed is the technology!

Mission Impossible!! May 14, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, ICT Integration, mission.
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I have been quiet of late, not because of the Easter holidays but in spite of them! I have so many plans for this blog to plot the process of integrating ICT at my school, but all that has been on hold for the last four weeks. The reason for the silence? Impatience!

On the middle Saturday of the holidays I was servicing my bicycle, (I cycle to work, anyone who knows Tamaki Drive and the view to Rangitoto Island will know how wonderful that journey to work can be and who would want to rush such a view in a car? Oh and I get fit into the bargain!) I changed the tyres, serviced the gears and brakes and was testing the machine in the vicinity around my home, when I ran out of leg power on a hill (I was in the wrong gear) and as I was clipped into my pedals, I toppled over and broke my radius! But wait there’s more! It transpired that I had done more than that and what I had done warranted a two day stay in hospital, an operation and some metal work! Take a look at the picture.

Meccano Man!

The upshot of this is that I have been in a temporary cast for four weeks and tomorrow I get my light weight fibre glass cast put on. I can hear a resounding so what from those educators out there who do not know me and want to know what possible relevance this post could have to the integration of ICT into my school. Well it goes like this:

Q: What is the definition of useless?

A: A one armed IT guy!

With an arm in plaster, I have had to type one handed, nay one fingered for the last four weeks, a slow, dispiriting process that almost made my love affair with all things IT terminal. Steve Jobs and his vision of a digital hub with a computer at the centre of it is all very well if you are able bodied and for the last four weeks I have been anything but. This leads me to the focus of today’s post.

Undaunted by my accident I thought that I would use voice recognition software to help my plight. I was excited at my plan and saw that my accident was a golden opportunity to test out voice recognition software; furthermore I thought that if I could iron out any wrinkles with voice recognition I could introduce it to school because there are several students in my school and in every school on the planet, for whom the artificial construct of writing, spelling and all that muscle memory stuff is frankly a struggle. This it seemed to me was a classic example of being able to use ICT to supplant a traditional pedagogy to assist those children.

I started simply, I installed the voice recognition engine that is part of the XP Office suite on my home computer and started training. On the face of it the XP freebie is a good solution, for cash strapped schools, the big bonus is that it is free! It also claims to be 95% accurate, I reasoned that I could put up with an inaccuracy rate of 5% to be freed from the tyranny of one fingered typing! The other benefit of the XP software is that one machine can have many voice profiles so several students could have their own voice profiles on the one machine, solving a potential resourcing issue.

I duly set about training my machine to recognise my voice by reading the training texts, this was when I first encountered a problem with my cunning plan. To put it mildly the texts are in the main arcane, OK they are classic literature, but that is the problem, we speak in a much more informal way than the way we write, especially the way the chosen authors wrote in the latter C19th and early C20th. Reading these texts aloud is a challenge and as a teacher I am used to reading aloud! But this issue is a double whammy for those target children that I had hoped to liberate from the tyranny of writing/typing. Literacy is, to say the least, a challenge for them and to release them from this, to enable them to be orally engaged, to talk and let something else transcribe for them, they have to read aloud these arcane, classic tracts and enunciate clearly! A non starter! I was really upset for them. I was also really annoyed. I spent several hours reading all the training texts, carefully re-training the computer on the words that it consistently got wrong, no doubt my enunciation is not accurate enough!

I then decided to use the tool on my computer, the first limitation is that the XP voice recognition program only works on Office programs, not IE and certainly not Skype or anything else. Well what do you expect for nothing? I toggled between the dictation and command functions to open Outlook and compose an e-mail. I quickly became frustrated at the operation of the program, there is a considerable delay between what you say and what the computer interprets what you say. It is a question of trust and one that for me was quickly eroded. I started talking in great long convoluted sentences and then lost my thread and waited for the computer to catch up. When it did, what it typed bore no resemblance to what I had said and trying to un-pick the interpretation only made regaining my original thread more difficult. So I started to talk in phrases, fractured speak and with little or no improvement in accuracy I quickly lost interest in the whole project, despite the assurances from the XP program that I would be up and running in no time, five minutes to be exact, I found that it quickly became more of a hindrance than a help.

So what is the solution? I looked at Dragon Naturally speaking and at present am reluctant to spend NZ$400 on a single licence, when I have such a skeptical view of what voice recognition can do. Dragon claim to be able to enable you compose three times faster than you can type and that the training is almost negligible with a higher degree of accuracy than the XP freebie. As far as I can tell this is the option to go with, but it has one serious drawback for schools. The licence is for one user per machine. This would mean that if you had two students in your class that had need of this software you would need to use two separate machines and two licences an expensive option for some schools.

My questions are:

  • Is there anyone out there who has used Dragon with young children? If so, how easy was it for them to train the software to recognise their voice?
  • Has anyone found an education workaround to this licence issue?
  • Has anyone found another product that works well for children that is cheaper or even free that works?

I look forward to your comments almost as much as getting the light weight cast tomorrow. No really!