Summer! A Time to Play with Technology for the Classroom

Well, here we are again. Another school year is over, report cards are done, and my classroom is packed up into cupboards and boxes.

In between, the lazy days of summer, road trips, and spending some quality family time outside, I’m hoping to post more regularly on this site. It’s time to play with some technology to start dreaming about what we can use in the classroom next year.

The laundry list of educational technologies that I want to explore this summer is long. Technology is the kind of thing that is constantly evolving – what was once cool and cutting edge three years ago is now obsolete. (I used to love my MDG flip tablet netbook, but now it sits on the shelf compared to the new iPad 3.)

  1. First and foremost, I’m looking for a better way to blog using voice recognition software. 
    • Right now, I use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate my posts into Windows Live Writer.
    • It works better than dictating directly into Internet Explorer, but the problem is the moment you insert an image, Dragon Naturally Speaking doesn’t play well with Windows Live Writer anymore.
    • (The Dragon software still transcribes everything you say accurately, but the inserted images seem to confuse Dragon Naturally Speaking so that sometimes the speech software accidentally overwrites a few characters from the previous line.)
    • UPDATE (Jul 10): Dragon NaturallySpeaking works fine in Microsoft Word 2010 and doesn’t accidentally overwrite any characters if you have an image or table.
  2. I’m always on the lookout for better voice-recognition software. (Overall, I get around a 97% accuracy rate with Dragon Naturally Speaking, but I’m always looking for better option – or free option.)
    • I downloaded the trial version of SpeakQ and WordQ. WordQ is a great piece of assistive technology software that predicts what students are typing. SpeakQ is an add-on to WordQ that let students say the tricky word that they’re having difficulty spelling. At first glance, it didn’t seem anywhere near as accurate is Dragon Naturally Speaking, but I think the point is to help students dictate one or two tricky words, as opposed to transcribing entire writing assignments.
    • On that note, I also want to check out the Windows speech recognition software in Microsoft Windows 7. Using the same Bluetooth wireless headset that uses Dragon Naturally Speaking, the free speech recognition software didn’t seem as accurate is Dragon Naturally Speaking, but obviously I have my biases. (I also haven’t finished the language training with the Windows speech software.)
    • Apparently Siri is coming to the new iPad 3 when Apple launches iOS 6 sometime this summer. Right now, there is a little microphone button beside the spacebar on the standard on-screen soft keyboard on the iPad. This button launches iPad dictation software, which is pretty accurate (92.8% of the words correct using the rainbow passage.) I assume Siri uses the same voice engine.
    • Looks like Google will be building voice-recognition software directly into the desktop version of Google Chrome. Definitely want to check out how accurately it transcribes what you say. Right now, there are Google Chrome extensions to add some voice-recognition functionality, but it doesn’t work everywhere. For example, the Voice In chrome extension adds a microphone button to all text input fields, but you can’t use this chrome extension to dictate into Google Docs or to dictate a blog post into your WordPress site.
  3. I’m also interested in checking out some cloud software solutions for the classroom. Continue reading “Summer! A Time to Play with Technology for the Classroom”

Google dictionary gives you a definition just by double-clicking a word

A few weeks ago, I read Paul Barnwell’s article about why Twitter and Facebook were not good instructional tools in the classroom. That article, combined with some recent experiences using classroom technology, really drove home the point about how we need to take classroom technology beyond the initial “wow” factor and how we need to reflect on the pedagogical reasons behind our use of classroom technology.

As an English teacher, I rarely ask a student to look up a word in the dictionary. When a student tells me that there’s a word that they don’t understand, it’s an opportunity to play with the words and to develop decoding and comprehension strategies.

  • Are there any hidden words in the word?
  • Can we play with the prefix or suffix to get a clue about the meaning?
  • Can we get any contextual clues about what the words could mean by reading the rest of the sentence or paragraph?

As a last resort, we might look up a definition, but more likely, we would continue to read the text to see if there were any other clues that supported or challenged our understanding.

What prevents me from asking a student to look up a word dictionary?

  • Is it because I want students to develop reading strategies and to be able to struggle through a text independently?
  • Is it because I don’t want a student to lose valuable class time by getting out of their desk, grabbing a dictionary, looking up the word, and then trying to digest the definition?

Certainly, we want students to be able to use dictionaries as appropriate tools. If you’re using Google Chrome, you can add the Google dictionary chrome extension so that looking up any word is as easy as double-clicking the word. Would this change the way you use dictionaries in the classroom?

Continue reading “Google dictionary gives you a definition just by double-clicking a word”

Google Docs Dictionary and Research Tools Can Help Your Students Write Better

Some students use assistive technology software as an accommodation to help them to write. For example, Talking Word Processor is nice because it predicts words as you type, and also if you double-click a word, it’ll give you the definition to help avoid homonym errors.

But, not everyone needs assistive technology. Sometimes it can be handy to have a dictionary around when you’re writing an essay or other school assignment. If you use Google Docs in the classroom, here are two tips to help everyone write a little better.

Google has built an online dictionary and their web search tools directly into Google Docs. So you don’t even have to leave your desk to grab a dictionary. Heck, you don’t even need to open a new tab in your web browser to do your searching.

Continue reading “Google Docs Dictionary and Research Tools Can Help Your Students Write Better”

Using Google auto complete to help students write better

In today’s texting generation, a lot of students can’t spell properly. Some students may have an identified learning disability and have access to assistive technology such as WordQ or Talking Word Processor.

Other students just can’t spell and rely heavily on spell check to catch their mistakes. Sometimes, you end up with a lot of homonym errors or incorrect words that are spelled correctly.

Google autocomplete can be used as a tool to help students to spell check their work. Why would you want to use Google as assistive learning technology?

  • Maybe your students don’t qualify for assistive technology software. (If you’re a parent and you think your child could benefit from assistive technology, you might consider downloading the free trial to check out the software. You can download a 30 day free trial of WordQ. You can also download a free trial of the literacy productivity pack, which includes the talking word processor.)
  • Maybe you don’t have access to WordQ or Talking Word Processor on your home or school computer. Both WordQ and Talking Word Processor are available for PC and Mac, but if you’re using something like a Google Chromebook or iPad in your classroom, then you’re out of luck.)
  • Maybe you want to teach your students how to be resourceful using the internet. One criticism of students today is that they are not truly tech savvy and can only use the internet to do simple, basic things such as tweet or post on Facebook.

First of all, let’s talk about some real assistive technology solutions, before we look into using Google Autocomplete as a way to help students spell unknown words.

Continue reading “Using Google auto complete to help students write better”

Is Classroom Technology a Distraction, a Gimmick, or a Valuable Learning Tool?

Answer: All of the above. It depends on how it’s used by the teacher.

I love technology. I love writing about technology. I love trying out new ideas in my classroom laboratory at the drop of a hat. But, even though I love being on the cutting edge of educational technology, it’s important to remember that sometimes the tool we’re using is not the right one for the job.

A few days ago, a colleague shared the following article with me and an hour later, my grade 7 students and I were deconstructing the text and evaluating the ideas.

Paul Barnwell published a great post on Education Week Teacher about why Twitter and Facebook were not good instructional tools in the classroom. The article and the discussion that ensued in the comments really highlight some of the pros and cons of teaching with technology.

Barnwell spoke about his experiences teaching grade 8 and his current experiences teaching English and digital media at high school. The article pointed out some of the limitations and dangers of classroom technology.

Pros and Cons of “Twitter and Facebook” (really, Classroom Technology in general):

Paul Barnwell (who blogs at Mindful Stew) wrote about his current experiences with technology, evolving from a teacher who blogged in the classroom and experimented with Prezis, Poll Everywhere and other tools. Reflecting back, he raises some of the problems with classroom tech:

  • Some teachers only use technology for the “wow” factor – the initial hook that grabs our students attention.
  • Some students only engage with technology in a very simple and limited way, never really moving beyond Twitter, Facebook and Tumbler as quick social media distractions to interact with friends and strangers on the internet.
  • Some programs make things [too] easy by providing templates, “cheapens thinking” and provide gimmicks (like movement) that does not develop “genuine technology competence”
  • Technology can be powerful when it encourages students to be truly tech savvy which the author described as including the ability to “synthesize ideas and media forms, and create something original.”

The comments that followed in response to the article were fantastic. They highlight some of the benefits to educational technology:

  • They highlighted the idea that using technology for technology sake wasn’t the solution, but rather using technology as a tool to improve the learning was key.
  • They raised the issue about the need to teach students how to do more than tweet, post to Facebook, or browse YouTube.
  • They mentioned the notion of balance and avoiding the polar extremes – I will never use technology or I will use classroom technology for everything.
  • Many criticisms about the abuse of technology as an instructional tool can also be applied to other “traditional” instructional tools such as worksheets, flashcards, and graphic organizers.

My favorite comment comes from @Cerniglia , who summarized best practices for instruction, and pedagogy with technology:

  1. There is a learning curve new skills for students and teachers
  2. We become better at using tools, the more we use them
  3. We should aim for engaging, meaningful instructional methods; the tool should only be used if it moves students towards desired learning outcomes,
  4. Instructional tool should be accessible to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status
  5. Instruction and use of new tools to be supervised and guided by the teacher

Continue reading “Is Classroom Technology a Distraction, a Gimmick, or a Valuable Learning Tool?”