Sunday, April 26, 2009


I have just finished writing a short proposal for our Principal - to replace round cafeteria tables with rectangular tables. Why? Because the new tables are multi-purpose. At 6' long, they can be endlessly configured. At times five large seating blocks will be used for "team-building." Sometimes groups of 5 (one table) or 10 (two tables joined) will be wanted for meetings. Lots of the time, there will be a moshup of seating configurations, to keep the kids from forming bullying groups while allowing them to explore and cement social groups. Seating for 180 will be possible in a space that now seats 100.

And wait - there's more! The tables easily fold up to form pew-style seating for performances, assemblies, etc. No need for trucked-in stacking chairs (maybe some of those can go into classrooms like mine, with broken plastic chairs) - a savings of man-power time and effort.

The thing is, multi-purpose is not only economical (OK, we have to purchase the tables, but there is a window of Stimulus to help out), multi-purpose encourages reassessment and invention, expanding rather than limited possiblities, and it does so with minimum effort and a short learning curve.

How many of the applications used for education are truly multi-purpose? This is not a bad question to ask when deciding between multiple possibilities.

The following pass my multi-purpose test:

  • NoteShare - voice recording, outlining, word processing, indexing, hyperlinking, research note-taking, web-based sharing, file sharing, journaling. And that is just to name a few of its uses. It would take me many hours to find equivalent work-arounds if this app were to disappear from our image.
  • Word - Yes, I know many teachers loathe the M company. But I find this particular application to be facile, lots-in-a-box, and amazingly friendly. Which means that it is easy to teach students its multiple purposes.
  • iPhoto - I love the the multiple export, sharing, imaging options, not to mention its integration with other iLife (and more) applications.
  • Keynote - I am a PowerPoint convert. Keynote is just plain cooler. As soon as I figure out how to use the record function, I will be in the TeacherTube business.
  • Stickies - A little application with a big punch. My students use it for: floating notes, image collection, vocabulary, covering their desktop with a fake desktop, collages, passwords, to-do lists... I'm not into color coding, but if I were, I would use Stickies more.
  • Sketch-up - I have put this application on the list because I appreciate its depth. I am not myself a visual thinker, however, so I have not explored it much. I see Sketch-up as a choice that I need to find room for in my own product-planning.
If only these applications were on our image - along with Firefox and Safari - I would be a very happy camper.

We don't, of course, limit ourselves to the Desktop. I generally apply the same multi-purpose rule to the web tools I call "Threading Tools" - those that can be used by students to communicate and create in ways that help them to thread their ideas and learning back to the Purpose, and that help them to inter-Thread their ideas and learning with each other. You can find my current list in the sidebar.

Thinking about applications and web-based tools as single, dual, or multi-purpose helps me to clarify the purposes and goals of the unit in which they will be embedded - but also expands my own thinking about that unit. Good Multi-Purpose choices are space-expanders!

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