Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Getting to Video

On November 21st, I began meeting with a second group of ten students for Wednesday morning minyan. This group, different from the initial October group, already has some familiarity with Keynote, and some group members are going to work with the paragraphs before the Shema, and they are going to bring it to life with sound effects, making noise at the Hebrew word, “ra’ash” (“noise”), offering images of the four corners of the earth, love, and other concepts in those paragraphs. We will be scanning in pages from Siddur Sim Shalom, and pasting excerpts into Keynote slides.

One of the chief advantages of Keynote over Power Point, is the ability to use the Apple software to overlay student-created Garage-Band sound effects and i-Video creations, transforming a Keynote presentation into a video presentation.

This project challenges my students and me to make the most of a very brief time-frame. By the time we have completed our morning services, half of the allotted time is gone; I am thrilled with the progress students are able to make within the fifteen minutes that they have each week.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Text and Context

I'm now beginning my second round of Chumash Integration presentations, and because the students have had one lesson already and the first two lessons are closely linked, I feel like they are understanding the point of the whole program. I keep looking for ways to make the PowerPoint discussions exciting and interesting. How many times can one change a font color before the students start to yawn? I have found hyperlinking images keeps students alert. They're still so fascinated by the Smartboard technology that they are eager to see it in action.

Because I'm not in the classroom on a daily basis, I can't have the students make the presentations with me or produce ones on their own, but perhaps in future years, Frisch would consider having the students be part of the process. In the meantime, I continue to present the lectures using PowerPoint and, ideally, a Smartboard, but if the room doesn't have one, I use a laptop and projector (So old school to have to advance slides from a laptop. How quickly we get spoiled!). I have to rotate the rooms, as I go from one Chumash classroom to another.

In December, I'm meeting with Frisch's technology guru to set me up with a webpage, so I can provide a link to all my presentations. I continue to work on new ones. Coming up . . . Slavery in the ancient world for Chumash and Esther and the Achaemenid Dynasty for Nach. I also have a Chanukah presentation to show the ninth grade, who learn about Greek culture in December.

First products

On Wednesday, November 14th, I completed an eight-week session of meetings with about ten students, nearly all of whom were boys, and who worked with partners in the creation of a 2-3 slide contribution to the Keynote siddur. One group created slides for the blessing in the amidah about healing; another group created slides for the blessings about peace; and two groups offered different perspectives on the blessing about knowledge. I suspect it came in response to the academic pressures mounting as we neared the end of the trimester!

My partner and I in this project joins me in our excitement as we see the students feeling a connection to the siddur as they transform it into a series of texts and images, and we also are excited about their skill development, now that they are inserting Hebrew texts into their Keynote (and sometimes Power Point) presentations. Once they see the siddur projected on to the SMARTBoard, they become excited about how their work fits in with the work of others.

I am beginning with a new group of ten students, some of whom are concentrating their attention on the amidah, and some of whom are concentrating their attention on the blessings around the Shema.

Below you can see part of a project done by two of my students.

Hebrew language lab- buying equipment

When we first calculated costs for setting up this mobile language lab, we estimated that 12 laptops with headphones would cost us about $625 each. Then our class sizes increased, laptop prices decreased, plus we have a tech support guru who comes to us with support from ORT, who will squeeze loss-leader prices out of vendors until THEY scream.
We were able to get 14 laptops, with Avi Chai’s OK, for $450 each. Net savings, $1200 although we still need headsets with microphones, estimated at $300 total cost.
We had priced a variety of Hebrew software from Davka and TES at $2280. However, in talking with Ivrit teachers at a number of schools, we came to the conclusion that Rosetta Stone would be better. We got a price quote from Rosetta Stone: 14 site licenses of their network edition at $195 each came to $2730. We gulped and our guru looked for a better alternative. Ready for a bargain price? We were able to purchase 20 Rosetta Stone CDs from a secondary vendor online for $29.75 each, totaling $595, of which $416.50 comes from the grant. (We purchased extras knowing that as the program expands, this price might not be available again, and to allow students other than those in the experimental program to benefit.) Net savings, $1863.50.
Since we had not included a lockable laptop cart in our original estimate for the grant (PTA had said that they would help us if needed,) we asked AviChai if the grant money could be applied toward this. One Anthro cart, with power supply, locks and wheels is on its way. (Finally!!!) Our tech support guru came through again, getting shipping on this item reduced to $10, for a total cost of $1105.
Our original grant was for $9780. So far we have spent $6300 on laptops, $416.50 on software, and $1105 on the cart. Net expended $7821.50.
Still to be purchased are headsets with microphones- we’re watching for holiday sales.
Morah Shoshie is now evaluating Triple Play Plus Hebrew and some other software to determine what will supplement Rosetta Stone best, or if there are other instructional formats that would be more beneficial. In the meantime she and Morah Dina Shmuel continue to find websites and web-based games in Ivrit that will develop the children’s receptive vocabulary and be used in turn for expressive vocabulary.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Closing the Shades

Originally I had been disappointed to find that the Smartboard Notebook software did not have any Powerpoint-style special effects--especially when it came to making text appear and disappear. There are many times when I don't want all the text visible at once. Perhaps I'd like students to work through a problem, then display the solution on screen. Or I want to make a presentation out of it--show one thing, then another--when having it all visible at once would minimize the discovery of new facts and ideas.

So, I've been trying out different ways that Notebook can conceal and reveal information.
The three options I came up with are the screen shade; using text boxes (and pictures) to hide other sections; and the spotlight.

I first tried the text boxes. I thought it would be a perfect solution--cover one text box with another, then move aside to reveal the text behind it at the correct time.

I do use that method on occasion, but I found it to be cumbersome to set up. Text boxes by default are transparent and I always end up fumbling through the menus to find the right combination for hiding the boxes I need and revealing the text I want shown. It also doesn't always line up right.

[It still is a useful technique. I just used it together with a picture that had a black background. White text was visible at first; when I shrank the picture, the black text that had been hidden behind it showed up, and the white text disappeared. An easy solution that looked a lot more complicated than it really was.]

Next is the spotlight, which looked like such an elegant solution the first time I saw it. But it's not that easy to manipulate on screen, and it affects the entire screen--not just the slide I'm showing. Going to the next slide doesn't remove it.

Finally, there's the screen shade. It didn't seem all that exciting at first--especially when you're looking for a Powerpoint-effect substitute. But it turns out that it's the solution I use all the time.
I use it to reveal sections of text, or pictures, or one line at a time, depending on what we're working on.

Last week I displayed a screen with a lot of text--I didn't have the shade down, since I was planning on going over all of it at once. My students took one look and asked, "Can you please put on the screen shade?" Apparently viewing all that text at once led to information overload!

I put up the shade, lowered it by each section of text that we read and discussed, and eventually it was all out in the open--but now students were comfortable with the text.

So right now the screen shade is my default approach. But if anyone has a better solution, please share it--I'd love to try it!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hebrew language lab beginning computer use

Setting up a Hebrew Language Lab- Torah Day School of Atlanta
Hebrew language lab beginning computer use
Mrs. Javits (Morah Shoshie) and Mrs. Shmuel began working with the students on the computers in the computer lab while we await the delivery of the cart for the laptops. (It was supposed to arrive during Sukkot; we waited…and turned out they lost the order. Grrrr.) Since the children are already familiar with the lab computers, it makes for an easier transition once the mobile lab is complete…more on that next time
They had 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes working in the lab, although our test group is the 4th grade class for this project. First step was to teach the vocabulary of computer use, since all directions are given in Ivrit, with a lot of pantomime on Morah Shoshie’s part.
The vocabulary list includes words such as mouse, to click, to research, password and so on. The students initially used Microsoft Word (Hebrew enabled), again because of familiarity, to write letters to their parents about what they are learning in Ivrit.
Once they were comfortable with the computer terminology, they went online to do research b’Ivrit. Third graders searched for information about lion families and monkey families. Fourth graders wrote to their parents asking about the sources of their given names, e.g. for whom they were named and why. The origin of last names was the topic for fifth graders.
We switched this year from Dagesh to DavkaWriter as our Hebrew word processor, but the students have not had time yet to learn to use it as readily as they do Word. They will begin learning DavkaWriter during their weekly computer classes. Fortunately, the two programs are similar enough that they should pick it up quickly. We do not use stickers on our keyboards, having heard too many sad tales of phantom rearrangers. We have the keymaps on copy clips by each computer and the children memorize the keyboard fairly quickly.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Herzliah High School’s technology team is currently working on the preliminary stages of the online pedagogical center. The idea is to create a crossroads for pedagogical exchange between schools, where everyone is invited to share and copy didactic material.

Technically speaking, we are actually debating which platform will best meet the needs of our future users, be it teachers, educators, students or parents. While our pedagogical center will obviously be open to everybody to freely download our posted materials, we have been advised that some sort of filtering mechanism is necessary when it comes to uploading educational materials by educators and teachers who wish to contribute or share their class lessons. Thus, the question we are attempting to answer is which platform will permit us to be open, on the one hand, but controlled and secure, on the other?

One suggestion is to look at platforms, such as Web CT or First Class. However, we’ve found out that contributors must be pre-registered with the system in order to receive authorization to upload educational material, an obvious obstacle to free exchange. In addition, the high cost of such platforms is a deterrent to small community schools like ours.

While we continue to search for an answer, it seems that the pedagogical center website will be built with two simultaneous, but separate compartments, one for downloading and one exclusively for uploading materials. There will be no need for a user-name and password. However, different ideas may be raised as a result of further investigation and advice solicited hereby.

Please inform me of any suggestions you may have regarding this issue. I am also interested in teachers’ responses to this project, particularly if you’d be willing to share your materials and upload them onto the site. Thank you in advance for your feedback.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Podcasting can be addicting

So I've taken the podcast skills I developed in working on the Hebrew podcasts and applied them to working with our 6th grade LA classes as the students create their own book talks. Next we've got a Hebrew special that will be creating their own wiki and podcasts to share with kids in Israel. Suddenly I have a lab full of mics (both stand and boom), and we're "shushing" every visitor that pops into the lab.

I've asked for the tech guys to build me a sound booth. They think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

Text and Context: Nach Presentations

I've begun giving my Nach presentations that integrate the text with historical context. This year, Frisch is teaching the Megillot, so I've prepared the first presentation on Qohelet. The presentation focuses on the archaeology of the Solomonic period, starting from the Tel Dan stele, looking through various aspects of the Temple as well as finds from Tel Rechov and Megiddo. The presentation ends with a small look at Wisdom Literature from Egypt and Babylonia. I only give the presentations to the upperclassmen, but one of the teachers has asked me to email the presentation to her for her lowerclassmen, whom she thinks will appreciate it as well, particularly since the ninth graders have just learned in history about the Phoenicians and Hebrews. True integration!

Another one of the Nach teachers also was intrigued when I mentioned connections between Yonah and Pinocchio, so I prepared a presentation for her class comparing the two.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Touchscreen Habit

My computer is not a tablet, just an ordinary notebook without a touchscreen. The Smartboard, of course, is the ultimate touchscreen.

I never had trouble differentiating between the two until last week when I was demonstrating some of my notebook files to a friend. I got into teaching mode as I was explaining a certain comment and displaying the appropriate screen. Then I wanted to go to the next screen, so I tapped that little arrow at the top of the computer screen.

Nothing happened.

I must have hit that arrow 4 or 5 times before it occurred to me that I was working on my computer ... at home ... without the Smartboard. Of course it wasn't going to work. I had to use the mouse. And it felt so cumbersome to use the mouse, get that arrow up to the top and click the button!

Two minutes later, I was banging at the screen again before I caught myself. This time it took just two tries. At least I'm getting better at this ...

I work on my computer without the Smartboard all the time, creating my notebook files, and I never find myself reaching for the screen. But I always teach with the Smartboard. Interesting how our habits form based on context--and that it didn't take long to get that habituated to the Smartboard!

Touchscreens really are great. My hand felt so natural going for that button--and so cramped when I had to use the mouse instead. Of course, you pay a premium for it, but it's fun when you can have it!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The TabletPC: Functionality as a primary content delivery tool

The initial objective in working with the tablet PC was to test its strengths as a tool to assist primary content delivery for text based subject matter. The initial approach was for the instructor to use a projected text identical to the text used by the student. This text could be marked, highlighted, annotated and manipulated in real time due to the TabletPC’s pen function. In a typical lesson during which we would be introducing a new section of text to study, the scanned text is projected on the wall after having been inserted into MS OneNote2007. As each word or phrase is read, commas can be inserted, text can be circled, translations can be penned in the margins or over the text itself. What I generally do is as I read the text the first time I insert commas and translate new words. After finishing a phrase or sentence, I color-code the text by highlighting questions in yellow, answers in blue, proofs in pink, and statements in green. The student can either follow along in their own text, making the same insertions, or follow along with the projected image.

As mentioned in previous posts, one advantage of using the TabletPC is the fact that the student’s view of the screen never has to be blocked or obstructed (unlike most Smartboard setups) since the user never has to be interposed between the screen and the projector. This does come at the price of student interactivity since tablet is neither as intuitive nor as user friendly as a Smartboard. i.e. whild the Smartboard lends itself to a student coming to the fore of the classroom to enter text, answer a problem etc., while the tablet does not yet seem to lend itself to that. Where the Tablet setup shines is in it’s versatility as a presentation tool.

The software platform I am using on the TabletPC is Microsoft OneNote 2007. One Note is touted as the TabletPC “killer app”. One note certainly lends itself to being used by students as a note-taking and research tool. OneNote has a very broad array of data manipulation, searching, and recording capabilities and I have been told that am I am only scratching the surface of potential in the classroom. One really neat element its sharing function which should allow my students to download the very same screens and notes that were developed and projected during class.

I have been experimenting with color coded flowchart overlays, (i.e. flowcharts that follow the logic and reasoning of the text in the same color-coding scheme as the text). But have found the flowchart tools native to OneNote2007 to be very inefficient and difficult to work with in real time. As an alternative I am currently playing with OpenOffice Draw. Open Office Draw (which is free open source software part of the MS Office compatible OpenOffice Suite ) which has a robust set of flowcharting tools (Similar to MS Visio although it does not seem to be as easy to use). I hope to be able to write a set of macros or templates that would allow for greater automation of flowchart creation (ideally) to the point where a flowchart could be created on screen as quickly as it could be created on a whiteboard. More on that later…..

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Jewish HIstory Power Point Update

I just completed a PPT on the Jews, Greeks and Hellenism and am currently working on 2 PPts;
1) Return to Zion and 2) Chanukkah and the Maccabean Revolt. Its difficult to pull video material off existing DVD's (both from a technical and legal standpoint) so I've been attaching YOUTUBE
pieces that I find are relevant and appropriate. I plan to show the last PPt to my classes before our next exam and think it might be a good idea to give the students a version without the text and have them fill it in as we review. I'll keep you posted.