Tagged: tools

Scoop.it, SpongeLab and QR codes

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This week I have had some time to explore a few more sites and tools for science teaching and learning. SpongeLab has just launched a new site with graphics, animations, interactive games and a teacher’s section. You can set up classes and save a playlist of activities for students. You and your students have access to a free digital library of scientifically accurate and stunningly beautiful images, graphics, simulations and animations including exciting interactive games such as “History of Biology”, “Build a Cell” and “Build a Body”. SpongeLab uses credits to unlock premium activities, which are earned by time online (or purchased through PayPal).

Another great new resource is “Scoop.it“, which I came across on Twitter. Joe Evans has curated an “iPads in Education” e-magazine from various sites, and I used the tool to produce two Scoop.it titles “Education for Sustainability” and “VCE Biology“. Although the site is in beta, it seems to work really well – even on the iPad, which is not ideal for all purposes (I have found it of limited use in Google+ and blogging). Once you are registered and choose a title, you can select articles from various sources to add to your e-magazine. I was quite chuffed to discover that Lisa Neilsen, writer of “The Innovative Educator“, had mentioned me in her latest post about this tool.

This tool is a great way to introduce a topic to students, compare perspectives and editorial styles or collect resources for a project. I posted the Scoop.it link to my students on our Facebook page, where they can access videos, slideshows and other content that may be blocked at school.

Have you noticed those mysterious black and white squares popping up around the place? QR (quick response) codes are used like bar codes to store information, but have a much greater capacity. They can store over 7,000 characters, including URL’s, names, adresses, phone numbers or other information that can be quickly and easily transferred to a mobile phone or other device with a camera and the appropriate scanning application. Mr Robbo (the PE Geek) wrote about them way back in 2009 and they have been used in Japan since 1994 (according to Wikipedia). A very inventive use of the codes can be seen above, from Flickr, where the Periodic Table of QR Codes takes the user to a video of each element in the periodic table.

Blogging Challenge #6: Embedding a “Nervous System”


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This post is in response to the Teacher’s Blogging Challenge Activity #6 Embedding Media. Back in December last year, Sue Waters asked “What tools do you like to use your students that can be embedded into blogs and other websites like wikis?”. She asked teachers to complete a Google form, itself embedded into the post, listing the top three favourite tools that we like to use with students. This got me thinking – “How can I narrow it down to three?” – and in response I wrote a post titled “My Top Ten Online Tools to Embed in Blogs and Wikis in 2010”. 

So how do we narrow down the choice of tools? Firstly, we need to be looking at the learning outcomes we wish to achieve. Nobody who ever bought a drill actually wanted a drill did they? They wanted a hole! (Did I read that on Twitter recently?). So instead of recycling the previous post, “My Top Ten Tools for Embedding”, I will focus on the learning outcomes that can be achieved with each type of tool, when students use those tools to demonstrate their understanding and skills.


1. Text tools to Embed – Wallwisher, Wordle and Tagxedo

Wallwisher can be used to gain and store feedback from students about a range of questions. It can used like an exit slip – “What are three things you learnt today?” or to plan for future classes – “What didn’t you understand about today’s lesson?”. Wordle and Tagxedo can be used to find out what students already know about a topic and the relative importance of different terminology in their mind. Find out more about how these tools can be used with students in the slideshow presentation embedded above.


2. Concept maps – Bubbl.us and Freemind

I am a great fan of mind-maps and have been using them since before my interest in web2.0 tools. Tony Buzan has been advocating the use of mind-maps for many years. His site lists the many benefits of mindmaps, which include reducing work load, increasing confidence, improving memorising and organisation and working more quickly and efficiently. So to find free, easy-to-use, colourful and accessible mind-mapping software on line has been fantastic. I use mind-maps to introduce a topic, giving students an indication of the scope of the unit of work and/or to summarize and revise a unit. Asking students to create their own mind-map helps them to make connections between concepts and organise their thoughts. By analysing the words students use and the connections between them, a teacher can determine how thoroughly a student grasps the concept. The image above is a screen shot of Rachel’s (Year 8, aged 13) mind map about Simple Machines. It clearly shows that Rachel has a good understanding of the different types of simple machines and gives examples of each type. She knows that there are three different categories of levers and that ramps and wedges are different types of inclined plane. I would be asking her where a ‘screw’ fits in and for a verbal explanation of how each machine reduces the force required to do work.

3. Audio Tools – Audacity, Podcasting, Voicethread

Recording audio allows students to practise reading, speaking and listening skills. In most cases, students should write a script prior to recording their voice, to ensure they can speak clearly, without hesitating and cover all the important information. If they are recording an interview, they should have thoughtful and informed questions to ask of their participant.  An exception might be if students are asked to briefly record their observations of a science experiment or quick “vox-pop” type recordings, for example. Audio files are usually uploaded and shared as links, rather than embedded in edublogs and globalteacher blogs. Although, I am rather envious of my friend Jess’s blog, Technolote, with her ability to embed Soundcloud files. Audio files can be used as an alternative to text with students who have reading/writing difficulties and are great for younger students and language learners.

 4. Digital Storytelling and Video tools – MS Photostory, Windows MovieMaker, YouTube, TeacherTube, Kahootz, Pivot

As with audio, students should write a script and carefully plan a storyboard prior to beginning recording. It helps if students are provided with a rubric and perhaps a past student example of the work required. If you can discuss your expectations with students prior to them starting work, you are less likely to have students waste time down the wrong track. Whether students use photographs, video footage or animations, they should keep the message concise, make sure the sound recording is clear (don’t try to record outside on a very windy day!) and be aware of copyright issues. The 60-Second Science Video competition was a great opportunity for students to produce a short video about a science concept of their choice. Creating a video requires students to think carefully about how they wish to present their information in a way that engages their audience.

5. Surveys, Quizzes and Polls – Google Forms, My Studiyo, Polldaddy



 If students can create a quiz, they can be developing a much deeper understanding of the topic than by completing a test on the same subject. They have to identify the important information and write the questions as well as knowing the correct answers. “MyStudiyo” is a fun tool for students to use to create their own online, interactive quizzes, using images and text, very quickly and easily.

Polls and surveys allow teachers to find out about their students and allow students to gather data about their peers. You can see an example of a survey I created using Google Forms on the “Survey” page of this blog. Creating a survey like this is quick, easy and very useful to get information from students at the beginning of a new year.

 First sign up with your gmail address (I recommend all teachers and students have a gmail account) and select “Google Documents”.  Then click on “Create New” >> and select “Form” in the drop-down box. You will then be able to type in the question and choose whether how you would like the questions formatted – multiple choice, checkboxes, short text response or paragraph text response, choose from a list, scale or grid.You can add as many questions as you need (unlike SurveyMonkey, which has a limit of ten quesitons with the free version) and edit as required. When you have completed the form, you are given the google_docs_form2option to send as an email or embed into web page. The embed option gives you a code, which you can copy and paste into the “HTML” window of your blog. Sometimes the size of the form may not align with your blog size, but the width and length can usually be adjusted in the code. Once students have entered the information, the data can easily be retrieved by going to the spreadsheet in your Google Documents.

I have found Google forms to be a very useful tool for collecting data for maths investigations (surveys for graphing and probability for example); self-assessment;  for end-of-semester and year surveys of my teaching practise; for award nominations and for gathering preferences for activities for school camps and excursions.

How do you think you can use embedded mindmaps, audio, video, quizzes or surveys in your class? How do you think your students can benefit from using embedded media in their blogs? Sue Waters surveyed  8 and 9 year old students and found out about the media they like most to embed on their blogs, which she wrote about in this post, “BeFunky, PhotoPeach and SketchFu – It’s what Student’s want to do!”.

How Many Different Ways to Create an Avatar?


Collage created with Photovisi

An avatar is a very important component of your on-line presence, used to identify you in social networking sites such as blogs, Voicethread, Facebook and Twitter. As an adult, I prefer to use a photograph of myself so people can recognise me, but our students should be using images that represent them, but they cannot be identified from. At the beginning of the school year, it is a fun activity to ask students to create their own avatar and save it, so it can be used throughout the year on different sites. Here are some different ways to create an avatar, which usually need to be resized to about 100 x 100 pixels (you can use the free software “Irfanview” to do this):

Using your own Image:

  1. Draw a picture of yourself in “MS Paint”, or another simple drawing program such as “Doodle”, and take a screenshot. This one is especially good for primary students.
  2. Draw, paint or sketch a picture of yourself on paper (or ask a friend to!) and take a photo.
  3. Use a photo of yourself taken from an unusual angle – your foot, hands or back of your head for example.
  4. “Be Funky” at  can be used to alter a head shot. You can change the contrast, make an etching, convert to black and white, crop and rotate the photo to render the image unidentifiable. “Be Funky” has a huge number of free options, as well as the premium offerings. (Bottom middle)
  5. “PhotoFunia” is another great site with lots of options to alter your own image. You can become a criminal on a “Wanted” poster, a billboard star or an artist’s model.

Cartoon Avatar Creator Sites:

  1. “Build Your Wild Self” (bottom right) is a really fun one for young students and animal lovers – you can create avatars with animal parts, like elephant ears, giraffe legs and crocodile tails. I think this is my favourite one to use, but it is Flash-based, so it can’t be used on Touch devices (ipods, iphones and ipads.)
  2. “WeeMee” for cute cartoons (middle image), but you do need to register with an email address.
  3. “Doppel Me” for comic representations (top right), again you need to register with an email address.
  4. Make a Lego avatar (top left) is a good safe and simple to use site for younger students.
  5. Portrait Illustration Maker is another good, safe site for school students. (bottom right)
  6. Portrait Icon Maker  – Very similar to the above – safe, free and suitable for students.
  7. Simpson’s Character Creator – Fun, but students need to sign up and agree to advertising.
  8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid avatar creator –  For fans of the book – Go Wimp Yourself!
  9. Picassohead – Very artisitic, easy to use and safe for students.
  10. Create your own Superhero – safe and good for middle to senior school students (need to register and sign in).
  11. The Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge has a more comprehensive list (including some of the above sites).

To make this a more meaningful activity for students, ask them to create two or more avatars, using different methods and then review the products and processes. Which avatar do they like best and why? Which site or process did they enjoy using the most and why? Which do they think would be the best for junior primary/middle years/senior school students and why?

21+ More digital tools for the 21st Century Learner

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This past week I have been applying for various grants and awards to fund my attendance at several conferences in 2011. On March 17th at the Melbourne Museum is the “Toolbox for Environmental Change Forum 2011 – Using Technology for Sustainability“. On April 18th and 19th, on the Gold Coast, is the Slide2Learn Education Event for iPad, iPod and iPhones in education, with Tony Vincent as keynote speaker. Last year’s event in Shepparton was a unique mobile learning event that kickstarted my interest in all things ‘i’. Then from the 19th to 23rd July, in Brisbane, is the 6th World Environmental Education Congress. I was lucky enough to attend the 4th WEEC in Durban, South Africa, as a representative of the Australian Education Union. It was an exciting and inspiring event, with environmental educators from around the globe presenting research and workshops on education for sustainability.

One of the awards criteria was to “provide evidence of exemplary and innovative teaching practice with reference to the e5 instructional model”, which led to the above presentation.

Teaching Science to 21st Century Learners


This is the topic of my 20 minute presentation to the K12 Online Conference next month. As part of my research I asked several of my science teacher colleagues what their favourite web2.0 tools were. A couple mentioned Voicethread as a great way to share images and/or video, as well as student voices. Google Docs was also mentioned as a useful tool for collaborating on documents and reports, although titanpad.com  has the advantage that any number of people can edit simultaneously, and watch change in real time – apparently with the changes made by others visible more quickly than Google Docs.

Blogging, using platforms such as Edublogs and Posterous, allows student-friendly places for ongoing discussions and communication outside the regular classroom environment. The blog also becomes the place to share all the various types of user-produced content on the web (via podcasts, YouTube, photo sharing sites, slideshows and quizzes). I would definitely recommend blogging, as that is the way I first started my e-learning journey and how I have met (virtually) friends from around the world. Wikispaces is also a very useful platform for collaborating and sharing student-created content. It can be used specifically for a collaborative project or as an ongoing resource for a particular class, with links to current work.

My video “Teaching Science to 21st Century Learners” includes interviews with students, screen casts of web2.0 tools and examples of student work. It will be available at the K12 Online Conference from the 25th October. I will also be presenting on Elluminate on Tuesday, 5th October with a session called “A Digital Toolbox for 21st Century Science Learners”.  The presentation starts at 3.45pm (find your time here). Find the link at the Guide to Innovation website – Tech Talk Tuesday’s are moderated by Anne Mirtchin at the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Virtual Conference Centre. I will tweet the link with the #scichat tag when it becomes available and immediately prior to the Elluminate session.

 What do you think are the defining characteristics of 21st century learners? Please leave a comment below.

iPods in middle years science education

ipod with lego men

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Since attending the Slide2Learn conference, and being the holidays with plenty of time to play around, I have been exploring the possibilites of using our class set of iPods in the science laboratory. Even without the applications mentioned in previous posts ( Technoscience at Slide2Learn conference, Our Solar System and Free iPod Touch applications for maths and science learners), there are several very useful tools that are pre- installed.

note_taking The note taking application allows the user to tap in quick notes, saved for later use. the advantage of using an ipod over a netbook, laptop or desktop is, of course, it’s portability and it is very quick to open. This is ideal for taking  notes on excursions:

– recording data from water testing, results of quadrat or transect studies;

– adaptations of plants at the Botanical gardens, animal behaviour at the zoo;

– names, (you could also use the Contacts for this) times and dates (likewise, with the Calender) for later reference  – an external memory-jogger!

voice_recorder The voice recorder, an uber-modern “dictaphone”, allows very good quality voice recording  with the supplied earphones and tiny microphone. More sophisticated options for recording are available as acessories, but would only be necessary for podcasting and more serious recordings. I hope to use this tool with students who are very reluctant writers and those with poor literacy skills. As well as all the above uses, a voice recorder will be useful for recording observations of laboratory and outdoor experiments. Instead of writing up a proper experimental report, students can create a digital story using the microphone and drawings or photographs. So, the student will record the materials and equipment, method or process, results, observations and conclusions. The recording can then be sent, quickly and easily, by email to the student’s own email address, the teachers address and/or to a class “Posterous” account. Posterous is an online blogging platform which allows posting by email to a unique web address.

ipod_clockAs well as a world clock, which allows you to add the time in different cities around the world, this tool has an alarm, stopwatch and timer – three useful devices in the science laboratory. And don’t forget the calculator! So, if your students have these devices in their pockets, encourage them to use them for educational purposes as well!

A UK study by Becta Schools concluded that “The iPod can be a flexible tool for students to create their own resources and have access to these resources anytime, anywhere. They can make audio notes, PowerPoint presentations and multiple choice quizzes, thereby having a variety of tools to reinforce their learning.”

Like trying to knit with a knife and fork?

My action research project with the Knowledge Bank: New Generation Collaborative Learning and Research Project is about social networking and maths and science learning in the middle years. First, what is social networking? My own definition would include sites that allow participants to upload text, photos, videos, audio and other items they have created, to share with others and allow comments from other participants. From a student perspective, it gives them an authentic audience, apart from their teachers, parents or classmates. Due to this wider audience, I believe it also makes students more reflective about their work and more inclined to do their best. Some of the social networking tools useful in educational contexts include:

  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Nings, Elgg (like MySpace, Facebook and Bebo)
  • Scribd, skrbl (collaborative text)
  • Google docs (collaborative spreadsheets)
  • Flickr, Photobucket, Picassa (images)
  • Teachertube, You Tube, Mathtrain (videos)
  • Slideshare, Slide, Picturetrail, Animoto (moving images)
  • Podcasting, Voicethread (audio)

This page has a collection of various web 2.0 sites, many of which would be considered social networking tools. http://learningweb2.wikispaces.com/Step+Two (Thanks Marg for this link).

But, are all of these tools applicable to maths and science learning? Is trying to use these tools like trying to knit with a knife and fork – they are great tools but for a different purpose, and you end up with an inferior product that is more difficult and takes longer to produce?

Part of the appeal of web 2.0 is it’s new and different, but when it is used often, will it lose this appeal and become another ‘chore’ for students? Hopefully, my research will help me to answer some of these questions – stay tuned!