- The 100 Best Twitter Tools for Teachers list has been updated and contains a comprehensive list of tools.
- Draw a Stickman is an engaging and interactive online game, which has a new twist on animation.
- This list of educational apps for iPad is structured around Bloom's Taxonomy - an interesting approach and some useful recommendations.
- If you have not yet had enough of wordclouds, then this list of wordcloud makers covers all of the main tools starting with Wordle.
- Not tools I have explored in any depth as yet, but this guide to wikis in education makes me think that I am missing out on something.
- This is a sobering and thought provoking portrait of a modern learner, that should be read by all those who would like to return to the pedagogies and practices of the 1950s.
- Finally, a couple of map-based sites, which superimpose live data: www.marinetraffic.com shows the location of ships around the world and www.flightradar24.com does the same with air traffic. Both are wonderful resources for showing global connections and links.
Some quite random links to explore over the summer:
I remember many years ago (and I mean many) having a conversation with a student, which ranged over the old Mac v PC debate. At the time (and its still true), I preferred Macs to PCs because they seemed so much easier to use. The student though preferred PCs. Why? Because he liked the challenge of using command lines and such. 'Computers shouldn't be easy to use,' he said, 'Macs are just too simple.' (or words to that effect). He felt that Macs were a bit of a cheat, because you could get them to do stuff without knowing anything about programming.
Meerkat from Stock Xchang
Understandably, the conversation has stuck with me. The concept of computers as tools for an elite of techies, who want to be challenged, was memorable. And though a long time ago, the conversation has resonances for now and the current re-emergence of programming as being central to the ICT curriculum. But, I don't intend to get into that issue now (or ever?). The reason this conversation came back to me was because my recent trawls of online (and desktop) tools has yielded some good examples of tools which do what, I think, good technology should always do - make life simpler and/or do things in a simple, straightforward way. I've also come across a couple of tools, which might please my student friend - they are a bit of a challenge!
Taking the simple ones first, the following are all tools, which have the potential for making teachers' professional (and personal) lives a little simpler.
If you are a fan of online file storage and sharing facilities like me, then you will no doubt have tried several different services and have accounts (and files) scattered across sites, such as DropBox or SugarSync or MobileMe or (for images) Picasa Web Albums. Wouldn't it be good if there was a service which allowed you to access all of these sites together and move files between them - maybe rationalise a bit? There is - Otixo has a simple sign-up process and offers a free basic service which gives access to these sites and more. The interface is straightforward and it seems easy to transfer files between, say, SugarSync and DropBox or download files to your computer. There is a desktop application in development. As most of these services have relatively limited capacities for free storage and sharing, Otixo also seems to offer the possibility of increasing your cloud storage capacity by spreading your online files across several platforms.
If you are a Twitter user, then you will be very aware that, as you follow more people, your timeline will become increasingly full of disparate tweets. Twitter Lists are a way of managing all these tweets, by grouping the people and organisations that you follow under headings and themes, e.g. tweets from local schools, tweets from those interested in educational technology, comedians, etc. The trouble is I haven't found a Twitter client yet that makes managing these lists an easy (or simple) task. TwitBird on iOS does a reasonable job, but is still quite convoluted. TwitlistManager looks promising, however. It give a spreadsheet-style view of all the 'tweeps' you are following and you can assign them to lists by checking boxes. Doesn't seem glitch-free just yet, but there is the potential there to make Twitter much simpler to use and more manageable.
Returning readers of this blog will know that I am enthusiastic about the learning potential of making and editing images. Although its demise is not far away now, despite it terrible interface, I am a fan of Picnik and have been looking for alternatives for personal use and for use in teaching and learning activities. Ideally, an alternative which is simple and easy to use. Tuxpi seems to fit the bill very well. Simply upload an image and click one or more of the Photo Effects buttons below it - each showing a preview of the effect. Results are very professional in appearance and the interface could be used with key stage one upwards.
Photoshop Express Editor from Adobe is available across all mobile platforms and as an online editor. Although it doesn't quite have the simplicity of Tuxpi or the range of effects, it offers basic editing features and some entirely frivolous effects.
Splashup is at the other end of the scale in terms of simplicity and is the first of my 'challenging' tools. It provides a fully featured image editor online should you want one, though I can see little point when desktop applications, such as Paint.NET or PhotoFiltre, are free and much easier to use. Aviary Image Editor would also fall into this category, though you might find it easier to use than I did.
When it comes to tools for teaching and learning, especially for young children, then simplicity and straightforwardness would appear to be a key attribute. The British Council's Learn English site exemplifies this very well. Although intended for learners of English as an Additional Language, it illustrates the point that good practice for EAL is good practice for all learners. Many of the games and activities on the site would be appropriate for developing literacy knowledge and skills for all children. I especially like Storymaker, which motivates writing (and reading) by creating a story from elements chosen by the user. Good stuff.
I shared Steve Wheeler's excellent blog post about 'Bear Pit Pedagogy' with colleagues in an (Education) Faculty this week and received a range of responses, from the wildly enthusiastic to the downright sceptical. The Faculty is embarking on writing modules for a new degree programme at the moment, so I thought it was apposite. One theme that recurred in comments was the difficulty of adopting a 'Bear Pit' approach within a 'compliance culture' in both teacher training and in schools. Also, the retention issues that might result from a 'throwing in at the deep end' approach - Yr 1 straight-from-school undergraduates, who have been used to the support networks offered by sixth form, often struggle within a less supported environment and this type of approach was seen by colleagues as too much too soon. The best comment a colleague made was that he likened the approach in a compliance-conscious environment as being 'Teddy Bear Pit Pedagogy'.
Fundamental to Steve's approach is the idea of getting intending teachers to question some of the theories and orthodoxies that they find in schools and elsewhere. A particular example is the unquestioning and simplistic adoption of learning styles theory as a way of defining how some children learn - vakuous (sic) in the extreme. Similarly, the 'if it's new, it must be good' approach to educational technology and the dismissing of older software and tools as being no longer valuable. A case in point - as an introduction to data handling, I still recommend Heather Govier's 1997 article on the MAPE website as a really useful analysis of educational software and children's learning. The programs she refers to are now literally obsolete (BBC B anyone?), but the thinking prompted by the article is invaluable. The article's message: deep thinking and deep learning is not necessarily prompted by tools with all the latest bells and whistles.
Finally, although I love Weebly (OK, maybe a bit strong), it is a bit frustrating that the site (and this blog) can only be edited on Flash-equipped devices. No way round it at the moment (though there is a Weebly iPhone app in the works), so I have set up tonypickford.livejournal.com as a way of doing some (almost) live blogging when I haven't got laptop or desktop to hand. First post is about a research symposium on Black, Minority and Ethnic Achievement.
And absolutely finally, http://bomomo.com is a truly weird visual toy for creating artworks - quite addictive
_In response to a few questions about software for animation, here are some ideas. Stop Motion Animator (http://www.clayanimator.com/english/stop_motion_animator.html) is basic free software for making stop motion animations. It works with any webcam, but only runs on Windows XP. The software I prefer is I Can Animate, which is now selling at £23.00 for a single user as it is being superseded by version 2 - a real bargain if you have £23.00 to spare! It runs on Mac and Windows. If you have an iPhone (or iPad), there is a version of I Can Animate that works with the device's camera - take a look @ http://www.kudlian.net/kudlian_Software/ICAiOS.html
There are a few online animators, but you can't really do stop motion that way - GoAnimate is one. Another is Fluxtime Studio, which has an online and a desktop version which runs on Mac, Linux and Windows (not Windows 7 though). Xtranormal is a bit eccentric in its characters and settings, but works well. If you just want to create a short animation with a single, talking character then try Voki - which is brilliant! It does text-to-speech with a range of voices and accents as well as allowing audio tracks to be recorded or even phoned in. It now works in 25 languages, so it is a really useful tool for MFL.
Pearltrees is a website and iPad app for visually collecting or 'curating' links you find on the web. It allows you to create networks of ‘pearls’ on screen. Each pearl is a link to a piece of content and you can connect them together into a ‘pearltree’ - a cross between a topic web and a concept map . It seems a little complicated when written down but it makes perfect sense on-screen. Pearltrees can be shared with others and it is easy to find Pearltree networks created by other users.
I have been doing some work on Personal learning Networks (PLNs) recently and Pearltrees is a good example of a component of a PLN: a way of connecting and interacting with learners with similar interests and a way of making new connections and finding new interests. George Siemens's theory of connectivisim underpins the notion of PLNs - stressing the importance of informal, connected learning facilitated by technology and learning as a lifelong pursuit. PLNs can be powerful tools for extending learning, though I am not entirely convinced by some of the tools usually suggested as being essential to a PLN - for example, Facebook is a wonderful tool for social connections, but seems poorly designed for connecting learners.
Twitter is better. its brevity and focus on shared links makes it a perfect tool for connectivism - find a few users with shared interests, follow them and then follow their followers. You will soon have a timeline of tweets full of ideas and links to content that would have taken you ages to find by other means. Delicious has also improved no end recently - related links can now be shared using the concept of Stacks: lists presented in text, media or hybrid formats. Stacks can range from the very general to lists which focus on specific issues and developments. Finally, iPad users should seek out Zite as a starting point for new connections - its a personalised magazine with channels devoted to education and e-learning, amongst many others. As well as online newspaper articles, it links directly to some of the most useful educational blogs, including Steve Wheeler's always throughtful and provocative posts.
Although there are alternatives, such as PhotoFlexer and Tuxpi, it is sad to see Picnik is shutting up shop in April - apparently its features are being wrapped up into Google+. The good news is that, until 19th April, all of its features, including the premium stuff, are free to use! Here's Brough Castle - well and truly Picnik-ed!
Don't know if 24 hours or so qualifies as adequate time for reflection, but I decided I'd jot down some initial thoughts about Michael Goves's BETT 2012 speech today before they got lost amongst everything else I'm doing at the moment. A quick browse though Twitter showed I was actually being quite slow of the mark with several blog posts already making some well argued points. After a quick digression into some fascinating research on coincidences, I happened upon Terry Freedman's Blog post, 'Developments in Education Technology: Reflections on the first day of BETT' and found, by coincidence(?), he was making, amongst others, the very points I wanted to make!
He writes: 'Mr Gove mentioned, as is de rigeur these days, that the current ICT curriculum is boring, and that by dropping the ICT Programme of Study children will no longer need to bored by having to learn Word and Excel. Well, given that these are not mentioned in the Programme of Study, how will dropping it have any effect? Also, given that programming IS in the Programme of Study, but is not usually adequately covered, how will dropping the POS change anything there either?''
Couldn't have put it better myself! From a primary perspective, Ofsted have been going on for years about the same old weaknesses of primary ICT: namely superficial data handling, weak control technology and poor assessment of children's abilities. Without the clear requirements of the programme of study and the assessment support in the National Curriculum (NC Action, anyone?) will these get any better? You could argue that these are not done well because of the outdated PoS, though I would assert that these areas are well covered in the PoS and the only really outdated bit is the Exchanging and Sharing Information strand.
Without the PoS to prompt them, some primary teachers (and schools?) will start to avoid the bits of ICT that are difficult and challenging for them and the children, i.e the stuff that proponents of a more 'Computer Science' approach think are important! This may be no bad thing thing - there is nothing worse than a badly taught lesson on LOGO or yet another tedious attempt to light up the clown's nose and swivel his bow tie using an aging control box! Freedom to use 'to use the amazing resources that already exist on the web' could mean lots of exciting and engaging work with Scratch* or similar. Or it could mean a drift towards pointless web-based drill and practice and tedious online painting packages?
On a lighter note, I have run Mr. Gove's speech through Tagxedo - an interesting alternative to Wordle - and also come across AnswerGarden for the first time: please give me your views (very briefly below!)
* Not a web-based tool, I know, but a free web download.
I have just checked and updated my list of Web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning - now over 50 tools listed with short descriptions. Although mainly tools appropriate for primary-aged children and/or their teachers, many could be used productively by older and younger children. Amongst my latest finds (though they maybe familiar to you?) are PhotoPeach (another tool for making short video sequences from images) and Primary Wall (an online 'sticky notes' board for sharing ideas). The short video below was created in Stupeflix - mentioned in my previous post.
After a slight change of direction in my recent posts - reflections on the National Curriculum Review and sharing some favourite photos - I thought I would return to the main purpose of this Blog in my first post for the new year: namely, sharing useful online resources for teaching and learning.
Stock.XCHNG, a huge gallery of free images, now owned by Getty Images. It provides a useful alternative to other free image sources, such as freeimages.co.uk or pics4learning.com, and subscription services, such as SCRAN. Organised like a paid-for stock photography site, Stock.XCHNG contains over 350,000 images that can be used freely for non-commercial purposes. As with all stock photo sites, there are some fairly mundane photos available alongside some quite striking images - do a search for images of 'London' to see what I mean!
Stupeflix is an interesting alternative to Animoto, in that it can quickly transform a set of images into a video. There are restrictions in the free version which limit its usefulness - no downloads, for example - but, it is very easy to use, has a huge range of music soundtracks (as well as the facility to use your own) and exports directly into YouTube.
Screenr is a brilliant tool for creating short videos of your computer screen and is another tool that works well with YouTube.
And another key document has been published (sneaked out?) this week by DfE. Consultation on the Areas of learning and Early Learning Goals for Foundation Stage was announced on Tuesday. The key documents show a slimmed down (surprise?) set of requirements with a focus on the 'basics'. Learning about technology does get a mention, but references to specifics in the current EYFS documentation (e.g. programmable toys) have disappeared. Should the findings of the Expert Panel Review of the National Curriculum be implemented, this could be the only place in the statutory curriculum where learning with/about technology gets a mention?!
Anyway, as the title says, its the time to wish readers of these ramblings very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. Looking forward to 2012?
A parting shot - this mind/concept map of links and sources for Global Learning and ESD was created in Mind42. An intuitive and useful tool.
Tony Pickford is a tutor and writer on primary education.