Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Diigo Teacher Accounts

First of all I want to thank Richard for the opportunity to be a guest blogger here on Free Technology for Teachers. There is quite the star-studded cast for me to follow!

What is Diigo?
If you're not familiar with Diigo, it is a social bookmarking tool that allows you to save websites into a public or private library, share them with friends in your network, highlight them (highlighted items show up in your library), add sticky notes and tag the sites for easy retrieval later.  You can learn more about Diigo from Richard's earlier post here.

Diigo Teacher Accounts
As a teacher, you can create a free teacher account through which you can create student accounts. Diigo's student accounts require no email address, can be kept private, and can also be grouped so that students can share resources they find with each other. 

When you set up the accounts all you do is enter the students' first name and first initial of their last name and Diigo does the rest. You can also import a CSV file if you have a lot of names.

When my first students logged in, Diigo immediately prompted them to install the browser toolbar, and once that was installed, they easily began bookmarking and highlighting sites.

Here is an example of one of my student's Diigo libraries with the notes he has taken.  He is doing a project on the history of toys.

Why Diigo for Students?
For a students, this tool is powerful because it eliminates the need for carrying a notebook from home to the library to school and back while working on a project. It also allows students to build up a library of resources that they can use from year to year. 

In past years, I had my students take notes using Microsoft Word, but I found that they were copy-pasting whole paragraphs from websites or copying them down and then copy-pasting them into their graphic organizers and PowerPoints without really reading them.  They did this despite the fact that we had reviewed good note-taking procedures, copyright and plagiarism. They also found it hard to keep track of the sites they used for their information.

While observing my students using Diigo, I noticed that they were actually reading the site and highlighting the information they wanted to keep.  This was different from previous years where they just copied blindly.  In addition, they could easily return to where they left off the previous class. 

The one aspect of the service that I haven't gotten around to using with my students yet is the networking part.  I see this being great for group projects and collaboration. Student groups can share resources that they find with the click of a button.  As a teacher, you can also see what all of your students are bookmarking as well as the notes that they are taking and sharing with each other. This can help with grading group projects.

For more on using Diigo in the classroom or for personal use, check out these links:
Mary Beth Hertz is a Computer Teacher at a K-6 Elementary School in West Philadelphia. She blogs at Philly Teacher and can be found on Twitter as @mbteach. You can find her Diigo bookmarks here.

Screencasting to collaborate or show off student work

Hi I am Michael Kaechele (concretekax on Twitter). I teach middle school technology and 6th grade math. I want to say thanks to Richard for the opportunity to share my classroom with you.

In my 8th grade technology class students create projects in various programs such as Google Sketchup and Pivot. The students enjoy these programs and the opportunity to creatively express themselves. One issue is that these programs are not easily shared on their blogs. In order to view them one must first download the programs and then receive the files by e-mail. Enter screencasting as an easy solution.

The tools I have used include Screenr, Screentoaster, Screencast-o-matic, and Jing (Screencastle and Screenjelly are two more comparable options). Richard has shared these screencasting tools in the past, so I will focus on how I use them in class rather than rating them against each other. I will only say that I find them very comparable as far as features go, but I do prefer the ones that do not require downloading (not Jing). My main basis of choice was which ones worked around our filter at school. I did have issues with Screenr and Screentoaster being blocked but they are good choices if they are accessible. Students will also need an e-mail account to sign up for them.

Students used a screen cast tool to record their Pivot animation and then the screen cast program creates an edit code that students can use to post on their blogs or I can post on the class wiki.

In Sketchup students use the "orbit" tool to zoom in and spin their 3D drawings to show it from all angles or even take us inside their homes. Students can also record themselves describing what they are showing on the screencast. The screencasts are easy to use and students need few instructions. The screencast programs give both embed codes and URL links to share them. This allows students to share their projects with anyone who may not have the programs downloaded on their computer.

In math class, we had a student teacher Skype in from Canada. He created a challenge problem for us. The students then showed their solution in Geometer's Sketchpad. One student demonstrated the solution while another student narrated in a microphone. Screencasting is a great way to work anachronistically and collaboratively with another classroom in another part of the country or world. Forget the bulletin board or school wall. Post your best student work on the web for all to see!

Creating digital video projects with bare-bones equipment

Guest writer: Ben Wildeboer

Last semester I had students create videos that creatively describe the families of elements despite a lack of much in the way of digital video hardware, software, or technical support. There were some challenges along the way, but overall I found the project to be a positive experience.

Why video?
I don't simply want students to learn a set of facts. I want students to engage with the material and demonstrate the ability to apply their knowledge to situations beyond traditional classroom assessments. I also wanted students to think of how they could simply and clearly communicate scientific information to non-scientific audience. The video format allowed for easy sharing (through TeacherTube or YouTube) and encouraged the concise and creative communication of ideas.

Bare minimums
  • Cameras. I have an older Flip video camera and a digital still camera that takes movies. I encouraged students to use their own cameras if they had them as well (many did). Despite having four times as many groups as cameras, students rarely had to wait to film.
  • Computers. I had a cart of 24 laptops available for my use, though it would have worked just as well if I only had one computer per group.
  • Software. I had students used Windows Movie Maker, which comes pre-installed on pretty much every Windows computer. Some students also used PowerPoint to create and edit still frames in their videos.
  • File converter. The version of MovieMaker on our student computers didn't recognize the AVI video files my cameras use, though I know in general MovieMaker should play nice with AVI files. The first time around I used Zamzar to convert the video files to the WMV format. Zamzar works great, but is pretty slow. Even worse, due to downloading restrictions on student computers, I had to do all the conversions on my computer. This semester I'm using Format Factory on my machine, which has worked just fine so far. If the version of MovieMaker installed on the student computers was up to date, there would've been no need for conversion at all.
  • Microphone. Several groups chose to narrate over their video. I had a cheapo $9.95 mic and a nicer USB headset mic. Students preferred the cheapo mic because the student computers often didn't recognize the USB device.
  • Unforeseen conversion mess. The first time through, we had some pretty significant delays due to having to convert all the video files to the WMV format. I'm in the middle of the second time through this project right now, and I'm finding I'm much better prepared. Using Format Factory instead of Zamzar has helped cut down the wait time for file conversion and there seems to be much less frustration this time around.
  • Teaching the tool. I didn't spend time teaching students how to use MovieMaker. This was a purposeful move. I knew MovieMaker isn't overly complicated and the students were quite capable of figuring out a lot of its features on their own. I made a couple of quick screencasts going over the basics and provided links to other helpful screencasts. When a group had trouble with something, I would help that group and then have that group help any other groups experiencing similar problems.
  • My personal fear. I was pretty worried this whole project would crash and burn- especially considering my lack of experience with video and the bare-bones nature of my equipment. In the end, things turned out just fine, though the fear of the unknown is always something that can prevent us from trying out new ideas.
The results
They may not blow your mind, but I'm very happy with the final products:

Ben Wildeboer teaches 9th grade Integrated Science in Groton, CT. He can be found online at his blog (Sustainably Digital) and through Twitter (@WillyB).

Let Your Students Blog!

Let Your Students Blog!

by Deborah C. White

Yesterday's Guest Blogger, Patrick Larkin - Principal Burlington High School (MA) , wrote about the need for administrators to blog regularly and often in order to draw attention to the positive activities of the school, to communicate within and beyond the school community, and to foster dialogue among the stakeholders about the applications of best practices in learning. I am also going to talk about online writing but with two differences:

1) Using student blogs to teach and practice literacy skills,
2) Using those applications with elementary school students - specifically second graders.

Blogs provide students with authentic writing experiences and teachers with powerful tools to help students improve writing skills. Elementary school students can effectively use blogs to improve their literacy skills. These tools facilitate the learning of:
writing concisely,
writing for an authentic purpose,
writing for an authentic audience.
responding to the written word,
and how to provide effective feedback.

Yes, these skills can be taught without using blogs but learning how to use blogs and other online writing applications is equally important for today's students. Providing multiple opportunities for learning and practicing literacy skills in multiple formats allows students to generalize those skills across settings. And the gravy, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, is that using online applications motivates and engages students. Motivated and engaged students will learn.

There are many blogging tools available for teachers to use with their students. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. My current favorite is I learned about Kidblog via my personal/professional Twitter account. It is an extraordinarily easy and free tool to use. I set up the class account and the sub-accounts for each member of my class during snack time. The privacy settings are optional and complete. The support via email is timely, explicit, and patient.

In the 'olden days', I would not have published any student work on a blog (or any other way) unless it was edited to perfection. I would have insisted that my students correct what they could, copy what they didn't know yet, and produce 'final products'. On a blog or other application, that meant that I spent a lot of time typing. Eventually I asked myself, "How does this improve student learning?" The answer is obvious - it doesn't. Now, I only edit the student blog entry if it is especially difficult to read. In those cases, I don't touch the student's work, I merely rewrite the entry in conventional form underneath the student passage and publish my part in italics. When students are working within Kidblog, the infamous squiggly red line shows up under perceived misspelled words. That reminds my students that they need to take another close look at what they typed. Is it a misspelling or is it a word the program doesn't recognize like the name of our town - Orono? That little squiggly red line reminds students to stop and think and it's much more powerful than my reminders because it is unfailingly consistent. Student blog entries encourage revision as readers comment and ask questions about each piece. Class discussions revolve around readers' responses. Students comment on each others work. Entries become more detailed as students respond to comments.
Since the entries are dated, students, teachers, and parents can look at writing development over time. The student blog becomes an assessment tool to measure written communication skills, comprehension across the curriculum, and appropriate online social skills.

Using online applications to practice literacy skills is an effective technology integration method.
Kidblog is easy enough that even digital immigrants (aka teachers) have no excuse not to try it with their students. Let your students blog! Let yourself blog, too!

Deborah C. White is amazed at her good fortune to have been chosen to be a guest blogger for this great resource.. She is currently a 2nd grade classroom teacher at the
Asa C. Adams School in Orono, Maine. She is also the 2009 ACTEM Educator of the Year, K-5 Tech Lead, and Student Council Advisor. Formerly, she was a 1st and 2nd grade looping teacher, multiage teacher, and Museum Educator. She is an advocate for the use of Open Source tools and wants folks to think about attending FOSSed 2010. Her Twitter name is: debwhite and she can be found online at: