Sunday, 24 November 2013

Google Research-Google Apps Unknown Edtech Tool

This article first appeared in Fractus Learning on November 22 2013

The research window pops up next to your presentation allow you to browse as you work.
The research window pops up next to your presentation
 allowing you to browse as you work.
I learned about the beauty of Google research earlier this year, and now that I've used it a couple times, and talked to my co-workers about whether they use it, I think it is the most unknown tool in Google's tool kit arsenal. Start by hitting "Tools" then select "Research". These features may not be synched with and forms, but they are for docs, presentations and drawings.

As soon as you do, a window pops up next to your presentation asking what you'd like to add to your presentation and what sharing settings that you prefer. This means not toggling back and forth between different browser tabs, downloading, or saving to the desktop. It's just drag and drop.

Images: The name says it all. However, the beauty of this is that you can filter images by no filter or creative commons. Once you drag and drop it into your presentation, there is already a source attribution link underneath so you don't have to say where you got it.   

Movies: It's always a few clicks to get to the "youtube" video of choice but a search for movies on Google research can immediately find movies that can be previewed or inserted.

Quotes about your subject can connect with your audience.
Quotes about your subject can connect with your audience.

Scholar: Search for anything on a regular Google search and you'll fine hundreds of thousands to millions of articles. A search on scholar will narrow down a handful of sites and make reviewing them much easier. Just make sure to use keywords of interests and you'll find journal pieces typically published for academic reasons, not propagandist ones.

Quotes: A quote search can bring up some interesting quotes to liven up a presentation. However, some creative works may be copyrighted so don't get too attached to a particular person or saying. Chances are, you can still use it in your presentation.


For teacher that work with ESL learners, it’s nice having a tool that quickly translates any terms for you that you may encounter while learning. Many of my students have complained when they don’t understand target vocabulary so this is a nice feature to make learning more accessible to them. There may even be full length article translations!
- See more at:

The dictionary feature is nice as it gives definitions of words in other languages. You may not think that is great, but to an ESL student, they may benefit from this feature. Dictionary may also find articles written about your subject in other languages which helps student understanding.


For teacher that work with ESL learners, it’s nice having a tool that quickly translates any terms for you that you may encounter while learning. Many of my students have complained when they don’t understand target vocabulary so this is a nice feature to make learning more accessible to them. There may even be full length article translations!
- See more at:
Tables: I learned about this from Richard Byrne. The table feature allows you to look for statistics and also drag and drop a hyperlink to the information. For my presentation on "Minnesota" I wanted to compare the "Mall of America" by size to other malls of the world so this came in handy.

Google research makes it so much easier to find information that is credible and filtered for your use and I also forgot to mention that it allows for MLA, Chicago, and APA citation format which will accommodate most of your academic requirements. Give it a whirl and enjoy saving time and making a better product!

Related Articles
Google Scholar Search

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Top Math Apps for the Ipad

My technology resource facilitator just got back from India's Ipad summit. He brought back a lot of good ideas, but one he found most interesting was the workshop from Mary Miller who has previewed over 100 Ipad apps for teaching mathematics. Here are her favorites:

Best Free Apps

Educreations Interactive Whiteboard-I've used this tool and I find it's a little more elementary school friendly. Students can draw and write mathematical content and record demonstrations. Very similar to Doceri or Explain Everything, it has a user interface with big buttons that (in my opinion) is more conducive to smaller fingers and younger users. You can insert images from dropbox or the web and can easily erase or undo recordings. Created content can be uploaded to the web for community learning and review.

 Slate Math-This app was a new one for me and seems to be catering to a kindergarten and first grade audience. When you open it up, it asks you to select what type of activity that you'd like to do. For example, some of the choices are counting, advanced counting, writing digits, addition, patterns. Students can work at their own pace and review as needed.
I think what's most interesting are the graphics which make students feel like they're doing something else, but underlying their interactions, they are in fact, practicing mathematical concepts. Subtle trickery or genius design?

Screenchomp- This app is an interactive whiteboard but I think that it has better sharing features for teachers that prefer to use this as a tool for creating videos to teach their students. As a flipped learning model, this has great applications as after a recording, teachers and students can email, tweet or facebook content to a learning community. My school uses "moodle" so I can make such videos available there for my students to see prior to a lesson in class or as a review activity. Making videos is quite fun, but something I've learned recently is to ask questions of the audience. It helps them reflect and activate prior knowledge.

Comparison Apps

Jungle Time-This is an interesting app to help young children learn how to tell time. With a 2.99$ price tag, it won't break the bank and has a nice user interface that is very friendly to young learners. There are some nice features that allow for learning, practice or exploring telling time. It also has a progress log that scaffolds up into more complex time telling from the foundation of telling time by the hour to "half past" "quarter past" and then time to the actual minute. It's great and so easy to use and teachers and parents can easily work through problems with children, and make learning goals as they do. 

Jungle Coins-With similar avatars to Jungle time, jungle coins also turns the understanding of numbers into tasks involving coins as manipulatives. (As a little aside here, kids must find the concept of coins confusing. Why is a smaller dime worth more than a larger nickel?) Anyways, it too has a 2.99$ price tag but I like that it gives students an entry point to understanding currency and the value of money by recognizing different coins. I wonder how young we could teach students to value the virtue of saving and investing. Could this be done with elementary aged children?

Geoboard-Geoboard is a subtle way of teaching geometry to students. Currently, it's free to scoop it up. It augments the traditional "rubber band geoboards" that teachers have used since Confucius (or the age of rubber bands) to demonstrate concepts like perimeter and area. What's good about it, is the relative ease of use and being able to recognize vertices and also use different colors to represent sides and how one side is the same length as the other as shown by color. There is a fill feature as well so students can fill shapes and compare area.

Manipulative Apps
Number Pieces Basic-This takes manipulatives like base ten blocks and pattern grids, rows and squares and gives students the opportunity to move them around and also draw and add up amounts on an interactive white board. This app too is free, so check it out and try in on your resident guinea pig. I think this is good for elementary students, especially in the early ages such as grade 1-3 but as students learn more complex math, they might outgrow it's applications. It's not a content creation tool (don't expect to record) but it can be a good supplement and extension activity during stations, or following lessons.  

Number Rack-This picture says it all. Are we not all intrigued when we find an old abacus? I learned how and why an abacus is designed years ago, and I must say, it is fascinating. (All chemists feel the same way when they learn about how the periodic table of the elements is organized with respect to reactivity, density and atomic number) 
Anyways, it allows for rows with beads to built in comparison to one another and it's easy to use numbers or colors to show inequalities and also has a small box as a hide feature which can be used to challenge student's understanding and recall. By the way, this too is free. 

Virtual Manipulatives- This is better for teachers that want students to learn about rational numbers; specifically looking at the commonalities between fractions, decimals and percents. What it does is use fractions, decimals and percents but color codes them with proportional sized pieces (like pattern tiles) so comparisons between the amounts can be made. Students can "hold" a fraction to see the equivalent amount in percents or decimals which is a nice feature that traditional manipulatives cannot deliver. Students can save their work and come back to it later if you are under narrow time constraints. Good for upper elementary and early MS. Free.

Top Picks
Explain Everything-I've used this one for the last two yeas and it is dynamite. It has more features than educreations and being able to insert movies from the camera roll is a nice feature. What I think that is really nice about this app is that it can serve as a departure from traditional summative assessments and transform them into a more performance or project-based assessment. Students can work up towards problems with increasing difficulty which builds on foundational skills and gives students the opportunity for remediation and reflection. Here is an example of two of my students using it in geometry.

 Infuse Learning-This is a student response system wherein a teacher can design assessments, (usually more formative in nature) and administer them through any mobile device. What's nice about it, is that teachers see student progress in real time which is an effect not offered by Socrative or Google Forms. You can embed images too and there is audio translations for ESL learners. It also translates questions as well.
I have been using Infuse Learning quite often this year and I must say: It's dynamite. No lost passwords or usernames and it's free. I presented this at a speedgeeking session when Kim Cofino was in town and got a lot of positive responses. I've also done some tutorials to get you started.

Drawing Pad-At first glance, I thought drawing pad would be yet another whiteboard/chalkboard/paint tool. It is, but on steroids. The pallate of tools that you can use to create is simply dazzling and there are features and effects that make any created content a work of art. When you start playing with this, you can't help but explore all the possibilities of design. It also made me realize what a narrow swatch of brush sizes and color features comprise some other apps out there. Although not specifically a math app, it has a range of uses, math just happens to be one.

All these apps help substitute, augment and in some ways, modify the ways that students can learn and demonstrate their learning. However, I think a undervalued part of content creation these days is having students learn from one another and not merely making content for the purposes of assessment. Create a sharing network and method in your class where student created work can be viewed, critiqued and learned from by other members of your class. Also, create in-school PD where staff can learn these tools and their many uses.

If you exhaust the above pics and want to explore more on your own check out the extensive list here. For any interested readers, what are your thoughts on the following:

1.) Which math apps do you prefer for content creation, information consumption and review purposes?
2.) Do you think Ipads should only be used in ES, ES and MS, or school wide?
3.) In your professional opinion, is a laptop or Ipad better suited for learning in the classroom?

Managing Digital Technology in the Classroom

I've just been learning about some awesome tips on how to manage technology in the classroom. The first comes from a wiki on classroom management of laptops created by educators that offer a number of good tips on refocusing student attention. These are my favorites:
  1. Telling students to put screens at "half mast". This means putting the screen down, but not closing it completely hence shutting down the computer. I've always used the prompt: "Put your screens at 20 degrees" which means putting the screen down at an angle for which the screen can't be seen and thus distract students. With Ipads, to get the kids to turn over their devices, simply say "Apples up!"
  2. Consider internet logging software. This is a deterrent to students that may be using technology inappropriately. With students that are collaborating together, there may be a tendency to delete other students work. With my experience with Google apps and the tool: "revision history" I know who deleted what and can model good digital etiquette in a way that screen recording devices cannot keep up with.
  3. There is a range of digital competencies. We think of all students as digital natives, but I find on one end of the spectrum, I have kids that routinely lose and forget to log their username and passwords constantly. On the other end, I have kids that become more adept at tools than me within minutes. Allow and recognize the latter to be mentors for the former.
Image courtesy of CC
Image courtesy of CC
Another interesting read is the horizon report and a common thread within the article is that "ongoing professional development for teachers" and "resistance to change reflects the status quo" as a challenge for teachers in learning new technology tools. With all the recommendations about how these tools can innovate learning, one wonders how a teaching staff learns how to reinvent itself. Completely, or piecemeal?

At our school, we have shared and developed this in a variety of ways. For starters,we have technology resource facilitators that meet with a select group of teachers monthly, who then share tools with the grade level teams. We also have "Ipad Fridays" where a new ipad app is shared in the morning before classes to any interested people. We also have "teachers teaching teachers" which is a inter-school PD forum in the spring and also various conferences in the region. Finally, our literacy coach asks interested staff to share a three minute mini-lesson at the beginning of staff meetings on Wednesday afternoons. Over time, the fruits of these conversations achieve critical mass as one person shares their work with two teachers, those two share with four, and so on.  

Room For Improvement
Image courtesy of CCThe most interesting reads come from Jeff Utecht who makes a good rationale for having Ipads as an ES tool and having this transition into laptops in the older years, but also providing Ipad access. With a 1:1 program for laptops AND Ipads, I think something has got to give. I think that the user interface with the traditional keyboard is great for typing, and therefore more desirable. But Ipads can also play a part within a roving cart that can be rolled into any classroom when needed.

The most interesting argument Utecht makes is that I pads may not reinvent learning in ways that people actually think they do. Using the SAMR model, one must look at the learning products created and ask, are these products the result of modification and redefinition or just an expensive way of doing the old "way" only sleeker looking? If it is a "substituted" use for example, reading a PDF on an I pad rather than a textbook, does an I pad's price tag justify the means? I think not. However, being able to highlight passages and save them to Diigo or share them with other learning communities in a way that augments the traditional way of how texts have been consumed and that's where staff training comes in. When we make decisions about whether to use ipads, laptops or a hybrid model of both, these are some of the questions we must ask.    

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Technology Integration in Project Based Learning

I just had a weekend TEDx video binge. Does anyone else have these? You start watching TED talks and just can't stop.

It started with  Will Richardson talking about how education has become hijacked by corporate reformers and elected officials who are politicizing teachers as inept who must be controlled with ear buds and note cards to standardize instruction. These people can't seem to understand the difference between test prep and actual "learning". Following this, I saw Andrew McAfee who highlights the disparity between blue and white collar workers in recent decades and how technical skills will give them an edge or leave others behind to flounder. Finally, I saw "Math Munch" which has been developed by some young eager beavers on how math is all around but it not taught and learned in a creative, playful fashion.

A common thread in all the videos is that our current dogma of educational measurement is notoriously antiquated. Assessments are shortly forgotten and learning cannot be applied laterally. We see this all around, yet, we wait for superman, hoping a solution will save us. What I see is that what is being done on a large scale is notoriously unpopular, meaningless and generally a bore.

"In America, no child should be left behind. Every child should be educated to his or her own full potential." President George W. Bush


The irony of the statement above is that our 43rd president was a below average student and still advocated that students "must take the test, because we need to see what they have learned".

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Enter Project Based Learning
I tend to favor a project-based learning approach because it starts with an authentic task and it keeps students on task, and makes students see the connections between what they are learning and why they are learning it. However, "doing a project" at the end of a unit is not the same as "project based learning". Project based learning requires a dizzying understanding of the curriculum and the end product, typically used in a backwards design or UBD format. Good essential questions to "hook" the students are vital and the teacher must be an extraordinary planner who has a long term vision and timeline.

In the beauty of this approach is also it's limitation. To a teacher that plans "lesson to lesson" and only waits till the end of a unit to decide what to do at the end, having scaffolded lessons may seem like a real burden. Also, the project based approach may allow for more or less depth of the curriculum which a corporate reformer may not favor. "Why do these students learn more and these students learn less?" I imagine them saying.

That's the beauty of it. Formative assessments serve a little "check-ins" for the skills that students need to do the project. Teachers help them through the design process and use learning experiences to learn the content but the product focuses it in meaningful ways.

Technology Integration in PBL
Although every project is different, technology integration has definitely played a role for me in our recent unit in grade 7 science. For instance in our electricity unit, the students are building their own "Mars Rover" out of basic electrical components. The project has a greater aim which is using engineering know how to design and build a tool that can collect information of the surface of an alien world. Mimicking the NASA rover, this project involves:
Students work out a basic series motor series complete with two motors, cell and switch.
Students work out a basic series motor series complete with two motors, cell and switch.
  • Building basic circuits
  • Understanding the difference between a parallel and series circuit
  • Wiring circuits to allow for alternating current and locomotion in two different directions
A parallel circuit modeled in Google Drawing
Students model parallel circuits
Drawing circuits has been a common formative assessment so far in this unit. For instance, when the students were shown some basic circuitry symbols, I wanted to know if they could conceptually diagram how their circuit is working. Afterwards, being able to keep a working diagram but hypothesize how their switch would reverse the current flow later on. A Google drawing became invaluable, because it gave students the opportunity to "test" their conceptual theory of circuitry before wasting valuable time building and wiring it over and over until it did what they wanted it to do. Furthermore, they were able to collaborate and pool their knowledge about how effective that their design was an whether they really understood electric current. This is very demonstrative of constructivist learning principles.

Being able to present and test their theory not only helped groups ask questions of their own, but showed other groups some possibilities of how their circuits could be wired. As a informal formative assessment, it was dynamite and made extension assignments on parallel verses series circuits relevant and applicable to solving their problem.

Students test their understanding of parallel circuits with "infuse learning".
Students test their understanding of parallel circuits with "infuse learning".

There you have it. Technology plays a part in modelling, assessment and I have some ideas of how they could showcase their bots final data collection. Stay posted!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Intersection

Content, pedagogy and technology are all intersecting at an increasingly messy place. Our content is currently evolving and pedagogical approaches of behaviorism, constructivism are being supported at different inflection points extolled by philosophies of Regio Emilio, Brain-Based Learning, Maria Montessori and integrated within systems of common core standards. Technology integration seems to be newcomer.

Punya and Mishra Koehler say something very profound in their article, "Too Cool for School." "The fact that technology is innovative and popular does not make it educational technology, but these these technologies have the potential to fundamentally change the way we think about teaching and learning." This point really resonates with me as I've tried to find our comfort level in the messy intersection of learning about a new tool, thinking about it could have applications in our class, and then saying to ourselves "It's not about the technology, it's about the learning."  

Guinea Pigs With Google Drawings

I decided to put this to a test on Friday by experimenting with two different methods for modelling molecule bonding. I had a taught a lesson on ionic and covalent bonds and wanted to see if students could use the periodic table to infer how elements bond with other elements and graphically represent their work. I provided my first class (my control group) small personal whiteboards around which they had to huddle around and work on in groups of 4-5. I assigned them an molecule and in 10 minutes, show how valance electrons are shared and what type of bond was formed. For my experimental class, I specifically told my students to use a google drawing for this task. I told them that one person should start the drawing, give access to other group members, (and myself) and present their molecule to the class dividing up elements of their presentation so that everyone is a speaker.

The class with whiteboards really struggled. First of all, it was difficult for 5 group members to physically get around such a small board, so only 2-3 did any of the real work. Other group members were within an ear shot, but off task. When it became time for presenting, the students that had put any effort into this work were the lead presenters. Some had just stood in the background.
Students share their work with me via gmail.
Students share their work with me via gmail.
For the second group, the accessibility allowed every student to engage and participate. They were talking over their computers and across their tables and all working together to make their presentation as perfect as they could with the time that they had. In short, within 10 minutes, new students learned how to use drawings and had shared their work with me. They were a lot more engaged and after my own demonstration of how to use drawings, they were teaching one another as they worked on this project.

Of course, the content is the focus, but I also observed the
Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or PCK as coined by Koehler. This
intersection of pedagogy, learning and technology was made possible by using this tech tool. Could I have used white boards for both my classes? Of course. However, I felt that the Google drawings made the activity more accessible for all members and provided a digital piece that could be used as a link for their digital notebooks and curriculum guides for later reference. Could we say the same for the white board work? Possibly. If I took pictures, uploaded them to dropbox or Flickr, but the ease of sharing the drawings made them more versatile. To reformers that think technology advocates are vying for technology for it's own sake, they might think that my learning objective was:
  • "Use Google Drawings"

But this could not be further from the truth. What the learning objective was for me was:
  • "Model ionic or covalent bonding using manipulative s. Explain why bonds are ionic or covalent and model valence electron sharing."

Paul Barnwell writes of this digital literacy gap. He paints a picture of two camps of teachers: One group that thinks that technology is changing so rapidly so there is no need to teach students (and teachers) how to use it. The other group is more progressive and knows that technology can be used as a means for understanding. Their goal is not to use it, but to experiment and explore with it so we can utilize it to achieve our end goal. In the future, this tool may be outdated, but for the time being it is more effective than the old school, like I so visibly observed on last weeks chemistry lesson. Barnwell sums up this misunderstanding with:"We might be missing an opportunity to create greater balance between traditional literacy skills and interactive competencies with the widespread implementation of these new standards."  

Student Blogging
For my work this year, I'm trying to quantify the effects of blogging on writing. I want to note that the question is not "should students blog?" but "what is the effect of student blogging on writing skills?" So far, I've done roughly 3 projects for genius hour that have been embedded on student blogs with my seventh graders, and one biological study with the sixth graders.  
I think it has real applications. Not for itself, but for writings sake.

 "Too Cool for School" by Punya and Mishra Koehler
 The Common Core's Digitial Literacy Gap by Paul Barnwell