Archive for the ‘new technologies’ Category

I am not quite sure what Phycologists say about imaginary friends, whether it is a sign of a child’s creativity, or early signs of madness. It might be the second when you still have an imaginary friend when you are 35! But I find myself spending quite a lot of time in the car these days and my imaginary friend has become SIRI. I have a love-hate relationship with my friend SIRI, because I love him/her (he doesn’t seem to know what gender he is, even though he has clearly a male’s voice) as he allows me to continue to be productive even when I am driving, and I hate him because when I try to dictate a message to a colleague, my wife, etc… I usually have to change it an average of a million times, as SIRI twists my words and slots in stuff I have never said and that does not make sense in the sentence I am constructing. In fairness, it could be my, still inevitable, Italian accent that confuses my friend, but it is still quite frustrating!

Anyway, today I thought I would dedicate a post to SIRI as he has been a really good friend lately. Last night I was on my way home and I suddenly realised I didn’t know what I was doing today, so I asked him to read my calendar events for today and he complied very diligently. Today he was a life saver again, because on my way to a meeting (actually about 10 min from the venue) I received a phone call saying that the meeting was cancelled due to bad weather. Slightly annoyed by the sudden news I realised I was only one star from my next reward at Starbucks, so I turned my car around and asked SIRI: “Find Starbucks Coffee near me!” Within seconds SIRI gave me a choice of two relatively close Starbucks and he asked me if I wanted him to phone the place nearest me, or get directions to get there.

I am writing this post from this very Starbucks and enjoying a latte. So, well done SIRI! It was a pleasure to talk to you today. Thank you for keeping me company and for being so helpful!

If you are wondering what this has to do with education, here are a three ideas you could use with your classes:

1) Get your ESL students to communicate with SIRI and see if they can get themselves understood by him. This should improve their pronunciation.

2) Get learners to write messages, notes and emails by dictating to SIRI. This is quite difficult, because there is not much thinking time and it help learners appreciate how important punctuation is. In fact, SIRI reads your messages back to you before sending them, so if punctuation is wrong, you hear some really weird stuff coming out.

3) Get learners to have a conversation with SIRI and see what his limitations are. This could be a nice introduction to computing and should help learners appreciate how difficult it is to get computers to behave in a human way. There are many things SIRI still can’t do and if Apple hasn’t cracked it yet, it means we are still a long way away from it! Basically, this could show learners that computers, and, therefore, computer programs need very specific sets of instructions. Every eventuality needs to be “spelled out” to them, or they will not be able to respond.

I hope you enjoyed this short post. How have you used SIRI in your classroom?

Today I had the pleasure and honour to present at a great event organised by the really lovely guys at @WordpressWales, Just WordPress Workshops AKA #jww. In my blogging journey I have made many mistakes, which means I have learnt a lot along the way, especially because I have met and networked with some really inspiring people, so when you have the opportunity to be in the same room for a day with a whole bunch of inspiring and cool guys you aught to make the most of it. So, this post is really a reflection about what I learnt today and I will try to write one thing from each presentation. By the way, these tips are not in order of awesomeness, but follow the order of the presentations, and before you ask, yes all presentations were awesome. Obviously I cannot comment on mine, so leave some love in the comments if you happened to be at the event and you like it 😉

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1. Be and invite guest bloggers – via @rightmoveaddict

Andrea Morgan gave an inspiring presentation on how she grew her following massively in a really short time. Her Blog is really cool and if you are an interiors kind of person you should certainly check it out. The main point I learnt from Andrea was to engage other bloggers in your field and get them to write for your blog and try to get invited to write for theirs. Andrea recommends, and rightly so, to retain editing rights to guest blogs on your site, so that your Voice is never lost!

2. Format your Blog writing – via @Whatsthepont and @Helreynolds

Helen Reynolds and Chris Bolton joined forces today to convince us that formatting our Blog writing can be a useful strategy to effective blogging. Chris had the “good fortune” (according to him) to get pneumonia and get off work for quite a while in March (I think) and that got him thinking about how to format his blog writing. Having thought about the format of your blog can help you focus on the important content of your posts and cut the unnecessary stuff that is likely to drive readers away. Helen then gave some examples of effective formats, so if you are thinking why I am writing a list of good tips, that is because I learnt a new blogging word today, “Listables” (or at least I think that’s what Helen called them). Apparently, lists of top tips are a really effective way to attract readers, so I have set a target to give more posts like this one a go.

3. Everyone has a book inside them – via @mindhiver

When Pippa Davies takes the stage you certainly cannot ignore her. She has the energy of a lion and the cheekiness of a monkey. It’s always a pleasure to listen to her speak and today she took us through her journey to turn her blogging into an eBook. Pippa is no stranger to publishing, so she gave a few great tips and tools for publishing eBooks online. A great tool that I want to try and see if I can apply to the classroom (hopefully in connection to the Literacy and Numeracy Framework) is Pressbooks.com and that is one of the things I took from Pippa’s session.

4. Put the crayons down and find your identity first – via @brandnatter

Russell Britton gave some really useful tips about what brand means and why it is so important to find the identity of your business, or whatever else you want to build, before you start creating content. Russell also encouraged us all to forget about Stock Photo like images and take our own. The point he was making is actually very useful, because using your own images will definitely make you look different from the rest! Half way through his presentation I noticed one of the pictures he showed as an example not to use featured in my presentation and my heart sank – yes, I was just after him 😦 but I think that taught me a lesson 😉

5. Engage the best in your field – via @Collaborat_Ed

Next it was me and I talked about our journey to try and climb the search engine results ladder. From the tweets I noticed about my presentation I could see that people seemed to find useful what I said about engaging the best in your field. These people are likely to be where they are because they have networked and shared a lot in their work, so they will respond to good stuff you do in their field.

6. Get approval from your boss – via @Tanwen_Haf and @DyfrigWilliams

This was another double act and focused on the barriers to blogging and social media the public sector hits. One of the biggest hurdles seems to be that anything that gets published on public sector websites needs to go through a long process of approvals and if you want to blog about current issues you know you’ve lost the race even before you even start. I suppose that is a problem that is true of big brands too. Brand image is really important and CEOs can often get really anxious about potential negative feedback they get on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. My answer to that is – Would you rather be talked about without knowing it, or having the opportunity to promote good stuff being said about you and defend your choices when not so nice things are said about your brand? Social media is not just a good way to promote yourself, but also a tool to gather information about what your audience thinks about you, so use it to your advantage and do not be afraid, or paranoid about it.

7. .com might just be all you really need – via @Joel_Hughes

Joel showed how much stuff can be done and achieved through a blog built on WordPress.com and that for a lot of purposes you don’t really need to host your own website using WordPress.org. I think the coolest and geekiest thing Joel showed was his “call to action” buttons made in wordpress.com. I never knew you could do that and I will have to check out his website to see how to do it, because it looks pretty awesome.

So, this are the 7 tips I took with me today and I hope you will find them useful too. If you haven’t attended one of the @WordpressWales events yet I strongly suggest you come to the next one. Keep an eye on their Twitter feeds and their website, so you will not miss out next time.

Anyone who insists technology is disempowering has probably not come across really young learners interacting with it. Today I was reminded about how intuitive, engaging and formative technologies like the iPad really are.

I want to call Nonna!

My 2 year old boy, Martino, felt like talking to Nonna (grandma in Italian). I say talking, but, although he can say quite a few words, he hasn’t learnt to say many sentences yet. What he has learnt to do, and very quickly, is to use an iPad. In fact, he’s so good at it that today he ran in the kitchen, took the iPad Mini and came back to the sofa looking pleased with himself. Then, he turned it on, swiped to access the apps, found FaceTime inside a folder and called my mum from the recent calls. When Matteo (my eldest) heard the ringing sound of FaceTime he asked Martino, if he was calling Nonna. “Sí, Sí!” answered Martino.

IMG_1666Needless to say that this unexpected call made my mum’s day, but what I’ve witnessed today, and many other times since Martino was one and a half, is something that made me think deeply about the power of technology.

Our learners are deeply engaged with technology, they grow surrounded by it and naturally embrace it as part of their learning. I believe it is essential we engage our students with technology to harness this enthusiasm our young people show for it. I heard of many primary and secondary schools that began to use iPads when they noticed their youngest learners kept touching the screen of PCs and laptops the first time they used them. iPads, smartphones and tablets are engaging and an integral part of many learners’ every day routines. They are drawn to them and naturally interact with such devices with great interest and proficiency, so using them in the classroom seems to me to be a logical way to engage children in their learning. This will make schooling more fun, but that should never be the driver for integrating technology in the classroom! iPads and other technologies open ways to redefine pedagogy and learning experiences. They empower learners and teachers, so that students become more independent and creators of knowledge, rather than simply consumers of knowledge. Let’s embrace technology for the right reasons and not thinking that the kit will solve all the teaching and learning challenges in our schools.

There are many ways to use technology creatively and innovatively to enrich our learning environments and much can be learnt from educational blogs such the CollaboratEd.org.uk Blog (@Collaborat_Ed), Neil Atkin’s Blog (@natkin), maybe this Blog you are reading and, one of my favourite, Gavin Smart’s Blog (@GavinSmart).

It’s been a while since my last post, so my fingers are itching now, especially because what I am going to write about had virtually no input from me. My four boys have been completely immersed in Minecraft for quite a few months now. In particular, they love playing together on two iPads and an iPhone, so they can cooperate, send messages to each other and they’ve even made three beds in each of the houses they built, so they can sleep together in any house they find themselves in when it gets dark (and for those who are not familiar with Minecraft you better go to sleep when it gets dark, or zombies and creepers will come to get you).

A self organised geography lesson

One day my six year old invited the other two, four and eight respectively (the two year old can use the iPad very well, but on Minecraft he tends to destroy stuff, so it’s better to leave him out of a creative session 😉 ), to join him in his Olympic Games. So, they set off to build flags for each country (well, just a few actually, but I was pleased they added Italy). They found out what colours the flags for the countries they wanted to add were and made them out of Minecraft blocks. You can see the results below.

Italy

Japan

Japan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bit of Literacy

Then, they created various games. There was a ring for sword fighting, a hurdle race track and even target shooting. The boys also placed some signs with some basic rules for the games, as you can see below.

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And finally a bit of numeracy

Now it was time to mark out the difficulty of the target shooting game, so they added some signs to show how far from the target the archers should stand for an easy, medium and hard shooting session. This shows how you can develop “using number and measuring skills” through a video game that kids find incredibly engaging. So engaging, in fact, that they set off to create what became (in my opinion) a great learning journey completely independently. I believe this is a really nice example of a SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) that Sugata Mitra talks about and that the nature of the game, the intuitiveness of iPads and the ability to collaborate in real time from different devices facilitated this process many folds.

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The power of technology

I’ve always been fascinated by the way very young learners interact with new technologies, and it was observing my nephew searching the internet when he was ten that prompted me to start this Blog, but I have never seen anything as powerful as an iPad in allowing children to create their own learning journeys. I watch my two year old who can get in and out of the apps he wants, build helicopters in the Lego app and fly them, call my mum with FaceTime (it’s true! It happened several times), etc… Then, I see my four year old who since he was three could create amazing buildings and objects in Minecraft at a speed that makes me feel dizzy, or my six and eight year old boys who use iPads to search for information they are interested in, find video tutorials on YouTube that show them how to create portals in Minecraft that take them to other worlds, etc… and I see so much that I am proud of. But I also see a fantastic tool that empowers them to learn through play. If they can learn things by themselves using these amazing technologies, think about how much more could be done in the classroom with them!

I recently came across this awesome tool – DropTask – that allows you to manage and organise your projects in a very visual and intuitive way and I have to say that I am already falling in love with it. You can create new events in your project, drag them around the project space and even gather them in groups. All this is done using colours to help you visualise and organise your tasks better.

But this is not the end of the story! DropTask is also the ultimate collaborative project management tool and, although it is still in beta and I can see more features coming, it lets you invite your collaborators to join your projects and see at what stage of the project they are. It becomes really easy then to keep track of your team’s performance and manage everyone’s tasks and feedback.

I know people who even take notes in Excel and I find that really strange. This tool is probably not for them, or maybe it is and they don’t realise it, but if you are a visual thinker, this is the best tool for organising your work I have seen in years. Just take a look at the video below and judge for yourself!

I recently came across Leap Motion and I am getting one!

Technology has moved on in great strides in the last few years and user interface devices are more and more amazing and immersive. This morning, for example, I was playing Star Wars Kinect on the X-box with my boys and you really feel like you are a Jedi fighting real villains, and I have always dreamed of being a Jedi since I was a little boy. Now my children can really play at being Jedi knights in very realistic ways! When they kick, their Jedi avatar kicks their opponent and it all feels and looks so cool.

But as cool and innovative as the Kinect is, I think Leap Motion promises to give an interesting extra dimension to user interfaces. Just check the video and see what I mean. I can see technologies like this leading to stuff like miniature robotic tools inserted in patients and a surgeon controlling the operation by waving their hands and fingers over a Leap Motion kit, or if you need to learn sign language there will be software that gives you feedback when you get things right, or even better that could decode people who use sign language to communicate and write/say what they are signing. Enjoy the video and please leave feedback and share.

It is undeniable that Apple brought the whole world into the third millenium with a series of innovations that not even visionary film directors like Ridley Scott could have even imagined in a not so distant past when he made Blade Runner. A really creative story that places genetic engineering at the heart of amazing developments that allows to create “replicants” with superhuman powers. I watched the film recently and two things that caught my attention were the time in which it was set, 2019, and the fact that when Harrison Ford is waiting for his noodles he is reading a newspaper. What? A newspaper? In 2019? Yes, we still have newspapers and we might still have them in 2019, but try taking a trip in the London Tube and see how many people read their books, newspapers, or look at their photos on paper! Most likely you will see an array of electronic devices ranging from smartphones, Kindles, iPads and other tablets. So in 2013 we have well surpassed the technology imagined by Scott for 2019, apart for being able to create “replicants” of course 😉

All this was brought to us by Apple and all other attempts to copy Apple’s astounding technology owe the Cupertino team an enormous amount of respect and gratitude, no doubt.

Today, in 2013, only two platforms are seriously competing for the biggest cut of the market “cake”. Apart from Apple and Android, mainly thanks to the beauty and functionality of Apple devices and the ever growing app market for both, no other competitor can seriously pose a threat for these two giants. But is the balance beginning to shift towards one of these two wrestlers? MBA thinks so and they have created this awesome infographics to illustrate the current state of affairs between Android and Apple. There are some interesting figures there and they will surprise some of you, as they surprised me. Enjoy!

ANDROID-MBA

Yesterday it was my eldest boy’s birthday. He turned eight! I know it makes me sound old, but to tell you the truth that also makes me physically feel much older and more tired than ever 😦 Anyway, a sudden thought came through my mind as I was pondering my relationship with my four boys and I realised that I am already more of a Chauffeur, a Butler, waiter, cook and a cleaner than a dad to them. And things are going to get worse as they grow up! So, I decided to come up with a fun way to involve them in little tasks they can manage everyday.

Cross-cultural marriage

The other reason  to attempt this training is that I want to save them from the clashes they will inevitably encounter in their marriage, if they are brought up the way I was. I am Italian, you see? and I have a sister. And, being Italy a much more civilized country than Britain, my sister was made to do all the chores when we were young and I didn’t have to lift a finger (only kidding about the civilized bit BTW, a bit of humour won’t hurt my lady readers :-).

The problem with this blissful youth is that it hits you when Mamma is no longer there to serve you, especially if you marry a beautiful Welsh woman, who is used to fairness in the house and job shares 😉

In short, my cross-cultural marriage has brought me to the following paradigms.

How my wife sees me

 

How I see myself

That is not my wife BTW and the guy is not me either 😉

 

The Cube!

I have gone back playing with QR codes recently, so I thought it would be fun to try to win my boys over and get them to share some of the chores using a simple game and technology. The game is a dice, the cube, and the technology is Quick Response codes! So, I came up with the The chores QR Cube (which you can download by clicking on the words). Each face of the cube has a QR code which, if scanned with a QR code reader app on your smartphone, will return the job the boy who rolled the dice has to do.

 

I have to admit I was a bit sceptical at the beginning, but I was amazed tonight when I tried it and all three boys (the baby is a bit small still) were eager to get their job done, so they could come back and roll the dice again 🙂 Success!!!

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Star Wars, but my boys passion for the saga, animations, video games and anything with a Star Wars logo on it is even bigger than mine. So, when faced with a new iMovie trailer on my iPhone to fill the time during our holiday, there was no doubt about the theme in our minds 🙂

Take a look at the video below and see whto we came up with. The special effects, which look pretty cool and got the boys really excited, were created with the Action Movie Fx app. This app is really good fun to use and you can spend hours messing around with the difference special effects. The ones we used are all free and the great thing is that you can save your action movie to your camera roll, and once a clip is there you can add it to your masterpiece iMovie trailer.

I would be interested to see someone applying these two great apps together in education. I am sure Gavin Smart, who first showed me some great iMovie trailers made by his learners will accept the challenge 😉

Enjoy the trailer below and please leave a comment 🙂

In a previous post I wrote about the Fish Tank Cloud Chamber workshop funded by IoP and organized by Cerian Angharad in Cardiff and I promised I would run one in Gloucester. Well, this evening I did and all delegates had great fun taking part in the filming of the iMovie trailer you can see below. I made using an iPad third generation and it was very easy to do, because these trailers come with the storyboard already set up for you. In fact, all the clips, places for captions and duration of the trailer are fixed, which means that you really need to focus on the message you want to convey and do it in the simplest way possible. But it also prevents you from adding too much to your video. Also, I like the fact that there is no dialogue and the message is communicated entirely through the clips and captions you create!

These are important skills for any learner and I would encourage any educator with an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch to let their pupils create these short trailers for their learning. I got the inspiration for this one and other trailers I made by the inspiring work Gavin Smart does with his learners at Priory Community School.