Sunday, March 30, 2008

Setting Up for Panwapa

I am planning on introducing the Panwapa website to my first graders on Monday and Tuesday. I was having all kinds of visions of the difficulties of signing up twelve children at the same time. My plan was originally to ask volunteers from the upper grades to help for a few minutes, then I started looking at the Apple Learning Interchange - Learning with Panwapa - Formal Lessons online. It was pointed out in the comment section of a previous post by Brett Pierce. He is the Executive Director of Panwapa for Sesame Workshop.

Step three in Lesson 1 - Who am I.PDF says "Each student should log on to Panwapa using the username and password created by the teacher". So I realized that I could sign up each child without having to worry about being required to set up the Panwapa profile.

It took me a while to accomplish this. I wonder if they would set up multiple accounts for a teacher the way that Wikispaces does in step five of it's help screen. It would be a huge time saver.

Tomorrow morning, I plan on printing out the Parent Welcome Letter found at the bottom of the Apple Learning Interchange - Learning With Panwapa page. The students will be able to use the paper to sign on during class and then bring it home. Most of the students have access to the Internet at home, if not all.

When I signed on to Panwapa and created ids I found it useful to create a list in Excel to keep track of student id, password, first, and last name. I for each password I used sms2015##. SMS stands for Saint Michael School, 2015 is the year the first graders will graduate from the eighth grade, ## is a number in series from one and up. This way each student has a unique id so they don't sign on to someone else's account by mistake. It will give us a chance to talk about keeping private sign on information private, as well.

Once the list was set up, I checked that each id would log on. This is essential to having a smoothly running 35 minute class. I learned that when using the site wit
h students, if the name is not on the list, you have to click:
Select the country (USA) from the drop down list.
THEN Type the student id number (15729)

Type in the password.
Click Sign in to Panwapa World.

It was not apparent and I spent a lot of time typing USA15729 into the white box. I couldn't understand why it was saying the user id and password were wrong.

The system will remember certain things if you sign out early. It will remember the character’s body attributes, home, and flag when each section is completed. I tried to put a couple of items on the flag, then sign out and sign back in, but the flag was reset.

There are a variety of movies to show in class. I don't know if I will use that feature, but it's nice to know it is available. I tried the option to download the files (much safer in advance than worrying about connection speed in class) but the download wouldn't start. I don't know if that is a Mac issue. I didn't try to download it on the Windows machine yet.

I will write up the actual lesson once I work with the students tomorrow, but I will follow Lesson One from the Formal Lesson Plan for the most part. I'm looking forward to seeing the student's reactions.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reflections on Two Blogs

I opened up my RSS reader this evening. My current method of reading is to start with the items that are shared with me by one of four people: Dean, Darren, Michael, or Paul. I actually have six people I share items with, but these are the four who seem to use the shared items option.

I found out about this option one day early in my use of Twitter. If you have someone on your GTalk account, you can add them as people who show up under “Friends shared items”. It’s great because they will certainly read some of the same blogs, but they will also have different tastes and that assists me in finding new-to-me blogs.

Tonight, Dean shared an article written by Graham Wegner in response to an article written by Doug Belshaw. Oh what a tangled web we weave. Doug speaks about feeling unhappy with the focus of newer people in the community having a focus that is more on making connections than expanding the pedagogy of technology in schools. He says:
One thing they [educators blogging] had in common, however, was a revolutionary message: that education must adapt to the 21st century or suffer the consequences. There were fantastic conversations to follow across these blogs.
He fears:
Those that were formerly in the classroom and relating the changing world and tools available to everyday educational experience are no longer in those positions; educators who have no desire to transform education are blogging. The edublogosphere has changed from being about ‘the conversation’ to being part of ‘the network’. It all smacks a little too much of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and, to be honest, viral marketing of Web 2.0 apps.
At the end of Graham’s post he writes:
But I think that Doug is still interested in that bigger conversation - the one that did dominate the edublogosphere a year or so back. Maybe it has evolved into new forums and that discussion will have more power over on a Ning like Classroom 2.0, although I see a lot of the classroom teacher connection stuff happening there too. But there’s a lot of conversation out there - one can choose to connect to the visionaries and push for meaningful change or extend one’s global staffroom to gain support, inspiration and resources in equal measure.

You should read both articles and all the comments to get the full take on the conversation. I was originally going to leave a comment on Graham’s blog, then I was going to leave on Doug’s, then I had too many thoughts to put in a comment, so here I am.

I enjoyed reading both takes on the changes these gentlemen are seeing in the educational blogsphere. You see, I started a blog several years ago when a group of students thought I should see what was going on outside the classroom. I didn't find the edublogosphere until a year ago, and didn't really feel comfortable "conversing" for several months. I have been seeking change in my own school for the last six years.

The reason I became a school computer teacher was that when I was in business I ran training projects. One huge project taught people how a containerized shipping company’s computer systems worked. This was back in the early 1990s. We were making multimedia productions when it was a massive effort to get sounds, images, and interaction working in a Windows environment. We created the original training for each computer system in English, then it was converted into eleven other languages. As I was working, it occurred to me that the best way to learn something is to teach someone else. Not revolutionary to most, but to me it was an important idea. The company moved out of state, I chose not to move, and ended up staying home with my boys for six years.

When I returned to the workforce, my son’s principal was looking for a computer teacher. I offered my services and was hired. I knew in advance that the teachers felt that they “couldn’t” use the computers in their rooms because they either didn’t work or didn’t have “good” software on them. I was really excited to find that Hyperstudio was owned by the school. It would fit the bill for a multimedia program that would allow students to create projects to teach other students.

When I arrived, I spent the first year going to every room, fixing every computer, purchasing software to give the teachers KidPix and/or Microsoft Office. I also got a second computer projector. There was one in the computer lab. There was a networked printer that was not connected, a file server that was being used as a desktop computer, and a couple of airports (wireless access points).

Here I am six years later. Things have changed for the better, but I’m still restless. K-8 all have access to the Internet, networked printers, useful software, and six laptops that can be brought into a class. Apple changed operating systems and as a result I really need to get everyone off of OS 9, but that takes time and money. I really want the Pre-K 3 and 4 classrooms to have Internet access too.

We have a great computer lab, but some teachers only see the students 42 minutes a day. I am seeing the pressures of that reality as I teach two sections of math per day. It really takes a lot of effort to get the projector to class, bring up the laptops, or take the class down to the lab. I’m lucky in that I can use my twice per week computer classes to conduct technology enriched math lessons.

Since connecting with the greater world over the last year, my classes have changed dramatically. You should take a look at the difference between the wiki from last year and the work from this year. For me those were big changes from standard computer class transitioning to what I'm learning in my newly connected environment.

I write in my blog about my adventures in the classroom. I read other blogs and I leave comments. It expands my thinking. I continue to try to encourage others at my school to use our technology. It’s hard to get the school to enter the 21st century when most of the equipment has been at the school longer than I have. This isn’t a complaint, either. I know that the equipment is immensely serviceable.

What I’m learning online is how to begin to encourage the staff to use our equipment. I want all our students to be ready to work in 2017 and beyond. When they leave the school this year, our eighth graders will have received an excellent computer education.

In the other blog article, it was said that people run through one tool after another on Twitter. This is true. It was also said that there are an awful lot of people just jumping on the bandwagon of the next tool rather than focusing on the why of the tool. That’s true too. In the long run, for me, I find projects to work on collaboratively with other teachers. I learn more about the people as a person. I find answers to questions in the middle of my day.

I use my blog to chart my course and reflect. I believe my students are getting more out of our work in computer class as they create podcasts to reflect on what we’re learning. I know why I use each tool. It's not the gee-whiz look at what we're doing. We do it to reinforce learning. I have one class learn from the other. They create information to share within the school and around the world. I see the force of global communcation in operation in my husband's work.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work with new teachers in a different situation. I know that I had an impact based on conversations I’ve had since the training sessions outside my school. But, for me, it takes reading blogs, commenting on blogs, writing blogs, participating when I can at, and my ins and outs at Twitter. I can combine the best of all these things into my own unique presentations to teachers in and out of my building. All these wanderings help all the students in my school prepare for eventual jobs. I learn more and more everyday.

Everyone has their own story. I think that to change things in education, we need people working at all levels: in their own school, within a school system, within a region, and in turn globally. It takes all kinds of voices to make change happen.

Even over the last couple of months, I've noticed a change. Maybe all the public speaking engagements are bring more people to the table. What remains to be seen is whether people will continue to stick with these social networks over the long haul and continue to try to effect change at whatever level they are involved. For many people it may be a fad or lead to becoming a consultant and that’s ok too.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Analyzing Podcasts

My eighth graders created podcasts on Plagiarism back in November. I set up a section of my wiki to give people access to the podcasts, collect a little data in a ClustrMap, and there is also a link to a SurveyMonkey form.

My seventh grade is now in the process of creating podcasts on Website Evaluation. I want them to analyze their efforts before they consider the project complete. To this end, I went a bit bleary-eyed gathering the data.

Overall, the quality of the information was found to be:

Excellent: 48%
Good: 35%
Fair: 15%
Poor: 2%

The ability to understand what the students were saying was found to be:

Excellent: 49%
Good: 36%
Fair: 12%
Poor: 3%

Not bad for a class on their first attempt. I'd like the seventh grade to raise that bar. They have already listened to the podcasts back in December. I've been working on a plan to introduce the analysis to the seventh grade next week.

I want them to compare the following two charts and listen to the "most excellent" and "most poorly" rated podcasts and try to determine what caused the podcasts to get those ratings. These ratings were only those generated by "strangers". I did not include the results of the surveys entered by our student body.

Hopefully they will realize that while it's fun to use sound effects on the voice, it does not get your message across. I am also going to show them comments from the people who filled out the surveys. There were actually some teachers who were asked to listen to the podcasts for a class (as a teacher). There were also teachers who said they would like to have their students listen to the podcasts. That may open their minds to the impact their podcasts could have on others. I am still having a problem explaining that their work is public. This might show them the truth of their budding global voice.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Like Accelerated Math

When I first arrived in my current position, I was told that one of the programs the principal had purchased was Accelerated Math. I was also told that the only teacher to have used it was the previous computer/ math teacher.

I only taught computer class the first two years, but spoke with the middle school math teacher and mentioned that we might want to start up the program and see what it could do. I wasn't too much help in how to make the program work in the class, but offered all the technical support.

By the time I started teaching a section of seventh grade math, the other teacher helped me learn the ropes of the logistical end of the program. After four years of using the program, I still improve on how I integrate the program for my students. It has a lot to offer.

The program has very discrete objectives for each grade level. We own libraries from third to seventh grade math, plus pre-algebra and algebra. The reason I like it so much is that it gives me an amazing amount of knowledge about how a student is faring in such things as: subtracting fractions with: like denominators, unlike denominators, like mixed numbers, unlike mixed numbers with no regrouping, mixed numbers from whole numbers, and mixed numbers with regrouping.

This granularity helps me focus my instruction. I may need to meet with just one child over a recess or two to clarify things or I may need to work with most of the class to clarify things.

In addition, I can see where a student or two still doesn't understand a topic from earlier in the year. This opens up the possibility of a discussion with the student's parents or tutor for specific areas of need.

Within the program, I first give the students a Diagnostic Test. If the student receives a grade of 80% or better on five questions within a unique objective, they show mastery of the topic. The topic goes away for two weeks. At that point, they must complete four more questions on the same topic over the course of the next practice worksheets. Once four questions are correctly completed, they have finished the review. In other words, they retained the knowledge after time away from direct practice. This is great for continued review throughout the year.

If a student does not master the topic, they can receive as many more practice questions as they require to master the objective. Through these practices, I can again determine when a student needs a more personalized approach to the unique objective.

My son is now in pre-algebra in the seventh grade. I can see for myself how it has helped him learn about adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing integers. Sometimes, you just have to do things many times and ask why you're getting the wrong answer before the rules start to sink in.

The program is worksheet oriented. Each student can receive individualized worksheets. Each worksheet corresponds to a scan card. As a teacher I can spend my energy on the problems that student gets wrong. The computer takes care of the scoring and tracking of data.

For many students, the continued practice does lead to the light going on for particular objectives. If you use this program, I'd like to hear your impressions. If you have questions, let me know and I'll give you my helping hand.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Planning for Panwapa World

I listened to a new Bit by Bit episode by Bob Sprankle featuring Kevin Jarrett and Maria Knee. Initially, they were speaking about how Maria used Webkinz in her Kindergarten class last year. It seems Kevin was interested in the possibilities of doing the same at his school. Emails were exchanged an a podcast was set up to speak more in depth.

I am interested in doing more within my Kindergarten program. I was pretty sure that I did not want to use Webkinz, but I am always fascinated with new approaches. As always, I have a new plan developing for K-2 after listening to the whole podcast. I may even extend it to the third grade. The plan is based on a web site sponsored by Sesame Workshop and Merrill Lynch Foundation called Panwapa: Where Kids Shape the World.

I spent some time last night with my eleven year old helper son, Stephen. I didn't want to just set up an id for myself. I wanted to see how he'd interact with the site. It was evident that it's too "babyish" for a fifth grader.

As Kevin mentioned during Bit by Bit, it is a fantastic site as far as keeping student's private identity information private. When we signed up, it simply wanted to know where in the world (USA) we were located. Stephen then created a character choosing body shapes and clothes. Next he created a house. Finally he created a flag with his favorite food, game, craft, activity, sport, and musical instrument.

We spent a bit of time trying out the various options. We learned that you could look at the "world" of children who have created a "Panwapa kid" as they are called by each of the categories. It's going to be interesting for the primary children. We can see what the world would look like broken down by the foods enjoyed by all the children who have signed up. It looks like noodles are the favorite right now with 2520 Panwapa kids having that choice on their flag.

Another big part of the web site is visiting the houses of other Panwapa kids and building a card collection. For instance, he clicked on Mexico where there were 859 Panwapa kids. It zoomed in until he saw the various houses. He found a house that he wanted to look at. We then saw the card of the child who created that house.

You can choose to leave a card for the child to let them know you have visited. It gives you a preset choice of messages you can leave the child. Some examples of messages are: "Awesome", "Come visit me and my groovy house", and "Guess what? We both like the same instrument! Come and visit me and I'll show you".

It is a great site for pre-readers. While the messages are shown in text, they are also read to the child.

I will continue to explore the web site and write more about it later. There is a For Caregivers button with some background information. They have a grayed out "Teacher's Guide PDF" so I'm looking forward to those resources. Now I'm off to determine how to arrange each class.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Voicethread - One of My Favorites Gets an Upgrade

I am a huge fan of Voicethreads. I have had the opportunity to create several with my students from scratch. I have also had my students participate in Voicethreads created by other students or other teachers.

I like to hear what my students are thinking in math and computer class. This is one opportunity that Voicethread has given me. My students can record their thoughts and then listen to the responses of others in the class, evaluate the information, and add more thoughts.

I have uploaded photographic images and JPGs created from KidPix pictures.

Students have the opportunity to respond in whatever form they feel comfortable with. For some students this means recording their voice, for others it means typing a comment, still other students choose to write on the image with a pencil (in the talk mode).

Today, I was really excited to receive an email that stated the opportunity to download Voicethreads would soon be available. They also mentioned that Pro users could start right away.

I signed up for an Ed account a while back. It cost me $10. I decided it was worth it if I would have an easier time showing off our work in other schools. I had trouble accessing Voicethreads when I spoke to teachers in an alternate route program back in early February. As a result of that class, at least one teacher contacted me to show me his Voicethread that was created for a group of first year Spanish as a second language seventh graders. He made a very complex scene, gave the students one minute to look at the scene and begin speaking - no notes allowed. It gave him the opportunity to assess his students abilities quickly and easily.

Many educators have really taken to this tool. I keep a list of links in delicious that I update. Another educator has created a wiki to keep track of the many uses in

I was curious if there would be a cost associated with downloading the files. They are VERY generous in giving teachers a free Pro account. I was hoping that they would provide downloads for free.


According to an blog post that Miguel Guhlin wrote today, the cost will be $2.99 per download for free accounts with bulk and educator discounts on the way.

From my years working in business, I know that Voicethread has already spent their time and money in the development of this exciting new option. I am hopeful that they may choose to give educators a limited number of free downloads per year. The downloads could become very lucrative income if students are able to bring these videos home. We could end up bringing their company money in the long run.

I know I am not going to spend my personal money on downloading Voicethreads and I'm sure my principal would not take on this cost. I would love one download per month for free for distribution and backup purposes. A lot of work goes into these presentations.

I hope the owners of Voicethread take this into consideration going forward. I appreciate the need to recoup the development dollars, but feel that we will help them in the long run if we provide free advertising by sending home Voicethread videos with our students.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Monsters Are Coming

I had heard about The Monster Exchange Project a couple of years ago. I don't think I ever went to the actual web site. I don't even think I had seen the Education World article I just linked to. It was just a project I had read about somewhere.

I have always wanted to do this type of project. Before I realized how globally connected my thinking could be, I tried to find a local school to partner with. It just never worked out.

Last year, I had the two fourth grade classes I taught have a monster exchange between the classes. It was fun. They enjoyed drawing their monsters and writing a description. They learned a lot about how important it was to be very descriptive of their monsters. Everyone thought that they wrote good, clear sentences. When they had to use someone else's description, they were shocked at the lack of detail. They were even more shocked when the other students had trouble following their write up. Once they compared their writing to the drawing the other student produced, it was easy to see where their own writing was lacking.

This year, I am part of the Twitter network. In a very serendipitous way, I happened upon @abaralt - a teacher in Florida about two days ago. Last night, she wrote that was looking for a partner for her second grade class in a monster exchange. A short email later and we're hooked up. She recommended two great books to introduce the lesson: Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberely and Hairy Scary Ordinary, What is an Adjective? by Brian Cleary. I almost fell over when the librarian had the second title on the shelf.

I spoke to the second grade teacher and explained the plan. She's going to help the students pre-write a paragraph so that it can be typed into Word. I only have 35 minutes once per week in the computer class, so this will help in a big way.

I'm off and running with a project that I've been wanting to do for a while. I can't wait!

Image Citation:
Monsters From England Web Page

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On Being a Newbie

My favorite things about being a newbie to the edublog circuit and communicating with teachers outside my county is challenging myself to become a better teacher all over again.

I have worked with computers since my second semester at college when I learned to program in BASIC on an Apple ][ computer. I always thought those brackets looked so cool.

I've always taught people how to use computers in some capacity or another. I was a "lab tech" person for a few years at my local community college. I helped teachers and students access the computer resources on our minicomputer - a Dec Vax 11/780 if I recall correctly. I helped people fix coding errors in COBOL, FORTRAN, Pascal, and even Assembly language (and I never took an Assembly language program - which is kind of funny).

A part-time teacher must have seen something in my skills because she asked if I wanted to apply for a job as a computer "teacher" in business. It was there that I learned to troubleshoot as a help desk person and teach computer classes to adults. I learned Word, Excel (which was a twist on VisiCalc), and how to create reports in a fourth generation language called Sperry Mapper. On it goes until I arrived as a grammar school computer teacher.

I guess the thing that I've been thinking about this past week or so is that I'm used to my accumulated knowledge and skill, but I'm so enjoying the challenge of what is amounting to "thinking differently".

Even though I brought a wealth of knowledge with me, I am behind in some of the skills of the read/ write web. I was listening to a "classic" episode of the EdTech Posse last night. They've been using Skype and creating podcasts since 2005! That was the year of my first blog. I can't tell you when exactly (Xanga is blocked at school).

I still need to learn how to look cool under pressure as a Skype call host. I still need to move beyond Kid Pix and Word in the lower elementary classes. I really enjoy my newbie status (I'm a big seven months into my current edublog). I'm so excited to see the difference in wikis March 2008 vs. March 2007 start date for wikis. I'm enjoying the ride.

Image Citation:
Wendenig, Wolfgang. "Apple II." wolfgang.wendenig - wuschL's photostream. 2007 Oct 30. 2008 Mar 5.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Make Way for Ducklings on Google Earth

After a bit of research over the weekend, I came up with a Google Earth project revolving around Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McClusky.

I saw one group of first graders yesterday and another today. Today went better. Yesterday, I printed out the text of the story (one set of facing pages for each child). In the original execution, I had a) one child to hold the book and show the pictures b) a printout of the story to follow along annotated with the stops on Google Earth c) the remaining children each reading a section of the story.

The problems with this method were a) the children read very softly and it was hard for everyone to hear b) more words were difficult for the children than I anticipated c) the book was a bit big for the chosen child to hold easily.

Yesterday's group did enjoy the Google Earth images, but it wasn't a great class.

Today, my second set of first graders arrived. I pretty much did it all. I started up Google Earth at our school address. I asked if they knew what they were looking at and how many children had seen Google Earth before. A handful had seen it before.

I read the first pages of the book and we talked about how far Boston was from our school. A couple of children had been to Boston. We "flew" there and looked at the pond in the park.

It was much better. All the children could hear the story and see the pictures. I held the printout behind the book so I could see the words. We looked to see if Beacon Hill, the State House, or Louisberg Square would be good places to raise ducklings.

We flew to the Charles River and looked at the island that Mr. and Mrs. Mallard chose to raise their ducklings.

When it was time to walk to the Public Gardens, we looked at the street and were amazed that the ducklings could walk so far.

It was a much better experience. I'm curious to see if anyone who reads this entry has tried something like this. What worked for you?

Image Citation:
Cullivan, Lee. "make way for ducklings." shoothead's photostream. 2007 Jan 24. 2008 Mar. 4.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

My KidPix Projects on a Wiki

I really love KidPix. When I first arrived at the school we had KidPix 3 Deluxe. I loved its simplicity. I scoured the Internet for ideas and purchased many books, but eventually designed most of what I did myself. Over time, I’ve put together a lot of different projects.

This year, I created a wiki and as the weeks go by I go back through the lesson plans and add JPGs of the KidPix pages and little write ups of the projects. I use KidPix with grades Kindergarten to eighth, although the projects are really mostly for the primary grades.

I’ve mentioned the site a few times over at, but thought I’d blog about it today. I still have one trimester of work to go, but it might be a useful resource to someone if they need a quick project idea.

I use the program extensively in Kindergarten and a fair amount in first and second grade. It has always been my plan to show the students that there are often more ways than one to use a piece of software. They become quite accomplished over time.

I am now using KidPix 4 for Schools. I had to switch because the old version would not work under OS X on Intel Macs. I do not like it as much. Too many bells and whistles in my opinion, but it still does a fantastic job.

I do not use Tux Paint at this point. I tried it last year and had trouble printing. I’ll have to try it again this year to see what I was doing wrong. I’m really into free open source programs whenever possible at this point in my teaching.

If you find it useful, I’m glad to have given you an idea or two. I’ll keep building the wiki. I’m also including a link on the navigation bar on the left. Feel free to add projects that you do with KidPix. I’m always on the look out for new ideas.