The Little Things

I was at Strathcona the other day introducing a group of teachers to a few OSAPAC resources that their principal though would help within their classrooms. We spend some time exploring both Pixie 3 and Frames 4. If you are unfamiliar with the titles, think of Pixie like a K-3 version of Powerpoint, with some Kidpix-style drawing functionality to boot, and a recording feature that allows students to add voice-overs to their slides. Frames is a Stop Motion animation software that has a pretty simple entrypoint as well: great for primary users, but powerful enough to create some great results even at a secondary level.

The conversation turned to other tools and resources that might be available. The school has no computer lab, instead opting to move the computers into the classrooms. This shifts the learning that happens with computers from large group instruction to smaller, centre-based opportunities. I certainly advocate for ensuring that computers are placed at the “point of learning” to ensure that they are properly integrated into the day, and not considered a treat, or add-on for one period a week. The problem of course becomes one of access. If there are only two computers in every room, how do you ensure they are being accessed. Traditional computer-lab style instruction cannot be maintained with so few machines, so something else has to shift as the school works towards instrumenting the classroom with devices to ensure greater access. Here are a few ideas for small peripherals we spoke about adding to the learning environment to get the best “bang” from the machines in the room. I like this post from Lee LeFever who talks about how constraints help foster creativity. This also relates quite nicely to the first bullet:

Document Camera: Not one of those terribly expensive Smart or Elmo models — go and check out the selection of document cameras. I’ve blogged about them before. These can be used with something like Frames to create a Stop Motion Animation station. Creating stop motion on a flat surface, rather than in a Shadow box allows for easier elimination of gravity as a barrier (no fishing line rigging). This would also allow you to create something in what is now being referred to as the Common Craft style. If you aren’t familiar with Common Craft, check them out on YouTube. Here’s the process they go through, with comparisons to classic animation methods.

Snowball Microphone: That one computer in the corner is a Recording studio waiting to happen. This USB microphone is great quality, and can capture 360 degrees of voices if you want to record a discussion or share the Announcer duties. Creating podcasts is a great way to have students share what they know with an authentic audience. Audacity (a free download, and already available on the HWDSB computers) is a simple audio recording and editing software that allows export to .mp3. Throw it up on the Commons like @ifox (Commons username, not Twitter) has done here. If you want to take it one step further you can list your podcast on iTunes. Push further still and take that podcast, sync it to an old iPod (you have one in the top left drawer of your dresser, or in the junk drawer in the kitchen) and create a listening centre. The recording from yesterday is the Listening Centre content today.

Belkin Rockstar: This 5 prong headphone splitter will take that old iPod and turn it into the Listening Centre referenced above. Have older students? That one computer, with the Rockstar attached, becomes a place to quietly view video from Ted, Khan Academy, or Learn360,perhaps in preparation for a future class discussion, face-to-face, or continued asychronously as a blog post.

iPod Touch: This is the most expensive of my “frugal” options. I only add it as something to consider if you are looking for a still/video camera, a recording device, or need a venue to house podcasts (although I would bet that a poll of your parent population might surface a relic from the first few iPod generations that would be perfect for classroom use). This mobile device can fill both roles, along with becoming the repository of podcasts (I’ve suggested the student-created variety, but there is also a ton of great content in the Podcast directory in iTunes). Tony Vincent does a great job contextualizing Podcasts for educators in this post. The added benefit of “apps” on this device extends that functionality, and is worthy a post all its own.

iPad Keyboard: This might seem like an odd one, especially if you don’t have any iPads at you school. What I like about this keyboard is that it works with the iPod touch (or old iPhones with their SIM card removed) and allows students who bring their own device a full size keyboard (wait for Christmas and there are suddenly a few more white earbuds peeking out of pockets that could be leveraged in the classroom). This keyboard dock removes the restrictions thumbs create on word processing, and enable students to blog via their own device. These devices have been discontinued, so if you can find them, snap them up. The alternative is a Bluetooth keyboard which is a bit cumbersome, given the added requirement of tethering to the keyboard, rather than just plugging in your iPod and getting to work. The Apple Bluetooth keyboard is $69 dollars, but any Bluetooth keyboard will do, so you might be able to find an even cheaper option.

What did I miss? What’s your favorite cheap peripheral?


Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

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