Monday, June 15, 2009

Do you want us to jing it?

The English language continues to evolve -- jing is now a noun and a verb as far as my students are concerned.
Jing is the free (or lost cost pro version) program for the Mac and the PC that quickly allows for screen captures. It installs a small button on the side or top of your screen that pops out when you do a mouseover (as shown in the image in popped-out state). You can then quickly draw out a rectangle to snip -- then you have the option of copying it or posting it online on space that Jing provides you. Very quick and easy to snip out bits & pieces of your screen for reference.
That, however, is old news... and doesn't add a lot to the student/teacher conversation.
Where we've found Jing's power is the ability for the student to create very quick videos of their work for us... the question is put into OneNote and then the student solves it, adding a discussion of their reasoning as they work through the problem. Jing has no video editing components to it so they can't clean up their work -- they can re-do the entire video, of course, but you get to hear their mathematical voice. It's something you don't often hear a lot of in a class, especially amongst some students who choose not to be vocal. Teachers here have used it from Grade 7 to BC Calculus; there's a place for it everywhere.
They are a challenge to mark, however... we don't have a lot of tools (yet) to mark up video and just returning a text or image with notes seems less effective than it should be. If anyone has any quick-and-easy suggestions I'd like to hear it.
We (teachers) also use Jing to post solutions to homework; it's much easier to post links to the videos then to distribute the worked solutions by email or wiki. It helps to re-inforce correct language and provides a lot more information than just the written work. And, for a student looking to understand the solution it makes it a lot easier to have the teacher's reasoning made clear for each step. There is an argument to have students learn from reading mathematics but that's an incremental process. Here's a 4 min video (about the max recommended for practical use; in fact Jing has a 5 min max) I remember doing at the airport; that's the convenience of the system. I've also used it to provide solutions on MapleTA, our online homework & assessment tool because, again, you can just provide the link and no need to embed or install. However... you CAN embed them into your wiki space... the code is provided.
There is a paid version of Jing that I will likely upgrade to for next school year. It's only 15$US and adds on a few handy options ... but the students need only the free version to make it using the program successful for both of us.
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Friday, June 12, 2009

Paperless?

California's recent announcement that they are moving to e-textbooks will mean a lot more resources for 1:1 schools. Right now, using a tablet computer means either having a CD copy of the textbook (now a departmental requirement for our texts and fortunately most Ontario publishers have agreed) or several hours spent at the photocopier, scanning the questions in. Some publishers copy-protect their CDs but in the age of snipping tools, it's a lost cause. I understand they're concerned with sales but a quick check of class lists will ensure they're selling what they should.
Since my students have tablets, I use a OneNote file each day for their work: I get to pull questions from the textbook and sequence them the way I want. I can also make different levels of homework depending on the students -- this is particularly nice and, since the students don't necessarily see each other's OneNotes, they don't know who has what. I also put the answers from the text at the bottom of the OneNote for their reference. With OneNote, of course, I can also add in links to resources for the questions, my only little running commentary (either helpful hints & tips or notes about the phrasing of the question, where to find other questions like this and so on. Images, videos and applets can also be incorporated. It's this kind of environment I'm hoping that California will come up with.
I know that many of the math teachers don't do this; it's another little bit of work each day. I just find it inefficient to ask the student to copy the question from the textbook (since an answer in isolation is useless in review) and then flip to the back of the book for the answer. Not to mention most desks don't accomodate a math textbook and a tablet computer (and a soft drink, chips, ipod, etc).
Some teachers do it for the whole unit; I find that a little wishful thinking. So many good questions & thoughts arise from class that I like to tip them in either the same day or the next day -- and it's not just the math stuff I put in, either. Current events, humourous things from them... it all adds a little bit to the work.
If you're a math or science teacher, OneNote is likely only effective if you have a tablet (or a plug-in tablet as I used to use). For other subjects a laptop or netbook would be sufficient.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Microsoft's Live Mesh

One of the most successful tools I used this past academic year is Microsoft's Live Mesh ( https://www.mesh.com ), a cloud-based file-synchronization and desktop-replicator. I had signed up for it when it was in Beta and have never had a problem with it; in fact, it's worked far better than the Sharepoint system that the school offers. It installs as a service onto your Windows computer and creates a small blue icon that flashes when it's synchronizing.
Since we use OneNote for all of our academic material, it is nice to be able to access your Notebooks from any computer. With LiveMesh, I store the notebook in the LiveMesh folder (which appears to the computer as any other folder) and open it in OneNote as usual. I can work with OneNote, adding, editing and deleting and while I'm working away LiveMesh is synchronizing the local copy on my computer with the copy on the cloud which is also syncing it with any of my other computers (one tablet, one laptop). If I need to use the files on a computer that isn't mine, I can access the files through any web browser, too.
Not only do I store all my OneNote files in a LiveMesh folder, I store all my day-to-day academic files in one. I also have folders for my action research, journal writing, e-textbooks and backups. There have been a few times in the past I will be using my desktop to create school work and forget to upload it to the web for use at school -- by putting it in a LiveMesh folder, it's automatically available to me. If my laptop fails, my files are safe. Even if LiveMesh or the network is down, the local copy is useable.
There are two other things that are nice about LiveMesh: first, you can share the folders with other LiveMesh users. I've done this to distribute large files to my AP Calculus students and to have my Advisor Group do their backups in case their laptops fail. I've also used it to work with colleagues across the country; no need to email files back and forth (normally I'd suggest GDocs for this but not everything is a document/spreadsheet.)
The second is that you can actually log into your remote computer that is running the LiveMesh service. I've used this several times when I'm running a task on my desktop at home that I want to check on or continue with while I'm at school. I don't always leave my home computer on (they use a lot of hydro, after all) but it has turned out handy if I have to work in two places at once.