Saturday, September 27, 2008

Get some OATS

People often ask me where I get time to find good educational software to use with their Interactive White Board. I have a couple of secrets that reduce the time it takes to search for stuff.

One of my secrets is OATS - Open Source Assistive Technology Software. This is a great site for those people working with clients with special needs, but also any educator who is after software that might fit a particular need in the classroom.

OATS is how I found one of my favorite pieces of software - Edword. Similar to Clicker, it allows teachers to make on screen concept keyboards, then use them in a very simple talking (SAPI)text editor. This can be used in a range of classrooms from early childhood right up to remedial reading and writing.

It's also a great idea to to go and visit these site regularly - once every couple of months to see what has changed. Luckily I did just before writing this up.

We have been looking for a way to turn the NOVA5000 into a Alternative Communication Board, but we have had trouble finding suitable software at a decent price (one vendor's software was the same price of a retail version of a Nova5000).

So while looking in OATS to see if anything new had been added I noticed a open sourced com-board solution had just been added. Not only that but had been tested on a NOVA5000. It basicly makes interactive com-board webpages.

I'll tell you some of my other sources of free software later... if your lucky.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Let me catch my breath......

There was a reason for my lack of writing... work.
More specifically two conferences back to back.

The First was the AASE conference (Australian Association of Special Educators - pronounced "ace"). We were there not only as an exhibitor but also to do Pre and post evaluation using TurningPoint ARS. That was from Friday to Saturday.

We had a lot of interest in both eBeam and Turning Point, but what surprised us was the interest in the NOVA5000. We were the only ICT hardware exibitor there so a lot of interest focused on how to use the technology in their very specific learning environments.

It was great to see teachers so enthused, there was lot of discussion on how they could really help their kids with our technology.

From Sunday to Wednesday was the ASPA (Australian Secondary Principal Association)conference. Same amount of delegates, but a lot more sponsors and exhibitors. I think every competitor was there trying to get the attention of a lot of decision makers in the room.

For us it was a great conference; speakers were using TurningPoint as part of the presentations, and it gave principals the chance to compare different IWB technologies, which his a great thing for us.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Interactive labs

Science teacher have it tough. They have one of the most costly subjects in a school to teach, yet get a very small budget. In my website of links to good software I have things like virtual lab, Phet and Phun that can simulate some experiments, but are mostly focused on Physics. I have recently come across HHMI Biointeractive. This focuses on high end biology, and directs students through simulations commonly done in high end labs. Being a primary teacher means that a lot of this is beyond my background knowledge, but it looks like it covers many of the topics in year 11 and 12.

For a lower stage of learning there is Science Lab by Schlumberger - a range of interative applets that let students experiment with things like trains for the dopler effect.

I keep looking for great science web ages, Java/Flash applets, but if you have a favourite that I haven't found yet, please drop me a line.

Conference conference conference

It must be conference season...

I have two that I am involved in - back to back next weekend. The first is the Australian Association of Special Educators, a nation conference to be held in Fremantle. We are the gold sponsor and are supplying them with pre and post conference evaluation. This will be a great way to get in contact with a range of educators who specialise in students that need that extra help due to a physical or mental disability.

The second is the Australian Secondary Principals Association. This is a national conference held at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Both conferences are using TurningPoint ARS for surveying their audience. TP is great for this but I often worry that people don't get to see the other things that the technology can do, especially in assessment and reports. At least the technology is getting into the hands of educators.

Speaking of getting into the hands of educators - One of my primary school clients came up with a novel way to get their staff involved and more familiar with their TurningPoint kit. I'm sure you have heard of the 2 truths and a lie game. What they did was to compile a PowerPont and gave each teacher a slide on which they could put two truths and a lie. The rest of the staff voted, and using the participant list, were able to give away prizes for correct guesses. It was a great ice breaker for the staff and made them more comfortable with the technology.

If you have used TP in a novel way, please email me so I can pass on great ideas.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Speaking in front of the Australian Computer Society

Sometimes I do things in my job that I never thought I would do. Yesterday I had the privilege to talk at a meeting of the Australian Computer Society. This group was set up and long time before computers became ubiquitous, and has members from university professors to IT managers from some of the top multinationals.

In front of these esteemed people I go and do a very quick demonstration of eBeam, while my colleague does the same thing for TurningPoint ARS.

It is always satisfying to get the jaw drop from people who haven't seen eBeam or TurningPoint, it was even better when you had the calibre of the people in that room.

Both of us got a lot of questions after our demonstrations, and we realised that these guys were so into the management side of things that they hardly got to see all the new technology used effectively.

Makes me glad I have the opportunity to play with new technology on a daily basis.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


So many times I have seen "computer time" end up being "word/clip art time", where kids try out all the different ways they can write their title and put a border around it. What you get is a pastiche of colour and images, but not much content.

There are simple and free ways around this problem. One of my favourites is the graduate program, where kids start with the basics of word in notepad - it does most of the things you need it to do, not least of which is putting words on the page. Graduating from that is Wordpad, which adds more formatting tools, and then on to Abiword for a proper word processing package.

All of these programs are free and you can find the first two under the accessories folder in you program menu. For creating real published documents you can go past Scribus. This is purely and simply a powerful page layout program, perfect for anything from brochures to signs. We use it in our office for all our marketing gumph.

For those that remember the BBC micro, you may also remember the concept keyboard. An A3 Sized touch panel that teachers could program and use overlays on to give students a customised interface. Often used for language activities and story writing.

If you are looking for an equivalent today the closest thing I can get to is Edword, put out by sense in the UK. It is a talking word processor, with the ability to use grids to give student whole words and phrases to click on to include into their writing. For free software it is certainly comparable to some of the stuff out there that cost in the hundreds of dollars.

Keep looking for the good stuff.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Aboriginal Students and ARS

I got a great email recently from two of my clients Terry and Christine Hinchcliffe. Both of them have "retired" from teaching and are traveling up through the north west of Western Australia. As they pass through some of the remote communities, they offer their services as relief (supply/substitute) teachers and as professional development consultants. This gives them the opportunity to keep their hand in and to give support to those teaching in isolated areas that don't usually get to have a day of PD in their own school.

They took with them an eBeam and a Turningpoint IR kit. Here is what he wrote to me recently regarding his use of TurningPoint Audience Response System.

We have had considerable success with Turning Point at La Grange, Derby and
Wananami. As I suspected, the aboriginal kids love it. We have developed a
series of interactive stories where the kids "pick their own pathway" by voting
for a choice of decisions then hyperlinking off to other slides

As educators who have specialised in Aboriginal education for most of their teaching careers, this is high praise. They have used the technology to engage students, and give them control of the lesson, something that most kids would love.

It's always great hearing success stories from clients, so if you have a success story you would like to share, please feel free to leave a post or drop me a line.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

eBeam software upgrade

It's no secret that I really like my eBeam Pod. The fact that I show it off everyday to clients doesn't diminish my appreciation for what it can do in a classroom with a little practice and the right software.

Not long ago a new update for the eBeam pod came out, and has really added to the functionality of scrapbook. Now you can add content directly from flicker which gives you millions of images to use on your scrapbook. You can also 'print' from any application directly into scrapbook. So now PDFs can join in on the fun of eBeam.

Of course you can still use your eBeam with any other program and it will work just like your mouse or as an annotation pen.

You will need to un-install 2.0 and then install 2.1, so go get the download already.

Being Googable

I just got an email this weekend from the president of our state association of computer educators. I seems someone was looking for me an found to their dismay that I'm "ungoogable" - his word not mine.

It got me thinking, in the old days you were nobody if you weren't in the papers or on TV, now if people can't find you on Google, then your pretty much a nobody.

Now there are certain advantages to being a nobody. Being able to do things without people recognising you, your work or your mistakes means that some stuff can be accomplished more successfully. It also means that you can change direction without the baggage of your previous life catching up to you.

Unfortunately in my current role I have to be "somebody". It suits me fine by the way. It forces me to step up and to put 100% into everything I do everyday. So building my somebody status includes making a mark on the nets, be they interpersonal or electronic.

So the purpose of this and coming prose is for me to be found by those who seek, to give to the open source community the only thing I can - publicity, and to push the barrow of my current employer (Keepad Interactive).

Feel free to comment on the posts I put up, and if you have any suggestions for inclusion on my links page of FLOSS software for educators, please send it along.