Blog Assignment #9

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In our last class with Mr Miller, we had to explore a creative writing tool that we did not know for an hour. We had to find out what it was and give it a try. I chose to try and discover Story Bird. I had heard the name before, and it sounded very good to me, but I had never actually went on the website to see what it was about. So I decided to finally give it a go, and I really liked what I saw. See, I absolutely love writing. When I was young, I spent almost all my free time to create all kinds of stories, with knights and magical creatures. In my future classroom, I want to make sure that my students explore their creativity in many ways. Story Bird is absolutely fantastic for it.

It is basically a website when you can create your own short book with pictures and share it with the world. You can also read what others have created all around the world. When you create your story, you choose a set of artwork by an artist (who drew illustrations specially for StoryBird) that will inspire the events of your story (http://teachersandcomputers.blogspot.ca/2010/11/lets-write-story-storybird.html) . That is what is great about it. No need for planning or any preparation : you let yourself get creative with what is offered to you. The website is very well-made and guides you well through the process. It is far from complicated, and in no time, you have in your hands (well, computer) your very own story. Afterwards, you can even print it, from a simple PDF file to a real hardcover book. There is also a great deal of tutorials available online to help you, made by teachers for teachers (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/storybird-new-teacher-boot-camp-lisa-dabbs). 

As a teacher, it is very easy to use StoryBird in your class. The website lets you create a free “Class account” that you can manage and share with your students that don’t have an email address (you can use it with younger students, which is great (http://barrowmediacenter.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/storybird-with-kindergarten/)). It is an extremely popular tool in the world of education. Indeed, more than 150,000 schools all over the world use it (https://storybird.com/teachers/). You have very well guided again through this process. Of course, you can make your account private if you don’t want anybody else than you and your class to see the projects the students will create.

There are some great options for teachers. When your students create stories, you can give them feedback (private or not) and even assign them a grade directly on the website. This makes the whole process of evaluation much easier and eco-friendly. Sharing is also very easy, between students but also with the parents.

But why use StoryBird ? Well, as I said before, it is great for the students to explore their creativity. Instead of getting them all mixed up in plans and charts in order to write a text on paper, they have a chance to create a story online with illustrations. They can simply “go with the flow” and write the things that come up in their mind when they see the pictures. It makes them use their imagination, and also practices their writing skills (http://teachamazing.com/storybird-digital-storytelling/).

You could also use the books your students created to raise funds. (http://help.storybird.com/customer/portal/articles/828585-what-is-class-fundraising-currently-on-hiatus-)Want to take your students to a field trip somewhere, but you don’t have the funds ? Ask your students to create stories relevant to your field trip and sell the books ! It is easy, parents will love the idea, and students will feel great about their books being sold to other people. 

If you are not convinced, know that students absolutely love it (http://www.teachinglikeits2999.com/2013/04/soaring-with-storybird.html). You have a chance to create a project that is not only very engaging for students, but interesting and fun to them, and that is a gold opportunity. 

Blog Assignment #8

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For this week’s blog, I decided to find out about a popular website that I knew barely nothing about and never tried out myself : Pinterest. Many of my friends were on this website, telling me how fun it was, and I had heard the name many times on TV or on the web, but for some reason I had never even checked it out. Recently, I heard that it was a great tool to use in a classroom, so I decided to take a look and discover what the hype was all about.

The name of this app/website really gives away what it is about : pins and interest. The moment you suscribe, they ask what interests you in life. Architecture, movies, gardening, travelling, the list is long. Depending on the categories you select, they will suggest you some boards to follow. “Boards” are like a photo album of pins that have a common theme : for example, in a board about Europe, there would be pictures of the Eiffel Tower or the streets of Venise. Then, what you can do is create your own boards with a theme each or pin what inspires you to the board your created. The number of boards that exist on Pinterest is insanely huge. There really will everything for everyone. By creating your own profile, you save, or “pin” the pictures that you like so you can find them easily later. It is a very interesting website to discover artists, get hairstyle ideas or to see historical pictures. I know that I will probably keep the account I just created. There is great stuff there.

But how can we use it in a classroom ? In a lot of ways, actually. Pinterest is a place about creativity and inspiration : that’s how you should use it in your class.

What is interesting is that you can consult Pinterest itself to find ideas about how to use it in your classroom (http://www.pinterest.com/crhebert/using-pinterest-in-the-classroom/). There is a special category about education, full or resources, ideas, projects (and even tips on how to decorate your classroom). A lot of teachers use Pinterest to help other teachers, so don’t be shy to go take a look at what they put out there. There really is some amazing stuff.

You could create a Pinterest account for your class, and create boards for specific units. If you are working on food, for example, create a board about it and pin stuff that is relevant to what you and your students are doing in class. Pictures of food, sure, but why not recipes or stories ? If your students are doing a project about travelling, why not create a board with pictures of cities or places in it ? You could also create a board to motivate your students, full of inspirational quotes and stories. You could even create a board full of reading material suggestions, with book covers or excerpts of chapters (http://www.nea.org/tools/52865.htm).

Pinterest is a great way to create visual projects (http://www.edudemic.com/guides/the-teachers-guide-to-pinterest/). It is new way of sharing visual content with your students (other than Power Points or the Smart Board). You could always create a project in which students have to discover more about a specific time period. They could create in board with pictures that inspire this era in order to make sure they understand what it is about. Other students in the class can also refer to it if they ever need to. This could be a great way for them to revise before an evaluation ! If they don’t remember anything about a subject the class discussed, they can go back to the Pinterest board to get a general idea.

As a teacher, you can also use Pinterest to organize your lesson plans, or to communicate with other teachers all around the world (http://www.edudemic.com/guides/the-teachers-guide-to-pinterest/). What you have to keep in mind, though, is that Pinterest is still a social network and that you have to be careful. If you want your students to create their own account, they should be at least 12 or 13, and with parental consent.

I discovered that Pinterest is easy to use, free and fun. It is full of great ideas and inspirational pictures. I think that, by getting creative, you can create amazing projects with the website, so I would definitely recommend it to you. 

Blog Assignment #7

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So far, on this blog, I have written about tools I am familiar about, that I know very well or just a little. For this blog, I have decided to explore a tool I barely know anything about : the Smart Pen. This is a great technological tool to use in a classroom, that I have heard for the first time about only a few weeks ago during a conference about ESL teaching. The brief explanation that was given about it made me want to know more, so today I present to you the Smart Pen.

“What starts on paper, doesn’t have to stay there” (http://www.livescribe.com/en-ca/smartpen/) is the first thing you read when you go on the official website, and I believe it is a great description for it. Indeed, it is no ordinary pen. 

The Smart Pen costs approximately 120$ for 2GB of storage, and can go up to 200$ if you want all the gadgets it can include. The Smart Pen comes with not only the pen itself, but also with a notebook with a special kind of paper, or “dot paper”, that records the things that you write for you to upload it on your computer and save it forever. Not only does it record your writing, it also synchronizes with the audio around you. 

This can sound confusing. The Smart Pen looks very complicated when you first look at it, but it is actually quite simple. Indeed, all you need is your pen, your paper, and something important to keep record of. A class, for example. For students, the Smart Pen allows them to take extensive notes during the class on paper and to later save it very easily on their computer so they will make sure not to use it. They can also use the record option of the Smart Pen to record small parts of their class so they can go back at it later if they need to. What is great about the audio recording is that it is synchronized with your handwriting – tapping on a written word will start the recording from the moment the word was written. 

This makes the whole process of note-taking far less stressful for students and teachers (while in a meeting, for example). You also save the annoying and tiring task of always transcribing your handwritten notes to your computer (http://assistivetechnology.about.com/od/ATCAT3/f/What-Is-A-Smart-Pen.htm). Another simple but great thing about the Smart Pen is its size. It is very small, making it easily transportable from one place to another, and also far from heavy.

The Smart Pen is an amazing tool to not lose yourself in insane amounts of paper or computer files. As a teacher, you have a great deal of possibilities for its use. For example, when evaluating team conversations or debates, you can easily record parts of it while taking notes. That way, if you are not sure about what a certain student said, you can always go back to your recording to find out. Furthermore, since you have the file saved forever on your computer, you can use it for other classes, or to help other students. 

You can also use the Smart Pen to help create your lessons (https://smartpen-connection.wikispaces.com/Using+Smartpens+in+the+Classroom). Why not, while writing a worksheet or explaining a concept, record yourself explaining it and then send it your students ? That way, they can always go back to the previous lessons if they need to because the audio file will always be available. You could also create a project where the students would have to create a book and add their voices to it (http://www.engaging-technologies.com/smartpen-foreign-language.html#axzz2wHMPVIfJ). 

You could also use the Smart Pen to record lessons for students who are absent so they will get the same content as the other students, or create things such as audio pop quizzes (http://www.msubillings.edu/summerinstitute/presentations/Educational_Uses_for_the_Livescribe_Pulse_Smartpen.pdf).

The opportunity is there. Why not try it ?

Blog Assignment #6

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Is it odd to imagine a classroom that does not use paper. Indeed, picture a whole class full of students using their iPads as their main tool to work. It is a little bit startling. But when you really think about it, it is a wonderful resource to use. The possibilities that are now open to you simply can’t be counted. There are dozens and dozens, all creative and useful. iPads were created by Apple, and are basically like small computers. They are easy to handle and move around, not very heavy, and kids simply love them. If parents have iPads at home, children will use them to draw, for example, and play a lot of different, fun games. However, iPads can be used for other things than playing games. They actually are an incredible tool to use in a classroom, and even improves it (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131210-ipad-learning-education-space-science/). 

First, it is great for you as a teacher. By using iPads, you don’t have to worry about paper anymore. No more endless photocopies, no more losing the students’ work, since you can keep everything at the same place in your computer. It is also less confusing for the students, because they will also always have their work at hand wherever they are and will not lose it (no more ‘my dog ate my homework’ !). By using a software such as Google Drive, which I explored in an earlier blog, you can keep track of your students’ work very easily and make sure they do the assigned work.

There are a lot of apps you can use on the iPad to help you create fun, meaningful activities for your classroom (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1UJnqyK52X26az5zN5kr1ISTNPwbdUbxfG6M-9WMW4Do/present#slide=id.i133). As mentioned by Mr. Miller, you can use, for example, iMovie. This is a app that enables you to create small videos, like movie trailers. This a very fun project for your students. For example, they could write their screenplay on a Google document, then film themselves with the iPad, and finally edit the whole thing with iMovie, which suggests you a ton of fun “trailer themes” and helps you create an awesome, realistic movie trailer.

The iPad also gives you the opportunity to help your students practice their talking. This may sound odd, but it is actually a great idea (http://www.bbcactive.com/BBCActiveIdeasandResources/iPadsintheClassroom.aspx). In high school, I remember exchanging letters with another student from Chicago to help me with my writing. Why not do the same, but with speaking ? You can ask your students to install Skype, make contact with another classroom someplace else in the world, and make your students correspond with them via Skype. It is easy, and not only does it make the students practice their oral proficiency, but it opens them to other cultures and gives them the opportunity to share and discover more about the world around them.

If you want to make your students read, but you are worried about actually being able to get the books, you can use your iPad. There is a wonderful application called iBooks, in which there are a lot of free books available to download. Jane Eyre, Dracula, there are a lot of possibilities. You won’t have to worry about the students forgetting their books at home because it will always be there, on the iPads. The students can bookmark the page at which they are so they don’t lose track. It is also much cheaper (http://www.emergingedtech.com/2013/09/the-many-benefits-of-using-ibooks-in-education/).

If you are worried that students might never listen to you in class because they are too busy playing Candy Crush on their iPads, don’t worry. There are a lot of resources that you can use to prevent this. You can always lock the iPad on just one app, the one you want your students to use (http://howto.cnet.com/8301-11310_39-57605575-285/lock-the-ipad-to-just-one-app/), or you can block access to certain websites (Facebook, for example). You can also use more traditional ways, like asking them to turn their iPad screen around to keep their eyes focused on you.

iPads are a great tool to use, with a lot of possibilities. I believe it is the future of the classroom, and a great way to reach to the students.