Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Skitch: An App to Enhance Student Learning

  What is it?

Skitch is an image editing app designed by Plasq software, the same company that created Comic Life. This multi-purpose tool allows users to capture and annotate images, and the app is available for both Macs and Windows, as well as iPads and iPhones.

Why should we use it?

There are numerous advantages for using Skitch to enhance student learning and to create a student-centered learning environment. This app is much more user-friendly than Photoshop, which allows students to spend less time learning how to use the app itself and more time actually completing their assignment. In essence, Skitch is a professional, educational Snapchat for the classroom, and since there is much hype surrounding Snapchat among the iGeneration, they will likely enjoy the photo-editing freedom that accompanies Skitch. The app itself promotes group collaboration, as students can edit their images on several devices and easily share photos and maps with each other through email. Some additional advantages for teachers is that the app is completely free to download and use, plus it helps subtract from the endless accumulation of papers floating around the classroom.

Teachers who have used Skitch in their own classroom have found it to be quite successful. I first heard about this app from Matthew Switzer, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for BCLUW, GMG, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, and North Tama. He spoke to my Methods of Teaching Literacy class this past month about ways to incorporate technology in the classroom and mentioned Skitch as an app we all should familiarize ourselves with. I have been in contact with him and plan to interview him further regarding his experiences using Skitch. In addition, numerous teachers have blogged about their positive experiences with Skitch.  
Here is a sample of just some of many teacher testaments:

How can we use this app?  

1. Create a Skitch image (6 ways)

  • Take a photo using Skitch camera
  • Select an existing image from your device
  • Create a Skitch image from a webpage or map
  • Paste an image from the device clipboard
  • Create a Skitch image from a blank page
  • Open a PDF in Skitch from another app

  2. Use markup tools to edit the image

  • Arrow tool: tap and drag to draw arrow
  • Line and Shapes tool: select shape, then hold and draw
  • Text tool: click where you want text to appear, then type text
  • Pen and Highlight tool: Use pen to freehand draw or highlighter to highlight with transparent ink
  • Stamp tool: select stamp and add to photo (ex: a check mark)
  • Emoticon tool: select the emoticon you wish to use
  • Pixelate tool: blur portions of the photo
  • Color and Stroke options: choose color of text, arrows and shapes as well as the size of the stroke
For more information on how to use the app, please watch the video below:

How can we adopt it with appropriate pedagogy?

CREDIT: This image is taken from the Scholastic article "Leading the Way" from Scholastic News, Weekly Reader, Edition 3, March 2015 Issue
This app can be used across the curriculum and is easily adaptable to fit almost any unit of study. Let's consider how Skitch could be used in the core content areas as suggested by this blog:
  • Math: Use as a white board to practice computational problems, draw geometric shapes and label vertices, deconstruct word problems by taking a photo and marking it up
  • Science: Use as a white board to draw life cycles, annotate parts of a cell or parts of a plant, or create diagrams for the food chain.
  • Language Arts: Use text annotation and highlighting features for any text, label the elements of a story, add images to vocab words by taking pictures or drawing, use with ESL students to combine visuals with text
  • Geography: Use map feature to show points of interest or highlight specific regions, create a map of your classroom or school, create a treasure map incorporating key features of a map, label a blank map with names of states or countries

What are the challenges for adopting it and how can we turn these challenges into opportunities? 

One challenge of the app in particular is the issue of copyright. Students have the ability to upload and edit copyrighted images that they may not have permission to use. While this first appears as a challenge, it can also be seen as an opportunity in the classroom, for teachers can use this as a chance to educate their students on copyright images and the need to use images with permission.
Another challenge is the fact that Skitch works best with iPads or tablets because these devices allow for easy picture taking at various angles. For example, it would be difficult for a student to take a picture on Skitch via their MacBook Pro. However, this challenge can be seen as an opportunity if the teacher plans to take a picture ahead of time, share the image with their students on Skitch, and then allow the students to annotate the photo using the app.

What can help you for the adoption? 

If students are already utilizing technology in their classrooms, adapting Skitch is an easy transition. Students will simply need to download the app on their devices and become aquainted with it, and then they will be able to use Skitch to enhance an assignment as they see fit. Teachers should spend at least part of class time helping students learn the tools of the app, but due to the technological savviness of the iGeneration and Skitch's similarities to Snapchat, it should not take long for students to learn how to use Skitch.

To see an example of Skitch in use, please watch the video below: 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

iPads in the English Classroom

There is much debate about whether iPads are actually beneficial to a classroom or not. As someone who naturally favors paper and pen to an electronic screen for writing and drafting purposes, I am hesitant to fully support the use of iPads in all aspects of my classroom. After all, a student does not need to worry about a journal running out of battery like an iPad.

However, there are other pages that suggest that iPads somehow improve classroom instruction. According to this article entitled "8 Studies Show iPads in the Classroom Improve Education," there are research studies that suggest a link between iPads and student achievement. However, it is important to note that correlation does not equal causation, especially with the use of technology in the classroom.

Consider the first bullet: "A research study, conducted in Auburn, Maine showed that Kindergartner students using iPads scored much higher on literacy tests than students that didn’t use the device."

The iPads might not have had anything to do with the results of this survey. What if it was the teaching style overall? What if the students who were using iPads naturally had higher literacy skills? The iPads likely had nothing to do with the kindergartners scoring higher in literacy because technology itself does not make students better readers. Practice and quality teaching, on the other hand, does. 

It is ultimately up to the teacher to decide how iPads can fit into their classroom. However, I encourage teachers to not use technology just because they think it will somehow make their students smarter or achieve higher test scores, for this simply is not true.

Image entitled "ipad" by Sean MacEntee used with permission from Flickr.com.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

eBooks: The Pros and Cons

As technology continues to transform the way students read, it is important for educators to be aware of both the pros and cons of substituting traditional hard-copy textbooks and materials for eBooks. According to a TopTen Reviews website, there are numerous benefits as well as disadvantages to using eBooks. As you read, consider your own students and classroom when deciding if eBooks are the route for you.

Pros of eBooks
  • Eco-friendly (no killing of trees!)
  • Purchase any book in an instant from your seat
  • Only requires 1 device to carry instead of several books/materials
  • Generally cost less than print versions
  • More adaptable to fit reader's needs (zoom-in features, brightness settings, etc.)
  • Multi-media components (audio and visual enhancements)
  • Can mark and highlight pages without needing Post-It notes or highlighters
Cons of eBooks
  •  Piracy concerns with the unauthorized sharing of a publisher or author's work
  • Not the same feel as a book in your hands and turning the pages
  • LCD screen may cause glare and eye strain
  • Struggle for consistent formatting of pages and spacing on an eReader device
  • Requires plug-ins and battery life to operate
  • May be a trend that will die out, risk of losing digital books
Image entitled "eBook Readers Galore" by Michael Porter, 2010 used with permission from Flickr.com.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Are smartpens a wise investment?

Although I am an adamant proponent of technology in the classroom, there's just something special about writing your thoughts down with a physical pen on paper.

When a friend told me about a special type of "smartpen" that transfers your notes to a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, etc., I was intrigued yet skeptical. How exactly would this type of technology benefit my students?

After exploring the Livescribe website, a company that carries several smartpens, I found some interesting facts about their smartpens:
  • They can pick up words, sounds, symbols, and sketches
  • By tapping your notes, you can hear what was said while you were taking those notes (i.e., the voice of the teacher) and play back the recording as many times as needed
  • You can control the speed and volume of the play back
Advantages for teachers: increase instructional time, share "pencasts" with students and parents online, appeals to both visual and auditory learning styles, access to students' thinking, create electronic portfolios, identify misconceptions

Advantages for students: reduce stress in taking notes, can replay instruction an infinite number of times, promotes collaboration among students

The smartpens on the Livescribe website range in price from $119.95 to $199.95.

In my opinion, the cost is pretty steep considering what you get from the product. A lot of the same benefits could be achieved by both teachers and students by using a simple tape recorder. Therefore, I don't think the smartpen is something every student needs or should have; however, perhaps it would be reasonable for a school to purchase a couple of pens for English Language Learners to utilize.

Image entitled "Livescribe Pulse smartpen" by Anoto AB taken with permission from Flickr.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Alternative Keyboards and Other Assistive Technologies

 As we all know, no two people are exactly alike. As such, no two people learn in the exact same way, either.

Students are bound to have particular needs when learning new concepts. Whether they struggle with reading written text or writing their own pieces, a teacher must at the very least acknowledge these needs and plan their lessons accordingly to meet these needs. This is where assistive technology (AT) comes into play, meaning any device that can maintain or increase the capability of an individual with a particular need.

To learn more about what assistive technology entails, watch this quick video:

According to an article on Microsoft Accessibility, there are many types of assistive technology devices:
  • Alternative keyboards: Larger keys, ability to type with one hand
  • Keyboard filters: Word prediction capabilities, spelling checkers, quick access to the letters people want to use
  • On-screen keyboards: Keyboards that are on the computer screen in which people can select letters using their mouse, touch screen, etc. (Good for motor difficulties)
 In addition, there are also assistive technology tools made especially for writing. In an article by Kristin Stanberry, tools such as abbreviation expanders, alternative keyboards, and graphic organizers can all be used to help students with writing. Specific programs such as ActiveWords, Intellikeys, and Kidspiration can all be used in the classroom to assist students with their writing needs.

Know of any other helpful AT tools for an English classroom (or any classroom for that matter)? Feel free to comment below.

Image entitled "Detail of Ergonomic Keyboard" by cobalt123 published in 2006 used with permission from Flickr.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Gaming in an English Classroom

As a future English teacher, I constantly search for ways to make my lessons more interesting and relevant to my students. I want to go beyond the traditional structure of the typical English classroom and make my classes exciting as well as rewarding for my students.

One modern way to engage students in a lesson is to utilize the technology available in your classroom for online gaming. According to Elizabeth Simpson's article, "Today's dominant emerging culture is the culture of gamers... Clearly, teachers are going to have to rethink how they present material in the classroom."

Now, let's talk about how gaming can be used specifically in an English classroom. There are thousands of different online games available for free online, but this site serves as an excellent resource for games involving middle or high school-level vocabulary, analogies, story ideas, comics and even learning English as a second language.

Check out the links and see for yourself how online gaming can improve your lesson plans. Game on!

Image "The Online Resource Station" by UCCS Kraemer Family Library taken from Flickr with permission

Wednesday, March 25, 2015