Social Studies YouTube Channel

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I’ve put a little time in today updating the look of the website. The main reason is to make it look a little sleeker, more minimalist, and allow a clear and easy method of navigating from page to page without all the clutter that existed before. So far I like the new look better than the previous one, and hopefully it achieves the purpose I’ve just mentioned.

In the process of working on the site, I’ve also decided to add a YouTube account to the social media accounts I use regularly for sharing teaching ideas and course material. The idea here is probably less to create new videos, and more to compile playlists of videos relevant to the topics I teach in history and geography. I’ve started a few there, so click your way over there if you’d like to see the kinds of videos sources I use in my lessons. I’ll add more videos as I find them.

Finally, while I was at it, I spent a little time using a cool and simple app on my phone called Quik. It allows you to create slideshows and put them to music, creating neat little videos about whatever topic you like. I created a trailer for Social Studies at Gander Collegiate that provides a glimpse into what’s taught in my courses. It’s a first attempt, but perhaps it didn’t come out too badly.

Using Apps to Empower Girls in Mumbai

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There is always talk of new technology being useful in the classroom for the benefit of student learning, but it’s quite something else when it’s being used in one of the world’s most densely populated areas that happens to be a slum.

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Dharavi, Mumbai. Source: mapsofindia.com

Quartz India has an article about an educator, Ranjan, who has developed an after-school program, called Dharavi Diary, that seeks to teach youth, especially girls, about language, math, and app development. It may be easy to question such a project in an area where poverty is a serious issue, but it has had benefits for girls’ attendance in school. The children are also trying to develop apps that are socially and community conscious (e.g., an app that can sound a distress alarm and send emergency texts, and one that notifies the municipality of waste build-up in given areas).

It’s a positive example of how creative and dedicated educators and students can make a difference in improving people’s lives.

These girls went on to give talks on platforms like TED, building up their confidence. “There’s a happiness quotient and a sense of ownership in the girls,” Ranjan said proudly. “Over a period of three years, they have understood the value of the personal voice and acquired the skills to say no when they mean no, like in the case of domestic violence or eve-teasing (roadside harassment).”

Not only do the children take their knowledge back home, reading letters and working phones for family members, they also hold special workshops to propel social change among the older generations. A mother-daughter workshop was held to “break the taboo of menstruation,” Devashri Vagholkar, who started off volunteering as a science teacher and is now a core team member at Dharavi Diary, told Quartz. “We also did street plays about it.”

Recommended Teaching Tech: Remind

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1200x630In my last post, I discussed a teacher planning app that I enjoy called Planboard (which I highly recommend). In this post I will briefly introduce another app I use regularly called Remind.

Remind is an easy to use messaging app that teachers can employ to contact students, parents, or colleagues individually or in groups and makes use of one piece of technology that most people are more than familiar with: text messaging.

The basic idea is this: the teacher creates a group (called a “class”) and students sign up to become a part of it. Anyone who is a part of the class can be contacted directly or receive group announcements from the teacher, making it a wonderful resource for reminding students of upcoming events or deadlines (hence the name of the app). Now, before you get worried about the issue of having students know your cell phone number, the app works based on a proxy number set up by Remind that students text, meaning that they never know your number and you never know theirs. The app merely provides students a proxy number, which they can add to their contacts under a name such as “Mr. Rowe” or “Geography Class”. By responding through text to a couple of quick commands from this number (such as whether they are a student or parent, and entering a classcode provided by the teacher), students sign up with their name, which is all the teacher will see. Without this feature of Remind, I would be very unlikely to use it, as otherwise it could create significant privacy issues.

For those who do not use texting or would be more comfortable using email, the same setup procedure can accommodate this. The difference is that rather than texting a number to sign up for a class, an email is sent. This is probably more useful when contacting parents. But whether using email or text messaging, the teacher can operate Remind from the app on iphone or android devices, or from a website adding to its usefulness.

Besides class announcements, a student can privately send a message to the teacher (e.g., a question about an assignment or homework) and the teacher can respond without the whole class seeing, which is great for students who may be self-conscious about asking questions in a larger group.

remind-2-1024x538A feature that I really enjoy is the ability to send photos, files, or audio clips as part of a message. I’ve used this to send out additional resources to students that help with review or relevant images that supplement discussion that had occurred during class.

Any announcements sent are instant and are a wonderful way to keep students or parents up to date on what is going on in class or with the school as a whole. A number of my colleagues use Remind at Gander Collegiate and, as such, students have become quite aware of how it works, which makes setup and use so much easier. Setting up a class can be done in a few minutes: a few easy instructions can be put on a whiteboard or printed, which students and parents can follow.

Like any app, there are other features one can discover when exploring how functional the software may be (e.g., there are options for organizing events among group members, like field trips), but I will leave these for you to try, if you feel Remind is something that may be useful in your classroom.

Recommended Teaching Tech: Planboard

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Teachers all have their own education apps or tech they use to help make learning more effective and enjoyable, but sometimes it’s useful to have something that makes life easier for themselves. One such application I’ve used over the last school year is Chalk.com’s Planboard.

As teachers, most of us make daily use of our planbooks – whether it be for planning lessons, recording marks and assessments, noting when the next staff meeting will take place, or reminding ourselves of what needs to be done after school. They are useful and many administrations expect that their teachers use them, both for encouraging good practice and showing accountability. I used to find it annoying having to carry a planbook back and forth to different places and found I could need access to it at the most inconvenient times when I didn’t have it with me. Enter Planboard.

Planboard is a web and mobile based application that allows teachers to input their class schedule and access it anywhere, which makes quick reference easy at any time. You don’t have to fill out page after page with your schedule, as must be done in paper planbooks, rather you create your timetable during setup, insert any holidays in the school year, and the app does the rest for you. You can see what your schedule will be months ahead of time.

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Above is my schedule from last school year. As you can see, you can colour code classes to make quick reference easier. Another helpful feature is being able to convert nearly everything in Planboard into a PDF file for emailing, recordkeeping, or printing.

This alone is nothing overly special, as one can easily print a blank timetable and fill it in, but what is really useful is that planboard allows you to write lesson plans for each class, just as you would in a planbook. I find this is actually more useful than a physical book, because I’m a faster typer than writer and there’s the option for inserting images, video, hypertext, attach files, and pretty much anything else you need. The fact that it quick saves constantly is super useful as well. The lesson space looks like this:

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This is part of a lesson plan I left for a substitute teacher one day. You can see the course name and section, unit being covered, name of lesson or outcome being addressed, and details of the lesson. There’s also a useful sticky note, which can be used for reminders or other general information. Lessons can be viewed by day, as shown above, or by week, month, or unit. If I need to print a day’s lessons, I just click the PDF button in the top right of the page and Planboard creates a printable PDF that can be saved. The mobile version of the above looks something like this:

I like that I can plan lessons quickly from anywhere in a matter of moments. As teachers, we all know that often ideas come to mind at odd times, or when we aren’t in school, so having a quick and easy way to incorporate these things into what we do is useful. There are a lot of other interesting and useful details in the application that you’ll find if you take a little time to explore and make yourself familiar with them.

To this point, I’ve mostly used Planboard for daily lessons and recordkeeping, but there are options for creating unit plans and assigning lessons to each unit. You can also insert standards or outcomes that can be attached to units, or specific lessons, which is great when showing someone else what is being covered in the lesson, or for keeping yourself on track when it comes to covering those important outcomes.

Chalk.com has also added sections to Planboard like Markboard for recording assessments, attendance, and another for resources. Another great feature that Chalk.com has worked into this application is the ease with which sharing can occur, either through email, or among other users on the platform. I hope to try some of these in the future.

Planboard is a convenient way to do and combine some of the things that teachers do anyway, but anything that makes these parts of my job quicker or easier, so I can focus on teaching and the learning happening in my classroom is worth a little time to try out.

Kobo Vox: a surprising tablet and e-reader that’s also affordable

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Those of you who have read this blog in the last year will know that I’m a supporter of e-readers and digital books. My reasons for this focus primarily on the conveniance of technology (many e-readers can now serve as tablets that have multiple uses beyond reading digital books), but also include financial concerns (e-books are often much cheaper than print books due to skipping costs associated with paper materials), and the easing of stress on forest resources. That said, I know the e-reader experience depends a great deal on the quality of the device and the software provided with it.

In my own reading life, I have selected Kobo as the device of choice for me. A couple of years ago I bought a first generation Kobo e-reader and enjoyed it very much, but, like any new technology, limitations of the device became apparent over time. In December, I acquired the newest Kobo model, the Kobo Vox, and thought I would post some of my thoughts on this new e-reader.

Firstly, if you’re expecting a device that can compete with other tablets, like those produced by Apple or Samsung, than you’ll be disappointed. While the Vox is a tablet that allows the user to operate a variety of applications, including social networking like twitter and facebook, web browsing, office suite and word processing, blogging, games, and more, the device has it’s limits when it comes to functions that require more power (movie and video manipulation and audio editing, for instance). As it happens, the Vox satisfies nearly every use I have for a tablet, and most for which I own a laptop.

There is an internal storage limit of 8 gigs, which is below that of some of the more popular tablets, but includes an option of expansion through a micro SD card slot. Unless you are into storing a lot of high quality video on your device, this should be adequate for most purposes, including document storage and music.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the Kobo Vox is the availability of apps through the unboard app store, Getjar. While all apps made available through this service are free, there is not as wide a range available as one will find on the Android Market (by the way, the Vox runs on the Android platform, in case you didn’t know). That said, you can get around this problem somewhat by downloading apps on another computer and copying them to your eReader.

What the Vox lacks in some more high functioning areas it more than makes up for in its primary purpose as a reading device. The library, reading, estore, and social reading links are easily available at the bottom of all front pages, making for quick and easy access. The reading options are much improved organization-wise than in earlier Kobo devices, including detailed font settings (type and size), brightness, book navigation, and annotations/highlighting. The loading speed for books is quite quick, and once reading begins page turning is speedy, requiring only a tap of the page. Access to an unboard dictionary where you don’t have to type in the word you wish to look up, but merely highlight it on the page is a positive. Shifting from one book to another is very easy as well. One of Kobo’s individual qualities is it’s social reading feature, which allows readers to share what they are reading easily through the app itself or through quick and easy updates to facebook. Users can share not only the titles they are reading, but they can also like or comment upon books, or selections within books, easily from anywhere in the app, which is visable to other Kobo users with whom this information is shared.

If you’re looking for a tablet that allows you to work with email and document editing, schedule calender events and reminders, browse the internet with a quality browser, that connects seamlessly to social networking then the Kobo Vox should be a device you consider. It won’t get you all the features of an iPad or Samsung tablet, nor the app variety available through Apple, but for a $200 tablet you get a surprising piece of technology that is affordable and versatile. If you’re looking for a functional e-reader than in my opinion the Vox is one of the best out there.