Sunday, July 12, 2015

Which platform to teach with?

When I started teaching technology, my focus was to teach the students how to use software to complete a certain project. That made sense - the students had access to computers with Microsoft products installed at school and home, and didn't bring their own laptops or tablets into the classroom. In the 15 (eek!) years that I have been teaching computers as a subject, the students have become increasingly more proficient in learning how to use the software. So much so, that now I can easily teach the basics of a piece of software within a single lesson (or less). For example, once a student knows how to insert a picture into a Word document, it is pretty easy to work out how to insert a picture into a presentation!

This year was a pivotal moment though. In the last couple of years, I had let students create a presentation in their choice of PowerPoint, Prezi, Animoto, while I highlighted the pros and cons of each one. Some students started with one and switched to another, as the limits of one program hindered their creativity. This year though, I have given free reign over how students tackled a project. 

One Grade 8 project is to research and create a new school campus. Students work in small groups to design how the school looks, collaborating on how schools have changed in the way that they teach and to focus on their interests. I have previously asked students to work in Google SketchUp to complete their models. At the start of the project this year, I decided to let students work in anything. Some stayed in SketchUp (one project far exceeded my expectations), others researched 3D room designers and taught themselves how to use them. A couple of groups worked solely in a slideshow presentation, and there was even a cardboard model! The wide variety of projects did make for an interesting way of evaluating the work, but the enjoyment and focus the students had while working was very rewarding. 

I understand that companies have to sell their products but students should work in what they feel comfortable in using and be exposed to as many platforms and software as they can. The list I present to the students will include the following:

Powerpoint, Slides, Keynote, Prezi, Animoto, Sway to present information. 
Word, Pages, Docs, to write. 
Excel, Numbers, Sheets for spreadsheets.
Photoshop, Paint, Gimp to edit pictures. 
Scratch, Hopscotch, Kodu, Macrolab for programming.
(feel free to add your own in the comments)

Personally, starting the school year I will continue to work in Google Drive with the students, Outlook on my iPhone for email, but I will use OneNote for my planning and marking.

I think that it is necessary to prepare the students of today for their world tomorrow, not rely on what we are comfortable teaching.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Microsoft Camp 21 - a reflection

Well, today I completed my two days at Microsoft Camp 21 and wow, was I surprised! I am relating to going to Disney; far better than I had expected.

I stumbled across the camp through a tweet from @mraspinall with only a week and a half before it started. I thought it looked interesting, and decided to check my calendar and sign up. 

My first confession - I don't use Microsoft products on a daily basis. Over the years, I have slowly moved over to Apple products; iPod, iPad, iPhone, Mac, and AppleTV and Google products with Drive and GAFE. It's not that I have had anything against Microsoft, I just started to use other products more and it was natural, I found with Apple, to stay in the same family of products.

That being said, I had 2 take away 'wow' moments with Microsoft products. The first was with Sway. At the start of the Sway presentation (video here), I knew nothing of the software. It only came out at the end of last year and my first impression was that it was a cross between Prezi and a blog. Well, technically it is, but after using it, it is SO easy to use and VERY effective.

The software is like a presentation, but you can add images, text, headers, videos, tweets, as well as embed content. Content can also be grouped together, comparisons can be made between (think 2 images next to each other), charts created and added, presentations embedded, images stacked. I don't that my explanation is doing it justice, but I have only used it for a little while. 

The best part? Sway is free to use and only requires an email to get an account (not necessarily a Microsoft email). Oh, and it's multi-platform - computer, tablet, phone, browser.

Here is my first Sway - not bad for a quick experiment with the software I think! Proof that it is good software - I showed this to my daughter who spent time creating her own today - and it IS summer vacation!

The second 'wow' moment was One Note. This time I had used One Note before, soon after it's 2003 release. At the time, I thought it was good but didn't really use it too much, this was before tablets and smartphones which is where I see the value of the software now (ahead of it's time?)

Again, like Sway, One Note is free to use and is multi-platform. The basic premise of the software is the same as before - notebooks can be created with sections and pages. Text, images, audio, links and a whole lot more can be added to each page. All of this can also be shared as well. Office365 users can also do more - such as creating shareable pages and notebooks with students, and locking content to annotate over it. 

This time viewing One Note, I saw more potential especially as a teacher tool. Day books, anecdotal, file for emails - in essence this will eliminate my day plan binder, records binder, and my huge amount of saved emails. I am very much looking forward to exploring this further. 

So, 2 things to explore further this summer. And I am looking forward to it!