Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Playing with some Web 2.0 Classroom Tools

I have just spent about an hour looking at a few of the flash tools available at http://www.classtools.net. There are lots more templates, these three are the first the inspired me! They are worth investigating for use on a whiteboard. All are editable by pupils or teachers and offer an instant visual representation of what is being done. I imagine some of the templates could be used for almost any subejct and could easily inspire creativity and collaboration.

The Lights Out Template

Click here for full screen version

On the full screen version allow pupils to take the small flame over sections of the picture and start to sketch various bit of what they can see. Once that is complete discuss what they have found as a class. Click several times on the bigger msgnifying glass to increase the size of the flame to show more and more of the image and focus on detail. This could be used in art using pictures to study detail, history using photographs, science using microscope images and geography using something like Googlemaps.

The jigsaw template

Click here for full screen version

Pupils could use this one to develop arguments or discussion points, writing for and against in different coloured jigsaw pieces.
It could be used for sorting, possibly for brainstorming.

The Timeline

Click here for full screen version

Pupils could be encouraged to add any information to a timeline on any subject. They could work collaboratively on decades, for example, as part of a history topic on the 20th Century.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Web 2.0 Tools for Schools

In a week now we have the schools back. Many children will be returning to start to take advantage of their new learning platform (LP) and all of our team’s time will be taken up with training. As we prepare fort he “big” role out, rather than the small number of schools already involved, I am struggling to reconcile the LP costing a vast fortune, with the free tools already available through web 2.0.

The LP will offer a storage area to all pupils, space in one place that is accessible by their teachers, so that is an advantage for educational work. Also it will offer parental access to the data kept by the institution on their offspring. It will give teachers the opportunity to develop on-line courses available to pupils anytime anywhere and interest spaces for whole groups of pupils or teachers interested in one particular event or subject where training resources, web links, wikis, blogs etc. can be created and made available to anyone in the whole wide community.

During the summer though I have spent a fair amount of time looking at, trying out, and using some of the web 2.0 tools available freely on-line. There is a very useful wiki that groups many of these free tools for educational use that I have been working through – and recommend!
http://cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/ Groups these tools, many of which are free, under the following headings:
• Presentation Tools
• Collaborative Tools
• Research Tools
• Video Tools
• Slideshow Tools
• Audio Tools
• Image Tools
• Drawing Tools
• Writing Tools
• Music Tools
• Organising Tools
• Quiz and Poll Tools
• Creativity Tools
• File Storage

It is a superb collection, updated regularly, created and maintained by a teacher. Many of the types of tools outlined here are already available to schools through the Learning Platform, but some, for example the podcasting tools, it is easier to use the free ones. Others, such as the shared writing resources, completely functional web spaces and the audio tools are not already available to schools.

The biggest advantage by far is the fact that whatever is created using the free web 2.0 tools is shared by an audience well beyond Oxfordshire schools allowing for much wider collaboration.

Please note this is my view not that of Oxfordshire County Council for whom I work!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Owl and the Pussy-cat

I am involved in a really interesting project in Second Life at the moment. Whilst talking to another educator, Caroline, over the last few weeks, ideas began to surface and get bounced between us. Eventually we came up with an idea, a whole educational build based on Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat nonsense rhyme. We thought it would be a useful resource for her class of adults with special educational needs.

So began, once again, quite a steep learning curve :-)

Caroline has been building “The Runcible Spoon” a huge paddle steamer on which most or all of the build will be situated, and I have been creating content.

Day 1 was mostly preparation work and done outside of Second Life. In SL I have made a scripted puzzle, a bit like a jigsaw but where each piece has a choice of six different images. Touching the pieces will make them scroll through each possible image for the puzzler to choose one of them. When all of the pieces achieve the same orientation a whole picture is made. There are twelve pieces to the puzzle and six different pictures that can be made – so 72 small sections of the six final pictures to be made. To actually create those 72 images takes a while. The original images needs to be gridded up, then each section copied and pasted as a new image. Not a quick process! I also has sketched out a treasure hunt, all the clues needed to be based on pictures again – so another 12 images needed. Finally, to go with them, 12 vocal recordings or the clues being read out, and another 16 vocal recordings ready for the Owl Facts work. Finally in the preparation work I wanted to make 15 images ready for a pelmanism game. Someone in-world had given me a free game to modify so it looked like a serious possibility. This session ended up with something like 100 images and lots of sound files to upload.

An early idea was for the students to be able to carry out very simple level research so we thought that a website of simple owl facts would be a good starting point. This could be played on the web on a prim in Second Life. We also wanted the students to be able to play the poem whenever they wanted to, so thought that a web page with a recording would be fine. We could not add podcast links etc. to this page as you can’t follow links in SL.

I created the pages. Both had embedded sound files so the students who mostly do not have reading skills, or have low level reading skills, could still access the information. When I tried them out in Second Life the web pages could easily be read but… the sound files did not play! So some of one day’s work wasted. However the sound files were made and could be uploaded into SL to be used in-world instead – but how?

Day 2 saw me making textures of all the owl facts. I made prims (primitives – the basic building shapes that can be created in SL) covered with the textures with the sound files embedded and a script to make them play on touch. With the individual facts prims linked the sounds would still play – very pleasing! Even this step did not go easy though. The facts that I had done in purple on the web page (each fact was a different colour to aid finding and reading) did not show up well enough in SL so had to be changed for use in-world. Having done the writing in one colour it is quite hard to change, it is more than just colour replace as the original was anti-aliased, so several different shades of purple :-{

As some of the questions ran more than 9 seconds of speech they had to be recorded in two parts. That meant the written questions had to be in two parts as well, then joined to make them look complete questions but with two touch to play sections Eventually the owl facts came together but so far the poem page was not any use. All good fun!

Also on day 2 I created the treasure hunt. Again with the uncertainly of reading skills this was made up of pictures, note cards each with the written clue and vocal recording on it, obviously this had to be scripted so that when the avatar touches the clue it gives the note card. So many tiny steps to each clue!

Day 3 – thinking again about access to the actual poem. The only sound files that can be played in SL are just over 9 seconds. To create the poem in 9 second sections would not give enough fluency, it would be too disjointed. So far, even though interested, I have not played with a podcast player in Second Life! So - into SL it is with a view to mastering the podcast facilities in-world. Several hours of fiddling left me really frustrated. Help came via Twitter from the sim owner, and podcast tool owner, Dudeney Ge (many thanks Gavin) who was working in Russia at the time, but to no avail. Between us we did not get it going so I will wait now until he gets home to see if he can see a simple reason! I am 99% certain that it will be me doing something wrong – it usually is :-) Meanwhile I am sort of creating the podcast..awaiting permissions and all sorts.

I tried to put the pelmanism game together, half of it worked, then the last 15 tiles gave me the owl image – oops! Help came from Scripting expert Eloise Pasture (thanks El) , but she declared the script I was trying to use “Ugly” and is going to make a new one.

Before this project I had created a pentatonic music maker in-world, it is a set of blue tubes that play their note on collision, so walking through them plays them. They are randomly ordered and there are buttons to start and stop drums, a drone and ostinati as required. To make this part of the Owl and Pussycat project I changed the tubes to tall square towers, and put the image textures on the outside ones to match the poem.

So at the end of day 3 podcasting and pelmanism both on hold – what next?

Retail therapy! I went shopping in-world instead. It is soo much easier shopping in SL than in RL. I managed to find and buy a beautiful peacock, a moving pig, a cat that rolls over and plays with a ball and an owl that appropriately hoots and tells all in range that “I wov u” as part of his hoot. Very corny, great fun…
Addendum - don't go shopping at midnight - you may buy a peacock instead of a turkey :-( I have had to go shopping again to buy the turkey!

The Ship - I have seen the ship, it is a work of art in progress! It is a huge paddle steamer in three floors. The top is the “edge of the sand,” sand, sea and a huge moon with dancing poses and romantic music playing. There is a ball-gown and a tux provided! The bottom floor has the money, honey and five pound note, the middle floor has pictures of the whole poem. It is going to be the most wonderful setting for the whole educational process. The bottom two floors are teaching and research areas where, hopefully, as well as the puzzles, treasure hunt etc., discussions about all of the teaching points raised by the poem can take place. It should be a space to combine structured and unstructured learning including the development of social skills etc..

I am really looking forward to bringing all of it together, and, hopefully creating a quest. Both of us are learning – loads – and making loads of mistakes, and I am sure more will show up as time goes on. If we can get it together, it works, and is useful, we are hoping to be able to offer it to other users. However – it really is a case of the proof of the pudding is it the eating, if it is useless we will learn from the mistakes and try again!

Where to put it – this is the final piece of the puzzle! I am not sure what the answer is yet either… I will keep you posted! Anyone got some water for rent :-)

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Visiting the Seaside

When I think of visiting the coast I think in terms of visiting somewhere like the Gower estuary where we can park and walk and enjoy the open space, coastal walks, rock pools etc. I don't really think these days of seaside resorts - even when the kids were small we were more likely to be found on the deserted Chesil beach than at a resort. When the need to build a sandcastle was of prime importance we would condescend to drive down into Weymouth for an afternoon.
However we had a phone call from a niece, close family whom we have not seen much this year telling us she was at the seaside with her two children and not coming to stay here most of the summer holiday as usual, so we felt that we could go and spend a day at the seaside with them.
We had only just hit the motorway when she sent a text message and said it is pouring don't come...too late... So we drove all the way there in the pouring rain, we were all dressed in shorts and t shirts on the premise that the less clothes we wore the quicker we would dry out, but we did have a huge umbrella!
We arrived and found a parking space saw that we could walk along the beach to the meeting point, decided that it was currently dry and getting warm so to leave the umbrella in the car and set off to the beach.
Beaches bring up the mental image of miles of golden sand, the odd palm tree, gentle waves lapping gently onto the sand… this reality was more to do with mud than sand, the sea a long way away, a very strong smell of donkey and not a palm tree in sight. The overpowering drive to retreat to the car and drive away as fast as possible had to be overcome…so teeth gritted and grins fixed and we headed onward.
We soon came across the poor old donkeys – pulling traps that were made to look like various Thomas the Tank Engine engines…what’s the point? Why not real little trains for the children and donkeys being donkeys? Very strange! Along the beach were various stalls seeing the obligatory sunhats, bucket, spades beach balls etc., near the meeting point we found one selling coffee – in real mugs! Bonus!!
The weather was glorious and when the tide came in there were probably as many as twenty children playing in the sea and at least two of us grandmas in with them keeping the ones that we were responsible for safe. When they had finished playing in the sea the children were filthy – there really was more mud than sand! I took the four year old I had into slightly deeper water and literally rubbed him down, rinsing the mud off as we went to try to get him clean enough to dress. On the beach it was virtually impossible to build sand castles, the mud did not come out of the buckets in the same way as sand.
We dressed the children and went to get lunch, we sat trying to decide what to do for the afternoon – there really didn’t seem to be much available.
We spent time wandering round the resort, looking for the interesting seaside type of shops, but all there was was the modern malls of normal town shops, nothing interesting or different at all. We eventually decided to walk up the other end of the town and see the funfair. This was a revelation – to me anyway! It was an old steam driven funfair with old caravans, rides, lorries etc. I thought it was really interesting. The kids weren’t too impressed, it did not have all the modern rides that they are used to but as they were spending money and wining prizes they were reasonably content.
Inevitably when there was something to take photos of I did not have my camera with me, but my daughter came to the rescue, she had a little one in her handbag.
I took several photographs of the steam fair, it was the only things that seemed to be worth seeing in the whole place.
It was lovely to see our family and spend a little time with the children, nothing will change that, but, families were there on holiday, presumably many had paid, probably quite a lot of money to be at the seaside with their young children. There was very little there for them. The whole place was sad. The thought of being there for a week or a fortnight is just too horrifying. Is this the best that the British seaside can manage?
For the photos of the steam fair see Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/29197416@N07/

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Looking at Shodor Interactivate

http://www.shodor.org/interactivate/ Interactivate is a set of free, online courseware for exploration in science and mathematics. It is comprised of activities, lessons, and discussions.

It covers at least KS2 and 3 in maths (maybe more) and has a huge number of resources that could be used on interactive whiteboards, or as individual exercises for all ages. It has a glossary of mathematical terms and a set of teaching tools such as clocks and tessellation tools. It is hard to believe that this is a free resource!
Just a few examples of exercises suitable for primary schools:

Pascal’s Triangle Fun

Colour numbers in Pascal's Triangle by rolling a number and then clicking on all entries that are multiples of the number rolled. This exercise gives children a chance to practice multiplication tables and investigate number patterns. Colouring Multiples in Pascal's Triangle could be used as an assessment activity.

Colour numbers in Pascal's Triangle by rolling a number and then clicking on all entries that have the same remainder when divided by the number rolled. This exercise allows children to practice division and remainders and investigating number patterns. Colouring Remainders in Pascal's Triangle could be used as an assessment activity.

Fraction Sorter

In this exercise children have to visualize fractions by colouring in the appropriate portions of either a circle or a square then order those fractions from least to greatest. It is a very good exercise to enable pupils to visualise fractions and get a good understanding of what they represent.

In this exercise pupils can practice estimation skills by determining the number of objects, the length of a line, or the area of a shape. It is far more tricky than may first be imagined and would be a useful assessment exercise to see a pupil’s understanding of estimation and how skilled they are at using what they already know to make their predictions.

Equivalent Fraction Finder

See also the Arithmetic four and Arithmetic quiz .

This is a set of resources to link to for our leaning platform!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Two new software progams on the web

Here are two quite different but both amazing on-line programs have caught my eye this week. I can see schools being able to make very good use of both. The first, an online art creator will be a dream for primary schools to add to their collection and the second, a data handling program should be advantageous to secondary education.

Myoats - an on-line art program

I would have loved to have access to this on-line art program whilst I was teaching in school. I can think of several children over the years who would have risen to the challenge and produced some amazing creations. No-one can fail! The tools are intuitive and very easy to use, the whole program is a treat for creative use.

Once your picture is finished you can download a high resolution copy of it, make it your desktop wallpaper or save it on the site for other people to see. Some of the works created there are undoubtedly the work of artists, the rest of us produce symmetrical patterns which is made incredibly easy by the program.

Apart from the artistic view I could see it being used to teach symmetry.

To create visit http://www.myoats.com/create.aspx

Dabble DB

Dabble DB helps you create online databases on the web. It’s easy to use yet extremely flexible and powerful. It can

· Create reports

· Sort and group

· Be used collaboratively

· Enable powerful filtering

· Be used to create formulas and subtotals

· Be used to make pivot tables

· Be used to make calendars · Charts · Maps

· Be used to design forms

· Be used to share and collect data

There is a cost involved for Dabble DB – but it is hard to determine from the web what that is for education. It is possible to use it under a creative commons licence so long as you do not mind the data being available to the public. For many exam classes this may be really useful, pupils can work on their data base in school and at home.

http://dabbledb.com/ Follow the link to find out more, sign up and watch an eight minute video clip demonstrating what it can do.