May 22

Animation in the Classroom

I teach animation to Years 7-12 in Technology, then IST and Ind Tech. We use Flash, which students even at a younger (secondary) age have had some good success in. However, we can afford the luxury of time to teach the technology in technology subjects, as it’s the basis of the course. Today, I thought I’d cover some animation tools that allow you to use animation in the classroom without having to teach the technology.

I’ve written about this before, so I’ll steal some info from a previous post:

Have been checking out GoAnimate for the last hour.Since I have a fair amount of knowledge in Flash, I approached GoAnimate quite skeptically. After about 10 minutes fiddling around with their very simple interface, I think that it may be a great animation tool for those that know absolutely nothing (and don’t need to) about the technical skill of animation. I’m definately planning on implementing this into my Year 7 Technology (Mandatory) class, but also see it as a very simple tool for effective implementation of ICT into any curriculum.  You can use a variety of their characters, and backgrounds, and create simple storyboards, with even complex emotions shown in animations.

Movie Maker/Imovie: you can get students to draw individual frames and import them into movie maker or imovie and add transitions and effects. I’ve found that some of the other free tools are easier than this, but if you’re operating on limited bandwidth, these tools are not effected by this.

Pivot: Also a good program. Free, and not internet based, so no bandwidth issues. You create stick figures and then animate them based on the pivot points of the animation. You are, as far as I’m aware, limited to stick figures, however, but you can put in stick figures of things like horses.

Stop Motion animations can be created quickly and easily using Monkey Jam. Money Jam is a free program available on the net, but that doesn’t use the internet at all for running. You can created a simple play-do animation, but you could use anything, from kids toys to Lego to show simple narratives, or build moving models of concepts. This is really the easiest, most motivating way to do it, with no technical knowledge or bandwidth required.

I’ve included instructions for how to use Monkey Jam (at the bottom of this screen, that I used at a PEEL meeting. Please feel free to photocopy and use the instruction page in class if necessary. (We also had some serious fun playing with the play-do.)

Pencil Animation is a program that will allow you to download hand drawings and to run them together into an animation. Good for testing animations for technology, but you can create a flick-book style animation easily with this.

Some ways to use this in the classroom involve:

  • Digital Storytelling: English, HSIE, technology, Science, really any subject that involves any kind of narrative.
  • Idea Communciation: A tool for presenting an idea that may (hopefully) stimulate conversation by students. Eg, “create a video presenting safety issues in the workshop”
  • Responding to ideas: You could create a video log, responding to each others animations.
  • Awareness Programs: Students could create awareness programs for relevant issues, such as health issues for PDHPE, Environment in Science, TAS, HSIE
  • Interpretation of texts: Converting different texts in English to an animation. This could also be used for fairly fact based texts by presenting them in an unusual way.e: Creation of animation helps in the understanding of setting the scene.
  • Drama: creative interpretation


  • Students can collaborate on ideas.
  • Great for literacy skills
  • Students plan out their animation before creating. Allows for development of storytelling/narrative skills.
  • It’s very motivating. Students get really excited about it.
  • You avoid the inevitable “But I can’t draw!” Comments
  • Good for kinesthetic students that need to move things around to understand concepts

Monkey Jam

May 6

Blogs in the Classroom

This video is from Common Craft explaining what a blog is. Common Craft are an excellent source of explaination videos, and I use them in my classroom regularly. Each of them are free, availiable on you tube, but they charge you for downloads of High Quality videos.

Today, I’m going to be talking about Blogs. Basically, a blog is a website that you can publish easily, that stores entries in a chronological order, like a journal. This website is an example of a blog. There is a couple of ways that I use blogs in my classroom: for maintenance of project work, journals and research.

Using Blogs for student publishing

Blogs are an excellent way to promote student publishing because it’s an authentic publishing experience. When students realise that their work might possibly be seen, it can improve the quality of work drastically. This is also how things work in the real world…people don’t write things to be only seen by one or possibly two people. Teachers generally find too, that some people that may be particularly quiet in class, who won’t contribute, can often be the most verbose online.

The picture below shows the simple interface of edublogs. I find edublogs to be the best system, because you can add student blogs in batches of 15. Blogger is another tool that works well.

The simple interface of Edublogs.

You can also keep a simple “learning log” for any subject. At the end of every lesson, students could be asked to post two things that they learnt that lesson and what it means for them. The simple act of writing connects the synapses in the brain (Marcia Tate) , allows students to remember content more readily.  If you have more time, you could do a lightning writing activity, where students need to type constantlyfor two/three minutes what they learnt this lesson, and you as the teacher can use that to guage student understanding.

Using Blogs for student projects

Students in Technology subjects in Australia are required to keep logs of their work for projects that they are working on. This is a compulsory part of our syllabus and requires students to date their work, and record what they have done for particular lessons. In my opinion, students generally do this, along with all their theory work the night before the assignment is due. By asking students to blog their logs, you can keep a simple and quick check on the fact that students are maintaining this. You can also give feedback in terms of comments on the posts.  It time stamps the blog entry, so that students can’t do it the night before, as the purpose of the log is to promote time management and planning.

I also find the power of giving comments for students work works well. For example, a student could blog what they plan to do next on their project and anyone in the class, or you as the teacher, might decide to offer a suggestion in the form of the comment. I do this in class as a round table format, where students have to present ideas, and give feedback on others. Blogs mean that students can do this more often.

Using Blogs for getting information about your subject.

One of the more difficult things in being a teacher (particularly a technology teacher) is the keeping up with new areas in your subject. Blogs are a great tool for this. At the beginning of each topic, I deliver to students (generally on a subject wiki: Come back for that one) a list of blogs that I recommend that cover the subject area well. For example, the following are some good ones from my web design topic.

* 456 BereaStreet
* A list apart
* Max Design
* The Man in Blue

Students that read consistantly on your topic are more likely to give complex answers to projects and exam questions. There are some students that will read these constantly to try to soak up new knowledge, and some that will just click on the link once to read it.

Sometimes, that’s fine, because they might just absorb a couple of facts that will improve their knowledge. Sometimes I get students to repost interesting content to a blog, and show how they have implemented the knowledge practically, and set this task as homework for a couple of weeks. Find one thing, implement and write about it each night.

I also read all of these myself. (I’ve got a collection of about 100 that I check regularly). I keep track of this using a RSS Reader (also, will cover this later). It’s a really good way to look like you know what you’re talking about in the classroom.

Other reasons for using Blogs in the classroom?

Thankyou to all that posted comments on the previous post, and for all the retweets on twitter. One of the really nice thing about education, in general is that everyone is so into sharing.  Today, if you could share some ways that you use blogs in the classroom, we could all use each others ideas.

Why do I like blogs as a teaching tool? Well…students are more likely to practice writing skills, allows feedback on pages, encourages reflective writing and thinking, can encourage students to back up ideas for their arguments with facts, opportunity for blogging is relatively fair and equitable, and they give an opportunity for students work to be seen by a worldwide audience.

May 5

What is Web 2? Why use it?

kids on computersWhat is Web 2.0?

There are a whole heap of definitions of Web 2.0 online that focus on the technology behind Web 2.0 applications. Most people turn off when they hear words like server driven applications, AJAX, RSS, Convergence, social software, and many other buzz words that are travelling around about Web 2.0. To me, web 2.0 can be summed up into two major categories of important difference:

1. The Social Side

Web 2.0 applications allow us to publish, edit and share information. That’s it. In a traditional website, a person writing a website needed to write a page of code for every page of the web that was published. It would also then have to be uploaded to the website, and any changes that had to be made were through a not difficult, but lengthy process. Although this code was easy to learn (and still widely used) this limited the people that published on the web to those that knew the code. ♦

Web 2 applications are those that allow users to interact with and publish easily, without knowing anything about HTML code at all. This means, that like at bottom of this page, where you can post a comment on this site, and it be uploaded instantaneously, there are alot of sites on the web now where users can create pages themselves, edit them easily, and allow people to comment on them, or even to edit the page entirely, and add new content. Phrases such as “Users add value” were one of the founding principles of Web 2.0, but recently, they have increased sociality by most sites adding “friend” features where you can share work with friends.

2. Higher levels of interaction

People are used to doing things like clicking and dragging, moving things around, and having things instantaneously through the programs that they use on the computer. Most operating systems are designed to have these levels of interactivity, because decades of designers have researched that this is the way to make software easy to use. So, the fact that you can start typing the letters of the persons name into google mail, and it can come up with a list of people on your address book, means that it is simultaneously accessing a database, and searching for a response while you type…wheras you used to have to submit a page and wait. This happened so quickly, and everyone was so used to doing it in software, that there wasn’t a great wonder about how that happened. It was just accepted. But, people started using terminology such as web applications rather than web pages, very quickly.

What sorts of sites are classed as Web 2.0?

Examples are endless. Some of the more popular ones are facebook, flickr, google docs, wordl, ning, voki, wikipedia

Why would I use it?

To be honest, and minimise hype here, there are some things that there is no way that you would use. Some people have huge objections to the whole web 2 thing, and that’s fine. The reality is, though, that you can’t avoid it. It’s here. And students are using it, not as web 2.0, that they need to be taught how to use, but just as an integral part of the internet. Students can’t imagine the web like it used to be, with plain text and maybe a picture thrown in for good luck. Students don’t say “We’re going to go and use some web 2.0 tools now”, they are there, on their computers, laptops, mobile phones and PSPs.

And there are some great tools out there to be used. For example, I must be the most naturally disorganised person in the world. Last year, I discovered Google Calender, that synchronises with my Nokia n95, so my calender is planned. It text messages me every morning at 4:45am (15 minutes before I get up) with my daily agenda. I even put my son’s Show and Tell day in there to remind me. And I use flickr to share photos with my family and friends.

How (and why) would I use it in teaching?

There is a whole heap of research around this. But put quite simply is that it caters for different learning styles, and a range of learning levels.  If used properly. When the smartboards first came into Australia, they were touted by some as the next revolution in teaching (“$10,000 smartboards in every room”). However, in some cases (not all) they were used as glorified overhead projectors that students were not allowed to touch. I cringed to hear around the staff room “I really need a Smartboard room next year, because all my teaching resources are on powerpoint”, or “The kids are really interested in the Smartboard, because it’s the first new thing that I’ve done in 30 years”.  Bad teaching on a smartboard (or computer) is still bad teaching. Good teaching on a smartboard, or computer, or not, is still good teaching.

Teachers that use e-learning in innovative ways, get good results. Students do see technology (most of the time) as motivating, generally because it puts some novelty into the classroom. Students very quickly get sick of the technology in the classroom when they discover that it is the same teacher, and teaching style that they get for the rest of the lessons, just on a computer.

That’s the bad side. Now, for the advantages. Web 2.0 allows you to teach in a different way. Firstly, students are “digital natives”. They generally know alot about computers. Remember when you used to have to teach students how to use powerpoint in a secondary school? Kids would generally laugh at you now when you try to do this.

Students are emmersed in a rich fabric of technology at a young age. My son is three. He knows how to turn my laptop on. He knows how to log into his user name (it’s got a picture of a robot on it). He knows which icon to double click on for firefox. (“Its the fire one, Mummy”). He knows where to go on the browser in order to find the bookmark to the Spongebob Squarepants website (They have good games). And he knows how to navigate the website by clicking on links, scrolling down and finding the objects that he wants. I pity the computer teacher that has him in secondary school. Lets use the tools that they know how to use. They know how to interact with, and they think in different ways that are more simmilar to the way that they navigate technology.

Teachers no longer have to teach technology, they have to be able to put it to use within the classroom to learn the content. Teaching using web 2 is still about teaching the content of the syllabus. It’s not automatically more motivating, but it does provide two things that are very valuable:

1. Rich media

Students have more access now to information than they have had at any other time in the world. I am a computing teacher. Job opportunities for me have decreased over the last 10 years that I have been teaching, because the subjects are attracting less and less numbers. Why? Are students less interested in technology? No. Students are more interested in the content, but (some) schools (teachers) are not offering anything more that you can learn outside the classroom. I taught a highly gifted technology student last year in year 9 Graphics. He was doing stuff in year 9 that I learnt in my Masters program. I asked him why he didn’t do Information and Software Technology (the year 9 Computing course) and his response was “Why? What can you teach me that I can’t learn online?”.

Theres also more richer types of inforamtion that could be used within teaching? Remember having to draw diagrams on the board to try to explain difficult concepts? Thanks to Flash, we now have a variety of free interactive or animated diagrams that explain the concept in 20 seconds. I used to spend lessons of time showing students how to convert binary numbers. Or, you could download a you tube clip that tells you how to convert them in 60 seconds. You can use Google Maps/Earth, and trace pathways of characters in the Bible, or in stories for English or History.  Geography teaching can be revolutionised by Google Earth where you can even take photos and draw models of local areas, upload them to Google Earth and share them with the world wide community. Science can access videos of experiments that they don’t have the resources to do at school, or are too dangerous. Languages can talk for free over the internet with schools on the other side of the world. There is so much opportunity for rich interactive classrooms that the mind boggles.

2. Authentic Publishing

Finally, the area that students find quite motivating is the issue of authentic publishing. How many times have you heard the statement “but WHY are we doing this? Who is going to ever see it? How is this going to make a difference. Students can now upload content to the internet and publish video, sound, written works to a world wide audience. This, linked with issues that students care about, can make a big difference in their motivation to complete a task. The power of giving those shy quiet students an opportunity to contribute to a discussion, while giving them the time to phrase a response, is quite a gift.

♦Cudos to those developers of the web that made this code reasonably easy to learn, and totally free.

So, now that we’ve an understanding of web 2.0 is (hopefully), what are some ways that it can be utilised in the classroom. For those newbies to web 2.0, is this something that you can see yourself using? For those more experienced, what kind of tools do you use, and how do students respond?

I plan over the next couple of weeks to blog about a whole heap of different tools that can be used in web 2.0, and also some e-learning tools that you don’t need the internet for, for those lessons or schools where the internet may not be that effective.

November 28

Lightning Writing

One strategy that has been used to great success in our school is Lightning Writing. This is intended for students to increase writing efficiency, depth and is a really great end to the lesson for students to consolidate their learning, or at the beginning of a topic for a pretest. (with no effort in designing)

Students are given 2 minutes to write as much about a topic as possible. They are to continue to write for the whole two minutes, no matter what they are writing. They aren’t allowed to stop.

Students then count the following:

  • Words: Number of Words
  • Difficult words: Number of words with 3 or more syllables
  • Technical Terms: Number of technical words.

Students are then given a second opportunity in which they are to select a goal to improve the rate of words, difficulty, or technical terms.

Students then get another two minutes to write, count the total, and determine the difference.

This is very good for increasing writing speed, complexity and increase use of terminology, which are essential for HSC success.

Image Attribution

November 25


One strategy that I have used extensively now is the crossword. Students are really highly motivated to complete them, and it’s a great way to get subject terminology across. Particularly because in my subject (industrial technology) key terminology is very important, particularly in exam literacy.

One way to do this and make it more difficult is to do a Reverse crossword. You give students a copy of the crossword, with all the answers filled out, and students need to fill  out the clues. This way, students are generating their own definitions of the terminology. Really, it’s just a tricky way to get students to be excited about doing a glossary.

An option then is to either give students the blank crossword then, swap cluees with a friend and to see if they can complete the crossword. You can also get students to enter their own clues into a program such as Eclipse Crossword, which is a free crossword puzzle program, which then generate a totally different puzzle based on the same clues, which a friend can then do. This then gives students instant feedback on whether their definitions are clear enough for somebody else to do.

Eclipse Crossword can even generate an interactive HTML puzzle for students to complete, if you have access for longer on the computers, or can simply print the puzzle to do.

November 22

Affinity Diagramming/Card Sorting

A PEEL Strategy that I learnt to do from the Usability Research branch of the University of Technology, Sydney was Affinity Diagramming. UTS/Usability labs used this to summarise primary research, where important points within the research were placed onto post-it notes, and then sorted and categorised into different sections. I found this really useful, and have since used it for any research or essay I have written.

I recently stumbled across this post (link) in the Content Literacy Ning which inspired me to write about my experiences.

I have also used it quite extensively within the classroom. Students are presented with different information resources on a topic, and a packet of different coloured postit notes. Students are asked to record each of the main concepts that are presented within their resource on a separate note. Students then group their cards into related categories by physically moving them around. They then summarise the information within each category into a paragraph, using the category as their topic sentence and post-it notes as supporting information.

This PEEL strategy is used to teach students how to analyse and synthesise information obtained from multimedia resources. It teaches students essay and extended response writing skills and how to organize information into categories. This strategy aids all ability levels, particularly students who struggle with the organisation of information, Kinesthetic learners benefit from this strategy, as they more effectively learn when given the opportunity to move out of their seat and physically interact with the content. Similarly, this strategy assists visual learners who have the ability to visually conceptualise the information and therelationships between components assisting the retention of content information. By simultaneously catering for various academic abilities and multiple intelligences, this activity identifies itself as a learning strategy that can promote effective learning.

Image Attribution:

September 27

Jamie Mackenzie Questioning Scaffold

I just found a great article from Jamie Mackenzie on questioning presented concepts called “The evidence gap” He gives three different examples of how this now permeates our life, and gives a scaffold for students to evaluate ideas at

He uses the example of how Captain Cook “looked after” the indigenous people in countries that he visited, the Obama vs McCain Oil debate, and an example from the Medical field.

He breaks down each argument from McCain and Obama and finally determines (from facts rather than speeches that):

It turns out that the biggest problem is our dependence on oil, not our dependence on oil from “countries that don’t like us very much.” Once we close the “evidence gap,” a very different picture emerges than the one McCain hoped to evoke.

The scaffold would be a great tool to give students to discuss web based resources and the authenticity of such, and also to increase critical analysis of ideas.