Monday, 31 October 2011

A future vision of technology

Yes Microsoft is still alive. Perhaps they have been busy making movies like the one below, which describes their future vision for technology. Don't be put off by all the white walls and crazy swiping hand gestures as it is a nice though provoking piece.

New resources - WallWisher

Here are some nice video tutorials on using some newer tools in the classroom. I was forwarded a link from the Scottish Book Trust (random I know...) which has some nice resources and more to come, all presented with a thick Scottish accent for those expat teachers from the UK.

Wallwisher is something I have experimented with in the past and my students have liked it. More recently it has been updated so that students can contribute pictures and also video to the class wall. It can either be collaborative or created purely by the teacher. The video tutorial below contains some nice examples from Art and English I think.

For more ideas: 105 ideas for using WallWhisher in the class.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Digital Literacy @ Lunchtimes in the David Watson Library

Lunchtime Computer Lab Use

There is great demand from students to use the Primary Lab as a work space at lunchtime. It is popular for for use in relation to Activities such as producing "Bake Sale" adverts as well as computer use generated from class work.


Digital use the Library
The new renovations in the David Watson Library are looking great and are very popular with the students at lunchtime. So much so that on most days the capacity of the library reaches it's maximum number of students. The new Mac Computers in the Library are very popular with both Staff and Students.

New Beginnings for Grade 2 students in Digital Literacy

Grade 2 Students make a great start to Digital Literacy in the Primary School

When students start the Junior School they are introduced for the first time to their own individual login, password and personal disk space. There is a lot to learn to be a competent user of I.T. and a good digital citizen. The Grade Two students started the year well and coped extremely well with the challenges they were given.

After the students had confidence in these "housekeeping" skills they went on to make a decision tree using Kidspiration. The next set of the skills the class teachers wanted was for the students to have a strong set of skills using word processing. This included creating documents with good visual appeal and a printed page which highlighted important content and had an appropriate amount of white space on the page. Skills covered included all features of formatting text, borders, inserting clip art and images from a file, printing with appropriate settings and saving documents in a logical organisation of folders with clear easily understood file and folder names.

The next unit of study for the Grade Two students is "How Does Your Garden Grow". Students have planted seeds and are recording the growth of their plants by taking photos on the IPod Touches at time various intervals. They will use these photos to make a video so as the growth of the plant will be speeded up and can been seen by watching the video. After taking their photos the students email them so that they can be saved on the Media Drive and be available for later when they are making their video.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Sorting through the mess...

... that is Google Docs' home page.

It seems like a daunting task. Especially if you have hundreds / thousands of emails.

"Help!" you cry, "Are there ways we can sort through this stuff quickly and as painlessly as possible?"

Yes. There is.

And the solution lies right in front of your eyes. Literally. Scroll down and you'll see it.

Three little tools that will help you manage multiple files.

Actions: Let's take multiple files that you have put a tick next to, and you can choose to Share, Download, Mark as Unread, or remove them from the Home tag (which means they won't show up when you just enter Google Doc's home page) . . . and delete them. Just be careful not to delete resources other people are using in a fit of zealous housekeeping.

The Organize option here will also allow you to move a whole chunk of selected files into specific Collections.

Sort by: has 4 options for us. By default, Google Docs is set to show you whatever has been recently modified. You can now choose to sort according to whether the documents by when they were last opened by you, by title, or by priority. So pick which ever one is most practical for you.

View: List Will show you just a list of documents (this is what you're used to in Google Docs), or you can also set it to View: Details, which will show you columns of who the author is and when it was last modified.


Exploring Cells with the Digital Microscopes

A recent project with our great group of Grade 6 science students focused on using our 14 Digital Microscopes to explore cells. The students spent time learning about cells, preparing slides and understanding how traditional microscopes work. This learning was supported by using the new Science eBook "Exploring Science"

We used the Motic Digital Microscopes to take the students skill development and understanding a step further. Instead of drawing pictures of what they saw down the traditional microscope we could plug the microscopes into the students laptops and they could quickly analyze and compare the different cell structures of animals and plants. This is a nice understanding of transformative learning, where students are using technology to do something that was inconceivable a few years ago and where technology adds value to the teaching and learning.

Lesson Plan - Cell Structures and Digital Microscopes


Students remarked how easy it was to plug and the capture images, and they were impressed with the quality of the images. The important step was having the students articulate what they saw to explain the differences in cells. Across the ten different classes this was done slightly differently but students liked the idea of using a simple template and table below.

Teachers were happy with the flow of the lesson and are now confident to help students use the microscopes in class. In the future we need to look a few different things. We could look at purchasing some more digital microscopes so they can be used in different science classes when more students have laptops next year. We could also look at converting some of the traditional microscopes with a digital camera, and how much this would cost. The optics in most of the traditional microscopes are better the Digital Motic Microscopes. As a digital literacy coach I focused on the need for students to do something with the images and to really understand what the images were showing them. Although lots of the draft captured images looked attractive, they actually showed air bubbles, crumpled slides or onion or blurry images at low levels of magnification. The development of student understanding is still so important regardless of how we use the technology in classes.

The video below captures the key moments from a lesson by Carolyn Stannard.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Youtube is splendiferous

If you're already a YouTube video downloading supremo, feel free to ignore this and move on now. Otherwise...

Youtube is splendiferous

And what an awesome treasure trove of video delights it is, BUT, not if:

  • you don't want to be reliant upon an internet connection to play the video... especially if you have more than one to show...

  • you have to wait for it to buffer to play, because loads of people just happen to be online right now.

  • you go back to show the video the following week/month/year/decade and it's ...  gone, just gone, or.. what was it called again?

  • it has a load of highly appropriate comments (and the punctuation!!!!!????) underneath it, I've seen swearing in comments on a 1970s Mr Happy video, people swear about Mr Happy?

  • you want to be able to insert the video into a presentation, or edit it into a video project... OK this one is a bit more geeky, I'll stop now.

Get my point? You can avoid all of the above by downloading the video in question to your computer, also you can then save it somewhere accessible, lie the shared drive, for you beloved colleagues to use as well.

Nerd Alert

It's really great to freeze frame a scene, (space bar to pause/play) and annotate over the image/scene (note facial expressions that indicate mood, scene details, or maybe situational considerations - oooh look the car is falling) using the IWB 'annotate over desktop' feature, (the blue rectangle with squiggle in it...)

So here's my preferred ways to download youtube video, easy and almost as easy:

Use a website...

  1. ... like, or maybe, no doubt there are others.
  2. Find your youtube video, copy the URL in the address bar that's the gobbeldy gook that starts with stuff like ' ... ' stuff in it, see the image below for an example...
  3. Copy it
  4. Go to
  5. Paste it in the hole (actually, that's called a field) where it says 'Enter The Video's URL'
  6. Choose FLV or MP4 (I would choose MP4, it's easier to playback, and edit)
  7. Click the helpful 'Download!' button


Use a FireFox Add-on

Tip - Add-ons are awesome, they are helpful little modifications to your browser that let it do things it can't normally do... like the bionic man.

  1. If you haven't already, download and install Firefox -
  2. Open it
  3. Go to Tools > Add-ons
  4. Click the 'Get Add-ons' tab
  5. Do a search for 'Easy Youtube Downloader' (there are others, this one I likey) and install it
  6. When it's finished you will be prompted to restart your browser.. please do so
  7. Go to a youtube video, and Oilah! Now a magical 'Download As' button has appeared below the video, so click it!
  8. I would choose MP4 for the aforementioned reasons...
  9. That's it, now any time you visit youtube with this browser on this computer you can download with one click.
  10. Oh, there's more? Why YES. With this Add-on you can also download the audio ONLY, as an MP3 file, really handy for locating obscure bits of music you need...

You might need to download VLC to play the video with, either way it's well worth it.

Seán McHugh
Bewildered begetter of bits and bytes for the benefit of boys and girls beverywhere (sic)
United World College of South East Asia

size matters...

Do you know your bytes and pixels from your mega/kilo/giga/tera bytes? If not, read on...

Quite a few teachers have approached me, who are worried about using up their hard drive space, but fret not dear educators, your MacBook has a HUGE hard drive - but how huge? Generally when I excitedly point out that you have maybe 200 to 500 Gigabytes of space (depending on the age of your Mac), I invariably get a look that looks like I have just emitted a noxious fume from my nether-parts. So here goes...

The smallest unit of memory is a bit, then a byte, and they go up in thousands from there, so a thousand bytes in a kilobyte, a thousand kilobytes in a megabytes... and so on.

Here's a simpler way to imagine it...

1 bit (short for binary digit) = teeny tiny, the smallest size you can get, and yes, useless to you.

1 byte (b) = 1 character in the alphabet, eg the letter 'a'. = still useless

1 kilobyte (Kb) = 1000 bytes = 1000 characters, eg, a page of text = now we're getting somewhere...

1 megabyte (Mb) = 1000 Kilobytes = 1000 pages of text = 1 large digital image = 1 minute of music (mp3)

5 megabytes = 5,000 kilobytes = 5,000 pages of text = 1 very large digital image = a 5 minute song (mp3) This is pretty much the upper limit for email attachments.

10 Megabytes = 10,000 KB = 10 large photos = 10 minutes of music = 1 minute of video.

1 gigabyte (Gb) = 1000 megabytes (MBs) = an entire film/movie

1 terabyte (Tb) = 1000 GBs = MASSIVE = Pretty much only relevant for storage, external hard-drives etc.

Yes there are more...


In a nutshell

bytes - pretty much useless, like a few peas.

kilobytes (KB) like pages of text (text emails and small images would be measured in kilobytes) the most useful size online, not too small not too big.

megabytes, now we're getting heavy - large photos, music, 10 MBs or more for video

Maybe these analogies can help?

ant, mouse, dog, elephant, blue whale

a grain of rice, a bowl of rice, a bag of rice, a sack of rice, a truck load of rice

a coin, hand bag/back pack, carry on luggage, suitcase, a plane load of luggage

To confuse things, images use more memory than text, and are measured in pixels, which do relate to size, but are not the same thing. Your MacBook Pro screen is at least 1200-1500 pixels wide, so that gives you an idea...

With the kids it can be helpful to get them to think of pixels in similar ways to mm, but this will lead to confusion later as they're actually smaller, but at least it's in the right ballpark. Like the image above looks about 8 cm wide on my screen, but is actually 400 px wide, not 80mm, but because higher resolution screens have smaller pixels you can't just compare using a ruler against the screen, this is obvious to geeks like me, but to normal people this is the kind of essential information that is rarely obvious.

As a rough guide:
  • 10 pixels square = tiny, the size of 1 font character, like the letter 'o' = 1kb 
  • 100 pixels square = the size of about 4 desktop icons = 10kb 
  • 1000 pixels square = small/standard monitor (screen) size = 1 Mb 
  • 10,000 pixels square = large or 'high definition' (size of a window), high resolution image/poster = 10 Mb 

So when Googling images, a pixel size of about 500px is ideal, 50px is too small (blurry) and images in the 1000s are probably too big (takes ages to load, and display).

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Flipped Classroom - so what exactly am I flipping?

The Flipped Classroom concept is an idea that has been floating around for a while. It has been in the media recently alongside the growing popularity of a group called the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy as explained in last week's Economist, is becoming a favourite learning aid for many teachers. The traditional definition of a flipped classroom is something like this...
Where videos take the place of direct instruction. Thereby allowing students to get individual time in class to work with their teacher on key learning activities. It has been called the flipped class because what used to be classwork (the "lecture" is done at home via teacher-created videos and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class.
The initial idea was that the internet could provide students with 24hr/7day a week access to learning materials, and that this could make our class time more effective. To me this is a similar notion to the university concept where you needed to read the textbook chapter before the lecture, to make sure you understood the basic ideas. The growth of the Khan Academy and their suite of learning resources for Maths and Science is now making this is concept a reality for many teachers. The following video is one of the nicest explanations I have seen.

The flipped classroom concept can now be linked to some broader teaching ideas. By providing students with online learning resources, the students can take responsibility for their own learning. The time in class with the teacher can be an opportunity for more meaningful and personalised interactions. It is a classroom where the teacher can become more of a "guide on the side" and not the "sage on the stage" It is a concept where information and resources from class are stored and archived so that students can access and personalise thier learning overtime.

This sounds just like my classroom..?

Many classes at UWCSEA already follow a similar idea, and I think that this is a concept that we should be trying to follow in specific subject areas such as Science, Maths and Economics/Business. Overtime it will help us become more efficient teachers and support learning. With student laptops the idea of a flipped classroom is more achievable. Lots of teachers place resources on StudyWiz and ask the students to prepare for class by putting resources up prior to the lesson. But here are a few further reflective questions to ponder?
  1. Do you provide students with an outline of where the next lesson is heading? Where can they find this outline?
  2. Do you point students to specific resources which could support their learning in the next lesson,  or next topic?
  3. How do students access these resources? Are the resources effective, dynamic and interesting? Is there an filing system of where these are saved?
  4. Do you share these resources and collaborate across the department with other teachers?
  5. Do you give students your presentation/notes before the lesson or guard it until the students finish the topic?
I must confess that I taught in a laptop school for three years and struggled to adopt all of these ideas. I was successful with the following which in my opinion are the first steps towards a flipped classroom. 
  • Using my StudyWiz classes and the information box to explain the focus of learning, both backwards (where we have come from) and forwards (where we are going next)
  • Provided at least one resource ahead of the next topic to prepare students. In the simplest context this was sometimes a chapter reading from the textbook. Sometimes I would point them to a specific video from an Economist on YouTube
  • I would often give students my presentations as a PDF file at the beginning of the topic so that they didn't need to copy down copious amounts of graphs. This allowed them to read ahead to the next lesson and be prepared.

The biggest challenge..?

The significant pedagogical change required is the shift from being the lecturer at the front of the class to becoming a facilitator of the students learning. For me the shift was hard because I had always been taught in a lecturing style, growing up in the Catholic Boys school environment. 

Be asking students to complete even the smallest amount of learning before class; looking at a video tutorial about light , flicking through a Prezi about Development, or reading some notes will make their learning in class more effective. It is recognized in research that students need to revisit new material 2-3 times over 3-4 days and the flipped classroom idea supports this. Classtime is better spent doing hands-on activities, role plays, experiments, looking at case studies and participating in discussions. 

Students need to be taught about taking notes, and overtime being more independent in their learning. If students using time previously dedicated for homework learning about material for the next lesson then I think they will learn more.

As a teacher it is also hard to find resources which prepare the students for class to the depth that you require. That is why many teachers may think about recording mini-lectures for students and placing these on StudyWiz or will provide students with notes outlines such as in Senior Biology. A nice example of mini-lectures is this idea from a friend, Jason Welker teaching Economics at the Zurich International School.

Graphic Novels in English - Digital Ideas

For the first time some English classes can now use Graphic Novels as one of the literary options. This is part of the redevelopment of the Language A and B courses. With this new change, we took the opportunity to work with Stuart McAlpine to trial some new tools that would support the students learning. The students have been looking at the book Blankets by Craig Thompson.

Digital Ideas:

We needed to use some tools which would allow students to take snippets out of the novel and to then explain the ideas and motifs that were being presented by the author. The simplest tool we discovered was Skitch. This allows students to take some pictures of the novel using the in-built camera on the macbook. Skitch is perhaps the easiest tool for students to add quick annotations to the image and then export the images back to any other program. A nice example is below.

Another idea to develop this further was getting the students to develop a simple narration that identified the motifs of snow, blankets and caves throughout several pages of the text. The technical aspects were intentional kept simple, and the students had to focus on the speaking. The basic process was to use Keynote to add several screenshots from either Skitch or PhotoBooth. Then students chose the play menu and then recorded the presentation with their commentary. The students had some simple notes to help them speak and worked in pairs. Here is a nice example from Christina Yang and Jo (copied with permission)



This was a good opportunity to work with the students, as the activities successfully transformed they way that the students learnt about the novel. Instead of putting ideas on paper and referring to the images from the novel, or perhaps using photocopies, they could annotate directly onto the pages and make specific links to elements of snow, blankets and caves that were being reinforced by the author Craig Thompson. These ideas could be saved back to their notes for revision.

The audio recordings also prompted the students to analyse the novel in more depth, than they would have otherwise. At the same time it also supported their oral presentation skills which are being assessed separately at the end of the course.

The downsides of the activity was the technical skill development. This always takes time, but I believe students have developed a simple skill set of annotating an image and developing a Keynote recording. The sharing of students work needed some refinement. In the end we shared these to the classes Google Site so they are accessible in the future. This required students to upload the video to their own Google Docs first and then fiddle with the sharing settings. They could then add the Google Video to the class page. This did end up with each students being able to watch the recordings, but the process was cumbersome.

Presentation to Staff: