Archives for the month of: February, 2014

Lately, various interactive board have invaded the market, each trying to outrun the other in their run to the classes. However, what is it that makes them so interesting to teachers? Let’s find out.

Even though they first came out in 1991, interactive whiteboards only recently were adopted throughout the Québec school system. Most of the supplies are constituted by two kinds of boards: the SMART board and the Promethean ActivBoards. While the second seems to have made the first breach in the field of education of our part of the country, its SMART counterpart is presented as the current best seller. Of course, some older ActivBoard whiteboards can still be found in some classrooms, but their number is extremely few if compared to the SMART presence.

SMART boards are known for their interactive capability. This interactive capacity is triggered by either fingers or the tools given to the teacher using this kind of whiteboard. It can be triggered by both interactive touches at once, without it affecting the precision or efficiency of the touch. Two people can manipulate on-board tools, which makes it highly useful for classroom activities involving the students; the pupils can draw, write, or make an object move, depending on what the teacher chose to make his students do to improve their knowledge of the material presented. It basically can do anything your chalkboard and your computer can do once combined they are combined. All and any activity done on this board allows the child to use the material he already learned about. This allows him to retain the knowledge, as he changes from being a learner to being and experimenter.

The SMART board is easier for use by the teachers from Quebec than the Promethean products because of its design. When given a new tool, a teacher is not much inclined to testing it for hours to understand how it is supposed to work. A teacher needs to know it now, so he can focus on making more and better material for his students. This is how the SMART board is winning the game. Its design is easier to understand the Promethean products’ one, since most of the essential buttons are visible from the get go. For instance, a pen tray detects what you chose as a tool, without the user ever needing to select the pen from the software. As they say, it’s a “smart” board.

However, even with a Promethean whiteboard, the class can be presented well. The SMART choice is only a preference.

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As the video games industry grows bigger and bigger, teachers might start to worry about what they should do to keep all those kids they are in charge of off video games. However, maybe they shouldn’t. As it turns out, video games could be very useful as a complement to a teacher’s activities.

            The reason behind this reasoning is that video games, from the fact that they are what they are, bring forward more than one convincing argument (http://dh101.humanities.ucla.edu/DH101Fall12Lab4/archive/files/6070f0882cc89baa5a12992aaea56028.pdf). For instance, one of them says that the interactive capacity of any video game can and most probably will help the kid learn, as interaction has been recently found to make learning easier. Plus, in most games, the child will be able to tell right away if his answer was right; the game will either keep on going if the answer of an action is right, or stop if it was wrong. Of course, a game can change the precise content of its reactions to the child, but the result stays the same. This is very valuable feedback for the kid, which can be given even when the teacher is not there. If used properly, it can do wonders.

            As an additional advantage, video games can sometimes be made by children. How would that help? Well, as some schools and organizations demonstrated making a game is another way for the kid to learn the material it is supposed to know. By doing this, the kid interacts with his environment, reinvests his knowledge, and even exercises his social skills, if the making of the video game is done with a team. On top of this, another advantage of this type of task is that is can be used for any material. In French or English, they might do an RPG, writing out all the dialogues, while in Mathematics for instance, they can make puzzle games.            

            As a counter argument however, as with any new technology, a teacher should do his best to know how to properly use this available help to its best. If he does not, there might be bad outcomes, such as interesting the kid enough in video game that he will become obsessed by them…

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When someone tries to associate “Wikipedia” and “education”, most people will rear up and start complaining, wondering what ever could be wrong with the fool that dared to try to do such a thing. After all, who in their right mind would ever even give a single look at this crazy idea? A teacher bringing up the idea of such an association should be shamed and exiled.

Of course, I exaggerate. As far as I know, no one would react so violently to the idea of using Wikipedia as a tool for teaching. However, most teachers would way need more than a little convincing to reconsider their negative opinion towards the online encyclopedia as a learning and teaching tool. This website and kids’ education just does not add up in their mind. They cannot really be blamed for this. After all, even though Wikipedia has numerous qualities, it also has many flaws.

One of the biggest flaws of this tool is that, as much of an encyclopedia as it is, Wikipedia is designed by and for the crowds. Sincerely, the second part is not a problem, really. All it means is that this website is designed for anyone who wishes to learn, an objective which is worthy of respect. It can bring incredible minds’ ideas – a.k.a. any mind’s ideas – to fruition, just like it did for fifteen-year-old Jack Andraka. Basically, this young man created a way to diagnose Pancreatic Cancer rapidly, easily and for little money, and he did all that “without even knowing what a pancreas was, using just Google and Wikipedia.” Sincerely, this could make anyone dream.

However, even though these success stories can happen to anyone, there still is a drawback; the fact that Wikipedia is designed by the crowds.  What this means is that if someone feels like changing something in any article, or like creating a new one, they can. No matter what the change or the addition is, it can be done. If the change is faulty, it will most likely be deleted in the following days; however, it will still have misinformed many interested readers during all the time it will have been displayed on the site. As an example of this, we may present a Middlebury College teacher’s experience; when correcting one of his students’ works, he noticed that “several” of them were citing the same incorrect Wikipedia source! The precise number of those “several” students is not given, but it still is too many. Misinformation is hard to set right, even more if it has been taken from a trusted source, such as Wikipedia in this case. The damage it can cause to a student’s knowledge can be palpable, and may even be extended to later acquired knowledge, depending on what the youngster has been misinformed on. After all, one must not forget that knowledge is acquired like any building is built; strong bases will make for good further knowledge, bad or weak bases will make for a shaky business.

Nonetheless, there is still potential in Wikipedia, even if we take into consideration that anyone can modify its content. It can even be more useful than Encyclopedia Britannica. The thing is, Wikipedia is a behemoth. Sure, it can be heavy and clumsy, but its potential still remains incredible. To give you an idea, allow me to compare with you some of the numbers from Britannica with the one of our online encyclopedia. To start with, we might want to look at the number of articles on Wikipedia; while there are 500,000 entries in the Britannica, in only one language (as far as I can tell), there are over 10 million of entries in Wikipedia, published in over 253 languages. However, that’s not all. There is also the content. As it seems, the fact that Encyclopedia Britannica is only written by a handful can make it go only so far; when compared to articles on Wikipedia, it presents only half as many words in its entries than its free, internet-only counterpart. This makes Wikipedia such a mastodon that there must be a part of it that can be used.

Well, it turns out there really is a part that can be used. Or rather, all its parts can be used, in different amounts, and with circumspection. While Wikipedia can be dangerous, we can compare it to a puffer fish meal; if it is handled properly, it will come out beautiful; if it is handled poorly, it can potentially be (figuratively) deadly. However, there are uses that can be made of it for educational purposes.

One these uses is better applied with high schoolers and even younger kids. Sincerely, the idea is very simple; use Wikipedia for what it was built: researching information. In fact, according to a research carried out by Education Next, it turns out that Wikipedia can be a fairly good resource when a student wishes to research on a topic involving factual information, such as History. This is quite the relief, as it also turns out that for 100 subjects tested by the same people, 87 out of those were the first result to appear on Google, 12 were the second result, and 3 were the third result. Considering that this means that a total of 100% of the researched entries were found in the top three, knowing that most of the information is good can be quite the relief. However, some precaution still has to be taken when using Wikipedia to search for information for your k-12’s and lower grades’ students, as those results used in the research were all highly researched, and thus more likely to be right, as high traffic articles tend to be more accurate. This can turn out as a problem if your students venture in the less known parts of Wikipedia. Which is why I would recommend you to keep them on the featured and good articles. Chances can be taken, but it would be better not to take too many.

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As of late, I have been introduced to a new tool. This tool is called Popplet. It is both a website and an application for the Ipad. For a reason I was not quite sure of, it seemed to be gaining more and more popularity. Curious as I am, I could not resist taking a look at the reasons behind such a general interest. What exactly made Popplet so interesting? And, more importantly, was it viable as a teaching and learning tool? The answer all of internet seems to be giving me is yes. But why? What makes Popplet such an amazing tool for teaching-learning situations?

First off, Popplet is free: completely and absolutely free. They ask for no inscription fee, and provide anyone who decides to use their services with the possibility to keep five Popplets at a time on their personal server, still for no more than $0. On those, they let you use all the features they have, without any backdrop. Also, they give the option to increase the amount of Popplets one person’s servers can hold from five to… well an infinite amount. They ask 3$ for one month, or 30$ for a year. It might seem like a lot to some, but when you compare it to other things that we pay without having an absolute need of it – an Xbox Live one-year membership for 60$, a 35$ book every month… – it’s not that much. It becomes even more interesting, however, if we think about all it can do.

Talking about it, what can Popplet do, exactly? Many things. Basically, Popplet is a software used to make mind maps. That’s all it does, ever. However, this is not what makes it popular, and it does not explain why I said it could do “many things”… See, the applications of Popplet are actually numerous. Think about it for second. What can a teacher, or a student, do with a mind map? Some people thought about this. The ideas they came up with are rather interesting.

For instance, the idea was proposed to preparing, and present, an oral through the use of Popplet. In there, the student can throw text, images, drawings, videos, links… No matter what he presents on, the student can illustrate, explain and present with ease, no matter the subject. If they present a movie genre, they can add clips from YouTube or Vimeo, or add the pictures from a good movie representation of the genre, or one of their favorite actor. If they present themselves (which is an activity the teacher can take part in, too), they can describe their childhood, present videos of their hobbies, or even present pictures of themselves when they were younger. Even for written assignments, Popplet seems ready to help, as it can give the writer a much more through view of what is good and what is wrong, what is complete and what is incomplete in his or her ideas.

Best of all, even if those projects can be done alone, another nice feature of Popplet is that it allows teams to work on the Popplet project. To make a team work on it, one of the members has to create the Popplet, then send invitations to the other team members through e-mail. Once they’ve accepted the invitation, they can access the Popplet at any time. And since each popple (Popplet bubble) has its creator’s name written on the top left of it, there is no cheating the teacher. The latter can make sure all students in the team worked on the Popplet, and give participation points accordingly.

No matter how good it is in general however, Popplet still has flaws. One of the biggest issues with it is the connection to internet. As I experienced myself, the website keeps crashing, or , in the case of the Ipad application, plain not connecting to internet. It still tells you right away when the connection is lost, but it’s still highly frustrating. Another bad point is that, in the case of the app (I do not know if it also applies in the case of the website), the Popplets from the free version do not follow when the account is upgraded to the paying version. It can be incredibly frustrating, even more if the Popplet is a big one and/or one that took a long time to be made. If you add this to the fact that a Popplet’s title cannot be changed after creation, it can make the experience highly negative for the new user…

No matter if you go for it or not, you can always try Popplet out by running the interactive demo. This will give you an idea whether you find the good sides attractive, or the bad sides discouraging. Or maybe you’ll decide for a slight use, based on both the goods and the bads…