Friday, September 21, 2012

Making Comics, Stories, and Spot-Frame Animation - All In One Place and For Free!

This week two blogs from the Free technology for Teachers blog struck my attention. One of them, which can be found at, talked about a website called Picture Book Maker ( which allows kids to develop their own storybook-like stories by superimposing characters, backgrounds, text boxes, and other props. I was amazed with the application in this website because of the good quality of the images and the great opportunities for developing creativity it offers not only to kids, but even grownups too. I myself lost track of time playing with it.

For 2nd grade students in my computer class, I have an activity where kids create a simple story and illustrate it with their own drawings in paint. Whit this tool, they can concentrate more on the writing part which they had more difficulty with and in lesser time they will be able to create a finished product that not only looks professional but that they can print or that we can email to their parents.

Browsing through the Picture Book Maker site, I also found out that the site offers also other very interesting web applications such as one where kids can make comic-like books in an also very professional way ( ). Comic books that can also be printed or emailed when finished. I thought this would be a very nice application to implement with older kids in 4th - 6th grades. 

Another interesting RSS feed from Free Technology for Teachers was one that talks about a stop-frame animation application ( from the same creators of the previously discussed web apps. 

The feed,  that can be found at details how students can select different backgrounds, wooden manikins, and props to develop their animation. For 7th and 8th grade students, this would be a great application to foster their creativity.

Marco Cesar Saenz
Using Web Tools in the Classroom

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bringing Blogging into the Classrooms

The idea of having students use blogs in the classrooms is a powerful one. It empowers students with the ability to publish and share their opinions and thoughts easily with just the click of a few buttons. Very different from the situation back then when I was a student where, in order to publish anything on the Internet, one had to have good programing knowledge and had to work pages and pages of scripts just to end with something decent. Not only does it gives student a way to express easily but also inherently, makes them realize and 'see' that their opinions are as important as that of anybody else and that, since their opinions will reflect the opinions of many other people, there will always be an audience for their ideas.

According to Richardson, in his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, one of the most important strengths of blogs is the way you are able to link to other sources of information and in a way connect ideas together. Links to other internet pages, other blogs, pictures, videos, just to name a few examples, can easily be integrated within each post in a blog. Thus, in any project or assignment, students can easily interconnect their opinions and the information they are being publishing with that of other students in their classroom, with that of students in other classrooms, and even with students from other schools.

This year, for my 7th and 8th grade history and science classes, my students will be creating and using their own blogs to report each week two current events they hear in the news or read in the newspaper or Internet, one of them related to world events and the second to science. They will also be including, along with a summary of the article, the link to the full article where they got the information from, their reaction to the news or events and how they think these affect us and/or impact us locally. Students will then be commenting on each other posts and also contributing their reactions to those news posted by others. The activity will help our students become well informed in current events and able to express their thoughts and emotions on those events happening around us. Every end of the month, the students will create an additional post writing about the two world events and two science events that impacted them the most and in this post, they will be (1) briefly summarizing the event, (2) linking to the full text of the student that originally posted the event, and (3) stating their own reaction and the reason(s) why the article made an impact on them.

Marco Cesar Saenz
Using Web Tools in the Classroom

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Free Professional Software Tools for Kids

Technology has a greater possibility now to change education by making available open source applications, that is free applications, and many free useful web-accessed or downloadable tools that can help students interact collaboratively and that can give the students access to professional tools that a few years back could only be available through purchase of expensive licensing.

Students can now, from early elementary use very complex tools which have been made simpler to use through the use of greatly improved and friendlier point-and-click interfaces. Examples of such tools, to name just two, that enable students to work collaborativelly in wordpad-like applications can be found at and at For teenagers, there are available more advanced online collaboration tools such as those provided by Google at, where they not only can create word-document-like files but also presentation documents, spreadsheet documents, and more, and just for free. Other examples of more advanced free tools that are available for free are Paint.Net, where one can edit photos very much like Photoshop-style, but for free. Besides these, also various applications have been made portable and do not have to even be downloaded into a computer but can run from a flash drive, giving you access to these tools in any computer where you connect your flash drive to. These portable applications can do a wide variety of tasks, depending on their purpose, such as edit music and video files, create 3D animations, create websites, to name a few. An example of a website where you can download portable applications for free is

I believe that electronic devices such as smart phones and tablets, which are now readily available to students in elementary and acquirable at somewhat reasonable prices, can, and are already, revolutionizing education because of theor continuous internet access that permits students to be able to access information and many of the above mentioned tools at anytime and in any place.

Marco Cesar Saenz
Using Web Tools in the Classroom

New Generation Students VS. The Rest of Us (Born Before the Digital Era)

I think the main difference between the New Generation students and those of us who were born before the digital era is that kids now are used to and expect instant gratification. I don't want to say that they get bored easier but they do continuously expect more and quickly, and this is translated or seen as students having a short span of attention. To counteract this, some schools have developed faster paced curriculum that constantly changes from one subject topic to another within minutes. For example in english, kids will get at most ten to fifteen minutes of Grammar and then switch to Vocabulary for five minutes and then to spelling for another five minutes, then to reading for another ten or fifteen minutes, thus progressing little on each topic everyday but having a dynamic curriculum. I don’t remember my classes being like that when I was in elementary. I remember us devoting one class period to each topic, so that we would have maybe grammar two days a week, for the whole period, spelling and vocabulary another day, and literature on another day, and so on.

I believe that even thought this fast-short-passed system of instruction may address the short attention span that kids have nowadays, it does not address their avid-ness for technology and the desire of learning it. Classrooms, more often than not, have no computers at all, and if they do, they either have only two to four computers that students have to share and use for very limited times, or have only one computer in a cart that only the teacher gets to use and which has to share with other classrooms. This bluntly says about the low importance we are giving to technology in education. The bad part, is that most of us, born previous to the new generation, being recent immigrants into technology, if it were not for this technology classes at UTEP, wouldn’t even know how to critically and purposefully integrate computer technology into our classrooms. In that respect, those teachers who are not even continuing their studies, or that are continuing them on other areas, have little hope to know how to effectively use technology with their students. Will we have to wait until this new generation of students grow up and become teachers themselves so that they will be capable of fully implementing technology in their classrooms? How can we reach out to other teachers to make them aware of the changes technology could bring into their classrooms now, so that we don’t have to wait until those born native to technology become teachers?

Marco Cesar Saenz
Using Web Tools in the Classroom