Saturday, April 18, 2009

Death By Powerpoint

Sorry, but I just cringe every time I have to sit through a Powerpoint presentation. If you want a good laugh, read "Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely" by Edward Tufte. To its credit, Powerpoint has been around for 20 years, and if used effectively, can be a useful tool. Let a class of kids loose on Powerpoint and you usually get lots of clashing colours, annoying noises, animations and not much useful information. I usually start with a lesson on how to prepare an effective presentation and I am fairly strict with the rubrics I set for assignments using Powerpoint. I just really needed a change and this week searched for other presentation alternatives. I like Open Office Impress and think that it is a good free alternative to Powerpoint for most presentations. I think Impress has actually been engineered to be similar to Powerpoint to allow MSOffice centric types an easy transition. I found a few interesting online tools but the prize so far goes to Prezi . It is a non-linear presentation tool that allows you to zoom in and out, move around at will and save your presentations. It takes a short time to learn to use and is such a breath of fresh air compared to Powerpoint. There are some shortcomings, which will no doubt become apparent as you use it but the concept of a zooming presentation tool is quite exciting and revolutionary. You can sign up for a trial version.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Video Is Coming To Your Classroom

I can see in the near future when students will search for and view videos related to content they want to learn about, when they need it and not when we feel like teaching it. If you haven't paid much attention to Teacher Tube and You Tube before, you had better familiarise yourself with them quickly. There are so many good tutorials appearing on these sites now that you can use in your classroom. If you have problems viewing You Tube at school there are various tools such as Keepvid and FLV Player to help you. There are many advantages to saving your lessons as video tutorials. How many times in your life have your taught that fractions lesson to Year 6? You can almost do it in your sleep, so why not share it with other people and have it as a resource to pull out once a year. You can do the lesson well once on video and keep it for future use. A little more work at first certainly, but you will have it very ever. Kids who are having trouble understanding the concept can watch it several times until "the penny drops". There are many students who have not been served well by traditional classroom instruction who are going to benefit from this change. Remember when you missed school for a week because of illness and missed learning a whole topic in Math, never to really catch up? If you are a visual learner like me, the advantages are obvious. I have been slowly working through Tomaz Lazic's Moodle video tutorials and I must say it is my prefered way to learn what I need to learn. And that is a key point. We learn things when we need to learn them, not when someone teaches us. As Winston Churchill said, "I like learning but I don't always like being taught". It is also a great way to help kids revise for exams. If you don't believe it is going to happen soon in the primary classroom, look at what has taken place in higher education. Most univerities offer lectures in video format.
Let's face it. Most of us are digital dinosaurs. We grew up in the pre-digital age while the kids we teach have been born into it. We are going to have to get with it. So how do you do it? A simple way is to use free software like Cam Studio which allows you to record all screen and audio activity on your computer and and save it as a video. So you really don't need a video camera really at all. Start by visiting Teacher Tube and looking at how others have done it. And it is not such a new thing after all. Have a look at Ma and Pa Kettle's Maths instruction video for a laugh. One of my old favourites that I have shown many kids over the years, Donald in Mathmagicland is also worth a look. Why didn't I present this information in video format? Good question. I will work on it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Moodle

You may have guessed by now that I like free stuff or as Australians say, I am tighter than a fish’s bum. I object to having to pay for resources that are freely available on the net. That is one of the main reasons I made my collection of links called Primary School available to you. I think it is kinder to think of myself as being like a Bowerbird. Collecting digital treasures for my website nest. If you are not an Aussie, have a look at this video from David Attenborough. Moodle is one of these treasures. I am looking for new ways of delivering content to students that takes advantage of the power of ICT and I am finding Moodle to be fairly exciting for the following reasons:
  • It is FOSS (free and open source software).
  • Being FOSS it is constantly evolving and improving.
  • It is modular and you can add useful objects and tools to it (the number and range of these will increase).
  • It allows teachers to create a course (unit of work) and deliver this content to anyone, anywhere, any time.
  • Learners only need a browser such as IE or Firefox (Please give Firefox a go) and an internet connection to use it.
  • It allows you to create your course and improve on it each year (no more handing in programs, I hear you say)
  • It allows you to collaborate and share courses with other teachers and so, reduces the incidence of duplication (how many of us are creating the same units of work today and reinventing the wheel?).
  • It manages assessment and student feedback really well.
Ok. I admit there are a few hitches. You will have to move out of your comfort zone and learn something new. I get sick of teachers telling me, "Not more things we have to learn!", but that is what life is all about. If you don't learn, you don't grow. My suggestion is that you start by watching these videos. Then look at the examples I collected and then log in to the Moodle demonstrations at http://www.moodle.mylearningspace.com.au/ and http://demo.moodle.org/ and learn how it works (I am a novice too and hope never to be considered an expert at anything). One of the problems I have found is finding primary school Moodle courses that are available for public viewing. You have to log in as a guest and I often find I am locked out, so it is difficult to view good existing examples. The other problem is that, while you can run Moodle on a single computer, you really need to get a computer nerd to download and put the Moodle software on your school or regional education office server so you have somewhere secure to store the precious courses that you create. You can get around this by using a free Moodle hosting service such as Ninehub.com as a way of dipping your toe in the water. They host the Moodle courses for you and the only drawback is a bit of google advertising at the top and bottom. When you open a new account at Ninehub.com you can easily create a new course and play around adding topics, resources such as links and activities such as quizzes or forums. Once you have created something useful in this account, test it with the kids at school, then show it to your IT administrator and convince them to host it on your school or regional server. If this fails just leave it on Ninehub.com . They also offer a paid service if you want extra features. To me Ninehub.com looks like a good place to start (I hope I am not proved wrong sorry). The other problem with Moodle is that it looks really high school centric but I am sure that once primary teachers like me get a hold of it, there will be new modules and new ways of using it that are more suited to primary schools that will emerge. Go on. Do yourself and your students a favour and have a go.

P.S. No sign of the new netbooks yet that are ordered but I am hoping we can get hold of them by next term. Hopefully, I can have a couple of decent units of work ready to deliver via Moodle when we get the devices up and running.