Technology Projects for the Classroom

Tomorrow is the last day of school before the Winter Holiday Break. So, ofcourse we’re eagerly awaiting our two weeks off so that we can play on the computer more and work on some side projects.

(On a side note, one of our students did an incredible job on her student wiki, updating her KWL chart for our Integers units at midnight. Another one of our students is hacking a remote control to make an infra-red pen to use with a wiimote smartboard. So, I don’t think I’ll be the only one playing on the computer this holiday…)

Google implements a philosophy based on the 20/80 principle: 80% of your success is created by 20% of your effort. (Or, conversely, 80% of your time only produces 20% of your results.)

Alex K, a Technical Soluions Engineer over at Google talks about the “20 percent time” in action: “The 20 percent time is a well-known part of our philosophy here, enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in our job descriptions”

This holiday break, we’re looking forward to focusing on some “20 percent time” projects that aren’t “necessarily in our job descriptions,” but will hopefully lead towards some fruitful results that aid our teaching practice. Here are some of the projects we’re looking forward to experimenting with:

  1. Wikispaces.com offers free wikis for educators. We just finished our Grade 7 and Grade 8 Math Units on Integers and had our classes use wikis for the first time. As the unit progressed, students synthesized their understanding in a KWL chart format. (Things I Know, Things I Want to Know, Things I Learned.) On average, it took 10 minutes to mark each student wiki, but using the wiki allowed us to provide feedback by inserting guiding questions directly into their KWL chart. The best part is when students correct their work, it’ll be easy to compare their latest version with the previously marked version because wikispaces keeps track of older versions. This holiday break, we’ll be brainstorming ways to get students truly collaborating with each other instead of working in isolation…
  2. WordPress 2.7 has been released and we’re dying to give it a test run. The feature we’re looking forward the most to is that it may be the last time we have to manually upgrade our WordPress software. (We never have to manually upgrade when we’re using BlueHost, but we do when we manage our school website.)
  3. WordPress also has version control which allows you to see and compare older versions of a post (much like you can do with a wiki.) Comparing revisions of a piece of writing is one of the big reasons why we like experimenting with wikispaces for writing in our LA class. At first glance, WordPress 2.6 offered this feature, but seemed to be limited to comparing HTML code, instead of comparing the visual editor of a post. We’ll have to see if we can get WordPress to allow us to compare different versions of a piece of writing… it might just replace our wiki experiment.
  4. Johnny Chung Lee at Carnegie Mellon University has found a way to modify a wii remote control and convert your regular data projector into a cheap smartboard. We’ve created a few infra-red pens and we’re going to see if we can get this to work. (Our infra-red pens required no electrical background knowledge. We have a student who has built their own engine, so I imagine they’re pretty handy with a soldering iron. We’re not…)
  5. We use grade marking software to keep track of our marks. Every month, we send home a mark sheet outlining our students’ current status. This holiday, we’re going to experiment to see if there’s a way to automate or streamline the process and keep parents more in the loop. Perhaps posting things online behind a secure website or using a mass emailing system. Something to think about.
  6. The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat of Ontario is pushing thinking-learning critical pathways. We’ll be reflecting on how to integrate that into our program, as well as how to integrate technology and media into our 6 week program.
  7. Marketing this blog to try to increase readership.
  8. Adding to our list of 101 ways to bring technology into the classroom.
  9. Actively soliciting companies to donate old laptops to our school so we can blog in the classroom. (The computer lab is awfully booked these days…)
  10. Taking a break.

Happy Holidays to you and your family.

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