Saturday, March 28, 2009

Success or Failure

An interesting thing happened this week. Our social studies teacher gave the eighth grade students the opportunity to share what they learned about World War I through a slide presentation. They used Open Office Impress on the tablets for the first time.

We've been learning to use PowerPoint since the students were in the fourth grade. I did not tell the students how to get to Impress on the tablets. They found the program, learned how to use it, and created their presentation.

I debriefed one of the two classes of students yesterday. They shared their thoughts on the program. They felt it was harder to use than PowerPoint. They had to do a lot of digging through the menus to find what they were looking for. They found the design templates and were disappointed in finding only three.

This is a success. They knew enough about what they wanted to do to make Impress work for them.

I spoke with the teacher and asked her to informally keep a tally of how many students flooded the screen with text versus presentations heavy on images. I haven't found out what she saw, but got informal feedback from my son. He was surprised that she didn't "say" that the slides should be light on text/ heavy on images and talking. He was surprised that she told them afterwards that the slides had too much text overall.

I need to have a look at the presentations and then start being more emphatic when I explain why we create slides as we do in computer class. I want them to be aware that they need to make this the format for all slide presentations.

I was going to show them Death by PowerPoint by Don McMillan, but then I found a new version by the same comedian. It is called Doctor Don - PowerPoint Therapist. MySpace is one of the few things blocked at school and I am happy to see that Zamzar was able to convert the file.

Doctor Don - Powerpoint Therapist

Student Response
I think I am going to have the eighth grade make a student response project. The idea is just forming in my brain right now, but I will give them the option to create a video or audio podcast, a PowerPoint, graphic image, or mini poster in Word. I'll come back later to document how it all turns out.

An Aside
I have to look at Impress on the tablets at school on Monday. There are more than three layouts on my Mac. I wonder if I need to update Open Office on the XP machines. Giving it a quick test run, it seems very intuitive after having used PowerPoint for years.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Twenty-one Images on Pics4Learning

I was looking for a great place to find images for students. I had two criteria: 1) images had to be 100% Kindergarten to eighth grade appropriate 2) images had to be usable in student projects either on the Internet or within the confines of the school. The site I used was Pics4Learning.

Better Than Last Year
I've been aware of the site for a while. I bookmarked it in delicious in August of 2007. I hadn't really taken my students to the site because it seemed to lack depth in the number of photos offered. Since then a lot of people have been adding their images.

Fourth Grade Bird Project
My fourth grade students are using the images exclusively in their seven facts about birds project. An added bonus to this site is the bibliography information that is included at the bottom of each image. It's almost a simple copy and paste. Sometimes the students forget to copy and paste the citation. Sometimes the citations are all there, but not in the same order as the slides. For this year, I am being lenient.

Twenty-one Images
I took some time on February 15th to load a bunch of my images from Flickr onto Pics4Learning. I was surprised how long it took for them to show up in their listings. It was just about one month. Here they are - all twenty-one of them - as of today.

Now that my students have been downloading images, I'm going to be a little less generous in the size of the photos I upload to Pics4Learning. My fourth graders had a fair sized job dragging the images into PowerPoint and resizing them. Additionally, the photos were so large that the PowerPoint files were in the 17MB range. The size of the files were bringing the Macs to their wireless knees as they were opened from the file server.

So Many Generous Photographers
There are so many generous teachers labeling their images with Creative Commons licenses in Flickr. I still will not bring my students to that site to search for images. I wish Flickr had a child-safe setting. I don't really want to use FlickrStorm because it requires effort on my part to generate the sets of images. I really want my students to do the selecting. I'm still unclear about how to save the sets for use in the classroom.

It is my hope that these same teachers will start sharing their images on Pics4Learning too.

Image Citation:
My 2008fireworks5.jpg on Pics4Learning.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Where Does the Money Go

Our school collects mission money. During the year, we also have out of uniform days. A short time ago, I came across a post by Erica Hartman called Be The Change in Darfur. In the post, Erica links to New Jersey Coalition Responds to Darfur. It turns out that one of the coalition members is none other than the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark - our very own archdiocese.

Make It More Meaningful
The student government decided to make the Saint Patrick's Day an out of uniform day for this cause. Each student that chooses to dress down donates one dollar. My eighth grade son's teacher asked if anyone knew anything about the cause. Someone more or less said, "Who cares as long as we get a dress down day". I decided it was time to step up to the plate and create a short lesson during computer class. Out came the tools of the trade: Activstudio, Activotes, online searches, and a slide set to share.

What I Found
I want to use the same presentation for Kindergarten through eighth grade. I found a great video at the Jewish World Watch website. Unfortunately I did not want to bring up the word rape. I just wanted to leave it at violence. I found the video on YouTube, downloaded it with Zamzar, brought it into iMovie and made a couple of little edits.

I am starting with a KWL chart for all grades. I will probably fill it in for the youngest students. I'll have to see how it goes. I've interwoven questions to find out what the students know about where Darfur is and what experience they have with collecting firewood. This will bring us into the video.

Bringing It Back Home
Finally, I want to provide the students with a feel for how they are making a change for the better in the world. We will briefly review approximately how many families are at the refugee camp, how much the cookers cost, and how much the violence has gone down as a result of these efforts.

I think it's important to make a strong connection in the student's minds about what is actually happening with their dollar. I wish I had a better understanding of all the other work our student's money does with the mission money collections.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Activboard Quick Activity

During Terra Nova test days, the morning is dedicated to administering the test and the afternoon has abbreviated rotations of specials. Since I teach computer class, I am in the afternoon rotation with thirty minute class periods.

What To Do - Grade 4-8
I really didn't want the students to have an open choice of program and I really want to give them a break after tests all morning. I decided to turn to my Activboard and Activotes. I want the students engaged. I was looking for a fun project and decided to go to the Lesson section on Promethean Planet.

I found an illusions flip chart called Tricks of the Eye by Lisa Dubemar. It has an interesting set of optical illusions. Some I had seen, some are new to me. She had a nice opening exercise with pennies, cups, and partners, but I skipped to the illusions and added some more of my own from the NIEHS Kid Page. NIEHS stands for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

How Did It Go?
I had 4th, 6th, and 8th grade students. They were all engaged in the examples, voting for their choice, and seeing how they compared with the students sitting nearby. The half hour few by. I arranged the room in a horseshoe of chairs around the Activboard.

This could really be accomplished with a PowerPoint or Keynote set of slides containing the images. Students could have white paper and pens to hold up their answers or could answer via SurveyMonkey or Poll Everywhere.

Potential Updates to the Questions
Instead of having an A and B choice, the students seemed to want and A, B, Both, or I Can't Tell set of options. I just told them to press C if they saw both images, or D if they couldn't see either.

Overall I was really happy with this little filler lesson and so were the students. Not a complaint was heard in the room.

Here are the slides I used with the students. The images are from the NIEHS Kids Page. As always, I struggle with using images. I believe these are fine to post under Fair Use guidelines. If the owner feels they need to be removed, please let me know and I will happily do so.

Image Citation:
"optical illusion - pulsing vortex." ClintJCL's photostream. 2006 Oct 20. 2009 Mar 3.