Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Revisting Email Part 1

Electronic mail, as defined by Wikipedia is commonly known as email or e-mail.  Email is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks.  Email was created before the internet and was actually a big factor in the creation of the Internet.

The WECDSB uses thee email client program First Class to provide email.  This is similar to MS Outlook, or Thunderbird.  You need the client to access the full features of your email.  Each time you open the client the email is downloaded into your computer.  Gmail, Yahoo mail, or MS Live are examples of web based email.  If you have internet access you can access your email.

Regardless of the form of email the etiquette rules are same.  In this installment I will begin by posting 3 email tips that may be a refresher, completely new, or common knowledge.  Feel free to share these with your students.  All too often adults make the assumption our students and children are well versed in technology but that is not always the case.  I wanted to offer a special thanks to the WECDSB Leadership class for letting me use their tip sheets!

  • Be concise and to the point - Do not make an e-mail longer than it needs to be.  Try to keep your sentences to a maximum of 15-20 words.  If people can tweet under 140 characters I am sure you can slim down your email.  Email is meant to be quick.
  • One Subject per Subject Line - The body of the email should only have information about the subject.  For example, if your subject line is "June 6th Assembly"  then you should only discuss the June 6th Assembly.  Avoid entering into separate conversations in the same email such as a vacation request or question.  The person who received the email may not see the email right away as the subject of the email does not require immediate action.  Your other questions would be lost.
  • Do not attach Unnecessary files - By sending large attachments over 24MBs can annoy people and even bring down their e-mail system.  Whenever possible try to compress graphics and attachments.

Stay tuned for the next installment...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What's That I Hear?

Have you ever had one of those days where you needed the sound of a bike bell? Or how about thunder? Well look no further than Soungle.
This is the royalty free search engine for sounds. Just go to their homepage and type in any sound that you are looking for and if it exists, you will have a file you can download right there.
So if its an old 1940's radio play you are producing or maybe just need some sounds for the daily announcements, look no further than Soungle.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

St. Gabriel Elementary (GUEST POST)

I like buying the latest and greatest gadgets and can wield a T.V. remote with the best of them, but I'm not tech savvy by any means. My two-year old knows how to unlock my iPad and play Angry Birds, while I struggle to properly use the microwave without burning the house down. I'm a simple man.

Two years ago, Doug Sadler and Joe Sisco took on the arduous task of introducing me to Tools2Go - the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board's version of Google Apps. Keeping in mind that I forget my First Class password on a weekly basis and yell at my laptop when IT makes a mistake, it's easy to say that they had a long road ahead of them. I consider these men the Patron Saints of Software and under their tutelage, I was able to navigate Tools2Go (document creation and collaboration, website development, etc.) and model it for my students within days.
  • Doug Sadler is the Vice-Principal of St. Joseph's Catholic High School and Online Learning
  • Joe Sisco is the e-Learning Contact for the WECDSB
  • Learn more about Tools2Go 
With the tremendous amount of time and resources currently allocated to Literacy, the benefits of educating students on Tools2Go is priceless, especially when leading our students through the Writing Process (prewriting, drafting, revising, proofreading, and publishing). Tools2Go allows students to create and share in real-time, comment and edit from various locations, and model great writing and work habits for their peers. Being based online, Tools2Go has eliminated many of the obstacles students face in regards to submitting work (ex. broken printers, temperamental USB keys, full moons, etc.) and drastically reduced the number of excuses we, as educators, have to endure when students fail to do so.

Over the past 9 months, my Grade 6 students have experimented and worked with Tools2Go to create things like Electronic Portfolios, as well as informational websites for their peers. Honestly, I was hesitant to undertake something new like this, but I was pleasantly surprised in the end. These 11 and 12-year olds floored me with their careful planning, execution and proficient use of technology to not only meet, but exceed the Learning Goals set out for each project. The guidelines and parameters for each task were constantly evolving, as students would brainstorm and add elements I hadn't previously considered. It was a subtle (but important) reminder that I needed to let students "drive the bus" and assume the role of "tour guide".

Here's are two samples of what some of our Grade 6's created:

Each student created an Electronic Portfolio (personal website) to showcase selected pieces of work throughout the year. These were instrumental in our Student-Led conferences, as they allowed parents to see exactly what their son or daughter had been working on at school.

Connecting it to our faith and religion curriculum, we explored the 30 basic human rights and how they came about. As a summative project, students had the choice of creating a PSA, website, song, or children's book to highlight the importance of the human right they selected.

We're constantly inundated with the message that technology is chipping away at the foundation of "community", turning our children into obese online zombies, and single-handedly ruining English as a written language (the latter makes me L.O.L.!). If used incorrectly and without supervision, technology is quite capable of all the above. Should we as educators recognize its importance within the social realm of our student's lives, understand it's allure, and use its "power of captivation" in the learning process... we have the opportunity to create meaningful and relevant experiences for our students.

Jeff Hackett is an educator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board,
a Scorpio, and is afraid of Chuck Norris.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Document Camera Heaven

I have had a document camera in my classroom for about 2 years now and I love it. I like to use it especially to take up homework where I collect a sample of student work to put under the camera and then annotate using the IWB (you can see how the St. Joseph's Math Dept uses one in their department in the November issue of eNTRY Points).
Up until now the price point has been a little prohibitive. A lot of schools have the Elmo and the one I have in my classroom is made by Aver Media. These cameras can cost in the $500-$700 range. I have seen some cheaper cameras and been consistently disappointed with how they worked in practice. I general I have preached that you get what you pay for with document cameras.
However, my tune is changing a bit with my new portable document camera. It's made by Ipevo and can be purchased in Canada for $110+Shipping. I was introduced to this camera by Marian Small who uses it in her talks about using manipulatives for math. I was skeptical but the price point was low enough to try it out. I ordered it on a Sunday night and I had it on my desk by Tuesday shipped for about $100.
This is a screenshot of my desktop
It has resolutions up to 1600x1200, takes screen shots (see the image of my desktop to the right), has adjustable zoom, focus and exposure. It is small enough to fit in a large pencil case (in fact, I bought a pencil case at the Dollar Store to carry it around in) and is super easy to use. The software has a very small digital footprint and it requires no power as it gets that from the USB connection.
There are only two downsides that I can see.
1) The field of view is small. Its about the size of an iPad screen so if you want to make that a bit bigger you need to prop it up on a book.
2) The software does not record video. This actually isn't much of an issue as you can use other free software to do that. On a PC a good choice is Picasa and on a Mac you can just record with Quicktime as I did with the video below.

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blended Learning at Villanova High School

This is my 20th year in teaching.  I have used wikis, blogs, and other technological resources in the past to help present useful information to my students.  This year, I was introduced to the Learning Management System (LMS) as part of the WECDSB’s Blended Learning program.  In English, audio and video files can greatly improve a student’s understanding of and appreciation for any given piece of literature.  I find that the LMS is an extremely sound, easy platform for both the teacher and the student alike.  I do not have to worry about lost files or broken links. 

The benefits to the LMS platform are obvious and impressive to me.
Course material is always available to students who are:
  •         away from school for medical reasons
  •         have missed class time for disciplinary reasons (suspension, etc.)
  •         using the material for Credit Recovery purposes
  •         accessing the material for a Blended Learning Unit* 
In my case, I would like to focus on the last scenario – Blended Learning. I have spoken to teachers who have taught e-Learning classes as well as those who are using technology to complement classroom examples.  Regardless of the level of ability (Locally Developed, Applied, or Academic – Essential, College, or University), I have found that students are easily engaged in activities that they can lead using technology. 

I generally plan the entire semester and try to determine how much of any given unit I can ‘blend’ with technological activities.  I have started with a moderate amount of material.  I hope to determine over the next 2-3 years what is and what is not appropriate as far as the amount of ‘Blended Learning’ that I feel comfortable delivering. 

I have prepared an overview for Act One of Macbeth complete with the audio for Act One.  I now have the choice as to how much of Act One.  I would like to do in class or assign for reading outside of the class.  I do not need to reserve CD players to bring to class; I can simply go to the LMS and cue the play where I would like to start.

As the class moves through this unit, once again I have the option to assign this work in class, for homework, or as an extra activity.  I like the fact that the students can see the tasks at the beginning and plan accordingly. 

This activity could easily serve as a homework assignment, an extension to an activity that was started in class, or a larger project.  The opportunity to include both audio and visual examples is extremely easy in the LMS.

I have been using the LMS for the first time since October of 2011.  I can honestly say that the tools are extremely easy for both the teacher and the student to use.  I hope to be able to gradually include more modules (Units of Study) each semester as I become more proficient with the program.   

Dave Janisse is an English teacher at Villanova Catholic High School 
and has been teaching for 20 years 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Creating an ONLINE PORTFOLIO using Google sites

In today's world, applying for employment sometimes requires more than submitting a resume on paper. In many cases, employers require potential canditates to include an electronic version of their credentials. Google sites provides an excellent platform for young people to build to an online, or e-portfiolio that prospective employers may access any time, aynywhere.  

In the example below, an aspiring teacher, Jessica M. Eads, of NobleVille, Indiana, USA has used Google sites to create a dynamic, online portfolio that she may update at any time.

Jessica's creativity is evident in both the content she includes about herself, as well the way she has structured the site. In addition to her resume and professional qualifications, Jessica has personalized her e-portfolio to address common items that employers are looking for:
This platform would be ideal for:
  • students taking experiential based courses like CO-OP, Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM), and Dual Credit Courses who need showcase their work-related experience
  • students to build an electronic portfolio to include with applications to post-secondary institutions
  • students and aspiring teachers to reflect upon interview-type questions in preparation for future employment
 Teachers may encourage their students to visit the Ontario Skills Passport (OSP), which is managed by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The Ontario Skills Passport (OSP) provides clear descriptions of the Essential Skills and work habits important for work, learning and life. Essential Skills are used in virtually all occupations and are transferable from school to work, job to job, and sector to sector.

For more information about e-portfolios, please visit Dr. Helen Barrett's Blog.
Dr. Helen Barrett is a retired teacher educator,
internationally known for her research on electronic portfolios in education.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A New Kind of Classroom in the WECDSB (GUEST POST)

Students in Sonia Jeannotte’s Grade 11 English courses arrive for class in different ways these days.  Her 55 students see her each day in class at FJ Brennan, but they also belong to a community of online learners using the e-Learning Ontario’s learning management system, or the LMS.

Sonia has implemented a blended learning model with her both of her Grade 11 English classes by delivering most of the course in the traditional face-to-face setting and supplementing what she does using the LMS.  When students login to the online classroom, they may read instructions from Sonia, access course content, submit assignments, and collaborate with other students in the class anytime, anywhere. So students have 24/7 access to course content and can participate in 'class discussions' during the school day as well as from home.  Next year, Sonia plans to have students submit work as well.

Sonia regularly posts news items outlining expectations and provides due dates for assignments.  Teachers wanting to try this out need to know that a news item can be as simple as providing a link to a website…

The link above brought the students to a website Sonia uses for Grammar Review

…or as elaborate as embedding a PowerPoint presentation.  The news post below directed the students to a PowerPoint presentation,  made a quicklink to the discussion for this assignment, and included some detailed instructions about the task.

Students may download or simply view the PowerPoint presentation
and can enter the discussion by simply clicking the link
As the teacher and moderator of the online portion of the course, Sonia may customize all that she does by posting content she has created or accessing material from the Ontario Educational Resource Bank (OERB) right within the course.

The next image shows the way that Sonia has structured the content for this course. This is what the students would see if they access the content tab. Please note that this, and all courses are persistent in the LMS, so Sonia will continue to build and refine her course for future classes.

Sonia’s approach to blended learning has been successful for her. She shared some of her thoughts on the process:

My experience with blended learning has far exceeded my expectations. The LMS has allowed me to provide homework reminders, exemplars, and additional resources without taking up valuable class time. Not only does it put the responsibility on the students for their own learning, but it allows me to monitor how much they access the course and to keep them accountable for their participation in the learning process.

Student feedback has been positive, reflected not only by their comments to me and their participation online, but also by their grades.  Having taught two grade 11 university courses last semester, I have noticed an improvement in homework completion, assignment submission, and class averages. I think that having that extra level of communication benefits the students and saves me time in the long run. It is also a great tool in my communication with parents.

I am really excited that teachers have this option available to them, and I am looking forward to using it in my classes again next year.

Sonie Jeanotte is an English teacher at FJ Brennan High School. She has taught Secondary English and loves integrating technology into her practice.

If you would like to begin to use the excellent tool for teaching and learning, 
please contact Joe Sisco, the e-Learning Contact for the WECDSB.