National Geographic

I may be mentioning a very obvious site for educators and parents,  but I had not really paid much attention to it before until a friend alerted me to its rich supply of resources.  So for anyone else who has overlooked it, the National Geographic website is a great across the curriculum classroom resource. For example, there are videos on each of the topics for the following categories: 

  • Animals: amphibians, birds, bugs, fish, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles
  • Daily news: animal news, cultures and places news, environment news, history news, space and tech news
  • Environment: energy, global warming, going green, habitats, natural disasters, preserve our planet, state of the earth, threats to animals
  • Music: countries, genre, regions
  • Science and space: earth, health and human body, space, technology, weird science

The site also has information on people and cultures, history, adventures and exploration, education, weather and natural forces, and travel.  Information on just about any country in the world can be accessed.  In addition, there is a Kids National Geographic with games, videos, stories and photos for very young children.

It is definitely worth taking a look around!

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Read the words

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Thanks to Kate Olsen for the lead to Read the Words, a text to audio site that enables users to have text read out by computer voices.  Once you create a free account you can then upload your document for reading and it will convert the text to an audio file.      Once your recordings are saved they can be downloaded as mp3 files or even embedded in a blog.

This is a useful resource for education.  I see its value in downloading text files such as lecture notes, revision notes and study material to an ipod.   The user can then listen as they travel, exercise or whatever.  This is a great easy way to prepare for exams and no-one will know you are studying!  Make sure the notes are not too abbreviated as the computer readers will have difficulty with abbreviations such as ‘eg’ (better to type the word ‘example’ for the reader).  You can slow the voice reader down and select from a variety of voices for your reading.

This is also a great resource for visually impaired learners and therefore has potential in the special education environment. 

To record, after opening an account, click on create a new reading, select your document type (such as Word or PDF), upload the file and follow the instructions for converting.  (Note: It will not accept Word 2007, so convert to 2003 before saving).  Once you have your recording made, you can click on download to mp3.  If when you do this you get the reading only and no download happening (which is what happened to me) follow the directions that the nice people at Read the Words sent to me:

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Simply click the download mp3 button.  Some browsers are set up to just play the reading.  IF you are having this problem, right click the download button, and choose save as.  You can then specify the location where you want to save the mp3.  You can save it to your computer, and then put it on your ipod, save it in itunes, or plug in your ipod and save it directly on there.

I am always pleasantly surprised that there are real people who offer great support for tools that are available on the Web.  I wish some customer service reps were as helpful.

Click the play button to hear Michael, a computer reader from Read the Words reading this post.

Online assessment tools

Not so long ago I wrote a post about Quia an online assessment tool. I was hoping to come across one that offered all Quia’s features, but that was free. Well here it is!  Yaca Paca is a free online assessment tool by Chalkface, powered by Paperless School.  It has thousands of assessment tests, quizzes and courses and a huge range of subjects and different levels.  Besides using the quizzes already prepared, With Yaca Paca you can create your own tests, surveys, quizzes, and website.   Teachers can author their own work, edit and assign e-portfolios.  Students can create fully personalised e-portfolios.  Definitely the best I have seen in online assessment tools.  The direct link to the video will not imbed, so please view it at Yaca Paca.

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Social networking research study

Phil Bradley had some interesting research material on his blog: The (UK) Ofcom Report. This report  looked at 5,000 adults and 3,000 children social networking habits.  It identified that more than 25% of 8-11 year old children have a profile on a social network. Although most networks have a minimum age of 13, it is rarely applied.  The research identified:

More than 25% of 8-11 year olds have a profile on a social network. (The minimum age requirement of 13 is rarely enforced).

22% of 16+ year olds have an online profile.

63% of 8-17 year olds with a profile use Bebo.

37% of 8-17 year olds with a profile use MySpace.

18% of 8-17 year olds with a profile use FaceBook.

44% of young users set their privacy at ‘default’ (meaning anyone can view their information).

16% of parents do not know if their child’s profile is visible to all.

33% of parents say they set no rules for their children’s use of social networks.

41% of children say their parents set no rules for use of social networks.

Some young people reported feeling addicted to social networking.

34% of young adults (16-24) reported they were willing to give out personal information such as email address and phone number.

The research does highlight some areas for  concern.  If children are receiving little information from parents about how to use these sites and online tools and they cannot access them at school or they are not being used as part of their general learning (bloggs, wikis and other collaboration and sharing tools) where do they get their advice from?

Keyboarding: a vital skill

I was very excited to read Linda Starr’s article, Teaching Keyboarding, When? Why? How? as it made me feel less alone in my belief that keyboarding should be a standard curriculum subject.  As a result of the proliferation of computerisation in the 21 century, surely it would be relatively accurate to say that the keyboard is as much a part of literacy development as is handwriting. Learning a foreign language is a compulsory subject for all school children in Australia, yet little value is placed on a lifelong skill such as keyboarding, therefore I cannot understand why keyboarding is given such little emphasis in education. Traditionally, keyboarding has been taught as a vocational subject. In my school days it was reserved for the non-academic student yet it was one of the most useful skills I learnt at school.  Brighter students were not given the option of learning keyboarding (which would have indeed served them very well in their pursuance of academic subjects).  There is no doubt that proficient keyboard mastery will assist learners throughout their school career, adult life and future learning.

Today’s learners need keyboarding skills

Where typewriting or keyboarding (as it is more commonly known today) can be rightfully described as an essential skill, what has changed is the type of student who would benefit from learning it and how keyboarding today is taught.  There is a difference between traditional methods of teaching typewriting, the type of learners of yesteryear (ie preparing for an occupation in office work) and the type of skills they were taught on the typewriter compared to today’s keyboarding needs. Whereas mastery of the keyboard and keyboarding speed still maintains some importance, skill mastery is aimed at in order to facilitate the writing process and generation of ideas without being hindered by the physical action of trying to keyboard inefficiently.   The word processor has revolutionized writing: they facilitate making corrections and rewrites extremely efficiently for the writer and the focus can then be on developing written expression and composition. Where in previous years typewriting was generally used to transcribe the thoughts of another (for example, employer’s correspondence) today’s keyboard user is generating their own thoughts and ideas. Instruction, therefore needs to be tailored to the needs of today’s learners who are in the main, self-composers.

Benefits to learning-disabled students

Having spent time teaching learning-disabled students, these students have the stress that writing alone places on them, replaced with the tools that would enable them to focus on learning: keyboarding.  Even when reading difficulties have been addressed, there remains for many LD children a difficulty with the fine motor control required for handwriting and as a result their handwriting may be illegible. In addition these students have increased difficulty in spelling, grammar and sentence structure which is added to their writing frustration; it slows them down and hinders the writing process and interferes with the higher-level cognitive processes required during generative writing.It is also worth noting that even if writing strategies to facilitate writing tasks, are taught to LD students, such writing processes involve a considerable number of rewrites (to finally achieve the best piece of work), a daunting task for these students (whose standard never matches their non-LD peers). Furthermore, these students are often penalized on the appearance of their work, which consolidates their feelings of inadequacy in this area. Where non-learning disabled students learn how to plan, monitor, review and evaluate their work, mastering keyboarding would support these processes for LD students. Additionally, keyboarding skills provide:

  • increase satisfaction in appearance of work
  • increased performance and productivity
  • promote opportunities for lifelong learning
  • increase employment opportunities (many jobs today require keyboard input)
  • facilitate equal opportunity in education

Time allocation to learn keyboarding

Keyboarding is a motor skill  and ike any other skill: dance, driving a car, riding a bike, it requires regular consistent practice. I have seen the subject taught in 3 week blocks, the goal being students are expected to touch-type after this period.  Ideally, students should have lessons 3-4 times a week for a year.  Linda Starr has great tips for Teaching Keyboarding, When? Why? How?

Such basic skills as keyboard mastery are the literacy tools of today.  The young people of today are society’s most valuable resource.  To deny them, especially those (LD) learners struggling with fundamental basic language skills (handwriting) is an injustice to their intelligence and capabilities and denying society their unreleased potential.

If you are interested in a little bit about the history of keyboarding and why we are stuck with the QWERTY keyboard arrangement, read on.

The first typewriter designed in 1829 was actually slower in operation than using pen.  An improved version of the first was invented in 1868, patented as the “type writing” machine.  The keys on a typewriter were originally organized in alphabetical order but this resulted in the keys clashing together when typing fast.  As a result, the arrangement of the keys was changed to an order that would prevent the keys from clashing when struck.  Since this time, 1872, the QWERTY keyboard (the arrangement of keys on typewriter or keyboard) have remained the same.   Attempts were made in the following century to improve the layout of keys on the typewriter.  Studies identified that the universal keyboard as it is known, resulted in identifying that the left hand performed more actions than the right.  The conclusion drawn being that the typewriter layout is actually a left-handed device and lacks any evidence to support the continuation of its layout.   Another interesting observation is that the keys most struck were on the third row, next the home row and the most infrequently struck keys on bottom row.  However, despite recognition that this fairly antiquated arrangement of keys could be improved, the same arrangement of keys remain today.   The Dvorak alternative, claiming a better balance of finger stroking movement and a reduction of long awkward reaches and in contest trials, better performance, offers a superior arrangement.  The reasoning for widespread non-acceptance can be traced to a reluctance to re-train staff proficient in the universal style and to avoid the confusion of the presence of two types of keyboard layouts existing.   So in this day and age, we still have the antiquated QWERTY!

Any feedback on the importance of keyboarding in education would be most welcome. What do other educators think?

Keyboarding resources:

A guide for schools: Elementary Keyboarding Guide

Rapid Typing Tutor

Dance Mat Typing

A host of great links for games, lessons and practice from Kate Olsen’s school link.

References (for history of keyboarding):

Russon A R & Wanous S J, 1960, Philosophy and Psychology of Teaching Typewriting, South-Western Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

3D printing: build a design

A new technology tool for 21st Century classrooms in the not-too-distant future are  3D printers (called fabbers).  Michael Simpkins from Technology and Learning, described the new design printers being  developed by researchers: “Instead of using ink or toner, the printer uses a variety of gooey substances that harden when exposed to air.”  The printer then builds a 3-dimensional object as you watch, based on  input substances such as clay and food (such as peanut butter, chocolate and cheese!)   Although fabbers are probably more suited for industrial design objects, they are being considered a suitable addition to any K-12 classroom for a variety of learning experiences. They are proposed to be safe and inexpensive.

The fabber is transparent therefore it is possible to see all the workings.  Hod Simpson (one of the creative minds behind the fabber) sees it as a great fun tool for children to see technology in a new realm – by being able to see what is going on before their eyes.  Learning experiences  include robotics, engineering and manufacturing.  

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Easy flash movie creator

This has to be one of the most versitile and easy flash movie creators, Toufee.  I came across it via Richard Byrne’s site, Free Technology for Teachers,  and was totally impressed with its easy drag and drop features.  As Richard states, it is not only capable of creating slides into movies, but also images, videos, audio and text can be incorporated into one video.  A great tool to bookmark.   When you sign up (for free) the interface looks different to the sample page  shown below.  The tutorial is voice guided, telling you how to create a video show.   It has everything you need to make an awesome multi-media presentation and all for free.  It is easy to spend hours trying out all the features and playing around.  Check it out.

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Online tools for formative assessment

 Creating online assessment tools is so easy on Quia (pronounced key-ah, and is short for Quintessential Instructional Archive).  Although it costs about $50 a year (30-day free trial) I was really impressed with the array of formative assessment tools that could be created.  The following information is taken from Find out more about Quia:

The teacher can organize the test so that it evaluates the learning standard at a high level of thinking. For example, the first three questions could quiz at the Bloom’s Knowledge-Comprehension level, the next three at the Application- Analysis level, and the remaining four at the Synthesis-Evaluation level.

  • Templates for creating 16 types of online activities, including flash cards, word search, battleship, challenge board, and cloze exercises. Quia activities are designed with different learning styles in mind to suit the needs of all your students.
  • Complete online testing tools that allow you to create quizzes, grade them with computer assistance, and receive detailed reports on student performance.
  • Access to online activities and quizzes in more than 150 categories. All of the shared activities have been created by teachers from around the world.
  • A schoolwide network that lets you collaborate with your fellow teachers quickly and effortlessly.
  • An easy, centralized classroom management system including a master student list, archive of student results, and the tools to conduct schoolwide proficiency testing.
  • A class Web page creator that includes a course calendar and an easy way to post your Quia activities for students and parents.
  • Online surveys for gathering student and teacher feedback.

Hassle-free quiz creation

Not only are Quia’s quiz tools easy to use, but quizzes can be customized to fit any teacher’s needs.

  • Choose from 10 question types, including multiple choice, true-false, short answer, essay, matching, and ordering.
  • Include audio or pictures in your quizzes, if you like.
  • Have students take your quizzes from any computer with an Internet connection, or even on paper print-outs.
  • Select from a wide range of options for controlling student access during testing.

 A sample of a quiz that can be created:

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 The site also enables instant grading and reporting and networking inter-school or between schools and districts.

There is already a huge resource bank available for all different subject areas and levels. 

There is another site for creating quizzes and flashcards, Proprofs.com but it was not as impressive. It did not have a huge range of subjects, shared assessment and was not age categorised.

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Mobile phones and brain cancer

Technology is here to stay and we cannot deny the benefits they afford.   I do sometimes wonder whether networks and radiation are silently affecting our health. A recent report, Brain cancer fears over heavy mobile phone use, by a top Australian neurosurgeon has stated that there is a link between mobile phone use and brain tumours.  Vini Khurana (staff specialist neurosurgeon at the Canberra Hospital)  has called for “imediate and decisive steps” to reduce the radiation emitted by mobile phones.   Phone radiation can heat the side of the head “while Bluetooth devices and “unshielded” headsets could “convert the user’s head into an effective, potentially self-harming antenna”.

Definitely a good reason for limiting their use.  Mobile phones have never been my favorite technology. I find them intrusive and annoying (unless in an emergency).  I can’t appreciate the value of being contactable 24/7 (unless in an emergency) and definitely prefer other forms of staying in touch. 

Web 2.0 and the power of sharing

I needed to prepare a presentation on Web 2.0 and rather than start something from scratch I knew that other educators had probably done the same thing. Within a few days of my request, I received some incredible powerpoint presentations, webslides and teachertube resources.  Many thanks to Ken Price, Jim Mullaney, Phil Pound and others who helped me out.  Here is a webslide presentation Web 2.0 in the classroom, by Mark Woolley that was sent to me.