Monday, May 28, 2012

VoiceThread and Van Meter Schools

In class this week we were asked to use a Web 2.0 collaboration tool called VoiceThread.  At its core VoiceThread is a "conversation in the cloud."  Think Google Docs merged with Google Voice and Video in a simple, easy to use interface.  Check it out here.  Have you used this in your classroom before?  I know our Biology teacher has used this tool multiple times before, but I never really understood the power of it until this class assignment.  It was great to see slides, PDFs, and a video while other people comment in real time along the side.  My cohort members have logged in at different times and left comments on different slides so it was great to see what they said.  Overall, I am very impressed with this tool and look forward to using it in my classroom in the future.

The VoiceThread that we looked at today was all about Van Meter Schools in Iowa (Map).  A key component that we looked at was their promotional video.  There are really four things that I noticed in this video that I wanted to comment further on in this post:

1.) Van Meter Schools is a K-12 model that has some really cool things going on.  It reminded me a lot of the district and school that I work in currently.  We are also K-12 and our class sizes are small as well.  We have also integrated technology throughout the curriculum – from iPads in elementary and middle school to MacBooks in our 8-12 grade classrooms.  For more information on Van Meter Schools or FAIR School click the links.  It was great to see another school doing similar things as we are in Minneapolis.

2.) Van Meter Schools have embraced technology.  It appears that there are a lot of school districts that are doing this across the country, and many of them with iPads specifically.  Here in Minnesota, Lakeville Public Schools just rolled out 1800 iPads in their buildings.  Whether iPads, MacBooks, or some other tool, the end result is that Van Meter has embraced the technology.  They understand that technology is a cornerstone in education today and this is referenced on their Teaching and Learning Technology page as well.  Technology is a large part of what they do there.  The same emphasis appears at FAIR School in specific reference to our 1:1 MacBook program.  Check out more information about that program here.

3.) The town of Van Meter and the school district appear very progressive.  They have moved ahead of other Iowa and midwest schools to embrace this technology.  In fact, they have done it with overwhelming community support as well.  That appears to be a large hurdle in today's world – How to get the public to understand the need for students to have access to technology.  In Inver Grove Heights, MN (a southern suburb of Minneapolis) their technology levy has been defeated twice.  Check out the moving and realistic press release by the superintendent.  Having technology as part of the curriculum is an important piece of the educational landscape across the country today.  It fits in directly with the Iowa Core Curriculum and the revised Minnesota standards as well.  However, how many school districts crave for the community support that they have in Van Meter?

4.) Van Meter gets the idea that technology is a TOOL to aid in education.  The English teacher in this video says: "The laptops are a source for information.  They don't make the teaching, they make the teaching easier."  How true is this statement?  Too many school districts get caught up with the big shiny object (iPads more often than not today) and do not really have an integration plan.  After a little digging I found Van Meter's Library Science Curriculum.  What do you notice about this?  The big thing that I saw was that skills that are very specific and scaffolded throughout the grade levels.  In our school district I believe most of our students can accomplish the skills in K-8, but then our official media classes stop.  It would be great to hear more about how Van Meter meets these high school curriculum requirements.  Too often I think we "assume" that technology literacy is taught in our high schools.  Is it really though?  Can our students accomplish everything on Van Meter's high school list?  Can they do it effectively?  This is a skill I want to look at specifically in our high school throughout the summer.  Students need to continue learning about technology in high school, using the Partnership for the 21st Century Skills as a framework, in order to be successful in the future.

How do your students or schools use the P21 skills?  Have you heard about all the awesome things going on at Van Meter Schools?  How do we teach media and technology skills in high school?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Closer Look at Podcasts

Podcasts oh how I love you!  The whole idea of a podcasts has captured me ever since I heard about them. The fact that you can record yourself, create an episode, and then publish it online for the entire world to hear and download to their individual iPod or other device is incredible.  Just the thought amazed me a few years ago when I heard it, but now it seems a bit outdated in the world of Web 2.0 and a variety of awesome ways to inform people about the information relevant to them.  Podcasts have changed from the straight audio to include enhanced and also video podcasts.  Personally, if I am going to complete a podcast I am going back to the bread and butter of straight audio.  I have done this recently using PodOMatic (A great tool if you have not heard about it for publishing your podcasts).  In fact, here is a link to my most recent podcast on Distributed Learning Communities for class last week.

I'm not a professional podcaster and that is OK.  However, some people do spend a lot more time than I do creating and publishing podcasts on iTunes and a variety of other websites.  For a more complete primer into podcasting look no further than my classmate Tyler's recent post on podcasts at Royal Technology.  He also has some great favorites you might want to look into as well.

As you may have guessed, this week in class Dr. Z asked us to look a bit closer at podcasts and especially those on iTunes.  These people are professionals or semi-pros and they have the right equipment, time, and energy to create great podcasts.  We were asked to look at three podcasts of our choice this week and reflect on them.  Here is what I noticed:

This first podcast publisher description was listed as: Educators & App Enthusiasts Lisa Johnson & Yolanda Barker will guide you through a menu of app-ealing lesson ideas, apptivities, and pedagogical practices.  These two ladies are connected with the Techchef4u website and app.  This website is a great resource for individuals that are looking for free apps – through either method.
This podcast was titled: “iLearn App Development Project.”  This was a really informative podcast about the iLearn group of apps (Check out their website for more information).  This was a really interesting podcast because the show hosts interviewed the development team for iLearn.  I was given a closer look into what app production and publishing looks like in the real world.  This podcast was very relevant to my interests with iPads and the apps that are possible.  I am so used to using the VPP and downloading the apps and trying them out, but I don’t really get into the world of developing, code, and the artwork.  This podcast, although it was an interview, did include a lot of dead air time and in addition there are some odd breaks and pauses.  It almost appeared like they recorded this podcast and did not spend a lot of time editing it.  I did like that they covered some interesting topics and the interview was really informative.  However, I would suggest improving this podcast by cutting out some odd pauses, coughs, and uninteresting pieces.  This is a very long podcast, 37 minutes, but there are some other pieces that I felt could be cut so that it could be a bit tighter.  Overall, this is a good listen and the hosts do a great job.  If you want to hear about apps, listen directly to app developers, and hear about integration of apps into the curriculum.  Then this is the podcast for you!

The second podcast publisher description was listed as: The enhanced AAC edition of the show for Mac Geeks by Mac Geeks. We cover everything Macintosh. Keep up to date on the latest Mac news, topics and rumors. Throw in a good dose of helpful tips and listener questions and feedback and you have the MacCast. Enjoy!
The podcast that I listened to was titled: “eMaccast 2012.05.15.”  This was a really interesting podcast because it covered a great deal of information about the rumors, updates, and tips on everything Mac.  This specific episode also interviewed the author of “Paperless," David Sparks.  It was a great interview and overall this podcast was very informative.  The huge number of tips, tricks, and overall rumors about Apple intrigued me.  This is a very relevant topic for me because I do have to oversee and manage over 500 Apple devices on a daily basis.  It is a lot to do and having a few tips and tricks always makes life easier.  What I really enjoyed about this podcast was the relevancy of the information and how the podcast was enhanced.  It had links and images in addition to the talking.  This allowed me to get a copy of the author’s book and click on other topics for more information.  What I did not like about this podcast was that it was extremely long, 1 hour and 24 minutes.  Some of the items the host talked through when I really thought it may have been better for his listeners to click a link, because it is an enhanced podcast, and read up.  This would have offered an alterative to hearing him go through step by step instructions on an audio podcast.  I think that if the host did this with his podcast it would make the length a bit shorter and more manageable for the listeners.  The only suggestion I have is for the host to continue discussing interesting and not redundant Apple news, as many of his listeners probably already have an eye on the forums and chats available about Apple, and to keep the length of the podcasts a bit shorter.  It is hard to dedicate an hour and a half to a podcast that is one person talking.  There was not a lot of volume change, audio transitions, or anything else to signify the switch between topics.  This might be an easy way to break up the length and help the editing as well.  This was an interesting podcast and the trends and rumors about Apple are something that every technology director that has OS and iOS devices in their districts should be paying attention to on a daily if not weekly basis.  

The third podcast publisher description was listed as: “What should future schools look like? How do brains learn? Some of the world's greatest educators, researchers, and community leaders share their stories and visions onstage at the TED conference, TEDx events and partner events around the world.”
The podcast that I listed to was titled: “Joe Sabia: The technology of storytelling.”  In it iPad storyteller Joe Sabia introduced me to Lothar Meggendorfer, who created a bold technology for storytelling – the pop-up book. Sabia showed how new technology has always helped us tell our own stories, from the walls of caves to his own onstage iPad.  This was a very interesting podcast because Sabia used a variety of apps to present.  I counted at least ten tools when I took a look at this video podcast.  This podcast was also very relevant to my interests of podcasting, storytelling, iPads, and apps.  What I really liked about this podcast was that it was a video recording of a TED talk.  TED is a great organization that has so many wonderful videos that are short, sweet, and to the point.  The speaker does not have time to give long and drawn out responses, instead they need to be short and to the point.  I also enjoyed that this was a video podcast.  It gave more life and interest to the content than just an audio podcast.  This podcast, in comparison to the others, was a whopping 3 minutes and 51 seconds.  I really enjoyed the length and think that it fit the message and overall topic very well.  As far as improving these podcasts, I do not think I would want to try.  TED is such a widely recognized organization that what they do and how they do it is top notch.  I did not see anywhere in this podcast where they could have improved.  This podcast is exceptional.  If only I had time to watch the rest of them!

Overall I learned that podcasts are unique items that can be long, short, video, enhanced, or just audio – but all of them were very informative about their specific episode topic.  I was glad that we were asked to look at some podcasts prior to our upcoming assignment.  It provided a few tips, hints, and ideas to work from for my next one.

What podcasts do you listen to?  Have you listened to any of the publishers above?  What other podcasts should have been listed above?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Help for Google Apps Users

Recently one of my graduate school professors at UNI, Dr. Z, asked me about support documents for Google Apps.  This is not an abnormal request for a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer like myself.  However, I do notice that a lot of people are a bit confused when looking for help as there are so many places to go.  I will RT his blog post here for those that are interested.  There are a number of great places to go online for support and I hope this solves the call for "Help!" when considering Google Apps.

However, the Administrative Assistants (AA) are one area of Google Apps users that is usually forgotten. These people are essential to the organization, but often times they do not get the technology support or training they deserve.  Shout out to Sally, Renee, and Megan!  Here are a few resources not listed above that are specifically for our AAs:

A PDF guide specifically for Gmail
How do you set up your email for a delegate situation?  How do you send email for your principal?

Video regarding Gmail delegation
Some people are visual and auditory learners.  Here is a resource for you!

Calendar delegation
In addition to Gmail, the other big task is setting up appointments using the calendar.  Look no further!

General Administrative Assistant Information
A one-stop shop for Administrative Assistants from Google.  Get support, resources, and a whole lot more.

Administrative Assistant Community
Everyone likes to bounce ideas off one another.  Check out this Google Apps community specifically for AAs.  You may just get your question answered or learn something new.

Please share this post with your AAs.

Do you have other resources that should be posted either on Dr. Z's page or here?  Please let me know!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Google Docs Research Pane: Updated

After last week's announcement Google went ahead and listened to the masses (amazing isn't it).  They went ahead and added in Google Scholar and citations.  Check out this short video for the update:

Please note that we are a Rapid Release Domain for Google Apps for Education.  Therefore, even thought these are cool features, you may not have access to them yet.  They are coming and you can experiment with them in a personal Gmail account.

Also, for the Official Google Posting check out this URL.

Reactions?  Do you like that citations are complete in the Document?  Will we continue to teach citations in English class?

Monday, May 21, 2012

First Drive: SMART Notebook 11

First drives are always so much fun.  Do you remember the first car you ever test drove?  Mine was a big boat of a car, but it ended up getting me from Point A to Point B.

If only SMART Notebook could be as much fun as test driving cars!  Sometimes it seems like a terrible x-girlfriend that you cannot get rid of.  Our school, like many, purchased a number of these boards over the years and we have had mixed results.  Some of our teachers love them, use the Lesson Activity Toolkit, and all the features.  Then on the other side of the spectrum others use it strictly as a glorified overhead projector.  I can't help walking by, shaking my head, and wondering why we spent the extra few thousand dollars for the interactivity.  Regardless, now we have the boards and the training is ongoing.  Like any other piece of technology it requires users to become familiar with the features and how they can actually integrate it within their classrooms.

Speaking of, shameless plug, if you know anyone in the Duluth, MN area that wants to sharpen their skills check out this SMART Board course I am co-teaching this summer.  We extensively cover integrating the software into our classrooms heavily in this course.  It's all about you, your classroom, and a SMART Board.

Throughout the years I have not had a great experience with SMART and their software for Macs.  It has gotten better, but there was an incident earlier this year when the software got updated and the board drivers did not.  This caused major issues and most of the staff had to be manually reverted back to the old version of the software (not a fun time in the IT department).  Some times the software works great, but at other times it seems to crash.  If there was ever a reason to buy a PC emulator it might be for this software to run properly.

Well, as technology continues to change so does SMART Technology and their software.  I downloaded this new version of the software the day after it was released and had mixed results.  Here is a quick video showing some of the new features in Notebook 11:

After spending a few more days testing out the software I have noticed a few things:

1.) The software overall seems a bit slower to react.  It is slower to load, close, and overall pull up things.  It does appear a bit larger on my HD, but still it should be easier and not harder to complete work.  And yes, it still pulls up a blank presentation every time you open it up.  One more thing to fix!

2.) The adaptable toolbar is a nice addition.  It is a common complaint when I am teaching the software that there are so many buttons.  The new interface makes that a lot easier to navigate and get to the important items when you need them.  The intelligence also makes a whole lot more sense in this app compared to the MS Office suite, which is a bit convoluted at times.

3.) It has not crashed yet.  Seriously.  I am not kidding!  I am a constant Command-S user in this program, but now I feel a little safer.  I will keep you updated on this one, because I am not convinced yet.  I did have one problem closing out of the program when I was done that required a Force Quit.  Regardless, it appears to be a bit more stable over previous versions.

4.) There also appear to be a number of new features that I have not tried out yet (the browser in the slide, the activity builder, etc.), but the one that I have used heavily is the new Ink Layer.  They have completely redesigned it from the ground up.  What we are used to with one Ink Layer over the top of everything has now been changed into an individual Ink Layer over each individual window – now called Ink Aware.  The interface is a bit hard to get used to and the controls are also complicated to understand.  In addition, the floating toolbar is essentially rendered useless in this new version of Notebook.  In my limited test drive I found this to be the one overwhelming reason of why NOT to update at this time.  Check out SMART's website and the links below for more discussion on this topic.  Essentially they took the layer out and tried to make it a smart and aware layer.  The verdict is still out on this one!

I will continue to experiment and try new things out.  However, if you are interested in updating your Notebook to the new version check this URL out.  If you want a quick overview of the new features from SMART check out this URL. This is also a great resource for an outside look at the new update from TeacherTechnology.

Have you tried out the new Notebook 11 yet?  
What things have you noticed?
Do you have an opinion on the Ink Layer vs. Ink Aware?  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Google Docs: Research Pane

Google Apps recently released a new Research Pane to all their users. This first appeared in normal Gmail accounts and has slowly crept into Google Apps users. I noticed it yesterday morning when I logged in to my school account.

This is a great new feature that allows you to research the web, find images, and quotes from inside of a Google Document. Check out this video for more information and classroom applications:

For more information on this new feature check out Google's Blog on this topic titled: "Find Facts and Do Research Inside Google Documents."

Another great source is one of my new favorite blogs, Free Technology For Teachers.  He also has a post and some great screen shots as well titled: "Search the Web Within Your Google Documents."

Way to go Google!  Keep the new features coming.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Welcome Back World!

Time flies when you are having fun, right?  Well, that is what it has seemed like for the past few months since I have last written.  Elvis has NOT left the building, but it did appear that I left the blogging world for a time.  Let's find out why...

I have been busy.  
That is the understatement of the century.  It seems like the life of teaching and directing technology in a building keep people busy.  I knew this going in, but I honestly did not think I would be this busy.  Between fully scheduled days, special events some weekends, and long nights sending emails and solving problems from abroad, life does not seem to stop when we want it to.  Regardless, just because I am busy does not mean that I have not been reflecting or that I have not wanted to write on this blog.

I have not had time.
OK, this is a lame one.  It is more of a personal confession that sometimes I get sick of technology.  I know, that's hard to say for someone that loves technology as much as I do.  However, when the decision is to spend another hour or so writing on my blog or with a real person (like my wife), I am going to choose the real person every time.  I need to remember that personal reflection is an integral part of learning and growing.  I have continued to reflect in different and new ways, but I just have not put anything on here.  Get ready for a ride.

I have expanded my family & life.
I guess last time I blogged I was married, but having another person around changes your priorities.  I alluded to this in the last paragraph, but it is a totally true statement.  I want to spend time with my wife way more than I want to write sometimes.  I love to express what I am learning through text; therefore, I am really looking forward to continuing to blog in the coming months and years.  I have also expanded my life.  Kind of a weird statement, but essentially my wife and I bought a home together.  Exciting, right?  It has been great; however, with it comes more space and more responsibility.  Both things that take adjustment.

I have not really had a good reason.
Once again, this is kind of a lame reason as well.  There are have been some really cool things going on at FAIR School Downtown.  In fact, our 1:1 iPad Program in elementary is going so well the administration decided to expand it to K-2 for next year.  This year we piloted iPads in middle school and expanded our 1:1 MacBook program to include grades 9-12.  Yes, a lot of devices and even more are coming in over the summer.  FAIR has also done some really cool stuff with Google Apps for Education (I obtained my Certified Trainer status since the last post as well), Facebook, and SMS text messaging.  All of these will probably be blogs for another time.  Not to mention the super cool stuff happening each and every day at an arts school in the heart of Minneapolis.

Guess what?  I now have a great reason to get back into the blogging world!  I started my Masters Degree Program in Instructional Technology at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI).  I looked into this program roughly a year and a half ago when I wanted to start my degree.  However, they were in the middle of a cohort.  Now the new cohort has started and I am privileged to be a part of it.  I just got through looking at our first two assignments and we have some great people in this program.  In the future you will see some unique and interesting posts on this blog (probably stuff for UNI) and some more of the same stuff you have come to enjoy from Fifty-Nine Minutes.

To my new readers, welcome.
To everyone else, welcome back.

Thanks for reading!