Galaxy Tabs in the classroom

I’ve been neglecting my blog for quite some time. Part of the reason was that we have recently moved from Asia to Africa so we had been pretty busy transitioning. I’m now working as the Elementary Technology Integration Coach at AISJ. It’s a great move for me and my family and some exciting challenges ahead.

intro tablet

At my school, we have purchased about 120 Samsung Galaxy tablets to be used in Grades K-3. This has been a great learning experience for me as I have only used iPads. I have kept an open mind and wanted to see what their capabilities are compared to iPads. Although I do like iPads, Apple has presented a number of logistical challenges at schools (think VPP).

Here are my takeaways:

  • Love the S pen (aka Stylus)-This is a great built in feature in which all Galaxy Tabs come with. It has hundreds of pressure points and is very responsive to pressure and touch. It has an air pen feature which I haven’t really used and fits in nicely along the side. For kids, this opens up so many educational advantages (drawing, brainstorming, math activities, writing, etc). Although you can buy these for the iPad, they can be expensive and there is no built in storage on the iPad for them.
  • Apps-Just like the iTunes store, the Google Play store has an abundance of educational apps available. I could find pretty much every app that I used on the iPad for the Galaxy Tab. 
  • Camera- The quality of the camera is very similar to the camera on the iPad. 
  • S Note- This is one app that I think beats any default app that is on the iPad. It has a number of excellent features including drawing, graphs, sound, video, photo, annotations, clip art. Although the notes are a bit tricky to export (only as an image file), this is useful for 
  • Voice Recognition This is a fabulous feature that is built into the Galaxy tabs. By bringing up the keyboard feature, on the bottom is a little icon that has a voice recognition feature. This is extremely handy in situations where you need to differentiation or support students with learning needs. It is also surprisingly accurate!
  • gnote-keyboard-switch


I will post a few in-depth tutorials shortly.

Automator for Technology Teachers

I have heard lots of people talk about the benefits of Automator as a way to make trivial tasks automated. It does exactly that and so much more. From a Technology Facilitator’s perspective, you are probably dealing with similar issues of managing multiple computers/laptops/computer labs. One task that I always put off (if I don’t get students to do it first) is emptying the trash and cleaning up the desktop. Well, why not let Automator do this for you in one click of a button? If you are not familiar with Automator, it is super easy to use and figure out.

Assuming you have Apple Remote Desktop client and server installed (another fabulous program), all you need to do is open Automator on the client computer. Click on Workflow and then go down to Utilities. In here, you will discover many tasks that Automator will do that you probably didn’t even think of.

A couple of workflows are posted below:

Here’s the workflow I did to empty all desktop items:

Here’s another one to quickly force quit all open applications (which inevitably happens with students):

Another one I used was to set the sleep time and wake up time. Handy if you are having computers falling asleep at times you don’t want them to.


There are probably tons more that would be helpful to Technology Directors or Teachers, if you have a great one, please share.

Minecraft-A new virtual tool for learning

I just read a great post from this blog on Minecraft and thought I would add my thoughts on the subject.

Whenever you mention the word “video game” to a parent, it often brings quite a few negative connotations. Usually the negative words associated with this are: blood, shooting, waste of time, and mindless.  As an adolescent, I remember trying to justify to my mother that hours of playing Nintendo’s Zelda were actually beneficial to me. I would say, “but it improves my hand eye coordination Mom!”  She would often let out a sigh, roll her eyes and give me another 15 minutes to try and complete another level.  At the time, improving hand eye coordination was really the only apparent benefit of playing video games at the apparent cost of so many.

As part of my graduate research,  I have recently been doing quite a bit of academic research on game-based learning. Typically, with any new type of technology, there is a bit of resistance and usually group of critics who often propagate myths without having done the research themselves. I have encountered similar resistance when we first started doing blogging in the classroom (how can blogging possibly improve academic skills?), ipads and mobile devices (they are a distraction and waste of time) and now games.

Fast forward 20 years and gaming is still a huge market.  Video games have evolved into highly sophisticated multiplayer games and strategy-based games that require much more than trying to rapidly tap A, A, B, B, select, start, up, down as fast as you can. Sure, those games certainly exist but new genres have hit the market that require higher-order thinking skills, complex communication, collaboration and problem-solving.  One of those genres, simulation games, is beginning to overlap with other fields such as medicine, military and education.

Watch this fantastic video that paints a nice picture of the role of simulation games in education:







So what are simulation-based games?

Simulation games are virtual games that simulate a real-world experience that are often difficult or dangerous to take part in real life. Some of them are life-based simulation games such as the Sims and others are more construction and strategy based games such as Civilization, SimCity World of Warcraft, and Minecraft.

Games (not just video games) have actually taken quite awhile to be taken seriously by educators.  Games, by themselves, are obviously highly engaging, fun and motivating. However, these reasons alone are not enough to use them educationally. For example, Uno is a fun and engaging game but this alone doesn’t mean that it should be used in the classroom. There needs to be careful planning, goals, integration into the curriculum and reflection built into any type of technology or innovative practice.

I have recently been using Minecraft in the classroom to help develop some important mathematical concepts as well as those higher-order thinkings skills. As a teacher and a bit of a gamer myself, I can clearly see the advantages of leveraging games for learning.

So what is Minecraft?


Minecraft is a virtual 3D simulation game in which players need to look for resources to use to craft and build just about anything. There is a one player survival mode where it is just you alone in the world and there are monsters out there so you need to survive. There is also a creative mode feature where you have access to all resources in the game.  There is also a multiplayer mode (my favorite) where you interact and collaborate with people in real-time. Creativity is absolutely endless and I have seen people build ancient pyramids, castles, and even whole cities!

So how can you use Minecraft for learning?

Math-Since Minecraft is in a 3D virtual world, it is very easy to link in geometry and measurement concepts. I had 5th grade students complete a series of challenges involving fractions and percents. I built some structure and students had to figure out what percentage of each material I used. Then, I had them build a house involving some specific percentages of blocks. It is very easy to explore concepts such as volume, area, perimeter, coordinates and measurement. I had 3rd grade students build a real construction of a garden project they did in which they had to use specific perimeter and areas of their garden (planned ahead of time). Then students actually got to grow their own crops in the garden! Video of my idea will be posted below:


Geography-Geography is an easy way to explore using Minecraft. Difficult concepts such as topography, mapping skills, types of maps are a natural part of Minecraft. I found a great video by a fellow teacher in which he explored contour maps show below. I am planning out a series of lessons shortly

Economics/Math-Minecraft has plenty of multiplayer servers. Recently, I joined one and I am absolutely amazed at the kind of learning that happens on this. One server has an economy built into it so players receive money from selling their items. People also begin opening up shops selling and trading items. This opens up a real life (sort of) context where students could learn the idea of supply, demand, market prices and how economies are built.

Science-I have been following a high school teacher in Australia who uses Minecraft to teach concepts in biology. For example, he has students construct 3D models of eukaryotic cells. He uses a multiplayer mod to explore how neurotransmitters work.






Bringing video to your classroom-Vado HD Cameras

One of the best new purchases at our school have been the new Vado HD cameras from Creative. We purchased 20 of them to use at our school and they are super easy to use yet take very high quality HD movies (and still photos). They are great investment and perfect for students to use.

We have been using them for several video projects that we have used with the Grade 5 students. The students were doing scenes from books they have read. It was perfect because the students could spread out in the common areas and hallways to do the filming. This cuts down on the amount of background noise (a constant problem with using desktop cameras). The only downside is the mics are not super good but definitely good enough for a quick class project.  The other disadvantage is it can be quite shaky without a tripod.  At $200 each, it is a decent investment for low budget video.

Digital Storytelling-Animation using Scratch

Sorry I haven’t been making many posts lately. I have dedicated most of my time to getting the iPod Touch Educator blog off the ground.

My new favorite tool as a teacher has been Scratch. For those you that haven’t seen it, it is an amazing tool for students of all ages. It is free digital animation site where much like YouTube, students can create and upload their own stories, animation and even video games using a very simple free software program developed by MIT students. For creativity, there really is no other program for Macs + elementary level that compares. One of the reasons I love it is that there is so much flexibility in terms of what students can create. They can make a simple slide show or for complex video games. The possibilities are really endless…

We have been using it with Grade 5s as a way to show their learning in a science unit on Energy. The students get to be highly creative in establishing simple story lines to frame their learning. Here is an example: Screen shot 2010-11-24 at 10.55.27 AMYou can see the full collection here

I had the students start with very simple things to begin with. I of course had to play with it first to figure out the basics and had the students do the same. Have the students play for a period on it and give them a few challenges to work on like: try and make your sprite move back and forth, try and design your own background, try and insert music. When confronted with challenges, it makes it seem more like a mystery and students get a sense of accomplishment by figuring things out on their own. It also forces them to be a risk-taker which is really essential with these types of projects.

Screen shot 2010-11-24 at 11.07.41 AM

There is an educators site here which is great to bounce ideas off and pick up some pointers. There are some great introductory videos here that I showed students initially. It’s great to have kids teaching kids.

So get out there and try it out. It’s free to download and once you do, create an educator account so you can start uploading projects there.

Planning-no more pencil and paper!

Over the last couple of years, I have been dabbling with doing my planning electronically. Year ago, I experimented with MS Word tables and Excel spreadsheets but to no avail. Later, I used iCal and Google Calendar but still found that I had to copy and paste individual classes because neither allowed for a rotating schedule (6 days). I found it cumbersome and difficult to keep my planning up to date from what was happening in my classroom and what I have planned. I also found it challenging when I was on different computers and didn’t have that particular file with me.

This year, I have tried out a new teacher planning software called Planbook and have been pleasantly surprised with the results (Full Disclosure: I am in no way affiliated with this site or getting any monetary compensation for this post). Let me tell you why…


  • Very easy to add details and simply copying and pasting works well
  • Allows for a rotating schedule: This was a must for me!
  • Syncs with iCal and planbook connect (online version)
  • Easily print out monthly or weekly schedules
  • Ability to add standards/benchmarks or homework assignments to each day
  • Can easily bump lessons to the next day


  • You need to invest a little time in the beginning learning the software (watch the help video for this)
  • Moving away from a hard copy is difficult for many teacher
  • Sometimes difficulty to find formatting options as they are not so “instinctive” compare to other programs

For those of you that are still partial to having a hard copy in front of you to add notes or changes, you can print out nice weekly schedules in paper format, make changes and then amend those to the digital copy later.

I think this program is more suited for High School/Secondary teachers where you would have a number of different classes but it can still be adapted for elementary teachers as well. Just remember that “courses” are really  subjects.

Here’s a screen shot of my planning this week:

Does digital media disconnect us from the past?

As human being, we tend to live in the future. What am I going to have for dinner? What will I say in my next meeting? Where should we go on our next vacation? Rarely do we take the time to open up those old dusty photo albums and reminisce about the past. The times that we do can truly be powerful and bring back a flood of emotions. But there is something special about doing so with something physical  and tangible such as a photo album, souvenir, or gift.  It is often more special when you can share that with a friend of family member. The past makes us appreciate the moment and be grateful for the things we have.

Family Album

So why is the past important? As Stuart Mclean, a famous Canadian radio broadcaster, author and storyteller, puts it in one of his Vinyl Cafe stories, Niagra Falls (which I highly recommend a listen)

Sometimes however, when we are lucky, we feel we get to reach out and touch yesterdays both near and far. When we’re very lucky we feel the human connection with those that were hear before us. That’s why we read books, that’s why we study history and listen to recordings of years gone by…

Only very occasionally and only by surprise does the past tip toe behind you and whisper in your ear,  and remind you that we are not alone and there were others before us who laughed and loved too. And when this happens we should stop and salute the ghosts of our past and acknowledge even if it’s with a shrug, the grinding passage of time.

So this brings me to my question. With the development of podcasts, blogs, ipads and online photo albums, do we run the risk of sacrificing a disconnect with the past since we lose that physical and somewhat more permanent component? Of course, blog posts are supposedly saved somewhere in cyberspace and Flickr promises not to delete photos. But having all our memories and connections saved in gigabytes and fiber optic cables seems a tad disconcerting to me. What will the future look like for family get togethers? Having everyone gather around an ipad and view a family wedding as tears of nostalgia stream down. Or will even be in the same physical space? Will we be subjected to merely sharing comments via Facebook such as “LOL, Mom remember when u burnt that birthday cake 🙂 ROFL “?  Time will only tell I suppose…


Mapping: From 2D technology to 3D models

Recently, I have been using a program called Neighborhood Map Machine to support the Grade 2 Social Studies unit on Communities and the Grade 3 unit on Mapping and Landforms.

Picture 1

Above: A map mystery of an island community created by a student.

Overall, I’ve been very impressed with the program. Not only does it have many map mysteries and activities that reinforce mapping skills such as measurement, compass work, coordinates and direction but one of my favorite features is the ability for students to create their own maps and mysteries.



Above: Students creating 3D models from their maps designed using Map Machine

Creating in general allows students to access higher-order thinking skills according to Bloom’s Revised Digital Taxonomy31637583

Neighborhood Map Machine allow students to not only create their own map and add roads, houses, people, buildings and landforms but also record audio, video or text clues for a mystery. They choose a mystery location and have students follow their own clues to find the secret location. All of this involves some considerable higher-order thinking since they need to plan their clues in advance and ensure that they communicate their clues clearly.

A colleague of mine had a great idea to take this a step further. We found out that you can print 3D nets of the buildings so we decided to have the students create a 3D model of their 2 D map that they had done during technology time.

I would love to hear how others have used this program in the classroom!


3D model done by some Grade 2s

Twitter-What is it and why would I use it?

I’ve read many blogs and sites on the “how do you twitter” but haven’t come across many about the why you would twitter. So I thought I would blog about my thoughts on the why aspect.

The first time I saw Twitter, I didn’t get it at all so don’t worry, you are not the only one. It took me almost a month before I saw any point to it. Now, it has revolutionized how I learn and relate with others.

I actually think this video doesn’t show the whole picture. If you only tweeted about how you had coffee this morning or mowed the lawn, people wouldn’t follow you. You need to provide something substantial and interesting.

So what is Twitter?

Simply put, it is a social networking tool. The best analogy I can make is it is much like the status updates on Facebook. It provides a quick way to say what you are working or doing now. However, Facebook limits your status updates (unless you make it public) to friends or people in your network. Twitter extends this to the rest of the world.

You can follow practically anyone. Many prominent faces in the world are twittering from Obama and McCain to Britney Spears and Shaquille O’Neil. Read more about it here

Great, now why would I ever want to share what I am doing with a bunch of strangers?

Think about it this way. Why would you go to a educational conference or workshop? To find out about what best practices are out there, make connections with teachers and hopefully learn something new. However, sometimes you go to workshops that are fascinating and want to learn more from the presenter. Usually you forget about this workshop or lose their business card they gave you. Twitter allows you maintain contact and read updates, new blog posts or interesting websites that they find automatically. You do this by “following” them on Twitter.

Slowly, your network grows as you follow more people. You develop a niche of people who are interested in similar things as you. Once you have this network, you an ask them questions and build on a shared knowledge from this network. This is often referred as a PLN (personal learning network).

If you don’t have a network, I agree it is useless. If you just had a random group of people that you were following, you might ocassionally learn something new but significantly less that you do in your own PLN. I would say you probably need to find and follow at least 20 or more people who have a common interest you. I usually add international teachers or people involed in technology. My passion is technology so I get all sorts of links and great information from them.

So how might I get followed by others?

Like any team, you need to give as well as take. If you don’t “give anything” than people aren’t going to follow you. Everyone has some knowledge to offer others whether it be a good website, a great technology tool or a better teaching strategy. Share it! Slowly, you will start appearing in search results and people will recognize this and add you. This creates a culture of reciprocity. If you aren’t a team player, Twitter might not be for you.

Here is a image from my recent twitter history:

On the left is all tweets from people I have followed. In the middle, are specific replies from others to me. As you can see, each tweet is short and have links to interesting topics or ideas. It’s like 1 big sharing circle! A twitter friend (@mscofino) posted some photos her class had taken about fractions. I am teaching Fractions next week and gave me a good teaching idea to do.

So that is a little about the what and why. It may or may not make sense to you at this point. The best way to understand something though is to go and experience it and defer judgement. Try it out for awhile and slowly you will start to see the benefits and become addicted.

For a detailed how to get started, go to this blog site that is designed by and for teachers:

RSS Readers-How to save valuable time on the net

I don’t know about you but I feel like I’m getting sucked into the never ending vortex of information. Between keeping in touch with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, multiple email accounts and  different chat programs. I feel like my time is getting squeezed out of me. On top of all the communicating and connecting, I am trying to stay up to date with news, information, and blogs. I’m slowly figuring out how to balance my time and know that I can’t possibly read everything and listen to every podcast that comes out. There is a finite amount of time out there so we need to learn how to use our time more efficiently.

This definitely applies to information. As educators, we need to be able to get the information that we need and that’s most relevant to us. We also need to be teaching these skills to our students.

One answer is to use RSS readers. The term “RSS” (Really Simple Syndication) is really just a simplified text feed of a web page. Most web pages have RSS feeds so that you can get the information that is published on the web page. By using an RSS reader, you can subscribe to multiple feeds from all your favorite web sites in one place.

So instead of going to multiple web sites to read all your information, you go to your RSS reader page and see everything on one page. It is automatically updated and shows you what you have read and haven’t read.Think about how much time you spend, typing in addresses, opening tabs, waiting for pages to load. With an RSS reader, you skip all this. Of course, there are times when you do want to go to the page to see graphics or read the full article. However, you can filter this information and the information in personalized to your interest.

Still confused? Ok, here is a quick video from Common Craft explaining it in more detail: Common Craft-RSS Readers

Personally, I use Netvibes as my RSS reader. This is just a personal preference. I like the visual appearance of it.