“If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
-- Ignacio Estrada

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jumping into the Sea of Technology

Jumping into the sea of technology
By Melanie Broxterman, Intervention Specialist
Article written for school PTA newsletter 

This summer was a busy one for me. I enjoyed time with my kids at Kings Island and nothing is better than just hanging out at the pool. However, I did take some time to explore a variety of technologies this summer. With the increase in the popularity and accessibility of technology and with school beginning to incorporate more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) projects, I felt that it would be a great topic for the newsletter. Through this article, I hope to give you a glimpse into the technology world: what is available and how these technologies can be utilized. Best of all, most of the online tools are FREE!

The “tablet” movement
Let’s start with the hottest topic and most frequently talked about technology from the past year - the iPad. Last school year, I was lucky enough to receive an iPad as part of Princeton’s iPad research project to use within the classroom. (Thank you, Mr. Dugan!) I utilized a variety of apps in both my classroom as well as with the Kindergarten students. Needless to say, they LOVED it. I was quickly amazed at how the students gravitated towards it and could use it. It was intuitive. The swipe and tap touchscreen allows all students the opportunity to access an activity with independence. The options for classroom iPad use are endless. Other tablets offer similar experiences (such as a Dell Streak running an Android operating system); however, app choices are limited. No other tablet can touch the 400,000+ app choices for the iOS devices. iPod Touches are also great because they often can run similar apps to the iPad, just on a smaller screen. I have found that the interactive book apps, reading app, and math apps have really developed over the past year. I easily can find apps that fit into both the common core standards as well as support student’s IEPs (individualized education plans) more easily than last year at this time.

Google Apps
Google Apps refers to the host of software applications that are available for use through Google and for FREE! I started using Google Docs last year as an alternative to using Microsoft Word. I was able to create and save documents in the Google “cloud”. Google Docs allows you create the following: documents - similar to Word; presentations - similar to Powerpoint; spreadsheet - similar to Excel; forms - ability to create online forms/surveys to email out, then responses are complied into a spreadsheet; and drawing - which allows user to create document through drawing images, adding text boxes, etc. Google Apps also include:
Google Reader - allows a “one stop” reading place for blogs or RSS feeds that you follow
Google Calendar - input calendar dates online and have the ability to share your calendar with multiple users; great for busy households to keep track of practices, projects, etc.
Blogger - create an online journal or “blog” about a topic; great way to share information with family members or friends who are not close by; ability to post pictures, video, etc.
Google Health - create, organize, and manage health history with online access *service no longer available, possible "spin-off" company with a focus on electronic health information

Another great technology tool is called Diigo. It is an online bookmarking site that allows you to save your favorite websites and access them from any computer. It is also referred to as “social bookmarking” because you can share your bookmarks with others as well as follow other Diigo members to see what they have saved in his/her bookmarks. Diigo also has the option of following Diigo groups. For example, I follow a special education Diigo group where I can access websites relating to special education bookmarked by other people. This is extremely helpful for me as I often find sites while at home, then have to email them to myself at school. This tool saves me that step. I just bookmark site in Diigo and I can access at school.

LiveBinders is another way to organize a variety of content. I find it a easy way to organized website information on a specific topic. As Princeton begins to focus on Problem Based Learning (PBL) experiences, I have been able to do a few online searches and begin a LiveBinder of current resources relating to the K-1st grade PBL topic. This tool would be great for students and families to organize websites for a current project, sites that offer homework help, or for just organizing teacher or school websites when students have multiple teachers or attend different schools.

Dropbox is a way to save “in the cloud”. Dropbox is a secure website that provides 2GB of FREE space with the option of subscriptions up to 100GB. This a a great way to backup computer files, especially pictures. Dropbox is perfect if you use multiple computers and need to access common files. For students, Dropbox is a great alternative to a flashdrive. Students can work on a file at school, save it to their Dropbox account, and later access at home. Dropbox also offers the ability to share files with other Dropbox users so it would be very useful when working on group projects.

Prezi is a new online presentation tool. It can incorporate photos, videos or text to create a “zooming” presentation. The presentation is NOT comprised of slides, like powerpoint. Prezi allows you to import your media, then create the path to the media to create the “zooming” presentation. Prezi offers several levels of membership from FREE to paid. It also offers several levels of tutorials when learning how to use Prezi.

There are so many great online resources available for both students, parents, and teachers. I have only mentioned a few of them here. This information can lead to a little bit of information overload; however, once you take time to learn a new tech tool or two, you start to see that the possibilities are endless.

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