Friday, June 4, 2010

School Technology Websites I Like: Prezi

I have a confession to make -- I hate Powerpoint presentations.

Maybe it is because I have had to sit through so many bad school presentations that when a student or teacher gets up to do a Powerpoint presentation my skin starts to crawl and I look for excuses to leave the room. I think you know what I mean:

- ugly slides
- too many bullet points
- bad graphics
- sound effects
- too many transitions

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

So imagine my surprise last month when I was sitting in a class having to watch student presentations on the religion of Islam when a student got up and gave a presentation like I had never seen before...

It was so very cool, the only way to explain it is for you to see it yourself. I immediately got up after the presentation and asked the student what it was. He simply replied - Prezi.

What the crud was Prezi?

I went back to my classroom and looked it up. Sure enough it is a new Web 2.0 website that allows you to make what I call "anti-Powerpoint" presentations. Prezi Website

WORD OF WARNING! Like most new school technology: Prezi is like a superpower, if it gets into the wrong hands it can be used for evil, I have seen Prezi presentations that are so bad they can make the audience car sick. So be careful with it!

To see Prezi in action just watch this TED talk from James Geary on metaphors:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

iPad Report - Games and Learning

I should have titled this blog post -- First We Play, Then We Learn.

Yesterday I had the opportunity of sharing my iPad with a group of new middle school students at a summer camp I am teaching. You should have seen the room light up when I took the iPad out of my bag. It was like I held in my hand the Holy Grail itself. The students practically fell down and worshiped it.

I wanted to show them how cool it was and how it was going to change education, things like the iBooks and the great educational apps that I have, but all they wanted to see were the games.

"Show us the games Mr. Flick," they all shouted.


At first I was sort of ticked about this. I wanted to yell "There is so much more to an iPad than games!" But last night I started to think about what happened...

You see, games are everything to these young pre-teens. They live and breath video games. Knowing this can change how teachers can manage these new school technologies like iPads or other PODs (Personally Owned Devices). One of the greatest classroom management strategies is the "preferred activity" of in other words what the students wish they were doing instead of your lesson. I can imagine with iPads in the classroom a teacher can simply say, "Okay class as soon as you are done the XYZ assignment, and I have checked it, you may have 5 minutes of free time on your iPads." Not only would the work be done fast, but it would also be done right, since the teacher is checking it. Classroom efficiency could skyrocket with the iPad!

So back to my story... I showed them the incredible games that the iPad has and then they could finally focus on the educational apps that I had to show them. It was like I had to prove that there were really good games with really cool graphics before they could sit back and take in the rest of the message.

In the end they really were blown away with all of the things I showed them on my iPad, but I had to first start with games.

My lesson from this is such: when it comes to school technology and students -- learning follows interest, and interest usually follows fun. If we show them how fun something can be, then we have then hooked for learning more about it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Power of USB Microscopes

A few summers ago I was asked to teach at a summer camp for young gifted and talented students. The class I was teaching was CSI, so the students got to play with all sorts of things like evidence and special equipment. I had almost everything I needed to teach the class except a microscope.

I was working with a budget so I knew that I couldn't just go out and get a $1000 school microscope that I was used to having. So in a crunch I went to a local toy store and bought a $70 Digital Blue USB microscope and boy was I shocked when I started to use it.

First off, USB microscopes are way cooler for students to use than those regular laboratory-type ones. This one was light and plastic, with see-through parts so you could see all the insides of the microscope.

Next, the software that runs the microscope is the best part about it. You can turn on the top or bottom light, record video or just take a photo. Try doing that with a regular school microscope.

You can even pop the microscope off the stand and use it on a person's head to check for lice!

I used these features in my CSI class; students had to find certain parts of key evidence and then take a photo and email me a copy of the photo. For example, they had to match dirt found on a victim to six different dirt samples. This little $70 microscope did the job.

The lesson that I learned from this is that school technology does not have to be expensive to be good. It is not always the rule as you get what you pay for. Sometimes the best solutions to a school technology problem can be the cheapest.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Students With Cameras

One day when I was sitting through student presentations where the students were showing photographs of themselves taken by their parents and themselves, I kept thinking that students can take better photos than these (so could parents for that matter). So starting in the third grade I began teaching the basics of digital photography.

I did this mostly for selfish reasons; I did not want to sit through another presentation filled with bad photos. You know the ones...

- out of focus
- bad lighting
- bad layout
- bad anything else

It was like I blogged weeks ago about students and school technology; "Just because a student owns technology, it does not mean that they know how to properly use it." Besides, it gave me a chance to teach the 21st Century Skill of creativity.

So I sat my students down and taught them how to take proper photos, passed out the cameras and instructed them to stay in my computer lab and practice what they had just learned. We then went through their photos, instructed them how to improve and then tried it again and again until they got it right. Just like a teacher would do with a new math concept, but in this case a tech concept.

Here is what I got from 4th and 5th grade students...


Remember, students can do incredible things if we just ask them to and hold them to a standard of quality that has been expected in their other subjects like reading, writing and math. If we don't allow students to write poorly then why do we allow them to use school technology poorly?

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Roadblock with Critical Thinking

I remember the first time I set up a LEGO robotics lab in a middle school and how surprised we were with our initial results...

Before setting up the robotics lab we had agreed to the 21st Century Skills that we wanted the students to learn. Skills like; creativity, innovation, collaboration and above all critical thinking. We spent thousands on converting an old wood-working shop to be an new state-of-art LEGO lab. In one end of the lab we set up a viewing area where we could watch the students work -- so we kind of turned the students into little lab rats. Each class would have 20 students for a quarter so we could let every 7th grade student take the class.

The students were excited about the new robotics program and rushed into the lab on the first day to start learning how to build and program the little robots. After weeks of learning the skills it was now time for students to solve the challenges that were in the testing area of the lab. Some were simple and others were really hard challenges. I think the students at one time thought we were the evil scientists playing some sort of sick game.

The first day of the challenges was hard, most students through up their hands in frustration. They would ask where the program and designs for the robots to solve these challenges? We explained that they were none, they had to design and program their robot from the skills they have learned over the past few weeks.

What? No answer key! Imagine the possibilities!

I remember one challenge in particular, student had to back their robot into a garage and then drive out and select the red ball, not the blue, and drive back to the starting point.

After the first quarter of students not one challenge had been completed and most of the students left the program discouraged by the challenges. At first we thought that we had made a terrible mistake with these young students and we thought about changing the class and giving them the answers to the challenges. But we thought we would let it remain the same for the year and see what happens.

However, at the end of the second quarter something magical started to happen. A group of the students had completed 3 of the 5 challenges. It was like a little dam in their brains was starting to crack. These challenges were possible to complete.

By the end of the third quarter all the groups had completed all of the challenges and were now competing for fastest times.

At the end of the last quarter, the students were complaining that the challenges were not hard enough.

So what was the difference between the first and last group of students?

The number of classes was the same, the lessons and challenges were the same.  The difference was in critical thinking, the first group had never had to use this skill before and it was tough for them to imagine completing the challenges, which taught us adults an important lesson about teaching students critical thinking skills, you must teach them to imagine and that all tasks are solvable, nothing is impossible.

Einstein theorized the laser 60 years before it was invented.

We need to remember when introducing new school technology that our students can do amazing things if we just give them the chance and the PUSH they need.

As adults we are just as guilty...

"5th graders can not make movies."

"14 year-olds cannot develop iPod apps."

"2nd graders should not blog"

Shall I go on?

Go ahead, jump in the deep end of school technology and students, you might just be surprised at what you might see.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The School Technology Podcast - Episode 002

Here is my most recent podcast, this one is about my opinions on Internet or Cyber Safety.

Go to my podcasting page

Friday, May 28, 2010

School Technology Future - Looking Back

On Wednesday I attended the graduation of the kindergarten students in my school. The kids were all dressed up and we watched a slideshow of their past year in school and most parents cried.

Meanwhile, there I was thinking about their future.

These students will graduate in the year 2022 and we have no idea what their future will look like, which is why 21st Century Skills are so important. I don't know what school technology will look like in 12 years, let alone what jobs and careers there will be for these young students.

Then I started to think back 12 years ago -- about thing we use everyday today that were not even invented when today's high school graduates were in kindergarten (1998). Things like...

DVDs - we were still using VHS tapes.
Broadband Internet - all we had was dial-up.
GPS Navigation - we used an Atlas that was usually lost in the trunk of our car.
iPod / iPhone - cell phones didn't even have cameras on them yet.
Google - although it was being worked on, most people used Yahoo and Netscape.
WiFi - again, all we had was dial-up.

Get the point?

This was just off the top of my head. Wow! How the world has changed.

Which is why I do not chase technology in my tech class, instead, I focus on skills. Skills like creativity and innovation are timeless and do not expire. Teaching a child to be creative and innovative will get them employed no matter what the latest technology is.  Which is why you will hear me say over and over again in my workshops that we need to teach skills and not technology.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Problem with PODs

Yesterday I talked about using student's Personally Owned Devices (PODs) in schools and how great it is to have students use their own technology instead of schools having to buy it for them. Today I want to talk about the down side of this idea.

When I spoke about this idea in Florida this past January there were a few hecklers in the crowd (most of them from IT). Most of their questions revolved around getting sued.

Here were their concerns and my answers.

Damage: "What happens if a student breaks one of these PODs at school, or it gets stolen?"
My 14 year-old son takes a $200 graphing calculator to school everyday and no one expects the school to buy him a new one if it gets broken or stolen. I don't think we should expect anything different from a $300 iPod Touch or an iPad.

Bad Things: "What if the student has something bad on their POD, like naughty pictures that they downloaded at home and now are showing them at school?"
What would we do if a student had a pencil and drew a naughty picture? Or, what would we do if a student brought a printed picture of something inappropriate to school? We would send them to the office and they would get into trouble. Same thing with PODs. What I think the root of this concern is that by law students need to use "filtered" Internet at school, but their Internet might not be filtered at home so schools worry they could get into trouble. We are only responsible for the Internet AT SCHOOL. Let's compare this to books; at school we make sure students have appropriate books to read but we have no control over what they might have access to once they leave our building.

Viruses: "A student could very easily and accidentally bring in a virus that could take out the entire school's network."
The answer to this one is easy. Don't let them onto the school's network. The only thing that PODs should be able to get on to is the Internet. Have them store everything in the cloud and not on your school servers.

Games: "If we allow PODs they will just play games on them every chance they get." 
Again, back to the pencil and paper -- we don't allow student to play tic-tac-to every chance they get, the same would go for PODs. NO GAMES DURING WORK TIME. Instead use games as a motivator, once the student's work is done and approved, then they can have a little free time. You would be surprised at how much more work will get done in our schools.

The bottom line is that PODs are coming wether we like it or not they are the new school technology that could save our budgets. So at least we should prepare ourselves by being ready with policies and practices for when they do come.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Future of School Technology is PODs

I believe the future of school technology will be in Personally Owned Devices or PODs. This has actually been brewing for decades, but now is finally the time when it is ready.

Let me start with a quick history lesson: back when the idea of public education for children came about, school always had more "stuff" than individual homes. Stuff like books and things, a home would only have a few books, where as a school could have thousands.

Remember when computers got started? They were the size of rooms and were housed at some of the country's greatest schools and universities. Students would sign up to take computer science classes and share these big mammoth machines that cost millions to own.

Everyone was happy

But something quietly started to happen in the eighties...

Back in the mid eighties was the start of the personal computer revolution, suddenly students went home to "stuff" better than their school had. Students would use a computer at school that could barely do simple math but go home and play on their Commodore 64, my friend even had a Texas Instrument computer that could talk!

The problem was that we couldn't exactly take our computers to school. So schools were safe and sound with their antiquated computers and we just accepted it. Until the iPod Touch...

The iPod Touch changed everything. Now students had the Internet and over 100,000 apps in their pocket and a revolution is now waiting in the wings. Now that students can take their computers to school in their pocket what are we going to do about it?

Smart school districts have started to embrace this knowing that it helps their bottom line. Think about it: why buy students computers when they already own them (PODs) and are willing to bring them to school. Just give them some filtered WiFi, have them sign a contract and Shazam! they're happy.

Tomorrow I will talk about some obstacles to this ideas of PODs.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Look into my crystal ball of school technology.

Often when I work with school districts someone will inevitably ask me to predict the future of school technology. "What's going to be the next big thing?" They ask like I have a crystal ball that I can just look into and figure out where districts should spend their technology money. The truth is I don't, but I do live and breath school technology so I guess it is a fair question.

So here is my list what a standard 21st Century Classroom should have:

1) Interactive whiteboards paired with LCD projectors. The projectors should be permanently mounted to avoid damage and the annoyance of always having to align the interactive whiteboard. More and more teachers are getting these every year and lessons are slowly getting converted over to embrace this technology.

2) Document cameras go right along with number 1 since you should already have a LCD projector. Teachers hate giving up their old overhead projectors at first but then after a few months they love, yes love, their document cameras -- because you can put practically everything underneath it: calculators, books, dissected frogs, you name it.

3) Classroom sound systems, hopefully the days of little back-row-Sally not being able to hear her teacher are coming to an end. Since so much of what happens in a classroom is auditory, like the teacher talking, watching a video, listening to music, etc. we need to make sure every student has a fair chance of hearing what is going on.

1) Go Web 2.0 whenever possible, if there is a choice between a math CD or a math website -- go with the website every time.

2) Online professional development, pay for a good quality company like and reap the benefits of not having to sit down and train each and every teacher individually, let the online PD do it for you. Let's say your teachers are struggling with how to create their first podcast, all you do is assign a few online lessons and check back in a few weeks to see how their podcasting went. You can't expect teachers to use new technology unless you plan on training them how to use it.

That's all for today -- tomorrow I will tell you about some cool future technologies that I see coming over the horizon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The School Technology Podcast - Episode 001

Episode Number One of The School Technology Podcast is done and ready for your enjoyment.

Topics discussed:
The  iPad and battery life and printing.
Did the iPad kill the netbook market?
Is Wikipedia so evil?

Click here to go to my PodBean page.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Teaching with iPads the Movie (Take Two)

Since the quality of the online video last week about teaching with iPads turned out so poorly I decided to shoot it again so that you could see the apps on the iPad screen. I go through a few of the apps that I feel would work great in our schools and classrooms.

Video Number 1

Video Number 2

Video Number 3

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chasing School Technology

Many times I feel like I am just chasing school technology, an idea that I am never going to catch.

The world of school technology changes everyday so I look for hardware and software that has the longest classroom life possible. If I can get three to four years out of technology I feel successful -- not guilty.

Sometimes I get emails from media/tech people complaining that they had a piece of hardware for only five years and now it needs to be replaced. Or better yet, "We have been using that math software for only ten years."

Come on people! Ten years. This is technology for crying out loud.

Trust me, by the time my hardware or software are getting over three years I am itching to get new.

We need to accept the idea that every time we buy new school technology, we need to budget to replace it in three to four years. For example, let's say your school just dumped $30,000 into new laptops, what are you doing about replacing them in four years? We always need to be thinking about replacing expired technology in our schools, instead of being surprised every time it comes up again.

When I work with administrators about this I usually get them to commit to putting some money aside every year for this very purpose. I ask them to show me what they are doing to keep their school technology fresh and current.

So put your running shoes on and get chasing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Just Who Is the Teacher Here?

Technology is the one subject being taught in school where the students have the possibility of knowing more than their teachers.

And that scares us.

Can you imagine being a history teacher and suddenly a student puts up their hand, "Mr. Flick, I think that you have your facts wrong about the Civil War."? And if it did happen you would start to re-think your career choice. In all other school subjects there are very defined roles as who is the teacher and who is the student -- something that doesn't exist in teaching the world of school technology.

I get corrected by my students all the time, and thanks to years of therapy, I am finally able to accept it.

As a tech teacher you must always be ready to let one of your student take over and become the teacher, which means you become the student. We can learn so much from our students if we just learn to work with it and not against it.

Case in point: the other day I had to ask a group of 4th grade students; "The Flip video camera is stuck and won't turn off, what's the deal?" Sure enough a student who personally owns one tells me that I unplugged it too soon from my computer and I need to take out the batteries to reset it. Problem solved.

So check your pride at the door and start team teaching with your students -- trust me, you'll like it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What is the deal with the Sony Rocket Project?

Months ago I saw the ad on YouTube for the Sony Rocket Project and got really excited at the possibility of high school students launching an actual rocket into space. Sure, I could see through the PR campaign by Sony and Intel to prove that their new laptop had the computing power necessary to build and launch a rocket, but high school students putting rockets into space, what's not to like?

So my students and I followed all the blogs and videos anxiously awaiting the day of the launch.

5... 4... 3... 2... 1...


There was a delay due to weather, but I could be patient. But then days turned into weeks and still nothing.

There were weeks without any news, just the post that said that the delay was due to weather. I followed the so-called jet stream trouble and I knew the day that it was no longer over their launch site and still nothing. From what I can understand from the few cryptic posts on the website -- the team has lost the window of opportunity for launch.

Now what?

Well Sony and Intel, good luck digging your way out of this one. It was to be their big launch of the super computer built especially for students and schools. However, they have just learned the biggest lesson when it comes to using school technology -- nothing goes like you plan. So my heart goes out to you. I, like many of you, have been there. So buck up and get that rocket into space.

I still have my fingers crossed for the students, and it you are taking votes...


Can't wait for summer.

Like many teachers I look forward to my summers off.

Not that I get to go fishing or things like that. Instead, this is when I get to go around the country and talk about school technology. I usually give about four or five different presentations over and over again as I go from district meeting to convention. And although I love to give presentations, there is something more...

What I like most about my summers are the ideas I get.

For example, last summer when I was speaking about student filmmaking, a had a group of tech and media teachers come up to me after the presentation and we started sharing ideas. Things that I had never considered before. We exchanged contact information and to this day we still follow each other's work. In fact, just this week when I posted the 5th grade movie, I got an email from this new friend of mine telling me about how he showed the video to his middle school students and challenged them: "This is being done by elementary students -- you guys can do better!" Which is almost exactly what I told my students a few months ago. "Come on kids, we can beat these middle schoolers."

I am a big believer in the sharing of information, ideas, lesson plans, etc. Which is why I started this blog, I wanted a place for tech and media teachers to get together and find the best practices and ideas for what we do.

I am planning on blogging all summer, but the format will change slightly -- I am mostly going to be focused on workshops. Everything from claymation to macro digital photography.

And one more thing... if I am in your neck of the woods this summer, make sure to stop by and say hello.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Teaching with iPads Live

Well my first experience using free to broadcast my live iPad demonstration was a little hit and miss.

Hit: It was really easy to use. I just logged in and clicked "Start Broadcast" the website found my webcam and microphone and started to broadcast.

Miss: The video quality was really bad, mostly my fault I suspect. I was trying to video a projection screen and my cheap little webcam couldn't make it look good.

Using school technology like live Internet broadcasting is sometimes like this. You try it a little -- learn, and then try it again and try to make it better. I am going to order a better camera and come up with a better system so expect to see better quality in the future.

Thanks for your support.

If you want to watch the recording click on the link below:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Teaching with iPads Demo Tomorrow

Last month my district bought me an iPad to test in my classroom. Well, they are now wanting a report on the things that I have found out about teaching with iPads.

Tomorrow (May 19th) at 4:00 PM (mountain time, USA) I will give my demonstration. I am planning on having the demonstration broadcast on if anyone is interested in checking it out. 

Movie Making with Students

Last week we finally wrapped up shooting of our annual 5th grade movie project. The movie project begins with the students having a story writing competition, I they select the best story and the students make a movie based on the story. This year's movie is based on Bobby E.'s story that involves cookies, zombies, and action. Stats: 3 weeks of shooting makes 2 hours of footage which equals a nine minute movie. Check out the bloopers, they are really funny. Just so we are clear about this -- this movie 100% student produced. The only thing done by an adult is the editing.



Monday, May 17, 2010

Teaching with iPads Demonstration

I will be demonstrating the things that I have learned about using the iPad in schools this Wednesday, May 19th at 4 PM (US Mountain Time). I will use Ustream to broadcast my demonstration so everyone is welcome to check it out. Please email me any questions that you might have before hand.

I will post the exact information that you'll need to watch the Ustream on Wednesday morning.

See you then.

No Podcast Today

I know that you were all looking forward to episode number 1 of The School Technology Podcast, but it just didn't work out.

I had Darren Atwood, a high school art and technology teacher, from Alberta, Canada and Kristin Tarnas, a fifth grade teacher from Hawaii all connected and being recorded but I was just not happy with the sound quality. I don't know if it was just the distance between us, or the WiFi, or what.

I am going to make a few phone calls this week to see what I can do to improve things and we'll try again next week.

If any of you out there might be able to help, here are our specs: We were all using MacBooks and iChat. I think we were all on WiFi (which might be the culprit) and I used GarageBand to record it all. The problem was that the audio kept dropping, so part of sentences would be missed.

Thank  you for your patience and hopefully you'll be able to hear us next week.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Are You More Techie Than a PSD Fourth-Grader?

Here are the videos of the presentation that I gave at the Poudre School District Foundation's annual fundraising breakfast. I wanted to showcase the Digital Educator Program (DEP) that the foundation supports so I got fourth grade students from three different schools in my district to show off their school technology skills. Watch the videos and see if you are more techie than my fourth grade students.

Part 1

Part 2

Friday, May 14, 2010

The School Technology Podcast

While up in Canada this past weekend I met up with an old friend (a fellow edtech geek) and we started talking about school technology, of course. After spending hours talking about everything from iPads to student music videos we decided that what we needed was a podcast about all these cool things we were talking about.

So I put the word out on a couple of Nings that I am a member of, asking for people who wanted to be panelists and discuss the world of educational technology. I got back a great response and I have put together some great shows ideas that we will record each Sunday night for the next couple of months.

My goal is to produce a podcast that is about 20 minutes long and has people from all over talking about fresh ideas and news regarding the different technology that we use in our schools -- success stories mostly, but we will talk about some things that haven't works as well.

If you have any ideas for subjects that we could talk about or if you would like to be a panelist, just email me.

Please come back Monday and listen to our first school technology podcast.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blogging from the top of the Rockies

Last November my wife took a group of middle school students to Nicaragua to do some service work, she also took my 13-year-old son. During the weeks that they were gone I would check the school's website for any update as to what they were doing. I must of checked in on them at least 5 times a day. It was great to see photos and read the blog about their adventures.

This week it was my turn to return the favor...

This week I went along with the annual field trip into the mountains of Colorado to teach our 5th grade students about ecology and outdoor living. Every day I would blog about what we were doing and I would upload some photos. I thought a few parents would find this fun to follow along. Little did I know how they would respond.

Here is the math: we took 46 students, which means 46 families could possibly read the blog, if they each checked in 5 times a day that would be 230 "hits" to my blog per day. When I got home and checked my blog's stats I had over 900 hits a day!

What does this mean? Parents want to be connected to their kids -- they loved being able to check in and see that they were up to. I think the fact that we got over a foot of snow dumped on us (in May) helped because they just wanted to know that we were okay. Using a school technology like a blog allows us to be connected in a valuable and important way to the families of our students.

Check out my Classroom Blog to see for yourself.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The evils of the Audience of One

I have been ranting about the evils of the "audience of one" for a few years now, but in case you haven't heard about this I shall explain...

Often students are asked to do great projects that are only seen by their teacher or as I call it: the audience of one. Sure they might take it home to show their parents but the students of the 21st Century want so much more.

A lot of the project that are done at my school are posted online. This changes everything. When student realize that the world might see their work, they really step up their game. Some might say that I am crazy for posting the work of elementary students online, but I am not, in fact I am just the opposite. I take the online safety of my students very seriously and I balance that with the student's need to be creators of web content. We constantly review our web safety guidelines as we work on digital projects and in return I get the most amazing results. As you know from previous blogs, we have over 2000 subscribers on iTunes of our daily podcast.

The other night we hosted a red carpet night at the school where we showcased all of the digital video work using different school technology that is done at our school. Projects like claymation, animation, web-shows and our 5th grade movie. Not only were our parents blown away by the incredible work of our students but I think the students were really amazed at what impact their work could have on an audience. They made people laugh, cry and take notice. Something magical happens when a crowd does a standing ovation to something that the student was a part of.

So please, with every chance you get, give your students a larger audience for their projects than just you and your classroom -- you'll be surprised at what you get back.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The iPad in Schools - Week 4

I have finally started to read books on my iPad. The first book I bought was The Element by Ken Robinson, a brilliant book about students and creativity.

First off, buying the book was a breeze. I went to the iBooks bookstore, browsed around for a few minutes, then downloaded samples of about six or seven books. I read the samples and then decided on the book I just mentioned. It took about 10 seconds for it to download.

Reading on the iPad is beautiful to say the least. The screen is clean and sharp, however it sucks in bright daylight. You can adjust the size of the type as well as the screen brightness to find the settings that you like the best.

I have tried to read "ebooks" on my laptop and I have hated it every time. But there is something completely different about reading on an iPad, it is hard say, but it just feels more natural.

The iPad also has a feature that allows me to highlight and bookmark text (see photo above), now if it could just let me dog-ear some pages it would be perfect.

Students are going to love reading on the iPad, truly a piece of school technology to keep your eye on over the next few months. Imagine a student with hundreds of books and textbooks in their iPads that they can access and search at anytime, it is going to be great.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Quest for Free School Technology Software

This summer I am going to reevaluate every piece or our current school technology software looking for any that I can replace with free online Web 2.0. Everything from animation to drawing applications.

Here is an example: up until last year we paid a hefty fee to use the Microsoft Office product line, applications like Word, Excel and Powerpoint in our school. But now we use Google Docs -- a free online version similar to the before mentioned apps.

I have a feeling that Google Docs is just the beginning...

Apparently I am not the only one thinking about this. (CNET New Article)

Friday, May 7, 2010

School Technology I Use: Atomic Learning Report 1

Being 42 years-old and a digital immigrant, I need every trick I can find to keep up with the digital natives that surround me.

My secret? I cheat.

Now before you get all judgmental about a teacher cheating, let me explain...

The other day I got an email asking me about how I podcast. As you already know, my students podcast every day at my school. 

My answer -- I use Atomic Learning.

I have been a subscriber to Atomic Learning for the past four years, and it has saved my bacon so many times I have lost count. You see, Atomic Learning has what they call "Just in Time Learning" which allows me to look up almost any subject and watch a short tutorial and voila! I now know how to do it.

Just in time learning is great.

I remember a few years ago when I was teaching web design in high school and I had to do something that I had never done before in Dreamweaver, I just logged on to my Atomic Learning account, looked through the library of training, found what I needed and then taught it to my students the next day.

I think it was Einstein who once said that you didn't need to know everything, you just needed to know who to ask. When I don't know something, I ask Atomic Learning. I bet use it three to four times a week.

I have used Atomic Learning for all of the new school technology that I use and integrate into my classrooms. Everything from how to make graphs in Excel to how to make this blog. So there, you now know my secret to my great wisdom and knowledge. Don't tell me principal, she still thinks that I am really that smart. But I guess she will know soon enough because we getting a subscription to Atomic Learning for the entire school for next year.

I'll keep you posted on how that goes, I know that the students and teachers are going to love it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Mighty Flip Video Camera

For years I have been doing video work with my students. Something that has brought me much joy and a lot of pain. Please remember I work with elementary-aged students.

In the past, working with conventional video cameras, I have had the following problems. See if you can relate:

Cables, cables, cables, it seems that each camera comes with a different cable. Students love to lose those special cables, and better yet -- try to force the wrong cables into a camcorder.

Power Chargers:
Same basic problem of the cables above. They get lost, they get confused, and video cameras get wrecked.

Video Tape:
Ahh, the "record-over" problems, student are notorious for recording over each other's work. Then there is the weeping and wailing. Or it is the "Easter egg hunt" problem where the student knows that they recorded their Grammy-Award-Winning piece somewhere, I repeat, somewhere on the video tape. Start looking!

So many buttons! Let's see what this one does... oops.

With the above reasons keeping me awake at night, I was glad to see the Flip video camera when it came on the market. An answer to all my problems...

It has none, just a flip our USB connector, nothing to get lost or confused.

Power Chargers:
Again, it has none, it charges through the USB connector.

Video Tape:
Yup, you guessed it -- none. Students just press the red button and record, no tape to rewind. No lost footage.

Just click the red button!

I found the Flip video camera to be one of the best pieces of school technology that I have bought in the past few years. Talk about a headache reducer. Now I can focus on making great student videos.

The Flip video camera is not perfect; no zoom, no manual controls, etc. but for the work I do with students I'll take those few limitations over the great advantages that I have listed above.

If you want to see samples of my student's work, visit our website:

Happy filming!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Websites I use -

Many teachers in my school district have banned the use of Wikipedia, they believe that the information is unreliable, written by "just anyone" and downright false. Where do people get this information about Wikipedia? I can't believe that information sources are banned from our schools in 2010, it is like we are back in Hitler's Germany.

I am sorry to be so sensational, but this is really starting to bother me. As a contributor to Wikipedia I want to set the record straight on a few things.

Every time I have ever posted information on to Wikipedia, that information is verified and reviewed by an editor. I cannot edit or add anything to an article without a resource that can be verified. Because of this very reason I have had some of my contributions rejected.

"Just Anyone" can contribute to Wikipedia:
Wikipedia is the "World's Encyclopedia" which is what makes it so great. All of us as a society can add something to the knowledge of the world, we all have something to give. If I was to pick up a paper-type encyclopedia, let's say the 2006 edition because it is way too expensive to buy one each year and look up a subject like "cell therapy" I would get some expert's opinion on the matter, that information would be verified by the editors of the encyclopedia. Not only would it be out of date, but it would also be just one person's opinion. What if there is a "non-expert" who has some radical ideas that is changing how the world will think about cell therapy? This person would be rejected by traditional encyclopedia editors but he or she could have a voice on Wikipedia as long as their information could be verified. (Being verified is different on Wikipedia and is a lot different than you think -- the idea of community consensus plays into a lot of it -- don't get freaked out.)

False information:
I can't believe that people still think this. Please use the contact link on this page if you know of any article on Wikipedia that has false information on it (remember your claim must be verifiable) and email me your findings. Some teachers I work with think that Wikipedia says things like the moon is made of cheese or some nonsense. This is just an old rumor about Wikipedia that teachers perpetuate.

My conclusion:
Wikipedia is not the end all, or the final word on anything. What it is is a great jumping off point to gain new insights and ideas. Teach students to verify and validate information. Teach them to contribute. Teach them to open their minds.

Are we not beyond banning information from our students?

Wikipedia Policies and Procedures

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The iPad in Schools - Week 3

Today I want to talk about the educational apps that I like for my iPad. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I hated that there were so many pre-school educational apps and not a lot for older students. Luckily, a lot has changed in only a few weeks.

Here is a list of apps I like for schools and students:
Drawing Pad - a great little app that allows students to draw anything their little imaginations can think of.
Magic Piano - a fun piano app that have different types of keyboards for students to tinker with music notes.
Math Magic - an app for the younger students who want to practice their general math skills.
PianoMan - a guitarhero-esk type app that allows for dueling piano keyboards, it is loaded with a lot of classical music.
The Elements - if this is the future of textbooks, then count me in. When I want to amaze people with my iPad this is what I show them.
Star Walk - another beautiful app that shows what is possible.
SoundPaper - this app allows student to record lectures and classes while they take notes.
PaperDesk - better than SoundPaper because you can sketch on it as well as make different notebooks.
iBooks - reading books on the iPad is incredible, the screen is crystal clear and easy to follow.

I still believe that the iPad is a game-changer when it comes to school technology. I imagine a day when the only thing that students will need to bring with them to school is a tablet PC. I don't know if it will be the iPad but it is going to be a fun competition to watch.

Monday, May 3, 2010

School Technology I Use: Report 1

A few months ago my principal approached me with a challenge; she wanted me to find a math solution that could help both our struggling and advanced students. 

Before starting my search we came up with with a few parameters:
- it had to be easy to manage, my teachers have enough to deal with and they didn't need anything more put on their plates.
- it had to be proven effective, in other words -- it had to work.
- it had to be fun for the students to use.
- it had to be available for students at home and at school, PC or Mac.
- it had to be standards-based.

I looked at many different math programs and websites, everything from free to very expensive. After looking at and trying six different systems we went with a math practice website that is subscription-based.

So we got a subscription for each student and set up our school in their system.

We have just started to use it but here is what I can report so far:
- the set-up was super easy, I had all the students and teachers in the system in about a day.
- I spent about an hour training the teachers on how to initially use it, I'll cover more advanced features like reporting in another week or two.
- the feedback from the students has been really good. We'll see how they still like it and if it is working in a month.

I'll try and do a report each month so you can see  how this new school technology works for us.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Magic Number for School Technology: Seven

In my computer lab I have seven Flip video cameras, seven microphones, seven digital cameras, and seven tripods. No, it is not that I am obsessed with the number seven, it is that I am cheap.

Since I  cannot afford a classroom set of microphones, cameras, etc., seven is the next best thing. You see, with seven items you can easily split the class into teams of around four students to do some digital work. In fact, I think I prefer to have the students work in teams rather than as individuals, not to say that I would say no to a classroom set of digital equipment. Remember that collaboration is a 21st Century Skills.

When it comes to buying school technology we have got be like NASA was asked to be ten years ago: "Work smarter and cheaper."

My magic number seven works for everything from iPads and netbooks to digital microscopes and data-probes. Four students can share one digital device without a lot of drama (unless you work in a middle school).

So the next time that you are out begging for bucks, think about my lucky number seven.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

School Technology Book: Disrupting Class

I am currently reading the book Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen and I am finally not feeling like such a freak. Let me explain...

The tagline to this book is: How Disrupting Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Which is what got me to buy the book in the first place and, I am happy to say, I was not let down. You see, I have always felt a bit like and outsider looking in, I want to try things differently, I hate the status quo. I want more, new and innovative ideas when working with school technology for students and teachers.

The premise of the book is that the way we learn doesn't always match up to the way that we are taught. So if we want our students to be able to make it in the new digital and global economy, we need to rethink our understanding of intelligence. Which means we need to overhaul our educational system.

I believe the perfect place to start is with school technology, after all we're expected to be constantly changing. If you are still teaching the same tech lessons that you did five years ago -- it is time for a change. Every summer I look at my tech curriculum and throw out the old and add the new.

For example, a few years ago when I was teaching middle school technology and taught a lesson about social media, which at the time it was about MySpace. If I was to give that same lesson today it would be about FaceBook instead. If I was to teach middle school students about MySpace they would make fun of me: "MySpace is so 2008 Mr. Flick."

What is innovative one year, can be a joke the next. So make sure your tech lessons are current and fresh.

Once when I was visiting a school they took me on a tour of their "modern computer lab" the students at the time were working on a worksheet about technology (for the record I hate worksheets) and one of the questions was to have the students label different computer parts, one of which was a diskette. Really -- a diskette. Come on people, we can do better than this.

Tech curriculum should always be in a state of innovation and change, we must keep up with the times.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Websites I use -

I got an email yesterday from Jerry in Montana who wanted to know what websites I used on a regular basis with my students as part of my school technology plan. So from now on I will try to do this on Wednesdays with my "Websites I use" post.

The website that I want to talk about this week is Picnik. Picnik is a Web 2.0 application that is completely online. Students take a photo, transfer it to their computer and then upload it to a free account on Picnik. Once it is uploaded to Picnik they can alter and manipulate the photo a lot easier that other conventional applications like Photoshop.

Once students are done editing their photo, they simply download the photo back to their computer.

Although Picnik has a fun side like being able to make someone look like a zombie, it can be a photographer's dream, it can do really beautiful work. Here some samples from a student's photo.

The original

The Lomoish Filter

The Ortonish Filter

The Cross Process Filter

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Begging for Bucks - how to fund school technology

No one needs more money than the technology program of a school. It is an never ending need, because even if you do get money to say; buy 10 laptops, those laptops will only be good for a few years. Every piece of technology you buy for your comes with an expiration date. So with this reality you need to be constantly looking for funding.

Here are a few things I do:

Sell DVDs:
I video record every performance at my school, I then offer DVDs to the parents at $10 a piece. It costs me about $1 for each one so I make about $9. Since I usually sell 20 to 30 DVDs of every performance this has been making the tech department in my school quite a bit of money. Parents like it because they can just sit back and enjoy the show without having to watch it all through a viewfinder. In addition I use a tripod and a hi-fi shotgun mic to get the best picture and sound. You will need to get permission for any copyrighted material, let's say your school is putting on Peter Pan, but this is usually pretty easy to get when you tell the copyright holder that it is a fundraiser for your school technology program.

Work with your PTO or PTA:
I love my PTO, they have been very generous to my department. When I get an idea for what I might need I sit down with the PTO to see what is possible. If they like what I am trying to buy, which will usually impact every student in the school like buying seven Flip video cameras, they go for it.

Apply for Grants:
Once a month I go trolling for grants, I look everywhere for any grant, big or small that I can apply for. I was able to get $2600 worth of LEGO WeDO this past fall from a grant that I applied for. Once you have the initial paperwork done for one grant you can do them all because they basically ask the same questions: "How will this improve student achievement?", etc.

Charge Student Fees:
I charge $40 for the before school tech class that I have once a week for a quarter. I open this up for only 10 students but this one program alone brings in $1600 to help buy new school technology.

When all else fails, beg for help from the parents.

I hope this helps and inspires.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The iPad in Schools - Week 2

Well I have had my iPad for two weeks, so now what do I think about it?

Truthfully, I am still amazed at how great this device really is. If I had to put a factor on it, I would say that the iPad is turning out to be ten times the computer I thought it would be, but there has been some disappointments, let me explain...

I have been buying apps like crazy, in fact I think I am addicted. Every day I check to see if there are any new apps that I might need (or not need). I do not like using iPhone or iPod apps on my iPad, although they do work and you can make them bigger to fill the screen, they just don't look anywhere near as good as native iPad apps. So far there have been no iPad educational apps that I like. There are a ton of apps for pre-schoolers, things like shapes and letters, but I am yet to find any apps for my elementary-aged kids that I like -- let me take that back there are a few...

National Geographic Atlas
Magic Piano

That's it, four apps. I am still looking for great math and reading apps.

I haven't bought any books yet, I hope to buy a few this week. This is actually the part of using an iPad I am most excited about.

Battery Life:
Nothing compares at how great the battery in an iPad is. I have used it for three days without recharging and the lowest I have ever gotten it to is 30%. Finally, there is a device that can last all day at school without recharging.

I didn't really see this one coming. Everyone loves to come and check out my iPad when I am out an about. Kids to grandparents come over to me to see what it is all about. Who knew I could be so popular by just owning an iPad. Finally I am cool! I hope the honeymoon never ends.

I am now used to the on-screen keyboard and type nearly as fast as on a physical keyboard. I was going to buy the keyboard attachment, but now I wont.

Bottom Line:
I still believe that the iPad is a game-changer, it is truly a piece of school technology that could change everything for our students. This next week I am going to put it in the hands of students and see what they think of it and watch how they respond to it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Podcasting Students - The Lazy Way

I got quite a few emails about yesterday's blog on students that podcast, it seems that a lot of you want to know how my students podcast everyday.

First of all let me just say that my 5th grade students practically podcast by themselves, I am usually just outside the podcasting studio working at my desk. Here is how it all happens...

The assigned students show up at school 15 minutes early. I assign each student a certain day for two months, this gives them enough time to get past being nervous. So for example, one student might be the host for every Tuesday show and another might be the sound-tech for every Monday show. It only takes two students to do a podcast.

The students come into our studio (a room just off of our media center) and start to get the show ready.

The Host:
This student takes a new fill-in-the-blank script and starts by putting in their name and the sound tech's name. Then they fill in the date, announcements, what the hot lunch of the day is and then the sound tech will look up the lunch recess weather and they fill that in as well. They look up any birthdays and finally they look for a joke in a kid's joke book.

The Sound Tech:
This student sits down to the studio laptop, looks up today's lunchtime weather and starts up a soundboard program. The soundboard is loaded with our sound effects and music tracks (royalty-free music). The student does a quick sound check and the waits to do a rehearsal.

Both students do a rehearsal about 6 minutes before "show time."

The Show:
Just before the show starts the sound tech will start our digital recorder and then signals the host to begin. They do the show, complete with music and sound effects and then bring me the digital recorder as they go off to their first class.

Post Show Production:
I take the digital recorder and copy the MP3 to my computer and upload to our website which is connected to our iTunes account which means the show is listed on iTunes with a few hours of being posted on our website. Done, my time is about three minutes to do all of this. I told you I was a lazy podcaster! Podcasting is one of the easiest pieces of school technology to incorporate into your schools.

To check out our podcasting, go to iTunes and search for KBOB or Bethke Elementary.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Podcasting 10-Year-Olds

Today I had the chance to show off my podcasting 10-year-olds. It was part of a demonstration I was giving on what 4th grade students are capable of doing with current school technology.

So in front of 450 local business leaders my two little podcasters did it. I am telling you, I have never been so proud. They were fearless.

I have been podcasting with my students for the past year. Every day they do a podcast of the school announcements each with a little personal twist of their own style. At first it was difficult to get it all together but then we started to work out the bugs and now the students run the whole show. They have over 1700 subscribers on iTunes -- students from all over the world.

The digital natives of today are so used to seeing the world as a potential audience.

You just wait, it won't be long before they are wanting their own dressing rooms with a star on the door.

If you would like to hear our podcasters, go to iTunes and search for KBOB.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The keyboarding dilema - Part 2

So if middle school it too late for our students to start learning keyboarding, when should we start?

I start about half-way through kindergarten! I feel that keyboarding is a key foundation for any future school technology.

I spend the first half of the school year teaching the kindergarteners how to use the computer, but then in the second half we start with Typing Tots, an online typing program. It is funny to watch them type the first few months, some of them are convinced that there keyboard is missing a letter. "Mr. Flick, my computer doesn't have the letter M!"

Just think about what is going on in their little brains; they are converting from lower-case letters on the screen to upper-case letters on a keyboard and are also having to learn a new sequence of letters -- they just figured out the ABCs and now they have QWERTYs.

First grade students mostly work in MS Word, I have three sentences on the screen that they must re-type. They do this to learn punctuations and how to properly use other keys like "enter." Keep in mind that they are still just using the "hunt and peck" method of keyboarding.

Second grade students now begin the long road of touch typing, or keyboarding without looking, they are now introduced to the home row. I use Dance Mat Typing, which the kids really enjoy.

Student repeat these same keyboarding lessons in the third and fourth grades.

In fifth grade the students should be proficient in keyboarding so I move them onto Nimble Fingers with is a down-and-dirty-nothing-fancy typing app. They must be keyboarding at 30 words a minute by the end of 5th grade. Most students finish at around 50 -- well prepared for middle school.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The keyboarding dilema - Part 1

As I speak at different conferences across the country about school technology I am often asked about keyboarding. I know it doesn't sound all that exciting but I believe it is one of the greatest tech skills that students need to develop.

Many school districts have dropped keyboarding, or typing, from the curriculum in both middle and high schools. It has been pushed down to the elementary-aged students.

I agree with this completely.

By the time a student shows up in middle school they need to already be proficient at keyboarding. Many of the assignments that are given to 12-year-olds and older are to be completed on a computer, not many teachers will allow hand-written work any more.

If a student shows up at middle school only typing a few words a minute they are severely handicapped. Imagine an assignment to do a 1000 word essay on the U.S. civil war. After about 30 minutes of work the student who is struggling at 8 to 10 words per minute is still working on his opening paragraph while another student who is at 50 to 60 words per minute is done.

I once had a 5th grade student that could type at over 100 word per minute, imagine his advantage over his classmates.

A student who struggles at keyboarding will struggle at school. He could be a very bright student with horrible grades because of keyboarding.

I will give more details on this tomorrow, everything from kindergarteners who lose letters to 5th graders who can type blindfolded.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The school technology paradox.

There are some that might argue that students will naturally acquire 21st Century Skills since they are surrounded by so much technology in their daily lives. Why do we need to spend so much money on bringing technology into our schools?

That would be the same as saying that since a student has a paper and pencil he will naturally acquire math skills like algebra or writing skills like poetry.

This is the paradox of school technology and 21st Century Skills.

Just because a student might have a computer at home, it doesn't mean that they know how to truly use it. They lack the necessary skills.

And if his teachers do not have the proper tools and training, they cannot teach the skills.

Teachers cannot teach 21st Century Skills without tools.

Tools like interactive whiteboards, netbooks, cameras, flip videos, etc.

Modern technology doesn't replace teachers, it makes them more important than ever.

Most of the students I teach were all born in the 21st Century, they are truly digital natives, they know no other world that this. They cannot remember a world without the Internet or iPods.

We are all just tourists in their world.

So there you have it:




Good luck with trying to figure this one out...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Teaching with the iPad

My iPad finally arrived and I couldn't be more excited. Sure it is cool and new, but what really gets me is what it could mean for education. Let me explain...

Digital Books: This past January when I was flying to Florida to speak at FETC I sat next to a man who had a Kindle. We started to talk about technology and he showed me the 112 books that he had loaded on his digital book reader. He let me hold it and I was amazed. 112 books in something so light. I couldn't help but think how heavy the six books were in my carry-on that was shoved above my head. "Yeah, but I love to highlight, scribble in the margin and dog-ear my pages (a librarian's worst nightmare)." I explained to him. He then showed me how he could do all that. But the most amazing part is what he said next. "The one thing you can't do with a paper book is search the text. I can search my whole library in seconds." He was right, imagine the day when our students have every library book pre-loaded onto their iPads! No waiting to check out a book, no two weeks to return it, it is just there for the student to use any time they want.

Educational Apps: Although I have only had my iPad for less than 24-hours, my 13-year old son has already taken it over and has filled it with great apps: graphing calculator, spelling test, math prompts, a periodic table that really cool. There are thousands and thousands of great edu-apps.

No More Back Packs: Have you seen the size of the back packs that students take to school? They are huge and heavy, full of text books, notebooks, and library books. In a few years they will just have an iPad, no need for a locker or a back pack, everything will be in their iPad.

What an exciting time to be involved with school technology!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Student Blogging for Assessment

Recently my 5th grade students finished their blogging project about the Renaissance.

After meeting with the 5th grade team earlier in the year we decided that we wanted more from the unit on the Renaissance than just a test. We wanted to incorporate not only 21st Century Skills but also 21st Century Assessment.

To ensure that the students would be safe online with their blogs, they were only allowed to use their student ID numbers instead of names since all of these students are only in elementary school. The students very quickly learned each others ID numbers when commenting on the classroom blogs. "Hey 48392, this is 38291, I really liked the photo you used of Leonardo da Vinici's Mona Lisa, it was nice and clear."

We were very surprised at how quickly the students picked up the art of blogging like making new posts, adding photos and images, commenting on other's blogs, etc.

What the students enjoyed was the fact that they had made a blog that was being read by many people instead of just their teacher (like most projects). When we got our first comment from someone in Australia students really stepped up the quality of their work.

It is just amazing that our students are growing up in a time where they have a voice that they can literally share with the entire world.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Programming with Scratch - First Steps

Last fall I was introduced to Scratch, a programming application made by the beautiful minds at MIT. I was very excited about what Scratch might mean for my students because of it simple, yet powerful interface. So last month I set my fourth grade students free on it. The challenge: to make a video game. My students were practically shell-shocked with the assignment: "We get to make a video game?"

Step 1: Since I did not know how to use Scratch, I sent my students to the website: which taught them most everything they needed to know about programming with Scratch with easy to follow screencast tutorials.

Step 2: Give them the impossible task of making their own video game.

Step 3: Stand back and be amazed.

These young students now have the programming bug, they are starting to "get" the world that is around them. They don't look at their iPod Touches apps the same way. In fact, I had one student show me a game that she had made in Scratch that was just like the app on my iPod Touch. Which is why I added Step 4...

Step 4: Share any future video game royalties with Mr. Flick.

If you want to see examples of student made video games using Scratch, just check out the gallery on their website.