Teachers as Content Creators

This week in ECMP 455 we discussed the idea of teachers transitioning from the role of content facilitators to becoming creators of their own content, and in class we explored different content creation tools that are available to teachers.

I like the idea of teachers creating their own content and sharing it openly with their students.  I strongly believe in making education accessible to students outside of the classroom. Sometimes, I think we treat education as this teacher-held secret that students can only acquire if they are in class to write it all down — as if learning can’t take place outside the four walls of a classroom. But, if there is anything that I learned during my internship it’s that some kids have a lot going on in their lives and sometimes my Physical Science 20 class, or whatever class, isn’t their priority. I get that, and I don’t think that a student’s education should have to suffer because of that. After all, on the most basic of levels, our job as teachers is to help students learn. We shouldn’t restrict that learning to inside classroom. When teachers create and share content openly, students can access and review that content anywhere and everywhere, and as many times as they would like.

As I mentioned in a previous post, during my internship, I set up a Google Calendar for my Physical Science 20 class — the class that I taught all semester. At the end of every class, I would upload any notes/class work directly from my SMART Board to the Google Calendar, along with any handouts or assignments, in order to make the course content available to my students outside of the class. Looking back now, though, I realize that maybe there was a more effective way for me to share content with my students.  Although my students could access the notes and view them exactly as they were taken in class, they were just that — static notes. I realize that for some students it may have been tough to decipher the notes because they couldn’t hear me explain step-by-step how to solve a mole calculation problem, they could only see how I solved the problem. That being said, for the purposes of this blog, I wanted to explore different screencasting tools that would allow me to record a video of myself explaining the content. I ended up coming across one tool in particular that I really liked: Educreations.

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Photo Credit: Dakota Moncrief via tes.com

 

Educreations is an app that essentially turns your iPad or computer into a recordable, interactive whiteboard that enables you to create Khan Academy-style video tutorials, lessons, or stories. Right away, I was really intrigued by this tool because, as a student, I am someone who needs to watch and hear a concept be explained multiple times before I get it, and I know that many of my students during internship were the same way. With Educreations, you can create a video lesson for your students which they can watch whenever or wherever they want, and replay or pause as many times as they want. If you have never come across Educreations before, here is a tutorial video that provides an brief overview of the tool:

One of the things that I like best about Educreations is how easy it is for teachers to use. Other content creation tools, like PowToon for example, have a lot of bells and whistles — you can add visuals, animations, background music, etc. This might make presentations more visually appealing, but I think it also adds a lot of extra work for teachers. For instance, the other day I spent some time exploring PowToon, attempting to make a chemistry lesson using the tool. However, I felt so overwhelmed by all of the different features that I got nowhere with the actual lesson — I spent most of my time trying to pick the perfect background and sound effects. What I’m looking for in a content creation tool is something that is practical and simple to use — I don’t want to spend a lot of time making a video lesson. Maybe that makes me sound like a bad teacher, but in my opinion, teachers already have a lot on their plates — it’s not realistic to spend hours upon hours creating a video lesson, especially if it’s something that you do/are going to do on a regular basis. For me, something like Educreations is just more practical. Educreations many not have as many options (you can draw, add text, or upload pictures), but I don’t think that’s a bad thing — depending on how you use the different features I think you can create an equally engaging lesson.

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PowToon — a lot going on

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Educreations in contrast — much simpler 

Another thing that I really like about Educreations is that is enables you to deliver instruction in a simple, clear and concise fashion. Last week in class we were introduced to Crash Course — a digital education channel on YouTube that provides information on all sorts of different topics from physics to psychology. I had never heard of Crash Course before so I spent some time watching some of their science videos, like the one below:

One thing that I noticed was that the videos were actually quite hard to follow — they are full of graphics and animations which I found distracting, and on top of that, the creators speak quite quickly. So, while I might have understood the content that was being presented, I didn’t actually take anything away from the videos that I watched. Now, this is not to say that the videos were not good quality — they absolutely were! The videos were very fun and engaging and were, I thought, unique way to present information. However, at some point, I think all the flash and fun impedes the facilitation of the content and takes away from the learning. Sometimes I think simplicity is key, and that’s what I like about Educreations — you can provide simple explanations or simple inquiry and still be helpful and engaging.

Overall, Educreations is exactly the type of tool that I was looking for to be able to share content with my students. I’m excited to explore it further and maybe start creating sample lessons to practice using the tool. To sum up, here is my pro/con list for Educreations:

Pros

  • It’s free (you can upgrade, but in my opinion, the free version works just fine)
  • Can use on iPad or computer
  • It’s compatible with Google, so you can upload documents and pictures right from Google Drive
  • Very easy to use
  • Simple — not a lot of bells and whistles (this may be a con for some people)
  • Khan Academy-style video lesson creator
  • Can be used in multiple contexts
    • Flipped classroom
    • Some teachers use it as a way to create simple tutorial videos for their students, like the one here
    • Create and share an answer key — can work through the assignment showing and explaining the solutions
    • One teacher uses it as an assessment tool in English, math, phys.ed, and health

Cons

  • Simple — not a lot of bells and whistles
  • Have to upgrade (which costs money) in order to access more features
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#EdTech: Are We Trying Too Hard?

When it comes to #edtech, are we trying too hard? This is a question that has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.

A few weeks ago, my good friend Robin and I co-wrote a post on the pedagogical value of Snapchat — one of the most popular social media apps used by youth today.  Snapchat can be used to live broadcast school events, to communicate with parents and/or students, to showcase student learning, and much more.  However, just because Snapchat has potential educational value doesn’t mean that it is the best learning tool for my students.

We seem to do this a lot; we feel pressure to stay up-to-date on the newest, hottest tech tools, so every time a new website, app, or social media platform come out, we feel the need to “edufy” it to make it usable in the classroom.  This brings me back to my original question: Are we trying too hard? Do all these new technologies really have a place in the classroom when there are a million and one technologies already out there? Are we, in some way, just trying to “have an in” with our students?

Before I go any further, I’d like to clarify something: I am not arguing against the use of Snapchat (or any other new tech tool for that matter) in the classroom.  As I mentioned before, Snapchat does have educational value.  What I am arguing, however, is that we as teachers be more critical of the technologies that we implement into our classrooms and the ways in which we implement them.  I strongly believe that technology integration needs to be planned and purposeful; there needs to be a reason for doing it — it should not be random.  This TED-Ed article outlines three questions that teachers should ask themselves before using technology in the classroom:

  1. What is the primary goal, and how will this technology support it?
  2. How will this technology choice broaden students’ perspectives?
  3. How is this technology choice going to help my students learn?

Teachers can (and should) use these three questions to evaluate a new tech tool before integrating it into the classroom.  Teachers should also use these questions to evaluate the tools they already use to determine if they are still effective.  Amie Reid, a fellow ECMP 355 classmate and someone who is pro-technology, recently wrote a blog post in which she argued against using Twitter in the classroom.  Amie made some excellent points (in a very creative fashion, might I add), but one in particular struck me:

“My 14 yo says Twitter (like Facebook) is old news. She doesn’t tweet.  She uses Instagram, Snapchat, etc. So why force this tech on Ss?”

I think Amie’s point nicely addresses why we need to be critical of the technology that we use in the classroom — both old and new.  Twitter and Facebook may be tried-and-true edtech tools, but these technologies are becoming obsolete to youth.  So, as Amie asserts, why force do we still these tools on our students? Surely there are more engaging apps that we can use to meet students’ learning needs other than Twitter and Facebook.

I guess my point is this: Instead of “edufying” every new technology that comes our way, maybe we should spend our time and efforts making good use of a few technologies that we know are engaging and effective learning tools for our students. This is not to say that we should never try out new technologies, of course we should, but not everything has to be turned into an edtech tool.  In my opinion, the whole point of edtech is to support and enhance student learning — it should not be used just for the sake of it.

 

 

 

EdTech and Chemistry

As we have been learning in ECMP 355, there are tons of amazing edtech tools out there that can be used in the classroom; there are communication technologies like Remind, Edublogs, and Kahoot, productivity technologies like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote, and presentation technologies like Haiku Deck, Nearpod, and Touchcast — just to name a few. While these tools are great, and ones that I will most definitely integrate into my future classroom, as a chemistry major and huge science nerd, I wanted to know if there are any technologies that are designed specifically for a chemistry classroom.  So, I have been doing some research.  These are a few of the resources that I have come across so far:

1. 3D Period Table via Chrome Experiments

I found this resource while browsing the #chemchat hashtag on Twitter, and it is way too cool.  This tool provides a 3D visualization of the periodic table.  When you click on an element, it gives you some basic information like the name of the element, its atomic number, atomic mass, and electron configuration.  You also have the option to “explore an atom” which provides a 3D atomic view of the particular element. Since atoms cannot be seen with the naked eye, students often think of atoms in terms of the static 2D Bohr Diagrams they learn to draw.  However, the “explore an atom” option would help students to visualize what an atom looks and acts like in 3D space. Overall, I think the 3D periodic table is a helpful tech tool for students, and it fits perfectly in the Atoms and Elements unit in the Saskatchewan Science 9 curriculum.

 

2. Interactive Periodic Table via The Royal Society of Chemistry

This interactive periodic table is similar to the Chrome Experiments’ 3D periodic table. This resource allows you to manipulate the periodic table to highlight the different groups, periods, and blocks.  You can also “adjust” the temperature to see how the physical state of each element changes.  If you click on an individual element, it links to a page that lists the chemical and physical properties of that element. One of my favourite features of the site is the “Visual Elements Images” feature in the top left-hand corner; when you click, it changes the periodic table such that each element is represented by a picture that describes the history how it was discovered. Super cool!

 

3. Interactive Chemistry Simulations via PhET

This website offers simulation activities that demonstrate different complex chemistry topics like concentration, molecule polarity, and acid-base solutions.  Aside from chemistry, the site also has simulations that explain concepts in biology, physics, Earth science, and math.  I think these simulations serve as a great learning tool — they allow students to explore and apply the content that they learn in class. Another bonus is that the simulations are versatile — they cover content that corresponds to science outcomes from grades 9 to 12.

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“Acid-Base Solutions” — an example of one of the chemistry simulations offered.

 

4. Science Journal via Google

Science Journal is another tool that I discovered through Twitter (hashtags are a great thing, aren’t they?).  Science Journal is a free Android app that turns your smartphone or tablet into a data logger that can record measurements from the device’s various sound, light, and motion sensors.  The data can not only be recorded over a period of time, but it can be plotted on a graph, annotated with notes and photos, and compared against other measurements taken at a different time.  I have not tried the app out myself, but I think it sounds like a neat edtech tool — it’s like having a lab notebook in your pocket!  Although Science Journal would work for a variety of experiments, I think it would be particularly useful in “Properties of Waves” unit in the new Physical Science 20 curriculum.

Know of any more good edtech tools to use in a science/chemistry classroom? Share with me in the comments!