Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Using a Visual Thesaurus

As technology educators we are always confronted with the issue of trying to get faculty to try a new idea. Well, I found a few products that were enthusiastically received by Language Arts teachers and I would love to share them with you.

The first is Visual Thesaurus. Sometimes when students are assigned to write an essay, it is so hard for them to find the right word. The Visual Thesaurus is a fun alternative to "look it up". The kids love it. What you do is type in a word and then this really cool animated array opens up and allows you to continue clicking until you find the work you like. On one side of the window it displays for you which of the words is a noun, adverb, adjective, etc. You can share your word lists, and they even have a 14 day free trial.

When I sent it to the faculty to try it out they were so enthusiastic they wanted to buy it NOW. What a great tool. Check it out!

Criterion is a Web-based instructional tool that allows students to submit essays for immediate
evaluation, including a holistic score and annotated diagnostic feedback on their grammar, usage,
mechanics, style, and organization and development. About a half million elementary, middle, high school and college students across the United States and around the world have used the Criterion service, according to Technology & Learning which awarded the software in 2005.

Our teachers started using this recently and I have to tell you the response from the students is inspiring. As I watched this program be deployed in a sixth grade classroom I saw something that I don't think would have happened any other way. The students approached this program as if it were a computer game. They were trying to score higher on their essays by making quick adjustments to see if they could raise their scores. They were very focused and disappointed when what would appear to be a simple solution did not result in a higher score and sometimes resulted in a lower one.

I sort of hated to be the one to explain that this wasn't a contest and getting a higher score was independent of how quickly you achieved that result. Soon I saw my Need for Speed enthusiasts settle back in their seats and really focus on raising their score by using imagination and creative writing.

These are two great examples of good infusion of technology in education.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hovercraft, Anyone?

My head is still spinning! I just came from the NJECC conference over the past three days. I have been in EdTech for more than 15 years and I still learn more every day. This conference gave me ideas for new podcasts with my students, a working knowledge of how to use Google Apps in the classroom, offering my students a place to do real "higher order" thinking at, setting up an online class in Moodle and of course there is nothing like sharing ideas with colleagues and learning how they do things.

This always leaves me thinking about how I can incorporate this into my curriculum and what, if anything more can I do to stimulate my students and advance their learning beyond the traditional, played out paper and pen.

I was listening to reports of the Auto Show and was smiling as I heard them say, the age of the Jetsons has arrived - a car that flies for about 1,000 miles! As more hovercraft are built do you imagine that people will say, you must drive the old fashioned car - even if it is bulkier, slower, more demaning? Educators insist on forcing kids to do things the "way we have always" done things. Why? Nothing innovative ever came from redundancy.

Letting our students learn and grow in the manner that suits them is scary for some teachers. There is nothing to fear from learning. Kids walk around our schools with mini computers attached to their hips, let's have them use them! You could have a contest in your classroom - ask your students to compete - who can get this information fastest - send a text message to someone in your phone that lives out of this state. Ask them: what time is it? what is your favorite color? what is the weather like where you are? Have them graph their answers including the time it took to get them. Then create a chart...then...well the list goes on.

It is time for us to start thinking outside the box and really noticing where our students are and what they are doing everyday that is building information in their think tanks. 1:1 initiative was handled mostly through Verizon, Cingular and ATT. Let's take advantage of this in our classrooms.