Saturday, March 7, 2015

Space Camp 2015 Podcasts Posted!

Space Camp 2015 Group
Each year our fifth grade class visits Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida. We call this trip Space Camp. Before we leave the classroom and head to Titusville we spend several weeks studying Newton's Laws of Motion. This helps us understand the physics involved in lifting a spacecraft off the launch pad. Our 2-day trip by bus to the east coast of Florida includes an "overnight adventure" in the Atlantis Shuttle Experience building where we sleep under the actual Shuttle Atlantis. The Atlantis is housed in a new building that was specifically built around the Atlantis. In the past we slept under a Saturn V rocket housed in the Apollo Saturn V building! Needless to say, this class trip is an awesome and unforgettable experience.

Our Podcast Workflow

When we returned we compiled our field notes taken at Space Camp. We sorted through all the pictures we snapped while there. This year we gathered 999 photos via DropItToMe and made them all available to the students via a shared Dropbox! Finally, student groups picked 5-6 key photos for their Google Slides presentation and created audio podcasts with Audacity focusing on various things we learned and experienced while at the Space Center. For podcast music we used the CCMixter site. The artists there have made their music available for podcasts and videos. In the final step we played the audio and video portions simultaneously while recording the audio-video with screencasting software Camtasia. The final .mp4 video file was then uploaded to a Dropbox Public folder and shared via the links below.

Curriculum Connections

The week-long podcast project is a culminating activity following several weeks of study in science and computer classes prior to the Space Camp trip. The podcast preparation involved reading, writing, listening and speaking (language arts), skillful use of a laptop computer (part of our 1:1 netbook program), online and hands-on research and experiences in science and, specifically, the space program, and much more. Students collaborated and shared in groups led by parent volunteers. All of this work before, during and after Space Camp made the podcast project a reality. 


This year's podcast project is a 5-photo story that combines 5 photos into an audio-visual "story" focusing on a specific space theme. (Thanks to Wes Fryer for the inspiration for this project!)
Our 2015 podcasts are featured below. We hope you enjoy them! We would love to hear from you in the Comments section below. Your comments encourage us to continue our creative work online. Thanks in advance!

Mr. Schwan's Groups

Mrs. Bell's Groups

*password required to protect student's privacy. Students can enter password for parents, grandparents, but will not share the password with anyone.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

5-Photo Stories About Sea Camp

Each year students in grades 3-8 at my school participate in a class trip. My fourth grade computer students attend Sea Camp on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys. There, they participate in many hands-on activities to help them learn about the sea life of Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Before they go, students prepare for their trip through various classroom-based learning activities. When they return they complete a 5-photo story as part of their computer class (thank you, Wes Fryer, for this idea!). The following presentations were created using screencasting software, a Google Slides Presentation, and the free audio editor Audacity. Creating this presentation is a multi-step process that begins when the students choose pictures, write a script, make a 5-slide presentation, give the presentation in front of their classmates, and record the audio/video presentation for publication on my class website

I hope you'll take some time to view a few of these 1-2 minute presentations. Please leave a comment here so our children know that someone besides their classmates and teacher are watching. Or, feel free to leave a comment on this blog (below). We'd really appreciate it!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Netbook Teacher Gets MacBook Air "Netbook"

I just love my new MacBook Air! Technically, it's not a netbook. I guess I'll need to expand my definition of netbook, or change the title of my blog! Either way, I still love this new laptop. I opted for the 13" model because this is my main computer. I use it all day long at school, then come home and use it some more. I thought I might feel cramped after a day of using a scrunched-down 11" model. Several reviewers said that, and I think I agree. At least for the way I use a computer. The vertical height would feel like 6 foot ceilings to me, and I'm 5'9" tall.

When I come home and want to get some heavy lifting done I plug in a 32" HDTV as a monitor (now, that's a BIG screen!), my Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad, my Wacom Bamboo tablet, and I can sit in front of the computer for hours. Oh, I do this in clamshell mode — laptop closed and tilted up against a bookshelf. It runs cool and quiet, best of all worlds. Who needs a "desktop" machine when you can take an ultra-light laptop with you that also runs as a desktop computer at home? Add an external hard drive and a few peripherals and you've got what I consider the perfect setup. At least for me.

Lucky for me, I got the "loaded" MBA with 8 Gb of RAM and a 500 Gb hard drive. This solid state drive is both quiet and fast! Did I mention that I love this thing?

I've had 3 MacBook Pros over the past 9-10 or so years. I started with a 17" model — too big. It was like a portable desktop machine, complete with all the extra weight. After the motherboard died and the battery swelled and bent the battery door I was able, under Applecare, to get a FREE 15-inch "loaded" MBP. Don't buy a Mac laptop without the Applecare warranty! After purchasing it for $183 per laptop under Apple's educator discount on 4 different laptops over a dozen years (less than $800 total) I more than made up the investment with a single replacement laptop that Apple gave me for this faulty MacBook Pro. The replacement model was worth well over $2000, and ended up being an upgrade for me, right before the warranty expired! Don't leave home without it!

Then, I got another 15" MacBook Pro (after a few years with the first one). Finally, I lost a few pounds (of laptop weight) and got this Air. I ditched my backpack of the past 14 years and went to a satchel that is only big enough for the Air and a few pieces of paper. I manage to also put in the charger, but I really don't use it much. I have one at school and one at home, and I can go all day without it — so far. 

I unplugged it when I left home at 7 am today, started using it around 7:20 am at school, and it just died at 6:30 pm this evening while I was typing in the recliner. I'm running on "shore power" again and will charge this thing overnight after I finish this article and close the lid. Tomorrow, repeat, rinse, and do it again. It went for 11 hours of nearly non-stop computing today. I close the lid only when not using it, and today I used it almost all day between the time with my students using this as a presentation machine, and the time when they were away at another class and I was reading their work on the laptop.

Oh, and if you're a Windows lover, this thing even runs Windows 7 or 8 with no problem. Even side-by-side with Mac OS. That little tidbit is what finally convinced my principal to allow me to be the only Mac-using teacher in our school. A few teachers have since converted and use Mac as their personal machines. I'm fortunate, and with a collection of cross-platform apps, I can use this as my main computer for home and work. If you can handle the $2K for a killer machine, go for the MacBook Air (less if you don't need the memory). It's worth every penny! 


Disclaimer: I use several Windows machines at work and home for a variety of special purposes. I teach in a Windows school. Most of my 80 students in 4th and 5th grade run Windows 7 or 8 on their BYOD netbooks. So, I have a Windows 8 touch screen Asus netbook that I use when I must show them something in Windows. Otherwise, they look at my Mac screen (and the apps that run on it) all day long for one thing or another. 

The side benefit: most of my kids could probably sit down in front of a Mac or a PC and function just fine. I call that ambidextrous teaching and learning!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Google Classroom Used for 5th Grade Science

Over the summer of 2014 I spent some time with Google Classroom. I see it as a portal for managing all of the GAFE (Google Apps for Education) tools—gmail, Google Drive, YouTube, and more. It just makes my students' workflow management much simpler, and puts everything in one place for them. 

I started the year using Classroom with one course in my homeroom. After 3 weeks, I'm ready to move to my science classes where I use a blended approach for two different groups of students. They watch a video at home, answer some online questions (a Google Form). I grade the questions using Flubaroo, then I'm ready for the next day's class period where we discuss any of the questions students struggled with. After that, we have a hands-on demonstration of the science concepts, we work in small groups, check our understanding using tools like Socrative, and much more. I'm working to improve the "time on task" of my students, both in and out of the classroom. The idea of maximizing time on task is something I learned from my principal. Google Classroom helps me with this goal.

In Praise of Free Tech 4 Teachers

I just finished writing a thank you note to Richard Byrne of FreeTech4Teachers, and then I decided I should also add a note here. Over the summer of 2014 I sat down every morning with my Raisin Bran and iPhone, and read through Richard's half-dozen or so new articles offering "free tech tools" for teachers on his blog. I consider it his labor of love, I wondered (in my email to him) how he manages to find the time, and I simply offered a word of thanks for all the time-saving tools he's shared with me over the past couple of years. If you're reading this, do yourself a favor and click on the link to his blog. Subscribe via email updates and sift through his daily updates, using what you find helpful. I click on "share" and pass the best stuff on to Evernote for later reading and checking-out.

Over the summer I was able to add a few add-on tools to my Google Drive arsenal, making my assignment and project workflow move even more efficiently between me, my students, and back again. I can now give my kids an online quiz or offer them a few reflection questions after sharing a short video with them, and get the results of their answers delivered to me. Multiple choice questions are graded and delivered with "item analysis", so I know which of the questions gave my class-as-a-whole the most trouble. Armed with that data prior to my next class session, I can focus my attention on the area(s) most in need of my attention and move past those areas that the kids have already mastered. This is just one area of growth for me over the summer, thanks to the resources that Richard has shared with all of us.

Today, I made a Google Custom Search Engine after reading Richard's latest articles. Now, my students and their parents can search my website for the document or video they need. I also did the same for our school website which is in need of a facelift. In the meantime, at least I can find the stuff I need quickly and easily thanks to Google and thanks to Richard Byrne.

As you can see, it was a productive summer for me. Now, if I can just find the time during the school year to keep plowing through all this good and free tech!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dropbox Public Folder Goes Away for FREE Accounts

In a previous post about my Netbook Teacher tools I mentioned Dropbox as part of my workflow. I've used Dropbox for years as a cloud-based method of backing up and syncing mission-critical files between my various computers and computing devices. I can get to these files from a Mac, a PC, my iPad or iPhone. It’s a great solution. I even spend $99 a year for a Pro account, which gives me 100 Gb of cloud-based storage in my personal Dropbox account.

However, I was disappointed to discover today that Dropbox has dropped the Public folder for all new and FREE accounts. They apparently did this starting back in 2012, but somehow I missed it until today when I tried to create and use a new Public folder on a new (FREE) Dropbox account. 

Why is this a problem? I’ve used this feature for years to host podcasts for very small audiences of users whom I serve as part of a couple of hobbies or work-related, but extra-curricular, activities in which I participate. For example, I host training session podcasts for a ham radio related project on a Google Site. I also post my audio recordings from sessions I attend at FETC, an educational-technology conference I attend annually. Dropbox provided a perfect place to store these files, then to share them with anyone who may be interested in the content I collect, store and share online.

The Public folder automatically makes any file inside both downloadable and playable within one’s browser. I can embed the URLs from .mp3 files inside this Public folder into my blog or Google Site and a visitor to my site can click and listen, right in their browser. These files can also be set up via RSS to stream to a podcatcher. I often listen to them on my iPhone via Bluetooth headphones while cutting the grass.

I understand why Dropbox did this. On their website they say they now have a new way to create links to files in a Dropbox account. I've used this "new way", but it only gives users the option of downloading the podcast (.mp3) file to the hard drive where you must open it with Quicktime or Media Player, or some other .mp3 player on your computer or other device. The "old way" enabled people like me to use multiple FREE Dropbox accounts to host podcasts indefinitely at a great price!

My discovery came when I was trying to upload the latest training session podcast from one of my hobby projects. The 55 minute podcast cut off at 43 minutes. I discovered my 2 Gb FREE Dropbox account was full, so that was as far as the uploaded file could go, apparently, when the 2 Gb limit was reached. No problem, I thought. I just created a new, FREE, Dropbox account and uploaded the .mp3 file there. However, that's when I discovered that the Public folder, normally created automatically when a new Dropbox account is created, was not there! A quick Google search brought me up to date with the Dropbox news.

So, no hard feelings, Dropbox. Thanks for all the FREE podcast hosting over several years. Fortunately, they included a grandfather clause and all my previous files are still working just fine. But, now, I must find a new place to host my podcast files—hopefully for free!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Google Classroom: My Preview Came Today!

When I first heard of the forthcoming Google Classroom I decided to apply for an early look. Well, my invitation came through today, and I've just finished my first look. So far, I'm impressed. Google Classroom will add some much-needed functionality and simplicity to our classroom workflow come August when we begin our new school year.

I hope you'll check out Google Classroom. Meanwhile, here's my contribution to the many "first look" videos and articles popping up each day on the Internet. There are many others, including one from Google Educast that I'm enjoying, too. Mine is embedded below. It's a quickie at 8:56. Enjoy!