Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tagxedo - the new Wordle

Most people are familiar with Wordle and its capabilities.
"Wordle is a toy for generating 'word clouds' from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends" (copied from the Wordle webpage).
Basically, it can turn your text into a picture of text. You can enter the words in the editor or copy from a blog post or webpage. It has the words that are used more often in a larger text and gives a graphic picture to what can be a long set of text. There are some basic editing (size, color, font) but it is basically just a static picture. Still, a very cool tool. Here is a Wordle of a recent post involving the Wii in the classroom. It is pretty clear to see that I used the word "students" most often!

Now there is a new tool out there called tagxedo. If you look at the picture below, you can still see that it is a Wordle, but different. Tagxedo has taken it the next step further (someone always does) and has made it so you can create your Wordle into any picture shape you want. You just follow a few prompts, choose your image, choose your text and viola! you have yourself a Wordle 2.0! As you can probably tell, I used the same post to collect the words and you can see the similar sizes of the words ("students" still is the most used word in the post). You can make more changes with the text (besides the options with Wordle you can choose if you want the words to be horizontal or vertical or multiple, you have more color options and orientation options) and can integrate a whole different level with pictures!
A few points to consider. First, you have to install Microsoft Silverlight program to use Tagxedo, but it is a free download and install. Second, when you are choosing a picture, make sure that it is one where the outline makes sense. You can choose to have your words go on the inside or the outside of the picture, but if you can't make out the outline of the picture, it probably isn't going to turn out the way you would want. Third, the page says that you can upload your own picture free while it is in beta testing. I would guess, at some point it will go from a free site to a fee site and you will lose that ability. But until then, give it a shot!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ubuntu and Windows

Summer is on and of course as teachers we are doing nothing, right? This is that time of year where apparently we just sit around and do nothing and get paid, right? These months (July-Aug) are the reason why every teacher became a teacher, right? I am sure that if you are a teacher, or even thinking of becoming a teacher, you have probably heard one of these comments recently. If only that were true, huh? This is the time of year when I can get most of the physical work done! Without students I can refresh machines, move around ones that have broken, are breaking, or will just plain die any day now. Purchases are made, planning happens, and things keep going! If you are a teacher reading this post, remember this is our down time so relax and enjoy! :-)

OK, now that I have put away my soap box (thank goodness I don't have a large audience to worry about influencing!) I move on to the reason for my post. In a recent post from May I talked about setting up Ubuntu (Open Source, i.e. free) software and NComputing (Virtual computing, i.e. more computers without the equipment) hardware for a cheaper alternative to getting to a 1 to 1 ratio of computers to students. After having a discussion with reps from the company I do most of my purchasing from, I found out the licensing necessary to use Windows with the NComputing boxes. Basically, to be compliant (and legal) with the companies, I have to purchase a server license (2003 or 2008) for the host machine, a CAL (client access license) for each of the client machines, AND a RAC (Remote Access client license) for each of the client machines. Now, depending on which tier you are on with Microsoft, these purchases vary in price. Needless to say, it will cost approximately $150-$200 just for the OS licenses for me to put three computers in any classroom (1 host and 2 virtual). Of course, if I want other software, like Office or Publisher, or whatever, I have to pay for three separate licenses. So quick math tells me that if I want to do 10 classrooms, I have to put out $2000 for just the ability to run Windows on those machines. With a free operating system on the computer which is broken up into three machines (or up to 11 if you use the bigger x550 solution) it costs me nothing. Nada, zip, zero. Being under a tight budget, I like not having to put out that money (and my principal likes it even more)! It all comes down to what you want to do on that machine. If you are looking to get another lab just for Internet research, this solution might work for you. If you can use the open source program OpenOffice to do your word processing, spreadsheet, and presentations then this solution might work for you. It is, at the very least, something to look into. Let me be clear, I don't believe it will ever replace Windows, but it might be another option for teachers. Here is an article from THE journal giving a little more information.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

End of Year thoughts on the Wii

Well, our school year has come to a close so Chris and I did some final wrap-up of the Wii in the classroom project. We discussed the positives, the negatives, and throw around some future plans with using the Wii for next year and beyond. All in all using the Wii this year has been a positive experience and I can't thank Chris enough for working with me (heck, running most of the show!) as we try to implement a new tool for learning.

Student engagement- could not be more engaging- when something can hold a 10 year olds attention for 45 minutes on the concept of ratio- we are good to go!

Group/team building aspects- I saw the beginnings of great team building opportunities with the Wii in class- I saw it with the Brain Age contests we did and when the 6th graders played Mario Kart for fun- Finding some games where the team aspect is emphasized might go a long way for bringing together some classes

Using the Wii allowed me to address standards based skills (for example comparing and ordering integers and identifying equivalent ratios) in depth in one class period- the games held their attention for the full class period- allowing many examples and practice problems and also allowed me the ability to see over time who already had the skill and who was struggling- then I could make sure to focus in on those who needed help. When you have the prolonged attention span on one core skill- it gives the teacher the assessment time needed in the classroom

Using the Wii gave me the opportunity to address certain 5th grade math skills that sometimes (a lot of the times) get pushed to the side in order to make sure other more prominent skills are mastered before middle school (such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with whole numbers, fractions, and decimals). By using the games to teach about integers, ratio, and equivalent ratios, I utilized three class periods (instead of trying to teach the skill using the text book lessons and chapters (at least one week for each skill) and feel as though the skill was taught in a much more retainable manner- it is all about student engagement and attention.

Student excitement- 5th grade Math exciting- film at eleven- who would have thought?

Teacher excitement- never mind the kids- I had fun using the games and being amazed at students who normally have trouble paying attention in class for five minutes- ready to go after 35 minutes- still doing the math and wanting to play again! It is a great feeling to teach a new skill and see a student grasp it- the Wii lessons let me do that with many of the students in just one class period.

Increased incentive for class parties- students wanted to play the Wii during class party times and this served as a great party feature and good incentive.

Increased my professional interest in ed tech in general- looking for new ways to use the Wii- like the online Wii games page and all the blogs out there talking about using the Wii

Expense of system, pieces, and games

Pre-planning time (including finding games with educational applications, playing through the games to plan out lesson structure and set up, etc.)

Limited educational uses (so far) which are standards based

Future Plans
Use Are you Smarter than a 5th grader with the small 7th grade Brain Bowl group- not only to build knowledge and speed of response, but also team skills.

Crossword Wii game in LA- try to incorporate vocabulary- either those words used in the game or additional words if you are able to add your own to the game.

Super Hero game to tie in with the Super Hero writing, reading, and creation unit (Superman For All Seasons- graphic novel).

Brain Age Academy- do tests with all middle school students to give all of them an idea of their learning styles and strengths and weaknesses- allow time (outside of class) for students to improve skills throughout the year.

Create Miis for students over the summer and then allow them to customize their Mii when they have time. Maybe use the Check Mii Out Channel (a free download) to see about working on their Mii's from different controllers and sending them to the classroom.

I like the idea of using the Wii as an incentive in class.

Hope to inspire more staff to utilize the Wii next year- especially math uses that we have already planned out.

Download more options from the online Wii channel. There are many puzzle games (being careful to keep track of ratings and appropriateness of games) including Aha! I got it Escape, Art of Balance, Brain Challenge, Neves Plus, Loupos, Sudoko Challenge, World of Goo, just to name a few.

Use the Everybody Votes Channel (which is a free download from the Wii Channel) to allow students to see they are part of a global community and that their voice counts.

Virtual Pets - My Aquarium game allows the students the ability to take care of a fish tank - including feeding the fish. Each morning during homeroom/morning time you have someone whose job it is to take care of the tank! The cleanest pet of the year for sure!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Using clickers in the classroom 3

Well as our year is rapidly winding down, I wanted to get a last (or maybe 2nd to last) post in here about the using the clickers in the classroom. My last post was not the most flattering and I wanted to give an update on usage in the classroom. We have met with mixed results.
I used them twice, once for group quiz grades using BrainPop and once just for classroom questions as we were working through the lesson. If you use BrainPop in your classroom then I can easily suggest that you look into the clickers. After the lesson you can give a quiz on the information that was just presented. Well, instead of just getting one person's response and clicking the answer, you can have each person answer using the clickers and then click the answer that corresponds with the majority of responses. Then you can save the responses from all the students and go through the results to answer the question how effective was the movie? It is a great way to integrate the whole room with BrainPop!
The 2nd time I used the clickers was to have the students answer some questions as we were working through a lesson. The hardware all worked just fine, and I think as the novelty of the clickers wears off, so will the time it takes to actually use them (all of the students are still enamored with the total count at the top, and don't even get me started on the question feature!) to get answers. What is great is the immediacy of the feedback. You can quickly see how much of the class understood what you are talking about and review right then if necessary.

One feature that we were introduced to that needs to be mentioned is the Response Table. The response table is your friend! To put the response table on a slide choose Insert Object, Response Table, and then Fixed Object (in Office 2003). What the response table does is put a small table on the bottom of your question slides. There is a numbered box for each clicker in the room. When the student clicks the clicker, the box with their number (corresponding to the number that is on the back of the clicker) lights up. If they click it a second time, it changes to a different color (to let them know they changed their answer). The students can clearly see that the computer has registered their answer. It is much easier than the small number in the bar at the top of the slide which just advances one number as each student clicks an answer. You will want to put the response table on all of your slides.