Sunday, December 13, 2015

Plato Academy and Superior Schools Collaborate with Schools in Greece to Shape Global Citizens

     It is not a secret that teachers often spend a good chunk of their personal time to do things that are school related, and I am hardly the exception to that rule.  Two weeks ago I took advantage of the weeklong break during Thanksgiving Week to travel abroad and see my family.  While in Greece, I had the opportunity to visit two schools, one in Ptolemaida, Kozani and one in Thermi, Thessaloniki.  Both schools, although very different from each other, offer great opportunities to create global connections with our own schools, Plato Academy Schools.

      


     The school in Ptolemaida is very special to me, as it is the school I attended when I was growing up.  As I was walking up the stairs of the new building, old, pleasant memories came back like a stream of ferocious intensity.  The voices and laughter of my friends and fellow students echoed in my ears and I have to admit, that these memories brought tears to my eyes. 
     Soon, the warm welcoming of the principal and assistant principal of the school brought me back to reality.  The teachers there gave me the opportunity to teach a class, and even deliver a short session to the whole faculty on Augmented Reality.  Although the technology equipment of that particular school is not the greatest, the teachers enjoyed learning about Augmented Reality in the classroom and saw the huge potential of emerging technologies.

Mr. George Chatzopoulos and Mr. Nikolaos Chatzopoulos
at the Mandoulides School in Thermi, Thessaloniki

     The school in Thermi, Ekpedeftiria Mandoulides, is a private school with a more advanced structure and superior technology.  I met with the principal of the school, Mr. Georgios Chatzopoulos (notice the name: quincidence or fate?), and one of their awesome teachers, Ms. Jeanette Nikas, who were very kind, and very interested in building a collaboration between the two schools, mandulides and Plato Academy.
      I believe that the development of opportunities that foster global connections between schools, teachers, and students is crucial.  Our interconnected world shapes global citizens.  International connections between students of different backgrounds, nationalities, and languages are highly beneficial for everyone involved: students, teachers, schools, and communities.

     I look forward to collaborating with the schools in Greece so that we can all learn from each other on how to best prepare our students for the future.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

2 Simple Ways to Create Digital Textbooks in the Classroom

This article was first posted on Daily Genius in June 2015



Textbooks are an irrevocable part of every classroom, and sometimes, they constitute the classroom, school, or district curriculum. Teachers rely on them to teach concepts, and use them to illustrate examples, share ideas, and assign homework and class work.
However, any teacher who takes his/her job seriously will tell you that there is no textbook in the world that is perfect. This statement couldn’t be more relevant today, because the many changes the Common Core Standards introduced to our nation’s educational system has made many of the mainstream books and textbooks insufficient.
But, what if teachers could write their own books? What if they could write their own textbooks that complement, and in some cases, replace, the always expensive and often outdated textbooks, bypassing the slow textbook adoption policies of large states and districts around the country?
Even more importantly, what if students where given the tools to create their own books and textbooks in which they illustrate their understanding of concepts, and even use these books in the classroom to teach their peers?
Today’s technology makes these, once outlandish ideas, very possible.
There are several platforms teachers and students can use to create digital books that match, and sometimes surpass the quality of traditional books. Two of the most user-friendly and inexpensive tools are Book Creator and iBooks Author. Although both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, they both are capable of creating state-of-the-art digital books that can transform learning in the classroom.

BOOK CREATOR

Book Creator is currently an iOS, Android and Windows app, with a web version coming out around the beginning of the next school year. The app is currently free for Windows users for limited time, while it costs $4.99 for iOS users, and $2.49 for Android users, although there are free versions of Book Creator on both the iTunes and the Google Play stores.
Despite some minor differences in features and appearance, regardless of what platform a user prefers, Book Creator’s performance is solid. Book Creator allows teachers and students to create and publish digital books that contain text, drawings, pictures, sounds, and video files.
As such, it offers the opportunity to create lessons that are exciting, and provide unique educational experiences for all students. For instance, teachers can use Book Creator to create a book that serves as an introduction to a concept he/she wants to teach.
Or, a teacher can assemble a book with videos, text, pictures and drawings on a concept that is not covered adequately by the current textbooks. The biggest advantage of these books is that they can be highly personalized and directed at a specific audience. That will enable students to create personal connections to the material covered by these books, which will increase the chances of knowledge retention dramatically.
Teachers are not the only ones who can take advantage of this powerful platform. Students can use Book Creator to assemble resources such as videos, pictures, and text in order to produce a multimedia project that illustrates their understanding in multifaceted ways. For instance, in our school, 4th graders used Book Creator to create a digital book of collaborating math videos, and then used these books to teach 3rd graders a number of 4th grade math concepts.
Here is a short tutorial on how to get started with Book Creator for Windows

IBOOKS AUTHOR

iBooks Author is Apple’s free ebook authoring application for iBooks. It is a powerful platform that was designed to revolutionize modern textbooks. With iBooks Author teachers and students can easily write and publish interactive digital books and textbooks that have a professional look and are highly engaging.
Much like Book Creator, iBooks Author users can add text, images, sounds, videos and drawings to their books. However, Apple’s platform is much more diverse and offers a level of customization that can only be seen in professional desktop publishing applications.
Users can use a number of widgets to bulid-in their book review questions, interactive texts and images, 3D objects, Keynote presentations, and even HTML5 widgets that almost everyone can build without coding experience. The final product can be shared with students and enjoyed on an iPad, or, it can be published on the iTunes store.
As one can imagine, the implications of this are staggering. Teachers and students can reach vast audiences and break the barrier of the classroom microcosm by connecting to others on a global scale, as they can create digital books that can be literally downloaded by anyone in the world. The power of connectivity in conjunction with the power of creativity can drive innovation to a whole new level and open the door to a brave new world for all students.
One of the more important responsibilities and duties of a teacher is to encourage his/her students dream and empower them to become masters of their own learning. Teachers and students around the country are creating a small revolution by using technology to create their own books and textbooks. The question you have to ask yourself is, are you ready to join this revolution?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to use Osmo in the Classroom

This article was first posted on Daily Genius in April 2015


Today the field of educational technology is literally bombarded with new ideas and devices that promise to revolutionize the way we teach.  Some of these newcomers have strong potential and promise a unique learning experience.  One such product is Osmo.  Osmo is an innovative device that transforms an iPad into an interactive classroom accessory able to add a level of excitement that engages students in the learning process.
Osmo is made of a vertical base for the iPad, and a reflective mirror that sits in front of the camera.  These two unassuming accessories work together to change the physical space in front of the iPad into an area of active engagement that interact with a number of iPad apps made for Osmo.

Osmo Kit
Osmo will only set you back $79, but for that money you get a well-designed Kit along with four Osmo apps you can download for free.  Aside from the base and the reflective mirror, Osmo comes with a set of tangrams and two color-coded sets of alphabet letters.  This may seem simplistic at first, but these modest accessories can guarantee hours of enjoyable learning and turn mundane and repetitive learning activities into highly appealing and engaging lessons.

Words App
Words is the most interesting, and the app with the highest educational value of all Osmo apps.  Words has a lot of potential in the elementary classroom and the fact that it is highly customizable makes it ideal for all elementary grade levels, from Kindergarten to 5th grade.  The app consists of two sets of color-coded alphabet letters that the students can use to interact with the app.  The objective is to guess and use the correct letters in order to match the target word on the iPad’s screen.  Words does a superb job in differentiating and offering diverse levels, which enhances the experience.  For instance, K-1 students can start using the Junior level, while everyone else can use the standard level that comes with the app.  Even within the standard level there are four different difficulty levels.  Depending on the level you choose, words may be single or multi-syllable words, and a picture in the background may provide little, some, or a lot of support. 
Users who own an Osmo unit can create an account at playosmo.com, and this is where things get very interesting.  From there the teacher can generate his/her own lists of words and pictures.  The implications of this are staggering.   
Due to its highly customizable nature, Osmo allows teachers of all subjects to create their own albums, therefore making Osmo relevant to any subject, math, reading, social studies, or science.  Creative teachers can design spelling bee contests, math games, science vocabulary quizzes, social studies puzzles, Cloze sentences, and the list goes on.  Furthermore, at my.playosmo.com/ teachers have access to a growing number of public albums they can download on their iPad for free, ensuring that there is always something new to engage the students.


Words App for Osmo from Nikolaos Chatzopoulos on Vimeo.
A short tutorial on how to create private albums on the Words App of Osmo

Masterpiece
The newest addition to the Osmo family, Masterpiece, is a fun and super engaging drawing app that can elevate the excitement in any art class.  The app contains a good number of curated pictures that, when selected, transform into drawings that you have to recreate.  The camera tracks your pencil’s every move while it guides you to follow the lines, which allows you to be incredibly accurate while drawing.  In addition, the app records in real time every line you draw, and comprises a time-lapse video of your drawing, which is a very neat feature.
Following in the Footsteps of Words, Masterpiece allows the user to import his/her own pictures, opening the door for some quite astonishing challenges.  Self-portraits, familiar landscapes, and favorite pets are only some of the things the students can interact with and draw using this truly intuitive app.

Tangram App
Tangram is an old Chinese game made of a square divided into seven basic geometric shapes that can be put together to create hundreds of other shapes.   Osmo’s twist on this old game is ingenious and highly interactive.  The tangram app displays a shape on the screen and the objective is for the students to recreate this shape using the real life tangram pieces that come with the Kit.  The app is designed to adjust the difficulty level and the support it provides to the student, therefore the teacher can differentiate lessons and activities to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. 
Although tangram is ideal for K-2 students, as it can be used to introduce students to the properties of 2- dimensional shapes, upper elementary students can benefit from working with the app as well.  The app can be used to teach students how to visualize 2- dimensional shapes, and to think out of the box in order to combine commonly used shapes to create unusual forms and arrangements. 

Newton App
Osmo’s doodle application easily earns the title of the most basic app of Osmo.  Newton is a game in which the objective is to draw lines on a piece of paper placed in front of the iPad, in order to force the balls falling from the top of the screen to hit certain targets.  This is the equivalent of a pinball game played on the iPad.  Although Newton falls short in providing some strong educational value, it is still great for hand-eye coordination practice for K-2 students, not to mention the hours of fun students can have challenging each other.

Apple TV & Osmo

I am a strong believer of the fact that an Apple TV can make a great classroom accessory, and I have written about that in the past.  Using Osmo in conjunction with an Apple TV opens up a wide range of possibilities in the classroom.   One of Osmo’s greatest strengths is its ability to make the learning experience social.  However, you are still limited by the small size of the iPad’s screen, so only a small number of students can share the experience.  Mirror the iPad to an Apple TV and you have a very different picture.  The whole class can participate and be part of a lesson, in which physical interaction goes well beyond the usual tapping of the iPad’s screen.  That’s learning at its best!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Easily Create an iBook With These 3 Powerful Apps

This article was first published on Daily Genius

Photo Courtesy: Daily Genius 



Digital books are transforming the way students of all ages learn today.  The interactive elements of digital books enhance the learning experience, making it far more informative and interesting than before.  Many teachers today are embracing this new media and producing some high quality student-made eBooks in their classrooms.
One of the most fascinating ways to create an eBook is using a mobile device, particularly, an iPad.  StoryKit, Book Writer, and Book Creator are 3 apps my students have used to create some highly interactive, professionally looking eBooks.  All three apps are excellent examples of tools that allow students to unleash their creativity and tell their own stories.

StoryKit (free)
StoryKit is a user-friendly free app that allows students to create eBooks with text, pictures, sound recordings, and drawings.   The app allows users to import pictures from the iPad’s Camera Roll, supports multi-language text, and student made illustrations.  Although it is not as powerful as other eBook creation apps, its lack of complex features makes it ideal for lower elementary students, or, for teachers and students who are new to eBook creation.  StoryKit’s main advantage is its ability to provide a platform that gives students a voice and allows them to narrate their own story.  The final product can be enjoyed on the iPad, or it can be shared with others via email. 
The interactivity of eBooks created with StoryKit is limited to the playback of the sound files that can be up to one minute long.  Also, the app does not support file exporting or printing.  Nevertheless, StoryKit is a solid authoring app that allows students to create their own eBooks from scratch, and share them in ways that protect the user’s privacy. 



Book Writer (free/$4.99)
Users looking for an app with more impressive features can try Book Writer; an innovative app students and teachers can use to create eBooks.  Much like StoryKit, the app supports text, audio narration, drawings, and pictures, and utilizes a user-friendly interface that makes creating an interactive book a breeze.  However, Book Writer has some additional functions to offer.  For instance, students can import video files into their projects, a feature that makes their eBooks truly exciting.  In addition, the app supports advance sharing options such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and iTunes integration, and it even allows you to open your final product in iBooks.  Furthermore, the app allows students to customize the text’s size and color, and is enriched with some rare additional features such as link integration, slideshow mode, and background music.  All these qualities guarantee a final product with a highly professional look and feel.
The free version allows the user to create only one book at a time.  If you are only planning on using the app once or twice, students can share their eBook with others or open it in iBooks, and then start a new book within the app that replaces the old one.  However, teachers who plan on using the app on a regular basis can buy the full version that will allow the entire class to create multiple eBooks as well as to unlock additional distribution options.

Book Creator (free/$4.99)
Book Creator is one of the most intuitive book creation apps for mobile devices, and it is the only book authoring app that can be used on more than one platform, namely, iOS and Android.  The app is equipped with one of the easiest and most straightforward interfaces around, and it is one that requires no learning curve.  Book Creator allows students to import text, hand drawings, illustrations, pictures, sound files, narration, and video files, making it ideal for advance eBook creation that utilizes complex techniques such as app smashing, digital storytelling, and project based learning.  Furthermore, students have the ability to combine multiple eBooks into larger books, export these books in ePub, PDF or movie format, or print them using the app’s AirPrint support.
Teachers and students using Book Creator are able to export their final projects to almost all of the major cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and iCloud.  They are also able to send their work directly to iTunes University, iBooks, and even publish their eBooks on Apple’s iTunes store, so that they can share their work with anyone who lives in the Apple ecosystem. 
Much like Book Writer, before buying the full version, teachers and students can try the free version of the app, which allows them to create only one book.  The Book Creator Team is currently working on a plan to integrate additional widgets that will allow for 3-dimensional objects, quizzes, and other features that will improve the user experience dramatically.


Some Final Thoughts

The rise of digital books has transformed the way students of all levels are interacting with textbooks and other learning materials.  Exploring new frontiers has always been a human innate trait.  Naturally, students are fascinated by eBook creation, and when immersed in this new media, they are more willing to experiment, take risks, and engage in collaborative content creation and learning.  Digital book creation provides students with all the tools necessary to help them unleash their creativity.  As such, it redefines education by helping students engage in new learning behaviors.

I will be presenting on this topic at the February 9-11 iPad Summit in San Diego. Registration is open!