Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Meet Alex, The Voice Of Your Mac

Meet Alex, the voice of your mac. 

Alex is the voiceover accessibility feature built into Mac computers.  He is designed to tell you what is on your screen, assist you selecting menus, and help give you complete control of your Mac with oral directions.  Apple has had this built into their computers for awhile but it has greatly improved.  Alex now looks at an entire paragraph at once instead of one word at a time.  When reading passages he sounds more realistic following the nuances of a person talking.  It is now much easier to comprehend what he is saying.  Alex's voice is smoother than most text-to-speech and just to easy to use.

You can hear and adjust Alex's speed under your Mac Settings.  Menu option Dictation & Speech--> Text to Speech.  You can change Alex's sped and even change Alex but he is truly the best. There are 3 female and 3 male default voices.  You can add novelty voices and voices with accents.  I can see a great use for these in education.  The video below shows you how.

To get Alex to read to you, first highlight a section of the text.  There is NO pause feature so highlight a small amount at a time.  There is more than 1 way to start the speaking.

Option 1, my favorite:
1. Control + click or right click within your highlighting
2. Select Speaking
3. Start Speaking

Option 2, easiest for young children:
1. Choose Edit from the menu bar 
2. Select Speaking
3. Start Speaking

Option 3, best for those in need of this on a frequent basis:
1. Go to the System Preferences
2. Choose Speech and Dictation (Speech on older OSX)
3. Check the box "Speak the selected text when the key is pressed"
4. Change the key if you do not like the default of Option+Esc
5. Highlight your text and press your key

For the last two weeks the first graders have been using Alex in the computer lab.
The first week we learned about encyclopedias and online encyclopedias.  Together we looked up scarecrows on World Book Online Kids.  Students then looked up anything they wanted to and tried having Alex read the article to them.  World Books Kids articles are advanced for most first graders but having Alex allowed students to listen as they read along. They shared facts they learned at the end of class which was a lot of fun.

Week two students chose a topic to research by picking a book from the library.  They picked facts from the book and listened to Alex read facts on the same topic from World Book Kids.  Using a Venn Diagram, students recorded facts they learned from the book and facts they learned from World Book Kids.  They shared their new information with classmates.

At the end I took about a poll asking students which they preferred: learning from the book or learning from World Book Online with the help of Alex.  The classes were split.  We will explore this more. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chirp IT

This week I've been unboxing, charging, sorting, and connecting Chromebooks for the middle school to start their 1:1 program next week.  While I cannot wait to blog about that, it means that many of their iPads will be redistributed down to the elementary school and that is MUCH more exciting!

A great new website to use with the little is

Using sound, Chirp, "sings" information from one device to another.  No more scanning having kids type in URLs, bookmarking, or creating QR codes. A two second sound now shares what you need to all the students' devices.

Share webpages, photos, contacts, all with a sound from the teacher's device.  It's so simple I thought "No way will this work".  But, it does!

If you are not sending the students to a webpage but sharing photos with them, it does NOT require a network connection. This makes it even better than QR codes.

Link to itunes store here