Friday, May 30, 2008

tablets and interactive whiteboards

There seems to be a big province-wide push toward the use of interactive whiteboards, such as SMARTboards. I think that these are good devices, and I am particularly impressed with the rear-projection units. They are very intuitive to use, just like drawing on a whiteboard, and they also fulfill all of the functions of a regular data projection screen.

That being said, though, for the high school level I am more in favor of tablets or, if you prefer and can afford them, touch screens. Tablets, such as the Wacom Bamboo, are nice because they are inexpensive ($80 and up), portable, durable, pressure-sensitive, and have a quick response to drawing motions. Touch screens have some of these features, but are certainly not inexpensive.

In my classroom, I use a tablet for drawing on PowerPoint presentations, among other things. I also use the free program ZoomIt. At some point I may get a wireless tablet, but for now I'm just using a long USB cable. I like the flexibility of being able to click through the prepared show, but also add or embellish as we go along. And my penmanship is improving.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

photo class lists

Here in our school division it is possible to print photo class lists. I know, other divisions have this built into their student information system, but apparently that's coming here too.

Until that time, here's an outline of how we do it here.
  1. Get photos of all of your students. Hopefully the company that does your ID cards can provide you with this.
  2. Use the photo class lists export function from our student information system.
  3. Put the photos and the html files (from step two) into the same folder.
  4. Open the file PHOTO_COURSE_LIST.HTML

Easy as that.

Okay, it's not that easy. But it is possible. And useful.

Edit: apparently other schools are accomplishing this differently... but that's as much as I know.

Monday, May 26, 2008

podcasts (netcasts): finding and subscribing

Most people call them podcasts, but since you don't need an iPod, some call them netcasts. They are audio, or video, files that you can download or have a program download automatically for you. Think of them like radio or TV shows.

The RSS feeds that I made reference to in a previous post are also useful for subscribing to podcasts, that's what I mean by having a program download them automatically for you. Basically you need to find a podcast that looks interesting, and subscribe to it. To subscribe I recommend iTunes, but there are many other programs. Or you can listen to, or watch, them just by going to their web page.

Finding interesting podcasts may be an issue if you don't live online as much as I do. I'd recommend starting with CBC's lineup, I like Comedy Factory, Quirks and Quarks, and Search Engine. If you're into technology, try This Week in Tech. If you have kids, Jumping Monkeys. For Science, Science Update.

For video podcasts, try TED talks, Ask a Ninja for comedy, Tekzilla for technology, Experiment of the Week for Science, or many others.

Remember, you don't need an iPod, or even a portable media player to listen to or watch podcasts. You just need a computer and a connection to the Internet.

Friday, May 23, 2008

connecting a computer to a projector

There are two main ways to connect a computer to a data projector.

My preferred way is to have a video card with two outputs, which gives you the flexibility to display the same thing on both screens, or different things on each. This is how we use PowerPoint at my church; the PowerPoint show displays on the data projectors, but on the monitor you can edit the show, even the currently displayed slide.

The easier option is to use a VGA (or DVI) splitter or switch. VGA is the term for the video output from a computer (Video Graphics Array), although DVI (Digital Video Interface) is the newer standard. At any rate, you have the option of a splitter or a switch.

A splitter takes the output from your computer and displays it on both the monitor and the projector, usually amplifying the signal as well so that it doesn't get too dark. A switch allows you to change whether the computer output is displayed on the monitor or on the projector. Splitter amplifiers range in price from $20 to $200 or so, while switches are usually cheaper.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

subscribing (RSS)

Think of it like a magazine subscription, only free. And without those advertisement cards that fall out when you open the pages.

You can "subscribe" to things like blogs or podcasts, using an RSS reader. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it is actually fairly simple. Let's say that you wanted to read the posts on a particular blog whenever the author posted a new one. You want to subscribe to the feed. There are a number of different ways to do this, we'll look at a couple.

Web Browsers: Internet Explorer 7, Firefox, Opera, and others.
Using this blog as an example, when you go to you should see a little orange icon appear on your brower. Click that, and it gives you options for subscribing to the feed.

Websites: Google Reader, My Yahoo, and many others
There are various ways to set this up, but basically you need to sign up for one of these, then get the link to the RSS feed and paste it into the appropriate place. This is a little more difficult, but means that you can access your feeds from any computer.

You can also usually subscribe to RSS feeds in your email program, desktop widgets, or dedicated newsreader programs.

Does this work for you? How do you usually subscribe to feeds? Post questions and answers in the comments.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

wireless mice and keyboards

I mentioned in a previous post about wireless keyboards and mice, but I didn't write much about them. I have come to be a fan of these, particularly of wireless mice. There is the issue of batteries, but theses devices have gotten much better in the last few years, so this isn't as much of an issue. The other concern, particularly for the mice, is responsiveness. I have a few wireless Logitech mice and a couple of Microsoft ones, and both brands have good and not-so-good models. Newer ones do tend to be better, though. If you are concerned, my favourite is the Logitech MediaPlay.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

cheap cables

If you need to buy cables or other home-theatre (or classroom) related items, I recommend Cheap, but good quality, and fairly good shipping (about two weeks for the cheap shipping). That's always my first place to look.

As well, I've heard good things about Blue Jeans Cable. Haven't ordered anything from them myself, though.

wireless presenters

A question I'm often asked is how do I control presentations, i.e. how do I advance slides in PowerPoint, without having to sit at the computer.

You can, of course, use a wireless keyboard and/or mouse, but I usually use a Targus Wireless Presenter. It seems that the model I have (AMP02CA) has been discontinued, but the new one has most of the same functions. Other companies make similar products, but I haven't used them. I have used one with a voice recorder, but the audio quality is terrible.

A number of people like the Microsoft Presenter Mouse, but it is a little more expensive and requires a bluetooth receiver.

Most data projectors also come with "Page Up" and "Page Down" buttons, all you have to do is connect a USB cable between the projector and the computer. This does require you to point the remote at the projector, but if it's in the ceiling that shouldn't be a problem.

Another option is to use a tablet, either wired or wireless, which I'll write more about in a future post.

If you want to get creative, you can use a Wii Remote, iPhone/iPod Touch, PDA, or a mobile phone headset. I'll have to try the Wiimote one.

Monday, May 19, 2008


This the the requisite introduction post, where I say that I'll be writing about how I use and/or recommend using technology in the practice of teaching. I intend to write about gadgets, software, and websites, and hopefully provide useful information.

I should also provide some disclaimers:
  • I'm not affiliated with any company other than my school board.
  • Views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer, or anyone else for that matter.
  • When evaluating gadgets, my opinions are most influenced by price and usability.
  • Talking about a product does not necessarily consitute an endorsement of that particular product, there may be better or cheaper options that I don't know about.
  • Wherever possible, I recommend free and/or open source software. I think that's important.
  • I will try to have up-to-date information, but let me know if there are things I should change, update, or re-evaluate.
  • I'm very open to feedback, please comment.