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…

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.


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.


Discovery Education and CoverIt Live: Two great tools that work well together

First off, sorry for the Reeses’ rip-off…now on to my post. I rolled out CoverIt Live with all seven of my classes today.  It went rather well…a few minor technical glitches, several stressed students, and a bit-o-scrambling on my part. I wanted to show a Discovery Education video to my classes, the topic was about 9/11.

This would be a perfect opportunity to also show the students CoverIt Live.  I wanted to make sure the students were focused on the video, not other things, so I thought of my options.   A worksheet full of questions to complete would probably only be done by a few and copied by many, so it was out of the mix.  Discussion is good, but pausing and discussing interesting sections fragments the video and waiting to pause may lessen discussion.  I went with an option many of the students have already experienced; texting while watching videos.  This would give us live discourse without totally disrupting the video.

The iPods were handed out as usual in class and one student in each class got to use the lone iPad my classes have at this time.  The students logged into the Edmodo online classroom, then jumped to the sub-groups.  I embedded a separate CIL for each class on a different wiki page…past experiences have shown that the sharing of pages causes issues with my students.  This is also why I posted the links in the sub-groups, there would be no chance of clicking on the wrong link.

The set up of CoverIt Live can be found here on a previous post.

We watched about the first ten minutes or so of the videos and had the students post a few basic comments.  They introduced themselves and made one or two general comments.  They were urged to use first name and last initial as their post ID. There was one student who tried to use a pseudonym.  The comments were not published, though appropriate, and the students were once again asked to use their real names.  I did not try to figure out who the student was…no harm, no foul in my book.

My first period was a bit hesitant with the process, I had about five or six students adding most of the posts.  Once the others found out they would get participation points for the assignment, I had most of the class jump into CIL.  We actually had students turning in iPods after the dismissal bell in an attempt to get participation points. The timestamp shows when comments were submitted, so I can monitor the process.  Other classes were very interested in the processes, both video and CIL, and we almost ran late in several classes.

Later, several students had to log out earlier classes from Edmodo before they could log in, which happens on occasion with the iPods.  Running 24-25 iPods through one airport, along with several other machines can bog things down, especially when dealing with Cold War Era cement walls.  A few others had previous students names in the ID window…I am not sure how that happened since each class had its own CIL and its own wiki page, but it seems that CIL remembers ID names on each device. The students were focused, for the most part, on the assignment and since we did not have time to finish the video in class, I placed the session on “Standby” and we will continue the process tomorrow.

We did spend a few minutes to discuss etiquette on how to respond to others questions and comments.  I used the free CIL app on my Droid X to walk around the room and review any comments that might need “refined” before they hit the “public” Internet site.

There was an overwhelming preference by the students to use CIL when working with videos in class instead of using worksheets. They seemed genuinely interested in continuing the effort and even expanding it to working with other classes via Skype later in the year.  I hope to utilize Skype in the Classroom to achieve that goal soon.

The lesson can be completed with any type of mobile technology, or computer.  All you need is to be 1:1 students to computers, therein lies the problem for many…

Yes Charlotte, you can post to Edublogs from a Color Nook

Yesterday, May 19, 2011, we ran a little experiment with a Color Nook in our High School Library.  I had a couple students who were using the devices as eReaders test several tasks.  I should have tried this before, but it is sort of hectic right now.

The students jumped on the Internet using the web browsing app and were able to log into Google Docs and edit documents.  The next step was to log into Edublogs and post to the class blog, which was easily accomplished.  This creates another option for mobile technology in the classroom.  With ever shrinking, or straight out disappearing budgets in public education, the more options the better.

What I Learned Today: iPod Restrictions

Okay, I finally played around with restrictions on my class set of iPods.  I am not a big fan of censorship, and banning things, I prefer to have things open and teach appropriate behavior/use of tools.  Afterall, the world outside of school does not have filters, students need to learn how to self regulate.

Anyway, as I updated the iPod cart I began looking into the restrictions on the devices.  You can limit content and what can be adjusted on the iPods and lock in those restrictions with a four digit code.  I set two iPods up with restrictions to see what would happen.  You can restrict the following items; Safari, YouTube, iTunes, Installing Apps, Deleting Apps, Locations, Accounts, In-App Purchases, ratings for multimedia and apps, and game center settings.

I locked down the two iPods restricting everything but Safari and YouTube, since we have a firewall and filtering system here in school which would control what can be accessed from those apps.  The restrictions were not worth the effort, they not only blocked others from working with the iPods, but they blocked me.  I could no longer use the cart to update apps and information, I had to go into the iPods individually and unlock the passcodes to make adjustments.  The process was going to be too cumbersome.  I need to be able to make adjustments to apps and such from the cart.

By limiting the “accounts” my students would not be able to log into school email using the email app on the device.  I also have the students using Evernote and Google Apps, they would be locked out of adjusting those accounts with the restrictions on.  I took the restrictions off for those items also.

It was a nice, short experiment that proved to me to keep restrictions to a minimum.  I did lock down the Game Center, and restricted media to PG-14.  This was mostly for superficial reasons, the students cannot access the Game Center because they do not have my iTunes password.  The students are also limited to what they can actually download to the devices and I have made a habit of not putting explicit material on them either.

Overall, for the time it takes to adjust the iPods it does not make much sense to put the restrictions in place for a high school setting.  Unless you have a lot of free time with nothing better to do…

iPad and Car Chargers

I do not have much luck with trying to charge my iPad via a dc outlet in my vehicles, however our Nissan Rogue comes equipped with a full USB connection.  This connection allows me to plug iPods/iPads directly into the Rogue’s audio system.  This type of connection charges the devices AND allows them to be controlled by the vehicle’s radio controls.  It is nice to be able to use the standard radio controls to safely control the music selections on iPods or iPads.

Previously with an iPod/iPad plugged in to the auxillary port on the dashboard or a wireless connection over an unused radio station you were stuck with random shuffling of songs or a linear playlist.  My how things have changed since I was a little boy sitting in the backseat of my father’s car listening to AM radio.

Student Math Projects

One of our high school math teachers, Kerri Heymann, @kheymann on Twitter, recently had her Algebra students create a neat project to help other students in the school.  The idea is not new, but it is useful; the students created screencasts of math problems and posted them on the Internet for other students to use as a review resource.  You can find the screencasts here.

The process was simple, students paired up, chose a topic, designed several problems and directions to solve them, then recorded their examples.  Kerri then posted the link to the videos on her school Edline page and her Edmodo classroom.  Now for some name dropping to explain the details…

The students set the problems up on the Polyvision Boards using RM Easiteach software, Kerri set up a free account and a channel on Screencast-o-matic, which the students used to record their explanations.  At this time I would like to thank fellow technology coaches, Jason Henry, John Deihl, and Carol Roth who helped with the recording ideas.  I could not find a way to record directly with RM Easiteach, and they helped clarify that you cannot do so at this time and suggested alternatives.  The students then came into several staff classrooms to record their presentations without distractions.

The students were comfortable with using the Polyvision Boards and Easiteach, we run both the Next Generation and older versions in our district.  Screencast-o-matic took them all of about 10 seconds to learn; the process went very well…the hardest obstacle the students had to overcome was giggling or shyness during their presentations.  The best part of the project was the independence of the students.  We sat back and waited to assist if necessary, but the students handled their issues well.

As a first step, the project went very well, we are already planning expanding and improving upon things for next year.  Hopefully the students can help pull other staff members into similar projects next year.  After all, students are the best at pulling hesitant staff into the realm of classroom technology use and making these tools a part of everyday life.

Web 2.0: Putting All Together part II

Previously, I mentioned that I was trying to streamline my web presence and make my sites more effective for my classes.  This is another post in a series of how I am attempting to do that.  Earlier in February I attended the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference, PETE & C, in Hershey.  There were many great presentations, in fact, there were more presentations than could be attended in person, but through the power of the Internet, most of the sessions have information posted online.  One of the ideas that was discussed was using to coordinate and post student blog feeds in a single area; I heard this in Joyce Valenza’s session on School Libraries and Web-based Practice: A Tour of Effective Practice.

Netvibes is a tool that allows you to collect feeds from various web sources and post them publicly or privately on your won web page.  I used the site for posting news feeds for my social studies classes since learning about it in 2009 at CAIU’s Web 2.0 Event.  It is a very effective tool for social studies, a one stop shop for current events and trending topics in the classroom.  It is not the only source of news but it provides a focused list as a starting point of information.

Anyway, I decided to add all of my classroom blog accounts to Netvibes; these include my professional blog and all student accounts.  My hope is to make the blog accessible from more Internet sites which will draw attention to them.  I have Netvibes linked to my class wiki, my professional homepage, and a complete listing of student blogs listed on my classroom blog.  My goal is to increase student usage of the blogs beyond assigned writings and to the improve the quality of their work.  I have previously found that student motivation increases when they see that people are viewing their work online.  My students’ blog feed page can be found here.

I will let you know later if my idea was successful…