Current events 6: Smart phones and tablets in BC classrooms

BC students will be encouraged to bring their cell phones and tablets to school, as part of the province’s plan to “personalize” learning, and to “keep them tech-savvy”. Read the story in the GLOBE AND MAIL.

Personally, I am hopeful that more schools will allow the use of smart phones and hand-held devices, as they are increasingly valuable in the classroom. Despite the debate that often arises – I know our school has a “NO cell phones during class time” policy – I feel we need to embrace such devices as useful educational tools.

Furthermore, I believe that School Divisions owe it to our students to provide this type of technology, to prevent those who cannot afford such tools from missing out on this important learning.

This story brought to mind an initiative at one of our Division (Prairie South)’s schools, involoving iPads in a grade 2 classroom. Fore more information, watch the PRAIRIE SOUTH VIDEO.

Xtranormal activity

My first experience with xtranormal, the online animation program, was through YouTube links sent to me by colleagues and friends. I found the movies, which transform written text to speech by selected avatar characters, hilarious. There is an impersonal quality to the dialogue and actions generated by the user that makes the whole scene quite farcical. The content, however, can be whatever the user wants to include.

So, I was curious to try the program out and share it with my students. Upon creating my first film, I discovered a few interesting facts about the site.

First, the free version is limited with respect to choice of characters, background scenes and effects. Once one has created a free account, one is given 300 “xp”, or xtranormal points to use towards these. Each character, scene and effect cost a certain number of xp, and if one exceeds 300, one is forced to get out the old credit card.

The lower-priced options are fine, however, and once one purchases an element, it’s his to keep. This does limit the creativity that one can bring to his productions, however.

The process itself is a lot of fun! First, I selected a theme. There are plenty to choose from. Some examples are “Celebz”, offering a host of famous avatars, “Pawz”, offering animal actors, and ” – self-explanatory. I chose “suits”, the office theme, and “2 actors” as opposed to one, to show the students an example of dialogue.

Next, I selected my background actors from a list of possibilities (I chose the cheapest ones), and selected their voices; both French so that my dialogue would come out correctly.

I was then asked to type in the text, which my actors would deliver as speech. This was also fun, as I had the opportunity to add movements and expressions and camera angles to my dialogue, simply by clicking and dragging the intended effect into the dialogue.

Before publishing my movie, I had the chance to see a preview. After publishing, I was given an account balance so I would know how many xp remained.

One thing I didn’t see was a way to embed or easily link my movie to, for example this blog…

I had a lot of fun creating my first little film, deciding to use it to introduce the activity to the kids, who will be using the program to present a piece of their recently selected picture books. I think they’ll have fun with this tool. More on that next time!

For now, I’d like to share the introductory film I created:

Ja-Jing!!

I have been looking forward to learning about screencasts!

Will Richardson (2010) writes that screencasting, “…involves capturing what you or your students do on the computer with an audio narration to go with it” (p. 123). I always appreciate the option of a narrated step-by-step guide when learning to use a new tool, and was curious about creating my own. I wanted to create a screencast to show my students how to use Xtranormal, an online animated-story generator. 

I’ve never made a screencast before, so I was unsure where to begin, other than that Joanne and Jenn had mentioned Jing as a tool for creating them. So began a series of hiccups and aha moments, along the road to my first Jing screencast, which I managed to complete today!

The following is a rundown of my experience using Jing and Screencast.com for the first time, told in oldie-but-goodie “Oh, that’s bad.. Oh, that’s good” fashion.

  • The first hurdle was downloading the program, which I was unable to do on my computer at work, due to administrative restrictions. (Oh, that’s bad.)
  • I put in a work ticket, and our IT department downloaded it for me. (Oh, that’s good!)
  • It was a bit late for me to work on my project at work. (Oh, that’s bad.)
  • I decided to install the program on our home computer. (Oh, that’s good!)
  • It turned out that the process was a bit cumbersome, requiring a preliminary installation of another program, a reboot, a download and registration on yet another site, Screencast.com, a DNA test… OK – not really quite that far. (Oh, that’s bad.)
  • I got through the rather complicated process, and managed to get the program working. (Oh, that’s good!)
  • My laptop microphone is not wonderful, making the audio in my screencast sound somewhat like I was recording from another room, from inside a paper bag. (Oh, that’s bad.)
  • But the site offered good tutorials, and the program was easy to use, so I made my first screencast in under 20 minutes! (Oh, that’s good!)
  • Creating the screencast was simple enough, but figuring out how to save, upload and access it proved sightly more complicated. For some reason, screencast.com kept bringing up error messages and closing, and finding the URL to link to the screencast was akin to finding a needle in a small town with no map. (Oh, that’s bad.)
  • Finally, I located the URL, sent it to myself via email, and it appears to have worked! (Oh, that’s great!)

I look forward to sharing it with my kiddies next week, as they learn to use Xtranormal. I was wrestling with the initial idea I had for the students to use it as a way to reflect on a field trip we will be taking next week. It felt forced, and I decided I was employing the wrong tool for the purpose at hand. So, rather than have them use the program as a reflective tool, I’ve chosen to have the students use Xtranormal to create an animated dialogue directly from the pages of the book they are using for a project. I think this will be a fun way for them to connect with their book near the beginning of the unit.

Stay tuned for more about my Xtranormal adventures  in future posts!

I’ve shared my first attempt at a screencast “how-to”, for Xtranormal, below.

Reference:

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Current events 4: Blackberry “outage” of 2011

When my husband travels for business, he usually calls every few days, but he BBM’s me daily, sometimes several times a day. So, imagine my concern when I hadn’t heard from him for 2 days while he was away in Germany last week.

Finally, I received an email explaining that Blackberry service was down, and his Torch had now become nothing more than, in his words, “a large clock”.

The next day, news had spread of the “crisis” in Europe, and the problem quickly hopped the pond to North America.

It occurs to me that we are now so dependent on tools that, not too many years ago, did not even exist, that we consider it catastrophic when they fail. I know Darren felt somewhat lost without his professional lifeline, and the 300+ emails that awaited him when he returned home were less than appreciated. I heard stories of those who missed job opportunities and important information, all due to the lack of connectivity.

Maybe the fact that we have become so comfortable with this type of technology, assuming that it will always work seamlessly, is the very reason for the “crisis” that ensues when it does not.

To add insult to injury for RIM, Apple was due to come out with its latest toy, the iPhone 4s the following weekend. I imagine many former BB devotees were camping out at Apple stores all over the world.

For more on the Blackberry problem, check out this NEWS STORY and the following video:

Current events 5: Apple – giving a “voice” to communication

While the world has been typing instructions into calendars, texting, IM-ing, Tweeting and blogging, Apple is coming up with ways to incorporate voice into some of these things easily.

One such tool is Yiip, which has been compared to “Twitter for voice clips”. Users can “tweet” short voice recordings instead of typing out text messages.

Another recent development is Siri, Apple’s voice assistant on the iPhone 4s. Users can instruct Siri through simple voice commands to wake them up at a specific time, find a coffee shop, and many other useful tasks. Much more convenient and simpler than taking the time to enter text!

Current events 3: Steve Jobs dies

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple has died at the age of 56.

Labeled a visionary, leader and family man, Steve Jobs was ahead of his time. In 1975, when most of us knew little about we now refer to as “high-technology”, Jobs was dreaming up Apple, now a household name. In fact, even more than other tech brands, Apple seems to transcend age, technological skill levels and areas of interest.

As I type this on my iPad, I contemplate once again how far this world has come, and how much of what we do and how we do it is because of great “out-of-the-box” thinkers like him.

Thank you, Mr. Jobs. RIP.

More at the Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/apples-visionary-leader-steve-jobs-dies-at-56/article2192420/

Current Events 2: Twitter keeps Amazing Race team in the running

OK, so I’m an Amazing Race fan…

On the première of the Amazing Race, one of the contestants unwittingly left her passport behind at a gas station, on her way to the airport, to catch an outbound flight.

Not having her Passport would have meant disqualification from the competition.
Luckily, a fellow picked it up, and tweeted that he had it. Twitter saved the day!

This story just goes to show how interconnected we are through Web 2.0, and how easily and immediately we can send messages and receive answers.

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