Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Games in the Classroom

How many times have you asked a student to put away their cell phone because when you asked them what they were doing they said playing a game.  How often do you take your students into the computer lab to do an assignment or project and you catch them playing games on the computers.  Why is it that we are so adamant about keeping games out of the classroom?  Or is it that we don't want students attentions drawn towards things other than ourselves.

I have seen, heard, tried and attempted to play a lot of the games that are out there on the market over the years and have come to the realization that I've always considered them just games.  I never looked at them as Educational tools.  At one point I even thought the idea of putting a student in front of a computer or video game console amusing.  

What changed my mind?... Timing.  That's what did it.  What do I mean by timing, well its just that growing up I was a part of the generation who saw game development and design progress from Pong to Sonic the Hedge Hog to Skyrim, Diablo III and Call of Duty.  Whether or not it was a computer or console based game you have to admit even over the past 10 years they have evolved exponentially through graphics, story-line and online capabilities.  Should we put students in front of these games?  We did, how many of you remember playing "Oregon Trail" growing up in school?  This game has spanned almost two generations since its original release date in 1971 with 10 additional re-releases through to 2011.  What did it teach you?  I remember never to drink the water you would always get some sort of disease.  How many history teachers would have brought "Age of Empires" or "Caesar" into the classroom to help teach concepts of roman civilization and progression through time.  What about "Call of Duty" or "Company of Heroes" to help discuss the second world war.  Not necessarily the best examples I know but there is someone out there who has made a case to bring these games into the classroom to use as part of the curriculum somewhere along the way.  Hey you could even argue that "Assassin's Creed III" is an excellent way to help students understand the beginnings of the Revolutionary War.

But why should we do this, why should we include games as part of the curriculum.  Now I am not talking about bringing your console in and hooking it up the classroom for a co-op mission on "Call of Duty" no way.  But rather saying how can we be smarter and use to our advantage what students are already doing outside of schools right now.

How about putting the shoe on the other foot and letting students create their own games to play in class.  Programs like Minecraft, Quest Atlantis, Scratch and Alice are helping to break down the barriers to educational gaming because it makes the subject material fun for students.  They seem to be motivated to learn and are driven to want to learn more through the games.  The funny thing is that most of the time the students do not realize that they are actually learning skills through gaming.  Higher order thinking skills, sequencing, problem solving and the biggest thing is that in some cases they are learning to write code.  Scratch and Alice allow students to move blocks around and connect then on a palate in order to see an action in the view screen.  Games like Minecraft and Quest Atlantis are helping to reinforce concepts in class which make the learning process fun for students.

Why not try it out to see if you like it.  Join in the Week of Code and spend a little time writing, whoops I mean playing to see if you like it.  Then let your students join in your fun.  Try out to see what its all about and who knows you or one of your students may turn out to write the next best selling game on the market.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

School News: Drum Up Some Business

Let’s see, equipment… check, location… check, now that you have these things setup what’s next?  Hmm… oh yeah I need some backing to make sure that the School News is a success.

Me, I’m always one to get permission first rather than ask for forgiveness later.  So I would first talk to your school Principal about this new opportunity at the school to help students with literacy, vocabulary, reading, digital-citizenship, self-confidence and presentation skills.  How do throwing out these words help?  That is exactly what having a school news show will do for the students that are a part of the program!  Even for students that already seem to have a good grasp on vocabulary and reading can be challenged because of the presentation component. 
It’s a challenge for you as well being the teacher that has decided to take on this role, as the “Trailblazer” at your school.  If you get the ok from the Principal it is now time to get the ok from the other teachers.  Here is when having a ready to go sample broadcast where you are in front of the camera to show comes in handy.  They will get to see how you react in front of the camera, consider their student reactions and then make a decision.  You could even show the sample broadcast school-wide to students to get their reactions and interest level.  In the schools that I have seen this done the students excited about the prospect of being on the school news cast. 

With that being said now you have to figure out the process to get your students working with you on the news.  I have a few steps that seem to have worked in the past and will share them here.  By all means this is not the end all be all and you may have additional steps or comments about the process, I encourage you to leave me comments at the bottom of the article.

Step 1:  Setting up your Broadcast Team
You want to create the roles/jobs that the students will be doing as a part of the broadcast team.  Anchors, Writers, Production to name a few.  And you want to set a limit on the number of students you will have as a part of the Broadcast Team.  You want to have at least enough so that if someone is out or late there is someone to fill in.

Step 2:  Application Process
Yes I said application.  You want to have an application that students will fill out just as they would for a job.  This will give them some real world experience for life after school.  How you create the application is up to you but some things to consider including as well as the job description is a discipline policy that covers actions in and out of the classroom.  This would also outline dismissal from the broadcast team for student
infractions.  A photo release that needs to be signed by a parent or guardian. You will also want to make sure that you have writing samples from each student and notify them that they will have to complete an on camera live audition using their own material.  During this process it seems that as students want to get involved others that were on the fence come out of the wood work to apply and you tend to have far more than you could ever use.  But the great thing for this is that you will have a steady stream of backups should something happen.  If you have enough interest you could set up a rotation with multiple groups of students.

Once you have all of your applications in and have selected your team now it is time to get the magic started!

Step 3:  Putting the Pieces together
Now that you have identified the students who will be a part of the broadcast team it’s time to get things started. 
Production Team Training: Even though you have assigned everyone to their positions it would probably be best to train everyone on how to use the equipment just in case someone is not there.  The reason for this is that at some point you want this to become self-sufficient where the student have total control of the news show.
Writers:  You want to give your writers a standard script that they need to follow but that they can update and change daily.  That also have to be turned in ahead of time for review and rewrite if necessary.  Here are some standard items you can put in the script.
Daily Announcements, Birthdays, Lunch menu, Weather, Upcoming Events and Recognitions (students & teachers).  Many of these things can be done a couple of days ahead especially things like birthdays, menu and weather.  This can make things easier for students to turn in.  Also you can allow the students to research other things to put in the script.  Items like a word, joke or quote of the day, an interesting fact, something that happened in history on this date.

Anchors: The face of your newscast that can make or break the success of the broadcast.  Something that your anchors need to understand is that they need to be dressed appropriately each and every day that they are on the air.  They are representing the entire school whether or not they are on the air or not.  There are more Do’s and Don’ts for this group than the others because of being in front of the camera.  Practice is also a key component, ask them to go over the script in front of you.  Encourage them to practice at home, in front of a mirror or with others on the broadcast team.  This will help them to get over some of the jitters of being in front of the camera and help steady their speech and nervous tendencies. 

Just having these few things setup prior to jumping into the deep end will prevent a lot of problems down the road and make your School News a success. 

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What’s in a name….BYOD, MLC, BYOT?

I have taken a journey over the past 6 months or so regarding my own personal learning as it pertains to the bring your own philosophy in schools.  I have been hearing, seeing, reading and talking about it and never really knew what the big idea was.  It seemed to me to be a good idea but when I would ask people how they were using the devices most of the time I would receive a blank stare or a half-hearted “because they are great for kids to use.”  I wasn’t satisfied with this answer and needed to get more information. 

Back in April our department began working on a plan to help outline and prepare our teachers for this bring your own concept, normally termed as BYOD or BYOT.  Even though this is how most people refer to it we decided, with the guidance from Marty Creech, to rename it as a Mobile Learning Community (MLC). 

As our team worked throughout the month I began realize that I needed to change my outlook on how I saw the ways that devices were used in the classroom.  I do not have as much time in the classroom as my colleagues so I needed to do some extra work by asking question, talking with others to see what they thought of the concept.  At first when I talked to educators their ideas were that they had this great app that would help their students.  When I would ask them how would one app benefit the entire class if it is only on one type of device the response was usually a blank stare or “but it’s a really great app I found and they can use it.”  My response would be to ask if they would pass their device to a student to use or pay for the app on their device.  The usually response was I will show it on the screen for them to follow along.  Which made me think; how is this helping the students.

We looked at it from a new direction.  We said that it should not matter what type of a device a student has it should matter how they are engaged in the learning process.  I had read Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind” and Ken Robinsons’ “The Element” and had seen Pinks’ new book “Drive” and started reading it.  As I was reading and thinking about motivators and why we do things the way we do I started to think about how this could translate into the classroom.  Sure enough by May our department was hip deep in the “Process of Learning” something which grew out of many different approaches of teaching.  From Project and Problem-based learning to CERTL and Learning Focused and even Socratic methods of teaching.  We put together a Process of Learning guide that took the best things from all the others and put it into a smaller more manageable format that could be set up quickly and most of all could be used regardless of whether or not there was access to technology devices or not.

I was still not feeling comfortable in the how my limited classroom time would translate into a convincing discussion with teachers about how this new training approach and the Process of Learning.  With some guidance, coaching and assistance from my co-workers; Marty Creech and Celia Gossett, I started to feel comfortable that I could be a guiding spark to teachers during this new approach to training.  I now feel that I can talk and offer suggestions to teachers based on their needs with curriculum that I did not have before starting this process.  My co-workers have empowered me by supporting and guiding me through this learning process which has proven successful throughout the training workshops we have delivered.

photo credit: eflon via photopin cc

Monday, September 23, 2013

An Inside Look at School News

Your Principal comes to you and asks you to start up a news broadcast at your school.  What do you do?  Where do you start?

Well, it seems like I have been living this dream for a couple of months straight now and want to share some tips and tricks with you on what I have done as I talk with schools.

Now this is just what I have done and by no means is the end all be all of setup processes but maybe you can pick up something along the way.  I will be breaking this up into a couple of blog articles because I can get pretty wordy, and I want you to come back.

So according to this scenario where do you begin? Well, at the beginning of course.

Where do you start? Let’s talk about what you need to have to get things going.  What kind of equipment do you need to have to do a newscast?

Actually this is the easiest part of the whole process.

Really, you might be thinking, yes it is.

So what should you have? Do you need to buy anything?

Whoa, hold on now let’s just take a look at what you have right in front of you first before we start trying to go through that long buying process that every school system has.

(At the end of the blog I will put in some other additional things that you could use to create a newsroom.)


A camera that’s it, that’s all, nothing else.

I am not talking about a Digital or Polaroid camera; I am referring to a video camera.  What type of video camera do you need?  That’s easy depending on what type of computer you have it, might be right in front of you.

Yes I am talking about a Web Camera; you know the one that is built into your laptop or one you may have purchased to go with your desktop computer.  I am of the firm belief of using whatever you have access to before buying anything.

So you have your webcam what else?  You do need to make sure that your webcam does have a built in microphone that is important.  If it does not then you will need to have access to a microphone that can plug into a computer.  I will explain a little more about sound in just a moment.  OK you have the video camera w/a microphone what’s next?

Now you need a space.


You want to make sure that you have an area set aside to be your newscast location.  It can be anyplace you have available in the school. A small area set aside in a classroom, Media Center or one of those wonderful Cafegymnatoriums.  (It took me a couple of years to be able to pronounce the word.)

The ideal location would be one that is separate from high traffic areas like a dedicated room.

I know that this is not common for most schools, so use what is available to you.

Now that you have figured out what space you are going to use what’s next?  My suggestion would be some chairs and maybe a table, a table is not always necessary though.  As long as you have a comfortable seat for your students to sit that is all that is really needed.

In this area I would also try to eliminate, as much as you can, any additional noises by using what is available as a sound break.  You could use partition walls, book shelves, mobile coat closets, desks, carpet squares, rugs or anything else that could create a noise barrier.


Now that we have our equipment and a location to broadcast from how do you get the news out to your entire school?  There are many ways to do this; I will outline a few of them that have been successful in our schools:

  • A quick and easy way is to just record the newscast with the students and then post the video up for the school to see at a later time.  To do this you will need to have a computer with some sort of recording software on it.  If you are using a PC you could use the built in Windows Live Movie Maker, or if you have a Mac you may have iMovie which you can use.  Both software applications have the ability to record from a video camera and then each have some tools for editing and saving the video to your computer to post for all of the students and teachers to see.
  • A second way is to use an online resource to show the newscast live.  A website that allows you to do this is Ustream.TV, the site allows you to live stream video and audio over the internet as long as you have a network connection from the computer your webcam is attached to.  You will have to set up an account on the website for streaming but it is free at least the last time I used the site it was.  You will set up the station to watch, make sure that the camera is connected and visible by the website.  Then you will get a link that you will send out to the school for classrooms to click on and watch.

Ok I mentioned before about sharing some other ideas for Equipment, Location and Broadcasting.  These are the beyond the basics of what is listed above:


  • Video cameras:  Camcorders, singular or multiple to use with a video changer for multiple camera angles.
  • Sound: Sound boards to allow for multiple microphones whether wired or wireless.


  • Room:  A studio room that is already sound proof and wired for the equipment.
  • Broadcasting:  Closed Circuit Systems can be used if available or a web-based broadcasting system.

This is just a small start to get a newscast going in your school.  Over the next couple of weeks I will talk more about the behind the scenes things that need to be done with student expectations and some interesting tools and techniques you can use to make your newscasts more interactive and fun so stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Good, Bad and Ugly on Ladibug 2.0 Software

2.0 or not 2.0 that will be the question that is answered hopefully at the end of this Blog post.

Recently the Lumens company has updated its software for its famous Ladibug brand document cameras (Doc Cam).  When Lumens decided to update from the earlier Queue to Ladibug software it was a huge transition for users to get accustomed to, but was also leaps ahead in the features that it offered.  Now recently, the Ladibug software has gone through another transition as it has upgraded from version 1.1.. to version 2.0.3.

Let's take a look at the changes and talk about the Good things.  One of the obvious changes that you will notice is that when you activate the software and hover over the Ladibug Icon you will only see a 4x4 grid.  If you remember in the earlier version you hovered and saw a 3x3 grid and then had to click the Advanced button to see the 4x4 grid.

On the 4x4 grid there have been a couple of new feature icons that have been added for you to use along with the ones that you have become accustomed to.

One of them is the Mask Mode, which is similar in look to a cover shade over the information. If you remember putting a sheet of paper over the overhead machines to block certain information you were sharing this will be the same, just through the software.

The other is the Spotlight Mode, which allows you to focus in on an area of the screen while blocking out the rest of the viewing area.

The biggest change that you will notice when you turn on the software that is completely different on version 2.0.3 is in the viewer window when you click the Display Live Image button.

You will now see something extra, the Thumbnail Viewer, which is attached to the left side of the viewer window that offers some additional available options that you have not had the ability to do before.

Any images that you take with the Camera Button will display in the thumbnail viewer for you to use.  To display one of the images, click the Thumbnail you want to use.  To go back to the live image hover over the Ladibug Icon and click the Display Live Images button again.

Some of the other features on the toolbar are:

  • You can Save the Image anywhere on your computer.  
  • Open a Directory of Images from your computer, CD-rom, Thumb Drive or other removable storage device to display inside of the Ladibug software. 
  • You can Delete items in the viewer that you do not want.  
  • You can also email images directly from the Ladibug software 

Now you know whenever there is good I always seem to find something bad to go along with it.  Well the only thing that I could find can count as both bad and ugly at the same time.  The Delete feature is the culprit that has caught my attention.  I said earlier that you can open a Directory of images and bring them into the document camera and use them in the software.  Well you will need to make a copy of all of the images first before you open them in the Ladibug software.  What happens is that the software does NOT create a duplicate of the image, it attaches to the original.  Why is that bad you may be asking?  Well it comes in when you want to Delete an image you no longer want to use.  If you Delete an image that you have pulled from a Directory.  It is permanently deleted from the original location.  Yes gone for good, I learned the hard way believe me, I lost an image that I did not have a duplicate of.  

So all in all the software update is great and so much more user friendly that its predecessor with the exception of the Delete feature.  I would have to challenge Lumens to work on fixing the system so that it will duplicate the images when you open a Directory of photos to use in the software. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Restaurant Dining meet Technology

Well you know that technology has made an impact when your dining experience has been enhanced through the use of technology.

How many times have you been to a restaurant in a group when the conversation dies out?  Have you been out with your kids and they are fidgeting around at the table and don;t know what to do with them?  Most people pull out their cell phones and will hop on the internet, check voice mail or texts or go to their favorite social media outlet as the conversation dies or to keep your children's attention.

Well Applebee's seems to have hit the mark on giving you an interactive dining experience with their "Ziosk" table system.  You have the ability to order your food, pay your bill and even play video games.  Yes I said play video games.  For a nominal fee you can play video games while you are waiting for your order to be brought to your table.  Great idea for those nights when you are dealing with both hungry and fidgety kids. 

The Ziosk display unit looks to be a 7" tablet that has been mounted in a sturdy base with a card reader so you can pay your bill by gift or credit card.  Seems to run on a standard OS with a simplified POS system running in it for you to order and pay your bill.  When I paid my bill I was given the option of getting a printed receipt or having one emailed to me.  I chose to have it emailed to me, I don't know about you but I hate walking out of a restaurant with three or four paper receipts.  Within a minute of submitting the payment I received the email with the receipt.  Now there is a catch you do have to offer up your email address to the Applebee's Ziosk display but as of yet I have not received any junk email from them.

So if you are looking for a fun, and interactive, dining experience head on over to the new and improved connected Applebee's nearest you to try out their new menu items and the the on Ziosk table display.