Teaching With Gadgets

How Technology Can Help Today's Teacher

Saturday, February 25, 2006

iPods Are Great!

The Apple iPod is a much hyped piece of equipment. For any mobile professional that gives presentations it really does come in handy. Brain research, for example, shows how the brain remembers rhythms. This is why the use of music in your classroom can benefit the classroom environment.

I often get quite a few questions about the difference between an iPod and other music devices. So here, in a nutshell, is the condensed version:

1. Hard drive vs. flash drive. Hard drive players (like the new iPod video) are more expensive but also hold much more music. I currently have a 30GB hard drive iPod. It holds my entire music library PLUS a backup of the hard drive on my tablet. Flash drive MP3 players (such as the iPod Nano) are quite a bit cheaper but they also hold less music. If you have a relatively small music library then get the Nano. Hard drive players, because they have moving parts, have a greater chance of breakdown but I have yet to experience any problems.

2. Why buy an iPod over another brand? Apple just seems to have the whole package deal. You install iTunes on your PC or Mac, plug in your iPod, and that's it! iTunes is very easy to use and purchase music. My only recommendation would be to save any downloaded files as MP3 files. No, the quality is not quite as good as Apple Lossless (my hearing isn't the best - too many years of heavy metal! - so I can't really hear the difference) but you can use MP3 files on a greater variety of platforms. Please make sure that you understand that purchased music from iTunes cannot be played on other devices (although there are ways around this). If you "rip" your own CD collection (ripping is copying the music from a CD that you own into a digital file that your iPod can read) then you can play those files on a variety of devices.

You can buy a whole range of accessories for the iPod. There is everything from protective skins to speaker systems (an nice sounding to boot!!). Definitely take it into consideration when purchasing.

My beefs with the iPod? (1) More expensive - Apple is like the Sony of music players; (2) Perhaps music quality is not as good? - I've read quite a few different posts where people say that music players made by audio companies are better sounding. You judge; (3) No replaceable battery - if that rechargable poops out on you, you have to send it to Apple for replacement. What a pain! Mind you, it gives me an excuse to buy a new gadget! :)

I love my iPod! I listen to music, podcasts, and store my data. It's a great device for any teacher - have you ever seen what playing Enya can do for your art class? Amazing!

Before buying, make sure to listen to the different units at your local electronics store. DON'T let the salesperson bully you into buying the unit that THEY like. This is your device and you should make the final decision. I'll often take an hour before buying a new gadget - I'm usually happy in the end!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Use A Pocket PC With Easy Grade Pro

I have often mentioned Easy Grade Pro on this site. Lately, I have been searching for a gradebook companion for my Windows Mobile (Pocket PC) device. No such luck in finding something that works with the type of gradebook that I am looking for.

I was messing with Easy Grade Pro a few days ago and noticed it's "import" feature. You can import a grades from a text file into an assignment. While it's not as handy as creating an assignment on the Palm using Easy Grade Pro Clipboard, it does work.

First, I graded the assignment in SpreadCE (a free spreadsheet program for Windows Mobile). SpreadCE is better than Pocket Excel because of it's ability to save your files in CSV or TXT mode. From there it was simple to import the grades into Easy Grade Pro. As a bonus I can create a proper assignment feedback sheet in Word and import the same text data using Word's "merge" feature. Double duty!

Orbis Software, creators of Easy Grade Pro, have indicated that they do have a Windows Mobile version of Clipboard coming but cannot indicate when that will be (in all fairness it's better to get it right). Until then, I will continue with this experiment to see how it works.

Palm In The Classroom Discussion

Here is an excellent discussion over at 1SRC that deals with an elementary school teacher wanting to use his/her Palm in the classroom (the discussion can apply to secondary teachers as well). Although the discussion is from 2004 it is just as relevant today. Check it out!

PV Pro...Oh Wow!

As teachers many of us have begun to use data projectors in our classrooms (many refer to these as a Proxima - actually the brand name of one projector). The PV Pro by Light Blue Optics gives us a laser projector that is pocket sized. Wouldn't this be great if you have to move your equipment from room-to-room. The technology just keeps coming!

1000 Things Make The Tablet PC Special

Mark Payton of the The Vermont Slate has the beginning of a series of articles explaining what makes a Tablet PC special. As he notes it's not one big item but rather a thousand little things that makes it special. A very good read!

Comments Currently Disabled

I disabled comments on the site on the weekend after spam messages started finding their way through. It's unfortunate that it comes to this but, again, a really good lesson can be had from it. If you're thinking of using blogs with your students then definitely start in a secure blogging area (for example within your District's server). Once students have matured and have grown in this area then consider using other online blogging tools.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Two Great Videos!

I certainly like to learn through watching. Two great videos have appeared on the 'net that show the power of the Tablet PC.

The first is by Tracy Hooten of The Student Tablet PC. Tracy's site deals with how students can better use their tablet. She is currently in the middle of a paperless challenge! The video shows you the power of creating planning templates in OneNote and using them instead of a paper based planner.

The second video is by James Kendrick. It is a movie that is placed to background music. In this video James performs a variety of tasks with his tablet to show users the power of it. Remember that he is only using the tablet pen in all of these demonstrations.

Remember that we can learn through watching others. I know that both of these people have given me some excellent ideas in which to implement!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Student Portfolios In OneNote....

Many teachers have argued that student portfolios are a more desireable way of assessing progress than using assignments/tests. Personally, I prefer a mix. I have begun to use OneNote to create a portfolio. Remember that OneNote is like a virtual binder except that you can add pictures, audio, and video into your binder as well. When using OneNote, think of doing the following:
  • Capture a student reading or an interview using the voice recorder function. If you have a Pocket PC (Windows Mobile) you can use your record feature and then insert the sound bit into the student's portfolio.
  • Get the free OneNote print driver. I have installed this on my tablet. When I go to print a page (from a gradebook for example) instead of printing to a printer the item will print to OneNote. You can then drag the virtual page to the student section of choice.
  • Capture video using a camcorder and insert it.
  • Create multiple checklist templates and insert it into the student portfolio.
  • Create printouts of each portfolio or save them to HTML and e-mail to the child or his/her parents. Your notes can be in "ink" or typed. Use a different colour.
  • Scan student work. Insert it in

I'm sure that my journey of discovery will find many other ways of using OneNote as a portfolio. What are you waiting for? Give it a try today!

Free Gradebook 2...

Excelsior Software is now providing free copies of Gradebook 2. All you need to do is go to their site http://www.excelsiorsoftware.com and register in order to download the program. It's a great deal for the price!

When choosing an assessment package I do have criteria. First, there must be a flexible grading system. Being an elementary school teacher, I personally have a problem with assigning percentages to students at these levels (which always begs the question "What's the difference between 85% and 81% other than 4%?). Gradebook 2 allows for a large variety of different systems.

Secondly, I need a place to record anecdotal comments. There has often been the argument that parents only look at the grades. I tend to disagree and believe that an ongoing narrative about the student can enhance understanding. Gradebook 2 allows for this.

Finally, I have been very interested with regard to standards based grading. Now, we do not have to grade standards in my little corner of Canada (thank God!) but I do think that it's a great practice so that you can identify areas of concern and know where to provide extra help with students. Again, it can also enhance understanding for students and parents (remember, assessment FOR learning rather than OF learning). Gradebook 2 provides this as well.

The only thing missing? A PDA application. Yeah, I know, it's available for $500 US for the school but I think it would be nice to buy it on it's own. PDA's can make the collection of assessment data an easy chore.

So, check out Gradebook 2 for the price. Me? I think I'll keep testing Gradebook Wizard and Easygrade Pro and make a decision from there. Without PDA support out of the box, Gradebook 2 cannot find its way into my teacher toolbox.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Tale Of Two Gradebooks (Part I)

Ah assessment! While it makes some teacher cringe it actually gets me quite excited. I know, you must think that I have been dropped on my head. Actually, assessment is a facinating field of study for any teacher. Let's face it...it's not just about assigning a grade.

Over the past few years I have become quite interested in this process. More importantly, I have been interested as to how to best report student progress to parents. Parents, and the students, deserve to be kept up-to-date on the student's progress in a manner that is easy for them to understand. I find that be giving frequent feedback (at least every 2 weeks and often every week), there are NO surprises come report card time.

In my quest to communicate I have literally tried every piece of downloadable software out there. My needs were quite stringent. I needed software that would allow for flexible grading (letters, scales, yes/no, etc.), work on a PDA, work on a tablet or Mac, allow for unlimited assignment and annecdotal comments, print flexible reports, and be able to e-mail or post reports to the web (more on this topic in a future post).

I have basically settled on two products: Easy Grade Pro (a Windows or Mac program) and Gradebook Wizard (an online gradebook). Today, I'll begin to blog about Easy Grade Pro.

Easy Grade Pro is by Orbis Software and is probably one of the better selling cross-platform gradebooks. It has an unlimited trial but is limited by the number of students that can be entered into the grade book. This gives you an excellent opportunity to try out the program and see if it matches your needs. Easy Grade Clipboard (the Palm OS app) is an additional $35. Supposedly a Windows Mobile version is supposed to be coming out. Yeah, I won't hold my breath. I've sent e-mail inquiries but have received no reply.

Easy Grade Pro is a very nice electronic gradebook. I have found it very flexible for my needs. I set up categories for each of my classes. For example, in mathematics I need to assess student understanding of concepts, problem solving, and basic facts. I set up a category for each of these indicators. At the end of the term I can receive an average for each of these.

The program looks very much like your paper gradebook. It is fast and easy to use. Comments can be added for each child and each assignment. This will give your parents and students even more feedback - feedback that they deserve.

Easy Grade Pro gives you some excellent report options. Reports can be exported to be placed on a secure website or printed to HTML and then e-mailed to parents. Talk to your parents and see which method they like (and don't forget to inform them of internet security). I can even choose not to have the student's name appear on the report thus releasing me from any privacy issue concerns. I never use student names in my comments in the event that their information may be intercepted. I also choose to print my reports using CutePDF so that students cannot change the data on the report.

The PDA application, Easy Grade Pro Clipboard, is a fast application that is also very easy to use. It is a joy to create assignment on the Palm if you do not have a computer or tablet PC near by. Think of how much money you could save if teachers had cheap Palm PDAs and then synchronized their information with the desktop. I'm very fortunate to have a tablet PC but it is a luxury for most teachers. Palms, on the other hand, are cheap and can perform all of the functions that you would need in your classroom.

I have enjoyed Easy Grade Pro. The only real downside to the program is when you have a new student join your class. You literally have to go through each subject and add that student. Yawn!!! Hopefully there will be a better way in the future. Head on over to their website and give it a try!

Building A Virtual Cubicle by James Kendrick

I was crusing my AvantGo RSS feeds the other day and noticed that James Kendrick had written an article entitled "Building A Virtual Cubicle". It's a great read that details how one mobile professional uses technology to be able to set up a virtual anywhere - most of the time more effective than a stationary office.

Awhile back I advised teachers to look at how other professionals use their mobile technology and then use these ideas as a springboard to adapt this to your own use. It is articles like these that inspire me to come up with new ideas. For example, James talks about how he annotates PDF files instead of printing them. I started taking my curriculum (downloaded in PDF), printing them to OneNote, annotating them and cutting out the parts that apply to me, and then using CutePDF to print them as PDF files again. My curriculum, with my notes, is ALWAYS with me (either on the tablet or on a PDA). I would never have done this without adapting the ideas of others to my own practice.

Thanks, James, for articles like this! Also, thanks for the mention on the Mobile Tech Podcast. I'd be pleased to come on one day and talk more about using tech in the classroom.....now, I just have to learn to use Skype! :)

OneNote As A Planner...

Many teachers are still using the paper based coil planner to keep track of their daily plans. These are, however, not the best tool for the job because: (1) There isn't much room to write up your plans and; (2) the amount of paper used per year is simply amazing!

About a year ago I decided to see if OneNote would be able to help me. I had noticed on Microsoft's site that they provided templates for a whole slew of different careers. I simply decided to design my own template for teaching.

First, I created a template for each day of the week. As an elementary teacher each of my days are different and I need to follow a different schedule. While I am using a template it is still easy enough to change items. For example, I usually have Phys. Ed. between 9:00 and 9:30. However, if I manage to squeak out an extra 30 minutes I can simply change that on the template.

On my template I have created areas for "important events", "students to observe", "after school jobs", and "contacts to make". These sit in boxes either at the top or bottom of the template. The middle part of the template has my actual day plan schedule. I have an area for lesson objectives, materials needed, and the actual plan. Because you are not using paper the day plan can be as long as you want it to be.

What about substitutes? The beautiful thing here is that you can simply print out the plan or send it electronically. OneNote allows for HTML prinouts but I prefer to use the free CutePDF to make a PDF file (fully annotated with ink!) and send that to our school secretary. No paper ever needs to be printed.

After I have filled out the template I can then save it in a specific month tab so that all of my plans are easily accessible. While OneNote is great on a tablet PC (it's the first program that I load), it can be used on any Windows PC or Mac running Virtual PC.

Check out OneNote here and let it change how you organize your day!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mr. Spielberg....Move Over!

Well I have finished another movie making assignment in our school. If you have not used a current digital video camera along with software (everything from the free Windows Movie Maker to Adobe Premiere) then you are denying yourself and your students a wonderful inquiry based project.

Students are truly interested in making movies. They learn how to edit, perform voice overs, add music and transitional effects.

Just for kicks, try firing up Windows Movie Maker or iMovie and play around. I first started by simply importing digital photos. I added music and a voice track. You will find that everything is drag and drop.

As we teach our kids...to learn is to experiment. Give it a try today!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Sad Day For Grade Books....

It is a sad day in the world of grade book software. Great Spirit Software is closing their doors. They are the creators of the excellent Tapro 4 software which is a complete solution for your classroom needs. You can store grades (with objectives or standards), discipline, anecdotal records, parent contacts, lesson plans, and the list goes on. While not a program that looks like a paper grade register, it is still powerful and not overly difficult to use.

The reporting features of this program are amazing! You can create simple reports yourself or rely on the built in reports. If you read the tutorials that come with the "help" section you can even program extremely sophisticated reports displaying any information that is stored in the database. Basically, the sky is the limit. I have created some amazing reports. Most grade book software leave you at themercy of the manufacturer for reports. Tapro gives the TEACHER the control.

All reports are generated in either text or HTML. This made it an excellent program for e-mailing grades or posting them to the web. In fact the program had a built in e-mailer so you wouldn't have to worry about e-mailing individual reports.

Perhaps the best part is that the program works with Pocket PCs and Palm OS devices (not sure how well it works with OS 5 devices but OS 4 and below is wonderfully supported). You create your assignments in Tapro and export them to the device. You grade on the device, create anecdotal records, and discipline. Sync the device again and all information can now be imported back into Tapro. This was one of the first programs to ever do this!

Now for the GOOD news....Great Spirit Software has posted Tapro 4 on their site for FREE. Yes, you read that right! According to their site the registration dialogue has been removed from Tapro. Chris Wallace, owner of Great Spirit Software and an all-around great guy, encourages teachers to download it and burn it to CD for future use.

Do yourself a favour and get this while you can! Sure, it's a bit of a learning curve but will do whatever you need it to.