Sunday, May 31, 2009

Online Video Tutorials are a Great Way to Learn

Want to learn some of the most exciting and powerful applications but don't have the money to drop on a private instructor or the patience to read through a community college Online course? hosts an Online Training Library and offers CD-ROM courses that include such subjects as Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, Office, digital photography, Web design, digital video, and many others.'s all-star team of trainers and teachers provides comprehensive movie-based training to an international membership of tens of thousands of subscribers.

Who is it for?
People with even the slightest interest in computers would be wise to invest in themselves and master key software titles. Whether you're a budding tech-head or an advanced geek,'s breadth of training videos can move you closer to your goals. Considering the speed at which technology evolves, the Online Training Library is also a great solution for keeping your skills current.'s library subscriptions begin as low as $25 a month, with no long-term commitment required.

I recently looked into taking a Dreamweaver course through my local community college Online. I liked the price $99 (which is a steal compared to the $1,200 price-tag for a three-day small group course I've seen advertised around L.A. and Orange County); but when I looked over the syllabus, I discovered that I'd have to read every lesson and have no audio or visual interaction with the instructor at all. I have nothing against reading, but multi-media instruction should be visual. For the same price, I could have four months of access to thousands of hours of video tutorials!

You've gotta try it!
The first couple "chapters" of any topic are free with a 24-hour trial account. So, sign up. Then, pick a topic you're interested in and begin your lesson. You will hear a knowledgeable instructor's voice and his or her computer screen will appear before your eyes. It's like you're being guided by the hand!

Learn more about

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wanted: The Right Tools For The Job

Growing up, most of us were taught that jealousy is wrong. But what if all you want is simply the right tool for the job? Personally, I want my doctor to upgrade to the best medical equipment available, especially if he's about to operate on me. In fact, if he was comfortable with his dilapidated x-ray machine, or his beat-up stethoscope, I'd think there was something wrong with him.

It's a question of equity. A righteous jealousy is merely wanting the right tool for the job. Would anyone look down on a mechanic because he wanted to upgrade from a wrench to an air compressor? During the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s, did anyone consider Martin Luther King, Jr. jealous when all he wanted was equal rights for all people? Why should teachers be any different when it comes to wanting the right tools to meet the needs of their students?

A Little Field Trip
So today, my principal, myself, and some of the teachers at Coronita Elementary school visited Todd Elementary school to learn how the staff has integrated technology into their curriculum over the past two years. Todd's principal, Grace Eden, along with classroom teachers Angela Helmer and Ed Cavillo, demonstrated their interactive whiteboards, document cameras, wireless pads, and student responders. Afterwards, we visited their English Learner lab, complete with dance pads tethered to computers, and touch screen computers.

Dance To Learn
One of the dance pad games we tried involved matching an animal with its characteristic. As a two- or three- word description drifts across the top of the screen (ex. hooves, gallop, four legs), the player stomps his or her foot on the part of the dance pad that corresponds with the location of the animal's name on the screen (i.e. horse). Points are awarded for speed and accuracy. It's these kinds of technology rich, whole-body kinesthetic learning activities that make the children enrolled in Todd's 2-hour after school EL program want to stay even longer.

Breaking New Ground
Since Todd is one of Corona-Norco Unified School District's newer schools, Grace Eden had the opportunity to make key decisions about the kind of tools with which they would outfit their school. For example, instead of deciding to purchase brand new overhead transparency projectors, DVD players, CRT televisions, and other traditional pieces of equipment, she insisted that each classroom should be equipped with more current and effective tools, such as interactive whiteboards, student responders, and document cameras. Any money that would normally have been spent on "old school" technology was going to be spent on "new school" tools. To learn more about Todd's use of technology, check out this article featuring Todd Elementary by RIMS CTAP, published back in January, '09.

Passionate About Teaching
As a strong proponent of educational technology, it's a huge encouragement to me, my principal, Beth Feaster, and many of my colleagues, to see fellow teachers across town like Angela and Ed, and a principal like Grace Eden, putting technology in the hands of students and teachers, modeling best practices, and ultimately being passionate about teaching.

Bottom line: Teachers need new tools to truly engage students and enhance their learning. There's nothing wrong with an overhead projector: but compared to a document camera hooked up to an interactive whiteboard-- forget about it! It's like the difference between a typewriter with ribbon vs. a word processing program on a computer. There is simply no contest. It's time for ALL stakeholders to embrace the tools of tomorrow because tomorrow is here. And teachers, you're not being jealous or covetous to want the right tool for the job.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Students Click Their Way To Success

"Thumbs up - Thumbs down" is a widely used way to informally check whether or not your students understand what you’ve taught them. But who actually counts kids' thumbs? And aren't most student responses held suspect because they are so worried about feeling judged by their peers? They look around to see who has their thumb up or down before they respond... Now, imagine if your students could send you their responses privately, with the click of a button. What if their responses could be tallied and displayed immediately in a bar graph or pie chart on an interactive whiteboard or projection screen. Wouldn't that be much more accurate? Wouldn't that be cool? Let me assure you: it is.

What are they?

Most people call them "Clickers." They look like little TV remote control units, and they work in sort of the same way. Generally speaking, they all do roughly the same thing: provide a direct wireless connection between a teacher and his or her students. Student response systems include a radio frequency (RF) remote for each student in a given class, a central receiver, software, and some form of assessment software, which tallies student responses, records attendance, posts test results and provides individual feedback. 

Enhances Interactive Teaching and Learning

The brand of student response system I've been testing for the last few months is the Senteo interactive response system. Like all student responders, they're designed to enhance interactive teaching and learning. It starts when the teacher either displays or speaks a prepared or ad hoc question. Students can then anonymously key in answers with their remote.  Responses are tallied and displayed on a projection screen or interactive whiteboard instantaneously.

Variety of Question Types

To assess student understanding, you can use a variety of question types, including true or false, multiple choice, numeric response and more-than-one-right-answer. Decimals, fractions and negative numbers can also be incorporated into questions and answers. 

Immediate Feedback

Student response systems provide immediate feedback to students, teachers, and even parents. Once a student completes a test, his or her score is revealed directly on their own responder. This eliminates the typical wait-time a student normally endures after a test. It used to take me an hour to grade a math test and sometimes it took me a few days before I even sat down to grade it. Now, I can spend that time designing lessons to remediate the ones who performed poorly. Furthermore, students are afforded time, right then and there, to analyze their own results: noting which problems they missed and correcting their own mistakes. 

Export to Spreadsheet

From a record-keeping stand point, nothing beats the "export to spreadsheet" feature. These scores can be easily imported into your existing electronic gradebook system (if it supports the "import" feature) or printed out and integrated into a paper-based system. There is even an option to send an e-mail to each student's parents the moment the test is over. (When I told my students I intend to enable this feature in the coming weeks, they looked as if they'd just walked out of a horror movie).

All in all, student responders are effective tools that should be in every teacher's tool box. But as with all technology, the price tag can be prohibitive. The Senteo Response System 32 Pack goes for about $2K. But if integrating technology is a priority for your district, then it's an investment that can lead to an enhanced learning and teaching experience for everyone involved. To read more about the topic of Clickers, check out "7 things you should know about clickers."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

More Tech, Please...

If your public school is anything like my public school, then you need more funding for technology-related purchases, not less. Unless you work at a brand new school that's decked out with all the latest high-tech gear, then you probably have to beg and borrow to attain anything more than you presently have. You may even feel like Oliver Twist asking for more porridge when you consider the state of technology at your school. Unfortunately, funding for technology is limited, so we have to be very creative about acquiring more than our ration of computers and tech tools. Here are three ways to build your classroom's technology inventory.

1) Ask. A couple years ago, I asked my principal if we could purchase an iMac for our school's video production program. That year, a certain amount of money happened to be ear-marked specifically for technology purchases. If I had not asked, that money may have gone unspent because in education: if you don't use it, you lose it. Some administrators are not aware of the specific tools you need until you ask. It's equally possible that your principal may be waiting for you to show some initiative; the last thing any principal wants to see is a large sum of money wasted on technology that collects dust in a closet because no one really wanted it in the first place. So ask! The worst thing that can happen is they say no. It's more likely they'll say, "Not yet." If that happens, be sure to ask the following year.
2) Write grants. A quick Google search for education grants will reveal a variety of funding agencies and organizations eager to fund innovative projects written and submitted by creative teachers like yourself. If your idea doesn't have a direct technology focus, keep at it. Work with your proposal until it includes some kind of technology component. You must have a technology element to justify your need for technology-related items. A word of caution: You'll most likely lose more grants than you'll win, so be prepared for disappointment. When you eventually win one, it's an amazing feeling of accomplishment. Then, go out and purchase those tech items for your class!
3) Donate. A wise boss once taught me that I could cover at least 10 more sandwiches with mayo if I would simply scrape the mayo jar with a rubber spatula instead of a metal knife. I had been wasting company money! Now, whenever I upgrade a piece of technology in my personal life (whether it be a tech gadget, computer, mouse, whatever...) I slip it into the classroom ecosystem. For example, my old iMac G3 is now an extra word processor. My old Palm IIIc runs math games that some students use to improve their basic math skills. I recently bought a new Kodak all-in-one printer and promptly donated my old Lexmark printer/scanner to the classroom. I plan to use this to scan and ultimately upload student work to my students' ePortfolios. Of course, donations are also a tax write-off. So go on, breathe life into your old, unwanted gear.
How are you expanding your classroom's technology inventory? Share your thoughts!