Using a digital camera with a 3 year old (and older learners)

A lot of people in education are using the various forms of cheap, easy to use cameras – with the arguement that the fact that they are so easy to use (just press big red button to record/stop) is one less barrier to technology. But I personally haven’t got on with them, their inability to zoom, the low quality of the output, the poor sound etc I think outweighs their ease of use, and I am of the opinion that buying a standard compact camera that does photographs and video is a viable option. Some will argue that as these don’t have the built in USB connector you have to mess around with cables – but the simple solution to that is to permanently attach the cable to the camera, using a cable tie and adhesive cable tie mount.

We have purchased one such camera (£40) for our kids (aged 5,3,and 1) and the oldest 2 have worked out how to turn the camera on, how to take photos, how to zoom, how to view what they have done, and how to switch the camera off – so if a 3 year old can manage these things, then I think even the most technophobic adults could manage this.

Last night I was helping my 5 year old son with his homework, and they were doing 2D and 3D shapes. I had been asked to go around the home with him seeing how many shapes he could find, name and then draw. We tried this at first but he wasn’t very excited by this, so I suggested that he went round with the camera and photographed different shapes. This was much more exciting – he knows where the camera is kept, so fetched it himself, set it up, and took the photos without any input from me. I then uploaded them into PowerPoint, resized and printed to stick into his book (where he could then name and draw). Below is the output of this exercise.

Using a camera with a 5 year old

Using a camera with a 5 year old

There are so many examples in education of how we can quickly use cameras for an exercise, and with most learners in FE and HE owning phones with cameras built in, we don’t even need to provide them with the cameras.

Access Apps – CommonCraft style

Access Apps appeared on the scene about a year ago, and I hav used it in may training sessions since then, and think it is a superb tool. The people that developed this (The 2 Scottish RSCs) have put togther a video in the style of CommonCraft videos, explaining the principles of this software.

The suite of software has now been expanded to include LearnerApps (for mainstream learners), TeachApps for teaching and support staff and an option to create your own package called MyApps. These different suites are now packaged as Eduapps

The Polaroid PoGo Printer


The Polaroid PoGo Printer

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

I have recently purchased (from eBay) a Polaroid PoGo printer for less than £20. For those that haven’t seen them, these are small portable battery powered printers (about the size of a £10 note or a pack of cards) that you can connect to a computer, directly to a camera or via Bluetooth and will print an image that is 3” X 2” in colour onto Polaroid paper that is a self adhesive sticker.

OK so the picture isn’t very big, and the quality is good but not what you get from normal processing means, but this still could have various uses within education – especially when out and about and carrying a bigger printer isn’t practical (especially outside where electricity isn’t available).

Ideas for use

  1. NVQ assessing – An assessor going into a work place to assess a learner, can carry this in their pocket – if they see something that is worth capturing – take a photo, print it out there and then and the learner can stick it straight into a portfolio of evidence. The assessor still has the image on their camera or phone for their records, or to be printed in higher quality later – but the instantness of this process will help the learner to reflect on the image there and then.
  2. Field trips – You have taken a group of students on a field trip, most of them have phones which take photos – so set them a task to photo something relevant to the study (e.g. example of acid erosion on a limestone pavement, example of a health and safety hazard etc…) then at lunch time the learners pass the printer around to print their images ready for further discussion.
  3. Reflective practice from presentations – A learner has delivered a presentation as part of a course – during the presentation you take a series of photos, showing their position in relation to the group etc. You then print out the ‘best’ photo and ask the learner to critically evaluate what they are doing at that point in time (which could be having their backs to people, having hands in pockets, slouching etc.)
  4. Creating ‘activity cards’ in an unknown environment – When I taught I often created packs of cards with keywords or images on them that were then used in various ways to teach a topic – but these were always done in advance and relied on me knowing what the activity was going to be. If I was on a class visit somewhere that I wasn’t familiar with, then on arrival I could photograph a series of images (e.g. health and safety equipment around the site, examples of were adaptions had been made for disabled users, examples of marketing etc) then print these out, and I have an activity that I can use later in the day at the site.

I am sure that there are other examples and ideas, and hopefully as the technology improves the cost of the paper will come down (at the moment it is about 20p per print) – and equipment like this can be of great educational value.

What has happened to pride in the workplace?

In the last 3 weeks I have spent numerous days being trained for different projects in different hotels in London (all hotels being part of large well known chains) and one thing that has struck me over the last few weeks is bar 1, the quality of the food has been appallingly bad.

Someone in each of these hotels is responsible for putting this food out on the serving counter – so the question I ask myself is what pride have they got in what they do. I have had no catering of chef training, and consider myself to be a reasonable cook, but nothing special, yet I could have prepared and served better food than what we received – why? Because I take pride in my work, and it doesn’t matter what I do in my work I will always be proud of my outputs.

Sometimes people find my pride annoying as this in turn leads into an attention for detail and a pursuit of very high standards, but that is what drives me and motivates me. So why don’t other people have this characteristic? Has it been driven out of them by the education system? Has the desire to increase bottom line profits pushed pride and quality out of the working culture? Or is it purely something that is genetic (my dad and both sisters have exactly the same traits even though we work(ed) in completely different areas).

I don’t know the answers to the previous 3 questions, I just wish that more people shared my passion, and that changes in the education system over the coming years will help bring pride back into peoples working lives.

Using a Short Throw projector with a SmartBoard

Yesterday I was up at my old employer – The University of Derby, running 2 sessions on Mind Genius for students that will be starting at the University in a few weeks time.

When I arrived at the room I was pleased to see that they had improved the facilities from the previous year including a SmartBoard with a short throw projector and the whole thing on wheels. This was the first time that I had used this particular arrangement – and it worked really well.

Firstly the board was perfectly calibrated – often with SmartBoards that are fixed with a seperate projector – they are slightly out, and even doing the usual re-calibration, I find that in the corners of the boards you still have a slight problem. But with this set up the calibration was spot on, making it so much easier to use.

Secondly – I could move the board to different positions – in my first session I had a small group, who naturally filled up from the back – but thanks to the presence of a wireless mouse and keyboard, and a reasonable length of cable connecting the board to the computer  I could pull the board about 2m into the room bringing me closer to the group and saving me having to shout. Then part way through the sun came out, and blanched the screen – (a problem that room always had) – but fear not, turn the board slightly and I had removed the problem. In my second session I had a bigger group and 2 deaf students with 2 interpreters – I was then able to position the board completely differently to make it as easy as possible for the deaf students to see the board and their computers and their interpreters – something that I couldn’t have done with a wall mounted system.

The only thing that could have been done to improve the system, was the ability to alter the height of the board (which some systems allow) so that people who are shorter than me, can drop the board slightly so that they can reach the top of it, but apart from that it was a real pleasure to use, and I hope that other users apply the same thoughts that I did and are prepared to move the board into the room, twist it slightly, think about their audience etc, as this is where having it on wheels really gives an extra option.

Being talked at just doesn’t work for me!

Last week I  spent 3 days being trained (by 2 different organisations) in preparation for a programme that I will be working on this year. I will start by stating that compared to previous experiences the training was actually quite good, with excellent communicators, well paced presentations, ample time for breaks and networking – but (and this is a big but) the training was probably 80-90% being talked at (and often accompanied by badly produced PowerPoint slides).

Now this model of training doesn’t work for me at all – I need to do things – I cannot just listen and absorb information, I need to do something with that information in order to fully understand it, comprehend it, and be able to use it, and I am sure that I am not alone in being this way. I do my best, by having my laptop with me, and recording the information into a Mind Map – which helps me to stay focussed, gives me a permanent record of my notes and the process of creating the map is itself an example of me ‘using’ the information (much more so than just writing it down on paper in the order that it happens to come out of the presenters mouth), but after 3 days, even this wasn’t enough.

I am not the sort of person that gives criticism without ever suggesting improvements so what could have been done differently?

Give me the presentation electronically

We were given printed handouts of the PowerPoint presentations – but for me, I would rather have it in electronic format – that way I can make notes into the Presentation itself as we go along – this is much easier for me to manage and keep for the future, as well as allowing me to spend more time processing the information, rather than just copying out (either onto paper or typing) the information that is in the presentation.

Pre-prepare some of the information into a video

There were times over the 3 days, where the different presenters were giving ‘standard’ talks that they obviously do over and over again – and quite often spent 10 minutes saying what could have been said in about 3 minutes. In these cases, that person could have created a short, planned video of what they wanted to say. When people do this, they tend to say less than when they are stood in front of a live audience – which means that it is often more concise, can be referred to at a later date if necessary and breaks up the monotony of the day. Having played and watched the video – you then have a chance for a few questions – a far more engaging model than just ‘preaching’

Make use of the audience’s skill

All of the people that were in the audience were (or should have been from the application process) experienced educators and trainers – but this wasn’t recognised in the training, as we were regularly told things that we do naturally – With ‘train the trainer’ type training, things need to be changed to cater for the different audiences skills.

Don’t just read out printed information

For all 3 days training there was some very good printed resources to accompany the training – which was great – they were well written, easy to use and a good resource for me to use over the coming year. But for some reason the trainers felt the need to in essence read the resources to me. OK I am not the quickest of readers – but I can read, so that was just wasted time. Letting me quietly read the information and then doing something with it would have been far more useful.

Rant over!

Quickly creating a Google Map from a Spreadsheet of data

I think that Google Maps are a really useful tool, and everytime that I need to visit somewhere new, the first thing I do is put the postcode into Google Maps, and save the location. This way if I visit that town or city again, but to a different location I can see where the new location is in relation to the previous one, which helps me with my navigating. I recognise that many will use their in car sat nav systems, but because I mainly use the train I still use paper maps for these purposes.

One thing though that I have found hard in the past, is uploading lots of points to a map – which done manually takes an age, so I was relieved when I found a technique that does this for me.

We start of by using http://www.batchgeocode.com/ which looks a bit scary on first inspection, but is OK once you have used it a few times. Here are the steps to follow

  1. Create a spreadsheet with your table of information in – it can have whatever you want in there, as long as the postcode is in its own column, and the top row are column headings
  2. Copy the contents of your table (highlight and Ctrl-C) – including the column headings – Go back to http://www.batchgeocode.com/ and paste into the ‘table’ in step 2
  3. Validate the code by clicking the button
  4. In step 4 you tell it, what information to include and where – so for example next to ‘PostCode’  choose the post code column from your table – and for ‘Title’ Choose whatever you want the point on the map to be called. It may take a few attempts to get these settings right, but after a few goes makes sense.
  5. Run the geocoder by pressing the button – this will create a table similar to above, but with 2 extra columns giving longitudinal and latitudinal GPS co-ordinates
  6. At the bottom of Step 6, you should see your map, and below it a button to ‘Download to Google Earth (KML) file’ – click on this
  7. Save the KML file somewhere (e.g. desktop)
  8. Go to Google Maps
  9. if you don’t have a Google Account you may need to create 1, if you already have one, then go to My Maps
  10. Create a New Map
  11. Choose the mport option at the top left of the screen
  12. Browse to find the KML file that you found earlier
  13. And as if by magic, your map appears.

This I find very useful.