Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our Unsung Heroes

SEA's in our district is the term for Special Education Assistant. They work with the most vulnerable students on a small group or 1 to 1 basis. They work with students with autism, students with global deficits, and students with physical impairments. They make less money than a teacher, perhaps because there is less formal education required to qualify for this position, and they officially work fewer hours. Yet in practice they have very demanding jobs requiring a vast set of skills to meet the needs of each kid.

Sometimes their students lash out at them, spit at them or cause them harm accidentally or on purpose. They wear brave smiles, laugh, and continue to do their duty with little or no complaint that I have heard.

I don't propose paying SEA's more, but I would like to see these SEA's get more professional development time. The relatively small cost of training SEA's to work with computers and new technology, perhaps some adaptive technology (speech recognition software for instance) if schools have the budget, would pay high dividends.

This would mean that even if a teacher was not aware of some of the technology options available to help a student with special needs - using speech recognition software, recording a student's voice using a computer and microphone, using interactive websites to teach math concepts - the SEA would know of a variety of technology strategies to help their students.

I think its time we gave these "unsung heroes of the school" tools that may save them time and effort. Everyone wins in the end when all members of the team have good technology skill sets.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tell Kids They are Smart Enough

When kids come to me and say their computer is broken, and I ask them to tell me more I think of a person going to a doctor and saying "Something hurts, somewhere....can you fix it?"

I told some kids today that very smart people make it their jobs to write out error messages describing a complex problem in a language that non-engineers can understand. I demonstrated an error by creating a bad file name, and then trying to upload it to our classroom website's "editing room" (an online folder where kids share work). We read the error message, and not surprisingly we figured out what was wrong with the file name.

In an informal poll, more than half of my students feel they are smarter than their parents when it comes to operating a computer. Therefore I have concluded that they have been told by the adults who have taught them about computers thus far that they are not smart enough to figure out what an error message means, and that they as students are not to be trusted to read this message and attempt to troubleshoot the problem themselves?

What's the worst that could happen? They lose their work? Possibly, but not learning about computers and not learning how to troubleshoot problems would be a greater loss than a few paragraphs of typing.

Empower kids to troubleshoot. Initially they feel nervous or a bit overwhelmed, but we don't let them keep their training wheels on their bikes forever. Why should computer use be different?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Embedding the best of the Web - CUEBC 2009

I am off to CUEBC later this month! I will be presenting on using "embed codes" in education. What is embedding? Why is it important in education?

How about starting your math lesson off with a laugh:

Embed codes are ways to bring great videos, podcasts, maps, projects, slideshows and more - right to your own classroom website.

I decided to embed a map to CUEBC 2009 - being hosted at Sullivan Heights in Surrey, BC. That way, all my friends could know where to meet me. I went to google maps, and googled the address. I got a map, and in the upper right corner of the map box I found a button labelled "Link". When I clicked it I got an embed code. I then came here to my blog, and when I clicked on the "edit html" tab -

View Larger Map

I hit paste, and now I have a scrollable google map in my site! How could you use this in the classroom? Where would you take your students?

What if you wanted to share a story plan with your students:

This is an online mind map site, called You or your students can create accounts here (with teacher and parent permission) for free. There are other sites like it that also support embedding. I created this story web to help parents support their grade 3 student at home plan and write their story about "My Life in BC." By providing parents and students with the story bubble diagrams via your classroom website, you might get fewer late assignments, or even better quality assignments.

Sometimes I need to support other kinds of learning at home. What about demonstrating how to do something like a math problem? How long has it been since your student's parents did math? Do they know the new "partial product method"?

I find making a screencast to be really helpful. I use a free program called Jing, and a free account at I capture my voice and the action on my screen. Then I just use a program like MS Paint to do my math on. Forgive my messy handwriting; I am sure you would be neater.

What about presentations and slideshows? You can embed them from different sites, such as google docs.

Google docs offers you an online office suite of programs that works with Microsoft Office. I made this presentation for the Learning Disabilities Association of BC. Using the embed code allows me to bring my presentation to my audience, rather than having them try to search for it.

Remember the YouTube video we used before? Here is a great alternative for when you want to host private videos - Vimeo allows you to embed password protected videos. This way, you can shoot video with your students in it (again with permission and understanding between all parties) and embed the video in your website. Then just tell your students / email your parents what the password is. In the Coquitlam School District, we use SharePoint websites which are password protected. I put the password on the same page as the video, and then only people with access to my site can access the video.

Password is: star

Guitar Lesson from James Gill on Vimeo.

Finally there is Voicethread. I have used voicethread a with a number of students and across a variety of subjects. Its an online slideshow that you can narrate, and other people can comment on your voicethread when you invite them in.

What if you want to record your kids. Podcasts are a great way kids can show what they know, and if you control the podcasting account and are careful they don't reveal their names and addresses, I feel it is a safe and fun educational experience. And once again, you can embed their podcasts so you can rotate the content throughout the year. I use After making a podcast (audio recording on the net) I did a little digging and found that when I click on the "embeddable player" guessed get your choice of code to embed your podcast. It comes with its own player!

Here is an example of how we can do some cool storytelling online, using voicethread

Putting your voicethreads into your classroom website is another great way to showcase what kids know.

So to summarize, you can embed video, password protected video, maps, screencasts, podcasts, mind maps, and Voicethreads. There are more things you can embed, such as photo albums from, and this feature is becoming standard on almost all sites that host other people's content. Think about bringing the best of Web 2.0 to your class. Use embed codes - they make for a safe, reliable, and educational web classroom.