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How to Become More Tech Savvy This Summer

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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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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Sharon Padget's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find that technology is one of the greatest joys i have. I am fascinated about how it all works. Making movies, creating my own cd's, learning how to manipulate data, creating cool artsy stuff, it all is just so curious to me. I am a 15 year veteran teacher and I still love it as much as I did when I was the only girl in my BASIC class in high school. In the summer, I am taking time to learn new stuff, new ways to use technology to enhance my teaching in the classroom and personally. I think us old folks need to get over our fear of technology and just do it!!!

Cyndee Perkins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

All of Jim's suggestions are excellent! Summer is also a great time to get familiar with social media (Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn) and how it can help you as a teacher. Although I use all three resources, I specifically follow several educators on Twitter. I am very grateful for their links to multiple resources, and feel as though I have at least a dozen tutors who provide professional development in 140 characters or less!

Cyndee Perkins
Director, Curriculum and Program Development
COMPUTER EXPLORERS
http://www.computerexplorers.com

Catharine de Wet's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great list, Jim. I also like Voicethread (www.voicethread.com)for sharing and discussing. I use it with my students to do discussions of readings. You can write, record audio or video. Fun tool.

Sharon Padget's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I tried Twitter for the first time this summer and found I liked it. I also found out about creating a wiki. This has been fun. :-0)

Cheryl Oakes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am just having a blast with tokbox. A shout out to our local librarian for heading me in this direction, Kristi Bryant. In tokbox, a free web 2.0 tool, you can create a video email message, have a mutli-way video conference call. All this will get you places people never have thought to go before. I left a video message for a college class a friend is teaching. A speech therapist said he is going to use this to model the correct lip placement when practicing words. The sky is the limit.
Great post Jim!

Cheryl Oakes

Anely Arencibia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great list of resources Jim, thanks for sharing. I use a great resource called Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine. You can enter your question or calculation,
and Wolfram|Alpha uses its built-in algorithms
and collection of data to compute the answer. This is a really neat tool my students like to use because of the amount of information they get from entering just one question or calculation.
http://www.wolframalpha.com/

Anely Arencibia
Teacher of the Gifted and Talented
Palm Springs Elementary
Hialeah, FL

leanna landsmann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim, terrific piece. Good for parents, too. Would like to quote you in an upcoming syndicated column for parents. . . shoot me an e-mail address, if possible, so I can send you the quote for approval. Thanks. Leanna Landsmann

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

Cheryl, et al -

I have been thinking a lot about "serious creativity" recently, and have in fact just written a post on the subject. I love the way you describe using this tool to leave a note for a college classmate as well as it being used to help speech students practice lip placement. No preconceived "right ways..." Simply a powerful tool waiting to be used in creative ways! The creativity of users will play such a role in defining the value.

Proof once again why my five favorite words are, "Jim, have you seen this?"

Thanks for sharing!

Jim

Maria Adams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim,

What great advice. As I read down the list you have provided, I realize that I do quite a few of these in my daily life, but never thought of using it in my classroom. How fun would it be to get my parents and students involved in some of these. Living overseas in Japan, we could really utilize these tips in our classrooms.

I can't wait to try some of these out. I really like the have fun with photos link. How neat would it be to make a poster of my students and put it up in our classroom. Talk about ownership of their own classroom!

For older students, making the comics would be so much fun. Maybe will have to try this with my first graders!

Thanks for the advice!

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