Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What is the Cloud?

     No, this is not a science lesson on the formation of clouds. This is  a quick vocabulary lesson on a term that many believe will be a dominant force in the years to come.  In fact, according to the New Media Consortium it is one of six technologies that will change education.
     The term cloud computing refers to using the internet and internet based sites to perform computing tasks. An example you are already familiar with is Google Docs.  As opposed to using a programs like MS Word or Pages, you use Google Docs to do your word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.  The benefits are easy to see; access to your documents from any computer and the ability to easily share and collaborate with others. 
     Think about the way you use your computer each day.  How much time are you spending doing tasks using your internet browser compared to programs in your hard drive?  Many of the programs that you typically install on your computer are now available in a web-based version.  Even computers are moving towards a more interent centered set-up.  Best Buy and Amazon will soon be selling computers with Google's Chrome OS.  These computers, called Chromebooks, will do nothing but access the internet.  Interesting idea, isn't it?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Back That Thang Up.

It's 8:45, you are in your classroom getting ready to print the report cards you worked on all night.  You pop in your flash drive, go to open the files and...wait a second, where did they go?  They were there last night.  I could have sworn I saved it to the drive, or did I?  Now what am I going to do?  They are due today!?


Has this ever happened to you?  
Are your afraid of this happening?  
Want to prevent this from happening?


     There are a few ways you can have better access to your documents while keeping them secure.  While there are many services available, I am mentioning two that are easy to integrate here at C-D.
     The first is Google Docs.  Google Docs allows you to upload files and folders and maintain their original file format.  It is not the easiest because you still have to upload from one computer and then download to another.  If you are uploading single document you can drag it from your documents folder and drop it into your Google documents list.  It does give you way to access important documents that you use occasionally.  I use this as a way to back-up (actually a 3rd back-up) of infrequently used files and high priority files.
      A more seamless solution to save your documents is to set up a Dropbox account.  Dropbox is pre-installed on our C-D accounts but does require you to create a free account.  It is easy to set-up once you do you can save your files directly to your Dropbox folder.  At home you download Dropbox to your own computer to access your files.  After the initial set-up, Dropbox is fairly seamless.  If you save a file to your Dropbox at school it is instantly available on your home computer.  Your basic Dropbox account gives you 2GB of storage free.  Clicking the link below will take to to the sign-up screen and give us both an extra 250MB.
     If you need help with either of these, please let me know.

http://db.tt/rPcMnId

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What's Up With That?

 The following post is a cross post with one of my favorite blogs, Free Tech 4 Teachers, where I was invited to share my thoughts about technology.  

    An amazing thing happens when the school bell rings in the morning.  Teachers in my school, and all over the country, turn down the ringers on their iPhones, log out of their e-mail, minimize the website they were viewing, and otherwise completely remove themselves from all electronics.  At the same time students are stuffing mp3 players, iPod Touches, and cell phones in their pockets and book bags in fear of confiscation.  It's interesting how we are all using technology in our lives with relative ease but when it comes to the classroom there is a disconnect. (Pun Intended)
     Schools are spending millions every year on SMART/Promethean boards, projectors, laptops, iPads, and desktops.  We spend countless hours in tech trainings to learn new programs and tools.  What I have found in my school is that the programs and equipment are often underutilized.  As my building technology representative, I have made it my mission to help as many as I can find ways to use technology more and more effectively.  Throughout the year I have offered suggestions and made myself an example in hope that others would follow.  I have hosted workshops and given direct instruction.  Now that we approach the end of the year, it is time to reflect on my progress.  How is it going?  In the words of my students; epic fail.  Many excuses have been offered; "I don't have time, I don't get tech stuff, the kids will take too long to learn it, I don't have time to learn it."  What's up with that?  Technology surrounds our lives, except in school?  Now what?
     I have a proposal based on two assumptions.  I assume that if you are reading this blog you have background integrating technology and that you have at least some interest in helping others use technology in their classrooms.  My proposal?  I have a started a Google Doc where we can all collaborate and share ways to help our peers gain knowledge and confidence using technology.  It is my hope that you will see something that will inspire you to keep pushing for everyone to try and use technology to enhance their teaching.

Chris LaBarge is currently a fifth grade teacher and frontline technology assistant at a rural elementary school in Greene County, New York.  His blog, Tech Talk with Mr. LaBarge, is an attempt to inspire teachers in his district to try something new and expand their horizons.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Where Do You Stand in the World?

I took a sign language course in college.  The adjunct walked in the first day and began signing to us.  We could tell he was trying to tell us something.  He used facial expressions and gestures that clued us in, but ultimately we were all lost.  Sure, we all picked up a few things that he kept "saying" but it was very difficult to piece it all together.  I sat imagining what it would be like to live in a place where nobody spoke the same language as I did.  Imagine how hard it would be to get anything done if your entire life was spent trying to understand the culture and language of everyone around you.  A lonely immigrant in a foreign land.  Now imagine you, the immigrant, is in charge of teaching the natives.  Do you try to teach all of them using your language and cultural beliefs or do attempt to assimilate to theirs?

What if I told you this is what you do every day?

In 2001, Marc Prensky wrote an article titled, "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants".  In this article Prensky declares that our students are have changed radically and that our education system is not designed to properly meet their needs.  He coined phrases to describe students and the teachers that are attempting to teach them; digital natives and digital immigrants.  While his opinions about instructional methods are debated, his description of the players has stuck.

Digital natives are people who have grown up in the digital age.  They are confident using technology because they have grown up with it around them.  They communicate, collaborate, and assimilate information using technology.
Digital immigrants are individuals that were born before computers and the web became prevalent.  This group is by no means uncomfortable using technology and can adapt to new trends with only minimal difficulty.
Since these terms were introduced, new terms were coined to describe individuals that refuse or are unable to adapt to the changing world.  They feel that things have always worked the way we have always done them.  They feel that technology is for play and not serious work.  This group has been called many names; digital refugees, digital aliens, digital dinosaurs.

Where do you stand?

Very few of us could technically be considered true digital natives, therefore you are either an immigrant or a dinosaur.  What do you want to be?  How hard are you willing to work to connect with your students?  What is holding you back?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My little 21st Century Learner

My wife Heather and I have a word in our house that we no longer speak aloud.  It brings a choked up, lump in the throat, kind of dread.  The word symbolizes a cross road that every young parent faces when their child starts approaching a certain age.  Even though our daughter is only four we can see an underlying maturity that lets us know she is almost ready.  If you haven't figured it out yet, I am talking about Kindergarten.  My daughter is very excited about going on the big yellow bus and going to school with her friends and in many ways we are excited for her.
Most people think that because both Heather and I are both teachers that my daughters existence has consisted of daily lessons and flash cards.  In truth she has had neither.  Like most educators, we know that the best thing we could do for our little one is let her play and expose her to as much of the world as we can.  It helps that she is immensely curious about everything and is constantly asking about everything she sees.  While Olivia has always shown interest in books and reading, the past few months have been an explosion of progress for her.  I am encouraging this progress with two pieces of technology; my iPod and her iXL.
We have let Olivia use the computer since she was about 2 years old.  She loves going to NickJr.com, SesameStreet.org, and PBSKids.org and playing the games they have available.  Last November I purchased my iPod Touch and Olivia immediately took notice.  She wanted to give it a try, so I downloaded a simple drawing app so she could get the idea of a touch screen.  Well needless to say she took to it like it was written in her DNA.  I downloaded a free book app called, Read Me Stories, that reads books aloud to her.  Seeing how much she enjoyed using the iPod, we looked into getting her something similar, but more age appropriate.  What we found was the iXL by Fisher-Price.  This little game player is designed for children ages 3-7 and is similar to a Nintendo DS.  There are stories, handwriting practice, games, and drawing apps.
Technology is not a complete answer to educating children.  A computer will never replace the personal interactions that develop a thoughtful, well-rounded learner.  Technology is a bridge that can span the divide between you and children who need a variety of means to learn and express comprehension.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Be a Better Searcher

Searching for information on the internet can, at times, be a mind numbing process.  With the wrong search terms you can end up with page upon page of irrelevant information.  Did you know that there are some simple tricks that you can use to make your search results better?
Being a better searcher just means understanding what words will work and why.  Google has a help page that gives an brief overview of what can make your search results more relevant.
Google also has posters, in PDF form, that have ways you can modify your search to get better results.  The posters are located in the Google Educator Area under the classroom posters link.  I have one of the posters next to my computer for quick reference.  It wouldn't hurt to have one posted in your room for students to reference.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Writing Prompts

For years, decades for some ; ), we have given students writing prompts.  We have tried many ways to make it fun and inviting; pictures, lists, charts, spinners, and so on.  What else could we do?  My ah-ha moment came as I was reading a blog post, you read those right?  The blogger was admitting an addiction to watching online videos and found one that he felt was worthy of sharing (here if your curious).  He posed the idea that this video could be used in many educational ways but one made me say, "duh, why didn't I think of that?"  He mentioned the idea that this video would make a good writing prompt.  Wait a minute, a video as a writing prompt?  Blows your mind, right?
There are literally millions of short videos available on the internet, why not use one to engage your students and get their minds working.  There are many video services available besides YouTube.com and I have listed just a few below.  If you have others to share, please leave a comment with a link for all.

vimeo.com
video.yahoo.com
video.google.com
veoh.com
teachertube.com
video.kidzui.com/

PS - If you still like good ol' fashioned writing prompts, have your kids pick a number from 1-346 and go here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What a wonderful world...virtually.

When I was growing up I was taught at an early age to look both ways before I cross the street, to not talk to strangers, and to be careful of the mean dog down the street.  As kids we were taught lots of lessons to keep us safe and out of harms reach.  Most of the time the dangers were obvious and easy to recognize.  Today I am raising my own children in a new world with dangers that are hard to see coming.  I am not talking earth, I am talking the massively expanding virtual world.

The internet has done so much to both expand our world and at the same time make our world smaller.  It is easy for anyone with an internet connection to find information about practically anything and anyone they want.  It is important to educate both ourselves and our students about using the internet safely.
Back in January, one of my favorite blogs posted links and overviews of some great resources to teach ourselves and students about using the internet.  I encourage you to check them out and find one that fits your style. The videos on the bottom of the post are particularly clear and informative.

Free Technology for Teachers: 11 Resources for Teaching & Learning Web Safety

I personally will be requiring my students in September to use one of these resources before we continue with our projects.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Google Forms

Part of Google Docs is the ability to create web forms.  The forms can be used to create surveys, polls, gather information, and even give tests and quizzes.  The information submitted is automatically transfered into a spreadsheet.  You can also create a spreadsheet and have it converted into a form.
The forms are very easy to create and share.  The forms can be e-mailed, embedded in a webpage, or a link can be shared to the live form.  Below is video showing you how to create a quiz using forms.






One very easy way to use forms in the primary classroom is to record your milk counts.  Students go to a computer kiosk in your room and click which milk option they would prefer.  The results are automatically placed in a spreadsheet and can be tabulated using a simple sum equation.  You may be wondering how this helps your students.  It teaches your students that the computer can be used for a variety of purposes, not just games, and the results can be used as a math lesson.  Forms has a great feature that will show you the responses in a graph so that you can show students how the data looks in graphic form.  Try making a form and see how easy it is.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Copyright Free Pictures

Google image search is a great resource for finding pictures and images.  Did you know that it is not necessarily legal to use those images in your work?  Copyright laws extend to the internet and any image found on a website is the same as any found in a textbook.  While some leeway is granted for educational purposes, its better to be safe.  A great website for free photos that can be used by teachers and students is Pics4Learning.  There own description describes it best, "Pics4Learning is a copyright-friendly image library for teachers and students. The Pics4Learning collection consists of thousands of images that have been donated by students, teachers, and amateur photographers. Unlike many Internet sites, permission has been granted for teachers and students to use all of the images donated to the Pics4Learning collection."
It is important to teach our students early that they need to think about where they get their resources and doing it legally.  Teach by example and be conscious of your image choices.
If you are looking for clipart for worksheets and other printables, check out www.school-clip-art.com. This site offers easy to find clipart sorted by categories.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

YOU DON"T READ BLOGS?!?!

I can only imagine the response to Monday's post to my blog.

Teacher 1 - "Who is he kidding?  I don't read blogs.  I don't even read this one, it just gets sent to my e-mail three times a week."


Teacher 2 - "What is this blog thing you speak of?"


Teacher 3 - "Great, another e-mail from LaBarge, [DELETE]"


Let's start by defining a blog.  The word blog is a blend of the words web and log and is define as, "a web site containing a writer's or group of writers' own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other Web sites."  Blogs are great places to learn about the world through the eyes of those experiencing it.  So often we get information that is so mass produced and edited that we are missing the heart of the information.  Especially as teachers, it is great to hear the thoughts of those that are in the trenches with us.  While the main purpose of this blog is to give you information on educational technology there are millions of blogs on everything from basket weaving to advanced photon analysis.  No matter your passion there is a blog for you and it is a great way to stay on top of current thoughts and theories.
Speaking strictly on education, blogs provide you window into classrooms around the world.  By reading teacher blogs, you can see what other teachers are trying and experiencing with their own classes.  As demands on us rise, we need to find ways to stay ahead of the curve and to think creatively.  By keeping in touch with what is happening in our profession, we can avoid the pitfalls that others have experienced and stride ahead of expectations.
How to find good teacher blogs.


The place I would start to look for good blogs written by teachers, for teachers is edublogawards.com.
This site gives awards to top blogs in education.  They also have a directory that lists the best blogs in education divided into categories.  Take a look and let us know what your favorite education blog is.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reader for Blogs

Some of you have questioned when I have time to find all of this information about technology. With my classroom responsibilities, tech support, two young children, and a thriving business, time is precious. Most of the information I find about great websites and technology come from other blogs about educational technology. I found these blogs by doing a Google search. One good blog leads to another and eventually you have half a dozen blogs to keep on top of. Google makes a great tool to help you stay on top of all your blogs. The service is called Reader and it's like having my own digital magazine everyday on my computer. You add subscriptions from all of your favorite blogs, like mine, and it delivers new posts to Reader automatically. You can choose to mash all of your blogs together or divide them into categories. Give it try and be sure to add mine first. = )