Tag Archives: interative whiteboard

Mischievous Mouses

mouse locked by chain

Unlock your mouse!

I occasionally get emails from people looking for a little exposure for a new product or service.  Excluding the copious spam, I do appreciate the interest in my blog, though most of these messages miss the mark.  I won’t write about something unless I actually see it as useful.  Fortunately, I recently received something useful in my inbox.  From Microsoft.  It’s called Mouse Mischief.

After watching the video on the homepage, I’m intrigued.  Mouse Mischief allows a teacher to connect up to 15 mice to one computer.  If each student has a wireless mouse they can all interact on the screen at the same time.  Each mouse can have a different cursor, so a teacher can ask a question and have students mouse-over the answer.  Students can also perform other mouse functions like drawing and clicking from their seats.  Teachers can even track which students answer correctly as well as how often and how quickly.

I like this idea because it’s a bit like clickers, which give each student the ability to answer a question by pushing a button, and a bit like an interactive whiteboard, which allow students to interact collaboratively with the screen.

Of course, moving a mouse on top of a desk is not the same experience as actually touching a touchscreen.  And wireless mice aren’t free, though Microsoft conveniently links to some which start at about $20 —  plan on about $300 to be fully outfitted, assuming you already have a computer and a projector in your classroom.  Plus the software, which is free to download, only works with certain versions of some of their products (PowerPoint 2007 and 2010, for example).

Microsoft seems to be taking the right path by encouraging teachers to upload their best lesson plans so that teachers can collaborate on the best uses of this technology.  Will it be the next “big thing”?  I’m not sure it will, but it’s an innovative use of an old technology.  And if using one mouse is good, I’d like to see what can be done with 10 or 12 of them.

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Smartboard Trials and Tribulations

Last quarter I received a Smartboard to use for the quarter on a trial basis via the TELR Smart SEED program at Ohio State. I’ve been really impressed with how smoothly the Smartboard works as an interface.  Compared to the $50 Wii-based version, the Smartboard requires much less calibration and feels more natural without the LED pen.  In short, it’s a really slick product.  However, the sheer size of the portable version has been a big barrier to me.

Unfortunately, as you can see / hear in the above video, the model I was given was a bit awkward to move and we were not able to find a good place to store it aside from leaving it in the classroom, which was not secure.  I did manage to find a couple of rooms that had permanently mounted Smartboards, which were fantastic, but I wasn’t actually able to regularly use the one I was given.

It would be great to have a Smartboard in every room, but this is a huge initial investment.  Before making this committment, we need to decide that this is a worthwhile investment.  To make this decision, we should give teachers experience with them.  I think this catch-22 can be solved by distributing the $50 Wiimote-based version to decide if it’s worth making the larger committment.

There are lots of articles out there that talk about how interactive whiteboards are transformative, but when you read through the examples of how the technology is used, many of the examples do not fully exploit the technology (i.e. writing can be done on a traditional whiteboard, movies can be projected on a traditional screen).

So, I’m going back to encouraging teachers to build and use $50 interactive whiteboard, but I’m also going to encourage them to use Smartboards, if they are available.  (Another alternative would be to combine the Smartboard software with the Wii-mote-based hardware, but the Smarttech requires a separate license to do this.)

I’m compiling uses for interactive whiteboards by tagging them with me Delicious account (see them at http://delicious.com/eslchill/iwb).  If you have ideas for innovative uses, please share them.  The technology can be transformational, but I’m not sure we’ve found the “killer app” yet.

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Interface with the Future

I’ve been thinking about interfaces for a while. Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) probably got be thinking in this direction, and the recent announcement of the motion sensing Project Natal for the Xbox has finally pushed me to write about them.

Note the fine print: actual features and function may vary.

As computers have evolved, so have the interfaces we use to interact with them.  To give you an idea of my own personal timeline, I have no experience programming on punchcards, but I do remember the pre-GUI days.  The mouse has become ubiquitous, but what comes next?  Here are some possible answers:

Interactive Whiteboards: These are pretty heavily documented on this blog and elsewhere.  Here, the user can interact with the display, making the mouse and, to an extent, the keyboard unnecessary.

Slap widgets: Physical tools to be used with IWBs and the like, further blurring the line between the physical and the virtual.  (Watch the video!)

Siftables: An interesting miniaturization of an IWB-type interface with the added bonus that each mini screen can interact with the others.  If each Siftable had a letter or a word, how could they be used to teach English?

MIT’s Sixth Sense: This video went viral a few months ago, but keeps popping up.  Why can’t your computer interface with the physical world?  It soon may.

Wii & Natal: Nintendo has enjoyed blockbuster sales of it’s Wii gaming system which features motion-sensitive controllers.  Now, Microsoft has unveiled the same thing with Natal, but no controllers are needed.

Do it yourself interfaces: In addition to making your own IWB using a Wiimote, other examples include the Beatbearing, in which ball-bearings are used to sequence electronic drum beats, a modified Nintendo Powerglove, which upgrades late 1980s virtual reality technology, and a giant Katamari ball controller, which is a controller designed and built specifically for the game Katamari, in which players roll a ball through an environment which attracts more stuff (litter, park benches, people, their pets, etc.).  The makers of each of these interfaces have posted detailed plans and instructions online so that you can build and modify your own.

Move over visual learners, kinesthetic learners are about to have their day.  And why not?  Why should  simply watch something when we can interact with it in more natural ways?  The next generation of computer interfaces promises to expand our idea of how we relate to computers.

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Random Choices from my Interactive Whiteboard

The slot-machine interface with big blue buttons makes randomly choosing students fun -- especially on an interactive whiteboard.

The slot-machine interface with big blue buttons makes randomly choosing students fun -- especially on an interactive whiteboard.

I finally had a chance to crack open one of Sanfields’ free flash resources for teachers (which I’ve blogged about before) and everything worked great.

I had been looking for a reason to incorporate Les Rouleaux and found it when we started a unit on Negotiation.

As you can see, Les Rouleaux is a slot-machine inspired interface which spins and stops randomly after a button is pushed.  The example on the Sanfields website randomly chooses a kind of weather, a kind of clothing, and an activity.  This can be used in any number of ways (practicing vocabulary, writing sentences, etc.).

The best part about this activity (and most others on Sanfields) is that they are editable.  In this case, you can exchange, edit, or create your own slot-machine reels.  (Each reel is a .jpg image with 15 images measuring 120 x 125 pixels.)  Complete instructions and the files you need to download are all on the website.

In my example, I created a reel with my students’ pictures, which I used for the first and third reels, and another that had the styles of negotiation we had been studying (win-win and hard / soft).  The two students who were selected by the slot-machine had to roleplay a negotiation in the style that was selected for them.

Because I don’t have 15 students in my class, I created “Students’ Choice” and “Teacher’s Choice” squares to fill in the remaining spaces.  Also, obviously, I have blurred my students faces in my example to protect their privacy.

My students really enjoyed incorporating this activity into our classroom.  Granted, it’s a bit indulgent.  I could have pulled names out of a hat and I could have clicked the buttons on my laptop instead of the interactive whiteboard, but students did enjoy this richer, more interactive experience.

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169 Interesting Ways to Use Technology

A wordle of this blog post.

A wordle of this blog post.

Recently, I’ve come across two excellent presentations for using both of these technologies. Both were created by Tom Barrett, a teacher in Nottingham, England, that I follow on Twitter, another technology I recently blogged about. (You can follow Tom on Twitter, too, if you have a free Twitter account.)

I’ve blogged for a while about Interactive Whiteboards now, especially the $50 build-it-yourself version which is based on the Nintendo Wiimote.  I’ve also highlighted Wordle as an interesting way to visualize language.  I’m going to focus on the presentations on these two topics, but Tom also has presentations on Google Earth, Google Docs, Pocket Videos, and Twitter if you’re interested.

Thirty-Eight Interesting Ways to use your Interactive Whiteboard focuses on Smartboards, but includes lots of great ideas for most IWBs from basic shortcut functions to advanced techniques such as having students write on the board and then, instead of erasing, creating a presentation on Slideshare.net or a Google Presentation that can then be uploaded to the class blog for students to review.  Great idea!

Thirty Interesting Ways to use Wordle in the Classroom covers a wide range of ideas appropriate for many different subjects.  Some suggestions are pretty obvious, such as doing a simple lexical analysis of different texts: student created, children’s stories, literary works, etc.  Others are quite innovative, such as photocopying a wordle with white words on a black background onto a transparency and having students come to the overhead projector and color nouns one color, verbs another, and so on.  This presentation is sure to spark some great ideas.

All of these presentations are Google docs, so you’ll need to sign up for a free Google account to view them, if you don’t have one.  Tom has compiled these tips and ideas from the suggestions of several teachers and even offers information on contributing your tips at the end of each presentation.  His contact information is at the end of the presentations.  Get in touch with him  if you have something to contribute.

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Mashable Interactive Whiteboard Activites

Body parts.

Body parts.

I recently followed a tweet (a message on Twitter) from Dai Barnes to his Diigo bookmark list (Diigo is like Delicious, but you can annotate pages with highlighters, etc.) and found several interesting resources.  The most immediately useful was Sanfields Free Flash Resources for Teachers.

This site links to several popular classroom games including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune, and Matching, all of which pull questions from an XML file, which means they can be customized for your words and phrases!  Instructional videos for doing this are linked from the website.

There are also some handy little gizmos like a clickable traffic light, which could be used to give non-verbal feedback to students, and a customizable wheel of fortune for making random choices, picking teams, questions, etc.

There are also a few games tailored specifically to the interactive whiteboard-equipped classroom.  One of these is a fridge magnet letters game which allows students to drag and drop letters of their choosing.  Another, which I think is even more ingenious, is called Rouleaux.  It works like a slot machine with three spinning reels (a two-reel version is also available) which randomly selects topics from a given category.  The results of each spin can be used to generate ideas for roleplaying, impromtu speeches, and many other activities.  Again, the best part is that the game is cutomizable; You can choose different combinations of reels (for example, the “body” reel at left) and even create your own.  How great!

I’m thrilled to have found activities that are so customizable.  Being able to adapt and change them makes these resources exponentially more valuable.

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Interactive Whiteboard FAQ (Wii)

Ivan just got back from TESOL, where the Wiimote-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard was very well received.  We started talking about some of the questions that were asked which lead to this post: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the $50 Interactive Whiteboard.

How much does it cost? / Is it really only $50?
The controller for the Nintento Wii is for sale throughout the United States for $40.  You can build an infrared pen for $5-6.  The software is free to download.  The cost of the computer, projector, and Bluetooth adapter (if your computer does not have built-in Bluetooth) are not included in the $50.

I can’t make my own infrared pen.  Can I buy one?
Absolutely.  Do a Google search and you will find several options starting as low as $6.

Do I have to modify the Wiimote? / Can I still use it with my Wii?
No / Yes.  The Wiimote connects to the computer via Bluetooth, the same way it connects to the Wii.  You don’t have to open the Wiimote, break it, or reprogram it.  So, if you (or your kids) have a Wii, you can use the equipment you already have for both purposes.

Can I take a Wiimote and infrared pen in my carry-on luggage?
You mean if you’re flying to a conference to make a presentation?  It turns out you can.  Both Ivan and I have recently carried these devices onto flights and had no problems at all.

How do I know if my infrared pen is working?
Check it with the camera on a cell phone.

How do I get started?
Download the free software (Mac version or PC version), build an infrared pen (see my demo) or buy one online, connect to the Wiimote via Bluetooth (open your Bluetooth devices, push the 1 and 2 buttons on the Wiimote, add the device), run the software, calibrate it (push the “calibrate button,” click on the targets), and you are done.

How do I set it up?
Place the Wiimote so that it is at least as high as the midpoint of the screen and aimed at the center of the screen.  It should be at a 45 degree angle from the surface of the screen on either the left or right side, depending on how you write — you don’t want to block the Wiimote’s view of the pen with your hand.  The Wiimote should be placed far enough away (usually about 10 feet) to be able to “see” the whole screen.  You’re ready to calibrate (see above).

What should I do?  My writing is choppy. / My Wiimote can’t see my pen. / There are too many infrared dots!
If your writing is choppy or your pen seems to stutter, try adjusting the “smoothness” on the PC version.  Mac users have fewer options.  Quit as many other applications as you can and / or try moving the Wiimote closer to the screen and recalibrating.
If your Wiimote can’t see your pen, check that the Wiimote is connected to your computer and that your pen is working.  Assuming everything is working properly, you probably need to reposition your Wiimote so that it can see the entire screen.  The Mac version allows you to track infrared dots that the Wiimote sees, which is helpful, but both versions tell you how many dots are visible.  Try the pen at all four corners to make sure it is visible.  If not, move the Wiimote and try again.
If you are seeing too many infrared dots, you may be picking up interference.  I’ve gotten infrared interference from overhead incandescent lighting.  Try moving the Wiimote around to see if you can identify the source of the interference and then eliminate it (in my case, I turned off those lights).

Hope this helps.  If you have a question that does not appear on this list, leave it as a comment and I’ll answer it and / or add it to the list.

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