Sunday, 25 November 2012

Using Quizlet with MFL Classes

This year I have swapped back to teaching some French, and I was keen to try to use some of the ICT knowledge I've accrued over the last 9 years to make up for the French I've lost! The last time I taught French it was with an OHP and tape recorder.

Of course, the interactive whiteboard is a great replacement for the OHP, and all the listening tracks are now online (a mixed blessing if the internet is down, or if you need to find a place within a track).

The main thing I was keen to improve on was vocabulary learning and testing. I believe if students really put the time into this it makes a huge difference, and there simply isn't enough time in lessons to do it together. I had a look at various sites for creating flashcards and testing yourself and settled on Quizlet: it's very nicely designed and easy to do neat things like copy another user's set (no need to type avoir in yourself). I set up my GCSE class and got them signed up during a lesson, so I could make sure they all knew what they were doing. With hindsight, I wish I'd made them pick uniform usernames, but I've learnt them all now! They have new sets to practice each week for homework, and my expectation is that they spend 20 minutes 3-4 times a week.

I was able to show parents at the last parents' evening exactly which sets their child had been studying, and how often they were using the site. I got lots of promises of support, which could make all the difference.

There is an iPhone app, and several unofficial Android apps the students can use to download sets from Quizlet to practice.

If you want to copy my sets (including the AQA specific GCSE vocab for the first two units in our scheme of work - more to come) the link is here.

Finally, the only frustrating thing for me (and my colleague, Lindsay) was that there was no easy way to get details of how long students were spending on the site, or indeed what they had studied, without going into each individual profile. Happily, Quizlet provides an API which publishes each user's last 100 study sessions in JSON format, so I knocked together a Google Spreadsheet & Apps Script solution that pulls in the detail for each user in column A, then puts a total study time in column B, study time in the last 7 days in column C and a potted summary of each session in the cells to the right. At a glance, you can see who in your class has been spending "enough" time on Quizlet. It's not perfect, and I can't see an easy way to publish it without making my API key visible, but if you're a teacher who would like a copy drop me an email and I'll happily share it.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Android App - Keyword Touch

Almost a year ago I blogged about App Inventor and Kodu, with the intention of doing something useful with them soon after. I found it frustrating that you have to buy an application for the Xbox to make Kodu apps work for real, whereas App Inventor apps can be deployed very easily, even without creating a developer account with Google and putting them on the Android Market. (Thanks to Hossein Amerkashi and "App to Market" the process of making a Market app from an AI app is dead easy. I haven't published to the market but his application makes it easy to add install to SD and other features). It took a while, and was held up somewhat by the transition of ownership from Google to MIT, but I've finally completed a genuinely useful app.

Keyword Touch was born because my son (in reception at primary school) had a whole series of sets of "tricky" words to learn. Whatever your view of learning words out of context, it was something he had to do so I wanted to help. He had begun pinching my phone (and my wife's) so we'd put a simple child lock app on them, but there wasn't really anything educational about what that allowed him to do.

I decided I'd take advantage of App Inventor, my son's interest in phones and his need to learn these words, and Keyword Touch was the result. Essentially, the phone speaks a word and you have to press the right one. It keeps score and moves a little Android across the screen depending on how you're doing.

I've had to learn various new components, such as Canvas, Notifier, TinyDB and TextToSpeech, which has been fun. It has flaws, for example the text to speech engine struggles with some short words (like "he"). I have a few ideas about how to extend it, such as allowing people to create their own sets, providing a chart (using Google's chart API) of the scores, and even sending the scores to a central location for the teacher to track. (Maybe the last is a bit Big Brother). The main obstacle has been understanding the way TinyDB works - I'm used to SQL and kept wanting to see it like a "normal" database; it isn't. I can see lots of useful ways to analyse what he does (which ones does he get wrong the most, for example) but querying TinyDB is such a pain I'm putting that off for now.

If you'd like to try the app it's free to download from here. You have to set your phone up to accept applications from unknown sources (go to Settings - Applications - Unknown Sources and tick the box). All comments are welcome!

EDIT: I've now put together another little app that randomly spits out a word from any of the sets you choose. This can be useful if you're playing a game where the child has to find the right word or - even better - if you lay out the words on the floor you can play a version of Twister. In order to make this work the app also shows a random limb whenever you spin! Get it here.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Phone update

Looking back over my blog, I wrote a fair bit about using the iPod touch instead of my old Windows Mobile device (a Dell Axim). I moved on again last year, getting hold of an HTC Desire running Android. I love it. I can pick up home and work email, edit or read docs, spreadsheets, PDFs, sync with my Google calendar (I use Touch Calendar - better than the stock app) and - of course - do all sorts of other things like control my Media Center PC or play Angry Birds.

When I teach "future trends" in ICT, I always seem to end up pulling my phone out of my pocket. Today it was real time translation (interpreting really), which is (or was) a hard CS problem.


Android App Inventor and Kodu

App Inventor has been around since summer 2010 and I've been playing with it since then (though recently I've hardly had the time!). I attended the Norfolk ICT Conference this week and heard several inspiring speakers (Ewan Mactintosh and Dawn Hallybone amongst others) talking about games-based learning and students creating stuff - "entrepreneurial learning". I know there are some projects going on to use App Inventor in the classroom but I haven't heard much about Kodu. Having looked at it last night the potential is enourmous: you very quickly create 3D worlds to explore, and add simple event-based control to build up game logic. The game can be played on PC or... Xbox 360. Interestingly, about 10% of my 9 students have an Android phone; more like 50% have an Xbox.

When I get time, I'm going to do something with these great tools.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Remote Potato

... is a great app to allow web access to Windows 7 Media Centre.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

More on iPod/iPhone for school

Just a quick post today - when updating my iPod software the other day I got offered a free tool for enterprise deployment of the iPhone and iPod Touch. Now the iPhone has often been criticised as an alternative to a "proper" business smartphone or PDA, but even Paul Ockendedn in PC Pro magazine has now changed his mind and declared it "Fit for business". The reasons it got knocked initially have been slowly removed. First there were the applications (admittedly third party) which gave access to MS Office documents; next came OS3, which gave us copy and paste and Search (amongst other things); now there is decent integration with Exchange and the ability to manage profiles centrally (ensure passwords are used, manage apps, wipe data...). More information is available here. It seems to me that £149 for the new 8GB Touch is cheaper than a PDA with similar capabilies and offers much more besides.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Living with OS3 on the Ipod Touch

It's time to come clean and admit I was wrong: I'm pretty disappointed with the improvements in Apple's recent revision of the operating system on the iPod Touch and iPhone. I was pleased to see various features, like search and cut & paste, but for me the killer app was bluetooth: I wanted a BT keyboard and headset so I could really use the Touch a bit like a mini PC for proper typing and get more from it as an audio device. I'd also hoped it would open the door to other 3rd party hardware like GPS modules, or even sensors for science experiments (at school the science team are currently testing some bluetooth sensors for a local firm that makes them).

Sadly, I've used search once, and copy and paste not at all: it's just too fiddly.

The crucial factor, though, is that bluetooth is completely crippled. It only supports audio out, not even allowing use of the microphone on a headset let alone other peripherals.

Looks like I might have to bite the bullet and go for an iPhone, or perhaps Apple have done enough with this (and potentially with their possible refusal to sanction Spotify in the App Store) to drive me to another solution. Anyone for Android?