Category Archives: Tutorials

Different Approaches To Using Student Blogs And Digital Portfolios

More and more educators are discovering the importance of having their students build some form of digital presence. Blogging is an excellent way for students to create their own online space, but what do you call this?

  • Simply a student blog?
  • Digital portfolio?
  • ePortfolio?
  • Learning showcase?
  • Blogfolio?

When I first started teaching in 2004, each of my grade one/two students had a scrapbook where they would paste their work samples each term. The goals of this process were: documentation, reflection, assessment and sharing with parents.

Often the same goals apply to the online equivalent of this scrapbook. But if we aren’t doing things any differently than 10-15 years ago, why are we bothering with student blogs? Why aren’t we still cutting and pasting in a scrapbook?

When blogs are used as more than substitution, they offer many advantages.

  • Research tells us that student work is of a higher quality when it involves an authentic audience.
  • The opportunity for feedback and discussion through an online presence is greater.
  • There are many skills to do with writing online, using technology, understanding digital citizenship etc. that are not only useful for students to know, but required in most curriculum standards.
  • Influencing your own digital footprints from a young age can be a powerful experience.

This post explores a range of approaches to student blogs and digital portfolios. We have included classroom examples, and encourage you to share your approach to student blogging in the comment section.

When To Set Up Student Blogs?

When I first started blogging in 2008, I didn’t really know what sort of blogging framework would work for me, but along the way I came up with a model that suited the age of the students, our combined experience, our objectives and our equipment.

This digram shows the progression some classes make from class blog to student blogs

The model I adopted was as follows:

  1. I established a class blog and wrote the posts, while teaching the students to write quality comments.
  2. As students became more familiar with blogging, some students start publishing guest posts on the class blog and learned posting skills.
  3. When I was teaching grade two, had limited computers and was new to student blogging, I didn’t think it was practical for all students to have have blogs. Instead, certain students who had demonstrated enthusiasm, parent support and blogging skills, earned their own blog. This added a new layer to the skill set of commenting and posting: maintaining a blog.
  4. When I was teaching grade four, had a one to one netbook program and had experience managing student blogs, I set up blogs for all students, as digital portfolios.

Throughout all four stages, quality commenting and parent participation is taught and encouraged.

Many teachers begin their blogging journey with a class blog and perhaps progress from there. However, you can jump in at any point of this framework.

You might only be comfortable with having a class blog initially. There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, although keep in mind that aiming to have more student involvement at some point in the future can be advantageous.

At the other end of the spectrum, you might have the confidence, experience and equipment to set up student blogs from day one. Go for it!

Whatever your approach, a class blog always complements a student blogging program. It provides a home base where you can post assignments, showcase student work, publish recounts, communicate to parents, establish community/global connections and more.

How To Set Up Student Blogs

We have many resources in our Edublogs Help Guides that will walk you through the process of setting up student blogs. Sue Waters’ five step guide to setting up student blogs is a good starting place.

One really useful feature on Edublogs, that takes the hassle out of the logistics of student blogs, is called My Class. This is a tool that allows you to:

  • Easily create your student blogs after you’ve set up your class blog
  • Control the privacy of the blogs and control moderation settings
  • Read and/or moderate student posts and/or comments right from your own dashboard (no need to open up 25 tabs in your browser to keep track of what your students are up to)
  • Install a widget to the sidebar of your class blog and student blogs which links to all the student blogs in your class. This means students and readers can easily visit all the blogs, without searching, bookmarking, or adding links individually.

Digital Portfolio Expectations and Frameworks

Many educators refer to their student blogs as digital portfolios.

Academics and thought leaders often debate the meaning of the term digital portfolio. What does this mean? What does it look like?

Perhaps an useful alternative term is ‘blogfolio’ which Silvia Tolisana describes as the glue that can hold it all together in learning. 

Blogfolios are the glue that can hold all curricular content, goals and objectives as well as support school initiatives, observations, assessment and accountability requirements or personal passions, interest and projects together.

Diagram breaking down the concept of blogfolios

For the purpose of this post, we are less concerned with semantics and more concerned with exploring the different frameworks that teachers adopt. Hopefully considering how other teachers approach student blogs will give you some ideas on what would work for you and your students.

I have observed differences in how student blogs work in a variety of areas. There appears to be a spectrum in at least six key areas:

duration privacy content reflection quality control - 6 aspects of student bloggingLet’s break these down and consider where you might sit on each spectrum.

1. Duration

Some student blogs are only active for a year. The student might move up to a non-blogging class and their individual blog remains stagnant. This can be frustrating for teachers who invest time in establishing an effective system for their student blogs. It can also be disappointing for students.

Other institutions think ahead with a whole-school approach. At The Geelong College, which operates their own Edublogs CampusPress platform, there are long term plans.

Director of Teaching and Learning, Adrian Camm, explains the philosophy:

…each student from Year 4 to Year 10 at our College will have a digital portfolio that follows them throughout their time at the College and has a unique identifier accessible on the web.
The ability to export their content easily when finishing Year 12 to be used in the tertiary admission process or in future work endeavors has also been a key point…

Consider: If you’re investing time in establishing student blogs, how can you showcase this to the wider school community and motivate them to establish a school wide plan?

2. Privacy

Should blogs be public or private? This is always a contentious issue.

Ronnie Burt raised some excellent arguments about the advantages of public blogs a few years back, including the power of an authentic audience, ease of access, and the potential for collaboration. Ronnie noted,

If you hide student work behind passwords, then you might as well have them print everything out and hand it in the old-fashioned way. You are losing out on connections, extended dialogues, and the motivating factor of working for an authentic purpose.

In the comment section, there were some well considered opposing views.

J. McNulty argued the consequence of permanence,

Try to imagine that every stammering oral presentation, every 5th grade writing sample and every stick finger drawing you ever made in a classroom was permanently posted online, forever. As a teacher how would you feel if your class of iPad toting students were surfing through your complete “virtual portfolio” while you were trying to assign them an essay?  … Blogging is great but this new information era needs educators who fully appreciate the long term consequences of posting everything publicly.

There is a middle ground. At The Geelong College, students are encouraged to decide for themselves whether their blogs will be public or password protected.

Another option is to create a public blog but password protect certain posts or pages.

Consider: What are the pros and cons of having student blogs as public? Some schools seem to default to the private option if in doubt. Does this mean you’re giving up all the powerful advantages of posting publicly?

3. Content

What will form the content of your student blogs? What will they actually publish?

At one end of the spectrum is total freedom where teachers are less concerned about what the students are writing about, and more concerned about the students simply blogging and finding a voice.

At the other end of the spectrum, some teachers see the blogs as a space that must be in line with the curriculum and demonstrate what is happening in the classroom.

Certainly not always, but sometimes the age of the students influences this issue.

Julie Moore in Tasmania, Australia, teaches grade 2/3. The students begin by contributing to the class blog before some students establish their own blogs. Julie says,

Mostly – the children have a free spin on what they would like to write a post about. It gives them an outlet for writing about their passions/interests, and it then gives me an “in” for feedback and improvements to their writing.

She also finds this approach opens up a very wide range of possibilities to meet certain individual’s requirements.

For example:

Julie understands that the students do require some explicit teaching around blogging. She finds The Student Blogging Challenge a great way to achieve this. In addition, she runs a lunchtime club and a weekly timetabled blogging session.

Heather Alexander in Florida teaches year 9-12 ceramics. Her students use their blogs purely to document and reflect on their own art work, and respond to the curriculum. Teaching the same class multiple times, Heather has come up with a logistal framework to organize the student blogs,

What I have done is name all the students’ blogs with their class period prefacing the name so they appear in order on the page.

Heather encourages students to comment on classmates’ blogs and set up an effective system after finding students were taking too long to find a post to comment on.

I have students work in “peer blog mentor” groups. They self-select a group of 3 -5 peers and then I match their group with a group in another class. I moderate the comments so I can check for accuracy and completion before they are published.

This idea touches on the additional issue of feedback. Who will provide feedback to your student bloggers? Will you set up a peer system like Heather? Or will you personally visit blogs? What are your goals for feedback? Simple encouragement and conversation? Or scaffolding to reach learning goals? All questions to consider.

Can your blogging framework involve set tasks and freedom?

Somewhere in the middle of the freedom/structure debate, is the approach adopted by Adam Geiman, an educator from Pennsylvania. He used the first 30% of the school year to provide structure around tasks for his fourth grade students.

The students were given guidance, yet also had some freedom of choice in how they’d present set tasks. Some would do a Google Doc, while others would present their task as a comic, infographic etc.

For the remaining 70% of the school year, students were given more freedom and many came up with their own ideas on what they wanted to publish. For example, Jackson announced the new school trout, while Brooklyn talked about her new glasses. 

Consider: What are the needs of your students? Are you trying to engage them in the blogging process and help them find a voice? Or are you wanting the blogs to be a vehicle to demonstrate curriculum outcomes? Are these two things mutually exclusive?

4. Reflection

Some form of reflection is often a key feature of digital portfolios or blogfolios.

Educator Jabiz Raisdana, has documented some compelling thoughts on student blogging. He advocates for freedom, stating that:

If you want your students to blog effectively, give them the freedom to experiment and write about what interests them.

Stay away from portfolios and forced reflections on their learning, at least until they get the hang of it.

Wait until they find a voice, find an audience… before you push your agenda of meta-cognition and reflective learning.

Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum is the argument from Matt Renwick in his blog post ‘Think You’re Doing Digital Portfolios? Think again’.

Of course, all of the posted artifacts of student learning are accompanied with reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting for the future.
Otherwise, it’s only sharing content. Nice, but not necessary for students’ education.

Many teachers use a mixed approach

Teacher, Lee Pregnell, from Moonee Ponds, Australia, described how they include some set tasks in their grade 5/6 blogging program. One of these tasks is a weekly 100 Word Challenge response (see student Carah’s example) and a report on a Behind the News article (see student Mariana’s report on dreaming).

While the Behind the News task has some element of reflection, there are other set tasks that involve more meta-cognition. One of these is based around term goals. Check out the example by Alexis to see the format of this reflective entry.

What about our youngest students? How can they reflect?

Using tools like voice recordings can offer students with emerging literacy skills the chance to reflect. Kathy Cassidy is well known for providing all of her six year old students a blog. The students regularly used tools like Book Creator to document their thoughts and learning. Here is Gus reflecting on his writing. 

Another idea is to collate social media posts in a Storify like kindergarten teachers Aviva Dunsiger and Paula Crockett. Short student interviews and reflections offer a rich insight into learning. These innovative teachers have created a special section of their blog called ‘The Daily Shoot’. This is something Aviva has done with students from K-6. It is worth checking out.

Following in her students’ footsteps, Aviva even uses a blog of her own to reflect. What a mighty combination!

Consider: Most teachers agree that some sort of student reflection on learning is powerful. How can you incorporate this into your student blogs without making the process a chore or turn students off the enjoyment of blogging?

5. Quality

Would you like your students to document their learning journeys or their best work? Will your student blogs be process portfolios, showcase portfolios or hybrid portfolios?

This is a tough decision, but also one that can evolve as you go along. It also links back to the public/private debate. Do your students want every evidence of learning as part of their digital footprint?

Again, there is certainly middle ground. George Couros reflects on his dilemma about what end of this spectrum he would sit on: ‘growth’ or ‘best work’.

Since there are benefits in both options, it was tough to decide on one, so we ultimately went with the decision to go with both. The “blog” portion of my digital space allows me to share things that I am learning (like this article I am writing) while also aggregating my best stuff into solitary “pages”.

Consider: Is George’s approach something that could be worth exploring in your own blogging program?

6. Control

Many of these five areas are underpinned by the question of control. Who is in control? The teacher or the students?

Can there be a gradual release of control as the students become older and more experienced?

Perhaps there are some aspects of their blog that even the youngest students can have some control over?

For example:

  • Their title
  • Theme
  • Choice of tool or post format
  • Where they leave comments

Most teachers would agree that it’s important to consider how students can be in charge of their own learning. Digital portfolios and blogging offers a lot of potential for student-centered learning.

The My Class tool also allows you to hand over responsibility as you choose. You can begin by moderating all student posts and comments, and then turn off these settings as appropriate.

Conclusion

Are your student blogs igniting a passion for learning or are they just another chore to be completed?

How can you set up digital portfolios or blogfolios that allow for rich learning, creativity, excitement, deep reflection, collaboration and authenticity?

These are some key questions to ask yourself but in the end, sometimes you just need to throw in the canoe and start paddling.

Figure it out as you go. There is a big blogging community and support behind you.

Don’t let fear or indecision around student blogs freeze you into inaction. Worrying too much about whether you’re ‘doing it right’ can lead to not doing it at all.  At any level, student blogs provide benefits. Embrace them.

We would love to hear your ideas. Please comment and share your thoughts on student blogs. 

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LEGO® Wall Mania

Makerspaces are becoming more prevalent in our educational settings these days. Kevin Mowat shared with me Diana Rendina‘s current definition of a makerspace:

A makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials.

A great definition to be sure. The scope of the “place” is the issue for me, as it is for my colleagues as well. Schools shouldn’t just have A makerspace… Schools should BE a makerspace!  It’s more about mindset of the teaching staff!

The reality may be quite different. Schools are creating “places” of smaller scope; more centralized spaces that contain both resources  (consumables & permanent/ loanable items) and personnel that can be “borrowed”  for periods of time. The space itself can also be booked. Teachers and classes are trying out equipment and pedagogies that are more innovative, inquiry-, design-focused and challenged-based as well. This doesn’t mean that a makerspace mindset isn’t in place, just that it may only be present locationally or situationally.

But this makes sense initially. One space centralizes the materials and personnel, lowers the initial outlay of expenditures, decreases the amount of potential reconstruction within the building, lowers the stress of teachers as they learn to approach a new mindset and new tools and so on.

However, it can also “fix” the mindset of the a location-based makerspace into that space in similar fashion to the computer lab. The learning takes place at that location exclusively or primarily.


So what does all this have to do with the topic at hand? How does this connect with mounted, vertical Lego walls? Good questions…

One of the big ticket items that is often requested is a vertical Lego wall. Here are some of the often cited reasons for having such a wall:

  • Lego provides tools that develop lateral thinking in a fun environment
  • It teaches kids to think in three dimensions
  • It improves literacy as kids work with instructions
  • It develops problem-solving, organization, and planning by construction
  • It improves creativity
  • It enhances communication and critical thinking
  • It boosts kids motor development.

There is no dispute with the positive impact that working with Lego can have whether that happens to be on a horizontal or vertical plane. So let’s move forward with that assumption intact.

The issue for me with this item is configuration… Vertical, horizontal or modular. In my mind, it should be an obvious choice, but apparently it’s not. In many cases, I hear about initial requests for vertical, wall-mounted LEGO walls.

As I began looking into what  options there were for these kind of installations, I took a quick trip over to Google to do some searches. I tried “LEGO – makerspace – Pinterest” (not even LEGO WALL mind you) and an amazing number of VERTICALLY oriented wall-mounted LEGO boards were returned in the search.

Google Search Results - LEGO Makerspace Pinterest
Google Search Results – LEGO Makerspace Pinterest

It’s no wonder people want them in their rooms mounted in this fashion. It seems to be the status quo. Might even make sense, at first blush! They take up less space, promote art-like, isometric creations similar to those in the Minecraft environment (a popular creation/game) and still maintain the advantages of LEGO mentioned above. We’ve even modelled this type of installation in our Innovation Office.

But this installation bothers me greatly and for the same reasons that  wall-mounted Smartboards and projectors do (I wrote a post about this months ago). To explain why, I need to go over two concepts:

Let’s go back to the definition for maker spaces kindly provided by Kevin Mowat earlier:

A makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials.

Simple. Students need the tools & materials to explore and discover concepts at their fingertips wherever that may be.

Let’s further add to that the notion of mobile learning:

Mobile learning  is education via networks (Internet as well) using personal/provided mobile technologies, such as tablets & smartphones to support their learning through mobile apps, social interactions and online educational hubs through which they can leverage information sources. It is flexible, allowing students access to education anywhere, anytime.

Simple as well. Anytime, anywhere learning.

What are the ramification of two such ideas? Mark Osborne discusses multiple ways in which a school’s and classroom’s environment impacts learning (up to 16%, as much impact as many teachers): lighting, sound, workflow, spacing, spaces for focused , collaborative and dynamic learning – all play a factor in the creating a place that “embraces the makespace” mindset. What is required is a flexible learning environment.

When a LEGO wall is mounted or a projector is mounted, that “fixes” that space as either the “LEGO place” or the “front of the room”. That can’t be changed easily.

Fixed spaces are not aligned with the notion of either a makerspace, or a mobile learning environment.


So what to do…

As far as the LEGO Board or WALL is concerned, happily there are many options. I will outline a few here and you can let your mind go with possibilities. But keep this in mind, for any creative, makerspace keep things flexible and modular.

The LEGO Shop sells the LEGO Base Plates in multiple sizes and colours, so once these two decisions have been made you can begin to determine the dimensions of the “wall” that will be created. With nine green, 32cm x 32cm board (10″ x 10″) base plates, a modular 9 piece, almost 3′ x 3′ board space could be created. This could service 9 individuals or 9 pairs of students with using the modular individual base plates or on the combined LEGO wall many students.

LEGO Green Base Plate
LEGO Green Base Plate

Mounting each base plate on it’s own wooden backing keeps the LEGO wall modular. This is important as classrooms are mobile learning environments and this modular configuration allows teachers to group their LEGO tinkering students in flexible groups or individuals depending on needs. It also allows for projects like “whole to part or part to whole art creation”; where each student is given part of a larger image to create/copy, only seeing the whole when all the pieces are combined.

Piece by Piece Art
Piece by Piece Art
Modular LEGO Base Plate Configurations
Modular LEGO Base Plate Configurations

The trick now is how to combine these modules in a secure enough manner that they can be lifted vertically. The image below makes a number of suggestions about how this might be accomplished. The most reliable is creating a box that fits the modular pieces snuggly. Pins could be used to secure the pieces as they are placed into the box. Then this box can be place on an old Smartboard stand or Flip chart stand.

But other ideas abound, as the diagram points  out.

Alternate LEGO "Wall" Configurations
Alternate LEGO “Wall” Configurations

What’s important to remember when considering anything for a mobile learning or makerspace environment is to consider being flexible. Flexible for the students, respectful of the fact that learning happens in unexpected locations and in unexpected ways, and cognizant that fixing things permanently to the walls of a classroom can sometimes “fix” the room in ways that yield unexpected results for the learners that the environments are being created to support.


Just found this article on ScoopIt! this morning. Thought it might provide some other options as well. Keep in mind the notions of mobile learning and flexible spaces though.

Moving Beyond Lego Walls:

Moving Beyond Lego Walls

Computational Thinking Revisited

Computational Thinking
Computational Thinking

I have been thinking more about what the important steps embedded in the process of programming… There are really two cycles within the process: one that follows a design or inquiry-like sequence & one that addresses computational thinking. I have tweaked this model over and over and have done so again below to show where I think the computational thinking fits in.

Blended Processes: Computational & Design Thinking
Blended Processes: Computational & Design Thinking

It’s fascinating to watch students tackle this head on. I was at Wellington School the other day working on a coding and I was amazed on a number of fronts:

Wellington Students
Wellington Students Coding; Posted with permission
  • Students were unfazed by the coding challenges put in front of them: the challenges were hard but the students were highly motivated to solve them
  • Students struggled initially with establishing social sharing of the tools: needed to provide some strategies here
  • They successfully collaborated in their teams
  • They creatively collaborated across teams
  • The focussed completely on the coding problem & trying to solve it
  • It didn’t matter that Math, Science & ELA outcomes, strategies & content were being dealt with in order to solve the coding problem at hand: students shifted between these areas with ease. The blended nature of the content was authentic and natural to the students
  • Students were creative in their solutions to the coding problems that were being solved
4 Cs: Above & Beyond
Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking , Creativity

What stands out is that with little help the students were practicing the 4Cs meaningfully across content areas. This reaffirms that coding can be curricular glue, but more than that, it allows for students to engage in two authentic and worthy processes: inquiry/design & computational thinking.

Are Smartboards Still Smart?

Smartboards Vs iPads
Smartboards VS iPads

I have been having some interesting conversations with distressed schools regarding Smartboards, Epson short-throw projectors – their high costs, the amount of training or lack of training associated with these devices, and whether they still the “smart” way of doing business.

These are loaded questions from the “get-go” because they make a number of assumptions that we in Educational Technology and the Innovation realms have been striving to address for years:

  • The adage “learning first/technology second” shouldn’t be just an adage!!
  • Devices don’t improve educational outcomes as a general rule
  • Best teaching and learning practices DO improve educational outcomes
  • In an age of fiscal responsibility, we need to be sure that the technology we DO purchase addresses the needs of students and fits with what we consider are solid teacher and learning practices.

It concerns me when I hear of expenditures based on grants secured or monies raised with little consultations regarding trends, best practices and the needs of learners in general. And this brings me to the main point of the post… Are Smartboards still smart?

The answer is it depends. It depends on how they are being used. I am going to dust of the the SAMR continuum again to demonstrate how Smartboards or EPSON Interactive short-throws MIGHT (and this is a rather important qualifier) be used effectively. The real issue with these devices, large and small, are that they are essentially single or double touch devices. Now before the masses jump on my back and say there are “multi-touch” devices available, ask yourself how many of these are actually in service in your District? I know in our Division, this number is VERY small – most are single touch, large screen, wall mounted Smartboards! We also have a growing number of wall-mounted short-throw Epson Interactive Dual Touch projectors.

So we have a large expenditure, a great deal of fuss setting up, lots of time creating notebooks for essentially a one-at-a-time student experience, however that happens to be structured. I have seen this occur in a number of ways in descending order of popularity:

  • Large group presentation and lecture; primarily used by teacher
  • Large group centre(s); calendar and day startup routines in primary
  • Digital worksheets or activities
  • Centre work
  • Small group work

Recreated SAMR Model/Continuum
Blended SAMR Model/Continuum (KS)

4 Cs: Above & Beyond
Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking , Creativity

If we recall the SAMR continuum and the 4Cs model briefly from some earlier posts and we apply it to Smartboards and Epson Interactive Projectors we essentially arrive at the same conclusion… The teacher & students have a bit of careful thinking and planning to do BEFORE they embark on deciding how best to use these types of devices. Otherwise there is the real danger of a lot of money having been spent on a very large & glossy projection tool for the teacher to show YouTube videos on.

It is not that these tools cannot be used in a way that is collaborative, or creative, or for communication, or critical thinking or in ways that transform learning. They can!

So why is the default to use the substitution level, focusing on lower level thinking skills, essentially addressing the needs of single students? Ease? Time? Lack of training? I am not really sure. But the issue is that teachers seem to regularly rely on Enhancing experiences with technology with little consideration to student input or outcomes achieved.

Let’s look at how this could be changed. The fact of the matter is that Smartboards and Epson Interactive Projectors are expensive tools that allow for a variety of educational experiences to be provided for learners in a classroom. These devices aren’t being leveraged to their full abilities, and truth be told, there are a number of competing tools that are coming on the market that may in fact soon provide a viable and attractive replacement for these devices supporting learners in ways that were previously unavailable… More on that later in the post.

Here’s one person’s take on how a Smartboard could be taken advantage of more fully:

SAMR & SMARTBOARDS
SAMR & SMARTBOARDS

What’s clear is that Smartboards should be looked at as part of an ongoing learning process rather than as as a digital worksheet to be completed. For example, suggestions such as digital portfolios, or storyboard creation during a video or story writing process, part of a design or brainstorming or webbing process are outlined above. Teachers could use these device in small, needs-based groups as a manipulative for collaborative purposes – a few would work through a series of pointed learning problems. Both of these ideas redefine how a Smartboard could be typically used, and demonstrates a move away from the teacher presentation tool model or the digital worksheet for the whole class model typically selected.

What is also clear is that students will need to be involved in this process. We value Assessment for Learning: releasing responsibility to the learner, activating students as the owners of their own learning, encouraging learners to be instructional learners for each other, clarifying Task, Intent and Criteria and the like… are all part of this picture as well. Involving students in both the learning, collaboration/communication, creation, & critical thinking pieces of the learning supported buy the tools at hand (Smartboard, Notebook, websites etc…) is as important as the decision to change how you go about using the tool in the first place.

Five Critical Elements of Assessment
Five Critical Elements of Assessment

I recently did an inservice where I was helping teacher locate sites that they could use with their EPSON Interactive Projector. Their issue was that the school hadn’t paid the Smart Notebook licence subscription fee to use Smart Notebook with their Epson Projector. Therefore all of the Smart Notebooks they had created could n to be used. They were looking for other options… I created a Symbaloo of possibilities – but a caution here!! A teacher and her students really must plan for how the tool will fit in the outcomes. The learning MUST come first, the tools to support come second.


This brings me to some new thinking. For about the same cost of a mounted projector/smartboard combination or an Epson Interactive Projector one might consider a 40 inch HD TV, Media Streamer & 3–4 iPads minis. What’s the advantage? There are many actually:

  • The TV is almost a big as a small Smartboard and has better resolution
  • TV is very portable and doesn’t require mounting to a wall
  • Cheaper to repair or fix TV
  • 3–4 students can touch the iPads at the same time; double that if you work in collaborative pairs
  • iPads can be repurposed for many other activities
  • iPads can function as portable document cameras/ or simply as cameras/video cameras
  • All material from all iPads can be streamed to the TV at the same time and be recorded

These are only a few of the positive advantages for roughly the same costs. These are things that the Smartboard and Epson cannot do.

For those of you who are really stuck on using an app like Notebook there is Explain Everything Collaborative Whiteboard for iPad It provides real-time collaboration, allowing users to work simultaneously on the same project from multiple devices while using all the design, recording, and export features of the interactive whiteboard. This functionality, of course, comes at a subscription cost, but they seem reasonable.


Let’s wrap this up:

Bart Simpson Leveraging the Power of Smart Boards for no goodBart Simpson Leveraging the Power of Smart Boards for no good

Smartboards and similar devices may not be as smart as they use to be, and there are certainly better options available today, but I don’t think one needs to abandon ship just yet. That said, if you are ready to look at replacing an interactive projector, or a Smartboard it might be a good idea to explore some of the other options that exist and see how they fit into the current workflows, or current practices before making any final decisions.

Adding Backgrounds to Paper 53

Paper 53 Logo
Paper 53 Logo

I was asked the question of how to add back grounds in Paper 53 the other day. Actually, that’s not exactly right. The question I was asked was, “Is there an app on our Divisional iPads that we can do blue print type designs on?” In fact, there might be…

Paper 53 has a lot of tools that will make the drawing of shapes and lines easy and fairly exact and they are explained in some detail on their site… Paper 53 Drawing Tools

Here’s a little taste of their abilities… Diagram Tools

In addition to have tools that allow for fairly exact drawing, there is also a tool that allows for incredible zooming for close up work. Zooming in Tool

Finally, Paper 53 also allows for various backgrounds to be added in, such as storyboards or blue prints or grids. Here’s how that is accomplished:

Adding Backgrounds in Paper 53 from Keith Strachan on Vimeo.

Heat VS Temperature

I have been working on a HEAT VS TEMPERATURE simulation for a Grant Park coding challenge. The prototype appears below. I have limited the speed to 50 and the number of cloned objects to 50 as well. My temperature measurements at the moment are pure fiction and I would love some advice on formulas to make those more accurate.

At any rate, the idea would be to have students generate the code to create the simulation in order to explore what happens to heat and temperature when you increase or decrease the speed and/or number of particles in a substance.

Please feel free to email any feedback:  Contact Me