Posts Tagged ‘Web Tools’

A friend came to me the other day with a pressing issue: “I need you to teach me how to tie a bowtie.”

I showed him in person, the best I could without a mirror, but then I had to run to class, realizing that I hadn’t quite given the clearest instructions. So I half joking said, “You know, I could probably make a Jing that would walk you through it.” And yes, we all recognize the inherent dorkiness of making a screencast with step-by-step instructions on how to tie a bowtie. I’m okay with that.

Click for Jing tutorial

It turns out that most YouTube videos are not mirror images, which makes them difficult to follow along at home. But since I used the webcam on my laptop instead of a video camera, it’s backwards (and appropriately so; it’s what you want). So if you need to tie a bowtie — and yes, you should learn how to tie one — hopefully this will be helpful.


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As part of the wrap-up for this course, we’re looking back at some of the first things we wrote in June (Introduction to WebTools, Setting the Stage, and Guiding Principles for Tech Use in the Classroom).

I don’t know that my thinking/philosophy on using technology has changed dramatically in the past two and a half months. I was on-board with tech use in the classroom with the goal of improved learning and connection, and I was excited to try out some new tools and learn from a new and diverse group of educators. I still am. I do have a clearer picture of some specific tools that I’d like to implement this year in my classes, and I am happy to have made many new connections in my continually-expanding PLN. What has changed for me is a renewed focus on the idea that the best web tools allow us to do something completely new. I find myself coming back to three points from Jeff Utecht’s article “Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom”:

  • Does the technology allow students to learn from people they never would have been able to without it?
  • Does the technology allow students to interact with information in a way that is meaningful and could not have happened otherwise?
  • Does the technology allow students to create and share their knowledge with an audience they never would have had access to without technology? [my emphasis]

I’ve been focused primarily on the second bullet point (which isn’t horrible). If that’s all we do with new technology, it still represents movement in the right direction. I’ve made some progress on the third point (through student blogging), but I don’t think I’ve tapped into the full potential there. My students were very excited to keep track of their blog’s Page Views counter, and they broadened their readership by putting their new biology blog posts up on Facebook. (Which, come to think of it, is actually a pretty significant step. I wonder if they were sharing any of their history essays, Spanish translations, or math problem sets on FB?) But I want to try to find some ways to have them interact with people outside of our classroom, outside of our state and country, if possible. That’s a new goal of mine for the year.

Lastly, we should recognize that we’re going to ask our students to jump into this whole using tech in the classroom in new ways thing along with us. They’ll get their own crash courses in web tools in the coming year (in many of our classes), and they’ll be fine. They’ll learn the content (most of it, hopefully), and there will be some tools they like better than others (just like us). And all we can hope for at the end of the day is that they’re willing to try new things, that they work hard, and that they’re curious. It is science, right? What’s not to be curious about? In the process, hopefully they’ll understand more about themselves as learners. And as many have said before, the tech is not the point, it’s just a tool, but if it improves learning then we’re moving in the right direction.

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Cross-posted at Smoke Cure Pickle Brew.

File under: web tools, fermentation, editing digital video, summer kitchen experimentation

I was reading the other day about making ginger beer on a food blog I follow called The Paupered Chef. They make a lot of different kinds of food that I like, they’re adventurous eaters and cooks, and just when I have a general idea along the lines of “I would love to try that at some point,” sure enough, they post about it. It was a post of theirs on making homemade bacon from three years ago that made me think, “I could totally do that.” And soon enough I was doing a bacon-curing lab with my seventh graders to demonstrate the role of salt in food preservation. (Yes, it was a tasty, tasty lab.) So when they wrote last month about making ginger beer at home, I knew that it I’d end up trying it.

What a perfect time to try a new kitchen experiment and to document the process, to see if I could make a simple video tutorial (an explanation really), and embed it on the blog. (Who knew at the beginning of this class that web tools and brewing would overlap?) In another interesting and overlapping layer, I’m also taking MB541 Microbial Genetics this term, so I was happy to throw in the scientific name of the champagne yeast Saccharomyces bayanus and a very simplified formula for fermentation!

I filmed this yesterday in my kitchen, and I used Windows Live Movie Maker to quickly add captions and credits. (Although I’m a Mac person at home, I’m a PC at school, so I figured I’d try the Windows way for future school projects.) That’s it. Really simple. And a good excuse to brew some ginger beer and try out a new web tool. Okay, I was making the ginger beer anyway.

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For more cooking and brewing-related projects, check out Smoke Cure Pickle Brew, a food blog that I started last year with my brother and two friends.

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In reading Week 5’s assignments and looking ahead to our final projects (while considering this post on using blogs and wikis in the classroom), I was struck by the following line (which I put in bold below):

Looking Forward  Week 6 will focus on adding detail to your final project idea and exploring additional tools.  You may also want to start thinking about your final reflection.  The final reflection (due week 7) is open ended.  Please be creative and think about how you can use web tools to share your “story” of this class!”

There are lots of ways that we’ll all share the story of the class — we might bring the story back to our department, division, or district at home come September, and we might even choose to present it in some new way that we learned during the class, which would be fitting. But one thing that we all have in common, that we’ve been building since Day 1, is this digital document that already tells the story of the class. There’s a reason that Eric asked us to create a blog in the first week. I can’t help but think that the positive aspects of blogging this course could be useful for any student in any course. At the end of a term, do you ever ask your students to tell the story of the term (in some way)? If they had a digital portfolio (searchable by tags, dated and time-stamped, with examples of useful video and hyperlinks) of their work; what they had learned, presented, and discussed, telling that story (or at least reviewing for it) would be much easier. I think this is the biggest selling point of using blogs in class.

Was blogging useful to you in sorting your thoughts, thinking through a topic out loud, and trying to come up with an intelligent way of saying it? Did you learn anything from any of your classmates by reading their blogs and by following comments? Did any comments on your own blog cause you to look at something in a different way? I wish I had more time to read your blogs, because I got a little buried there in the information stream. The nice thing, though, is that they’re still there. I can check the archives, and I will. So that’s how I feel about the whole blogging thing. I’m going to try to get my seventh graders involved at some level. It might be a class blog, or they might start individual blogs. I haven’t decided yet. I’m going to continue having my 9th graders blog in biology, and I need to work at requiring them to interact/comment on each other’s work. I think they can learn a lot from each other.

I’m realizing midway through writing his post that wikis also happen to be pretty useful (for this class and others), especially when it comes to posting information/assignments/readings/schedules. The WebTools wiki was interactive in some ways (questions in the comment section asked and answered), but I think it was more of a static resource (not in a bad way). In class, I see students using (building) a wiki as a collaborative tool or project. They might have different responsibilities or roles in the project, and each would contribute to the whole. I see their writing blogs as more reflective and individual (and more journal-like). Both can be effective as part of a successful class, but they result in different end products. A few folks have mentioned setting up wikis before school starts, and there are good reasons to do that. Class resources or rules, reliable sources for research, guidelines regarding submission of assignments, outline of curricula; it would be nice to have those set up for students and parents to see before they arrive in the fall. But the rest of the wiki, that’s for the kids to fill in, to work on and to build. It’s a lot like the bulletin boards inside your classroom (and perhaps the one in the hall). Do you fill it up before the kids are there, or do you wait until they’ve done something to show?


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Okay, this is where the experimentation starts, right?

There are a few web tools that I’ve used in class over the past year or two, some with better results than others. So I want to share what I’ve found because you might find it helpful. I was going to explain a few and then talk about some others that I’ve heard of and I’d like to experiment with, but I’ll just let those topics come up in future posts. Let’s start with Jing:

Jing. Love it. Jing with PowerPoint or Pencil Animation? Even better.  This is a Jing Screencast that I made for my Biology class to explain how to embed a Jing tutorial into a blog. Here is the original blog post (Diffusion and Osmosis Assignment) that explains the goals of the project and a bit on how to do it. I was very excited about another Jing tutorial that I recorded (a day later I think) to show how to resize embedded video because I inadvertently managed to capture a Jing-Inside-A-Jing (previously thought to be impossible)! You might note at the very end that I tell the class they can start talking again. I made this tutorial during class in response to that question about how to resize embedded video. They watched me do it on the display screen/Smartboard, and I got to use that Jing to show my next section of Biology an hour later. [Apparently it’s easier to embed video on Blogger than WordPress, or maybe WP doesn’t like Jing’s code, so I’ve included hyperlinks above instead of embedded Jing videos — not ideal for a post on embedded videos, I know. Can anyone help me with this?]

Shelly Blake-Plock of the TeachPaperless Blog posts a great example of how he uses Jing to Comment on Student Work Online. This works great for giving feedback to students on a number of different applications: papers, PowerPoints, videos, blog posts, etc. It’s also useful because you can email the link of the JingCrit (Shelly’s term?) directly back to the student, especially when it wouldn’t be appropriate to post that feedback publicly (like putting their grade in the Comments section of their blog post).

Other uses: students record PowerPoints for practice (at home) before actual oral presentation to the class; for teachers to keep record of those oral presentations; to explain any number of concepts to peers (make a tutorial to show: long division, osmosis, sentence diagramming, study guide for foreign language with pictures, etc.); easy way to narrate a slide show; the Jing as the project itself (in lieu of oral pres to class), to be emailed to the teacher or posted on a blog; etc. etc.

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Cross-posted at HowToUse65.

So, with the interest of collaborating and sharing ideas with other educators, many teachers have begun to “build” their own Personal Learning Network (PLN). “Grow” a PLN might be a better way to put it, since a PLN expands organically (in some ways), and it requires tending, occasional pruning, and general upkeep not unlike a plant or garden. It’s also made of living people. Making connections with other professionals in one’s field is not a new idea. Professors and scholars of all kinds have been traveling to other cities, monasteries, and universities for centuries with the intent of sharing information and learning from others. This happens today, although The Professional Conference now plays a significant role in many fields, as do the organizations that sponsor those conferences (NSTA, NABT, NCTM, NAIS, etc).

Everybody has a PLN, by the way. Your PLN includes the people in your department, colleagues present and past; they could be down the hall or a phone call or email away; it might include classmates from your college or university, folks you’ve met at conferences, on trips, through old fashioned social networking (family connections and cocktails), or sometimes they are simply friends of friends. Who do you turn to when you have a question about content, about teaching, assessment, learning styles, use of time, lab procedure? Who do you bounce ideas off of? Those people are part of your PLN (whether you’ve called it that or not). I can’t help but think of the old Sesame Street song — and I apologize in advance, a little, for getting this stuck in your head — “Who are the people in your neighborhood?

What’s different now is how people are making connections outside of those conferences, using the Web to share best practices, pedagogy, breakthroughs, field work, etc. (a web-based PLN). Blogs can also be a terrific forum for conversations, ones that allow for reflection, thoughtful comment, and discussion.

There are many ways that the Web can help to connect people:

Teaching networks like Classroom 2.0 are designed with connecting teachers of all disciplines. The Synapse is a similar network specifically for teachers of biology, and I’m looking forward to making new connections and participating there.

Twitter is a remarkable resource that’s used by many different people in many different ways. Thousands of educators have latched onto this tool as a way of sharing information and making connections. I joined Twitter during a workshop at November Learning‘s Building Learning Communities conference back in 2008, and it’s been key in growing my PLN. The website Twitter4Teachers is one of many that make it easy to find colleagues by discipline in other schools, districts, states, and countries. It can also be used in the classroom.

I use Delicious primarily as a way to keep track of web links from interesting articles I find online. If I don’t have time to read it all, or if I know I’ll want to have access to it later, I’ll add it to my bookmarks. I’m curious to find out how other people use Delicious.

This is just a start. Which tools you’ve found most helpful in connecting with other educators?

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I started to jump into the world of really using technology in the classroom after attending a Building Learning Communities conference in 2008 (through November Learning). They do a terrific job, and I highly recommend checking it out. Sessions at that conference were eye opening for me in several ways. They collectively planted the seeds that have resulted in my developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN), the beginning of using student blogs in my biology class as digital online portfolios, and I’m sure they were partly responsible for nudging me towards starting this blog back in ’09.

Jeff Utecht’s article “Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom” and a particular session from BLC08 by Jim Wenzloff struck the same chord with me. The idea of using technology to create new and different learning opportunities for students is the key. Utecht mentions three different questions we can ask to see if what we’re doing is new or different:

Does the technology allow students to learn from people they never would have been able to without it?

Does the technology allow students to interact with information in a way that is meaningful and could not have happened otherwise?

Does the technology allow students to create and share their knowledge with an audience they never would have had access to without technology? [my emphasis]

Three ways it can be different: connecting with new people (now possible geographically in some staggering ways), changing how students interact with (and use) information during the process, and broadening the audience for their work beyond the traditional poster tacked on the hallway bulletin board. In other words: the library has expanded, their potential pool of study partners has expanded, and now everyone in the world can see the hallway bulletin board.

I want to note that just because these are positive new developments, I don’t think that using technology to do “old things in new ways” is bad. Using a Smartboard in class to present content is a good example. I do still have my students take notes from time to time, ask them to actually write things down on paper while I explain something at the board. This is making me feel terribly old-fashioned in describing it this way. I might as well be using chalk and slate, I know. But using the Smartboard (instead of slate) makes my class notes much clearer for students, and I can archive them on the school server, which is a terrific benefit (to me and to my students). In a subject-specific way for me, it’s also great for molecular drawings in biology – carbohydrates, polypeptide chains, and nucleic acids come to mind as being easier to draw with a “shape tool” rather than freehand.) But I’d be naive to think that this is anything but a shiny new way to present notes.

So, what are my Guiding Principles for Technology Use in the Classroom? Let’s give it a shot:

1. Trying out new programs, websites, software, presentation tools, etc. as a way for me to share information with my students (or to have my students to share information with others) in class is a good idea. I’m willing to try new things, and I’m going to ask my students to try new things/formats/software. I’m okay with a little uncertainty (in terms of my mastery of a particular tool before starting a project with it), and I understand that not all these experiments will turn out the way I plan. I have hope that some of them will.

2. Using technology to improve “old fashioned” methods is fine, but it’s important to recognize that it’s just one part of the overall technology picture. If it helps clarify content, or facilitate delivery, documentation, presentation of that content, that’s great.

3. I don’t know everything, but I’m willing to learn. I’d love to teach my students to take the same approach.

4. I understand that my students all have different learning styles, and that some students will gravitate towards certain programs/media/methods based on how their brains work and what makes sense to them. This is a good thing, and I would like to work towards giving them flexibility in how they complete projects, etc (when possible). A phrase from BLC08 still sticks in my head (and I’m sorry that I don’t remember the name of the presenter, though it might have been Alan November), “How would you like your learning?”

5. Lastly, I mentioned this in my Setting the Stage post in more depth, but it’s important to me that the technology is not the focus, but a means to improve instruction and understanding among my students.

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