e-Reading: Seeing books differently

January 7, 2010

"Studying" by tripu

During guided reading yesterday I was sharing a book of short stories with one of my groups who find reading challenging. We looked at the contents page and I asked what it was. One of the boys confidently replied, “I know, it’s the home page”. He continued to describe that the page contained “links” which “take you to” the different content in the book.

To me this offered a fascinating glimpse into the way he sees books, with some interesting implications. When I see a book of short stories I see it as a linear text. Granted, you can read the stories in a different order but I still see it essentially as a book with a start and a finish. My pupil’s comment made me realise that to him it is conceptually a non-linear text, potentially to be dipped in and out of like a website. At the age of 8 he has assimilated the conventions of a web text and appears to be bringing this abstract concept to bear on his developing understanding of more traditional media.

Although it feels like a bit of a paradox I find myself trying to explain old media to these pupils by comparing it to new; something which is difficult for those who have not grown up with technology to do. When introducing the class to email the best concept they could find to explain it was not as an electronic letter (which most of the visual clues in email software are based on). Instead it was described as ‘like a text message on a phone but longer and on your computer’.

To quote an old Apple slogan, these children really do ‘think different’.

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Subversive tech: An IWB for £30?!

July 7, 2009

I love the idea of being creative with technology; not just creating things ICT, but thinking laterally with the technology itself. In the past I have tried this by creating a cheap digital visualiser, a £2000 audio compressor for £150, and using a modified touch screen shop till for music performance…

Therefore, when I saw Johnny Chung Lee’s YouTube video detailing making an interactive whiteboard from a Wii remote I just had to have a go! This method involves making a pen which emits InfraRed light, and setting up the Wii remote to track the light from this pen and interpret it into mouse movements.

Sounds complicated, but it was one of the simplest projects I have ever made. I ordered an Infra Red emitter from Rapid Electronics, and a switch to turn it on. When these arrived I set about removing the innards from a permanent marker and fitting these inside. The emitter, switch and a battery just had to be connected in a simple circuit, and the hardest part was simply getting them all to fit inside the pen which was a little fiddly. I ended up soldering the battery into the circuit, but I might revisit it and make the battery a little easier to replace.

Once that was done I nipped down to gamestation and bought a Wiimote for £20 (would be nice if they cleaned their second hand hardware before selling it though- yuk!). Then I downloaded the native Mac version of Johnny Chung Lee’s WiiMoteWhiteboard software, pressed the 1 and 2 button to link the WiiMote with my Mac and calibrated the board. You will obviously need a Mac with bluetooth, or a bluetooth dongle for this to work. The software exists for PC, and looks as easy to use but I haven’t tried it.

Positioning the WiiMote takes a little playing, and I would recommend opeing the camera view in the software and checking that it can “see” the WiiMote at any point on the screen before trying to calibrate. You just have to get a feel for what the angle of view is on the camera. Once this is done you have a suprisingly responsive and accurate IWB on any screen, or with a projector – any surface!

I have been really pleased so far with this, and am already thinking of ways to use it in the classroom (google earth on a table anyone?). There’s a demo video below, and you can find all the info you need to make your own on Johnny Chung Lee’s website.

Here’s to subversive technology!

Edit: Have just found a much more powerful solution to the software side of this in Smoothboard. I haven’t tried it myself, but it looks worth looking at if you are using a solution such as this.


A visualiser on the cheap

June 15, 2009

I had been aware of visualisers for a while, but it was at the BETT show last year that I first had a play with one on the Smart technologies stand, and I knew straight away that I had to have one! The ability to show children’s work immediately on a large screen, and even highlight and annotate it on the IWB without actually writing on it seemed fantastic, and an ideal tool for encouraging children to reflect on and improve their work. They are also fantastic for sharing books and small objects with the whole class.

However, there was no way as a PGCE student I could afford the £800 odd Smart were charging, so I decided to try to find a way to get the same functionality on a shoe string budget.

I turned first to the internet haven for cheap technology- eBay. Having once bought a £2000 mixing desk for £60 on there I am ever hopeful of true bargains, and although there were lots of bang up to date visualisers at silly prices, after some scouring and waiting I was lucky enough to find an old analogue model for £30!

This wasn’t the latest model by far- no USB connections here- just an analogue video output, and the plastic casing is almost as yellow as my 20 year old Amiga… However, it did the job of displaying childrens work when plugged into a data projector.

SV100352

Me being me, I was never going to be satisfied with that, so I started looking into getting an analogue video input for my computer, and again eBay came up with the goods. Somewhat skeptically, I bought an RCA video to USB dongle for £15 (search for EasyCap USB), which turned out to be perfect. It isn’t the greatest resolution in the world, but it is good enough for running through a 1024×768 data projector, and allows you to bring up any video source on your computer screen. There are a multitude of these on eBay, but if you are a Mac user be sure to get one which specifically says it is Mac compatible as not all of them are.

Once I had this hooked up all I needed to do was find some software. Smart Notebook has fantastic integration with visualisers, but it only works with their own model, so I sought out something else that would allow me to achieve the same thing. For the PC I had in school that turned out to be a program called ‘Open Video Capture‘. This is only a limited trial, but for displaying a video input full screen you don’t need to pay for the full version.

For the Mac I found a program called VideoGlide capture, which you will have to pay for to remove a watermark, but it is not too expensive, and it does a great job.

With either of these programs active displaying the video input from the visualiser ‘Smart Tools’ allow you to pick up a pen and annotate, and scribble over the live video. You can even click the camera button to capture the screen as a still to Notebook- leaving the annotations editable so you can rub out and change them.

Annotating work

 

Since I have started using it I have found all sorts of uses for the system beyond simply displaying childrens written work. I have used it for displaying a live science experiment so we could annotate it with arrows showing the force, to allow a child to demonstrate to the class with clarity how to use a ruler or a mirror to find a line of symmetry, and recently to analyse the information on juice cartons for my year twos to allow them to define success criteria for their own carton designs. The camera is also a high enough quality to zoom in on a photographic negative, invert it, and display the photograph contained in it. This filled my Year 2 class with wonder during a lesson about the history of cameras (most of them had never seem a film camera before).

 

Force Diagram

 

 

Analysing fruit juices

 

Mirrors for symmetry

VideoGlide also allows recording of video and stop motion filming from the visualiser- so who know what we will end up doing with that… If you are using it on a Mac I highly recommend setting up application assignments for your spaces so you can flip between full screen video and notebook (as described here).

All in all I have found it to be a great tool for encouraging pupil reflection, and genuinely enhancing their learning many ways. For a total cost of around £70 and a bit of tinkering I have been able to achieve most of the functionality of a new model costing many times the price. It’s always easy to lust after expensive new technology, but sometimes a bit of tinkering can get the same results for much less, so I thought I would share my experiences with this as it may be useful for others lusting after a visualiser as I was!