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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Become More Tech Savvy This Summer

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

As I've mentioned before, I think one of the big problems with making best use of technology in the classroom is the richness of the possibilities. They can be overwhelming, as I described in an earlier Edutopia.org post.

So with summer here, I am going to make a suggestion: Forget about the kids! Instead of looking at all the digital possibilities and trying to bring them into your classroom, think about you and see what you can do with some of these tools in your own life. And you know what? After discovering how effective they can be, I bet this fall you will find yourself using some of them in your classroom.

Here are ten suggestions including ideas for classroom use at a later date:

Create Your Own Video Vault

Miro is like iTunes for video. With it, you can download videos from sites like YouTube and TeacherTube and save them on your local hard drive. So, now you can load up a flash drive with some of those viral videos you just have to show your sister and not worry about finding them online when you get to her house.

Oh, and when school is back in session, this will mean you can arrive in class with a host of content specific videos loaded on that same flash drive or on your laptop. You'll never waste precious teaching time waiting for downloads or fighting filters again.

Have Fun with Photos

I just love BigHugeLabs.com. Going to a wedding or other special event this summer? Head here either before or after the big day, and come armed with some pictures. You'll be able to make posters of various kinds, badges, trading cards, and more.

And because the results are JPEG files, you can easily pass them on to friends and family. Too much fun! In the fall, how about using this great tool as a way for kids to make content projects come to life or to celebrate a special day or a special student?

Create Comics

Plasq makes a piece of software called Comic Life. Now, I have to believe that you are going to take your digital camera with you this summer to the beach, to the mountains, horseback riding, to a barbecue, or out in the canoe. Imagine being able to easily -- yes, easily -- turn those pictures into a comic book?

This tool will have your friends saying, "Shazam! How'd you get so creative? This is great!" Meanwhile, back in the classroom, you'll want to use this handy tool as a way for students to create graphic novels that clearly demonstrate their understanding of key concepts, or even as a way to make your own customized lab setup instructions.

Whip up a Wiki

Everyone is going to attend an event or two this summer, like a birthday party, a wedding, or a anniversary. If you're a planner of one of these, then set up a wiki to share all the information about the event.

If you are an attendee, set up one of these babies as a way to organize that group of friends who will also be there, and then use it to maintain your connections after the event. In the classroom, come fall, your summer experience will have you ready to establish a classroom wiki.

Form a Questionnaire

Need to find out who is going to bring potato salad to the family reunion? Want to choose a restaurant for a group to meet at without making a civil case of it? Use a form from Google Docs or a survey from SurveyMonkey.com and ask your questions online. You'll be able to send out a simple Web address to folks and they can answer your questions online, and you'll get the data right away.

Both sites require registration, but they are free. Oh, and if the URL for your survey or form is one of those terribly long things, head to TinyURL.com and shrink it before you send it out.

Use these great tools for asking questions with your kids to help them understand content more deeply and get ready for the tests. Kids who know how to ask good questions are better at answering them, and in order to ask good questions about a curriculum topic, the kids have to understand it first.

Share Snapshots

Summertime is when so many memories are made. And photos help us hold onto those memories long after the sand is vacuumed out of backseats of cars and mustard stains are washed out of T-shirts. If you aren't already using an online photo-storage site to share your pictures online, go to Google's Picasa. There are lots of others, so ask you friends what they like.

What you'll appreciate is the ability to take snapshots of your children doing silly jumps into the pool and then -- at no cost -- share them exclusively with family members and friends you select. When school begins again, how about starting a project with that friend of yours who teaches a few states over? You and your students could share images and information about where you live and the class from away will do the same. What a great way to spice up geography.

Survey the Situation

Going back to where you grew up for a visit this summer? Head to Google Maps before you go, and take a look at the old neighborhood in a whole new way. Sure, the ability to see either a map or an aerial photograph is cool, but wait until you see the street-level views! "Hey," you'll say, "I wonder whose truck that is parked in from of Luanne's house?"

No, they are not images in real time, but you'll be so ready for the real visit after digitally cruising the area. Using maps is powerful across all the curriculum areas, so once you see how easy these are to use, you'll want to explore the settings of novels you're reading as a class or places where historical events took place.

Cache In

Geocaching is a great way to learn more about a place you and the family are traveling this summer, or even about your home area if you are going on a staycation. You really have to visit the site, but basically, through the use of a global-positioning-system receiver, you will find your way to places where folks have tucked away a small waterproof box. Might sound silly, but people who get involved love it!

Search this site by ZIP code and you'll find where geocaches have been hidden in places that only the locals know about. GPS makes latitude and longitude come to life. Geocaching has super possibilities, so if you do anything with maps in your classroom, go geocaching.

Know the News

Visit Newseum to read the front pages of newspapers from around the world -- a great way to see what is worthy of the front page in a place you are headed toward for a visit, or to keep up on the front-page news back home while you are away. If your students are going to be players in a global economy, knowing what is on the front page in a newspaper kiosk in Beijing, Beirut, Houston, London, New Delhi, or Toronto is important.

Listen Up

If you have a road trip planned, a good audiobook can be a great thing to have along. This is the best free audio collection of public domain books out there. The readers are excellent, and you'll find many classics.

How about having The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or A Christmas Carol read to you as you drive? Put them on your mp3 player or burn a set of CDs, and you're good to go. In the fall, consider making CDs of classic literature and sending them home to families as a gift. They will love them, and exposure to high-quality readers and classic literature will help all learners.

Well, there you go, ten of my favorites. But I know you have favorites of your own. Give us a shout and do some sharing. Thanks in advance.

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Comments (58)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Robert Cole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think it is interesting that the extinction of interaction is often the overshadowing sentiment of those that resist technology use for students at a younger age. My question would be how does one define interaction? One can interact digitally and in person. I will concede that the interaction is different, but that is the point. Different interaction is not the same as no interaction. Upon that examination, I would explore the quality of interaction. Is it possible that some face-to-face interactions are actually of lesser quality than some digital interactions?
It is not as easy as "they shouldn't do this because it will stifle interaction with one another". There are many layers to consider and the argument of many circumnavigates that reflective step.

Patsy Drake's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As with many things in the educational field, technology is another TOOL for learning, not the end all. Children learn with all their senses, and I agree that sitting in front of a computer screen all day would not be advantageous to anyone.

However, using this tool to engage, encourage, enhance learning is definitely a plus. The days are gone when a paper and pencil and a book are the only tools necessary to teach. They are critical to the learning, but so is the DVD player, the computer, the outdoors, their friends, the environment...all of these are critical thinking tools.

Sylvia Hamilton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In response to the kindergarten teacher who objects to technology, perhaps we should see education as the practice of sharing information and skills in a community of learners. The computer can challenge the individual intellect to respond to the larger community of thought and interaction. The classroom is the living example of using thought and interaction. Teachers can make considered choices about how much of each is needed.

J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sylvia, et al -

I like "education as the practice of sharing information and skills in a community of learners," and might add, "using the best technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge available at the time. See TPCK.org for more on "the three legs" of the educational stool in 2009 - Technology, Pedagogy, and Content.

And to help folks better understand the importance of technology being one of the key components in 2009 forward, what if we saw "medicine as a joint venture between medical professionals and individuals working to enhance quality of life through thoughtful application of technology, communication skills, medicines, and compassion."

In time of medical need for myself or a member of my family I, for one, would not seek out a medical professional who chose not to make use of technology. At the same time I would not look for a person with an abusive bedside manner.

Technology required? Yes. Technology as sole source? No. Human interaction required? Absolutely. Kinesthetic interaction with the real world required? Absolutely!

Thanks to all for comments, and as continuing proof that my five favorite words are, "Jim, have you seen this?" here is another great resource shared with me by some teachers from Murfreesboro, TN: ShapeCollage.com! Use your own pictures creatively!

Cheers.

Jim

Patrice Geathers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have heard acolades from other people about Twitter as a source of communication. My question is why is there so many students with no communication skills? I see tons of fights everyday at my school because of poor or no communication skills exhibited by fellow students to each other. How will Twitter help face-to-face communication. People are already isolating themselves too much. They must have "events" to get them off the computers.

I as a teacher would like to see more face-to-face interaction in the classroom. Twitter cannot do that.

Jennifer Falk's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It will be tough to decide where to draw the line between digital and paper instruction. While it is crucial to incorporate technology into the classroom, we cannot forget about basic skills. "Text talk" is taking the place of proper English in many written assignments, and many students look for shortcuts by using calculators on their watches and phones instead of working out math problems. Many students cannot navigate an actual library with shelves, but can explore 80 or so levels in a video game. Don't get me wrong; I am very open to technology, and I find it a good way to reach students. I like the idea of iPods being used for instruction; they have many ideal applications to explore. The next few years will be interesting: Finding the balance between tech savvy and traditional classrooms will pose challenges on many levels. School budgets and grants will dictate the rate of acceleration. I teach a third and fourth grade blend of students in NE Florida; some are tech savvy, others are not. Some have their own cell phones with texting, iPods, and so forth, while others think calculator math is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I agree that the quality of digital interaction will provide many questions, too. I also thought your comment about digital interaction being more successful than face to face communication. This too must be balanced between both worlds. No matter where the digital age goes, we cannot lose basic personal communication skills.

Lynda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for sharing such wonderful resources. I am always looking for new ways to integrate technology into my classroom and some of the sites that you provided look like they will make a great asset to my students learning. I look forward to implmenting many of them soon. Thanks for sharing!

video conference's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Its been great topic in all aspects regarding every normal relate things you have been provided I must say I found really prevoking knowledge thats really good.

kneal's picture

Hi Joan,
I cannot find the modules on the site you linked. Can you help me?
Karen Neal

Jan Brennan's picture
Jan Brennan
7th grade English teacher from Avon, CT

Jennifer,
I concur with your overall assessment of today's growing tech dominance. I teach 7th grade English and am finding a gradual deterioration of skills in my students' writing; everything from the constant abbreviations in their writings that they typically use in their texting, to horrific spelling, to a total disregard for punctuation, to fragmented thoughts and sentences. I understand where these changes come from and agree that when texting, there is that inclination to type in as few characters as possible. However, my responsibility as an English teacher is to still hold to the standards and convince (and enforce) the need for proper English in all formal writing. As long as students can distinguish and respect the difference between the two, their future will be secure.
Other than that, I embrace the exciting world of technology. I look forward to the near future when all students have their own devices (i.e. laptops, i-pads) and we do everything digitally. I know I'll be working overtime to get ready myself, but it definitely will be worth it!

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