The next best thing to being there…

June26

Given how crazy this last school year has been, I opted to skip the ISTE conference (formerly NECC) this year. It’s just as well, because I have an ugly summer cold coming on. While I miss all the great folks, I’m happy to be sitting home in bed, BUT this doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the conference from afar. I’ve been following it on twitter, and the Smackdown (sharing of new tools, etc.) was put out on Eluminate (thank you!).

Here are links from the Smackdown:

My Links

Bethany Smith’s Links

CChater’s Links

Archive of the show (there were audio problems until about 10-15 minutes in, but it gets better).

Big thanks to Steve Hargadon, Lorna Costatini, Peggy George, and Elluminate for streaming the session.

ED 667 Module 1: Resource Guide

May8

Here is my resource guide to some basic online tools that are essential for a Technology Coordinator. First, I’m doing this assignment using two Web 2.0 tools, this blog, and social bookmarking software (Diigo). Blogs are an easy way to publish and share information. For a resource list like this, you could also use a wiki, a social network, or any number of other Web platforms. This blog is my “hub”, so it’s where I prefer to share resources. I’ve separated my list into three section, tools for sharing, resources for information on “best practices”, resources for curriculum and teaching, and technical resources. These are not comprehensive, but instead focus on my top two tools.

Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking is not only a fast way for you to save bookmarks, and have them available on any computer with an internet connection, but they are an easy way to share and find great sites, articles, and posts with others. The key part of social bookmarking is that you can “publish” your bookmarks, but also that the taxonomy, or indexing, is done by anyone who “saves” that particular URL, so we are all collectively defining the purpose of the resource. This is being referred to as “folksonomy” which means that “folks”, rather than professionals, are organizing materials. This has both a plus side (you can create a index that is easy and intuitive for you to use), and downsides (one person’s intuitive is another person’s obscure, and typos can complicate things whether you share or not). Here are my two picks:

Deli.cio.us was the first major social bookmarking tool and is still the grand-daddy in this category. Its advantages are an easy interface, and ubiquity (lots of other people are on it, so you can easily share with friends).

Diigo is my personal favorite for social bookmarking. I’m fortunate that most of my online professional learning network uses it as well. I prefer it because it allows for highlighting, sticky notes and other notations on pages you’ve saved. I’ve used this tool with students a few times, and it’s very slick. In addition, it works with the delicious API, and I can have any bookmarks sent to my delicious account when I save them to Diigo. This keeps me in two networks, not just one.

Research and Best Practices

Why use technology and why use Web 2.0? One of the tasks of the Technology Coordinator is to convince others to use these tools, both for themselves and in their classrooms. You will need to show that it is not just “fun” for the kids, but improves instruction. You will also need to have a source of standards, and best practices to share. Here are my picks for this category:

The International Society for Technology in Education,  is the organization education technology professionals. It has a annual conference, which I’ve attended for the last two years, that attracts from 15 – 20,000 participants. They are the source of the standards guiding this course,  NETs or National Educational Technology Standards. As education technology has moved towards Web 2.0, so has ISTE, and they have a blog hub, ISTE Connects, which can keep you up to date on both formal and informal discussions on topics in the field.

My next resources is EduCause, which has a great series of short, easy to read flyers on different Web 2.0 tools, called 7 Things You Should Know – 60 Resources. These are in a handy PDF format, and are short (7 paragraphs) and sweet. They make a nice “handout” or online resource to use in trainings on Web 2.0 tools.

Curriculum Resources

These are resources for use in classroom instruction with students. As a current computer lab teacher, this is “where I live”. I need to keep up on resources for six grade levels, and locate resources for research projects, etc.  This is the area I have the most background in and I could list lots of different pages, but for now I’ll share my top two:

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… is a blog that my friend, and fellow Sacramento teacher, Larry Ferlazzo maintains. It includes multiple daily updates. The links are largely geared towards high school ESL/EFL students, so many are appropriate for younger students too. His work is not only prolific, but has been recognized by the IRA (International Reading Association) where he was the Grand prize winner of the 2007 Presidential Award for Reading and Technology.

Instructify is run by the LEARN NC out of University of North Carolina. I used to be a freelancer doing articles for them about a year ago. They do really nice short reviews of Web 2.0 and other education technology topics. Most are nice little nuggets of around 200 words, but they also do longer Instructifeature posts that going into more depth on a topic.

Technical Support

This is the area I expect I will learn the most about, and I’m looking forward to concentrating on these links in the review of extracurricular links. For now, these are two of my favorites:

Giz Explains: An Illustrated Guide to Every Stupid Cable You Need is a handy article that lists almost all the common (and a few not so common) computer cables you are likely to run across. Since I grew up with an old school programmer for a dad, I’m used to knowing the right name for tools (like cotter pins, instead of that whatchamacallit) I loved this article. Clear photos are provided which make it all so clear.

My experience with web pages goes back to coding in HTML. A little bit of code knowledge can go a long way, and HTML Basic is an invaluable reference. Your web editing tool may provide not provide the strike through and replace tag, but they can be very handy when you need to show that a web page or blog post has changed since it was first posted. This article, focuses in on just a couple of great tags to have in your back pocket.

Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Manners, please!

March22

This week was full of many hard lessons. One of those has to do with this blog. The commentary on my post about getting pink slipped by my district while they were simultaneously attempting to bring in TFA interns, started to devolve to a level I would rather not see. While there were many contributors to this problem, I should have had a better handle on the comment moderation. I do have a comment policy, which says that people should not attack others, and that comments will be closed on a topic if they cease to be productive.  Some commenters started to impart motives to another, condescension, that got the discussion onto a more personal track that was not at all productive. I had to pull comments that had been posted, put the blog on full moderation mode, and close comments on that post.

My take, as someone in the middle of this mess in real life, everyone is pretty stressed out and lots of us are going into bunker mode. In off-line conversations with TFAers they felt the work they do is being personally attacked. I want to make clear, my stand on this was not about all members, or any one member, but rather the system. We’ve agreed to disagree on TFA as a solution.

I know from talking to tenured/experienced teachers like myself, we feel our work is being discarded, and we’re being painted too broadly as not fixing failures that are more of society’s responsibility, rather than resting wholly at the schoolroom door. It’s been a pretty crazy week, that I will not bore you with the petty details of some of the many conflicts that have come up, but my conclusion is that everyone is pretty edgy, including myself.

As this unwinds, I will likely be blogging about topics of controversy. In addition, I’m cross-posting at FaceBook, and getting a local following now, and the local teacher crowd is pretty agitated these days. I expect there will be the chance that this may happen in the future. My goal is to do my best to keep the dialogue civil. I’m asking for my readers help in doing this. I have put my blog back to a moderation scheme that will automatically approve comments from  people who have already had an approved comment. Comments will continue to be closed on the pink slip post.

Photo Credit: Mind Your Manners on Flickr photosharing

Droid me

February13

Warning, this post is TOTALLY geeked out, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I like to think that I’m a platform skeptic, but so often the choices we make about a piece of technology have little to do with the piece of equipment itself, and more about ancillary issues, or perception. I hope I gave a fair shot at the Apple in my last piece. When I upgraded my mobile phone, the choice was a simple one and had more to do with the carriers, AT&T: no way vs. Verizon: the devil I know and have all my family phones on with staggered contract dates making it near impossible to leave without some serious advanced planning. Getting the Droid was my first chance to get something as an early adopter in a long time. It was in some way an emotional choice, but I did buck the “gender-typing” of the product. It seemed faster, and had a physical keyboard. True, it is a very testosterone driven device, with a synth-voiced “DROID” announcing each text and alert. Apparently, I’m not the only one annoyed by the word android/droid showing up where I don’t want it.

Since I’m picking on Steve Jobs/Apple, I wanted to provide more information and background about the Flash/Apple mobile issues from my last post. First, the article that shared Jobs “real feelings” about Adobe and Flash, and Adobe’s response. I include this not to pass tech gossip (although it is pretty hysterical) but because a hint of the future according to Adobe. In a nutshell, long-run– HTML 5 will not take the place of Flash; short-run– Flash will be coming to the Android, BlackBerry, Palm, and Nokia platforms AND they have a work-around to get flash apps on the iPhone browser. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

How’s the Droid after almost three months? First, I’m seeing a lot more folks in my ed tech PLN who are going to Android devices (although with the plethora of Androids coming out, not all are going for the Droid). Interestingly, I did see one who was anxious to “leave” his iPhone for a more open mobile.  That’s a small “n” to extrapolate anything larger from, BUT I think it does exemplify that Android has the reputation of being an “open” system. This may be a mis-perception as there are complaints about how “open” Google has been about sharing source code with outside developers, and it is brought to us by Google, everyone’s favorite “big brother”. On the whole though, I’m happy. This device has taken over a lot of my time. It’s more a consumption device than a creation device.  What do I do with it?

  1. Taking pictures: I love the camera (as promised the OS upgrade in December did fix the auto-focus problem). I use it to document things, I send photos up to twitter, and other social media. I can livecast, although I haven’t run into a situation that really calls for it.
    My favorite recent education use was video-taping a student with a LOT of self-control issues. He was having to finish up work from class instead of going on the computers during lab time (not a preferred activity). He started to hit his stride at one point with the work, and I videotaped him. I then showed him the video, and pointed out what he was doing “right” and asked him to really think about what it looked like when he was on task and completing work. I also showed it to his teacher so he could see something positive from the student.
  2. Posting to twitter: Even with a physical keyboard, I haven’t tired to write out a post of this length on it, and probably never will, but it’s great for twitter. I use Twidroid, and I’ve opted for the Pro version. I use AnyPost to send updates to Plurk at the same time.
  3. Getting email: This has not worked well for reasons that are not the phone’s fault. I quit looking at Blackberries when I found out that my workplace would not let line workers like me on the network server, so push email from work was not possible. They do have a nice Web interface, so I use that, and can use the same version of the web mail that I get on my laptop, instead of some mobile version. My primary email is with Yahoo! which only gives POP access to Mail Plus subscribers. Although there are lots of instructional videos on how to set it up with SMTP, it worked…briefly and stopped after about three days. I haven’t decided if I’ll spring for Yahoo Email? So I get Tweets pushed out to me, but not email. I may think about switching over to GMail, but that’s a hard choice after 10+ years of using Yahoo!Mail.
  4. Games: I play Sudoku, but it’s my son who is the game fiend. When we’re out and about and he gets bored with games on the old LG I handed down to him, he plays Jewels and Pinball. It’s like the old days of traveling with him as a toddler, and making sure I had a “new” toy hidden to pull out in the last third of trip.
  5. Reading: I’m using the lighter web version of Google Reader, and I’m happy with that for my RSS feeds. For books, there are lots of free ereaders available, but their most palatable content is from the public domain. Kindle, and BN/Nook do not have Android apps yet. I added eReader’s Android app, which was a bit of a chance, as it’s not on the Marketplace, and instead resides on their site. So far, the phone’s still working, but I did back up my SD card before I added it. They have best sellers available, so I’m reading my first novel on it. I’m not crazy about the small screen size for reading, but I like the portability.
  6. Music: For playing music I own, Double-Twist will let you do iTunes syncing (it’s also great for syncing your Android device in general), and I’m liking the Amazon MP3 market just fine. Since my biggest headaches with Apple have been with  it’s d*mned DRM and iTunes. I’m happy to go elsewhere, thank you very much. There is a default player, and I’ve been trying out Meridian Player, but I’m thinking of heading back to the default player. I use a “tape deck” converter to plug the phone into my car stereo and blast tunes through the speakers. I’m currently using both Slacker, and Pandora for radio, and I haven’t made up my mind which I prefer. When I decide I will likely pay for subscription service.
  7. Podcasts: I’m trying a bunch of different apps, and haven’t decided on which I prefer. I’ve only had the NPR News app for a few days. I thought it would just be text, BUT it does allow you to play selected stories. The UI and usability are great, and it lets me get shows like All Things Considered, and Morning Edition that only distribute some pieces on audio podcasts. There is another NPR Podcast app, but it just doesn’t work as well. I did start with the Listen App from Google, but it was buggy and hiccuped a lot.  I’m using Beyond Pod now, which does have some force closes (basically, the program seizes), but not as often as it happened with Listen. Either will let me download (nice for plane trips or low connectivity situations).
  8. Video viewing: My son uses it for this more than I do. On a long trip, I can hand it to him and he’ll watch YouTube videos. You can see YouTube, and some UStream videos (obviously ones that have been converted from Flash?). I would have liked to be able to purchase commercial videos to watch on my phone. I tried to use Zune, but if there is one company that will make you LONG for Apple customer care, it’s Microsoft. I still can’t load their d@mned player on my PC.  So, iTunes has a de facto monopoly on MP4 videos for mobile devices and will only let you load to their devices. I’ve looked online, and all I can see is some really complicated work-arounds involving conversion software, or going illegal by going to bit-torrent.  I’m hoping Amazon will expand it’s Android offerings from MP3s to MP4s.
  9. Web surfing: One of the secrets of Android is that it does have “multi-touch” capability, it’s just not used in most apps. One app that has it is an alternative web browser, Dolphin, which has a nice “gesture control” for doing routine tasks (like saving bookmarks to Diigo or Delicious). It’s a very nice web experience, and you get everything except Flash-based applications. It’s so nice when I’m reading posts in my reader, or getting a tweet with a link, to be able to click through and see it.
  10. Directions please: I have many annoying habits. One that drove my husband nuts was that I would forget to print out maps, and then call him when I was on my way somewhere, asking him to look up directions. It’s a miracle we’re still married after that! I didn’t want to pony up the $10 a month to pay Verizon for their navigation service with my old phone, so I was happy to have Google’s navigation included for free. It is awesome.
  11. Notes and lists: The phone is a really handy tool for taking notes and keeping lists. There are number of note taking programs. I’ve been happy with Note Everything, and upgraded to the paid version, which gets me checklists that are handy for shopping. In addition, using the mobile version of Google Docs lets me look at documents, but not edit them. I also have the lite version of Documents to Go which lets you view Word and Excel documents, and a free PDF viewer app. The pro version of Docs to Go would allow me to edit Word/Excel, along with PowerPoints and PDFs. My husband finds this invaluable, I haven’t felt the need to pay $30, although there have been sales on it.
  12. Calendar and Task Lists: For tasks, I use Astrid which lets me sync with Remember the Milk (their pro app requires a monthly payment, I don’t mind paying for apps, but I don’t like having ongoing payments). Here is a little known secret about the Calendar function in Android, it’s not as good as the mobile version of gCal. Seriously, you can’t edit events, etc. It’s good for pushing out reminders to you, but editing is nicer.

Who do I think would not like this phone? If you need push email and your workplace will only support Blackberry. If you want your phone to work, have a really easy interface, and you’re not a techie (go for the iPhone). You use your phone in the car a lot, and need solid hands-free, please read this first (you probably want a Blackberry).

What about call quality? A lot of the comparison with Android devices (especially the Droid on Verizon $$$) with iPhone (on AT&T where they’re not happy until you’re unhappy) center on connection and call quality. Read this article to put this in perspective. I’ve had dropped calls on Verizon with all my phones, including the Droid and I’m just mastering using a capacitive device and holding it next to my ear. These are not great phones. Most tests put the Droid higher on this, but it still isn’t great.

posted under fun, web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

To iPad or not to iPad?

February7

Is it he hottest tech tool to come out in the last decade, or is it just a less functional and more expensive net book with multi-touch? It depends…

Lots of talk amongst both the general public, and educators, about whether or not the iPad is a “game changer”. I will admit to being an Apple skeptic, and do not own any of their devices, as I’m too cheap, and am willing to tinker with my digital devices and live with a non-intuitive UI (more on that later). My initial impression is that it will not be a device for me, my family, or my computer lab, but even if  that turns out to be true, it may not be the case for everyone.

Flash vs. Apps

A lot of the critique for Apple mobile devices centers around the fact that so many edu-games rely on flash, which won’t run on those devices. Tom Hoffman opines that it may be more critical for kids because they love their flash-based online games.  An analyst on Marketplace discusses why it is such a PITA for website developers to design content as the viewing audience splinters based on their device/platform. But, Leo Laporte points out on TWiT that this is all short-term pain, as Flash is replaced by HTML5, which YouTube is already getting ready for. My thoughts:

  • Flash doesn’t matter as much for the general public now, because you just get an app. My son has acquired my old mobile (not from Apple), and is content with the handful of games I’ve given him from Verizon.
  • It does matter for education. The best online activity sites for elementary, Starfall and PBS Kids, either don’t currently have apps, or have paid apps. The apps available don’t compare to Starfall, et. al. in terms of what they do, or how well they do it. Picture having a class set of these, can your school afford to plunk an extra $2-$5 per app for each iPad? Even as a center, that would add up.  The beauty of apps is that the price point is great, unless you’re buying in bulk. The apps are…apps, not full websites, so you aren’t getting as much, and it costs, while the real Internet version is free.

Creation vs. Consumption

But playing internet games is not the only thing you can do with the iPad or any computer. This would mean that it isn’t a replacement for your computer, merely an adjunct to it (which I think takes it out of the game-changing category, but keeps it from being useless).

  • You could keep your computer center/netbooks, and use iPads in other ways in the classroom.  You could have kids review slideshows with visuals to do vocabulary development (folks are already doing this with Touches, and doing audio and text lessons with Nanos)
  • You can have kids create podcasts. You could do this with other tools that are cheaper, open, etc.

The TWiT show had an interesting point about the iPad vs. a net book, that the iPad is more of a content consumption devices than a content creation one. The touch keyboard (although they mentioned a plug in for a keyboard), the lack of a camera all limit what you (and your students) can create with these tools. I’m assuming that you can do audio recording for making podcasts, as those can be done on the Touch and iPhone. Once again, it means that it won’t be a replacement tool for you computer with webcam, or a stand along digital/video camera.

If most or all you are using it for is typing/writing, maybe the touch keyboard will not prove as big an impediment to students as it seems to be to we adults, but you can get NEOs for $150 these days as the price point moves down for all devices. Frankly, $500 may be a deal for an Apple, but compared to what you get from the competition, it isn’t.

Never underestimate an intuitive user interface…

  • The interface of all the Apple mobile devices is a heck of a lot more intuitive for primary students to use, and will be more “friendly” for non-techie teachers to deal with
  • They are a bit delicate to leave in the hands of six year olds unsupervised doing center activities. They clearly flunk the “Tonka” standard of durability that most listening center equipment (Califone anyone?) for education tries for.

I leave it to readers to figure out where they come out on the UI vs. durability debate.

I was having a discussion with an ed tech integration expert from another local district. I shared my thought that with the exception of  a “tactile” interface, everything I’ve been able to do on my SMART Board can be done with projector and laptop. His response was, yes Alice, you and I can figure out how to do those things, but IWBs are an entry tool for the non-technically adept. Teachers who will not use tech in their teaching will use an IWB, and so it’s a way to transform their teacher that could be done without technology, or the IWB. Essentially, it sugar coats transforming education. I’m also trying to figure out if the tactile does offer a significant advantage in terms of engagement with kids, especially primary, and special education ones.

Maybe that is the bottom line with the iPad, it will make it easy for students and for non-techie teachers, making them more likely to successfully bring digital tools into their classrooms (this same point is made about the target audience for the iPad here). I may never use these overpriced gadgets in my lab/classroom, but then maybe it wasn’t meant for me in the first place. I’ll leave you with that final thought and let you come to your own conclusions.

Photo Credit: Apple iPad on flickr

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All of Ms. Mercer's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Howdy! I teach sixth grade at an elementary school in Sacramento, CA. I started my career in Oakland, Ca, and moved here to Sacramento in 2001.

My goals are:

  1. To reflect on how I am teaching, and how effective my practices are;
  2. To reflect on my profession, and how effective various practices are;
  3. To understand the political and cultural context that we teach in; and,
  4. To network with other like-minded educators.

To help me reach my goals, I use this blog as a place for me to reflect on best practices, and the practices I’m (trying to) putting in place in my classroom.

I can be contacted here.

Disclaimer

The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not those of Sacramento City Unified School District.