Author: charlesbuster

I go to school and that pretty much sums it up

It has been right under my nose the whole time!

I have been writing about all sort of tools you can use in education and I used WordPress to share my thoughts. With this blog creating/hosting service, it is easy to write about any topics you want. It is quite easy to use but there is definitely a learning curve. The first time you actually try it might be a little overwhelming because this website is feature rich and there are many options at your disposal. However, the user interface is clean and the navigation is fluid. But the goal is not to use WordPress because it is pretty and fancy, it is because it is a useful and powerful tool.

 

WordPress can be as useful to you as it can be to your students. One year ago, WordPress released an updated with a new feature called education vertical for teachers. It was meant to help educators easily create websites for their classes. It is a great initiative that brings new possibilities on how to share content with students, and how these students can access class ressources. Additionally, the sites or pages created with this tool can be locked with passwords.  It is clear that WordPress is more than a basic blogging platform.

 

 

What is great too with WordPress is that you can effortlessly link YouTube videos, images, or any other URL sources. Thus, you can show your students any content you need from only one WordPress page. You don’t need to open a word file, a webpage, and a photo viewer application for a specific lesson; create a page with all the things you need , and you are good to go. You can also share your lesson plan through WordPress. There are countless possibilities. On this wiki, you can fin several interesting ways on how to use WordPress.

 

 

This article explains how WordPress can become a platform for course delivery dans learning, and how it can promote learning outside of school. Also, you can ask assignments to be done on WordPress. This way, instead of asking for hardcopies or documents via email, you can easily go on your students’ WordPress blogs to look at their work. Additionally, it is really easy to link the sources used to complete an assignment. It’s a great way to go paperless.

 

All in all, WordPress can be the solution for many aspects of school work management and in class presentations.

 

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Do you love to pin?

Well it seems like everybody does. Here is a great visual on how Pinterest works and how it can be used in education:

Image source: http://edudemic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/professors-peers-pinterest.jpg

 

I think the main idea behind using Pinterest in classrooms is to find a way to connect with your students and to reach a wide audience. Pinterest is the 3rd largest social media platform and according to Julie DeNeen, Pinterest is the premier platform for many professions. With its online pin board architecture, Pinterest is basically a visual tool that inspires creativity and new ideas. It is easy to find stuff you care about and to discover completely new things. Here are some basic tips: with the search engine, you of course search for education category, you can create your own boards about the subjects from your course plan, you can provide reading lists and additional ressources to your students, you can easily find new ideas for project and supplemental material, and so on.  

 

At its hearth, Pinterest is a tool created to share information. It emphasizes on interaction through interests and ideas. It is a great social platform to share ideas with people from the same profession. Thus, you can easily collaborate with your colleagues and your students. It is also a great organizational tool with is gorgeous visuals and the pin system. It is easy to remember the sources of your pins and why you choose them. You can also categorize your boards and create one for each subjects of your course.

 

You can also ask your students to use Pinterest as a creative tool to create presentations and to do special projects and they can easily collaborate with their team members by creating their own board. In an article by Jeff Dunn, it has been said that by using Pinterest, “The students were very excited and engaged to have a place to network with other teachers. […] Throughout this experience, both I and my students realized that effective teaching strategies don’t have to be confined to the classroom. Today, we have over 30 boards and 1300 pins.” 

 

With its great design and its ease of use, Pinterest is a great tool to engage interactions and share information with your students. Also, there are many different websites with video tutorials that can help you with your first steps on Pinterest like this one. You can even go on Pinterest education section. It is fun you will see.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a video?

Every student loves it when a teacher presents a video in front of the class. Every single student. If one tells you otherwise = liar. What is great now is that we have several different services we can use to show and share videos to them. One that particularly stands out is YouTube. In 2014, Pretty much everyone knows what YouTube is and how to use it, and youngsters are most certainly the ones that spend the most time on it. As soon as you use YouTube in your classroom you become relevant. You use a product students can relate to. This is important because if the content of your course is fresh and interesting, you win students’ attention. Adding to that, YouTube hosts a plethora of videos that can accompany any types of lesson for free and with a fast and easy access. (If you want a tip, use Google Chrome browser and install the Adblock Plus plugin, you will never have to wait after an add for the video to start). For these reasons, YouTube is something a teacher should try to implement in the classroom on a regular basis.

 

What’s great is that YouTube has a useful education channel you can subscribe to. You will always get new content that suits your needs from this channel. It is always fun the kick start a class with a little video that introduces the subject or activity you want to present to your students.  With a YouTube video, it is easy to engage with students on current trending topics and start interactive discussions. Your classroom gets more intimate and students feel involve with the source of the material. As mention on an article by Michelle Jaworski on The Daily Dot: “A lot of teachers now use hooks, so they start with the short YouTube video to get kids engaged [and] no matter what’s on YouTube, if it’s in a classroom they’re excited by it.” Additionally, What is fun with a video service like that is that you have complete control of what you want to show with the playback controls. All this in a clean and simple interface

 

They are many channels that can provide fun and interesting videos. The Mashable website created a list of 10 YouTube channels that will make you smarter. On this blog you will find the ten most popular educational YouTube videos in 2013. This just goes to show how much content is available on this video sharing service. Also, according to this article, this “service has been adopted as the de facto video sharing site for social networking, business, government and education throughout most of the developed world”. So yeah, YouTube is feature rich and crawls with credible sources. You can find virtually every instructional video possible. If you have a question, someone has already answered it with a YouTube video. Thus, it is easy to give homework to your students and ask them to go on YouTube in order to complete a task. Moreover, using YouTube this way will arouse students desire to learn outside of class.

 

 

So what are you waiting for? Jump on the bandwagon!

 

 

iPad for one and iPads for all!

During the current semester I did my first practicum in elementary school, and my associated teacher had the chance to have an iPad, a smartboard, and an Apple TV to give her lessons. That was a far cry from what I knew was possible in terms of interaction with technology when teaching. When I was in elementary school and high school, I was lucky if my classroom had an over-head projector. Anyway, it is certain that this kind of set up (the one from my practicum school) is not available in every school institution, but the iPad itself is a terrific tool in classrooms. At first I was not entirely convinced by what this device can bring, but now I know it is a tool every teacher must master.

 

iPads are made by Apple and now they come in two different sizes and there are over 5 generations. As it is the most widely adopted mobile operating system (for tablets), the iPad has the richest collection of applications (apps) for education optimized for its screen size. Thus, the iPad is the smartest choice as of right now if you want to own a tablet and use it in class. If you go in the iPad section of Apple’s website, the company will get you started with all the features an iPad has to offer. Their pitch is so well done and the website is so fancy that you will want to buy 2 of these little gadgets. It is a great way to know a little bit more about this product even if Apple is praising their product just a little too much.

 

 

What I want to talk about is the plus value of having an iPad in the classroom as a teacher. The first advantage of an iPad is its ease of use. Everything is easy to manipulate with the intuitive multi-touchscreen, and the apps boot up in an instant. It is effortless, fun, and portable. You do not have to bring your cumbersome laptop or to worry about having access to a computer in class.  This way, you can use this tablet at anytime during your lesson and still be able to walk around the classroom; mobility and efficiency.

 

Now an iPad is not just made to be move around. It is a useful tool that can be use in many aspects of your teaching habits. The iPad is great for surfing the web and researching topics in or out of the classroom. You can also do revisions with your students using various mind mapping apps. You can also easily take pictures of students’ projects and then share them with your colleagues or with whomever you wish. You can even record your student’s oral presentations in order to give better feedback when correcting.

 

You can find a ton of apps developed by different companies in the App Store. What is convenient though, it that Apple has a strong lineup of apps of its own, and most of them are free. For example, with the Keynote app, you can rapidly make a nice presentation for your class about a new topic.  Clicking on this link, you will fin a comprehensive list of all the best iPad apps teachers need. On this other website, you will fin all sorts of links for everything iPad related. It is another good way to get started. There a many interesting ways for using an iPad like using brushes to paint, draw, sketch, and doodle.

 

This piece of technology is the perfect tool to help unleash your creativity and captivate your students.

 

 

Tweet fever!

I have been a Twitter member since 2010 and I remember creating my account just because I had heard that it was a great social network that was getting pretty popular. However, I never really got into it until the beginning of this year’s NHL season. I started following Hockey insiders from various sport news outlets like TSN, ESPN, RDS and SB Nation. I did not have many subscriptions but I had what I needed in order to stay up to date with all the latest news from the NHL. Moreover, I gradually started to learn the way Twitter works and to take advantage of its great features.

 

Here I am, 8 months later, and all I use is Twitter. This is the best thing I have discovered since Ketchup and I really, really love Ketchup. I now follow many different people, companies, and movements and it is a joy to scroll through the tweets feed with all the latest and greatest things the world talks about. This had me thinking: Twitters offers so much (see endless) possibilities, I could as well integrate it in my future teaching career. So this is what I want to talk about: the many ways to use Twitter in the classroom.

First of all, Twitter is the ultimate tool to connect with the things and the people you like. It might seem like it can be a waste of time, but its organizational structure renders this social network a major educational tool.

There are countless ways to use Twitter in classrooms. With Twitter, it is easy to set up a feed dedicated exclusively to due dates, tests or quizzes. You can also coordinate assignments and share notes. You really have the possibility to get creative with this tool, and push an idea forward. Twitter can facilitate many aspects of your teaching like when posting materials and article, and on top of that, students will always have an easy access to all those links and posts. The interactions with the students will get richer and more dynamic as the year advances. Thanks to the hashtag system, you will always have something new to bring to the table and your lessons will stay fresh, relevant, and stimulant every week. Twitter did not make is way to the top of the results of the 7th Annual Learning Tools Survey for nothing. With Twitter, you can bring authentic conversation with your students, connect them to real-world problems, and expand the boundaries of learning.

Additionally, it has been said that Twitter actually increases in-class participation from students. “Fortunately, educators have found that Twitter is an effective way to broaden participation in lecture. Additionally, the ubiquity of laptops and smartphones have made the integration of Twitter a virtually bureaucracy-free endeavor“. Moreover, digital communication seems to help overcoming shyness barrier.

 

Twitter definitely is a powerful tool. Let’s embrace it.

 

 

Remember eveything

This is Evernote’s motto, and this is what this tool is built for: to help you remember everything. There are endless content you can save with Evernote, and this is the beauty of this service. It might not be the fastest tool of its kind, it might not do everything perfectly, but when you judge it as a whole, it is an unmatched notes saving tool.

Here is what you can save with this Evernote: pretty much everything. You can obviously create, and write any notes you wish, but you can also save photos (you can also annotate them with skitch), full web pages with their web clipper, audio notes, PDFs, and then access all of your notes everywhere. You can even take a photo of a document and Evernote will digitize the text so you can modify it or copy and paste the passage you want to use as a reference later on. It is important to note that you can use all the main features of Evernote for free, so it is easy to implement it in your classrooms. Every devices support Evernote: Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Blackberry, and any web browsers you may use. Evernote will sync everything across all of your devices where the app is installed and where your account is registered.

However, these are only the basics functionalities of Evernote and the experience truly begins when you learn to master the extra goodies that this tool has to offer. Because having notes all saved in on place is fine, but it is easy to get lost in all of them. Evernote shines in that department. You can share your notes, set reminders, and look for a specific note with an integrated search engine. This is why I want to talk about Evernote as a pedagogical tool. Evernote is so powerful, I think it would be an offence not to use it in classrooms.

Evernote is built around the concept of notebooks. You can create as much notebooks as you want, and within each notebooks you can add new notes about the subject related to the notebook. Notebooks are awesome. By the way, have you seen the movie?

Great movie. Anyhow.

You can share your notebooks with other Evernote users to collaborate, or you can share a note’s URL to non-Evernote users for them to consult. It is a simple yet efficient way to work with others. With this tool, you can create and share a notebook for assignments you want to give to your students. You can set reminders for homework ant exams, and you can always go back and edit information about what’s to come in your class. You can add new notes about new subjects you recently tackled in class so your students can review them. Ultimately, this tool is as much useful for you as it is for your students. 

Evernote can also be used to present school subjects with a new gorgeous feature called presentation mode. It works similarly to Microsoft PowerPoint. Each notes you have in a specific notebook become slides in a full screen mode. You can easily navigate through them, and your mouse pointer becomes a highlighter that fades with time (sold). It then becomes very convenient to present full webpages, photos, audio notes, and all the other content Evernote can handle. Unfortunately, this features is only available with a premium account, but at least you can get a 30 days trial to get an idea of how it works and what it can do. I believe it will become a popular option in the future.

As you may have guessed, I really appreciate Evernote. I strongly believe that if you give it a try, you will find it to be an indispensable tool in your everyday tasks.

 

Try Evernote today.

Read it later

The title of my article is pretty self-explanatory. There is so much content on the web that sometimes it is hard to keep up with all that is happening, and read everything. Fortunately for us, in this day and age, and like Apple advertises, there is an app for that: Pocket.

This application was founded in 2007 and has since managed to attract more than 10 million users. With Pocket, you can save pretty much every content you find on the Internet and access it anytime when you log in with your free account. It is a super easy to use tool; you just have to install the pocket button on you web browser when you go on getpocket.com, and there is even an app version available on Max OS X, Android and iOS. So whenever you come across interesting content on the web, whether it is an article, a video or an animated gif, you just have to clic on the pocket button, and it will save everything for you. The syncing between devices is smooth, and works as advertised. You can even access saved content offline when you use the mobile application.

The main appeal of Pocket is to be able to save content you enjoy when you browse the web, but suddenly run out of time to explore them. However, this app has become more than just a content saving wonder, and is now very polished and focused on user experience with useful features like ”highlights”, and color-coded badges such as ”best of”, and ”trending”. Adding to that, there are now more than 300 applications compatible with Pocket.

Because of its refined user-interface, Pocket can become a useful tool to integrate in research projects or presentations. Consequently, the pedagogical possibilities become interesting. You can make your students discover this great application so they can save articles about homophones, synonyms, antonyms, nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. If they have a research project, it is now easy for them to save their sources, and use them as they complete their assignment. You can also ”send articles to other people by email, or -even better- straight to other Pocket users’‘. Most importantly, as a teacher, you can save any content you want to show to your classroom in an efficient way. You don’t have to create a word document with all the links you want to open during your class, or to send yourself an email with all these links. You just have to save your stuff on Pocket and wait for your class to start. No more hurdles. Pocket helps you save and share content in a more convenient way, and I look forward to use it in my future classrooms.

High in the sky

Cloud Storage

The subject I want to tackle here is online storage.  For the tech savvy, online storage, cloud storage or whatever we call it is common knowledge, but for many casual users this is still a nebulous service, and even some do not know it is a thing. The premise is simple: an online storage is a place (in the cloud not to say servers) where you save your important files and are then backed up automatically so if you spill coffee on your laptop or if your computer takes on fire, you will not lose your precious files. However, the power of cloud storage does not solely resolves around safely storing and backing up important files. This is the ultimate collaboration tool, thus a no brainer for pedagogical integration. You can create documents and share them publicly with a shared folder; you can even collaborate on the same file at the same time with multiple users, your files are always with you no matter where you are and what devices you have access to (no more USB keys), and pretty much every company who provide these kind of services offer all of this for free.

 

A plethora of companies provide this useful resource, but I will stick to the three cloud services that offer the best overall value and functionalities: Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive.

* Due to legal concerns, the name SkyDrive will be phased out, and soon become OneDrive so I will refer to the later as the article continues. * 

All of the three offer a desktop application that allows you to sync your files without having to open your web browser and upload your files via their website. Adding to that, the big three also created a mobile application so if you happen to possess a smartphone, a superphone or a tablet, you can access all of your backed up files from the tip of your fingers.

 

Ultimate showdown

dropbox

Dropbox is one of the oldest cloud storage companies, and it shows when you use it. dropbox logoI use the three services on a daily basis, and Dropbox always wins when it comes to seamless document syncing. Dropbox synchronizes your files faster than any other services (even if it is from its website or from its desktop and mobile application), you can share folders with many collaborators, you can even share a folder or a file with a URL link that you copy and paste, which is pretty cool, and you can upload any file of any size (I will get to that later). All in all, Dropbox is a robust tool that is reliable, and best in class for seamless file syncing and file sharing, and these aspects alone define what will make-or-break the user experience, and consequently, if someone decide to use the product or not.

 

However, unlike the competition, Dropbox offers just that; you do not get access to any other tools or services. With OneDrive and Google Drive, you get an email address with a trusted email client, and chances are that you already have a Hotmail, Outlook or Gmail account. Google and Microsoft allows you to edit your documents, spreadsheets, or presentations with their respective web apps, but Dropbox only lets you take a look at your files with a basic document viewer. Adding to that, a free Dropbox account only gives 2 gigabytes (gb) of storage when OneDrive and Google Drive give 7 gb, and 15 gb for free respectively. Yes it is true that through referrals (users that join the service through your invitation) you can reach up to 16 gb of additional storage, but it is a long process despite being a great idea.

 

OneDrive

OneDrive and Google Drive have an edge when it comes to collaboration because they offer free document creating tools integrated to their cloud storage services. OneDrive however, does not support files bigger than 2 gb. Mona Akmal said last July that the OneDrive team was looking to increase the file size limit, but to this day, nothing has been updated. For its part, Google Drive supports a 10 gb file size, which is still put to shame by the unlimited file size limit that Dropbox allows, but is currently more than enough since not a lot of files outside of video games exceed this number.

 

OneDrive has the upper hand with its upgrade plan since it is the cheapest, but other than that, Microsoft cloud storage is the least reliable service in terms of file synchronization, photo rendering, and flexibility. On one hand, the big appeal of OneDrive is its Windows and Microsoft Office integration, but unfortunately for Microsoft not everybody uses Windows centric devices. It is important to keep in mind in pedagogy that you need to reach the widest possible audience when integrating online tools.

 

Google DriveGoogle Drive on the other hand, works wonderfully no matter what device you use. It is easiest way to share work and it does a good job at syncing all of your files without conflicting with older versions, but is still not up to par with Dropbox. With its web apps, you can work on the same lesson plan at the same time with one or many students or colleagues from anywhere and give ongoing feedback. You can even share schedules with other users and overlay their shared calendars with yours. There are a lot of possibilities like creating spreadsheets to track student homework and share with parents. All in all, Google Drive is the ultimate tool to become more productive and efficient and it is possible to do all of this for free. It is the one I will use, and I greatly recommend it.

 

Here is a breakdown of the main features off all three online platforms:

 

Dropbox

  • Free space: 2GB (plus up to 16GB for referrals)
  • Premium space: US$99 per year for 100GB
  • File size limit: Unlimited (via desktop app)
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry
  • Best for: Seamless document syncing
  • Try Dropbox

 

Microsoft OneDrive

  • Free space: 7GB
  • Premium space: US$50 per year for 100GB
  • File size limit: 2GB
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone
  • Best for: Windows/MS Office integration
  • Try Microsoft SkyDrive

 

Google Drive

  • Free space: 15GB
  • Premium space: $59.88 per year for 100GB
  • File size limit: 10GB
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
  • Best for: Storage space and web apps
  • Try Google Drive

 

 

Somewhere down the line, schools and ministries could decide to get rid of local servers and instead subscribe to business storage plans to offer a certain amount of space to every teachers and students, and the possibilities would become infinite. Cloud storage is the future of online interaction.

Is One Social Network Enough?

Facebook Thumbs Down

Facebook is a great social network to stay in touch with your friends and family. It should stay this way because it is the only thing Facebook does well. Some people may find my following argument irrelevant, but to me, it is crucial: aesthetic.

Simply put, Facebook is ugly. The user interface is clumsy, the colors are repulsive, if you don’t have an ad blocker the ads are obtrusive, etc. I just can’t get around its design philosophy. Therefore, the less time I spend on this website, the better my eyes feel and consequently, my sanity is conserved. Every single time I log on Facebook, it is frustrating to count the amount of content I don’t care about that pops on my screen, and the settings are so hard to access (and it is like that deliberately) that I never dig into them to solve this inconvenience. There is so much useless content, scam posts, and games on Facebook that you easily get distracted from what you were there to accomplish at first. I know that it is a widely adopted social network, and that my future students will undoubtedly be using it, but despite these valid advantages I don’t think I would ask them to use this platform for my class.

Overall, I don’t appreciate the experience and to add to my displeasure, its mobile solutions (mobile webpage and application alternative) are unstable, slow, laggy, and a tablet version of the application is only available on iOS. This point alone is a major drawback to me, because the world of technology is shifting towards mobility, and microtechnology, and Facebook is severely lacking in that department. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Facebook, but I don’t try to pretend that it is something it is not. And to me, this website is not a work tool. Can I live without Facebook? No. I tried and failed miserably after one day. I have to be honest and admit that I go on Facebook more than I should. However, I use it to stay in touch with my entourage thanks to its useful chat client and to post many impertinent moments of my life. If I want to be productive and use digital tools, I seek other alternatives. So, unless I am constrained to use Facebook for a professional purpose, I will keep using this social network as my guilty pleasure, and I will encourage my students to keep it that way too.

google vs facebook

But what else is available? Fret no more dear readers: I present you Google+! Google+ is the most powerful social network available, end of discussion. Before explaining what Google+ can do for you, here is what you get by creating a Google account: a Gmail address, personalized web search and location, 15 gigabytes of free storage on Google Drive, access to Google Hangouts for chatting and video calling, Google Documents, Google Photos, a YouTube profile, and much more! 

Many will criticize the fact that Google violates our privacy, but something important you have to keep in mind is that when you connect any device you own to the Internet, it is done. Your personal information is retrieve by your Internet provider and the company who runs your operating system. So to me, the argument that Google is evil because it reads our email is invalid. When you go on the Internet you accept the fact that a secret server somewhere knows everything about you. Adding to that, Google offers a comprehensive policies and principles webpage. 

Google+ is more than just a social platform. Essentially, it is built to accompany the Google ecosystem and its services we use everyday. Google+ is somewhat of an extension to your Google experience.  Every Google apps communicate with each-other and Google+ accelerates and simplifies this process. It is truly a unique experience, and once you get a hold on it, you really start to understand how powerful this tool is.

Google-Circles

Google+ is built around the concept of circles. You can have as many types of circles you want. This way, everything you share is easily manageable because you choose which circles (or persons) can see your posts. You can also select extended circles if you want people in the circles of your circles to see your posts, but for the sake of privacy, it is a better idea to always select “my circles” or “custom” to manually select which of your many circles will be able to see your posts (select share with all your circles or only with your “friends” circle, etc). The defining feature of this architecture is that, unlike Facebook, if someone is not in one of your circles, he will never, ever be able to see your information, your pictures or old posts. Moreover, You don’t have to create a new account, let’s say, for work. You want colleagues in your circles? Create a “work” circle and all the other things on your profile will be invisible to them! They will never see your vacation pictures if you didn’t choose to share them with this particular circle on the first place. The same thing goes for your personal information! Oh, and don’t worry, no one except you can see how many circles you have and in which circles you choose to put your contacts. Google+ really is impressive and yes, beautifully designed.

Google+-New-User-Interface

You can follow pretty much any company, news outlet or personality you like. Google+ is more crowded than you might think. You can create your own magazine by following the things you are interested in. Basically, Google and its many web apps can become the only thing you need when you open your web browser. I am not saying that it should be the way to go, be this just goes to show how much complete and powerful the tools Google is providing actually are. When you create your Google account, your are given a lot of useful software that you may end up using on a daily basis.

Ultimately, this is what motivates my decision to make my future students discover Google+. There is a ton of value coming from this registration and on the long run, they will benefit from this ecosystem more than if they just keep using Facebook. Google is filled with great products that will actually help students get things done at school, at home, and pretty much everywhere if they own a mobile device, and all of that for free. If you are looking for an efficient way to interact with your peers, look no further than Google Apps and Google+.

Google-Apps-Management-Home-Page-2-e1374176051370

In the end, is one social network enough? My definitive answer is no because I will always prone diversity. Facebook does a tremendous job at connecting people and helping them to share things that matter to them, but it does not go beyond that, and what Facebook does not do, Google does.

P.S. The Google+ app on iOS and Android is absolutely exquisite. Take a look at it if you happen to have a smartphone or a tablet or both!