Connecting to Make A Difference

Food for Thought, Freebie, How To, Professional Development, Social Networking No Comments »

As the 2014 year begins, tradition suggests that one should consider making a “New Year’s Resolution”. True, I have made many over the years that have unfortunately fallen by the wayside as the year progressed. However, one resolution of which I am proud, is the one I made in January, 2010.  Four years ago, I decided I would adopt a new “lifestyle change” and create my Life-Long-Learners blog to “provide you with professional development ideas, educational tips, classroom resources, strategies, ‘freebies’, and humour to help infuse technology, to enhance lessons, and to help engage your students as 21st century learners.”

This year, I need a new focus. Thanks to serendipity, I chanced upon Victoria Olson’s “Blogging for Sunshine” post. Victoria described a process to foster connectivity and understanding between different PLN members by sharing information about themselves through 11 random questions.

Question #4 really resonated with me and I encourage you to consider it:

What needs to happen in 2014 for you to be reflecting on a successful year 52 weeks from now?

So often in education, we look back wondering if we could have changed a current outcome through the past introduction of a different process or action. This question, on the other hand, looks at the opportunity to make a change, so that when we reflect on outcomes, a year from now, they will be primarily positive and uplifting.

Thanks to this powerful question, I was prompted to make the following New Year’s resolution:

During 2014, I want to improve my connectivity to help make a difference in education.

Undoubtedly, this decision was influenced by the following free, educational poster from Krissy Venosdale:

Social Media

Without a doubt, Twitter has helped me connect with some amazing educators. In fact, it was through Twitter that Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) alerted me to Victoria Olson (@MsVictoriaOlson) and her innovative Twitter resources. For example, educators will find Victoria’s “Twitter for Teachers” video to be both extremely informative as well as professionally crafted using a variety of innovative tools. Not content to just share her amazing video resource, she took it a step further. To help other educators, Victoria shared her “behind the scenes” magic, by identifying the steps and software used in her post “How I made my Twitter Video”.

“Behind the Scenes”

Teachable Moments

Kudos to all educators who showcase how video projects are created or reveal tips and strategies “behind the scenes” of their educational activities. Admittedly, it does take extra time, but on behalf of all those individuals who have learned so much by analyzing their “magic”, I say “Thank You!”. To help other educators learn about the “behind the scenes” magic, and to encourage others to share in a similar fashion, I plan to maintain a list of these “difference makers”. Not only will I identify their original activity/project, but I will also link to their “behind the scenes” (BTS) revelations. To date, I’m aware of these creative educators and their related endeavours:

Difference Makers

– Video: “Re-Imagine Your P.D. Experience with Twitter”
- BTS Magic: “How I Made My Twitter Video …”

– Video: K-12 Online Pre-Conference Keynote
“Sharing: The Moral Imperative”
– BTS Magic: “The Making of Sharing: A Moral Imperative”
– Video: “Happy Birthday Alec Couros”
– BTS Magic: “So I started this Google doc ..”

I encourage readers to share with me the online activity/projects of other educators, together with their “behind the scenes” insights, so that I may add them to this list of “Difference Makers”.

As a complementary resource to her “Twitter for Teachers” video, Victoria also shared a “Weekly Twitter Chat Schedule”.  This Google spreadsheet lists educational chats by names, hashtags, days, and times of sharing. One of the first things I did was scan to see if the Manitoba Educational Chat (#mbedchat) was listed on the schedule for Wednesdays from 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm (CST). I was so delighted to see it listed along with other Twitter chat sharing and learning opportunities.

As one who has recently connected with other Manitoba educators through the #mbedchat Twitter chat mechanism, I realize how powerful this learning vehicle can be. Zoe Bettess, the creator and co-moderator, shares the importance of connecting in her post “The Power of Twitter Chat and My Journey to Starting #mbedchat”.

At the start of 2014, the talented trio of Zoe, her #mbedchat co-moderator Georgette Nairn, and archivist, Tanis Thiessen decided to foster educational connections in a new and exciting fashion. They created the 2014 Manitoba Ed Chat Blog Challenge. Manitoba educators, who maintain a professional or classroom blog, are challenged to write one post per month and share it with others by using the Twitter hashtag #mbedchatblog. In addition, they invited participating educators, as well as non-participating  ones, to list their respective blogs on the MB Ed Chat blogroll. If you are a Manitoba educator, who is responsible for a personal or classroom blog, I encourage you to submit your blog information. Better yet, if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to investigate creating an educational blog, I encourage you to share it using this process. Not only will others benefit but you, and ultimately your students, will gain from the connections fostered through this endeavour. As of today, there are links to 40 educational blogs and I’m sure this list will continue to grow as we share and use this powerful resource.

“Hats Off” to all these dedicated educators and students who are so willing to share their creativity, ideas, resources, and reflections on their educational journey.

I am so lucky to be connected with educators who are, indeed, making a difference.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Endnote: Those interested in additional free posters created by Krissy Venosdale, are invited to explore my earlier post entitled “Free Motivational Educational Posters”.

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Hour of Code – For those who are 6 to 106!

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Computer Science Education Week is Dec 9-15, 2013. An “Hour of Code” is an amazing event in which educators are encouraged to spend one hour, during next week, introducing aspects of computer coding to their students.

This learning opportunity is a “one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify ‘code’ and show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, an innovator.” Teachers are encouraged to explore the wealth of ideas, tutorials, and resources provided on the “Hour of Code 2013″ web site.

Hour of Code-400x300

There are an incredible variety of  step-by-step, self-guided, tutorials that are provided for both students and teachers. Not only are these innovative tutorials designed to run through computer browsers, on smartphones, or on tablets; some of the “coding” activities require no computer at all. Should you have any concerns, they are probably addressed in the “Hour of Code – Frequently Asked Questions”.

No experience in computer coding for either teachers or students is necessary. All that is required is for teachers to be risk-takers and learn along with their students. I recommend that all teachers practice saying three most important words … “I don’t know” but quickly follow-up with … “but when you figure it out, please teach me”. Other experienced educators suggest advising students to “Ask three … before me!” to reduce the pressure to try to answer all questions. This may appear to some educators to be a “cop-out”, but it reinforces that no one knows all the answers and that true learning is a collaborative effort. Furthermore, a student’s self-worth is dramatically increased, whenever s/he can teach an adult.

So I encourage you to take an hour next week and have fun, learning to “code” with your students.

Sorry, I have to run now and figure out how to navigate that darn “Angry Bird” through that puzzle.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Tagxedo: A Time-Saving Teacher’s Tool

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Teachers are always looking for resources that can aid them in the teaching process or engage students in their own leaning. Some may be familiar with a free web-based tool called Wordle which can be used to create generate “word cloud” images from text that the user supplies. Although many educators and students have embraced the use of Wordle, one of its big limitations was that users coluld not easily print their word cloud creations. In early January, I created a “DS106 word cloud“, and like many of my colleagues, I had to use a screen capture process to save my Wordle creation as an image or to print out the design.

However, today I wish to share with readers a new word cloud tool, called Tagxedo, which has a built-in print feature as well as other options that will excite educators. This free web application is unique because it can create complex portraits like the one of Steve Jobs. I encourage readers to click on the thumbnail at right to see the detail and words used to describe this industry game-changer. However, rather than focus on the advanced portrait feature, I will share ways this product might be used, with a minimum of time and effort, by students or teachers.  The Tagxedo web site describes this application as follows:

Tagxedo turns words — famous speeches, news articles, slogans and themes, even your love letters — into a visually stunning word cloud, words individually sized appropriately to highlight the frequencies of occurrence within the body of text.

Tagxedo which is pronounced as [tag-SEE-doh] can, like Wordle, create simple displays in which word sizes are based on the frequency of the words provided in a list or web site address. However, teachers and students will appreciate the added features of this educational tool in that users can display Tagxedo word clouds in different shapes, colors, themes and may save and/or print the result in different sizes.

As a way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, I chose to have Tagxedo display words in the shape of a four-leaf clover or shamrock. Rather than enter a list of words, I selected Manitoba Education’s “Literacy with ICT Across the Curriculum” web site and entered this URL, “http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/tech/lict/show_me/continuum.html” (without quotes), as input.

Imagine the impact that teachers and students might have using shapes such as following:

  • Treble Clef: outline formed by a variety of different musical terms;
  • Shark: outline shaped by the different predator types;
  • Check Mark: outline formed by all students that have completed  a certain activity or project;
  • Bus:  boundary delimited by the names of all the students in one’s class who travel by bus to school;
  • Bird: display of migratory or endangered birds help  shape this image; and
  • Tree: outline defined by coniferous tree names.

In order for teachers to fully utilize Tagxedo, I recommend that they investigate these web sites:

So what are you waiting for? Go play with Tagxedo and see how it might be used in your classroom.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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20 Questions & Answers About DS106

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I have just completed the “Audio Assignments” section of my free online Digital Storytelling DS106 course and I have learned two very important facts. Having struggled through the creation of a 14 minute radio interview, I now have the utmost respect for the technical wizards who work “behind the scenes” to craft a radio show. Secondly, I have a new-found appreciation for the power and possibilities that Audacity, the free Macintosh, Linux and Windows audio editor and recording application, has to engage students in K-12 classrooms. With its wealth of online resources and support, Audacity should be a standard classroom and student application.

My “Interview/Music Mashup” audio assignment followed the Dickie Goodman interview style. Feeling that it was important to share the powerful ideas and learning that is associated with the DS106 phenomenon, I decided to create an investigative radio interview. I directed 20 probing questions at two “anonymous” DS106 students and they, in turn, answered with relevant snippets from popular songs.

20 Questions & Answers About DS106 by Brian Metcalfe

The K-12 Perspective
What have I learned during this exercise that might apply to K-12 students?

First, and foremost, students today are engaged when they use technology to support their learning. The fact that Audacity is a free, open source application (that runs on a variety of operating systems) means that students can install this application on their home computers and work on an audio assignment outside regular school hours.

For example, I’d recommend that students be required to collaborate with partners as they produce audio assignments such as the following:

  • Social Studies students might create a campfire talk between Radisson and Groseilliers as they discuss exploration and fur trading with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Can you hear the cracking fire, the loon and the wolves howling in the distance?
  • What would two privates, who are in the front line trenches preparing to go “over the top” during World War I, talk about? Imagine the sound effects of battle that could be added to enhance the realism.
  • Two students could compare and contrast a poem or novel in a Language Arts class.
  • Music students might make a recoding of a duet together with an added “Extra Features” section which outlines the learning journey that they went through in creating the musical recording.
  • Science students might create an audio interview where they ask questions of scientists such as: Archimedes, Marie Curie, Einstein, Euclid, Galileo, Frederick Sanger or Jonas Salk.
  • Students who are interested in sports, might create an interview where they dissect a recent game and compare and contrast different coaching styles and player performance.

Regardless of the audio assignment chosen, I think that all students should include an “Extra Feature” that outlines what they learned during the activity, what they might do differently (if they were to select this same project again), and suggestions and tips for future students.

As an educator you would not want your students to upload their .mp3 formatted audio assignment to a web server. However, students could still transfer their home-created audio files to a USB memory device and bring them to school where they could be shared on a CD or showcased from the teacher’s computer behind the school’s firewall.

Regardless of the subject-specific learning opportunity presented to students, I can assure readers that using Audacity together with technology to tell a particular story is a powerful and engaging educational process.

The DS106 Perspective
For me, this audio assignment opened up an entirely new way of telling a story. True, I have used Audacity in past but I have limited my use to a very simplistic process.  For example, in past, I simply recorded my voice and added any additional audio into the single, primary audio track in the Audacity application. However, this assignment challenged me to use multiple tracks for the announcer’s questions, the vocal snippet replies, and the the musical interlude. I even played with a robotic modification of the two student’s responses to preserve their anonymity.

I began by roughing out an interview script where I identified “20 questions” (based on the old radio show of the same name) that I thought might highlight some aspect of the DS106 phenomenon. I then searched YouTube for songs that I though might contain lyrics that would apply to some aspect of the DS106 experience. I must admit that I spent a great deal of time searching for the right music tracks. Furthermore, it is often necessary to listen to the entire song to find the most appropriate lyrics or the section where the audio is clearest. Unfortunately, during this time consuming process, there were many songs that were considered but rejected.

One thing that I would like to see is an efficient way to search for all songs that contain a specific word or phrase. For example, when I was searching for music that would help share with listeners the time commitment that students may invest in DS106, the only song that came to my mind was Jim Croce’s “Time in a bottle”. Although the word “time” was in the title, Jim’s lyrics did not help me portray how busy students can be with this innovative DS106 course. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to efficiently search a comprehensive data base containing all the lyrics to popular songs. If you the reader can suggest a search technique to find possible lyrics and music, I would be very much appreciate if you could share your strategy through a comment at the end of this post.

In past, I would have began this assignment by recoding the first interview question into Audacity and then adding the appropriate musical segment as an answer. I would then continue repeating these two steps, which might span several days, until all 20 questions and answers were mixed to my satisfaction. However, knowing that on subsequent days, I would have difficulty making certain that the audio levels and that my microphone position were in the exact same location, I was concerned that there would be a noticeable difference between questions.

In order to maintain the same audio “balance” between all 20 questions, I decided to record the interview question track all at the same time. I had my script written out and I simply read out each question and left a three second placeholder interval between questions. Once I saved the respective Audacity project file (e.g. “interview-V1.aup”), I then could add in an additional track containing the vocal lyric answer which could be slid along the timeline and tweaked to fit into the respective “placeholder interval”. Knowing how much effort I was putting into this assignment, I made certain to save my “creations” on a regular basis. I used my traditional “version” naming convention and simply increased the “version value” each time I added a new lyric reply to a new question. This process allows me to save filenames as:  “interview-V1.aup”, “interview-V2.aup”, “interview-V3.aup”, etc. Should a “hiccup” occur, I can always go back and retrieve an earlier version to continue my work.

Extra Features
My tip to others who wish to create a Dickie Goodman-style interview using Audacity with musical lyric replies is to pay very close attention to the “sampling rate” of all components. Where possible, it is best if all audio portions can have the same sample sampling rate.

For example, when I started recording my main 20 question track into Audacity, I simply proceeded using Audacity’s default sampling rate which was set at the 44100 Hz level. In Audacity, one can set this sampling rate from a low of 8000 to a high of 96000 Hz. Obviously the quality of the recoding, together with the audio file size, increases as the corresponding Hz value increases. However, when I started acquiring my musical lyric replies, I failed to notice that most of these audio snippets had a slightly higher sampling rate of 48000 Hz. It was only when I was part way though blending these musical replies, that I noticed a particularly familiar snippet seemed to slow down and change in pitch when it was mixed with my primary 20 question track. It was then that I noticed the difference in the sampling rate between my question recording at 44100 Hz and the musical snippet at 48000 Hz. I explored all avenues and could not find a way to reduce the sampling rate on the individual musical replies without distorting the melody. So I continued blending my lowered sampled interview questions with the higher and more precise audio snippets. Once the final mixed interview track was completed at 44100 Hz, I simply re-saved the entire file at the higher 48000 Hz level which preserved the original melody speed and pitch. Unfortunately, this “tweak” sped up and slightly changed the pitch of my interview and any other components that were originally introduced to the mix at the lower 44100 Hz level. Once the remix interview was completed to my satisfaction, I used Audacity to export the project file as an .mp3 file which I uploaded to SoundCloud for sharing.

My recommendation is that you first open the song snippets or any other audio tracks in Audacity and determine the sampling rate that applies to most of the audio components. Once this value is established, start Audacity and change the default sampling rate so that this application will work without “hiccups” because now all your audio components will be utilizing a common sampling rate.

Lastly, but most important. In this musical mashup interview, I have used snippets from the following tunes listed below. In order that I might demonstrate the educational fair use of such music, I have purchased individual tracks for each of these songs on my iTunes card.

  • In the Mood – Glenn Miller
  • Magic – Olivia Newton John
  • You Really Got A Hold On Me – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  • I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
  • The Reverend Mr. Black – The Kingston Trio
  • Who Let The Dogs Out? – Baha Men
  • I’m So Excited – The Pointer Sisters
  • Just My Imagination – The Temptations
  • Makin’ It Work – Doug and the Slugs
  • Eight Days a Week – The Beatles
  • Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? – Chicago
  • Help – The Beatles
  • With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles
  • ABC – Glee
  • Let’s All Sing Like The Birdies Sing – Jay Wilbur & His Metropole Players
  • I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter – Nat King Cole
  • That’ll Be The Day – Buddy Holly
  • I’m Sorry – Brenda Lee
  • I’m A Believer – The Monkees
  • Taking Care Of Business – Bachman-Turner Overdrive
  • We Are The Champions – Queen
  • My Way – Frank Sinatra

Unfortunately, many of the songs containing the musical snippets may be more familiar to the “more experienced’ listener as opposed to our younger students. However, this fact should in no way diminish the power of using an audio interview to engage students in a powerful, new and exciting way.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Egyptian Hieroglyphics Add Interest

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Teachers are always looking for ideas to stimulate student engagement. If you, or a colleague are studying ancient Egypt as part of the Grade 3 or Grade 8 Social Studies curricula, I have a sure-fire resource that will motivate your students.

I encourage readers to investigate the web site called “Discovering Ancient Egypt by Mark Millmore” at: http://www.eyelid.co.uk/index.htm

The home page suggests that “On this site you will find lots of Egyptian stuff”. In fact I was impressed with the information provided regarding the:

  • Hieroglyphic Writing
  • Pyramids and Temples
  • Kings and Queens
  • Free Egypt Videos
    (I found the YouTube video on mummification to be quite interesting.)
  • Egyptian Quiz Games
  • Links to other Egyptian sites
  • Discovering Egypt Newsletter

Although this web site does include a commercial aspect through its “Discovering Egypt Shop”, there is still a wealth of resources that teachers and students will find interesting.

In fact, I was captivated by the free  Hieroglyphic Typewriter which can be used to type out messages like the following:

Imagine the fun your students can have creating their names in hieroglyphics or creating classroom posters with proverbs found within various ancient Egyptian temples. Obviously this web-based typewriter’s key-to-symbol associations can be used to decode any hieroglyphic message.

I trust that creative educators will find a variety of uses for this unique resource and I encourage you to share them with our readers through the Comment section at the end of this post. In addition, perhaps you can be first to decode the above 11 character message and share your translation with others through the Comment section.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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K12 Online Conference – Don’t miss it!

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P.D. PROBLEMS
Professional development for educators today can be a very expensive and demanding. Costs of conference registrations, hotels, meals, and travel have all dramatically increased. True, one can stay in his/her home town or city and still attend local conferences but these, too, have their own set of challenges including the following:

  • popular sessions fill up quickly;
  • sessions that one may want to attend often run concurrently, so one is forced to attend a particular presentation while missing other learning opportunities scheduled for the same time slot;
  • one attends an hour session, only to find that within the first 5 minutes of the presentation, the topic or focus is not the best fit
  • sessions are often focused on “nice to know” but may not have the ultimate fit of “just-in-time” delivery

If these seem to be some of the concerns that you encounter, then I have a professional development solution, which is called the K12 Online Conference found at: http://k12onlineconference.org/ Two weeks of presentations start today, and because it is online, the above problems and restrictions are totally eliminated.

P.D. SOLUTIONS
Most educators, that I know, love to hear the four-letter word … “FREE”.  In other words, there is no registration fee for the professional development provided during the K12 Online Conference. Neither must you travel anywhere, in fact you can partake of these inspiring educational sessions while sitting in the comfort of your own home, lounging in your pyjamas. This year’s theme is “Purposeful Play” and although the pre-conference keynote by Angela Maiers entitled “The Sandbox Manifesto” has already been presented on Monday, November 21st, you are not out-of-luck as you would be in traditional conferences. In fact, one of the most important aspects of K12 Online Conference presentations is that they, together with any pertinent resources, are displayed and archived on the web. In fact, interested educators can review not only the current year’s videos but also presentations shared during the previous five years from 2006-2010.

To begin taking advantage of this powerful learning opportunity, all you need is a computer with speakers and Internet connectivity. Begin by pointing your browser to the K12 Online Conference main page and continue investigating any of the following links:

Those educators using Twitter, may wish to follow the comments made regarding the K12 Online Conference by searching or filtering tweets using the “#k12online” (without quotes) hashtag. Furthermore, I find this online learning opportunity a great way to learn about educators with whom I might share a kindred spirit. I am always looking out for new ideas shared through educational blogs and if you feel the same way, I encourage you to examine Sean McGaughey’s “K12 Online Blog and Twitter List“.

... this K-12 Online Conference is not only “the conference that never ends”. It should also be considered as “the conference that keeps on giving”.

Like our students, we are all on individual learning journeys. Some of us are further along and others are just beginning. Furthermore, for learning and assimilation to be meaningful, concepts and ideas need to arrive when the person is ready and they have to make sense based on the individual’s past experience and where s/he is at. For example, a presentation which shares various mobile educational apps, which run on an iPhone, may not apply to you today, particularly if you don’t own a cellular phone. On the other hand, if you are a primary teacher, you may find Sharon Bett’s 2008 presentation “Never Too Young – Three Tools for the Youngest” to be just what you need to hear based on your needs today. I did my best to address the wealth of information that is contained within the K12 Online Conference archives in last year’s post entitled: “K-12 Online – Acknowledging the Archives“. In fact some administrators or leaders of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) may recommend to their colleagues that certain educators review past presentations and report back as to their favourites so that the larger audience can benefit from their research.

In closing, I can’t think of a better, more apt description of the K12 Online Conference than I used in my previous post called “K-12 Online – The never-ending conference” when I stated:

In summary, this K-12 Online Conference is not only “the conference that never ends”. It should also be considered as “the conference that keeps on giving”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Accents Entered the Easy Way with ‘AX’

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In April 2006, I wrote an article entitled “Special Characters for Special People“. In it, I described four different ways in which a person could enter French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian  accents, on an English-configured keyboard, when word processing. I asked the question:

Are you satisfied with entering a student’s name as Francois Cote without accents, or would you prefer to enter the student’s name with proper accents such as François Côté?

I admit that for years, I used either the Windows Character Map or the <Alt>key + numeric string to enter French accents. I had a slip of paper that reminded me that François Côté could be entered as “Fran <ALT+0231> ois    C <ALT+0244> t <ALT+0233>”  or as 22 separate keystrokes. Imagine my delight to find the AX Windows freeware which allows me “to remember less and accomplish more”. With this freeware installed,one only has to remember one function key to enter all accents. For example, using the AX application, a single <Function key> allows one to alter any character’s accent. By pressing the <F8> key repeatedly, following a normal “e”, AX displays an é, ê, è, or ë. Similarly, if one pressed the <F8> key following a capital E, one will generate an É, Ê, Ê, or Ë as illustrated  in the accompanying image. Now I can enter François Côté’s name, in a more efficient manner as:

Franc <F8> ois   Co<F8> t e <F8>

where the previous 22 separate keystrokes are reduced to 15 and I no longer need to memorize or refer to the Character Map <Alt> key 4-digit codes. Furthermore, educators who teach Mathematics may find AX a useful tool when typing exponential notation. For example, if one presses the <F8> function key following any exponent value, a string of characters such as x3<F8> + 9×2<F8> – 3 = 0 automatically displays as x³ + 9x² – 3 = 0. On your Windows computer, download and install this application from the AX web site at: http://vulpeculox.net/ax/index.htm and you will quickly be typing that it is phénoménal!

Take care & keep smiling :-)

[Geek Speak: The average user will not need to carry out the following modification. This AX application allows the user to modify which key becomes the "magical" function key to invoke the accents. Although the <F8> function key is set as the default "magic" key, I purposely modified the software to allow me to invoke accents using my <F11> key instead. On my laptop, my <F8> function key (with its keyboard symbol) is set up by Dell to toggle my display between my laptop screen and an external monitor. I'd rather not have two functions competing for the use of a single function key. As such,  after installing AX in the traditional C:\Program Files\AX location, I opened the AX.cfg configuration file in Notepad and changed an initial line from "KEY=F8" to "KEY=F11" (without quotes). Once this modification to this configuration file was saved as AX.cfg, my "magic" or "hot key" became <F11> rather than <F8> and the program continued to work "avec succès".]

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‘Excel’lent Maths Problem Solving Puzzles

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When I taught middle years Mathematics, I found myself intrigued by the different ways students solved puzzles. Classic puzzles, such as the following problem, use letters to represent numbers which can be displayed as simple calculation problems in disguise. One must replace each letter by a single 0 to 9 digit. The same digit must be used to represent the same letter. So, if you believe that 4 is being used to represent the letter A, then 4 must be used for all A’s in the same problem. Of course, one must use a different digit for different letters. After one substitutes all the letters for the numbers, a perfectly valid calculation problem will result.

Although some students might approach the problem using a “brute-force” method in which guesswork was employed, I was fascinated by those who approached the problem logically or employed a variety of strategies. I found that it was wise to provide my students with an opportunity to share with the class what assumptions were made and what strategies were used. For example, most would try to solve the above puzzle as shown in its subtraction format. However, some students found this puzzle easier to solve when the problem was rewritten in its corresponding addition format. Such “working backwards” is an effective strategy for solving problems and one that works well in this case. In addition, unlike most mathematical problems where there is only one correct answer, I encouraged students to see if they were able to find more than one series of letter substitutions that would solve each particular puzzle problem.

Excel Spreadsheet Format:
In the January, 2001 issue of “Bits and Bytes”, I wrote an article entitled “Spreadsheets: A Problem Solving Puzzle Creator“. This extensive article, provided the reader with insights into how I designed the spreadsheet component using Microsoft “Works” to create problems such as the above. Recently, I decided to improve and upgrade these same six problems so that they could be used by those readers using the 2007 (or later versions) of Microsoft Office. Educators may download a single Excel 2007 workbook which contains each of the six puzzles as individual worksheets at the end of this blog post.

Word Document Format:
As an educator, I wanted to provide students with an opportunity to identify the hunches and strategies that they used when attempting to solve these problem/puzzles. In order to facilitate this important documentation step, I created a Word document containing each puzzle as an embedded spreadsheet followed by a “What I/we learned” portion at the bottom of the page where students could list the various steps and strategies they took in solving a particular problem. The individual six Word problem/puzzles can be downloaded as “freebies” at the end of this article.

Suggested Lesson Steps:
I would use the following Word puzzle activities in the following manner:

1.  Divide up the classroom into teams consisting of two or three students of similar abilities. I believe that the collaborative interaction in the team approach, as well as a reflective “What I/we learned?” nature of this project gives the best results for learning. Since the puzzles are arranged in order by relative difficulty, I would assign particular puzzles to challenge teams while providing a “best-fit” scenario.

2. Make a backup of all Word document puzzles (and keep them in a safe place) in case student puzzles get saved over the originals.

3. Transfer a copy of each Word document puzzle to a computer server drive location to which the students have access.

4. Open the first Word Puzzle #1 (ONE + ONE = TWO) on a workstation and project the image onto a screen so the entire class can see how the activity will work.

5. Demonstrate where team members will enter their names at the top of the document and stress that student teams must frequently save their progress using a file name format and drive location with which they are familiar.

6. Stress the need to document the team strategies and hunches and have students in class suggest why certain letters can take on certain values. For the initial demonstration, I would only choose values for E within the range 1-4 so that there is no need to carry over a 1 to the adjacent column. You might ask students if E could take on the value of 5 and to explain their rational to support their decision. Likewise, why can E not equal zero?

7. Before attempting to activate the spreadsheet component, enter a few of the class suggestions in the “What I/we learned” area at the bottom of the page and save the Word document (using the agreed upon location and file name convention). Possible sample comments can be viewed by clicking on the image near the end of this article.

8. Demonstrate how the embedded spreadsheet is activated by double-clicking within the yellow frame. Inform students that one will know that the spreadsheet is activated when the Excel column letters and row numbers appear along the top and left hand edge.

9. When the embedded spreadsheet is activated, one can position the mouse over the red-coloured “DIRECTIONS” link to review the puzzle-solving process.

10. Using the suggestions and the strategies listed by the students, enter a value for E in the “Guess & Test Area” and observe the changes in the “Results Area”. Remind students that the <Enter> key must be pressed after inserting any value into the “Guess & Test Area”.

11. Students must regularly update and enter strategies at the bottom of the Word document by deactivating the spreadsheet. To do so, one must click outside the yellow framed embedded spreadsheet. When the spreadsheet column letters and row numbers disappear, one is now in the Word document format.

If the information in the yellow frame becomes lost or distorted, immediately click the "Undo Object" (reverse arrow button) or enter the "Ctrl-Z" keystroke combination to recover.

WARNING: Sometimes when one returns to the Word document, the yellow frame disappears or is not completely displayed. If this happens, students must immediately click on the “Undo Object” (the “reverse arrow”) button or enter the <Ctrl-Z> keystroke combination. This “undo” step will always recover the original Word document display with the complete yellow framed puzzle/problem and team comments at the bottom.

12. Remind students to take turns so that different team members alternate tasks between entering strategies and hunches at the bottom of the Word document and activating the spreadsheet component to enter another letter value to observe the results and progress.

13. Continue with the demonstration on Puzzle #1 until the spreadsheet feedback area finally displays “CORRECT!”

14. Return to the Word document (using the Undo process) to re-draw the Word document and finish entering any additional strategies or hunches that the class agrees upon. Remind the class that it is important that students not only document strategies that worked but also hunches that need more refinement. Stress that we often learn more from our failures than our successes.

15. Invite students to suggest whether Puzzle #1 can have other solutions. Discuss such possibilities, without demonstration, particularly if you wish to use this puzzle with a team as an easier entry into this activity.

16. Save the Word document, one last time, and demonstrate how you wish this completed Word puzzle file to be submitted to the teacher.

17. Now ask the students to arrange themselves into the teams that you have chosen and advise each team which puzzle is their responsibility. Select a particular member of each team to open their assigned Word document puzzle.

18. Instruct another team member to enter their team or individual names at the top of the Word document puzzle and save this named document in an appropriate location using their student names as a file identifier.

19. If one of your teams is working on Puzzle #1 (which was used during the demonstration) tell these team members that they have to find a different solution than the one that was demonstrated.

20. Direct team members to examine their puzzle (in the word processing format) and discuss any beginning steps or strategies that they think might be used to help solve the puzzle. Have a new team member type their initial strategies/thoughts  in the “What I/we learned” area at the bottom and save their team Word puzzle document before proceeding.

21. Ask a new team member, to start the puzzle by double-clicking within the yellow frame to activate the embedded spreadsheet. Remind the teams that the spreadsheet is “activated” when the Excel column letters and row numbers appear along the top and left side boundaries.

22. If necessary, team members can move the mouse over the red-coloured “DIRECTIONS” link, when the spreadsheet is activated.

23. Have each student, in turn, enter a value in the “Guess & Test Area” and observe the results in the “Results Area”.

24. Frequently remind teams, to return to update their strategies at the bottom of the Word document. To do so, one must click outside the yellow frame to deactivate the spreadsheet. Once the spreadsheet column letters and row numbers disappear, one may update the strategies and hunches at the bottom of the Word document. Remind students that if they return to the Word format (where no Excel column or row indicators are displayed) and the yellow frame spreadsheet does not display properly, one must immediately click the “Undo Object” (reverse arrow) or enter the <Ctrl-Z> keystroke combination to recover the Word document without any distortion.

25. Have students alternate between activating the spreadsheet, entering the next number, observing the results, returning to the Word document (using the “Undo” process to re-draw the Word document) and refining or typing in the new hunch or strategy to be tested.

26. Once the problem/puzzle feedback indicates that the team is “CORRECT!”, have the team complete the “What I/we learned … Area”, save the final version of the Word document, and transfer the resulting Word document to the teacher.

27. After finding their first solution, suggest that student teams, re-open the same puzzle, repeat the same steps to see if they can find more than one solution to their particular problem or to determine if their solution unique.

28. This problem solving activity could be used again by ensuring that different puzzles were assigned to different teams.

~~~~~~~

Sample Team Word Document


< Click the above image to view the display in a larger format. >

Freebie Downloads:

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Reflect, Review, and Rap

Activity, Bits and Bytes, Freebie, LwICT, Tutorial 1 Comment »

At this time of year, many educators are looking for review projects or activities that will really engage their students. In addition, many teachers know that using technology can help students review concepts in all subjects as well as meet the descriptors that are identified in Manitoba Education’s Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) developmental continuum.

I thought that I might challenge students to demonstrate, through the LwICT “Produce to Show Understanding” Big Idea that they really understand a particular concept or unit of study. However, rather than write the traditional essay or report, I want students to exercise their brain and use the Audacity (open source, free audio editor and recorder) application to create personal “review song” lyrics. In order to demonstrate this process, I decided to summarize and review Manitoba Education’s LwICT Across the Curriculum by creating a poem set to music. On-line readers can hear my “ICT-Rap” and view the lyrics by clicking on the appropriate hyper-links. I am sure that with the basic steps below, students will be soon generating exceptional musical compositions as a review mechanism.

The basic steps begin with finding a freeware background music track which can be, optionally, loaded into Audacity. One can then play this background loop while using a microphone to record the lyrics to your song. Although one can spend more time experimenting with the various effects in Audacity, one can simply save the lyrics and background musical loop as a blended MP3 file and celebrate your learning.

1. I went to the “loops” section of the Flash Kit web site at: http://www.flashkit.com/loops/

2. I searched for “free loops” and scrolled down the resulting pages and listened to the various samples by pressing the “play” button in the Flashtrak Console.

3. Once I found a free loop, that I thought would provide my song with an appropriate background, I downloaded it in an MP3 format. For example, on-line readers can click on “What_You_Gonna_do” to hear the free loop created by PlayaJayCee. I downloaded this MP3 background loop as the start of my ICT rap.

4. Next I started Audacity. I clicked on Audacity’s File > Open menu items and navigated to the folder where I had previously stored my “What_You_Gonna_do” MP3 loop. When this 8 beat loop is opened in Audacity, it appears on the top track with a 10 second duration. Next, one has to repeat the background loop to accommodate the number of verses in the “review song”. To do so, click the Edit > Select > All menu items to highlight the entire loop and the click Edit > Copy to store the loop in memory. Next one must place the cursor at the end of the selection and press the Edit > Paste menu items to extend the background audio track. The instructions in this previous sentence must be repeated as necessary to accommodate the lyrics or verses that are to be included. The newer version of Audacity (1.2.6) has a special “Play” feature as shown. One can hold down the <Shift> key while pressing the “Play” button to have the loop or song automatically repeat. However, one cannot record any additional narration while this “Shift/Play” button is depressed or in “loop play” mode.

5. Now press the File > Save Project As menu items and store this “work in progress” file (e.g. audio-track.aup) in an appropriate folder as an Audacity’s AUP program file.

6. At this point you will want to create lyrics or a series of verses which summarize the project or concept that you are reviewing. I find that because my background audio track is an 8 beat loop, I type my lyrics into Word making certain that the words adhere to this 8 beat timing structure. Save and print up the lyrics for the up-coming “voice over” narration portion.

7. Next we need to set a preference in Audacity. Click on the Edit > Preferences menu items. On the Audacity Preferences display, click the “Audio I/O” tab, and click to place a checkmark to the left of “Play other tracks while recording new one”. Click the “OK” button to proceed.

8. Insert the microphone into the computer and position your lyrics printed page so that you can begin the “voice over” narration. Press the left-most “Skip to Start” button to make certain that the cursor is positioned at the start of the background loop. Press the reddish “Record” button and begin listening to the background loop. Let the loop play though once before adding you own lyrics to the mix. You will note that your “voice over” narration automatically is displayed as an additional audio track below the loop background music. Adjust the speaker and microphone sliders, immediately located below Audacity’s buttons, as appropriate.

9. Press the File > Save Project As menu terms and store this “work in progress” in an appropriate folder with “version number” filenames ending in V1.AUP, V2.AUP, V3.AUP (e.g. History-Review-V1.AUP) to keep track of various attempts.

10. Undoubtedly you will not be able to record your entire “review song” at one sitting. Make certain that you save any “work in progress” as an Audacity project as noted above. Later, when you return to work, start Audacity. Select the File > Open menu items, navigate to the appropriate folder where you last stored your Audacity AUP project file, select it and click the “Open” button.

11. If you have time, you can explore the various effects that can be applied to your “review song”.  Audacity has an extensive “Help” file and the addtitional resources identified at the end of this article may be helpful as well.

12. When satisfied that the creation is finished, save the project one last time. Before exiting, make certain that one selects the File > Export as MP3 menu items and save the “review song” in a compressed MP3 format which will automatically blend all the tracks together.

12. After all students have played their “review songs” for their peers, provide a process where all students’ review projects can be accessed and listened to for studying purposes. Students who are aural learners may benefit from their colleagues’ “review songs” and find such a depository of audio files quite helpful.

13. Lastly, I encourage you, the reader, to provide feedback to this article by sharing your experience using Audacity to produce a “review song” as another mechanism for students to demonstrate understanding of a concept or unit of study.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Resources:

Credit: This blog entry is an updated version of an earlier article entitled “An ICT Christmas gift with lots of rappin’” which was first published in my “Bits and Bytes” educational newsletter in December, 2006.

http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/tech/lict/index.html

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