Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Google Expeditions!

Virtual Reality in the classroom seems like a far away place, or something that's very expensive, or supremely technical to get into. Teachers are unsure of how to implement it, how to set it up, or how it applies to the curriculum that they're currently teaching. With the Google Expeditions Kit put together by our wonderful friends in District Technology you can bring Virtual Reality to your classroom in a free, very easy to use fashion. 

What is Google Expeditions?

Google Expeditions is a teacher directed Virtual Reality experience using 360° still images to immerse students in different environments and places around the world. It uses themed images and questions to guide students through different experiences around the world.

How does it work?

Google Expeditions is an app that works on iOS and Android devices. Expeditions has two sides to the app. There is a "Guide" side, and an "Explorer" side. 

  • The Guide will be able to direct the expedition, control whether students will be able to use the viewer, point things out on the screen, and tell how many people are logged on at a time. 
  • The Explorers will be able to view the experience on their devices when they are connected.
In order to start an Expedition, you'll need all of the devices to be attached to the same WiFi network. (The District kit does this very simply), and then have the Explorers choose "Follow" inside the app. Once they've done that, they're ready to go!

Who can run the Expedition?

Ideally, a teacher. 

But I had Grade 5 students run the kit and lead Expeditions for Grade 2 classes in our school. The reason a teacher is ideal is that it is a guided process. Guiding questions and pointing out things that you're looking at with your students are very helpful in leading discussion about what is being viewed.

What do I need to do?

As a teacher, there's a little more prep to do ahead of time for this to be successful. There is a listing of all of the Expeditions available, and it's worth a look to try to check some of them out beforehand. Getting the app on your own device could be a good way to preview some of the Expeditions, but if you plan on using the kit from District Tech, they've got a tablet that can be used for this. Once you've figured out which Expedition you'd like to lead your class through, it's time to start. Luckily, there's a start up guide.

What benefits are there to using this?

This is a great opportunity to talk about different environments and places, how those things affect people, and to see places and things we wouldn't normally see at school. Our kindergarten kids were very excited to see jungles and the animals that lived in them. It is a great opportunity for inquiry based approaches as well, as the expeditions lead well into questioning and getting kids to ask questions about what they're viewing. This is a great opportunity to get to see things that maybe your field trip budget won't allow for, and using the Google Street View app with some of the older kids would allow unguided exploration of some areas, too! (It's worth checking out beforehand).

How have other teachers used the kit so far?

At Balwin, a lot of teachers used them for guiding younger kids to see things they normally wouldn't. Our junior high students used them to inspire questions about what they were viewing and how it applied to what they're learning. The kit comes with a Theta 360° camera which allows us to take pictures and create content in a unique approach, allowing us to think about and find inquiry based opportunities around us.

What problems might we encounter?

The most common problem that we encountered was that the devices weren't always on the same WiFi network, which was a quick and easy fix with the router provided. The other thought was that we needed lead time to take a look at the Expeditions and think about how we wanted to apply them. 285 of them is a lot. With our use, there wasn't many problems that we encountered. It was a very straightforward process. 

In short, Expeditions is a great way to show your students other places or things around the world, and is an amazing way to start a discussion with students of all ages. We'd really like to look at creating content at Balwin, and were very impressed with the experience. Kids were always asking when they could use the kit next. I'd love to hear what people do with the kit as time goes on, and how they've used it to attach to their curriculum. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

An Interview With Amanda Fahey

A Little Bit About Amanda

Amanda is a grade three teacher with the Lethbridge School District No. 51. She is on Twitter, @amandafahey13, and Google+. Her Google+ profile says: Never let an opportunity pass you by! And if you follow her on Google+ or read her blog, Mrs. Fahey’s Class, you will see she does not let an opportunity pass her class by. 

I have always been inspired by Amanda's ideas and classroom activities. I think after you read this interview you will be, too!

What technology skills should students have before coming into the grade(s) you teach?
Students should know the basics:
  • how to log on
  • how to find various programs (Chrome, searching with Google, Word)
  • how to copy/paste
  • how to save documents to a USB.

Where do you get your educational technology ideas?
I get ideas from Google+, Professional Development Days, colleagues and blogs.

What type of technology do you use in your school?
My school has laptops, desktop computers, iPads, webcams, and Smartboard.

Imagine you only could keep one technology at your school. From the ones you listed about what would be the one you would keep? 

Based on your response to the question above. Why would you keep that technology?
There are so many useful iPad apps that I enjoy using with my students. Students can still access the internet (Google) from an iPad, as well as use Google Docs, or Microsoft Word to complete class assignments. It also opens opportunities for new apps and ways to complete assignments rather than basic paper and pencil. As well an iPad has a camera, therefore we could complete Hangouts with other students.

What is one piece of technology would you like to try in your classroom that you haven't had an opportunity to yet?
3D printer

What is something new or different you are planning to try this year?
I plan on teaching one-on-one Google Hangouts with our penpal/collaborative blog class. I am also going to attempt a Robotics lab this year. 

How has technology changed the way you teach?
Technology has allowed me to go outside my comfort zone and find new ways to be innovative within the classroom. Instead of all students having the same project, which needs to be completed in the same way, I find technology allows me to give my students more opportunity to be unique and creative and find their strengths to show their learning. As well, technology has allowed me to meet and collaborate with so many other teachers all over the world. Completing mystery hangouts, or collaboration projects with classes in the USA, Brazil or Australia has allowed me to change the ways I teach being a Global Citizen and how to be a "safe" technology user to my students. My focus is to teach my students about a positive digital footprint.

How do you decide what is worthwhile for students to learn through technology, given literacy and skill challenges in division one?
Technology is incredible, but students still need the opportunity to use paper and a pencil. However, I decide what is worthwhile based on my individual students. I assess their needs and go from there. I try to find apps or tasks that can be easily modified to meet my students needs. For example, having a built in voice recorder or a "read to me" feature is always helpful for those struggling readers/writers. 

What apps or technology tools do you use? Are there any that you use for specific projects?

  • Google Hangouts - As a class, we complete many mystery location hangouts, mystery number hangouts, as well we meet with our penpal class. This year we are working on a Connected Reader’s Club as well which is absolutely fantastic!
  • News-O-Matic - I use this app for our Newspaper day. I also incorporate it into Daily 5 centers for a listen to reading center.
  • Popplet - This is a favourite when we are brainstorming, specifically before a writing task.
  • Green Screen - I use across all subject areas. I enjoy using Green Screen mostly for social and science as a way for students to show their learning at the end a specific unit. For example, students use it when describing an animal, or a country in social studies. We've also used Green Screen as a way of publishing fractured fairy tales. Students draw the scenes, and as we read the stories, their drawings are the backdrop. Super student friendly.
  • Class Dojo - I use it for classroom management.
  • Google Translate - I use this to support ELL learners.
  • Google Earth - I use Google Earth when we have mystery location hangouts. This year we’ve used Google Earth quite a bit as an introduction to the Grade 3 Social Studies curriculum which focuses on Peru, Tunisia, India and Ukraine.
  • Word Clouds - I use this for writing activities.
  • Skitch - This is a great labelling app which is extremely useful, specifically in science, when introducing a new topic. As well I use it in Language Arts for vocab development in word work centers.
  • QR Code Reader - I use this app mainly in math for games or problem solving. Students use the QR code to check their work. However, we use QR codes in language arts for tricky words, and to listen to reading.
  • KidBlog - We journal using Kidblog rather than a typical journal notebook. Our blog is then linked with our grade 3 classes throughout Canada and the USA, where we discuss various topics, and complete collaboration writing projects.
  • Quiver - This is a fantastic app that makes artwork pop like 3D! 

What are your hopes for educational technology in the future in your classroom? Alberta? Canada? Globally?
I would like to see a specific technology curriculum, where skills are broken down into grade specifics. Not all teachers are as comfortable with technology as others, therefore we get students who still are unsure how to log on etc which makes things rather difficult sometimes. But in order for that to work, more professional development would have to be offered. I hope that educational technology becomes the norm within our classrooms, and students become great global technology users where they are aware of how to be safe and effective users.

I also hope for generalized programs where the province or even country can use similar programs, ie. Google Apps for Education, so that students of similar grades can collaborate with other students throughout the country, opening up more opportunities and giving students a wider perspective on the topic, or life in general.

Check back for the December interview with Marjorie Foth.

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