Monday, May 31, 2010


I thoroughly enjoyed going to EdCampPhilly on Saturday, May 22nd. I think one of the things that made it especially enjoyable was that I went with two friends who had never really experienced this type of meeting with teachers just for the sake of personal learning.

Rather than going into a big explanation, please click this link to read what Kevin Jarrett, one of the organizers had to say about the what, when, and why of the event.

The Day Itself
The day was well organized. I'm sure it was a leap of faith on the part of the organizers to try to put together an event this large. We arrived a bit early, found parking in a campus lot, and walked over to the building. They really gave me the feeling that this was going to be a fun event by the use of playground chalk on the sidewalk to mark the way to the door of the building. 

Once inside the building, the registration ticket was entered into their system and we stopped by the student center for a bite to eat and conversations. I had been thinking for days about what I had to offer as a session at EdCampPhilly. One thing that I've gotten very good at is running the monster project wiki with Anna Baralt. I had an opportunity to sit and talk with David Jakes. He helped me think through what questions I had that I'd like to discuss with other teachers. Specifically, I decided this would include what's been working, what could be done better, and what opportunities there were in these collaborations. I enjoyed some conversation with Joyce about a web site validity web quest of hers that I had used earlier in the year. I had a chance to speak with Annemarie Stoeckle and asked her to be moral support at the session I offered for the fourth time slot of the day.

The Sessions
I attended the first session with my two friends. We all decided we would like to see what David Jakes and Joyce Valenza would speak about in the session titled "The future of student research". I enjoyed the exchange between David and Joyce as they showed us several projects their high school students were involved in. I learned how Google News Timeline can be used to help students with research. [Try typing Challenger space shuttle and look in 1986]. Many links from their talk and the rest of my links for the day are under the edcamp tag in my delicious account. One thing I felt a little bad about is that my friends, who had never attended anything like this, were a bit overwhelmed by the fast exchange between the leaders and the participants. That's not to say it was bad. In fact, they both felt they learned so much. It was just a lot in one hour.

The second session was a little bit more difficult for me to settle into. At the beginning of the day, Kevin told everyone that if they attended a session and it wasn't fitting their needs, they should move on to another session. Additionally, if we were presenting and someone left, we shouldn't feel worried or offended. In the first 20 minutes of the time period, I sat in three different sessions. They were just not appropriate for my teaching the Kindergarten through eighth grade set. Finally, the third session called "Technology on the Cheap" with Mike Marron, seemed to fit my needs. It was technically a bit over my head, but I got some ideas to think about surrounding the technology I support in my building.

Lunch was on our own. We found a food truck across from the building and brought some sandwiches back to the tables on the campus grounds. We chatted and decompressed a bit.

The third session I attended was titled "WWKD: What Would Katy Do in Her Fifth Grade Classroom". This was exactly the type of session I hoped to learn from. Katy Gartside shared her Google Site for her fifth grade class and shared projects she had worked on with her students. She gave me some first hand insight into Edmodo. I've been aware of it for a while and have followed one of its founders, Jeff O'Hara for a long time on Twitter. Katy helped me understand more about its potential in my classroom as she led us through some screens and discussed how she found it useful with her students.

The final session was my personal stretch. I led a session called Online Collaboration in Primary Grades: Ideas? Questions? What Works? I know from experience that the primary grades do not always get a lot of attention at conferences. I didn't prepare to speak in advance so during the day, I quickly came up with a shared Google Document to list some links and my main talking points. I enjoyed the company of about fifteen teachers. They seems interested and I managed to get some discussion going on in the room. I was very grateful for the support of Annemarie who has been a member of the monster project wiki for the last few years. As I mentioned to those in the room, monster projects are not new. What I like about the way we've been doing it is that we not only draw, describe, and redraw the monsters but talk afterward about the difference between the drawings and descriptions. We do a good job communicating throughout the project from beginning to end, too.

I enjoyed presenting at the session and now that I've gotten my feet wet, I know I'll do it again.

Should You Go in the Future
Absolutely. Both of my friends felt that they were exposed to new ideas and will go again with me some day. They felt a little overwhelmed and needed to take a break from thinking by the end of the day. We all enjoyed the "after party" at Slainte Restaurant. The food and company there were great. I look forward to EdCampPhilly 2011 when and if it happens...and it sounds like it will.

Jarrett, Kevin. "DSC_8113." kjarrett's photostream. 2010 May 31. 2010 May 22. 

Jarrett, Kevin. "DSC_8142." kjarrett's photostream. 2010 May 31. 2010 May 22.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New IWB Workout Blog

I use this space to write up activities and plans that I use during computer class in grades Kindergarten through eight. These posts assist me in improving my work with my students year to year.

I am in the process of assisting several teachers in making the transition to using a MacBook, projector, speakers, and ActivBoard. I have created a separate space to document lessons I am learning in teaching the teachers. 

This past year, I created a ning to assist help the teachers become comfortable with the process of learning and sharing online. It is to form the habit of mind of reading emails and connecting to the ning. The space is private. I cannot open it to the public. 

I do want to be able to share my documentation, so I am writing blog posts in Blogger and cross-posting it to the private ning. In some ways, the documentation is specific to the MacBook and my school set up and software. In other ways, the documentation may be helpful to other teachers and technology specialists in general. If you find it of use, please feel free to add my new IWB Workout blog to your reader.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Great Mail Race and Other State Research

Last year, a third grade teacher asked me to help her with something she had read about. It was called The Great Mail Race. After some research, I learned that it is a postal mail project. We combined it with some general state research and built more onto the project this year. I want to share what the third grade has learned and how I helped to build the lesson.

Research Using Online Tools
The first step was to learn about online research tools. I wrote a post about the work back on the 25th of April. The following week, the students used the Fact Monster web site to find basic information about their state such as the government, land area, population, state flower, state bird, three largest cities, and state nickname. They had to choose a state that they had not yet visited. We had a good discussion about square miles versus square kilometers, how to determine which city was the largest, and what a governor does in a state.

State Tourism
At the end of the lesson, the teacher thought it would be interesting to have the students find some places they could visit if they took a trip to the state. We only have 42 minutes, so I created a list of national parks, zoos, museums, waterfalls, and buildings and structures by state on a wiki.

As the students took a tour of their state, they had a worksheet to help them think about what they were seeing. In addition to their name and the name of their state, the form includes the following questions:

1. What is the name of a national park that you could travel to in your state?
2. What is the name of the zoo for your state?
3. Does this zoo look like an interesting place to visit? Why?
4. What is the name of a museum for your state?
5. Does this museum look like an interesting place to visit? Why?
6. What else was listed for your state?
7. Would you like to visit this place? Why?

The Great Mail Race
Finally, the students are going to choose a Catholic school in their state and send a letter to a third grade class in that school. I had never heard of the Great Mail Race until last year. The students sent a letter telling a little bit about our school and asked the partner school to fill in a form with questions. Here is an example I found using Google and the search terms: the great mail race questionnaire. 

Last year we searched for school addresses using Find a School-NCES Kids' Zone. It worked well, but felt very random. The students didn't know anything about the school they chose. This year, I researched two school choices for each of the students and posted the address and a link the the school's web page. I was especially looking for colorful school web sites. The students looked at the web pages for both schools and decided which school they would most like to send their letter. Next they copied the address on a sheet of paper to bring back up to the classroom. They will fill in the letter to the partner school, address the envelope, and take a walk to the post office to mail the letter.

Finally, it's a race to see which school will be first to reply to our third grade students. As the letters come back, they mark the location on a map of the United States. Overall, it is a really nice way to learn more about our fifty states.

Image Citation

Oro, Ann. "County Park Sign." njtechteacher's photostream. 24 Nov 2007. 12 May 2010.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution Book and Website

I am in the process of reading The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution by Chris Betcher and Mal Lee. As I've been reading, I'm recording my thoughts in a Google Doc. One of the chapters speaks to e-Teaching and three common phases teachers go through when adopting the use of an Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) in the classroom. I've saved all of my flip charts from the last two years and decided to find out how this has mapped to my use. I thought I'd share what I found out on my blog.

For Those Without an Interactive Whiteboard
It's worth mentioning that Promethean allows anyone to download their personal edition of the ActivInspire software. I believe you have to sign up for a free account at Promethean Planet. You can run the software on a computer using a projector or large monitor. The students can work the files with the compute mouse. It's good practice for the day and Interactive Whiteboard finally shows up in your school.

Phase One: Doing Old Things in Old Ways
The book suggests that most people start out by using the IWB in the same manner that they might a chalkboard. It surprised me to see how true this was in my case. I learned how to use the board on my own time and in my own way. I took tutorials at the Promethean Planet web site.

When I l
ook back at September 2008, I mostly created text box titles (in advance) and had students walk up to the board and write with the pen. As I looked through the files, the first two months look like PowerPoint presentations with fill in the blanks for the students. I had very limited use of the tools. The pointer, pencil, eraser, and colors were my top tools. The lessons were not interactive, but I used what I knew would work seamlessly with the students. As it was the first board in the school, everyone just wanted to touch the pen and the board. It made my lessons marginally more interactive since I do not have a blackboard or whiteboard that I can easily access with my students. This was the first time they could actually write down an answer for me in front of the whole class.

Phase Two: Doing Old Things, But in New Ways
I needed to see an IWB in action to get a better idea of what I could be aiming for in the classroom. In December 2008, I went to a conference at a local university and went to a session with Promethean representatives. I was the only one who showed up, so they dropped what they planned (ActivExpressions) and gave me some pointers. They showed me around Promethean Planet and how to use the paint bucket on text. This was a breakthrough idea for me. I have the students in second grade work on that I run with Anna Baralt (@abaralt). I used the idea the next class to have the students find adjectives. It was something I could have done with Word and a highlighter tool, but it was a new way for my students and I.

We have a set of 32 ActiVotes that came with the board. It took me a long time to figure out how to register the ActiVotes. I received help via Promethean Planet and the conference. My first flip chart with the voting devices was January 2009. It was still an old thing in a new way. I wanted to talk with the third grade students about our state bird, the Eastern Goldfinch. It was a new lesson, but I wanted to try the ActiVotes. I couldn't yet figure out how to assign student names, but I created a number of lessons that gave the students in all grade levels various topics containing multiple choice questions and answers. It was a good way to talk and interact as a group. I had been using SurveyMonkey for this purpose, but this was more immediate and we didn't have to leave the discussion area in my room, go to the computer to fill out the form, and return to the discussion area. At this point, I didn't feel comfortable enough with my output to submit the lesson to Promethean Planet.

By the end of January of my first year with the board, I started trying out some ActivStudio gadgets. My eighth grade had created some movies. I used a spinner to select the order in which we would play the movies. It enabled me to test another feature of the software with the students. They enjoyed the spinner as an alternate method to select movies. I wasn't too happy with the spinner and tend to use the Interactive Fruit Machine.

I continued to build in new ways. I teach the third grade how to read a web page. We start with a book. I could have held up the book, or used a document camera (but I may not have known how to use the one we won yet). So, I scanned pages from a library book, put the images into the flip chart, and incorporated the voting devices into it. Even though I resized the image, the version on the board was readable. I used the pen to circle the location of the answers on the page after the vote. This lesson was from January 31, 2009. I can't upload an image because of copyright.

We were having an out of uniform day to raise funds for solar cookers.

In another attempt to explore using the board in new ways,
I found a video to engage the students in learning about Darfur. Again, the students used the ActiVotes to register their knowledge of solar cookers, where Darfur is located, and the content of the movie. I started saving the flip chart pages as images, brought them into PowerPoint, and uploaded the file to Slideshare. You can see them here. Since the class was on Saint Patrick's day, there are a number of images on the flip chart pages for the holiday. This lesson was from March 17, 2009.

I can see how I would find a new thing and use it a lot. The following week, I was trying out Discovery Streaming. Every year, I work on the book “Make Way for Ducklings”. I had found a Google Lit Trip about the book to use with Google Earth the year before. In this example, I embedded video and votes. This is from a week after the Darfur set.

I continued to use the ActiVotes quite a bit, but I started using them to have students evaluate choices instead of simply selecting a correct answer. I had them use the board for matching and evaluating pieces of information with the pen. There is still a good bit of use of the pen to write on the board. In this fourth grade Internet Safety lesson, I tried to reach a little more with the depth of the questions for the students. This is from April 24, 2009.

As I closed out the school year with the board, I was ready to spend the summer learning more on my own time. I had all my flip charts saved so they could be reused and modified the following year. I really never use exactly the same lesson year after year. With the flip chart, I can review the content, modify the ideas, and take them to a new level the following year. It is a time saver. Additionally, we used the board set up for Skype calls with other classes.

Phase Three: Doing New Things in New Ways
In the book, the third phase talks about teachers doing new things in new ways. I’m not entirely here, but I feel I’m starting to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do with PowerPoint, a projector, and Skype. I’m working more with have students evaluate information. I am starting to share resources on Promethean Planet. I uploaded a duplicate by mistake, but I'm learning. The resources are on the United States site.

I have a hard time finding charts I really like for computer class. In November 2009, I found a symmetry lesson on Promethean Planet that I used with Kindergarten. This flip chart helped me to understand hidden objects and draggable objects. I had a hard time using ActivStudio to create hidden and draggable objects. I think it was around this time that I finally decided I had to learn ActivInspire because there were nice ActivTip movies that clearly described what I wanted to do.

I now have three flip charts shared on Promethean Planet. The first is State Research: Learning to Use Keywords in a Search Engine. It has had 14 downloads in eleven days (between the two files I uploaded). The second is Computer Terminology. It has had a whopping 46 downloads in nine days. The last is Digital Citizenship. It has had 14 downloads in nine day. The flip charts use draggable items, have locked items, have ActiVote opportunities, and page notes. They charts give third to fifth grade students the opportunity to evaluate information. I look forward to learning more with the ActivTips. The more I learn, the more I can create and share.

The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution
I've been conversing with Chris Betcher, one of the authors. He mentioned that there are teachers discussing the book at his Interactive Whiteboard Revolution ning. It is also mapped to I've been a member of the ning since before I had a board. I plan on spending more time there. I'm still reading the book, but I thought this would make a good general blog post.