Friday, September 25, 2009

Imagination Cubed

Imagine two classrooms set in different countries - say one in Malta, one in the UK. Both sets of students are collaborating together on a project. They would like to create a drawing or a picture together, and have thought of using a regular drawing program, such as the ones already pre-installed on their desktops. However, conventional paint programs only allow people to work at a drawing asynchronously; for them to collaborate on the same picture it would require them to save a copy of the drawing and e-mail it back and forth to each other, until everyone has added their piece. This is often time-consuming and may not reach the desired effect in the end.

Enter the world of Imagination of the simplest, most user friendly collaborative Paint/Doodle Maker available online. Imagination Cubed allows multiple users to interact with the same drawing simultaneously. It is a simple flash engine which delivers fast performance and the ability for multiple users to collaborate together in real time. To start using Imagination Cubed, simply go to

Introducing Imagination Cubed

As soon as the initial animation has loaded, you will be presented with a plain Whiteboard Space and a list of options to choose from. By default, the Pen Tool will be activated and you may start doodling straight away. There is a set of tools which you can access from the Tools menu, which include:

  • Pen: To change the style, thickness and colour of your Pen;
  • Shapes: To insert shapers into your drawing. You may change the colour and the size of the shape by dragging one of its corners;
  • Stamper: A set of stamps which you can use - once again, you may change colour and size according to your doodle;
  • Line: Creates straight lines of different colours and thicknesses;
  • Type: Text Tool;
  • Background Colour: Change your doodle's background colour and/or texture.

Each drawing or doodle can be saved, printed and sent to other persons for review. These options are accessed from the File menu. Another handy option is the Replay button - which allows the animation to be replayed from the beginning. To the naked eye, your doodle may appear to be just that, a little drawing or doodle; but it reality what you are creating is a simple flash animation which can be replayed over and over again. This unfortunately leads to one of the downsides of the application: it doesn't allow you to import your own pictures into the doodle. You start with a clean slate and have to fill it up on your own.

Collaborative Tools

Up to this point, the drawing or doodle is technically still yours; meaning that it is still private and only you and your students have access to it. It is only when you are ready to share it with the rest of the world that your doodle becomes public: by inviting people to collaborate on it. This can be done by clicking on the Invite a Friend tab at the top right hand side of the screen.

A dialog box will pop up requesting your name and e-mail address, and also the name and e-mail address of the person/s with whom you wish to share your doodle. After you hit send, your 'friend' will receive an invitation to view and join your drawing. The person must open the e-mail, click on the link, and be transported into your doodle, where he or she can just watch you work on your project or work together with you, in real time. Your name and the name of your friend will appear on top of the Pen, so that everyone can see what the other is doing.

When collaborating on a doodle, the Chat option will automatically activate, enabling users to chat while working together.

Using Imagination Cubed

One can think of several uses for using Imagination Cubed in the classroom...Some ideas are:

  • For collaborative projects, such as eTwinning, Eko Skola, Connectando Mundos, etc;
  • For collaboration between classrooms in the same school, especially in the early years;
  • For communication purposes between classrooms, to augment a regular chatting session;
  • For helping young students with their hand-mouse co-ordination skills;
  • For training on Interactive White boards;
  • For creating simple animations which can be shared and replayed over and over again...

This list, obviously goes on and on...only your imagination is the limit!

Imagination Cubed can be accessed on:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Using Technology With Your Students: AUP Forms

I think that to say that we live in the digital era would be the under-statement of the century. We are surrounded by technology all the time – wherever and whatever we clasp our eyes upon, in fact. Laptops have become as small as the palm of one’s hand. GPS’s have become widespread and most people wouldn’t dream of going abroad without one. Mobile phones, which, a couple of years ago served the sole purpose of placing a call from A to B, are now capable of shooting photos and videos on par with the most advanced digital cameras.

And, probably, that is where the problem lies. We are so used to all this technology and information pouring at us from all directions – be it from e-mail, websites, blogs or social networking sites – that we sometimes forget one of the basic rules of digital publishing: that is, never, ever, publish online photos, videos or details of persons without their previous knowledge or consent.

Digital publishing and social networking sites such as Wordpress and Facebook has made photo and video upload very easy – in fact, as easy as sending an SMS from our mobile. The mere fact that this task has become so increasingly simplified it does not automatically incur that the previous rules of Netiquette do not apply or have ceased to exist. On the contrary, since sharing and uploading of information has become so easy and widespread, I feel that we have been bestowed with an even greater responsibility. It is so easy to take a picture and upload it from our mobiles – a mere minute or two of ‘work’. But do we ever stop and think about whose photos we are putting online, and if that person would like to appear online after all?

The argument becomes even trickier when dealing with our classroom students. Our students are below the age of consent; it is their parents who make the decisions for them. And parents have every right in the world to refuse not only that their children appear online, but also that photos or videos are taken of their children, even if they are not intended for publication, digital or otherwise. Some parents are understandably afraid of ‘sharing’ their children with the outside world; others are surprisingly laissez-fair (but probably because they are not aware of the risks involved; an equally dangerous state of mind). But surely, we, as teachers, cannot keep track of all the photos taken by us – or indeed our students – and uploaded online, can we? Or should we?

The answer lies in a simple phrase, or form, as it were: The Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) form, which can be downloaded from It is our duty as teachers to ensure that each and every student in our classroom has had his AUP form signed and delivered. Never, ever take anything for granted. The most outgoing and cheery student in your class might not like being photographed, or his parents may object to the practice. It is not something worth taking the risk for.

If there is a good number of parents in a particular school which object to their children using the Internet or being photographed, it is also worth asking WHY this has happened. A great deal of misinformation that goes around is surely to blame; but mostly, it may be fear of the unknown…Parents may have a lot of questions going around their heads, such as…"Where will my child’s photos be published?”…and…"Is my child going to be supervised while surfing the Net?” These are all justifiable and acceptable excuses, but what can be done in order to counter-act them? Surely one cannot have a classroom website with half of the students absent, or their faces blotched out? What kind of classroom website would that be ??

I think I can safely say that, in this occasion, honesty is certainly the best policy. If there is a problem in your school or classroom – talk to the parents. Some of them are plain afraid of the unknown; others might have been drawn into the fear by other, more paranoid or misinformed individuals. Explain to the parents what are you going to do; where and why the photos will be used, the websites they will be uploaded on, etc. Re-assure the parents about Internet use in the classroom, too.

It is also worth directing the parents to one or two useful websites, such as CBBC’s Internet Saftey News on:, BBC’s Staying Safe online: and Kidsmart: Assure the parents you will be helping their children learn how to use the Internet safely and wisely.

There is a lot of good stuff going on the Internet, and a myriad of learning experiences still unexplored; but unfortunately, there is a lot of the bad stuff, too. The important thing is to know the difference. In the digital era, the uninformed human being is a very dangerous person to be around. Make sure that you – as a teacher – plus your students and their parents are well aware of the correct Netiquette to follow.

Some important websites to remember:

AUP Forms (Download Form & Explanation for Parents):

CBBC Internet Safety News:,

BBC Staying Safe Online:


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mind Mapping: Using Bubbl Us

Every beginning has its end - the warm Summer days are giving way to shorter, cooler days, and a new scholastic year has just begun. After a relaxing break, it is now its time to head back to our respective classrooms, meet our new students and start the exciting journey of teaching and learning once again.

New year - new students - and probably, new projects as well. During the year, we are all bound to have some sort of project running in our classroom - be it something simple such as setting up a nature table, or something requiring a bit more thought, like an eTwinning project. At the start of such projects, it is customary for the teacher to engage the pupils in what is known as Mind Mapping. A Mind Map is a

"... diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate,visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing"

Source: Wikipedia

Traditionally this excercise usually took place on the board or on a flip-chart; however now there are several web options which make this possible as well. After browsing to see what's available online, I decided to go for Bubbl Us , which can be found at

Introducing Bubbl Us

Bubbl Us (without the silent 'e' at the end) is an free web application used for brainstorming sessions online. It allows users to create colourful online mind-maps, which can be shared and embedded in blogs and websites. A distict advantage over written mind-maps is the ability to have multiple users working on the same Map. This is particularly useful if the teacher requires input not only from his/her classroom students, but also from other classes if its an inter-classroom project, or from other collegues as well.

To start mind-mapping, go to and click on Start Brainstorming to start a new session.

Basic Features

Each brainstorming session starts with a focal point - a rectangular grey bubble - in the middle, with the word 'Start Here' on it. Click on this' and write your chosen topic in the middle - for example, 'Helping our Environment'. When you go mouse over the central bubble, you will be able to see several icons which let you do different things with your mind map. Starting from the top left icon and moving clockwise, these are:

  • Move: Click and drag to move your bubble around;
  • Delete: Click to delete the bubble;
  • New Sibling: Create a new bubble under the same parent;
  • Connect: Click and drag to connect a new bubble with a directional line. Drop onto another bubble to connect;
  • New Child: Click to create a new child bubble;
  • Colour: Click to select bubble colour.
The controls are quite easy to get the hang of, even for young students. Bubbles can be individually edited using the above controls, there is also a handy undo button which can reverse any unwanted actions.

Printing, Saving and Sharing

Each Mind Map can be printed and saved online for future reference or editing - by clicking on the relevant icons (if you did not create an account at the beginning of the session, it will prompt you to create one as soon as you hit save - you only have to supply a username, e-mail account and password). But what really puts Bubbl Us above pen and paper mind-mapping is the fact that one can not only share the mind-map in a blog, wiki or website, but it also allows multiple users to interact with the map itself. This is called mind-map sharing and options can be accessed by clicking on My Sheets > Sharing (top right hand corner of the screen.) You will notice that a particular mind-map is being shared because it will have a tiny yellow star on it.

Alternatively, by clicking on Menu icon at the bottom right hand corner of the screen, you will be prompted to:
  • Send a read only link for your friends or collaborators to view;
  • Grab the html embed code for embedding your mind-map directly on your blog or website
  • Import or Export your sheet in XML format;
  • Change the editor's settings for your mind-map.

Some important tips for sharing your mind-map:

  • before you start sharing, make sure that you have a saved copy of your mind-map in its original state before you open it up to others;
  • mind-maps may only be shared with Bubbl Us 'friends': that is, the persons you want to share your mind-map with must also have a Bubbl Us account;
  • friends can have different permissions assigned to them: Read Only, which allows viewing but no editing, or Full Edit, which allows full editing control, including re-naming of your mind-map.

Further information about Bubbl Us and mind-mapping can be found at:

Happy Mind-Mapping!