Tablets anyone?

SGPT121USSSo, Guilford County Schools was one of 16 school districts in the country to win a federal “Race to the Top” grant giving us $30 million to spend on tablets, data subscriptions, and training for all our middle school students.  From what we’ve heard half of the middle schools will get the tablets next year and the other half the next.  I don’t know what will happen the following year for incoming 6th graders.  It would make sense that additional money would need to be allocated to keep tablets coming for those kids also each year but who knows?  We don’t know what kind of tablets they will be but we’re pretty excited.  It will change the way we teach for sure–at least it will for me.  What a great boon to know that every child will have a tablet with Internet access.  I have to get my course on Moodle or something now so students can submit work digitally and we can get away from paper for the most part.

I would love to hear from others with a 1:1 program in their schools and how having these tablet has changed your classroom in a positive way.  I know there are challenges such as students wanting to play games and be off task in that way but I know there have to be so many great things about students having their own devices too.

Interactive Whiteboards – the laser disk of the 21st century?

This is the system I have in my classroom. It's the Epson BrightLink with Easiteach software.

I read this great post on tweenteacher.com about interactive whiteboards.  I am blessed to be in a great classroom with a mounted projector and an interactive whiteboard (it’s interactive with a stylus not by touch) but I have been struggling to find ways to use the interactive whiteboard bit and I couldn’t figure out why that is.  Isn’t it every teacher’s dream to have a setup like this in their classroom?  I think Heather from tweenteacher.com put into words why I’m frustrated.

The big clunky forward facing, whole class method of lesson delivery via Interactive Whiteboard, I believe, is the Laserdiscof educational technology. The overpriced fad of Interactive Whiteboards (whether Smart or Promethean) is imperfect in their current incarnation. Sure, we all imagine classrooms with“Iron Man2”:-esque 3-D touch sensitive lessons, but inherently these pieces of equipment do not illustrate the spirit of technology in information delivery: all-access, collaborative, open, interactive, etc…

Currently, they are only as engaging as the lessons created, and those lessons are tedious to create and time-suckers in their efficiency. The prep time to create charts that utilize any effects over-and-above what you would already do with a laptop and LCD projector feels clearly developed by those with a disconnect to the precious time we have in education and the many hats we already wear.

The few times I have found ways to use the interactive whiteboard have mostly been teacher-centric and I have felt guilty afterwards.  The kids are enthralled because it is different but, especially in middle school, this kind of thrill does not last long.   So I have tried preparing some activities where the students get the stylus and go to the board but, again, only one person at a time can use the board.  I get the kids to hand the “baton” of the stylus to the next student so I try to keep them engaged through the anticipation of getting to go up and use the board.  This is still not ideal particularly if it takes a student a while to figure out the answer.  I start to lose those kids already on the fringe and they start misbehaving out of boredom.

I think the interactive whiteboard has its place but I am really struggling to:

  • find activities that are engaging enough to keep the whole class interested
  • find activities that are easy and quick to make
  • find web-based activity makers as I can’t download any software on my teacher computer
I don’t think we should dismiss IWBs altogether as they do have their place in the classroom and I know they can be used to create some great components to lessons (I just haven’t been uber successful with this yet).  I agree with Heather that mobile technology is the way to go.  I would much rather my kids have tablets or even laptops on a 1 to 1 program and be allowed to buzz in with their cellphones to a poll question in the classroom.  Since our school is far from that, I will keep trying to think of ways to make my lessons better and more student-centric using the technology I have at hand.

In Love With FLOCK!

Ok, I’ve seen Flock mentioned here and there in my Google Reader so I decided to give it a try. I am blown away! Flock brings some of the best Web 2.0 tools to your fingertips in one browser. Download, install, and then log in to the Web 2.0 apps which are friends with Flock, click on the “Remember Account” button and BINGO! With one click I’m in my Gmail account, another click I have my blog editor open so I can post something new, one more click and I’m posting to my del.icio.us account. What kept me from hopping over to Flock all this time????

Flock is based on Mozilla’s Firefox and has its own add-ons but some Firefox add-ons are also compatible. I was thrilled to find out that Fireshot works as well as my favorite little status bar calculator.

The browser integrates with Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, Gmail, and del.icio.us just to name a few apps. Digg and Facebook are also popular offerings. Since I’ve been delving into Diigo, I added its toolbar and away we go.

The “My World” tab reminds me of iGoogle. It has widgets and helps you organize your feeds, keep up with your friends’ activity, and post media etc. to your blog. I have to play with this one some more.  (Update:  I did play with it some more after posting last night and it isn’t nearly as versatile as iGoogle but still a neat feature.)

I see so many possibilities here and I’ve only played with it a little tonight. Can you tell I’m already in love?

Update:  Ok, some things that I would love to see added to Flock:

  1. Integrate My Space and Diigo into the Flock toolbar.  Can’t we all just get along?
  2. Make the “My World” page like iGoogle.  That would be too cool.
  3. More add-ons specifically for Flock.  We are warned on the extensions page that while some Firefox add-ons will work with Flock, they may slow the browser down.  So it would be nice to have add-ons that are definitely compatible.

Ok, those are just a few thoughts but I really love Flock as it is. 

Blogged with the Flock Browser

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iTouch Possibilities in the Classroom

I created a post on the topic of iPods in the classroom on our school’s blog to see what sort of unique ideas we could get on how iPods could be used to facilitate learning in the classroom.  While most of the student comments focused on wanting to bring their own iPods to class so they could listen to music, we did receive some interesting comments on different uses for iPods.  My article focused more on the new iTouch iPods because of their wireless Internet capabilities.  I have been thinking how neat it would be to have a class set of these so teachers could check them out and use them as an alternative to laptops for Internet research.  Of course, podcasting is always a possibility as well. 

Is any school out there using iTouch iPods in this way?  I would be thrilled to hear some ideas on the topic.  Since I don’t own one personally, it would also be nice to hear what users actually have to say about them.

Webcams in the Classroom at MCMS

I’m working with our two 6th grade social studies teachers on integrating webcams into their lessons.  Both teachers are asking students to present a current event to the class on Tuesdays.  Using webcams, Skype, and data projectors, the classes will share their current events with each other as they present.  They are also interested in finding classes around the world to communicate with, using this new technology.

I found some resources online that present lots of possibilities for not just using the webcam in their classroom but also for looking through others’ webcams at different places in the world. 

Webcams in the Classroom(pdf)–This is a list of resources for using webcams in the classroom from technology facilitator, David Cox, in Louisiana.  This document contains basic information on what a webcam is and how to safely use it in the classroom.  Mr. Cox also includes many links to teaching ideas.

Cable in the Classroom Project Cam(pdf)–This document outlines Cable in the Classroom’s Project Cam.  It outlines the project and explains how teachers are using it in their classrooms.  Tips for creating a cultural exchange are also provided.

I hope to update sometime soon with results on our first use of webcams in the classroom at MCMS!