Marc Seigel: Chemistry Teacher

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Marc Seigel and I teach CP and Honors Chemistry at Middletown High School South in Middletown, NJ.  Before landing at this school, I, well, bounced around a little.  I’ve taught at a Magnet school, been an Director of Instruction for Math, Science and Agriculture, and served as a head fencing coach.  This is my 13th year in education.

What hardware do you use?

The device that I absolutely can’t live without (my baby) is my Lenovo Tablet PC.  It combines everything that you want from a tablet with the computing power of a laptop.  Using the stylus, I can annotate on PowerPoint slides, create answer keys write in Word documents, and even grade papers digitally.  To allow me to be wireless in the classroom, I connect my laptop to a Warpia wireless VGA adapter which duplicates my computer screen through the projector.  There are several benefits to this setup.  First, it eliminates the need for an interactive whiteboard (actually insulted my supervisor when I refused to let him install one in my classroom) which saves the schools thousands of dollars.  Second, because I am wireless, I am not tied to the front of the room to teach.  Being both Italian and Jewish, I have no ability to talk to a group of people without wild gestures nor without pacing, so this lets more of my personality shine in the lessons.  Sometimes I teach from the front, the back or even at the desks alongside the students.  The Warpia can plug into any projector with a VGA port so I have actually taken my classes to different parts of the school and still conducted class the way I would have had we been in the classroom.  

Finally, and definitely the most important, it makes my students more willing to participate in the lesson because they don’t have to raise their hands nor go to the front of the room to write out the solution to a problem.  As I am walking around, checking for understanding, I simply put the computer in the middle of one of my pods (all of desks are grouped into 4-5 person pods instead of rows) and have all the students in that group write their answers on the screen while everyone else keeps working.  I can even freeze the screen so the rest of the class can’t see what they are writing.  It gives the students who need it a little more time to process.

The 2nd piece of hardware that I can’t live without is my cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3.  I can document lessons and activities using the camera, share documents through Google Docs, check email and answer questions on Twitter from my students.  My students are encouraged to use their phones as often as possible in class.  Regularly, a student will ask a question that I don’t know the answer to, so my immediate response is “Take out your phone and Google it.”  My phone has even served as a hotspot when the school’s Internet wasn’t working and as a way to Skype with a reporter who wanted to interview some of my students for an article she was doing.  

And what software?

I live on Google Apps.  I have eliminated almost all paper for my chemistry labs by putting all of the documents in a Google folder that I share with my students.  When they enter the lab, they log into their school Google account, access the lab sheet, and type all of their answers directly into the document.  When they are finished, they simply drag it to a folder I created for them and it is the same as putting it in the basket on my desk.  My students also use their phones to document their lab results and insert the pictures into the Google Document.  After the due date has passed, I go into each students’ folder and grade the labs using the comments feature.  I have found it allows me to give greater feedback and correct mistakes as they are occurring.

Except for the usual Microsoft products (which I am trying to move away from), most of what I try to use are free web tools.  Evernote is my go to for organizing important links from around the web; it is also the easiest way to share things I find with my administration.  My students are huge fans of Prezi and Animoto for their presentations.  They are a way to take traditional projects to the next level by allowing students a greater use of their imagination in the design process.

But, the program I can’t live without is Camtasia Studio made by TechSmith.  This is a video editing and screencasting tool that I use to create instruction videos for my classes.  There are a bunch of free screencasting web tools, but none have the functionality of a full program like Camtasia.  I can record anything on my screen (on the fly if necessary), edit out my mistakes, add callouts or arrows to highlight important information and then upload the file directly to YouTube or save it to my computer.  I am not a video editing wiz so it is perfect that the program is extremely easy to use for any ability.  

What would your dream set up be?

First, I would just love for a steady wireless Internet connection with a large amount of bandwidth.  But, more specifically, I would love a classroom that was flexible to any learning environment that my students wanted that day.  Currently, my room has 4-5 desks arranged in pods, with a couple of bungee chairs for relaxed seating.  I would love to remove the individual desks and put in curved desks that could seat students more students with comfortable chairs that were on wheels to facilitate easy movement.  Actually, I would love individual desk units on wheels to manipulate the seating arrangement.  

The class would have a classroom set of Chromebooks available so that we can record our labs on Google Docs easier, submit files online instead of on paper, and quickly find answers to questions online.  My students need to be connected, whether to each other in class or to the world outside our walls.  I want students to be curious about science and not just want to get good grades.  It would also be a dream for all of my students to have smartphones to help them access information, organize their lives, and document the learning they are doing every day.  Too much to ask?

 

Tony Vincent: Learning & Technology Consultant

Who are you and what do you do?

I used to teach 5th grader and now I’m self-employed as a learning and technology consultant. I have the pleasure of empowering teachers with technology. Much of my time is spent traveling to conferences, schools, and workshops. When I’m not traveling,  my work hours are spent in my home office finding new web and mobile apps, bookmarking resources, recoding podcasts, blogging, and preparing for my next presentation. You can find my work at learninginhand.com.

What hardware are you using?

OFFICE WORKSPACE

While I might be known mostly for my work with mobile learning, my main computer in my office is certainly not very portable. I got the biggest and fastest iMac I could get my hands on. One 27 inch screen wasn’t enough for me, so I have two additional 27 inch displays connected to that iMac. I’m pretty much surrounded by screens. I can move my mouse among all of the screens. This way I can have multiple webpages up at once while composing a blog post or planning a presentation.

Typically TweetDeck takes up one whole screen. Other times I can be playing full screen video on one screen while getting work done on the other two. Admittedly, having too much open at once actually decreased my productivity. I’m not a believer in multitasking. I try to remove all distracts, including turning off email notifications, so that I can work uninterrupted on one task for as long as I can. When Twitter or a video is just a glance away, I can quickly lose focus and then a task takes a lot longer to complete.

I plug my iMac, cable modem, and Time Capsule WiFi router into a UPS. That’s an Uninterruptible Power Supply which is a big battery. If power goes out, it takes over so that my computer doesn’t suddenly shut down. Power can go out and for 15 minutes I can still be online.

Since I spend so much time at my desk, I’ve treated myself to an Aeron Chair. I have a foot cushion, which makes sitting at the desk feel extra comfortable and seems to help me keep a better posture.

After losing eight years of work when my “School” folder was accidentally deleted and one backup became corrupted and the other was a sham (I will never trust nor use Carbonite ever again), I now go overboard on backups. I backup to an Apple Time Capsule. I also weekly connect a Drobo and make a complete copy of my hard drive.

You can’t see one wall in my office because a huge green screen is set up. I keep it there for my podcasts and for other videos I make. To do chromakeying with a green screen wall, you need proper lighting. So I have two floor work lights that illuminate the screen. Then I have two soft box lights that provide lighting for me. I rig all four lights together using extension cords and power strips. Here’s a PDF that links to what I bought for this setup. Everything plugs into one outlet controlled by a wall switch.  That was I can flip a switch to turn and off all four lights for filming. After filming I use either iMovie or Final Cut X to replace the green with a backdrop of my choosing.  I then use Screenflow to layer items on top of the video.

MOBILE WORKSPACE

I love the MacBook Air for its speed. In fact, I had to upgrade my iMac to using an SSD (Solid State Drive) because I am addicted the snappiness. Because of these fast flash-based hard drives, my Macs boot more quickly than any of my iOS devices.

My MacBook’s SSD is limited to 256 GB, which is not nearly enough to hold everything I can to travel with. Mostly I want to bring my past presentations so I can pull out slides and put them into what I’m currently working on. So, I travel with a 1 TB USB hard drive. I use it to bring with me all of my files and to clone my MacBook. You see, I use Carbon Copy Cloner each night I’m done working when traveling to make a copy of everything on my MacBook. Should my laptop be stolen or malfunction, I can boot into a clone of my MacBook Air from my 1 TB drive on any other Mac.

I have many adapters, cords, and gadgets I travel with. To keep them organized, I use a Grid-It. It’s a board covered in elastic bands. I can pull my Grid-Out out of my bag and have access to any of my do-dads I might need.

I carry a lot in my Grid-It, including a Logitech Cube. It’s a wireless presentation remote that doubles as a wireless mouse. I also carry around a Tekkeon battery supply that I can use to charge my iPhone or iPad when traveling. You’ll also find in  my Grid-It a Verizon Mi-Fi card for 4G internet access, and a mini speaker.

When traveling, my iPad comes with me as well. I’m not a fan of fingerprints, so I travel with Zwipes microfiber cleaning clothes (I also place a cloth in every room of my house). Everything I travel with comes with me in my Incase Compact Backpack. I’ve tried lots of backpacks, but I really like my the Incase because it’s not too large and has a spot for my MacBook Air, iPad, and Grid-it. It also has a couple little compartments for my earbuds and iPhone.

What software are you using?

I might be working on my iMac, MacBook Air, iPad, or iPhone, so I store as much as I can in the cloud so I can access my calendar, notes, and documents anytime and anywhere. 

Besides email, the app where I spend my most time is Evernote. In fact, I’m composing this very post inside Evernote while on a somewhat bumpy flight and continued on my desktop computer after I arrive home. Yes, I pay for the Premium Evernote so that I can store notes locally. That way I can access my notes even when I’m without internet. I keep my to-list, brainstorms, workshop notes, and so much more in Evernote, and I can access it all from any device.

I use Dropbox to share files among computers. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain how Evernote is different from Dropbox. I use Evernote primarily for text.  I use Dropbox to keep the slideshows I’m working on. I also use it to share large files with others and love the I have backups of files online and synced to among my computers.

Other cloud-based services are also very important to me. I use Google Drive when I have others that will be collaborating on word processing and spreadsheet documents with me. I use iCloud mail, calendar, and address book so that those apps can be synced across my devices.

I still use some traditional kinds of software as well. I use Apple’s Keynote for Mac to make visual aids for my workshops and presentations. Apple’s Pages come in handy for making handouts and infographics. For my videos, I use Screenflow. It’s primarily screen casting software, but I use it for my more. I allows for layering of videos and images, so it’s perfect for overlaying information and images on top my video.

What would be you dream setup?

I’m so lucky in that I am living with my dream setup today. My dream is that all teachers and students can feel just as empowered as I do.

While I’m pleased to show off my shiny gadgets, it’s what I can do with them that I am most proud of. They’ve helped me learn, craft presentations, construct infographics, contribute to blogs, podcast, make videos, and develop apps (watch for them later this year).Whether I’m at home or on the road, I’m thrilled that I have the tools to communicate, collaborate, and create no matter where I am.

Nathan Hall: English Language Teacher

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Nathan Hall and I am an English language teacher for a private language school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I typically teach eitherhigher level students or business English. You can find more information about me and what I do on my website, or on my latest obsession, Twitter.

What hardware are you using?

I am a bit old school, mostly due to financial reasons. I tend to hang on to my equipment a lot longer than the average user. My main computer is my trusty old 12″ aluminum G4 PowerBook which has been with me for about 6.5 years now. I plan on retiring it this summer with either a MacBook Pro or Air. I am leaning towards the 11″ Air since I take my laptop everywhere I go. I would consider an iPad, but I still have things I do on the laptop that wouldn’t work as well on the iPad.

I also have an old 80GB iPod Classic that is my constant companion during my commute to work. I just finished my MA TESOL as a distance program and the iPod was my note reader, slide viewer, lecture playing class on the go. It also is my video and audio player in class as well as holder of all sorts of documents for work. If it dies, I may shed a tear or two.

At school, I hold my class in the business classroom which has 15 older Windows XP Dell desktops that are showing their age. Still, they have internet access and that is pretty much all I need in my class.

I also have access to a SmartBoard which has to be shared amongst all the teachers. Still, it is nice to have in such a small school.

And what software?

I am true believer in using online, cloud-based tools in the classroom. Since I have full access in my classroom all the time, I want my students to be using tools that they could use on their own machines without any installation. I use a wide variety of tools (as listed on my Diigo account), but I have a few primary sites that get constant use.

Our class website uses Posterous since it is free, can be used by the students, can embed anything without any plugins, and can have a variety of administrators and contributors. I also like the fact the students can submit posts by just emailing them in.

Another widely used tool is TitanPad (a form of Etherpad) in which I administer the class group and assign pages to each students, groups of students, or as a class page. For those who aren’t familiar with TitanPad, it is a real-time collaborative document editor that is totally free to use and can be password protected without having the students register or give out personal details. That is really important to me since all of my students are in my class for a short time and are not always wiling to give their information away online. Google Docs would work well if we were a Google school, but it would be a nightmare to administer with all the student changes that occur on a weekly basis.

I use a number of collaboration tools as well as various audio and visual tools such as Vocaroo and Screencast-O-Matic. Every tool I use in my class is free and doesn’t require the student to register to use.

Personally, I love Twitter. I primarily use it for professional development and for connecting with educators from around the world. I can’t believe it took me this long to get on board.

What would your dream set up be?

I would love to have a laptop or tablet cart that could be used in various classes. This would allow other teachers to make use of this technology instead of having to wait to use it once or twice a month. We could share these tools on any given day and in their normal classroom. I would also love to see us open up the restrictions on using cell phones in the classroom. I am working on that one. This would allow the students to use these tools on their own devices and would make it easier for them to continue their work outside the walls of the classroom. Oh, and I want a faster internet connection. This restriction of a maximum of 3 students using streaming video at one time is killing me. Because of that, I have to download the videos and then put them on the network drive for students to use. It is a bit of pain for me, but makes it an insurmountable problem for less tech saavy teachers.