Coaxing technology

With a new school year and open wifi at my school, I’m trying to coax my students to bring their own devices to class, things like tablets, laptops and iPods.

The students, so far, are a bit sceptical. We’ve spent enough time over the years getting them to put away their iPods and laptops that I don’t think they believe me when I say that right now there is an appropriate way to use them.

That attitude is slowly changing in one of my Social Studies classes as the kids have seen that an iPod can be used for legitimate Social Studies research, and for engaging online activities.

What I need to remember is that kids, like all of us, are conservative. They don’t like change. You need to demonstrate that your change has a purpose. Your paradigm shift must have some value if you want them to buy into it.

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Bigger may not be better

I’ve been watching the ETMOOC introductions fly by for about a week now, and am struck by how overwhelming it all is. There are, at last count, 1647 participants in this course, and if everyone posted only once in the past week I would end up with far more than I could ever possibly hope to read.

Online learning, building Personal Learning Networks, and such has that problem with it. I’m on Twitter, but I try to keep the number of people I follow fairly low (presently it’s at about 180) so that I can keep up with them a bit and hopefully learn about about them as people.

I’ve seen other teachers on Twitter follow as many as 5000 people. I have no idea how you can do that and learn anything substantial about the people you follow. One of the people I follow lives in the U.S. Northeast, is passionate about teaching English, and seems to be something of an amateur jazz musician. It’s hard enough to learn about 180 people, could I really learn about and learn from 5000?

MOOCs look great, but I’m starting to think that a smaller scale might be more useful. After all, when you took a course in university, did you feel a greater connection to your prof in the course with 400 first years students, or the 4th year seminar with only 15 people in it?

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Greetings, ETMOOC community!

I`m James, a school teacher in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I consider myself a Social Studies teacher since history is really what gets me fired up. I work with our regional heritage fair (the Red River Heritage Fair) to get kids fired up about history, and try to do informal events to link social studies teachers together face to face.

However, as the teacher who dabbles in technology, I`ve ended up becoming a computer media teacher as well. I do all those courses like digital photography, and desktop publishing that no one else wants to do. I didn`t train to do any of that stuff since most of it didn`t exist when I got my teaching degree. I think I`ve learned to do most of it fairly well, but never having been formally trained at it, I tend to be a bit unsure.

I go by the handle `mrpuffin` on most networks, so I`m easy to find on Twitter and it wouldn`t be hard to guess my GMail address.

I`m currently playing with black and white photography to improve my eye for when I have my students work with it.  IMG_0561Fortunately for me, my son is a willing subject who really likes to ham it up for the camera. I`m enjoying the experiment. It`s curious that I`ve always looked down on the old technology in black and white and now I`m seeing new possibilities in it.

I hope to `meet`a good number of people in this ETMOOC, or at least to learn from them. It`s pretty simple to learn a couple about computers, or collaboration, and then think you`ve arrived. I hope to be stretched by this experience and see new ways to get the kids put things together in a fresh way.

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I registered a few days ago for the Education Technology and Media Massive Open Online Course (try to say that quickly) which, as of January 5, had 680 registered participants from all sort of wild places around the globe.

It looks like a promising way to connect with teachers from all over the place who are interested in education and technology It also looks like it may encourage me to be a bit more reflective. For example, it looks like some blogging is part of the process. While I’ve had this blog for several years, I haven’t used it a lot lately. That’s kind of a shame since a blog is a great way to reflect on what you’re doing, what’s going well and what you could change.

I’m looking forward to learning a lot in this course. I’ve already learned that there is a whole category of courses called Massive Open Online Courses (I didn’t know that). If just by registering I learn something, that’s not a bad beginning.

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Mapping paradigm shift

I’m watching the kids work on a mapping assignment in our computer lab. I gave them the places to find, and then a link to the National Atlas of Canada. Interestingly, very few kids have chosen to use that site. While it has a wealth of information, the kids are finding it confusing and resorting primarily to Google Maps. The “I’m in charge” part of my teacher persona is upset by this, but the rest of me is quietly watching, figuring that as long as they can get the places found, that’s what really matters. Using even a limited amount of technology is often very much about letting things happen to get the result you want instead of making things happen.

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FPNews is a very cool little news app based that receives its information from the Winnipeg Free Press‘s news team. Though it may be run by a Winnipeg news team the news is national (Canadian) and international in scope. I’m hard pressed to even find a reference to Winnipeg.

In addition to news, there’s commentary, sports, and even the Miss Lonelyhearts column in case you wanted that. FPNews is a full fledged news site and a pretty good one at that.

While the app is free, you do need Internet access to take advantage of the features of this little program.

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How Canadian are You, eh?

Courtesy of the Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration is a wonderful app that lets you in on the pressure a new potential Canadian citizen faces when taking the citizenship test.

You are given 20 questions from a database of 120 questions so there’s lots of variety and potentially different quizzes. The questions are surprisingly difficult. When I’ve done these questions with my students, it has taken most a couple of tries to pass.

You can share your results on Twitter or Facebook, but you don’t have to so it’s not necessary to be on the Net to take this quiz.

You can take the quiz in either French or English since this app is supplied by the Government of Canada.

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Chemistry Mobile

Chemistry Mobile is another cool (and free) Android app, this time useful in the science classroom. It allows you to do things like calculate molar masses, and balance chemical equations. There’s a built in periodic table inside and several other things that I’m not enough of a chemist to really understand.
It’s received positive reviews all around. There is no version to which you can upgrade since it seems that the developer of this app is willing to give you everything for free.

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Alchemy for Android

I’ve been on the hunt for Android apps that are potentially useful in school. While I realize that everyone is keen to use iPads and iPods for educational reasons (and there’s a lot of great apps available) I happen to have an Android device. Android devices are cheaper than Apple devices, and seem to be gaining in popularity, so there’s definitely an important niche there.

  1. The apps I’ve been looking for have to be free (possibly upgradeable in order to get rid of ads), and able to run free of an active Internet connection (since your school may not have one).
  2. They should be ones that the user can use on his own, or else where the teacher can set up the group he interacts with. In most schools they’re quite nervous any Net based social interaction with people outside of school, so this is necessary for management reasons.

So what app is the first one I’ve found? Alchemy is a fun little app available from Google Play (and other purveyors of fine Android apps). It’s a fun and silly application of the Greek idea that everything is made up of only four elements: fire, water earth and air. These four elements can be combined into other materials, which can in turn be combined into others for a total of over 300 objects. Because you can create “Life, Beer, Vampires, Skyscrapers and much more” this app may not be suitable for younger ages.

The premium version takes off the ads and gives you an undo button so you can go back a step or two, which can be very handy. All in all, a great Social Studies app.

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A History Bee?

A few days ago I stumbled the idea of a history bee, and, as I am wont to do (not often you get to use wont in a real sentence), I started to wonder what that would look like.

For now I’m thinking that the best format would be in teams of three or four in a kind of Reach for the Top format. The students could, in theory, help each other study for the actual event.

Naturally, you’d need to narrow down, just a bit, the area of history that you cover. Since I do Canadian Social Studies, I would cover Canada, possibly even limiting it to a subfield like prime ministers, or immigration.

I’m not sure where I’d come up with all the questions. I’m picturing doing this with two Social Studies class (52 kids) which would likely mean I’d have 8 teams per class. I could re-use questions between classes, but I’d need more questions still if I had a playoff between the classes.

Motivation is also one question that leaves me wondering. If you could get the kids enthused, this would be fantastic, but in a day of student-centered education, can we get the kids working really hard studying bits of historical trivia just because it’s fun.

I’m not sure how a history bee would work out, but I’m sure going to think about it.

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