Archive for September, 2013

Online Typing Programs for Kids

Posted on: September 30th, 2013 by Chris Loat

Typing skills for students can be a real time saver when the workload increases later in life. There are many different online programs to help students learn or practice their keyboarding skills. I have listed them in order from most basic to more advanced.

E Learning for Kids
– takes kids very slowly through the home row and use of different fingers for different keys (great for absolute beginners)

BBC Dance Mat Typing
– a bit younger in presentation but they do a good job of progressing the kids through the different keystrokes
– begin at level 1 to do the home row keys then progress through to level 4 for punctuation etc…

Typing Web (Thanks to Noella at Kingswood for suggesting this one)
– each student has an account, without having to use an email; teachers can also have a class account
– begins with the home row and progresses through rest of the keys

Power Typing
– good for those who need a refresher on their keyboarding skills
– does not go through the home row in depth as it assumes the kids have this understanding

– assumes kids already have typing ability and is more for practice once they know their home row etc…
– gives wpm for those who are motivated by how fast they can type

Typing Chef
– for those kids who already know the home row
– takes a bit of time to load but is fun

These sites could be an option for early finishers (esp. if you have a classroom computer) or as a warm-up before working on a project in the computer lab.

iOS 7 for iPads in Education

Posted on: September 23rd, 2013 by Chris Loat

The release of the new operating system for iPads (and iPhones / iPods) has a number of new features that will affect how they are used in the classroom. Below are the upgrades in the new iOS 7 that teachers and students should know about for classroom use of iPads.

  1. Upgrade to Safari
  • smart search field (one place to type both a URL or search term)
  • smart searching (suggests closest match when typing in the smart search field)
  • tab view for all open windows (tap overlaying squares at bottom right) for iPhone
  • instantly view all links in your Twitter account timeline (tap on bookmark icon at bottom right, then the @ symbol at top right)
    Smart searching results after typing in ‘Edu’ in smart search field – ‘Top Hits’, ‘Google Search’ and ‘Bookmarks and History’

  • New Interface / Gestures
    • search your ipad from any home screen (swipe down from middle of screen)
    • see the preview screens of apps you are using / scroll left or right through these apps (double tap home button to access all open apps with preview screens)
    • put away / quit apps (first double tap the home button, then swipe the preview screen upwards)
    • access the control centre (swipe up from bottom of screen)
    • folders can hold as many apps as you want (swipe left to see different pages of apps within the folder)
    • Education Apps Folder – Page 3 of 4 

  • Control Centre – access this multifunctional panel by swiping up from the bottom
    • timer – has stopwatch, countdown timer and alarm
    • airplay – connect to Apple TV
    • calculator
    • access to camera
    • brightness and volume control
    • lock rotation
    • turn on/off your wifi, bluetooth, airplane mode and do not disturb
    • flashlight
    • play, pause or skip songs
    • View of Control Centre

  • Camera
    • take portrait, landscape, panorama (not on iPad 2 or iPhone 4) or square photos
    • add filters before taking the photo by tapping on three circle icon at lower right (not on iPad 2 or iPhone 4)
    • burst mode shooting of photos (hold the onscreen shutter button or volume up button)
  • App Store
    • has a new ‘Kids’ section, which rates apps based on age (up to 5, 6-8, 9-11)
    • updates done automatically in the background (no more little red dots!)
    In terms of pedagogical improvements, iOS 7 is not really any different from iOS 6, but the handful of modifications will make the iPad a bit easier to use in the classroom. If you are currently running iOS 6, stay with that operating system as the upgrades to iOS 7 do not significanly impact how students use the iPad in the classroom. Also, some apps have not yet upgraded to iOS 7 so they will run better in iOS 6. Are there any changes with iOS 7 I missed that will impact use of iPads in the classroom? Let me know below. Thanks. 

    Represent Your Understanding Orally on the iPad

    Posted on: September 17th, 2013 by Chris Loat

    The iPad has become a versatile tool that students can use to represent what they know in a variety of ways. One feature that separates the iPad from other tech tools is the ability to easily record students’ voices with visuals, thus tapping into students’ verbal and kinesthetic intelligences. Earlier, I reviewed some different screencasting apps, which allow students to orally explain their ideas. The below apps incorporate characters (1a,b,c) or still photos (#2-5) with oral explanations to generate a verbal and visual product.
    1. a) Sock Puppets – Lets students create their own lip-synched videos and share them on Facebook and YouTube. Add Puppets, props, scenery, and backgrounds and start creating. Hit the record button and the puppets automatically lip-synch to your voice. The app is free, but need the paid version ($0.99) to save creations to the iPad’s camera roll.


    Toontastic – Students produce their own animated short story by moving pre-made characters and recording the dialogue. Students can also make their own backgrounds and characters. Also has a support page and a paid version (all-access pass is $19.99).

    c) Puppet Pals – Students can create a virtual puppet show with this app that has various sets and characters in the free version (and many more in the paid version). After selecting the characters and set, move the characters while you speak and movements and sounds will be recorded. Paid version ($2.99) also allows for custom sets and characters (e.g. your own photo).
    2. 30 Hands – Create a photo / image slideshow, then add narration for each slide to produce a narrated slideshow. Great for students who are reluctant writers, students who are working to improve verbal fluency, and students who want to have fun telling their story. This app allows the user to draw on the photos before recording their voice for the photo (e.g. can circle a certain part of a photo and then talk about it). Export options include sending the finished video as a .mov file to the camera roll. The app is currently free.

3. PixntellAdd voice to your photo slideshow with pixntell. Has an intuitive interface that is easy for younger kids to use. Free version gives you only 5 photos, which forces the students to be thoughtful in the photos they choose. Paid version ($1.99) allows for up to 70 photos to be added.

    4. VoiceThread – Combines a screencasting and slideshow creating together.  Load a photo/image and add an audio note while marking up / annotating the image with your finger. Visit their support page. Online account needed to share and view. The app is free.

    5. Sonic Pics  – Students can load a bunch of photos, record your voice for each photo, and show them in a slideshow; however it does cost $2.99. Export the slideshow to your camera roll for easy sharing.

    Archiving Student Artwork with the iPad

    Posted on: September 15th, 2013 by Chris Loat

    Reflecting on one’s work is a valuable process for students, whether it is a creative story, a piece of art, or the solution to a Math problem. Looking back to examine the quality of their work and the process used to complete their work provides students with a more in-depth understanding of what and how they learn. One example of how students can reflect on their learning is by using an iPad to document the work they do during Art.

    Using an iPad, students can take photos during the stages of completing their work to document the processes used during the assignment. Written comments can also be added to each photo, either directly on the photo (use the app Pixlr Express* for this) or as a separate entry with the app Book Creator (see below). One example of when this works especially well is with painting activities. Students often layer the background first, then add the midground elements, and lastly addScreen Shot 2014-03-06 at 10.25.06 AM the foreground, and recording these steps is a powerful way for students to appreciate the process used to paint a landscape. Archiving these steps is also useful for teachers to use as formative assessment or for samples when teaching the same lesson in future years.

    Another means of archiving art work is to take photos of a series of completed art pieces done throughout the year. After each piece is completed, students can take a photo and write a short reflection (e.g. do a 3-2-1 3 parts they like, 2 parts they would do differently, 1 comment about the process). Of course, keeping the original piece in a folder is also essential as nothing can replace the original work.

    Taking photos and recording reflections can be done with various apps, but my top pick for this would be Book Creator. The app Book Creator provides a means of organizing photos, written reflections, audio comments and even video clips into an ebook. If students took a photo and wrote a short reflection for each piece of art, or if they archived the process for each art project, they would have a wonderful digital portfolio by the end of the year. Using Book Creator also gives students the option to record their voice and archive verbal reflections, so students who have strengths in verbal communication can utilize this option. When completed, the student can publish from Book Creator as an ebook or pdf. These files can be shared with family via email, or online for the rest of the world to see.

    Archiving student work or the processes used to complete their work is an important part of student learning and is a great way to share about what is happening in your classroom.

    * Other apps for adding text to photos include  Picshop Lite or Snapseed

    Screencasting Apps for the iPad

    Posted on: September 13th, 2013 by Chris Loat

    Screencasting apps for the iPad allow the user to draw/write on the screen and narrate at the same time. Students can use these apps to explain their thinking (e.g. how they solved a math problem) or a process (e.g. water cycle). Teachers can also use these apps to explain a process or concept and post the information online for students to refer to at a later time. Check out the below 5 screencasting apps that the SD38 iPad study group reviewed.

    Sharing: must create an account to export screencasts


    it’s free

    easy to use

    screencasts stored online at

    can search online for images

    can access thousands of other screencasts on their website


    only one page of recording at a time

    no ability to email screencasts

    In the end, ShowMe is a very useful app but the ability to export via email would be a nice feature to have.

    Sharing: saves to, then can be downloaded as mp4


    fairly easy to use

    can connect to dropbox and add one page of a pdf

    can control pen width


    no ability to take photo within app

    no undo button

    does not allow multipage recordings

    In the end, ScreenChomp is a very good app for its ease of use, but its limited sharing options within the app make it less desireable.

    Sharing: export as MP4 movie files, PNG image files, or PDFs to Dropbox, Evernote, Box, WebDAV, Email, YouTube and the iPad camera roll


    loads of bells and whistles (slide sorter view, laser pointer, shape tool, multiple fonts)

    can import photos, multi-page PDF, PPT, XLS, RTF, Pages, Numbers and Keynote

    import from various sources (Dropbox, Evernote, Box, WebDAV, Email, iPad photo roll and the iPad camera)

    can create layered approachCons:
    costs $2.99

    could be too complicated for younger students

    no central site to save screencasts to

    In the end, Explain Everything seemed to be the best app for all users if cost is not an issue.

    Sharing: exported to camera roll, to YouTube, or as email


    it’s free

    has multiple backgrounds (e.g. graph paper, lined paper)

    variety of drawing tools

    video editing features (can rerecord a portion of the screencast, can speed up or slow down certain parts)


    interface not as easy to use compared to other apps

    when sharing via projector only the whiteboard is visible (less distractions while presenting but makes it hard to show a class how to use the app’s features)

    In the end, Doceri is the best free screencasting app for older students.

    Sharing: exported to Educreations website


    it’s free and easy to use

    has multipage recordings

    add images from web or camera roll


    very basic set of tools (this could be a pro if using with younger children)

    no eraser, shapes, highlighter, pointer

    no ability to email screencasts

    In the end, Educreations is a very good app for younger children but would like the sharing to be done as an email as well as to their website.

    Your Technology Toolbox – How Full Is It?

    Posted on: September 10th, 2013 by Chris Loat

    The other day I ventured into my mechanic’s garage to pick up my vehicle and noticed a plethora of tools in his toolbox, which was overflowing to a point that the toolbox wouldn’t close.  I was very thankful since I would not want my mechanic to be limited to one wrench or screwdriver to fix my van. I was then reminded of my job as technology consultant in our school district and wondered how many teachers, and students, have an overflowing ‘Technology Toolbox’? Or conversely, how many have only one tech tool in their toolbox?

    Teachers have a veritable plethora of learning strategies and ideas (e.g. think/pair/share, tableau) to fully engage their students in the lessons they teach to their students. This pedagogical toolbox is quite full and in many cases to a point that it is overflowing. Having a full pedagogical toolbox allows teachers to be flexible in their approach to teacher and allows them to adapt to the needs of their students.

    However not all technology toolboxes are full, for both teachers and students. This prevents teachers from planning engaging lessons for their students and also prevents students from readily adapting to the varying assignments. Having only one tool in the toolbox means students can’t approach problems in a variety of ways. The clever quote by Abraham Maslow “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” fully illustrates this notion.

    So the question begs ‘How to fill our own, and better yet, our students’, toolboxes?’ Here are some suggestions:

    1) Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or press a button. Teachers who are less likely to press a button or venture off to the virtual unknown are less likely to learn emerging technologies.

    2) It is OK if your students know more than you do. Learn from them, and better yet, allow them to learn from each other. It is amazing how much teachers can learn from their students with respect to technology. When we first integrated iPads at Blair Elementary, I was trying to save a photo that was on the iPad and for some reason it would not save. The look of frustration was evident on my face, until one of my grade 4 students came up to me and said “Mr. Loat, just take a screen shot”. A sense of relief and slight embarrassment came over me and since then, I have always remembered this tech tip.

    3) Allow students to explore technology (e.g. apps on the iPad or online webtools) to realize the benefit / use.

    4) Familiarize yourself with apps, webtools etc… so you can point students in their direction. To do this, try out the technology or at least search online for ideas.

    5) Ask students for suggestions of what technology they would use for certain assignments.

    6) Provide assignments at the beginning of the school year that target specific uses of technology (e.g. make a web with popplet) and remind students they can use this for future assignments.

    7) Allow time for students to share the process as well as the product, and recognize the process as much as the product.

    I realize that it is hard for some teachers to find the time to change their approach for using technology in the classroom, but we must also realize that we are not preparing our students for later in life if we don’t at least begin to fill their technology toolbox. 

    Beginning of the Year Tech Activities

    Posted on: September 9th, 2013 by Chris Loat

    Here are a handful of activities to start off the year with your class in the computer lab. Feel free to share other ideas below.
    1. Make a wordle. Students brainstorm 20-30 words about themselves and make a wordle using the   webtool wordle. Remember to duplicate the words that are most important as the more times you enter a word on wordle, the larger it will appear in the image. Students can type the words in MSWord, save the file, then copy and paste into wordle; if they type them directly into the wordle text box, they won’t get saved.

    Wordle my son did about me.
    2. Make a poster. Have students get 9-10 digital photos from the summer and use them to make a mosaic or motivational poster at BigHugeLabs. BigHugeLabs has many other options for using digital photos.

    Motivational poster I made in 10 minutes from a photo I took this summer.

    3. Make a nametag with MSWord. Use the freeform tool (Shape>>Lines and Connectors>>3rd icon on bottom row) in MSWord to write their name in chunky lettering and then insert photos of activities, food, hobbies, likes or favourites around their name. When using the freeform tool, increase magnification to 200% for easier use. When it is finished, print it, colour it (assuming you print in black/white), then tape it to their desk.

    My nametag – letters made with MSWord freeform tool then coloured in with formatting pallette.

    4. Create an autobiography. Using the webtool Prezi, students can create a presentation about themselves to present to the class. Students can insert photos or videos about themselves to make their presentation come alive.

    5. Create a self portrait. Using the photobooth app, students take a photo of their face with various special effects (e.g. sepia, xray, popart). Then, take a screenshot (command shift 4) of a small section of their face from one ‘special effect’ photo and insert this onto an MSWord document. Take another screenshot of another section of their face from a different ‘special effect’ photo and insert this onto the MSWord document. Repeat with different special effects until all parts of their face have been inserted. To properly arrange the sections of their face, students will learn about resizing, layering, moving, and ordering images. Thanks to Roy K. for this great idea.

    Self portrait using various effects from photobooth app.

    Student Search Engines

    Posted on: September 7th, 2013 by Chris Loat

    You bring the class down to the computer lab and get the students to ‘research’ a topic. How many of them go directly to the venerable ‘Google’? I’ll bet most of them; however unless they are well versed in Boolean language, their search will result in the proverbial needle in the haystack. To prevent a million or so useless sites popping up, I suggest 4 search engines that will help students find kid friendly websites for their research topics.

    1. Kid Rex  
                – emphasizes kid-related webpages from across the entire web

    – powered by Google Custom Search and Google SafeSearch technology          

                – has many different search engines for students to use

    – also has dozens of links for web guides and specialized searches (e.g. one dedicated for finding webcams around the world)

                – google alternative safe search engines for students

                – students can use visual cues to navigate to find their specific topic

    – has various search engines on one page, all geared towards student use

    Happy searching!! 

    Streamlining Educational Technology in SD#38

    Posted on: September 7th, 2013 by Chris Loat

    Ever feel that you are pulled in 137 different directions when it comes to technology? Can’t keep up with all those tweets, updates, pins, pokes, apps, and more? Don’t know the difference between RSS, URL, PLN, FTP or SMS? You are not alone, and in fact are in the majority when it feels to being overwhelmed by the latest and greatest innovations in the world of technology. In a series of posts over the next year, I plan to provide some simplification of the technological world when it comes to education. I will look at one specific area of educational technology and provide some background information on it as well as some options or choices within that specific realm. My first post is on search engines – specifically kid friendly search engines. Which one should students use when the work they are doing requires them to do some online researching? I will provide some background on the topic (e.g. search engines) and then provide a brief explanation of some options. I won’t give every possible options; this won’t be one of those “83 Tips and Tricks for Using Google”. I will narrow the field down to 4 or 5 options and you select from them. Don’t agree with what I have to say or with the options I select? That’s OK – send me a better alternative and I will add it to the information (hopefully 46 people don’t email me about kid friendly search engines as adding 46 ideas would defeat the purpose). If you’ve read this far, I thank you and hope you can benefit from what follows below and what will follow in the coming weeks. Lastly, if there is a topic that I have yet to address and you’d like to see it covered in and upcoming post, let me know by emailing