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So, I have a projector…

Posted by: | December 14, 2012 | No Comment |

This week, three more of our classrooms had new overhead LCD projectors installed.  We’re almost half-way there.   In reflecting on the excitement it’s generated in our building,  I was reminded of the journey I was on the first time I had regular access to a projector. At the time, I knew it was useful for me to show movies, but wasn’t sure how else it could be effectivley integrated into my daily practice.  I thought I’d share some examples of some of the ways I’ve been using it recently.

1.  To develop rubrics together:  I put up a frame and have the students offer suggestions and ideas to fill it in.  It gives us a great conversation around skills needed and learning that is supposed to happen around major projects.  When we’re done, we can print it out and put it into our books.


2.  To demonstrate math skills while students work together at their desks.  One of my favorite sites is the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (http://nlvm.usu.edu/).  It’s a terrific, searchable resource that allows for the exploration of a whole bunch of math skills and processes. In whole-class lessons, I either call  kids up to take turns, or have them work with hands-on tools at their desks while I project things up front.  We often follow this up with a time in the computer lab where they have a follow-up task using the same tool.  An screen-shot example of one of the tools is below.

 3.  Streaming Tumblebooks for writing lessons.  The kids are super-engaged with the animations, and we can stop every few pages and examine “authors’ tricks” to expand our own repertoire.    Because the stories are available online, they can watch them again at home and collect even more ideas.  My school district has purchased access for us- if yours hasn’t check out your public library- most often you can gain access with a public library card.

4.  Brainstorming and Note taking:  I often project an organizer, or type in a list for a brainstorming session, as we work through a whole-group lesson.  I make a deal with the kids that are a little slower to process, or slower to write-  if they promise to stay “plugged in” and participate, I’ll handle the writing if they handle the thinking.   We generate word lists for writing or word sorts, fill out organizers together, collect key words from stories, work on vocabulary definitions, sequencing activities, review facts from content lessons-  sometimes we do it together and I print it for everyone, sometimes we do part of it together while they take their own notes, and then I just print it off for the handful who didn’t quite keep up (it’s a choice for everyone, not a special deal-  but I find only a few usually want it).    An example of a brainstorm that turned into a small-group word sort is below.


5.  Our Daily Edit (from the Everyday Edits at Education World):  This one I project right onto the chalkboard so that we can make our editing marks on top of the text-  it took me a couple of tries to realize I would have better luck without the screen after giving up my Smartboard, but it’s worked out well, even against the green background.  It gets us into our seats and focused right after the morning bell.


6.  Using pre-made stuff from websites for lessons:  This is one of the best time-savers around.  In the “whiteboard” section of this blog, you’ll find links to a few of my favorite sites that have games and activities all-ready-to-go that have been created by teachers from all over the place.  It’s rare that I find a new concept, or a new skill, or a topic, that we need to explore that I can’t find something that will do great by way of introduction or practice.  In addition to the sites listed under that link- it’s well worth the time to check out the Smart Exchange  (http://exchange.smarttech.com) -  you used to need Smart’s Notebook 10 software to use these activities, but with the new online Notebook Express, you can stream anything you find in the exchange-  although you’ll still need the software to edit it.  The database is free to register with, and is searchable by grade level and topic. 

These are just a few of the ways that I find using the projector handy in the classroom.  In addition to the planned lessons, it gets used all the time incidentally-  if we need images for somewhere we’re talking about in social studies, or we can’t “visualize” a mind map while making the rubric- or if someone mentions Gordon Lightfoot and noone has any idea who he is-  it’s a handy resource for all kinds of teachable moments!

under: Home

This week,   our grade five class had just finished a terrific bunch of research on Canadian endagered animals, and they were preparing speeches to share with one another on Friday.  There are three students in the class who, for various reasons, were not going to find success with the tried-and-true cue card method, so we explored some technology options as alternatives, and came up with some solutions that were both exciting to explore, and well-received by the audience when presented.

Two of these guys are struggling readers who were going to find it challenging to remember what they had written on cue cards, and they are not students who would be successful presenting “off the cuff.”    We worked together to generate a speech from their research, and then used the iTalk (free) app on an iPad to record their sentences one section at a time.  When it came time to present, they simply plugged the speaker from their classroom computer into the mini-jack port on the iPad, and hit play.  The app isn’t fancy- no editing or emailing options, but it only took us about 3 minutes to learn how to use it, and the sound was clear.  By recording one sentence at a time, it wasn’t a big deal to re-do something that wasn’t quite as fluent as we wanted it, and having to hit play a few times helped with the pacing during the presentation.  The paid version allows for things to be edited, uploaded to iTunes, emailed, or put into Dropbox. 

Our second challenge was a bit trickier.  The third student who wasn’t going to be able to make his speech comfortably is a little guy who is an English Language Learner, and isn’t able to communicate verbally.  He uses an iPad as a communication device, but the app he uses isn’t designed for longer bits of speech, it uses pic symbols.  This student had done a terrific job working with his EA and mom to finish up his poster for the research bit of the project, and we really wanted him to be able to participate in the celebration at the end of all that work.  For him, we needed an extra step or two.

First, we edited the Microsoft Word document that contained his original research, to make sure that it didn’t have any graphics or captions or additional text that wasn’t needed as part of his speech.

Next, we uploaded the document to a free, online pdf converter program to create a pdf version of the file-  this site can be a bit tricky to email directly from, so we downloaded it to the desktop when it was finished.

After we had the pdf document, we sent it as an attachment to the account on the schools’ iPads.

Once we had it in iPad’s mailbox, we held our fingers on it for a second or two, asked it to open in Voice Dream when prompted, and we were ready to play it aloud with a synthesized voice in the classroom.  Just like the other two boys, we used the mini jack port on the iPad to hook up the classroom’s computer speakers, and we were ready to go.  Like iTalk, the paid version ($4.99) has a bunch of additional voices and features, but the free one, with the single voice available to us, let us change the speed to something reasonable, and did the job admirably.

It was really exciting to see these three learners, proudly sharing and celebrating, alongside their peers. 

Look out Toastmasters, here we come!


under: Home, iPads, Student Activities

One of the biggest challenges that many of us face in our classrooms is finding ways for students to respond to assignments when writing is a struggle.  New technologies mean that there are even more options available to our learners than ever before.  There is a lot of interest around speech-to-text applications out there- but these tools are not always the best fit for our kids.  Many of these tools (e.g. Dragon Naturally Speaking) were acutally designed for buisness, and only later came to find use in educational settings, which means they are not specifically tailored for learners with perceptual challenges, and they sometimes miss the mark.

Some key considerations for using speech-to-text software:

-Is the student able to organize his/her thinking sequentially, and respond orally without needing multiple prompts from an adult or peer?  (If they can’t dicate their thinking comfortably to a human, it’s can be even harder with the short phrasing demanded by the software.)

-Is the student willing to spend the time training with the software,  to build fluency and efficiency with it?  (Many of these tools require a specific rhythm, lilt, and phrasing to be most effective, and this takes time to learn).

-Is the student willing to take the time to revise/edit/review work as it is completed?  (The software can put some funky words in if it “mis-hears” the speaker.)

-Does the student have clear enough speech to be understood by the tool?  (Students with speech issues, or really quiet or shrill voices are not easily picked up by these tools.)

-Does the student have practical access to a quiet workspace for recording?  (Background noise in a busy classroom dramatically affects the successful use of the programs.)

-If the option you are exploring is on a mobile device, is the wireless signal reliable? (There’s nothing worse than being half-way through a recording and have the signal dropped.)

If you’ve considered the above, and feel speech-to-text software is a reasonable option for your student, here are a few of the more common tools:

  Dragon Naturally Speaking (desktop software)  or Dragon Dication (free iPad/iPod app):  Use your voice to create and edit documents or emails, launch applications, open files and control your mouse. 

 Word Q / Speak Q:  Speak Q is an add-on for the Word Q word prediction software.  It allows users to click on a floating toolbar (which works alongside all windows programs, the internet, etc) to switch to speech-to-text mode.  Lots of great videos with tutorials and demonstrations on their website. 

  Paperport Notes is a free iPad app that allows users to save pdf documents into Dropbox or Evernote and then open them using this program to either write onscreen with a stylus, or tap the screen and speak responses.  It is not good for long bits of dictation- but terrific for one or two line responses to questions on a printed page. 

 If you think speech-to-text may not quite fit the bill, there are many other options available to students as well:

  Kurzweil:  Voice Notes allow for recordings to be made and saved as audio files.  A great option if there is a print-based assignment that requires responses.  The voice icon will sit wherever it is placed on the page.  If the learning outcome isn’t writing, it’s a way to get oral responses without having to conference “in the moment” during class time.


 Kidspiration, Inspiration, and Clicker 5 also have voice recording options.  They are also highly visual programs that allow users to use images and graphics as well.  They are particularly valuable options with kids requiring more heavily adapted or modified materials.

  Sound Recorder is a free windows component.  It’s hidden in a slightly awkward place…go through start/programs/accessories/entertainment  to find it.  It will record sound files that can be renamed, saved on the computer, and emailed to teachers.  If you have an older version of windows, it will stop after a minute, but re-clicking the record button will restart it where you left off.

 Audio Note (free) on the iPad allows for notes to be recorded, synchronised into files and emailed.  Another good option if a print-based response isn’t a requirement.


For me, the decision about which tool to use is entirely dependent on the student-  different tools are more comfortable for different kids, and kids don’t always choose to use the same thing.  If you have access to several of these tools, it’s sometimes best to explore them all over a period of time, talking with the kids about which tools they like, and which types of assignments they are best suited for-  and then make them available as options in a toolkit.  My experience has been that even younger students, (e.g. grades 2 or 3), will make purposeful choices as long as they know what the options are.  And sometimes, even with a multitude of technology tools available to us, the best way to assess learning and understanding is still a simple conversation.


under: Home, iPads, UDL Defined

I was chatting with a grade 5 student the other day about a project he was working on, and he told me that he’d made a “Good Old-Fashioned PowerPoint” for it.  I don’t know how many people over the age of 12 are referring to PowerPoint as “old-fashioned,”  and I’m not advocating for its abandon, but it got me thinking about some of the other great tools that are available to our students for sharing their learning.   So many of our kids are engaged digitally, and are looking for ways to show their individual personalities through the images, music, and format of their assignments.  The beauty of a performance-based assesment is that we can allow them the freedom to do this.  If we’re giving them assignments that are based on big questions, and are either providing rubrics, or having our students develop them with us, then a multitude of formats and presentation styles will suite most projects.    Below are some of my favorite options, all of them free – as well as a few links to student projects completed with them.


1.  Weebly-  A really easy-to-use website tool.  It allows for files, images, flash videos  and You Tube Videos to be embedded into the free version.  Check out a student project at: http://theriverbookreport.weebly.com/

2.   Prezi-  an online tool where images, text, videos and documents can be embedded onto a canvas.  Motion paths are set to move between images.  It is cloud based, thus is accessible from any computer with Internet access, wthout having to save onto memory sticks, etc.  It’s easy to add collaborators to work with others, as well.  Here’s a project made about The Hobbitt:  http://prezi.com/ata-eqonsl77/novel-study-presentation-the-hobbit//

3.  Slide Rocket-  a lot like an online PowerPoint maker, presentations made in PowerPoint can even be uploaded.  It also allows for other users to be “invited” to join a presentation, making it possible for students to work on it together.  Check out some  slide rocket presentations in the online gallery: http://www.sliderocket.com/gallery/.

4.  FluxTime Animation-  a bit of a different take on things, it’s an online animated movie tool.  My students used this last year to create animated student-led conferences to share their learning with their families.  A half-hour block of playing with it, and another hour-long block of making the “real deal,” and we all had presentations ready to email home.  Here’s a sample:  http://fluxtime.com/ecard.php?cid=G0u8E7142h32h208h2374fe36b8bbd81f

5.  Go! Animate-  A second, less fussy online animated movie tool-  it’s also more restrictive in terms of characters, etc., but is great for getting students to record their own voices, or to generate speech for the characters for shorter reflections and explanations of new ideas.  Finished videos can be emailed.  Check it out at:  http://goanimate.com/videomaker.

under: Home, Student Activities, Web 2.0

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