Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Using Edmodo in Fourth Through Eighth Grade

Last spring I tested Edmodo with the students. We have been using it in the fourth through eighth grade since September. There are so many things I like about it. Someone asked me last year why they might want to use it if they were already a Google Apps for Education school. I've been thinking about this question.

Teaching Students About Formal vs. Informal Spaces
There are many views on how formal a teacher chooses to keep the Edmodo space. At this point, I am insisting on proper capitalization, punctuation and avoiding texting short cuts. I've spoken with the different classes about the difference between how we choose to speak in formal situations such as in the classroom and informal situations like a backyard picnic. 

I shared the fact that people look at us differently in different situations. We need to become savvy about this in online spaces, too. I do not have the students using the Edmodo page like a Facebook wall. For my purposes, it fills up the screen with too many off-task messages.

Three Types of Assignments and Why
I have had three different types of assignments, so far.

Uploaded File
The first type is a project that has work that will be handed in and graded such as a word processing task completed in Open Office. I use Open Office to teach the students a variety of skills. Some examples include using tabs to set up a heading, checking for proper spacing between words and after punctuation, and handing in a well proofread document. I am finding great benefits to handing in the assignment through Edmodo. When I get home, I am able to download the document and save it with a different name. I use the highlighter tool to highlight mistakes of the same type in like colors. Then I use the same highlighter color and provides notes to the student on specific ways to improve.

Next, I upload my new version of the file on a comment back to the student in Edmodo assignment. I ask them to download the attached file. Read all the notes in the revised word processing document and think about one thing they can do to improve their work next time. In Edmodo, they type how they will improve next time as another comment. The next time they do a word processing assignment, I send them to their note in Edmodo to remind themselves what they planned to do to improve their skills.

Reply as a Comment
The second type of task is a project where the students do some research and provide answers to me in comments on the assignment. I have used this method in project work when my students researched partner schools in a collaboration. 

We are working on the Progressive Story wiki with four other schools. As an assignment, I asked the students to look at the school web sites for our partner schools and find one thing that is the same about both of our schools, one thing that is different between our schools, and one interesting thing about the other school.

Once they find their facts, they turn in the information as a comment on the assignment.

Check Point
The third type of task is a check point in the middle of a larger project. My eighth grade students are creating a presentation in Google Docs with a partner. The process involves finding and bookmarking images, importing images into the presentation, and writing speaker notes. I've added these three check points as Edmodo assignments. When a student completes one part of the assignment, they "turn in" that assignment with a comment that they have bookmarked all images, imported and added link backs to the images, or finished their speaker notes. In a glance, I can open Edmodo and see where each student is in the process.

Wrap Up
There are probably more things I can share. For now, this is a good recap of some of the aspects of Edmodo that are working for me in the computer lab.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Purposeful Work in Preschool

This year I am delighted to have the preschool three and four year old classes visiting my room. They are coming to do whole group and individual work on the computers. It's going to be an exciting new look at student learning from my perspective. I want to begin tracking our projects.

Finding Resources
The classroom teacher and I began thinking about the types of learning that the PreK3 students are doing in class. They are working on colors and shapes. I searched using Google's Advanced Search. My search terms were preschool shapes because I wanted both the word preschool and shapes on the page I would find. Under the File Type drop down list, I selected Shockwave Flash (.swf). A few hits down the list I came across an adorable game called Purpy's Shapes.

Here is an interesting aside: When I searched using the Advanced Search option and chose the link, I only get the game filling the whole browser screen. If I go directly to the web page, I still get the game, but it is surrounded by advertising. This makes the web page so much better for preschool children.

Once I knew that Sheppard Software had a great game, I went directly to their web site to investigate other flash games for preschool. I found Bloople's Colors

Whole Group Work - PreK3
The classroom teacher and I introduced the activity on the interactive whiteboard. We read the words on the screen and taught the children how to use the pen to select and drag items on the screen. They enjoyed the activity. I told the students we would work on my "big computer" this week and that they would return to work on the "little computers" next week. We started with Bloople's Colors.

Individual Work - PreK3
When the students returned, they learned how to sit on their bottoms on the chairs with wheels. I had them all raise their left hand and explained that they would need to press the left side of the mouse (the same side they had raised their hand) to make the mouse work. Most students had no problem. About a quarter of the three year old students needed extra help. To make life simple, I went to those computers and disabled the secondary mouse button. They will build those skills over the course of the year.

Whole Group Work - PreK4
The four year old students were working on patterns. Rather than using Kid Pix or Tux Paint to build patterns, I decided to use Kidspiration. The screen is much less cluttered and I felt they would be more likely to concentrate on the task rather than trying to draw.

As a whole group, I taught the students one step at a time how to use the Kidspiration program through increasingly more difficult patterns. I have the entire lesson on my lesson wiki.

Individual Work - PreK4
We followed up the group work one week later with individual work on the lab computers. The only thing I forgot to do was switch the icons to the bottom of the page to match the set up I used on the interactive whiteboard. They adapted quickly and had so much fun with their patterns.

Next Steps
It looks like the PreK3 and PreK4 students and teachers are enjoying their work in the computer lab. I will post more ideas as we continue through the year. I'm so excited to work with this age group!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sharing Time

I am starting up a new wiki called Sharing Time. It is a based on a wiki that I have been using for the last three years called Time Zone Experiences. The previous wiki was originally set up by Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard. I'm moving to the new wiki because I want to take the project in a different direction. I still like the original premise, but thought I'd start anew. With Lisa's blessing, I'm looking forward to seeing where the project goes from here on Sharing Time.

Looking for Partners
The project is intended to help students and teachers work on several ISTE NETS standards and learn about time zones through comparing their school day with school days of other classes and students around the world.

The project begins within the walls of a school. Students do some research on their own into:
1) Why we have time zones
2) The name of our time for our school
3) Where in the world is the home of Greenwich Mean Time
4) How many hours ahead or behind GMT is the school

Currently, my fifth grade students are researching on their own and sharing their answers with me through a comment to an assignment posted in Edmodo.

Next I will break the two classes of fifth grade students into podcast teams.

Sharing Our Day
The podcast teams are going to write scripts about something that goes on during a time period of the school day. We will write about subject and specials classes and post the podcasts to the wiki.

My hope is to have several other classes in different time zones join with their own creative work to explain their time zones. It will be up to each individual school to decide how they would like to share their day. Some might choose to use Voki, others might use Voicethread, still others may choose a different tool such as drawings.

Once the sharing begins to happen, the teachers leading the projects can choose to set up a Skype session, Edmodo group, or other means to get the students sharing and asking questions about that part of the world.

Would You Like to Try This Project?
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. I will be working on this project throughout the year until May 2012. If international partners outside the United States join us the project can continue until September 2012 when I will begin the project anew for our school year.

Sign up via the form on my wiki by either following this link or clicking the Join Us link on the left side of the wiki. I look forward to Sharing Time with you and your students.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Edmodo and the New School Year

This year I am starting to use Edmodo for grades four through eight. I used it for the first technology class of the year. I wanted to share some insights and ideas to keep in mind for next year.

Our Own Domain
I attended about five hours of the 2011 EdmodoCon online conference. It was a great way to learn more about how other educators are using the program. One feature is the ability to reserve a domain name for your school. It allows the administrator(s) to get analytic information about the use of Edmodo and communicate across the teachers and students at the school or district level.

The students are learning to type to go to the web site. I am enjoying the comments students are leaving in the evening in response to feedback I have given them about the first project.

Basics of Edmodo
Many of the fifth, seventh, and eighth grade students tested Edmodo with me last May. We did not really scratch the surface of the program and there are new features that were released. My first assignment was similar across all grade levels. The students:
* Answered a poll question - unique to each grade depending on the feedback I was interested in receiving
* Shared their favorite mode of learning and a future career goal which is an option on their profile
* Searched the calendar to find the date that the first trimester ends
* Sent me a direct message with the date
* Clicked the "Turn In" link and sent me an "all finished" message

It's great to be able to send the students quick feedback on their work.

Submitting an Assignment File
My next task is to teach the students how to submit their work files through Edmodo. I wanted a simple task for fourth and fifth grade. I realized that their profile could use an avatar. I decided to see if I could give them a template through Kid Pix. It is a program they easily use.

I created a square that is outlined in black and filled with yellow. I put the Kid Pix file in my resource wiki in case someone else finds it useful. It needs to be downloaded and placed in the Shared - Idea Machine folder. I created a Grade4-5 sub folder to store the Avatar.kpx file.

To use the file in Kid Pix Deluxe 4 for Schools, the students click on the Idea Machine. Next, they double click the Grade4-5 folder, then double click the Avatar.kpx file.

I know many teachers use Tux Paint, too. I created a Tux Paint file and put it on my resource wiki. This file is a black outline with a transparent center since that is what is required by Tux Paint to allow a student to have their work to display on top of the template. If the template is white, the drawings and stamps hide under the template. On an OS X iMac, this is not a simple task. You have to know the following trick. Go to the Tux Paint application icon and right click (control click). Choose Show Package Contents from the menu. Open the Contents folder, navigate to the Resources folder, then the starters folder. This is where templates are placed; in this case, the Avatar.png file.

Students would click the New icon then scroll down the list until they see the black outline of a square.

The students enjoyed designing an avatar. We did not finish the task today. During our next class, the students will flatten any stickers and words, save the file, then submit the file to Edmodo.

There will be a follow-up assignment to save the image as a JPEG file. They will learn to use the settings link in Edmodo and browse for the image. In Kid Pix, I will place a shortcut to the Shared Users folder on the desktop for ease of locating the file. Kid Pix really buries the folder on the hard drive.

I'm looking forward to seeing all the colorful avatars in Edmodo next week.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Brilliant Son

This week I started to prepare an idea for the bulletin boards in my room. There are so many apps that my sons and I use for the iTouch that I have not had an opportunity to share at school. My first thought was to photograph the iTouch with the app running when my brilliant oldest son came to my rescue. This makes twice in two weeks that my children have taken what I taught them, made it their own, and taught me something.

No Mom, Don't Take a Photo
Michael asked what I didn't just do a screen capture of the app I wanted. He showed me how to lightly tap the home button at the bottom of the iTouch while lightly tapping the power button at the top edge of the device. The screen flashed and the image was captured.

The resolution was fantastic. On his new iTouch the resolution is 533x800 pixels. The resolution on the iTouch I inherited from him (purchased in 2009) is 320x480 pixels. I brought them into Word and they look great!

Where Are the Photos?
My son showed me that the photos were in the Photo app on the iTouch. I figured that I would sync the iTouch and grab them off the iMac desktop. He asked me, "how about the Bump app?" I remembered hearing about the app on the Tech Chick Tips podcast. I didn't think of the app because I thought it was just used to swap contact information, but you can swap files, too.

It was fun to use the app, but my son said I was way too enthusiastic. He thought I was going to break the iTouch devices. Apparently, you just have to bump hands while holding the device.

I Guess I Still Have to Sync the iTouch
My son showed me how I could use the Photo app and just click the send icon on the bottom right corner of the screen. I emailed the images to myself and was set to create my bulletin board. I'll put photos of the finished boards up with this post as soon as I get the board together this week.

The Apps I'll Suggest to Students
Edmodo - Free - We'll be using it in computer class this year.
Flashcard Touch - $4.99 - I bought it for my sons so they can use their Quizlet card decks to study on the iTouch. My son told me he found out the card decks have to be public on Quizlet to use them on Flashcard Touch.
Grades 2 - Free - My son is excited about this one because you can plug in the weights as wells as the grades.
Mild Elements - Free - A periodic table with links to Wikipedia articles about the elements.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary - Free - He feels it is a valuable dictionary.
Convertbot - $1.99 - My son got this free through the "Free App a Day" and likes it for its ability to convert length, data size, currency, area, volume, time, temperature, speed, and mass between various units.
WolframAlpha - $1.99 - I think I purchased this one for my sons. I believe it has so many different uses and is a very versatile app.
YouVersion Bible - Free - Since my son is at a Jesuit school, the bible is indispensable. He found a version (among the many in the app) that matches his school bible.
Dragon Dictation - Free - A great app to record (and have typed) a quick memo.
Children's Bible - Free - I haven't looked too closely, but I wanted some apps for the youngest students
Evernote - Free - I may mention this site to the eighth grade students as they get ready to leave for high school, so I thought I'd include it on the board.
24/7 Tutor: Spanish - Free - I wanted an app for the Spanish language taught in our school. This was free, I played around with it, and found it to be useful.
Starfall - ??? - The students really enjoy the ABCs.I found that they have a couple of apps. When I tried to download them at the iTunes store, I received a message that they were not available in the United States. I sent them a message and got a quick reply that the should be available through the U.S. app store shortly. I'll certainly add those apps to my board once I can download them.

There may be other apps that I will include on the board over time, but this gives me a great start and a fresh bulletin board for the new school year.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

#EduFave Digging Through Favorites

I was thinking about going through my Favorites list in Twitter. As the school year starts, I want to see what gems I thought were going to be useful. Sometimes when I'm on my not-Smartphone, I favorite things that won't open in the cell phone browser to look at later. I never seem to get back to things.

Shall We Play a Game?
I've decided that once a quarter I'll send a tweet asking my followers to look through their Favorites and find something they added over a month ago. Just tag it EduFave. We'll all find something we may have added to favorites a long time ago and forgot about. It will force us to look at our favorites.

My Way Back Machine Favorite
From August 26, 2008 Allanah King shared how to turn your Delicious bookmarks into a clickable HTML file.

What is one of your #EduFave tweets?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Talented Son

My thoughts are turning to the new school year. As a result of a Skype call with Shannon Miller and attending the 2011 EdmodoCon I am filled with new ideas for the 2011-2012 school year. My son has become really talented in using The Gimp. I asked him for a tutorial on creating badges for Edmodo. It turns out Edmodo made it much easier than I realized.

Edmodo Badges
Electronic badges can be awarded to students for various teacher selected reasons. I have not yet decided on what I will award, but 100% completion of big projects, supporting another student, contributions to discussions are all possibilities. 

In order to introduce the concept, and award students who helped me test out Edmodo last year, I wanted to create a badge. I knew my son had taken The Gimp to greater heights than I have, so I asked him to teach me how to use the path tool to create a badge and add a glossy look to the top. I thought that the badge needed to be fully designed.  This is the badge Stephen designed for me. It is gorgeous! I actually like it better than what Edmodo did for me - although they make it less work in the long run.

When we uploaded it, we found out that the little edge and drop shadow beneath the image is created on the Edmodo side. So Stephen redid the badge as a simple square as you can see on the right.

Edmodo turns it into this finished image:

The image is a 55x55 pixel square. 

I don't know how to find the teacher shared badges, but if you like this badge I did make it a shared image.

Ideas From Shannon
One idea that Shannon shared with me would make a collaborative project much easier. Rather than having two teachers on the project, Shannon and her teacher-collaborator from outside the school created one teacher account. In this way, both teachers were able to communicate with all students. It became one classroom and one teacher voice. I thought that was an interesting way to approach the collaboration.

I'm not planning on a collaborative project through Edmodo at this point, but I am up for it. I can extend this idea to collaborating through a wiki.

Friday, August 5, 2011

140edu: Ideas and the Need to Reach Out

I remember hearing great feedback from people who attended the #140 Conference in New York a while back. It wasn't education related per se, but people who went we so glad they did. When I heard that there was going to be a 140edu conference in August, I signed up immediately.

My Reasons for Going
The conference was broadcast via the #140conf NYC Ustream channel. I know from experience that I don't sit down and really watch Ustream the way I attend to a live event. I'm not a city girl, but I knew that I could make it up to 92nd Street. Attending is also another way of reaching out to the educators that make up the online part of my learning network. Relationships become so much stronger when you can meet in person.

The Need to Reach Out
At the end of Kim Sivick's talk, Global Collaboration for Elementary Age Children, an audience member asked where she could find global collaborative partners. I took out a little Moo Card with my contact information and planned on giving it to her at the end of the talk. I didn't feel right standing up while the talk was still going on. Sadly, the person left the auditorium before I could reach out to her. I knew what she was wearing, but couldn't find her the rest of the day. It was something I had talked about in one of my sessions at ntcamp last Saturday. I had gathered some resources on a Google Doc and would have been happy to exchange email addresses or talk with her over the phone.

During the conference, a few of the EdCamp NYC organizers and I went out to lunch. Our next unconference is on October 1 at The School at Columbia University. The EdCamp NYC link in this post will take you to our web page where you can reserve a free ticket to the event. Katy Gartside and I wanted to brainstorm ways to bring more teachers to our unconference...specifically teachers who don't connect in online spaces. In addition to Karen Blumberg and Deven Black (from the EdCamp NYC team), we had @21stcenturychem and Michael Doyle sharing their thoughts.

After lunch, Katy and I had the pleasure of speaking with Mo Krochmal (@Krochmal). He had been filming and taking photos during the day and stopped to share the fact that I could find a video of our impromptu Zumba session on the Social Media News NY Facebook page. Incidentally, videos of the #140edu talks are on that Facebook page, as well.

Mo was so interesting to talk to. He has had a varied career including education. He shared the idea of putting a post up on the Social Media News Facebook page to ask for ideas on getting the word about EdCamp NYC out to the teacher on the street. I hope we have the pleasure of seeing him on October 1st.

Reaching Out in Other Online Spaces
As I was thinking about the #140edu conference, I kept coming back to the educator who asked how to find global collaborative partners. As I was thinking, I noticed a few requests to connect on LinkedIn and remembered that I had created a LinkedIn group for ntcamp and EdCamp NYC. As I was tweeting out a link to the ntcamp group, I started thinking about LinkedIn groups as a potential way to help connect people who may not choose to participate in Twitter but have been to events such as the #140edu conference.

Remembering the Lessons Taught in School
I am an organizer of EdCamp NYC so I had no problem creating it's LinkedIn group. I asked the ntcamp organizers before I created that group. Jeff Pulver and Chris Lehmann were extraordinary hosts at the #140edu conference. Jeff really "owns" the 140 brand and I didn't want to do anything with a LinkedIn group without his knowledge. Before the conference, Jeff must have followed all the people registered for the conference, so it was easy enough to send him a Direct Message via Twitter. I let him know what I wanted to do and asked permission to use the 140 logo for the group. He said it was fine as long as I listed him as a "co-host" of the group.

I am always trying to teach my students respect for other people's work. This is another example for me to share at school. If you reach out, and let people know what you are trying to do, they are often very gracious in helping you out and giving you permission. Jeff was very generous in quickly replying so I could get the group started.

#140edu LinkedIn Group
Now there is a LinkedIn group for the conference. I am not sure who will or won't join. It is another way to try to reach out into the community. More and more people are joining LinkedIn and Facebook. By having groups in those places, we may be able to help those people in the audience who don't know how to start a global collaboration or find a connection to someone they'd like to talk more with after a live event.

My Other Takeaways
The 92nd Street Y was really easy to get to. I did not brave the subway, but it was an easy taxi ride from Penn Station. I sat in the auditorium for almost every talk and took detailed notes in a Google Doc for Tuesday and Wednesday. Feel free to take a look. A wonderful stranger (or maybe someone I knew) in the audience was editing the document with me. They weren't signed in to Google, so I really don't know who it was. Thank you, whoever you are, for adding links and a table of contents!

I have so many ideas and thoughts that will continue to circle in my mind my. I will be going back through the documents and reviewing the videos. I'll probably eventually post some thoughts here over time. 

Image Citation:
Ann Oro Creative Commons Attribution

Sunday, July 31, 2011

New Teacher Camp 2011 (ntcamp)

I enjoyed the trip into Philadelphia for New Teacher Camp. One of the things I really like about ntcamp is the smaller size of the group of attendees. I met many new people today and enjoyed discussions with several folks in my online network. Gerald Aungst was a wonderful host. The event was held at WHYY Studios at Independence Mall. For a person who does not relish travel it was really easy to get to by car. I found a great $5 for the day parking garage a short walk from the station. It all got me in a great mental frame of mind arriving at the event.

Sessions I Attended
I chose to post sessions I would lead for later in the day since the schedule was fairly empty after lunch. I first met @Cybraryman1, Jerry Blumengarten,  at ntcamp in 2010, but we never really spoke. He reached out to me the day before, online, to share a resource I wanted for my presentation. I made sure to stop by, introduce myself, and chat a bit. I decided to sit in on his session, Expect the Unexpected. I had no idea what the session would be about, but I remember his energy from last year and knew I'd be happy I attended.

He led us through a series of photos documenting his time as a teacher and told stories about incidents in his teaching life and the stories of running into those students years later. My takeaway from the time with Jerry is that we will never really know the impact we may have had on children through specific lessons we teach until many years later. While I know this is true, it was a pleasure seeing it from his perspective as a retired teacher.

My second session was with Lyn Hilt, Make Your PLN Work For You - Get What You Need From Social Media. I have become familiar with Lyn's work via her work with Connected Principals and online interactions. It was great to listen to her. I tried to keep track of my notes as I listened in this Google Doc. While I've been building a Personal Learning Network for several years now, I am always eager to hear tips that I can pass on to others just starting out.

For a travel adverse person, I was really happy that Gerald had offered lunch delivery for the day. I sat and enjoyed the company of several educators - some I only met today. It was very leisurely. I sat and chatted for over an hour, then I went to set up for the two sessions I posted on the board.

I had planned on using a protocol on the National School Reform Faculty web site called The Multiple Perspectives Protocol. If you haven't heard of the web site take a look. It is a set of methods that can be used to help lead discussions, review of text, and other tasks with groups of educators (and older students).

As I looked at the protocol the first step calls for asking the attendees to "define" themselves. I decided on a few categories that could be used to define people in both sessions and set up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the responses.

The room did not have a projector, but it had two dry erase boards. In addition to listing the categories on the board, I added the guiding questions I had thought of in advance as bullet points.

Primary and Elementary Collaborations
The first session I offered was titled Primary and Elementary Collaborations. My schedule was opposite the ever popular Web Smackdown, Lyn's Digital Storytelling, and Socrative - Visual Thinking. 

One wonderful attendee spent an hour with me. I had prepared this Google Doc as an electronic handout and outline. Since there was only one person I didn't use the protocol. It was a pleasure sharing ideas with someone just getting ready to do student teaching in a first grade classroom. I am happy she felt she got several useful ideas. This is the whole point of the unconference model.

Digital Citizenship and Education (ISTE NETS*T 4)
This session was really for me. I am very interested in how to present the concepts in the NETS for Teachers Digital Citizenship strand to teachers. I had three attendees. I explained that I wanted to try a protocol for the first time and asked that they'd be my guinea pig. I have to get back to everyone and get their take on what we did.

My categories for introducing ourselves were: grade Levels in the school, how much thought have they given in advance to this topic, and which of the four subcategories in the standard most interested them.

Next we got into the second part of the protocol in which the presenter chooses a question to focus the whole group. Unfortunately, we all had a different focus, so I asked everyone to take a couple of minutes and write down their thoughts and concerns in their area of interest.

Afterward, one person at a time shared their thoughts in having heard the points of view what they could share. 

I had prepared this Google Doc in advanced and tied the thoughts I had coming into the session after each person provided their concerns, questions, and insights. In some instances, ideas had come up that I hadn't considered and I added them to the document as we worked.

It was a very good hour for me...and I believe the attendees, too.

All's Well That Ends Well
I am so glad I took the time to travel down to New Teacher Camp today. Thanks to all three organizers!

Image Citation:
Ann Oro. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Scratch and Pen Commands

This year, the sixth grade students are exploring Scratch and pen commands. It is Logo-like in application. My goals are to give the students more exposure to the Scratch program while making visual shapes and explore the mathematics of geometric shapes.

Setting the Stage
The students have created several other projects with Scratch in earlier grades. The projects revolved around moving sprites and programming a simple dress up game

Thinking About Shapes
We walked through steps to create a square using the pen commands. I have laid out the lesson on this wiki page. Once they had an idea of how the commands worked, they really enjoyed experimenting with the handout (also on wiki) and seeing how changes to the command blocks changed the shapes drawn on the screen.

Exploring Multiple Repeats
Once basic shapes are mastered, the students will explore creating spirals by embedding shapes in repeat statements and modifying the angle at which the sprite starts. They will extend those spirals by changing the pen color and pen size. The lesson handout is on this wiki page.

Further Extensions
I am in the process of creating a few more handouts for students who work through these first two projects. All of the previous concepts work on the basis of 360 degree turns to complete a regular shape such as a square, pentagon, or octagon.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Third Grade Collaborative Project

Earlier this year I saw a note posted on the Elementary Tech Teacher's ning. A teacher was looking for partners for a collaborative project. We've had a great partnership and are still working together. I wanted to write some notes to remember how the project was planned, what worked well, and what we're planning through the end of the year.

The Project's Beginning
After the teacher and I communicated through email, we agreed that the goal of the project was to create templates that the students could edit collaboratively. We would partner his second/third grade combined class with my two third grade classes. He was flexible with the content as he wanted to see how children paired at a distance would work together.

My third grade students had not yet edited a wiki or blogged. His students had been blogging and they edited a wiki last year. I used the knowledge I've gained over the last few years and the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards as a guide to the content.

Learning to Edit a Wiki
In the past, I've been successful with creating a "sandbox" for the students to play in to get a feel for the wiki editor. I set up some quick, easy questions to answer in a template and then created a link for each student.

My students had not used the digital camera, so I added a "What do your shoes look like today" question. In computer class I taught one student how to use the digital camera and each student taught the next how to use the camera. The following week, I had resized the images, loaded them to the wiki, and taught the students how to find the image and place it on their wiki page.

Learning on a Local Level
The students really didn't learn too much about the state/province of our partner's country. We did learn about the similarities and differences between our schools. I believe this makes sense at the second and third grade level because they tend to be more concrete thinkers.

We set up a page to compare, via digital photos, different rooms and daily objects in our schools. The students enjoyed taking photos and comparing the images. 

Our partners were fascinated to find out that we wear uniforms every day. My students were surprised their partners ate lunch in their classroom every day. We have a cafeteria with hot and cold lunch. Their school does not. There were many other aspects they enjoyed comparing.

Comparing Weather
Many elementary classrooms have a focus on the weather. This is a daily event in the children's lives and something they could easily compare. Our classes kept a log of the daily temperature and the students took turns taking a photo from the school to show what the scenery looked like with the daily weather. 

Partner Table
We had partner pages. I partnered up the students of both schools. For each partner group, I gave them a 3-2-1 set of questions:

What three things would you like to know about Canada/the United States?
What two things would you like to know about your partner's school day?
Tell one thing you think you know about your partner's country.

I asked the students to guess how many days our weather would be the same.

As a bit of an inspiration, I gave the student groupings animal names. The students were easily able to communicate with each other through their wiki page. 

My students easily took to editing the wiki. They learned how to change the text color when answering their partner's questions. My students learned how to use Pics4Learning to link to an image of their animals on their wiki page.  I added the citations and spoke with the students about thanking the people for their images with a link.

Connecting via Skype
One of the favorite parts of the project for both classes was getting to meet each other via Skype calls. Each of my third grade classes had one call with our partner. During the call they were able to ask and answer each other's questions. Next year I will have my students do a little more prep work before the call. I'll have the students prepare questions with their classroom teacher and share the questions, in advance, with our Canadian partners.

Movie Making
Both classes had students who were disappointed that they did not get a chance to meet their partners on the Skype call. The Canadian teacher and I had each student make a little 20-30 second video recording. In the movie each student shares their group name, pseudo name, real first name, favorite subject(s) in school, favorite thing to do outside of school, favorite toy, and favorite thing about the project.

The students wrote their answers in advance - giving them some time for introspection. I set up the camera and had their scripts on a table. While not recording their part, students quietly watched the Canadian video with headphones. When a student finished recording their part in the movie, they quietly told the next student to get their script. We recorded the entire class in about 15 minutes. 

Afterward, I edited the movie into one finished project.

Finishing Up the Project
We started working in the beginning of March. We'll continue editing and adding to the wiki. In April, the students will find two tall tales from their country. We will have one Skype call with all of the children in May. Each class will take turns telling a tall tale. It will be a nice way to close out the project.

I've given all of my students a unique user name and password. I sent a note home to the families. It's really fun watching the students add little edits to the wiki page from home. As with all projects, I've subscribed to the RSS feed for all changes and notes. It's been a great experience and a real way to practice digital citizenship!

Please enjoy looking at our Canada-US wiki.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Planning for the Third Trimester

As I enter the third trimester of classes, I like to reflect on what I've accomplished in each grade and what I want to make sure we accomplish by the end of May. This month, I am including my students in the review and planning.

Revisiting September
In September, I started classes by introducing the students in sixth through eighth grade to ISTE NETS for Students. I think it is essential to get the students thinking about the goals of their computer education and assist in evolving the program. I am trying this for the first time with my seventh grade students and hope to go through the process with the sixth and eighth graders. 

The first step was to review the ISTE NETS. I introduced our New Jersey State standards which are based on the ISTE standard. The students have existing work groups. Each group received a short list of projects that we've completed to date (see Project List below).

Small Group Work
The group is dividing the standards into three parts: state standards, first three NETS, second three NETS. A group leader goes through the project one part at a time. The students search and determine what goals they believe they met through the project. They are recording their selections with x's in a spreadsheet.

Individual Work
The individual portion of the work involves creating a personal reflection in a word processor. I am trying to review old skills and introduce some new skills. This provides a great vehicle for content. 

The students will create a "proper" heading with ONE tab set following the school's guidelines. They will indent their paragraphs using the hanging paragraph setting and the ruler. There will be one short paragraph per project. They will reflect on what they felt they learned through the project, what they liked, and what they did not like about the project. They will write a final paragraph telling me what type of project they would most like to work on next with a specific example and tell what standards we would be meeting through the project. The paragraph will be double-spaced with proper spacing between words and after punctuation marks. It is to be proofread for good spelling and grammar.

Whole Group Reflection
We will end the process with a group reflection on projects suggested by the students and choose at least one project to complete in the last trimester of school. I am hoping to find great value in the process and continue to do this every year.

Project List

Project 1
A. Learn to create and animate a fish and your choice of animation.
B. Choose your license from: copyright, creative commons, and public domain.

Project 2
A. Practice creating citations for the Daughters of the American Revolution essay resources.

Project 3
A. Create “Something You Probably Don’t Know About Me” presentation.
B. Present your presentation to the group.

Project 4
A. Create “Evidence of Advent” photos and select photo for iMovie. If you did not assist in this project, explain what project you were completing and why it took you extra time.

Project 5
A. Discussion about “What To Do If You Find Upsetting Information on the Internet”.(Boys/Girls)

Project 6
A. Create Dice, Country, and Donation Spreadsheets.
B. Write Country and Donation Analysis.

Project 7
A. Learn to determine who was responsible for the DAR web sites.
B. Determine in small group and present to whole class on the value of the information on a selected web site.
C. Write a letter to the creator(s) of your web site.

Image Citation:
Photo (c) 2011 Ann Oro.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Web Site Evaluation Sixth Grade

I am working on the concept of web site evaluation. Last year I found a web site evaluation webquest by Joyce Valenza. The link I had no longer works or I would reference it here. I want to document the process as I prepare to do the exercise with the year's sixth grade students.

Teacher Pre-Work
I had a list of links to dinosaur web pages on last year's wiki page. I checked the links to make sure they still worked and then copied and pasted the wiki page for this year's class. As I reflected on what we accomplished last year, I removed a link for Barney and added three web sites. The Barney web site was too childish.

Next I break the class into multiple groups of four team members: content specialist, authority/credibility specialist, bias/purpose specialist, and usability/design specialist. Since I did not have a multiple of four students, I added the additional students to the authority/credibility team.

Introducing the Project
I will have two groups of eight students examine six web sites. Last year, I explained every project job to the whole class. This year, I will only give a thorough explanation to the specialists. The specialists, in turn, will present their new knowledge to the whole class when we have a whole group discussion. I am doing this because the current seventh grade did not seem to retain much of what I thought they had learned last year.

Jobs - Content Specialist 
These students will look at their six assigned sites and determine if the content would be valuable for sixth grade students writing a research report on dinosaurs. They will try to determine if the information is comprehensive and accurate. They will compare the sites and decide which has something unique to offer the reader. If there are links, they will try to determine if they provide additional worthwhile content. They will determine if the information was recently updated or old. Finally, they will decide if the information on this web site might be as good as or better than an encyclopedia or other printed book.

Jobs - Authority/Credibility Specialist 
These students will learn to truncate the URL and try to determine who is the owner of the web site. They will find out if the content has sources sited or documented. I will teach the students about domain names (.com, .edu., .net, .org, .gov) and help them think about how this might lead them to think about the authority or credibility of the site. They will learn about personal web pages and the ~ in a URL. Finally, they will learn to use the advanced search to find out who links to the web page.

Jobs - Bias/Purpose Specialist 
These students will try to determine why the site was created. They will also learn about domain names and try to find out how the information may or may not be biased. They will look for hidden messages such as people trying to sell dinosaur toys. I will be having them focus on three questions: Are there facts or opinions on the web site? Are people trying to sell something? Is the web site trying to entertain? 

Jobs - Usability/Design Specialist
These students will scour the site to determine if the information is user-friendly: are there dead links, is the content well labeled, and can they find their way back to the main page easily. The students will look for misspelled words and grammatical errors. They will evaluate whether the site seems cluttered or if the links within the site are broken.

I have two handouts to assist the students in their jobs. I've placed them on my resource wiki

Student Group Discussion
Following the individual web site review, each specialist ranks the web sites from 1 (best) to 6 (worst). The specialists then get together as a group of four. They go through each web site and share with each other the positive and negative aspects of the pages. As a group, they group rank the sites from 1 to 6. The students will share the best site and the worst site of the six they reviewed to the entire class.

Group Debriefing
This year, I will have the specialists come up in pairs and explain to the group, as a whole, what they learned to look for when deciding on the worthiness of a web site. Hopefully this group debriefing will help the students retain the lesson in a way that I did not last year.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A New Kindle

This week I received a nice surprise from my sister...a Kindle. I've wanted to get one for a while, but wasn't sure if I'd rather wait to get an iPad. Now the decision's been made for me and I'm quite happy about it.

What To Do First?
Since I already have a number of physical books I am finishing, I did not want to spend money on a random book. I did want to test the device, though, so I went in search of some free downloads. There are a number of ways to do this. I went the route that seemed easiest to me and looked at some lists on Amazon.

On this Listmania list I found a few titles that sounded interesting:
Autobiography of a Yogi - 4 1/2 stars
Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis From the Good Play Project - 3 stars
Living and Learning With New Media: Summary of Findings From the Digital Youth Project - 4 stars

From a second Listmania list I found:
The Rosary - 5 stars (a 1910 romance in the vein of Pride and Prejudice)

I found a couple of word games that have been entertaining. Every Word and Shuffled Row. I didn't expect to use games on a Kindle, but they were available and free so I downloaded them. They are good for the brain cells and work well.

First Paid Book
It didn't take long for me to find a book that peaked my interest. I came across a post on The Principal's Posts blog called Living on the edge. The book caught my attention through a quote about how Lyn connected people who are organizing events such as EdCamp NYC to pull:
"I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the educators involved in the passion-driven organization of these events harnessed the power of pull to make these learning experiences a reality for attendees."
I was curious about what the power of pull might be. I followed the link to the book The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown. From Lyn's post I learned that the authors talk about the shift from access to attract to achieve by making small moves to effect big change. This type of thinking is in line with a lot of other reading I've been doing over the last few years.

The book, at $18.15 for the physical copy, is not too expensive. I would not have driven down to the store to pick it up until I had finished other books. The price on the Kindle was $9.34. Inexpensive enough for me to download it and start reading last night.

After having read 2% of the book, I felt comfortable with the format and enjoyed starting to use the highlighting feature. In the back of my mind I was wondering how I could use this feature to gather all my thoughts, but didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it.

It was also interesting to see highlights from other readers (which can be turned off) within the text of my book - along with a count of how many people highlighted that passes.

A Great Way to Gather Notes
While I was on Twitter today, I came across a tweet by Tim Lauer (someone I just started following yesterday). He pointed out a blog post about exporting Kindle notes and highlights. This is fantastic! It took a couple of minutes to figure it out, but this is a game changer for me.

I signed on to my Amazon account, but could not figure out where the highlights might be. I went back to the exporting post and noticed that I should be at the site. Still no luck. Even though I was signed on with my Amazon user name and password, it said Hello Unknown at the top of the screen. I had to use the drop down box to Edit My Profile. As soon as I did that, I was able to click on the Your Highlights link and there were my highlights from the book. I want to look a little closer at the post about exporting notes and highlights, but already this is an improvement over having the notes stuck in the Kindle!

While Finishing This Post

As I was re-reading the post to check for grammar errors, I looked back at the Your Highlights page and noticed a link that said "Read more at location 125". I wanted to see the effect and was presented with a link to download the Kindle for Mac (OS 10.5 or later) app.

Once the app was installed, I clicked on the link again and was presented with the actual page in the book complete with yellow highlighter.

I can't wait to play some more!

Image Citation:
Kindle picture by Ann Oro.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spreadsheets and Reflections

During the past couple of weeks, I have been working on spreadsheet reviews and extensions with the sixth and seventh grade students. Both groups of students have been working with spreadsheets since the fourth grade. 

Hands On Work
I wanted to have the students generate their own data and tie into the curriculum in the school. Having taught sixth and seventh grade math, I know that they work with probability and decimal numbers. After some thought, I resurrected some projects I used to do with the students in math class as a more computer-centric operation.

I started with a probability project. The idea is to examine what probability is as a theory and give the students the ability to experiment to see the actual outcome. I've written the project up on my wiki and have handouts on the page, too.

The students enjoyed rolling the dice and choosing where to do it. They were sitting at tables and on the floor. Once they gathered the data and typed it into the spreadsheet, we discussed the difference between rolling the die a few times, seventy-five times, and over 1,000 times.

Making Choices While Gathering Data
In the second project, the students use the CIA World Factbook to gather information about countries. The students use a spreadsheet to calculate the percentage of land area versus the total area of a country. They calculate the number of people per square kilometer. I have a full write up on the lesson here on the wiki page.

Reflection is important when I use spreadsheets in my personal work. I wanted the students to not only gather the data, but then reflect on what the numbers mean. In order to accomplish this, they are following up the spreadsheet work with two reflection paragraphs. It gives them practice in setting up several document features in the word processor. 

The reflections are as follows from my handout to the students:
The reflection should have one paragraph that tells me how you went about deciding on which countries to select. Did you just learn about some countries? If you just learned about the countries, like Christmas Island, where in the world is it? Have you known about countries already? What led you to choose the countries? With the countries that you knew about already, did the capital sound familiar? Did you think a different location would have been the capital? Were there capitals that you never hear about before?
The second paragraph should have a reflection on the calculations. What do you notice about the % land area column? Please be specific. Which country had the largest population? Did it also have the biggest number of people per square kilometer? If it did not have the biggest number of people per square kilometer, how many countries had more people per square kilometer? Did this surprise you? Which country had the most people per square kilometer? What can you deduce about the country that had the most people per square kilometer?

Ten Days to Make a Difference
Following the idea behind the blog post at Make It Interesting,I created a project in which the students imagine being given $10,000 per day for 10 days. The question is: How will you make a difference to your family, school, community, state, country, and/or the world. 

They are enjoying looking up the prices of items and deciding on charities. I think I will do this project with the seventh and eighth grade. The lesson is written up on my wiki with the student handout.

I'm still trying to decide how I will tie it into the real world. I may simply start a jar for coins and let the students decide what to donate through Heifer International. I'll probably make some sort of matching donation. I'll post another note eventually to share how it worked out.

Changes From Previous Years
I've always worked on spreadsheets with sixth through eighth grade, but the lessons always felt contrived. We created spreadsheets with school lunches, imagined class trips, and magic squares.

My hope is that these projects will make a deeper connection with the students.

Photo Citation:
Ann Oro: Family of Cows