Cool Tools

 

2014-02-13 20.15.23

There’s something about the right tool for the right job. Fit and function. Function and form as one. This week, one of my favourite teacher-bloggers, Andrew Douch, wrote a great post about the perfect tool for screen casting.

I happen to think that screen casting is going to be the next big thing for teachers. The research says that feedback is pretty much everything and personalised, audio/video feedback via screencast seems to be pretty compelling.

So, I was interested in Andrew’s post, where he compares some of the many tools available in this space. I haven’t tried that many but have settled on Snagit from Techsmith, mostly because I use both Macs and PCs and the licence (about $30) gave me access to the software on both platforms.

But I want to find the right tool, the perfect tool for the job for me, so I will go exploring again and try some of Andrew’s suggestions.

That’s what it’s about; keeping open to new possibilities and new ways of doing things. Being a learner and looking for the right tools. There is no end point. Kaizen.

Which reminds me of a great book that I ordered that just arrived, called Cool Tools by Kevin Kelly. It’s a collection of the best tool for every job. He says:

“Cool tools really work. A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. All reviews on this site are written by readers who have actually used the tool and others like it. Items can be either old or new as long as they are wonderful.”

It reminds me of the ye ole Whole Earth Catalog from the 1970s which, along with Tracks Magazine, the surfing magazine, symbolises something of that counter-culture for me. It’s lovingly, gorgeously detailed. Like Andrew Douch, Kelly really cares about this stuff. And that’s why it works.

 

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First look at Apple’s new take on textbooks

I’ve embedded the Apple announcement on text books below. I’ve already heard some negative reactions in the twittiverse arguing that this is another examples of Apple’s ‘walled garden’ approach, and that locking schools and districts into Apple systems entirely is not a good move. It seems there’s other questions too about whether these textbooks will be available on other platforms (unlikely) or available in other formats (very unlikely).

Nevertheless, I’m quite excited about it, particularly from a writer’s perspective. Could I write my textbook and have it on the Apple bookstore without the intermediary of the publisher? Like musicians do now?  Could we break down the systems and empower good teachers and good teacher/authors and share their expertise more widely? And I’m definitely going to download the publication software.

But I have reservations, and they are more around the idea of the textbook in the first place. Maybe the textbook thing is bigger in the United States than here, or maybe because I’m an English teacher there isn’t generally the reliance on a textbook beyond the set novels and plays.

The video says they are going to change ‘one of the cornerstones of education: the textbook’. But is the textbook really that critical? How does this change learning? Or teaching? And, will replacing the traditional textbook with a ‘bells and whistles’ version change the classroom experience? Where are the collaborative tools, the feedback, the personalisation, the differentiation, the user-created textbook that we’ve talked about for some time.

There’s no doubt it will look pretty, it will save a lot of printing and heavy schoolbags for kids with iPads (oh yeah, how many is that right now?), they can be updated easily and they will be more engaging.  But every time I hear ‘engagement’ as an argument for new software and hardware I cringe a little. There’s got to be better reasons than that. We shall see!

Hot off the press…

Yes, I’m painfully aware of the irony of presenting a paper artefact, given that I write so much about the use of technology in learning, and on the very same day that Apple have gone live with their textbook revolution (video of their presentation here)

Nevertheless, I give you the new Issues Book, in its glorious new livery.  The school year? Bring it on!

Available from all good bookshops or from Cengage Learning here (note, this appears to be last year’s edition)

Reading on the screen

Just about every English teacher I know is passionate about books and reading. Loves it. Is good at it.
They (we) love books. The smell, the feel, the texture, the excitement of a new book. And, if I had $1 for every one I’d heard say something like “I couldn’t possibly read a book on the screen”, then I could buy an ipad.
So, it was funny the other day teaching Jane Austen to my Lit class and talking about some important passages that were revealing about Austen’s views and values to look up and see one of the girls looking at her computer, not the dog-eared Penguin Classic everyone else had open.
When I asked her why she wasn’t looking at the passage we were discussing,she said she was, but that she preferred to read it on the screen, where she could annotate it direct and make notes on the discussion somewhere else than in the margin. It wasn’t so much as an ‘aha’ moment, as a ‘oh yeah’ moment. I did give them the text version of Emma from Project Gutenberg and had encouraged them to use it to find quotes or to pull apart key passages. But, I hadn’t thought that some students actually PREFER to read this way. That it’s not all about the book for everyone any more (if it ever was)
And I find myself reading more and more on the screen now. Not just online newspapers and the reports from the Giro cycling race in Italy. But substantive articles, even books. I read The Call of the Wild for the first time ever on the plane going to the USA, on my ipod application called Classics, which had 24 other classics I could have chosen. Or, from another app called Classics2Go which has 60 classics from Wuthering Heights to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Or, I could have opened up Grimm’s fairy tales or the Shakespeare app I paid a couple of dollars for which contains ALL of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. A lot more choice than I could fit in my take-on luggage.
So, if my reading behaviour is changing, little wonder that our students are going to have less qualms and want more opportunities to be doing their reading in a new format. The stories remain the same.
Below and above: screen shots from my ipod-touch and the apps I’ve talked about above.

Cross-posted at English Teaching it IT (with more screenshots)

Curriculum 21

Got back to work this week and found this book from Heidi Hayes Jacobs in the pigeon hole, courtesy of the good people at ASCD.  It’s subtitled ‘Essential education for a changing world’ and I’m looking forward to getting into it. I suspect it will have a lot to say about the notions of 21st Century curriculum and 21st Century skills that I’ve reflected on here before. Heidi Hayes Jacobs is best known to me for her work in curriculum mapping and has presented regularly in Australia.

There’s also a nice little 10 minute video of her introducing the book on the page where you can order it here.

The Issues Book

issues_book_2010 (Large)

One of the things I’ve been involved in for a long time now, and one that I usually find reflects and connects well with my own teaching, is the co-writing of a text book for VCE English students. The new edition of The Issues Book, came out this week and I like the muted, subdued colours, and the production this year.

It’s published by Cengage and the co-writing of it always helps me to think back on what worked in my class this year, and what didn’t.  I think it was Ken Robinson who talked about giving students the ‘whole story’; science teachers should be passionate about science, English teachers should read and write, that kind of thing. Starting a blog is a powerful way of beginning that writing I’ve found.

Hard Work

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While I’m on the reading mode I should also mention Robyn Jackson’s book from ASCD:  Never Work Harder Than Your Students (and other principles of great teaching). Coming from an environment where we’re trying to take the language from ‘work’ to ‘learning’ I wasn’t super-keen on the title but it came free with the subscription to Educational Leadership, and it does contain some great principles. In essence, they are:

  • Start where your students are
  • Know where your students are going
  • Expect your students to get there
  • Support your students
  • Use effective feedback
  • Focus on quality, not quantity
  • Never work harder than your students

And, truthfully, haven’t we all come out of a lesson at some stage thinking that we (the teacher) are doing all the work?  Exhausted? Jackson would argue that often these lessons haven’t worked that well, for the learners.