Touchcast App for iPad

“Wow! Why have I waited so long to try this out!!!!” Those were the initial thoughts I had yesterday when I finally tried out Touchcast. Touchcast is a video recording app for iPads and in beta for PCs. I have had this app on my iPad for awhile now, but never attempted to use it. My personality changes when I record myself, I become very introverted and quiet, not very good qualities for recording oneself.

Nevertheless, I jumped in yesterday to record a couple of short videos to introduce myself to my next school year’s Honors Civics Classes, you can read more about this here. After about 15 takes I came up with two videos that explain a few things about my class, important links, what is expected, and attempted to show a glimpse of my personality.

Videos are limited to five minutes at a time and you are given sixty minutes of storage on their site, which is not an issue since you can automatically push videos to your YouTube account for archiving. Touchcast has some neat built in perks such as sound effects, green screen, audio file insert from iTunes, and whiteboards. Best of all, it is FREE!

The videos were pushed to YouTube where I grabbed the embed code and shared to my Edmodo classroom for my incoming students to view. Super easy, super quick, and a great way to communicate with students and parents.

Check out Touchcast here.

School Year 2014/2015

Well, the current school year of 2013/2014 is coming to a close…as of Thursday, June 5, 2014, my students are sone for the year. Before the end of the year we started having what was called “Step-up Day” where students would go around with their next year’s schedules and meet their teachers for the upcoming year. We are a smaller school, so most of the high school students and teachers can at least recognize each other on site if not know each other already. The big introduction comes from the Eighth Graders who come up from the middle school. This year due to a myriad of issues, there will be no “Step-up Day.”

I will have two Ninth Grade Honors Civics Classes next year. The transition from 8th to 9th Grade is a tough one for some students; add to that jumping in to an honors course AND the non-traditional structure of my course…it can take a bit of time for them to adjust. To combat the changes I have already set up my Edmodo classroom for the Honors Classes and emailed the code to their 8th Grade Social Studies Teacher. Students will not be given mandatory summer assignments, but will have the opportunity to voluntarily check out resources and items that will be posted over the summer.

Those who participate will receive badges, or some sort of fun reward for taking the time out of their summer to peruse the Edmodo group. The direct benefit for them will be that they will be comfortable with the online classroom and resources before the school year even starts. Hopefully they, and their parents, will also be comfortable enough to communicate and ask any questions that may arise during the upcoming year. My goal is to make them more prepared for the challenges they will be facing next year and beyond…(sorry Buzz Lightyear, I could not resist stealing your line.)

It has been less than 24 hours since the students have had the Edmodo join code and 4 students have already joined the group. They will be greeted with a typed message and two Touchcast videos from yours truly, but that is another post…

Collaborative Assignments

So, my students are winding up their collaborative projects that I have posted about previously, click here to view.  The last couple of days students have made a a concerted effort to finish up the projects.  Students have been staying after school, using my open door policy by coming in during their study halls, lunch periods, or any other free time, and asking questions after hours via Edmodo.  While I admire their efforts, I believe that if they started out this focused on the project, there would be no need for as much effort now.  I do realize that the dreaded, state mandated, standardized tests were last week which created a different atmosphere for the start of the project.  Being entrenched in the holiday season and weekly threat of “SNOWMAGEDDON X” from the local weather forecasters has added to the ongoing list of distractions for this project.

Voki and Wix

Today a learning opportunity arose with a student who was working towards completing a project for my Honors Civics class. The student had embedded a Voki into his Wix website. The Voki was showing on the page, but no audio would play.

Several quick tests eliminated browser compatibility issues, java and/or flash issues, and web filter issues. Other students who were in my room from their study hall soon joined in. We experimented a bit, re-recording another Voki, checking the audio in the original, we even looked at the html code, though neither of us know code. None of the experiments turned up a solution, although I noticed that the Voki was being cut off at the bottom on the webpage. Wix does state that html is in beta and not fully supported, but I did not believe that was an issue.

One last trial turned out to be the solution and it was so easy, even an old teacher like myself could do it. We simply clicked on the html widget box,on the edit view of the Wix page, and dragged a corner of the box to resize the widget. We republished the site and found that Voki now had the “Play” button partially showing on the webpage. The student repeated the process and realigned the widget on the page. There were several more alterations needed on the site, but the lesson worked across the pages.

It was nice to see an easy fix to a unique situation. All students involved learned more than just a quick fix to a simple issue. They learned to not stress when things go wrong and sometimes it takes more than one try to fix a problem; even for someone who seems to usually know what he doing with classroom technology.

 

What to do during New State Standardized Testing Window…Expand Project Week

Well, we in Pennsylvania we have new(er) standardized tests, the Keystone Exams.  It was my distinct pleasure to be permitted to proctor them this year, sarcasm is intended.  I hate standardized tests, but that is a rant for another post.  The state window for testing started after Thanksgiving break and ended a week or so after we got back, sorry, but I do not pay attention to such details, I just focus on when we HAVE to take them in our school.  Our district took the tests right out of the gate  following break; if you have to do it, just jump right in and start. With the majority of my students testing at least one of the three scheduled days I knew I would not be able to accomplish much.  My students would either be testing and out of my class, or coming into class after testing and have their brains fried to a mush-like substance.  All students who missed class would need filled in, and students who had their brains curdled would need remediated…what a world, what a world.

I chose to jump into collaborative project week and expand the assignment by a week.  Each of my subject classes had a different project focus of topic, but similar style projects to create.  Podcasts, websites, videos, to combinations of such things were highly encouraged.  Students were to use the new iPads or their own personal mobile devices to work on the projects.  With a week of near empty classes, or classes filled with zombified students I rolled out the projects.

We started slow, students used Google Docs to sign up for groups, topics of research/presentation, and methods of presenting.  We brainstormed ideas of research together as group, discussing why topics were of interest and should they be accepted.  As usual, Edmodo was used as the mothership platform for communication and organization of the classes.  This first week went well, students were able to accomplish work and decompress from the testing.  The opportunity to collaborate, socialize, and have others to lean on was a major benefit for the students.  Those students who did not have to test benefited from not having to do extra assignments, or busy work as they call it.  As you will see in my next post, students who missed for testing even started the projects while away from class.

While I still thoroughly despise such tests, I now have a worthwhile concept to get my students involved in while we grind out these mandatory requirements.

Computer Room Chaos…or not

I rolled out the students’ blogs last week in three of my classes while my other three classes logged in today.  Overall the students were very productive, they began personalizing their blogs and writing their class expectation blog posts.  The three classes that started last week are almost done with the assignments and ready to move on.

I broke the assignment up for my classes up to keep me from dealing with the potential of six periods of chaos in one day.  Today, all six of my classes were in the computer lab, we all managed to survive the day.  Having half of the classes wrapping up the assignment while the others were starting allowed me to troubleshoot issues so much more effectively.

Speaking of troubleshooting, I did discover that for the most part, the students who had blogs from my class last year had a harder time remembering their log in information…which I anticipated.   Most could log in to Edublogs, a few needed their passwords reset via their Gaggle student email accounts.  A select few needed assistance to log in to both accounts, but this happens on occasion and the students were eager to help each other out while I helped with the administrative tasks.

The students who were new had an easier time, they were given their usernames and they all had a generic password to use.  There were a couple of hiccups with students who were added to my class in the last couple of days, and one or two that I missed when creating the blogs.  I am not sure of it was out school filter or an Edublogs issue, but several student accounts were rough to set up and once they were logged in, they had multiple blogs created from my various attempts to create accounts for them.

Their first task was to change their password to something they would remember.  The students then had to make their blog the primary blog.  This defaults the students to their personal blog instead of the class blog at sign in.  From there they began writing their expectation post and personalizing the space.  The processes were modeled the previous day in class, using the Interactive Whiteboard.  In a couple of classes I had the students gather around a computer while a student modeled how to turn in the assignments or complete a task that was confounding several students.

The assignments were posted in Edmodo along with my classroom expectation post.  I also created a couple of screencasts with Camtasia for Mac for students who may need reminded how to “Turn In” their blog posts and/or personalize their blogs.  The videos are posted on YouTube and SchoolTube for general access, they were also embedded in a folder within my Edmodo classes for easy access by my students. I could not resist name dropping tools so I can add the tags below…

All in all it was a very productive day, with many lessons learned and everyone playing different roles; students as teachers, teachers as learners.  It was what school and learning is supposed to be about.  And the chaos…it was nothing like I had feared.

 

IFTTT

My IFTTT recipe experiment worked…I posted earlier today about combining IFTTT with Edmodo. The post was hashtagged with #IFTTT, which my recipe was to automatically push into my Instapaper account.

The recipe worked as directed. Once the post was published, I received an email from IFTTT that the recipe was activated.
I added another step, but not through IFTTT, I set up my Instapaper account to automatically push out to my Tumblr account. This was set up for strictly educational purposes, so I can direct my students to the account. It still does not meet the goal I am trying to achieve; information posted directly to an Edmodo group using a recipe, but it is a step in that direction.

For now I can use IFTTT to push out recipes and then send an Edmodo alert to students who are participating to the various sites via supplied links to perform the tasks. It is not as fluid as I would like, but it will work for now.

Edmodo and IFTTT

I recently came across a post about a concept called IFTTT, “If This Then That.” I believe I came across an initial post in Edmodo or Twitter and ran with it from there. My path took me to the following blog post by Laura Gilchrist. In a nutshell, you can preset some basic actions for your computer or smartphone called “recipes.” Recipes can be automatic actions where all you do is sit back and watch the presets play out, or they can be latent actions that need your prompting to begin. A more thorough explanation can be found on their website by clicking here.

I played around with the concept last night thinking how it can be incorporated into my classroom. There are many pre-made “recipes” on the IFTTT web site, I grabbed one to use for my personal use, with just a touch of my smartphone screen. The recipe automatically searches for free children’s Kindle eBooks and sends me an email when one is released by Amazon. I had two emails about free books within eight hours of setting up that recipe.

I also created my own recipe for classroom use in a matter of a couple of minutes. I clicked through the prompts on the IFTTT site to take any blog posted here on my Edublogs site with the hashtag #IFTTT to be fed to an Instapaper account I set up. This step is what made the process take several minutes instead of several seconds. My goal is to find a way to grab information that I either find or create and quickly push it out to my students to work with in my classrooms. This will be my first attempt to see if my recipe is a success.

At this juncture, I wish it bring Edmodo into the equation. Edmodo is not currently partnered with IFTTT, so I do not think information and actions can be pushed directly into my classes. I tweeted

@edmodo would love to see a way to work with @IFTTT for educational use.

My thinking behind this is…(drumroll please)…being able to create recipes to push information out to my students even more quickly and easily than I can currently. Yes, this is stated above, but… The goal would be to create spontaneous learning groups, to get the students to learn outside of the classroom. At first, maybe have the students post a comment about an article I find, or a picture that is posted…all assignments would be voluntary at first and count as enrichment assignments. The assignments could grow into the students posting more than written comments in response to my information. Podcasts, vodcasts, vokis, and other such multimedia presentations can become responses. The end goal would be for students to begin using IFTTT recipes on their own. They could be used for my class, other classes, or just personal use.

As a social studies teacher my ultimate goal is to ensure that my students have the tools and knowledge to be successful in life. This concept will hopefully help build solid citizens in both the physical world and the digital realm that we now live in. I want them to be positive contributors to society, and I believe that most of them are doing just that, however it is important to keep improving into the future.