Edtech Tools for 2012

Don't know if you've had a chance to watch the video or read the 2012 Annual Letter from Bill Gates or not, but in the event you didn't read it in it's entirety, you may have missed what he has to say about some Edtech tools that are making a difference in today's classrooms.  I've embedded the video and provided a portion of his letter to give you Bill's take on Edtech and to share links to some of the resources he references that you may not be familiar with.  It's definitely worth a look.

Social networking is one of the most promising areas, because it helps teachers and students connect in ways that naturally augment what’s going on in the classroom. Services that use social networking, like Edmodo, are really starting to take off because teachers can manage all aspects of the classroom using a platform with which most people are comfortable.
I’m also excited to see more and more schools “flip” the classroom so that passive activities like lectures are done outside of class and in-class time is used for more collaborative and personal interactions between students and teachers. Khan Academy is a great example of a free resource that any teacher can use to take full advantage of class time and make sure all students advance at their own pace.
Great work is also being done by companies that are thinking beyond simply digitizing textbooks (is this a shot at Steve Jobs and Apple???). CK-12 Foundation, Udemy, and Ednovo have great teacher- and community–generated content. A simple example of how powerful the community can be in this area is TeachersPayTeachers, a marketplace that facilitates the sharing and exchanging of lesson plans and other materials developed by teachers themselves.
We’re also just starting to see how impactful gaming can be in an educational context. MangaHigh and Grockit are successfully delivering fun, competitive, game-based lessons that drive greater engagement and understanding. Zoran Popović, at University of Washington’s Center for Game Science, is taking this even further through some amazing work creating games that automatically adapt to each student’s unique needs based on their interactions with the computer.
Many of these new tools and services have the added benefit of providing amazing visibility into how each individual student is progressing, and generating lots of useful data that teachers can use to improve their own effectiveness.
But how do most teachers figure out what’s available and right for them? There’s not yet a good answer to this question. Good technologies remain unused, and teachers spend too much of their own time and money. That’s why I’m launching a project this year to build an online service that helps educators easily discover and learn how to use these new tools and resources.  

I think there’s no limit to what a teacher with the right tools and information can do. 

Bill's Annual Letter: Good News and a Challenge from The Gates Notes on Vimeo.

Xtranormal for Education

Xtranormal is a great tool that allows for the easy creation of animated movies.  Just how easy?  Well, according to the tag line, "if you can type, you can make movies" and I'd have to agree that it's just that easy.

You start by choosing from hundreds of actors and in addition to controlling what they say, you have the ability to control their emotions, gestures and voices.  You can type or record the dialogue and the characters automatically lip-sync your words.  I recommend writing the script or dialogue for your movie using a word processing program and then copying/pasting it into the dialogue box.   In addition to controlling what the characters say and how they say it, as the director of your movie you can also select backgrounds and control camera angles, add sound effects and more.

Initially, there was only a single version of Xtranormal, but recently Xtranormal for Education was launched.  For a cost of $10/month for teacher access and $0.50/month for students, teachers have the ability to set-up classes and create assignments (the students submit these to your dashboard)  in which the teacher has the ability to control the types of characters/scenarios the students will use for a particular assignment. 

I used Xtranormal for Education in a high school economics class for their Independent Study Project.  To introduce the project details to the students, I created an Xtranormal video which I used to kick off the project...

So what do the students think of Xtranormal?  They found the user-interface highly intuitive and welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge/understanding of key concepts in a way that catered to their visual-verbal strengths. 

Here is an example of student work...

In terms of where and how you choose to use Xtranormal in your classroom, the possibilities are endless.  In terms of the justification of why you would use it,  the use of Xtranormal provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of essential or enduring understandings (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) and extend their learning in a differentiated manner.

So, why don't you give Xtranormal a try?