Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Banning Social Networking in Schools

I was recently asked for rationales on why social networking sites like facebook, twitter, youtube should be UN-blocked in a school district.  Here is my response.  I’d be curious to hear what others think!

Here are some thoughts to have the ‘pro-banners’ imageconsider.  Students who can afford it already have facebook, msn, twitter…etc on their cell phone.  Banning social networking on the district network simply means that the students who can’t afford a personal cell data plan are blocked.  There is an obvious moral role that schools play in providing free, open, public access to all children.  How is facebook banning any different than book banning?

We are all aware that cyber bullying and off-task facebooking and concerns in schools.  My feeling is that education systems have a role to plan in mentoring, modeling and participating in social networking.  We need to monitor and shape socially responsible behaviors in our young learners.  Blocking the sites simply means that the educators miss an opportunity to teach about the appropriate use. 

Also, there are too many professional networks that exist and will continue to exist in social sites.  I was recently at a professional development session in that district and found that twitter was blocked.  Twitter has become a powerful professional network to learn from and to share.

By the way.  I look forward to connecting to you on twitter ( For now, you’ll have to go online at home, school is definitely ‘off-line’ - Tongue-in-check :)

What advice would you give to a district on why they shouldn’t block social networking?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Creating Music: Mixcraft 4 in schools

Screenshot Mixcraft 4Looking for an amazing, inexpensive, creative music composition software that rivals (and beats) GarageBand?  If so then test drive Mixcraft 4.

As our district has gradually converted to the Windows platform, we have been looking for a replacement to the much loved GarageBand.  Our initial focus has been at the middle school where students have an amazing opportunity to have music instruction as one of their exploration courses.  Obviously, most of the music exploration is done in the music room yet a trip to the computer lab with Mixcraft installed can augment music studies by allowing student to creatively compose, edit and share songs.


There are hundreds of music loops in a variety of music styles.  When I visited the middle school in our district where the students had been introduced to Mixcraft after just one week of 40 minute periods, they were already proficient at using the software.  The software is geared toward novice users.  I could see elementary students grade 3 and up making great use of Mixcraft.

The computers where Mixcraft is installed are three year-old refurbished Dell’s. The software ran very quickly without any crashes.  The students treated my auditory senses to a wide-array of music styles from orchestral vocals to pop to heavy metal.  The girl who had made the heavy metal song did it because her dad loves metal and “it has grown on me when I listen in the car.”

While this school hasn’t yet explored this functionality, there is the feature of connecting a MIDI keyboard, guitar or microphone.

Taking the Software Home

There is an arrangement where student who really gravitate towards music composition can purchase a home version at a reduced cost.

Teacher Resource Kit

To get stared as a teacher, be sure it request a copy of the teacher workbook Mixcraft 4 For the Classroom.  It is a visual guide that walks the teacher through a number of strategies and student activities.  The teacher also got a licensed copy to install at home as we know that this is where most teachers prepare lessons.


With the purchase, there is also a free upgrade to Mixcraft 5 when it is released.  The representative that I’ve been working with from Acoustica is David Raimondo.


In case you were wondering about bias in this blog, I was not remunerated in anyway for this post.  I’m just an educator looking for educational technology that provides good value to schools that enhance student learning and engagement.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Teacher Gradebooks: Engrade Canada

This post is to update my readers about teacher gradebooks. In a previous blog post I shared information about Engrade the FREE online gradebook.

The highlight at this time is that Engrade now has a Canadian version.  As stated on their site, “ is hosted on Canadian web servers to comply with Canadian laws concerning government data storage.”  This is great news for Canadian educators who need to be sensitive to FIPPA regulations (BC version).

Engrade’s advantage over other gradebooks is that it FREE and is fully online.  In other words, there is no saving files and moving them between computers, simply login and update the gradebook.  This is also a weakness, we had an instance last year when Engrade was temporarily unavailable during a reporting period.  There is an ‘export to excel’ option that I recommend that teachers do weekly.

A real highlight of Engrade is that each student gets a personal login to view only their assignment marks rather than the entire class spreadsheet.  Anytime a teacher makes a change to an assignment, the students automatically sees the update.  It is also possible to include notes, comments and attendance.

Not to discount other great teacher gradebook software, MasterGrade is a great product that is a locally installed software (Windows and Mac).  The benefit of a local install is that it ensures that the teacher has full control of the data file for backup and working between multiple home/work computers.  This is also a disadvantage as many teachers doing have the access to install software on district computers leaving them to wait for their support staff. Mastergrade is very affordable (not free thought) and works with BCeSIS classlists.  It also has a feature to import the student photos from the school database so that teachers can have seating plans.

Here is a two-page handout that you can share with teachers looking for a ‘getting started’ guide.  I’ve posted the PDF to ensure compatibility and a Word document if you want to tweak.  Would appreciate leaving my name and link to this blog on the document.