Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guest Blogger -The Voyage of Discovery

Who am I?
Hi, my name is Janet Bianchini and I am currently having a gap year to pursue "the call of the wild" in Abruzzo, Italy. I have been an EFL teacher for 30 years and have only recently started exploring the theme of technology in education. I am deeply honoured to be writing a post on Richard's incredible blog and he has kindly accepted my invitation to do a guest slot next month on my blog called Janet's Abruzzo Edublog.

The Twitter Connection
Richard and I are linked in only 3 steps from being complete strangers to me writing on his blog today. How did this happen? Well, it all started back in November 2008 when I first tentatively looked at Twitter. I was totally at a loss as to what to do and say as I was completely and utterly "tweetless" in the Twittersphere, so to speak. "Rmbyrne" was my first follower and he kindly gave me the prophetic tip: ".The more people you follow, the more information you can gather. It's like an ever-expanding conversation. Check out the folks I follow" and the rest is history.......

I luckily found out about this guest blog spot via Twitter and with heart pounding furiously but without thinking twice, I sent Richard a Direct Message saying I was interested in doing a post. To my absolute amazement, the reply came back almost immediately saying "I'd love to have you do a guest post".

So here I am! Thank you so much Richard for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime to share my thoughts with your readers.

The Mountain of Adventure
The mountain above near where I live in Abruzzo provides the background to a very interesting analogy and statement regarding my introduction to the world of technology in education. According to my current tutor from Ning Digifolios and Personal Learning Spaces, Cristina Costa, it represents "a cyberspace landscape - with flat terrain to run and mountains to climb, and a sky to remind us there is no limit! How does it feel to be part of the landscape? To be there observing its changing, while taking part in the change....The first attempt is always the hardest - after climbing the first mountain all the other ones seem easier!"

Welcome to the world of a Newbie Blogger
Well, my technological journey in the past 12 weeks or so has certainly been a helter-skelter ride of a few lows and many highs. I decided to write a blog simply because I wanted to do something different and creative in my life. I was curious to see how I could apply an educational blog to my world of teaching but I had very little idea of how to go about creating one. The impetus came from a short online course I followed, one which is well documented in my personal blog postings. The main aim of my blog is to share ideas, learn new things and to learn from other educators and sites such as Free Technology for Teachers. I am achieving this aim slowly but surely. If I can inspire other people to create a blog from scratch by following my example, then I would be very happy. In addition to the educational perspective, I am also writing about my new life in Abruzzo, Italy.

Discovering new tools
The following is a tool which I learned about as a direct result of writing and researching for my blog. Wordle is a site which easily allows you to make word clouds from words that you paste into a box. The application for education is great. Students can recreate a text from the words given, they can predict a text from the words as a pre-reading task, they can create their own "Wordles" on a subject they are researching.

Here is my own "Wordle" of the new tools and concepts I have come across and used in the past few months.

I have created my own examples and shared my learning curve of dealing with most of the above tools/ideas in my blog.

The Future is NOW!
I sincerely believe that you never stop learning. It is what motivates me - the eternal quest for new horizons in teaching and the hope to inspire fellow educators and students to do the same.
The future of teaching and education is all about
  • caring
  • sharing
  • contributing
  • supporting
  • discovering
  • being adventurous
  • integrating new technologies
  • having fun

The Animoto experience
Another new tool I have been experimenting with recently is "Animoto". This allows you to create a slideshow of your photos with the added bonus of music to suit your theme. I had fun creating the following video and it shows off some Abruzzo pictures.

Application for education? Great for students to use in showcasing projects based on particular themes they are researching. The videos are free if they are under 30 seconds long and very easy to create with no specialist technical knowledge to master. That is the beauty of Animoto. If it was easy for me, it will be fine for anyone, I can guarantee.

I'd like to thank Richard once again. It's been a real pleasure writing this posting.

Guest Blogger: Mrs. L's Rocketlaunchers - A Learning Portal

Hello! Hailing from cold but beautiful Northeast Ohio, my name is Hedy Laverdiere and I am the Lower School Technology Coordinator for Lawrence School, a private school in Broadview Heights, Ohio, serving children in grades one through twelve with learning differences. Teaching is my third career, following a home/web-based business as well as a former career as a software trainer. As I’ve put the cart before the horse my entire life, I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Ed Tech through Ursuline College. My position as a technology coordinator entails providing technology resources for our teachers and students, working with them integrating tech into the curriculum, as well as professional development. I have tons of free resources and tech integration ideas for you to use with your students and fellow teachers.

My website, which our students, as well as others, use as a tech integration portal from its Launchpad, is Mrs. L’s Rocketlaunchers, which, in brief, provides links to educational websites, games, multimedia, resources, student projects, blogs, and podcasts. I hope you’ll bookmark it in your classrooms, computer labs, and recommend for home use for your students. We also welcome classroom collaborations for blogging and webcams!

Mrs. L’s Rocketlaunchers
Mrs. L’s Rocketlaunchers contains several sections including Mission, with links to blogs, the LAUNCHPAD, our educational portal, the Toolkit on how to blog, podcast, and vodcast, Techno with links to teacher website templates, and BEYOND, with resources and links for teachers. The LAUNCHPAD is primarily used by students (http://www.rocketlaunchers.org/launchpad.html) and is set as the default webpage in our computer labs and teacher pc’s, which have projection in the classrooms. A link to Google provides access to quick searches.

The LAUNCHPAD is organized by content areas of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies, as well as Art, Health, and Music. Links to Celebrations, Holidays & Seasons, Documents, ePals login page, Lessons, Lions Lair, Multimedia, Research, Typing Skills, and Webquests, among a few others, are accessible. Clipart is purposely used with a text descriptor to assist younger students in locating sites as directed by their teacher. For example, first graders can be directed to “click on the blooming tree for Holidays & Seasons.” Each link subdivides into other categories. For example, the link for Language Arts has branches for Reading, Writing, Phonics, Spelling/Grammar & Punctuation, and Working with Words.

Through Rocketlaunchers, students can access their Kerpoof student accounts under Multimedia, Kerpoof. Kerpoof is an engaging site with tools to create storybooks, cards, pictures drawings, and multimedia movies. Teachers can create a regular account at Kerpoof. After login, teachers can return to the Home page, click on For Teachers, then Teacher Tools to request a Teacher Account. Upon approval, teachers can setup student accounts in moments, providing amenities usually reserved for fee-based accounts.

Student Work in the Lions Lair – Podcasts, Languages Online Flash Gamemakers, and Classblogmeister Blogs
The Lions Lair link is Lawrence School’s student project area, with links to our students’ podcasts, the ROAR Radio show, classroom blogs, Study Fun (teachers assign Flash games, created by gamemakers from Languages Online, as homework or classwork), and a few other projects. ROAR Radio is created using open source Audacity and podsafe music with how-to links located under the ToolKit. A $20 headset with mic or microphone was our sole expense, though I am fortunate to have my site hosted for free.

Assistive tech is at play here as well, as Languages Online allows for audio within its Flash games, very helpful for students with dyslexia or other reading differences. Languages Online provides five gamemakers (samples I’ve created are linked): a Sentence gamemaker, Memory games, Matching games, Tetris, and Comprehension gamemaker.

I am currently exploring an interesting website called YackPack. YackPack is an online communication interface that allows a teacher and students to interact via audio messaging. I foresee a variety of applications for it, such as an online class, connecting with an absent student, as well as assistive tech uses. For example, a student exhibiting difficulties with reading and/or writing could respond orally to a teacher’s homework posting.

Our students (visit one of our class blogs) have just begun blogging using Classblogmeister, a phenomenal classroom-oriented site run by David Warlick. If you are moving towards blogging with your students, I highly recommend it, especially due to its highly-responsive and active Classblogmeister tech support forum on Yahoo groups. A members only Ning group is also available for teaching and learning.

I appreciate this opportunity through Richard and his wonderful blog, Free Tech 4 Teachers, to share with you, and as always, look forward to his future writings. Thanks, Richard! Feel free to email me with comments or questions.

Using Animoto (and Glogster and Wordle) to LEARN

Hi FreeTech4Teachers fans! My name is Amy Mayer, and I am one of two district instructional technology leaders for Conroe Independent School District, a large Texas district of about 50,000 students (and many different communities and towns) located about an hour's drive north of Houston. I also have a blog, which I'd love for you to visit, and I edit quite a few web pages, like this one (a bare-bones listing of sites we love) and this one, which you might find useful.

If you are a faithful follower of Richard's blog, you already know about Animoto, a free for teachers Web 2.0 video creation tool that pops pictures to the beat of music. What I hope to show you is how valuable it is as an educational tool.

Learn how to get a free, unlimited teacher account and all-access pass for your students here. (Get step-by-step directions and advice here.) Animoto is simple to use, which allows the focus of creation to be educational rather than technical. It has an instant cool factor, but in our school district it has become an important learning tool and very much more than just something "cool". The most common use is as a vocabulary study tool. See a student example made by one of 7th grade teacher Jessica Powell's students here.

Sixth grade teacher Shelly Goodwin uses it like so: She created a private Google Group for her students. Shelly assigns each student a vocabulary word, and s/he chooses pictures from the Internet that represent the word, adds text to announce and define it, then chooses music that goes with the idea. After students finish their Animotos (no more than 30 seconds, she says!), they post the links to a page in their Google Group. Students view classmates' Animotos to study for the test. As a result of this change, vocabulary test scores have skyrocketed (98% pass rate), and students actually remember the words weeks later.

Third grade teacher Laurie Baus used Animoto to help her students learn about the planets. She worried at first they were not going to be able to accomplish the technical tasks necessary, but after half a day, her worries were over. I visited her class one day to find only the sound of clicking and occasional hushed conversation over the light sound of textbook pages being turned. Every child was engaged and involved in learning. After she saw what they'd created, she posted, "I am so proud I could just POP! :-)" on our teacher discussion board.

Animoto is far from the only educational tool that is simply blowing us away, but it is the one our teachers have chosen to implement most broadly. Glogster is another tool that is growing in popularity by the second. I guess the best way to describe it is as an online poster creation tool with music. You'll have to see it to completely understand.

Wordle is another tool that we're thrilled with. At first we just thought it was cool, but now we've realized it provides a graphical analysis of students' text that is really impossible to see any other way. Since Wordle takes the highest frequency word and makes it the biggest (and so on down to the words used once, the smallest) and creates a "beautiful word cloud," students instantly see what their writing is REALLY about. If you meant to write about "family" and your largest word is "I," maybe you have some revising to do! First grade teacher Jean Curran told me today that her students are inspired to write more when they know they'll get to use Wordle, and 7th grade teacher Jessica Powell said that one word cloud a student sent her actually moved her to tears. It was more poetic and heart rending than even the amazing essay the student had written.
Wordle: 21st Century Learning Skills

Thanks for allowing me to contribute, Richard! --Amy