Posted in Analog Girl vs. The Technology Monster, Tabletop Teacher

Gamification in Slow Motion: Inventory

Happy Monday everyone! Our district is back to work today and expecting students next Wednesday. Cue screaming. What do you think the worst part about district training is? I think for me, right now, is that I’m in meetings when I want to be game designing in my classroom.

Some updates for the year?

  • I have a new class of 30 students. Yup, 30. You may think this is not a lot, but let me remind you, I’m an ESL teacher. This English Language Development class? Is packed!
  • I have a class with mixed levels–from total nonspeakers to borderline shouldn’t be in my class, so that will be fun.
  • With the exception of the ELD class, every single class has a student that is in at least one more class.

So those are the challenges that I’m facing right now, each of which is going to involve some different changes to the game? What are some of my solutions?

  • My class of 30 will be divided into 5 groups of six, each working their way through the game independently (and possibly competing to see who can be more successful at it.)
  • In my mixed level class, I’ll be running regular station rotations. One of the stations will involve students completing different activities and collecting information as they move across the map. Though they will do this in groups, they will, in the long run, be working as a class as they go through the story line.
  • Aspects of the game in each of my classes will have to differ class to class… like the location of the keys to the mysterious door in the library… but more on that later.

In other news, I’m still having problems with Screen-Cast-O-Matic. I sent an error report to the team. And they did get back to me in a day or two! So… great customer service. And they had a good suggestion: update the software. Because I’m apparently running an older version. But… it didn’t do anything to fix the problem. So… still working on cutting my first classroom set up video into something semi-watchable.

On the bright side! I ordered a Breakout EDU box, which should be arriving today or tomorrow. So I will definitely have an update about that up next week, if not before. I have literally been dreaming about Breakout EDU since I learned about it. I am so excited!

Posted in Analog Girl vs. The Technology Monster

Two for Tuesday: Quizlet vs. Anki

Hey y’all! Today, I’m doing something a little different. Instead of my usual battle with technology, I’m going to pit two different programs against each other: Quizlet and Anki.

Quizlet and Anki are both digital flashcard programs. If you are a teacher, chances are you’ve heard of Quizlet, and if you are studying a new language, then you might already be familiar with Anki. But which is better? Well, here’s my take…

Quizlet Pros:

  • Quizlet is free
  • It is easy to make and share flashcards
  • You can embed flashcards into a web page, so others can study them without having their own Quizlet account
  • You can practice flashcards using several different games…
  • Including Quizlet Live, which is cooperative

Quizlet Cons:

  • Pictures are limited unless you have a paid account
  • You cannot add audio without a paid account

Anki Pros:

  • Anki is free and open source
  • It is a spaced repetition system (SRS)–this means it keeps track of which cards you know better and quizzes you on those less.
  • Cards are highly customizable
  • You can include pictures
  • You can include audio files
  • Sync Ankiweb to desktop and mobile apps
  • The android mobile app is free
  • You can pick to study just one side or both sides of a card

Anki Cons:

  • The Apple app costs $25
  • The program is not always intuitive (for a short while, I was not even sure how to sync my cards to Ankiweb. Then again, my tech savvyness is somewhere in the medium-low range.)
  • Ankiweb does not support importing pictures (you can study flashcards that have pictures on Ankiweb, you just can’t make flashcards with pictures on Ankiweb.)
  • If you don’t want to use the basic front/back format, making more complex types of cards, while doable, can be difficult. (But templates can be found.)

Classroom Uses:

Flashcards are of great use in a classroom setting. The best way to learn something is by testing yourself on it. You can reread the information over and over, but quizzing yourself with flashcards? Better. Especially when those flashcards are a spaced repetition system. You can have students create and practice their own decks, you can create a class deck to share or practice together. Or with Quizlet Live, you can practice in teams.

Let me take a moment to talk about Quizlet live. I’m not a big fan of Quizlet, actually, but Quizlet Live is practically worth a review all on its own. Quizlet Live splits your class into teams in which they need to cooperate to beat another team. Each member of the team sees a list of words on his or her screen, different from the list of words on the screens of his or her partners. All team members see the same definition at the top of their screen, and only one of them has the answer, so they have to communicate to make sure they click the right answer. Because if you click the wrong answer, you have to start over. The first team to 10 wins. Not only have I seen students have a lot of fun playing this (and I have had a lot of fun playing this) but some groups really team up and work together. Also, it only goes a couple of minutes, so you can play it several times in the last 5-10 minutes of class (and chances are? you students will want to play it several times.)

Final Verdict: Tie

To tell the truth, I much much prefer Anki. It’s a spaced repetition system and it’s free. If it weren’t for Quizlet Live, I would argue Quizlet is nigh worthless. Quizlet is basically the same as analog flashcards, if not more limited. For example, my selection of pictures that I can put on flashcards isn’t limited by how much money I pay. Sure, analog flashcards aren’t totally free, and if I’m putting pictures on them, I’m probably printing and gluing them, so there’s some printing costs. But as someone who has made over 1000 flashcards for second language learning purposes, I would still argue that the cost is negligible. So what does Quizlet save you? Time. And space. I haven’t actually timed it, but I would guess that it takes less time to make flashcards on Quizlet than it does to make analog flashcards, especially if you are printing and gluing pictures. And obviously, storing flashcards on a computer takes up much less space. But Anki does all of the same things–takes less time, takes less space, and lets you put pictures AND sound–for free, so the answer’s a no brainer. I use Anki for everything. I use it to practice Italian. I use it to memorize poetry. I have even used it for my students to study vocabulary.

Why then, do I call this a tie? Let’s face it, it’s mostly because of Quizlet Live (and it’s worth noting this feature is free, though has more options if you pay). But Quizlet also has other games that allow students to practice independently, and as we’ve seen from my first post. I love games. (Though honestly, Anki feels like a game to me. Probably because you can watch the number of cards you have to study that day dwindle as you practice.)

So in the end, which program is best for you depends on your needs and your resources. If you know you are going to make use of the games that Quizlet offers, than you probably want to use Quizlet. Or if you’re mostly functioning on chromebooks, and you have any desire to put pictures on your flashcards, you will want to use Quizlet (Ankiweb is more for syncing and studying your cards than making them.) But if you’re not expecting to use the games and you can download the Anki desktop app, then Anki is probably the better program for you.

Have you ever used Quizlet or Anki? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Posted in Analog Girl vs. The Technology Monster

Analog Girl vs. Audacity

Last week, I revealed my life-long battle with technology and reviewed program called Powtoon. In the review, I briefly mentioned an audio editing software called Audacity. Now it’s time for Audacity to get the same treatment.

Analog Girl Theme made with Incredribox–Review Coming!

What is Audacity?

Audacity is a computer software program for recording and mixing audio files. I was introduced to it when getting my first masters degree. I was conducting a research project for which I needed to record interviews, and my teacher recommended Audacity as a good software for dealing with audio recordings. As I recall, I didn’t really end up using it for the research project, but did find use for it later on, while recording practice CDs for performance poetry. I also used it with students, for a unit in which we put together a radio show. So before I completely give away my verdict, let’s dive in

Pros:

  • It’s free and open source.
  • As I recall, it’s pretty intuitive. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I knew what I was doing, and I would be pretty confident teaching others about it. Keep in mind, of course, that I wasn’t doing a lot of fancy with it.
  • That being said, you can do fancy things with it. For example, running an audio clip backwards.
The lullaby from Pan’s Labyrinth… played backwards.
  • You can do whatever the audio equivalent of zooming in is, to cut out a fraction of a second of background noise and clean up your sound.
  • You can layer multiple recordings (this may seem obvious, but it’s refreshing after Powtoon.)
  • It’s got a great name. Seriously, what name could be better for recording software?

Cons:

  • It’s hard to keep track of where you are in a recording, but I’m not really sure how to fix that.
  • It’s more or less only available as software to download to your computer.
  • It can be a time-suck. Seriously, editing the radio show (which was mostly pulling out background noise) probably took me a couple of hours. I said in the Powtoon review that I figure this is part and parcel of audio and video editing. Fortunately with Audacity you don’t experience lag time or loading screens in which the program has to catch up with you. All the time you take is actual time spent using the program.

Classroom Applications:

As I said before, I used this to help my students create a radio show. The class broke into pairs, and wrote an recorded their own section of the radio show individually–we had a couple of news anchors, a weather report, an interview, and commercials. I put each separate track into Audacity and tied them together, as well as cutting out background noise, so we ended with a full, smooth radio show, and the students could listen back to themselves. If I could swing it, I think it might be interesting to teach the program to my higher level students, and in the future, they could edit such a program themselves. Obviously, it would work well for any kind of A/V project, but I think any time you need to be doing audio recording, it’s worth looking into.

Final Verdict: Audacity Wins!

I highly recommend Audacity. Between the ease of use and the price, it’s definitely worth trying out. Even if you don’t use it for your classroom, you may find other uses. As I said before, I use Audacity to record and create practice tracks when preparing for a poetry performance. I have a friend who uses it to record choir rehearsals, so they can listen back and practice things. There’s plenty of possibilities.

Have you ever used Audacity? Have you used it in your classroom? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Posted in Analog Girl vs. The Technology Monster

Analog Girl vs. Powtoon

My first post was a Powtoon video that I made several years ago for class. This video was made for a class I took on technology and education. As a general rule, the teacher was very excited about all of the technology he introduced us to (and I suppose if he hadn’t liked it, he wouldn’t have shown us in the first place.) But I had a problem with the class: I am not a very technological person. In fact, I like to compare myself with Good Omens’ Newton Pulsifer. To put this in perspective, let me tell you a little story about my first year in college…

My first year in college, I had a class at 7:30 in the morning. I didn’t want to wake my roommate, so I set the alarm on my watch, until after 4 months, it stopped going off. I double checked that the time was set correctly and the alarm was on, and they were, but the alarm nevertheless, did not go off. So I started using the alarm on my phone, until 2 months later, the same thing happened. So I used my big annoying and very loud alarm clock, until 1 month later, the same thing happened. My (at the time) boyfriend offered to call, but I told him he shouldn’t, or he might be in a coma in two weeks. I still have not figured out what went wrong that year other than to say technology and I are not friends.

Ever since then, I have been Analog Girl! Able to lift 50 pounds of notebooks with a single bag. Able to navigate a new city with only a bus map. Able to write an entire novel by hand. Able to… you get the idea. But Analog Girl comes up against the technology monster every day. And my Technology and Education class was just the beginning of it. So let’s get started…

What is Powtoon?

Powtoon is an online program that allows you to create short, animated videos. It’s often used for promotional videos and advertising campaigns.

Pros:

  • Powtoon is pretty intuitive. It did not take me long to figure out how to use it. It’s a lot of click and drag, and there’s a little ruler at the bottom which helps you put animations in at just the right time.
  • The videos look nice. Seriously, all of the messy bits are done for you, so you don’t have to know a lot about animation or videos, and you can still put together something of good quality.
  • If you add music on top of your video, it automatically fades in and out at the beginning and end.
  • There is a free version. The free version has limited features, but you don’t have to pay money.
  • You can upload your videos to Youtube from the site. This was really convenient for me because I was quite proud of my video, and I wanted to show it off to my friends, not just submit it for my class.
  • If you are an amateur, and you make a video that’s more than thirty seconds long, chances are, you will feel like a god. Like I said, I was quite proud of my video. I spent hours on it, nitpicking to make sure everything was just the way I wanted. Even my friends were impressed that I’d done the thing on Powtoon.

Cons:

  • Powtoon is time-consuming. Okay, I don’t know a lot about video creation, so maybe anything like this is time-consuming. But I found that Powtoon had a lot of lag time. When things on the screen change, like opening new slide or opening your picture folder, there is a loading screen, which probably lasts for 10 seconds or more. It took me five hours to make my video, and I feel like a quarter of that was just waiting for pages to load.
  • Powtoon has a voice recorder, but the audio quality is terrible. I think it’s telling that the Powtoon website actually tells you to use Audacity (review coming) instead of their voice recorder. Okay, I get it. Powtoon is about animating videos, it’s not a sound-mixing software. But personally, I think that if you charge money for a service, your recorder should at least sound better than someone kissing a microphone that is turned up too high.
  • And on the note of sound mixing, you kind of only get one chance to record. Sure, you can record over it, but you can’t record in pieces and stitch them together. So if you’re making a longer video (like mine), you’re going to have to figure out how to not get tongue-tied reading five minutes of script.
  • If you use the free version, it’s automatically stamped with their advertisement. This isn’t a big deal to me because that’s their prerogative.

Classroom Uses:

Honestly, I don’t see a lot of classroom uses for this program. That’s not to say it’s worthless. I’ve made one other video using Powtoon to teach pronouns, and I may make a few more. I like the software enough that I would be interested in teaching it to my students–maybe a project in which students make a presentation and they can choose which method they want to present through. I think it’s intuitive enough that my students would understand it, but I think they might also get frustrated by how much lag time there is.

Final Verdict: Tie

I’ll admit, I like Powtoon. But there’s something meditative about the nitpicking that goes into getting everything for a video right. I get the feeling my kids would mostly be frustrated by the lag time. They would say things like, “ugh, Ms. Molly, it takes too long. I’ve been working all period, and I’ve only got 30 seconds!” And I live in a rural area, where lots of kids don’t have internet at home, or don’t even have computers. If the only time they have to work on it is in my class, it is going to take too long. Sure, the video I was asked to make had to be long. If I asked them to make a 1 minute video, or a 30 second video, it might not be so bad. But I also get the feeling my students would be bothered by the audio issues as much as I am.

So, I recommend this software if you’ve got the right class for it. Maybe you’re doing a unit where your students are learning some basic aspects of film-making. Or maybe you just have a group of students who want to do something a little different for their final project. I do think it might be worth showing it to students and letting them tinker, so they are aware of it and have the option to use it on and assignment if they so lose. Or if you’re interested, check it out yourself.

I haven’t used it in my classroom yet, but in the past, I considered having students make commercials with Powtoon. We tried to video commercials this year, and it was difficult. If students were only using pictures, perhaps it would be easier for them. Of course, I’d have to find a way for them to share their videos with each other, seeing as Youtube is blocked at our school. If it happens, I’ll be sure to update you about my new verdict here. In the meantime, here’s the other Powtoon video I made:

Have you ever used Powtoon? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.