Science CPD (continuing professional development) Science Websites

laptopScience websites provide two opportunities – access to content to keep subject knowledge up to date, and specific information about teaching science.  Many of these are written by teachers for other teachers – often as a blog (a website where entries are in date order).  Note as with Twitter, not every article you read on these sites may be Science related.

I’ve listed below some of the more useful science websites I’ve found – if you know of any I’ve missed off, do add them in the comments below.

Some of the websites will offer you RSS feeds (with a little orange symbol) which means you can read updates from these sites without having to visit them – you just need an RSS reader.  Google Reader is my RSS feed reader of choice – you simply ask Reader to follow the sites you are interested in and you can read the updates for all the websites you subscribe to within one tool (from any computer).  Look here for helpful videos.

You can click here and see the articles I’ve read  and thought were worth sharing (and you can even subscribe to this list in Google Reader!).

Feel free to leave a comment or use the ‘Contact Me’ option if you have any questions.

Science CPD (continuing professional development) Using online communities

The best kind of CPD I’ve experienced comes from other practitioners.   Online communities provide an opportunity to interact with other teachers at a home and place convenient to you.  Ideas, resources and video can all be shared online.  I’ve list below the two most useful ways I’ve found of interacting with other teachers online.

TES online

The Science forum on the TES (Times Educational Supplement) has plenty of enthusiastic teachers who are willing to answer queries, share good practice and act as a sounding board for your ideas.  The board is organised as a series of topics, and you can either start a new topic or respond to an existing topic.  The board can be used anonymously so you don’t have to reveal your identity if you are afraid to show your ignorance.

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Twitter

Twitter is a website that lets you post short messages (140 characters or less).  People follow you and you follow other people – you can direct questions to individuals by putting @theirtwitterID at the start of a message.  To make twitter easier to use, you can use a third party program like Tweetdeck (which can also post Facebook and other updates for you too!).

Follow me on twitter and say hello – I’m cleverfiend (because fiendishlyclever was too long to be my user ID)

To speed things up I’ve created lists of the science teachers I follow on Twitter (note that the teachers may talk/twitter about other topics as well as science).  You can simply follow my lists and therefore follow the same professionals that I do.

Science teachers in the UK

Science teachers outside the UK

A word of warning about Twitter.  You hear some teachers raving about twitter saying its the best thing since sliced bread and how their PLN (personal learning network) helps them develop as a teacher.  I find it’s like shouting in the wind.  The signal to noise ratio is extremely low, and many of the teachers on twitter (including many of the ones I follow) are only there because they like to hear the sound of their own voice rather than to engage in meaningful dialogue.  I do stick with it though because it has proved to be useful on several occasions.

There are many other educators on Twitter as well as science teachers.  Once you find someone you like have a look at the people they follow and follow some of them yourself.   You can search Twitter for the #ASEchat tag – these are all posts (Tweets) by science educators using the Association of Science Education hashtag (#ASEChat).

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Others

There are fan pages on Facebook but I’ve yet to find anything of value for CPD.  You can also engage in discussion with individuals through their blogs by leaving comments.  I know online communities have been set up in the past using the Ning platform but the people who run these tend to be ‘tech hippies’ jumping on every bandwagon that comes along rather than an overworked science teacher!

Let me know if you find a good online community that I haven’t mentioned – I would love to hear about it.

Using Delicious(.com) to search for useful teaching resources

This is a piece I wrote for the regional newsletter of the Association of Science Education.

Using Delicious(.com) to search for useful teaching resources.

Delicious is a social bookmarking site owned by Yahoo!  You can save, share and discover bookmarks with other people.  Because the opportunities to interact using this service are quite limited, it is often allowed in schools where other social sites are filtered out. Delicious is extremely useful for teachers and can be used in two main ways.

Saving and organising your bookmarks.

When planning lessons from home, if I find a resource that will be useful to me in future I save it to delicious (sometimes with a note of explanation).  This means I can access my list of bookmarks from home and school.  I now also have an online backup of my bookmarks in case my laptop dies.  When you save your bookmarks you can choose if you want them to be private or public.  Public bookmarks are very useful because you can share them with colleagues and even students.  All I have to do is give students the web address to my delicious page  (delicious.com/fiendishlyclever) and they can look through my bookmarks to find the site they want.  More tech savvy teachers can embed this list on the school VLE as a way of sharing links very simply with students.

Searching for new resources and information

People only bookmark sites that are worth revisiting.  Searching the collected bookmarks of users from across the world should return better and more useful sites than just searching Google.  Simply visit the delicious.com main page and use the search box at the top.  Search results (example below) also show how many people have bookmarked each site and key words (tags) added to the bookmark when it was saved.  The search will also return any sites that match the search query in your personal collection.  (There is a save button next to each bookmark so you can save it to your personal list if you find the site useful)

Whilst many teachers do use Delicious to save and share links, many forget that it has tremendous value as a search tool.

Online file sync – USB flash drive replacement software for teachers

FreeFileSync File sync programs can replace the carrying of USB flash drives.  You simply install the software on your home and work computers, and then when you change a file on one computer the file is copied into the cloud and changed on the other computers that are in the sync relationship.  This saves carrying an unreliable and old fashioned USB flash drive that you have to remember to back up.

A while ago I blogged that I used Windows Live Mesh (beta) for syncing files between home and work.  I’d recently got fed up of the huge wait on boot up while live mesh indexed files on my hard drive and I decided to try some alternatives.  These are my thoughts on the software products I tried:

Microsoft Live Mesh Dropbox Jungledisk
Included storage 5Gb 2Gb 5Gb
(no free option)
Ability to expand storage for a monthly fee n/a 50Gb $9.99
100Gb $19.99
$3 per month +
$0.15 per Gb (plus transfer fees for Amazon storage)
File conflict resolution yes yes basic (renames file with conflict)
Retain cloud backup of deleted files no 30 days 30 days
Online encryption (with own key) no no yes
Other software features remote desktop to control other PCs on same mesh account can also do cloud based backup of files (non-syncing)
Referral scheme to increase free space no yes no
USB version no yes yes
Access to files through a web interface yes yes Not for sync
Icon on windows explorer to show if file is synced no yes yes
Supported platforms Windows Windows, Mac, Linux Windows, Mac, Linux
History of synced files yes yes no
Website link link
(following this link gets you 250Mb bonus space)
link

So which did I choose?  There was little difference in transfer speed and overall functionality between products.  Live Mesh took an age to start up (whether from boot or resuming from hibernation) but the other two pieces of software made little noticeable difference to start up times.

At the moment I’m using Jungledisk (I’m on an old plan and only pay the storage fees, not the monthly fee) and I feel safer knowing my documents are securely encrypted in the cloud.  The only catch is the lack of conflict resolution which has to be checked manually at regular intervals.

There are many cloud-based file sync products out there, and I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has tried one of the products above or one similar (e.g. sugarsync) for use by teachers.

Update:  I’ve moved to Dropbox because of the relaunch of Microsoft Live Mesh (with corresponding moving goal posts), and I kept getting file conflicts in Jungledisk.  I found Dropbox was extremely reliable and I’ve got my storage limit up to 6Gb with referrals.  Dropbox also links with other services like PixelPipe, providing alternative ways of getting content into your Dropbox.  Remember to follow my referral link to DropBox if you haven’t got an account already – you get extra storage space!

Streaming my music library over the internet to work

At home I have a Buffalo Linkstation NAS (network attached storage) box which has a backup of my iTunes library on it.  It shares this music library locally using its built in media server (mt.daap) and it always shows up in iTunes on my laptops, and on my O2 Joggler.

I wondered if it would be possible to access this resource from anywhere on the internet (as the networked drive is always powered on).  The answer was yes, and this is how you do it over an encrypted ssh tunnel (it was quite simple once I had the right software).  It does rely on you having a device running openssh (you can add this to older versions of the Linkstation, or on a separate machine).  I haven’t exposed my network storage box directly to the internet because anyone could stream my music for free.

  • Make sure you know the ip address of the Buffalo linkstation on the local network (e.g. 192.168.1.3) and that streaming works fine from iTunes on your local network.
  • You need a copy of Putty (I won’t explain how to configure ssh and putty to work together).  There are some pointers on my blog post here.  Set up putty to forward port 3689 to your NAS box as shown below:

  • Download the daap plugin for Songbird (you will have to edit the install.rdf file to stop it saying that it can’t be run with the current version.  Simply rename the installation package to a zip file, open the file and edit max version to 1.5, then save and rename the plugin package back to an xpi file)
  • Start up Putty and then Songbird.  From the File menu on Songbird add a new daap source at 127.0.0.1
  • After downloading a list of songs available, your library should be ready for streaming over the internet

Please feel free to comment/contact me if you have any questions. Tutorials for setting up SSH to connect to your own network are available all over the internet – please don’t contact me about SSH if you haven’t read a tutorial first!

Learning online – what can we learn from online conferencing?

I’d signed up to do an Edexcel training event online (because I had no intention of driving for hours for a two hour event).  Although I’d used Skype for conversations and Flash Meeting for video meetings I’d not had experience of any professional CPD being delivered virtually.

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The training was delivered using a piece of conferencing software called Saba.  The session itself was very slick (despite the presenter not being fully familiar with the software) but not as interactive as a face-to-face session.  With yes/no buttons to signal our understanding (and laughter/applause buttons to convey some emotion) the presentation flowed quickly, with participants clicking on the raise hand button if they had a question (and they were duly ‘handed’ the microphone).

Saba

I found the session enjoyable, useful and was glad that I hadn’t needed to travel, but I began to wonder if a system like this could have any value in the classroom (or even replace the classroom).

Reasons for

Reasons against

  • A new approach is likely to motivate and interest students
  • Sessions are recordable for evidence
  • Chance to involve a wider audience or range of participants
  • Live audio commentary to accompany pictures helps hold interest and lower literacy requirements
  • Can record feedback and feed it straight into a spreadsheet (like a voting system)
  • Learning curve involved in using technology
  • Need good quality technical support and functional hardware (some participants didn’t have a working headset)
  • Need to establish etiquette
  • How do you check on your participants’ learning?
  • Only suitable for groups that ‘want to learn’
  • No body language to interpret in either direction.
  • requires a significant investment in hardware and network infrastructure
  • how do you encourage students with low self-esteem to speak up? (or do you build them up using the text chat & yes/no buttons?)
  • How about lessons that don’t revolve around a presentation?
  • How do you get students to interact and discuss with each other?

Whilst online conferencing (video and audio) is suited to dissemination of information and CPD events, it isn’t ready for teaching or replacing the classroom yet.  Technology will have to evolve significantly before the job of the teacher is under threat.  Online conferencing made me realise the importance of face to face contact with your learners, their interaction with each other and how different teaching strategies contribute to learning in the classroom.

Have you used online conferencing with learners? What software did you use and how did it go?  I’d be interested to read your comments.

Software and websites I couldn’t do without

prod0Following the posts I’ve read by Doug Belshaw and others, I had a think about which software/websites I use on a regular basis.  I try to match my software at home and work since it makes me more productive – but I’m sometimes limited by the fact we run clunky old Windows XP on our school laptops.

 

Firefox

I know Chrome is quicker but every time I use Chrome I end up moving back to Firefox.  I love the extensions/plugins available for Firefox and have a very similar set on both home and work computers.

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Firefox extensions I have on both PCs.

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Adblock Plus With the emergence of flash-advert malware and the intrusive adverts on some sites (The Register I mean you!) this became a must have.
Shareaholic Excellent for posting links to Twitter, Gmail, Facebook and Delicious.  Replaced a whole host of extensions.
Smart Toolmarks bar Allows me to have a bookmark bar with no text, just FavIcons
Weave Syncs my bookmarks, history and tabs with work.  Still not sure about this one – I’m still evaluating it.
Xmarks Sync bookmarks and passwords between my computers.  Might replace it with LastPass or remove it all together if Weave works out
Hide Menubar Gives extra screen estate by hiding the menu-bar (pressing ALT brings it back)
Master Password Timeout On my work PC only.  My passwords are protected by a Firefox Master password.  This extension adds a timeout to that feature so if I leave my laptop unattended it will lock out my passwords.

 

Live Mesh

I tried Dropbox but first I became annoyed when it kept syncing MS Office temporary files (because I work straight out of my drop box).  Then I exceeded the amount of space they offered for free – but I only needed around 4-5Gb storage and I’m not paying for 50Gb that I’m not going to use.

I moved to Live Mesh and it works flawlessly.  Files are synchronised between my work folders and home and school, and updates happen without any user intervention.   Add a net book to that mix and it becomes even more useful (also allowing you to remote control another PC on your ‘Mesh’).  You can also access your files from your Live Desktop should you find yourself working on a different PC.

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Office 2007 and 2010

The new ribbon interface.  You either love it or you hate it.  I love it – and now I’m used to using it I couldn’t go back to the old version of Office.  I am the only member of staff at my school running Office 2007 (and I use the beta of Office 2010 at home) and I hope to convert my colleagues at some point in the future! 

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GMail (Google Mail)

Feature rich, spam free and hosted in the cloud, Google Mail is useful because I can access my email from any computer (and also from my phone/iPod etc).  For those who don’t like web email it supports POP3, IMAP and SMTP so can be used with a desktop email client if you prefer.   Although I tag my emails, the search feature comes in useful for finding those emails where you only remember snippets of information.  I use Google Mail as a client for my work based Exchange mail, and prefer the interface to any of the desktop clients I have tried. (The to-do-list whilst basic is pretty handy too)

gmail-logoGoogle Reader

I started using Google Reader to keep track of blogs and news sites I like.  Google Reader pulls in RSS feeds and can then be accessed from anywhere.  Interesting articles can be emailed to friends, or shared with other users (and mine are even imported into Facebook!).   The addition of Google Buzz added a new layer of functionality to Reader and you now see articles/posts that your friends (who you follow) have shared.  Google Reader keeps me up to date with educational and news feeds.

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Windows Live Writer

Part of the Live Suite available free of charge from Microsoft.  This is a useful piece of software for writing blog posts offline (and publishing them to your website).

Other software/sites

Google Calendar (I’ve tried lesson planning again this year using Google calendar. I kept it up for a over half a term but still ended up going back to a paper diary).  The SMS reminders are useful for reminding me of appointments when I’m not near my email.

Twitter.  I have a PLN (personal learning network) on Twitter but I’m still not convinced that this is a must-have tool.  A significant majority of people I follow are broadcasters rather than being interested in a two-way conversation, and most don’t reply to tweets directed straight at them.

What software do you use every day?  What software couldn’t you do without?