Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You Can't Fix Your Car Using ONLY Screwdrivers!

If there was only one search engine in the Universe, (I am pretty sure most students think there is), I am sure most people would choose google. I have a problem with that.

1.) People need to be able to look at a search, and judge if they have truly found what they are looking for

2.) People need to use some simple search techniques to get more of what you want from google, and less of what you don't

3.) People need to know that Google is kind of like a popularity contest, and that some people make a very good living figuring out how to get sites to be in the top 5 in Google searches. Just Google searches!

3.) Students need to try other search engines.

I love Ask.com and Clusty.com. Ask.com suggests search ideas, and gives you suggestions to either narrow or expand your search. I can also give it cool backgrounds, like a forest or sunset. Clusty.com finds subtopics that are "submerged" in your main topic. By clicking on one of these "submerged" topics it narrows your search down. It has some other nice features, and makes me feel like I am driving a car custom made for me instead of just another cookie cutter 4 door sedan that fell off the end of the production line.

Search how you want, and get what you want.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The "New" Science 9

Oh I heard it through the grapevine,
It looks like I'm teachin' Science 9...for summer school!

I have a degree in Biology, and I think that I will do well with this course. I will be teaching students who didn't pass during the regular year, and so I have to cover a year's worth of Science in one month. Hmmmm...so what is the best way to cover some very abstract science concepts with struggling students?

The Superintendent for the Coquitlam School district, Tom Grant, took time out of his schedule to email me a list of free printable worksheets for a variety of high school subjects. Well, he didn't send it to me personally, but rather to all the principals, and my principal in turn passed it on to me. These great high school resources are found at teachersupport.ca. Turns out that although teachersupport.ca is an Ontario based educational website, it closely aligns with the NEW science 9 curriculum. How lucky is that?

My plan for each lessons will be to create each new lesson to be of the same format as the next.

1.) Have the students copy out the learning intentions for the day. Make sure they understand what it means. Put it on a blogsite made just for this course.

2.) Pre-teach the vocabulary (as much as possible) before beginning the lesson. Don't do all the vocabulary, maybe just 5 words per lesson. The goal is that they pass. Keep these 5 posted through the lesson. Refer to them - have the students make a "Woot Woot!" sound (or something) when we say the word reading aloud from the text so that it is fun and they are actively looking for this word. Perhaps even throw candy at them for being the first to locate these words in the text, and put it into their own words. Put these 5 words a day on the blogsite.

3.) Whenever possible, show a short 1-4 minute video from YouTube explaining the content. Embed the video in the course blogsite.

4.) Read the text. Answer questions from text, or fill in blackline master. Link to blackline master on blogsite.

5.) Students turn in short blackline master assignments or multiple choice / short answer assignments during class. Homework assignments only once every couple of days. Complete in class assignments are a must in order to pass.

6.) Give the class red, yellow, and green signs. When doing lesson, reading aloud from text, students hold up signs at the end of a subtopic or concept.
Green = I get it
Yellow = I sort of get it
Red = I don't understand it.

Greens help yellows, and I help reds. People need to get up and move. This will precede "complete in class" assignments. Off task behaviour = go work by yourself as you are interfering with other people's education. Summer plans are jeopardized by these actions. So are next year's plans.

7.) Have the students repeat the learning intentions for the day before they leave the class. It is their ticket out the door.

8.) Allow students to make comments or ask questions about homework on the blogsite. Specify what kinds of questions get posted, who will answer them, and how they are answered.

I will need a computer or laptop, and a projector. I will teach much of my lesson from the projector, and the day's notes go onto a blog for the end of the day. Stay tuned to see if I am actually teaching this course.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Packin' some Energi

I have been testing out the new iPod charger from Energizer, called "Energi To Go." It can been seen here on energizer's official page. It runs on a couple of energizer lithium ion batteries, is lightweight, and fairly simple to use.

I first used it on one of my long days at school. I got to school around 8 am, and then began listening to my iPod while working on some computers in our school lab. I listened to my iPod more during lunch (packing up boxes and filing papers by the pound), and then before and after teaching my night school course called "Bootup Camp" - computers for beginners. I was pretty low on charge, so out comes the Energi!

I have an iPod touch, and there is no specific "fit" setting for the iPod touch. It is adjustable, and worked well. I found that I couldn't carry my iPod around while charging it, as when it moved, it temporarily lost contact, and stopped charging. When I moved again, it started charging again. I left it to charge in my locked cabinet, and then after 20 minutes, I had enough juice to work late into the night.

Overall, I think it is a good product for people with iPod nano's, or classic 30 and 80 gig ipods. I didn't have a charger for energizer lithium ion batteries (great batteries though) that come with the charger, and so I will have to consider whether to use energizer's batteries, or to just use some other batteries. While I cannot charge my iPod while walking around with it, I think if I was at my desk I could charge up my iPod, no problem. If I had a flat surface in my car where my iPod wouldn't roll or fly around, I could also charge it while driving, (but I wouldn't listen to music with headphones while driving, 'cause that is not safe). Overall, I would give it an 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Can you say that again? And again?

    One of my students in my "Computers and Students with Learning Disabilities" (let's call him Mike) just had a bit of a breakthrough in tonight's course. It was the last night of the course, and it was the best night yet. Mike has CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Disorder). This means that when he hears things, somehow the signal gets turned around in his brain so that he doesn't hear the sounds that enter his ear. He also has trouble with his vision, and sometimes what he see also gets turned around.   
     When I asked Mike if he preferred to read or listen to a story, he said listen - with his right ear.  When I asked him if he would rather speak an answer, write an answer, or type an answer, he said....type!  Mike displayed a good sense of how to navigate menus (file -> save, or edit -> copy), and type at a decent speed for a student about 13 years old.  So I thought of ways for him to do his work using a computer to help.
    Mike was showing some good skills with photo editing using a simple graphics program.  I wanted him to use a digital camera to tell a story, as he could use photographs to tell stories with less typing, than just writing out a story alone.  I also showed him how he could use royalty free pictures and VoiceThread.com or PowerPoint to create simple presentations with either voice narration or typed explanations.  Mike was pleased.

      Mike's mom reported that Mike had difficulties remembering step-by-step instructions, such as "resizing a photo" (about 4 steps).  As our lab has Audacity on each station, and many of our computer stations have headphones, I decided to use Mike's preference for audio instructions and skills with a computer to give him a way to remember step-by-step instructions.  I used Audacity to record the steps as an mp3 (sound) file.  Mike put on his headphones, but only on the right ear.  He played the steps using Windows Media Player, and pressed pause when he finished listening to a step.  Mike was able to resize a photo listening only to the recorded instructions; he listened, paused the instructions, did that one step, and went back to listen to the next step!  

     Mike's mom said she was pleased to see that he could do instructions step-by-step by listening to an MP3 file of instructions, but wondered how Mike could do this in class?  I suggested an iPod!  Some models of ipod have microphones to make a recording.  He could ask the teacher to make a recording of Mike's instructions, pausing after each step.  Then Mike could play it back, listening to just the right headphone in class, and pause the track at each step.  By using headphones on his iPod, he would not be disturbing others.  He could then save the file on his computer and his iPod to listen to it again in the future.  My hope is that someday Mike records his own instructions, and becomes able to teach himself.

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Knocking It Out of the Park

One of my students from my evening course "Computers and Students with Learning Disabilities", just got a 69/70 on his last assignment, a report on meningitis. Typically he scores in the 35/70 range, and has an adapted program. He and his mother feel the difference this time was the fact that he used a computer to research, plan and produce his assignment.

Instead of doing a regular pencil and paper book report, my student researched facts about meningitis on the Internet, and then used bubbl.us to create a web diagram to plan his report. His mother helped him move his report ideas around, but she reports to me that she didn't need to add to the content of his work. This is important, as it means that the content was all his. The student said he liked using the computer to plan the project because he didn't need to redo his work, just move ideas around.

Then my student used the pamphlet template in MS Word, and got images from either clip art, or the Internet (royalty free photos, I hope). After creating his pamphlet, he did an oral report on it, (this kid can talk up a storm) and handed in the pamphlet. Man, was he proud. I was proud of him too. In a future post, perhaps if I get permission, I will post his pamphlet.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Show me don't tell me

Show me don't tell me. That is one of my student's motto. In our gifted program, one of our students has developed an interest in bridge building. Using the Internet I found a lot of great resources on bridge building, including a site that already has a description of a grade-able activity, background information on bridges, instructions, materials list, and a criteria sheet. Here is the site:


The site is called Rich Performance Tasks, and it is a Canadian made site, based on the Ontario curricular goals.

I then did a search on bridge building on YouTube, and found some great screen-capture videos of a video game that teaches bridge building. With these videos I was able to show the student how bridges are made up of a framework of beams and that their geometry determined how strong they are. We also discussed that bridges in reality needed to be made of materials used in the right way to make sure the bridge is made under budget:

This program is free from Download.com, and can be downloaded an reviewed here.

We also looked at another program that costs money, BridgeIt, and the student really liked the graphics, and felt that the cost (about $20 I think), was not too much for him to get if he really wanted it. I still like the free program, as free is my favourite price. Here is the video of BridgeIt below:

Finally we talked about how he could practice making bridges of different shapes using a combination of real building materials, and testing out new ideas first on the computer when looking for ways to improve his design. All in all, it was a nice lesson that married the experiences of the real world, and the learning that can come by experimenting the "virtual" world as a way to learn more.