Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Productivity Apps in Education: Google Drive

Are you ready for a hard drive in the cloud? Do you have co-teachers or administrators who are nagging you to explain it? Then you need to use Google Drive.

      Google Drive is a way to store your files on Google's servers, or "in the cloud."  If you run the free Google Drive application, then you get a folder on your computer (Windows or OSX) that looks just like a directory on your hard disk that you can drag your files in to.  Anything stored in that folder is kept on your hard disk and also copied to your account in the cloud.  You can access those files from drive.google.com, from other computers, or from mobile devices.  

      Google drive is also the new name for Google Docs, which is Google's suite of Web-based productivity tools - its word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation app.  Files that you drag into your Drive from your hard disk are actually copied to the cloud.  They're also synchronized to other computers that use Google Drive.  This means that any file you put in the drive, and anything you change that's stored in the drive, is automatically updated not just in the cloud but on all the other devices that you have connected to the Drive.  So you can start working on a file on one computer, close it, and then open it on a second computer, and what you'll see is the version you closed on the first one. Google Drive is a tool that is directed at frequent Google apps users. If you use Google Docs, Maps, Calendar, any Android devices, and now Google Play, then you'll likely want to try Google Drive.  You will be able to store all of your "stuff" from these apps in one place. 

      Google Drive is a great educational tool.  It's going to be a useful way for entire classrooms and schools to collaborate.  Better yet, Google Drive lets you literally do a search for all your stored files. Even younger students will be able to use Google Drive.  Imagine your students creating custom maps in Google Maps to illustrate where they'd like to travel. Visit the following link to discover more ways you can use Google Docs/Drive in your classroom.  http://edudemic.com/2012/10/google-forms-classroom/. Of course, everything has it its disadvantages. With Google Drive, you are given a limit of 5 GB space and will have to pay for additional space.  Also, some people believe that being affiliated too much with one single company is bad. Google has more control over us now. 

     Since I am currently teaching in a classroom "with walls," I am not able to use Google Drive in my classroom with my students.  However, I frequently use it at home and in my professional development courses.  The best thing about Google Drive is that it makes collaboration between many parties very simple.  No more e-mailing back and forth, no more having to keep up with thumb drives or flash drives, and no more worries about which version of a specific file is the latest/most recent version.  No wonder why Google Drive and Google Apps are known as the "GTD" apps - because they enable me to get things done!
      So, if your iPhone goes for a swim, or your laptop takes an infinite snooze, no matter what happens to your devices, your files are safely stored in Google Drive.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Podcasting in Education: TeacherCast

Blogging has definitely earned its presence in the area of education.  Not only do teachers share their experiences with their colleagues, PLN, and their students' parents, but students are blogging as well.  Through blogging, people are able to express their thoughts and ideas to a wide audience.

Another Web 2.0 Tool used often in education is podcasting.  Podcasting (or vodcasting) can be used in a variety of ways; from using audio or video recording to share a glimpse of what is happening in a teacher's classroom, to sharing information about new available educational technologies.  The great thing about podcasting is that one can listen to podcasts anywhere; in bed, while exercising, or during a road trip.

For the purposes of this blog, I decided to highlight a podcast which I have found to be very great resource in education.  This is none other than TeacherCast (www.TeacherCast.net) created by Jeff Bradbury, a New Jersey educator.   When I asked Jeff about the background of TeacherCast and why he created it, this was his response:

Almost two years ago, I began to notice a trend happening in education.  Technology was advancing very rapidly and educators were becoming increasingly obsessed with wanting the latest and greatest for their schools and classrooms.  However, there wasn’t a single place for them to go for learning how to use technology effectively to maximize the learning of their students.  
It was the lack of a single, solid resource to share with my colleagues that caused me to  create a place online to fill this void. This website would be the place where I could write about my own methods on using technology in the classroom.  I began by writing about the various ways I used my iPhone and iPad for taking attendance, giving presentations and more. I decided that in addition to my writings about these topics, I would create an audio podcast where I would bring other teachers together to discuss how they were using technology to make their classrooms easier to manage.  I called this experiment TeacherCast.  Since the summer of 2011, TeacherCast has grown into a globally recognized and trusted resource in the educational community.  TeacherCast produces 3 unique audio posts weekly, as well as a daily educational magazine featuring more than 50 of today’s social media pioneers. Other great features of TeacherCast include video screencasts, online courses, a career center, mobile app, Livebinder Gallery, and app reviews.  TeacherCast is at it’s core, place for teachers to help other teachers.  It’s truly amazing to watch others use this resources every day.  

One can learn more about TeacherCast by visiting www.TeacherCast.net.  TeacherCast podcasts can be downloaded from the iTunes Store at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/teachercast-podcast-network/id519685828?mt=2 So if you want to learn about new educational technologies, visit TeacherCast today.  You never know - maybe you will have something great to share with other educators and you will share on a TeacherCast podcast too!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Smart Fish: Magic Matrix HD by Social Bug Labs

Education is not just about content knowledge - it’s about skills and processes too.

As a mother of a child with special needs and as an elementary classroom teacher, I have so many apps that focus on content; whether it’s the alphabet, idioms, math facts, geography, handwriting. What I am lacking is apps that reinforce comprehension skills such as classifying and sorting.  We need to teach children how to think for themselves and not facts that can be memorized.  

Teaching content knowledge is generally easier than teaching skills and processes.  Children on the Autism Spectrum tend to be very visual learners and often have a much easier time memorizing facts or data.  Years ago, my son used to memorize the number of grams of sugar in cereal and soda, the dates that movies were released, and other trivial data.  However directions involving multiple steps were always much more difficult for him.  In addition, he was always (and still is) very impulsive, which leads him to act quickly without thinking through the necessary steps in order to successfully complete the task.  

I was recently fortunate to come across an app that focuses on sorting and classifying skills which really impressed me.  The app is entitled Smart Fish: Magic Matrix HD and was developed by Social Bugs Labs.   What sets this app aside from others is that (to the best of my knowledge), I am not aware of any apps currently available that focus on sorting and classifying skills.  What makes this app a high quality app is that includes so many features and provides the user with a personalized learning experience.  

The app is geared towards ages 3-8.  In this story-driven game, children learn the concepts of tables and matrices while helping a whale friend and saving Happy Reef.  Kids sort objects by one and then two categories, filling up a game board in each level. The levels get progressively difficult, tackling subjects such as colors, shapes, numbers, emotions, nature and more. The game also helps children develop focus and attention to detail. In the engaging backstory, the child helps save a reef from ecological damage by completing each level, so not only do they enjoy the challenge in each level, they also have an ongoing challenge throughout the game. To quote the app developers at Social Bug Labs, “Frankly, we had a hard time tearing some adults away from this game.”

One of the many features that impressed me about this app was the feedback that it provided the user when he or she incorrectly classified a card.  At first, I thought the app was crashing which led me to become frustrated.  I immediately contacted Yael Gavish the app developer who was more than happy to help me figure out what the problem was.  It turns out that what was happening was intentional.  (I just did not realize this since I had turned off the sound.)  If the user makes a mistake by sorting a card incorrectly, instead of the app merely providing feedback, the app actually stops and re-teaches the concept.  How brilliant is that!  As the levels become increasingly difficult and involve multi-step directions, the app actually breaks down the multi-step directions into single step directions in order to ensure that the user fully comprehends the concept.  This provides the user with a personalized learning experience.  If only it would be so easy for us parents and teachers to provide our children and students with a personalized learning experience at home and at school.  This app is a “Win Win” in my book - your child - and the child in you - will enjoy it!

My Tweeps Are For Keeps

What do the following people have in common:
Nicholas Provenzeno  
Shelly S Terrell   
Vicki Davis
Gwyneth Jones 
Shira Leibowitz
George Couros
Richard Byrne
Jeffrey Bradbury
Erin Klein
Angela Maiers
Karen L. Mahon
Sean Junkins
and so many more?

The people listed above are some of the many "Tweeps" or "Tweople ("Twitter + People = Tweople") whom I follow on Twitter.  The "Tweeps" or "Tweople" I follow tweet and/or blog about issues that pertain to education and/or education technology.  Being that I am a full time classroom teacher - and we all know that teachers take their work home with them, my time is extremely limited when it comes to Professional Development, or PD.   Twitter allows me to learn from others.

I first joined Twitter after attending ISTE 2011 however I did not use it.  I really did not understand its purpose nor did I understand how it could benefit me and my professional goals.  A year later when I attended ISTE 2012, I gave Twitter a second shot.  While I was at ISTE 2012, I was able to meet many educators during the conference and then follow them on Twitter.  It's great to be able to collaborate with fellow educators no matter where they are; whether they are in my city or an entirely different hemisphere.

In today's ever changing world - and more specifically the EdTech changing world, PD is very important in order to be successful. As so many of us have limited PD opportunities at our schools or in our communities, Twitter provides me with much necessary PD that I need in order to improve my teaching, and specifically improve my integration of Education Technology in the classroom.  After all,  educational technology is to be used as a tool in the classroom; it should not be looked at as a toy, a babysitter, or as a novelty.  When used appropriately, it has the power to improve one's teaching methods and make one a better teacher as it leads to increased student engagement.

Through Twitter, I was able to find and gain inspiration from the following blog posts which were written by some of the "Tweeps" whom I have listed above:   20/20 Technology Vision by Nick Provenzano; 12 Things Kids Want From Their Teachers by Angela Maiers; and 5 Low-Tech Ways to Increase Engagement in Lectures by Karen Mahon.

So, to sum it all up, who are you following on Twitter?  What are you tweeting?  Are you using your time on Twitter in a productive way that will help you improve your instruction?