Make your classroom interactive by using a visualizer

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 | Gadgets, technology | Comments Off

Teachers, do you want to make your classrooms more interactive?   A visualizer may be just the piece of equipment that you require.

A visualizer – also called a visual presenter, digital visualizer or a document camera – is a digital camera which, connected to your computer, allows you to display images through a data projector.  It functions in the same way as the old overhead projector, but with all the additional benefits that modern technology offers.

You can use a visualizer to display a page of a textbook, allowing you to zoom in, highlight text and make annotations.  Whatever is done, can be saved; it is no longer necessary for learners to spend valuable time to take down notes.  A good visualizer will allow you to record the work you are displaying, as well as your voice, so that the entire lesson can be made available for revision, or for those learners who could not attend class.

At times you may want learners to see a real item – not a picture.  This can be a challenge if the item is very small, particularly if you’re teaching natural science or biology and you want learners to observe details that can’t be detected with the naked eye.  Some visualizers have a microscopic function … just imagine how useful that would be in a class.  Learners can remain at their seats while you zoom in on detail; it is no longer necessary for them to queue up to get a turn looking through a microscope.

Have you ever done a science experiment while forty learners are crowding around you to see what’s happening?  Doing the experiment on the display surface of a visualizer allows learners to view the experiment in real time from their individual desks.  Snapshots at certain stages of the experiment can be taken and then incorporated in later discussions, future lessons or revision sessions.

Whereas a scanner limits you to displaying two dimensional images, a visualizer allows you to display two or three dimensional items.  When you rotate or move objects, learners can see the details of the object from different angles.

With a document camera in the class, any object can be viewed as the opportunity presents itself – in this way spontaneity is added to your classroom … and isn’t this what interactivity is all about.

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New technologies to see animal dissections obsolete in the classroom

Monday, June 24th, 2013 | education | Comments Off

Gone are the days when the smell of formaldehyde emanated from high school science class rooms; no longer is there a need to make the dissecting of frogs, rats, and other animals a strict requirement to be the top of the class.

Today’s budding high school scientists can wave that all goodbye as new technologies such as narrated computer software, step-by-step DVDs and lifelike manikins are being developed to help students gain practical, and even hands-on, knowledge of internal biological systems. This not only improves the lives of animals, decreases their capture in the wild, and eliminates the need for intentional breeding, but also marks great improvements for the educators and learners themselves.

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

All animals are conscious, living beings. We look to our educators to teach our students to be respectful of all life, and to teach the value of that life,” says Erika Vercuiel, manager of the Animal Ethics Unit of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA).

There is no question that at times, medical research is needed, but we aim to replace, reduce and refine any process involving animals, especially at high school and first year university level.”

Countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Argentina, and Slovakia have already banned the use of animals in dissection at elementary and high school level. Several states in America have also passed policies that require schools to offer alternatives to dissection to those learners who do not wish to participate.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in the United States, 95 percent of medical schools in that country, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and all Canadian medical schools, have discontinued the use of animal dissection for medical students and none expect or requires students to participate in animal dissection.

The PCRM reports that both students and educators prefer the use of simulation-based training to that of the use of animals. Studies have also concluded that learners engaged in alternative methods, such as interactive learning, narrated software, and DVDs, retain as much information – and in some cases even more – than students using animals.

In addition, for schools not financially equipped to purchase animals for each student, each class, each year, along with costly lab equipment, the once-off fees for the purchase of alternatives are a welcomed affordable option,” says Vercuiel.

Lessons become more efficient, as the time spent preparing and cleaning the classroom, teaching etiquette, and explaining procedures is eradicated when alternatives are employed. In addition, educators can customise and save lesson plans for their students.

Utilising alternative methods to dissection, especially at high school level, teaches learners additional lessons and benefits that go well beyond the biology lab.

Vercuiel continues, “Making a stand in the classroom encourages students to become conscientious citizens, who respect animals and their environment. This type of compassion has been shown to overflow to the child’s surrounding family and community.”

On the other hand, an insensitive attitude towards animals, especially by adults the children has been taught to emulate, can actually be negative lesson for young learners.

Several alternatives are currently available such as interactive DVDs, lifelike models and interactive computer models. The DVDs include general notes for teachers, and introduction to the external features of the animal, then leads the learners through the digestive, urinogenital, circulatory system, nervous system, and skeleton systems.

For more information on the ethical alternatives to dissection please contact Erika Vercuiel

[This is a guest post by the National Council of SPCAs.]

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The role of technology in the classroom

Monday, June 11th, 2012 | education | 3 Comments

A thousand years ago a person could prosper without being literate; this is no longer possible today.  Thirty years ago a person could prosper without being digitally literate; this is likewise no longer possible today.  The workplace demands both literacy and digital skills and someone who enrols for a university course without them is at a disadvantage.  These skills must be developed before a child leaves school.

It follows that the debate is no longer “should we use technology in school” but rather “how can we accelerate the introduction of technologies into our classrooms”.  In other parts of the world technology has been a part of classrooms for decades but in South Africa we are lagging behind.  While educators in other countries are already experiencing the power of technology as teaching and learning tools, we are grappling with the basics.

Technology can be used in a classroom in different ways.

The first one is to teach learners about technology.  Just as good handwriting, spelling and grammar skills are basic building blocks for learning, so a sound understanding of technology is required.  It is important to know how to use a word processor, a spreadsheet, presentation software and how to communicate effectively through email.  These are basic skills and we may assume that learners will pick them up by themselves, but we only have to look at the way they write SMS messages to understand that much more is required than merely knowing where to press the buttons.

Teaching with technology is the second level for which to aim.  Technology can be a powerful teaching aid.  Think about a teacher who uses a laptop and a data projector in the classroom to spice up lessons by showing interesting pictures or video clips.  This can spark off interesting class discussions, focussing the attention of learners on the learning material.  An interactive whiteboard can take this one step further, encouraging further interactivity.  If a teacher has a trolley with netbooks available, she can use this for drill and practise exercises to reinforce numeracy skills.  Innovative educators will find many ways in which technology can be used as a teaching tool.

Teaching through technology is the third level to which teaches must aspire in the classroom: technology devices can assume the role of tutors to assist teachers with teaching and learners with learning.  It becomes a tool for learners to find information, evaluate it, analyse it, and synthesize it to build knowledge.  Collaboration skills can be developed as well as other critical thinking skills required for twenty-first century living.

We have a long way to go to reach this third stage – most schools are still battling to bring technology into classrooms to get stage one off the ground!

The state alone can’t make technology in education happen, even though we are looking at the national and provincial education departments to take the lead.  NGOs and corporate organizations can play a major role in making technology in the classroom a reality.

The education system faces many challenges – making technology a part of the classroom experience is only one of them.  It is, however, a critical one if we do not want the digital divide to widen even further.

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How can a teacher maximize the value of technology in the classroom?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 | education | Comments Off

If classroom productivity is measured in terms of the amount of learning taking place, ICT will prove to be a productivity powerhouse.  But this does not happen automatically.  The value of technology in the classroom depends on the way the teacher uses it.

Here are a few points for teachers to ponder:

Use your ICT devices to impact positively on learning; otherwise they’re a waste.

The mere presence of technology in your classroom won’t bring results –you need to apply it as a teaching tool.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating – you will only know the value of technology in the classroom when you try it.

Different degrees of white-elephantness occur in classrooms relative to ICT, ranging from under-utilization to total non-use.

Don’t allow technology to hinder teaching and learning – it remains a tool, albeit a powerful one in the hands of enthusiastic teachers.

Technology is most successful in the classroom when the focus is not on the technology but rather on teaching and learning.

Also bear in mind that technology in the classroom will only empower a teacher if the teacher powers it “on”.

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Why does ICT in the hands of teachers sometimes fail?

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 | technology | 2 Comments

Technology can be a valuable tool in the hands of teachers.  Sadly, at times it does not result in improved teaching and learning, leading some to conclude that technology “does not work” and, to use a cliché, the baby is then thrown out with the bathwater.

Don’t be too quick to judge technology if it does not yield the expected results in a particular classroom or school.  Bear the following facts in mind:

ICT is not a magic wand – its presence alone in a classroom is no guarantee that a teacher will miraculously become a good one.

One of the biggest – and most serious – problems encountered with ICT in education is under-utilization by teachers.  This is not a technology failure, but a human (and often a systemic) failure.

Technology can empower teachers but it is only a tool; true empowerment depends on how this tool is used.  It may take time for teachers to become skillful users of technology.

Vast as the potential is, ICT can only transform education if teachers are willing to tap into it!  You may have a huge water reservoir, but if you are not prepared to tip your bucket into it to draw water you can’t expect to quench your thirst.

Metathesiophibia – a fear of change – leads to stagnation; teachers can’t afford this when it comes to using ICT in school.

When you see a classroom where avaialble technology has not yet brought about a change for the better, consider carefully where the problem lies: with the technololgy, the teacher or the system.  Then put appropriate processes in place to remedy the matter.

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Once I have technology in my classroom – how often must I use it?

Friday, December 31st, 2010 | technology | Comments Off

Learners need variety to keep their attention throughout the day – even for just a lesson period.  That is why you employ a variety of teaching tools and techniques.  When you have technology in your classroom, it is yet another set of tools you can use to add spice to your lessons.  In fact, the use of spices is a good analogy to help you decide how often to use technology in the classroom. 

You use spices to enhance the natural flavour of food – a touch of cinnamon makes pumpkin taste better; one clove gives a kick to your stew; and a small pinch of ginger can make the world of difference to a boring dish.  Spices are edible – but they are not food.  Imagine eating a plate of chillies!  If your hand – or your spouse’s – slips and too much spice is added, the dish will be spoiled. 

Technology must be employed in the same way that an experienced chef uses spices – with discernment.  Chefs gain this skill by first making a thorough study of the different spices and then through experimentation.  You can develop similar technology acumen by becoming thoroughly familiar with the technology tools at your disposal and then by experimenting with them until you’re skilled. 

Once you know how and when to use technology you’ll realize that you don’t have to use it every moment of the day.  You don’t use other classroom tools – blackboard, dictionary, chemistry equipment, or abacus – all the time but through experience you’ve learned to turn to each one of them when appropriate.  You’ll soon reach the same point with your technology tools. 

During some lessons you may use technology simply to introduce a lesson by showing a brief video clip or picture to the class.  At other times you’ll prepare an entire lesson using presentation software and then use it for the full lesson period. 

Perhaps you’ll overdo it when you start using technology tools – trying to incorporate them into everything.  As time goes on you will learn to use your tools in the right measure, to spice up your lessons and to create an interactive classroom.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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