Thursday, March 1, 2012

Google Apps for Education

This year, our school agreed to let me give each of my students an account through Google Apps for Education.  I've noticed that not all students use this account because many of them already have their own accounts.  Using the Apps for Education, students are no longer responsible for creating and maintaining their own accounts.  I no longer have issues with parents who don't want their kids to have e-mail addresses (really?!) or students who forget their login credentials.  I manage everything, from creating the username to having full control of the password.

The only downside to this is that students won't be able to use this account forever.  As an institution, we are limited to 500 accounts and we will have to purge our students as they graduate.  Still, for the purpose of teaching students how to use the tools and encouraging them to use cloud-based software and storage, Google Apps for Education is practical.

They can use their login to access any applications that I set up for our domain.  We use the basic ones (sites, blogger, igoogle, etc.), but there is also a directory with thousands of user-created apps that we could explore.  I haven't tried too many of these yet, but there are a lot of possibilities!  The single sign-on is also nice because I am able to create class lists and share them with my students.  With two clicks, they can share documents, folders, and blogs with their classmates and take steps to keep other information private.

The reason we took this step this year was because of our one-to-one ipad program.  We wanted students to have access to word processing, and Google Docs is one of the best free, cloud-based options. They use an app on the iPad called Office2 HD.  In class, I help them link their Google account to Office2 and create a folder to place class-related documents. My students are still struggling with this setup, so I think additional practice is needed before we start giving them assignments.

Pinning to my Web 2.0 board - Pinterest

In an effort to test the educational application of Pinterest, I created a pin board for this project.

The main issue that I found was that pages without large images could not be pinned to the board. This was an unfortunate problem, but one that I was able to get around by looking for more meaningful Web sites instead of just links to resources.  For example, I wasn't able to link sites like,, or  I was able to link news articles, posts from, and a link to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  I was also able to add links to YouTube videos!

I see many possible applications for this tool.  Students will be able to use it much like a social bookmarking site, except it uses multimedia instead of plain text links.  Students can post a 500 character description of the link, and then peers can post comments.  I think this would be an awesome tool for a classroom or telecollaborative project.  Students could work together to create a group pin board on a specific topic.  Pin boards are engaging and interactive.  I see my students using them on their own all the time, so why shouldn't we tap into the educational possibilities?

As of right now, Pinterest is only available by invitation.  I was able to request an invitation and received mine within 48 hours.  I can now invite my students to join.  If anyone would like an invitation to join Pinterest, please send me a message with your e-mail address and I'll see to it that you get one.

Voki for Digital Storytelling

Get a Voki now!

It is really easy to create a Voki! I just made a second one here in less than 2 minutes, and I didn't even need a microphone.  Voki doesn't require students to sign in to create or save their creations, but there are both free accounts and paid teacher accounts that allow users to register and better manage the Vokis they create.  It's a simple program to use and wouldn't require much training - students follow the prompts to choose features, select a background, and then record the story.  The software does the rest of the work!

My students practice Digital Storytelling, and I find that they often don't feel comfortable with using their own voice.  It's important to me that they practice this anyway, and the students can sometimes be stubborn.  Voki could be an option for those students, as it lets you either record a voice or use text-to-speech.

I'm still not convinced that Voki would be the right tool for my classroom, mainly because the Digital Storytelling project is multimedia and requires students to add their own photos and videos.  I think it would be a powerful tool in a number of other classes. One classroom where I see great application is Social Studies.  I would love to see students create historical avatars and record their stories to share with classmates.

This site gives more information about Voki, including an example of how it can be used in a foreign language classroom.

Glogster Take 2

I decided to give Glogster a second chance and I continue to be disappointed.  Several years ago, this program came very highly recommended by workshop presenters.

I tried to create a sample Glog that demonstrated its ability to embed video, audio, images, and files.  I ran into issues logging in, saving my Glog, and publishing my Glog.  A number of times, I reached the "something really bad happened!" page.   To make matters worse, they are no longer offering free education accounts.  Maybe my issues are related to the fact that I have an older beta account and have not paid for the upgrade?

Here is my attempt at making a Glog.  Note the saving/publishing issues above- it may not work.

I see this as a resource with tremendous possibility.  Until they work out the bugs, I cannot recommend it to my peers or consider using it in my classroom.


 Pinterest is an interesting spin on social bookmarking.  Instead of simply linking to pages, users are able to create virtual bulletin boards and post ideas and photos from around the Web.  Users can follow friends or people whose style they admire.  The layout is reminiscent of a catalog, and users are sure to be inspired by the content that appears on their walls.  With one click, students can share new ideas and visit sources shared by their peers.  Multiple students in a class could collaborate to create one board on an assigned topic.


Audacity in my classroom

My students are always impressed to learn that Audacity is a free tool.  They love remixing music and testing out the different effects.  I usually do two lessons with Audacity.

 The first lesson is a lot of fun, and it introduces the students to the functionality of the program. I tell them that they are working for the FBI and are investigating the crash landing of an alien space craft.  Part of the investigation involves interviewing an alien named Nugget to find out more about his home planet. I give them a some of Nugget's words like oh-ell-ah and yall-furr-shtop.  They use the microphones to record the words and then use the effects menu to reverse them and translate them into "English."

For our second lesson, we work on podcasting.  The students write a short (30 seconds-1 minute) news story to read on the air.  If this lesson falls around the holidays, we report on activities in Santa's workshop, weather and traffic reports for Christmas Eve, etc.  The students record their podcasts and then edit in music and sound effects.  The podcasts are burned to a class CD, but could be published online if that was what the teacher wanted to do.