Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Look Back At School Through The Eyes of 9Gag

I'm a frequent reader of 9gag, and I pay particular attention to the posts that deal directly with school. I thought it would be interesting to try a 9gag tribute of school-related posts from the past year, highlighting the best "school" posts I ran across, and broken down by subjects. For the especially long posts, I included a link, because 9gag formats the long posts better than this blog.




English Language


Creative Writing

Social Studies


Responsive Classroom

Test Taking

Classroom Library

General School

Monday, June 25, 2012

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #1 Lip Dubs

#1 Elementary Lip Dubs
Although this list is not in any particular order, I do think that number one should hold a bit more merit than the others. Therefore, the number one way I tried to enhance my classroom this year by using technology is also my favorite new way I tried to use technology this year. And since it's my favorite it's also a bit of a cheat since I recently posted about it. But I wanted to reiterate the benefits and some of the lessons learned in an elementary school lip dub.

What's A Lip Dub?
A lib dub is a music video that incorporates multiple people lip synching to a piece of music in (practically) one take. It's been performed by several high schools, universities, and has even been used as a city-wide project.

Not many elementary schools seem to have caught on yet. There are some, but not all the ones available feature lip synching. But I think this is a perfect project for elementary schools for the following reasons.

1) It Creates Community
In fact, the more people that are involved the cooler these videos end up being. The project lends itself to multiple classes and age groups. There aren't a lot of projects that both first graders and fifth graders find equally exciting and can be equally invested in.

(More After The Jump)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #2 Web Potpourri

#2 The Web Tools I Used This Year For The First Time

This post isn't about new web tools, but instead a brief discussion about tools that were new to me this year. Some worked out well, and some need to be rethought.  I'm shoving them all into one post because they probably don't deserve their own post and none of them by themselves were a huge part of my class.
First I'll talk about what kind of worked, and then I'll talk about what kind of didn't.

Apps That Kind Of Worked

1) Online Chart Tool

There are several online chart tools, but my favorite this year was, appropriately, Online Chart Tool. I like it because it's simple, the format looks good even for a lot of data, and there are multiple ways to save the image (jpg, png, pdf, and csv). We construct online graphs for one crucial purpose: To graph our reading each month. At the end of the month, we would take our reading log and transform it into an online line graph.
 We would then upload it onto our E-portfolios. This was a nice visual reflection for both our reading and recording. Because of the visual aspect, it was much easier to set realistic goals for reading for the next month.

I have mixed feelings about this application. It came in 4th this year in the "Best Free Web Tool" category of the EduBlog Awards, so I was interested to try it out. It's a class management system that looks pretty and is very intuitive. But it's kind of messed up. According to the site itself, teachers
"(e)asily award feedback points for behavior in class in real-time, with just one click of your smartphone or laptop. This actually improves behavior." No, it does not.  And the implication of "instant" feedback is that in order to have instant feedback this site needs to be projected in the classroom for everyone to see. That's no good.
So the challenge was to find a use for Class Dojo that doesn't involve classroom management. I wanted something more innocuous for public display, and there are probably of dozens of ways to do that. I used it for our "No Talking" experiment, and in this way it was good. The kids monitored themselves, and were really into it. Next year I'd like to explore other ways to use this that have nothing to do with attitude or behavior.

3) Inanimate Alice
The week before Christmas we finished the reading portion of our economics unit, so I introduced the class to Inanimate Alice. I gave out discussion questions for each of the four chapters that were available and it was an instant success, even for the reluctant readers. 

For the next year I'm exited to expand on this resource and develop more thoughtful and level-appropriate discussion questions.

(After the jump.... Apps that didn't quite work out)

Monday, June 18, 2012

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #3 SMART Mornings

# 3: Integrating SMART Boards into our Morning Meetings

I consider my SMART Board a nice projecting screen. It does some other neat things too, but the fact that only one hand can touch it at a time means that it's coolest feature is extremely limiting. However, once again thanks to Brent Vasicek, and a class that needed a format that was more active than a traditional Morning Meeting, I found something that the SMART Board was exactly what I needed to have student run morning routines.
I've written about how we do our morning routines here, and here is the example video again:

But what I wanted to feature in this post was how we use the SMART Board as a management tool. The template we use divides the SMART Board into tiles, and acts as a management tool to aid the student MC. Each section of the morning routine is another tile, so when one section is over and another begins, the MC touches the next tile, and the new section is revealed.

Here is a short video on how I used SMART Notebook to set this up:

Friday, June 15, 2012

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #4 The Scratch Curriculum

#4 Using the Scratch Curriculum Draft Guide
This year ScratchEd published a Scratch Curriculum Draft for the Scratch programming language that was general enough that it could be adapted to almost any grade level. It's a handy tool, and has some great ideas. Here is a run-down:

Introduction Students are introduced to creative computing and Scratch, through sample projects and hands-on experiences.

Arts Students explore the arts by creating projects that include elements of music, design, drawing, and dance. The computational concepts of sequence and loops, and the computational practices of being iterative and incremental are highlighted.

Stories Students explore storytelling by creating projects that include characters, scenes, and narrative. The computational concepts of parallelism and events and the computational practices of reusing and remixing are highlighted.

Games Students explore games by creating projects that define goals and rules. The computational concepts of conditionals, operators, and data, and the computational practices of testing and debugging are highlighted.

What's noticeably missing is any math integration. It's absence seems unavoidable in a general all-grades document. Still, even though it's not really meant to do this, the document has helped me start thinking about how to integrate Scratch into other areas that I teach. So if you've thought about using Scratch in your classroom, but didn't know where to begin, the Scratch Curriculum Guide may be the perfect starting point.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #5 Expanding Math

#5 Expanding Math

I don't really give math homework. It's always made me a bit uncomfortable. Maybe because I read this guy a little too often, but I believe that unless there is a firm consistent commitment from parents, then there is no reason to give math homework. The children either know how to do the math, in which case it's a waste of time, or they don't, in which case it's a waste of their time. This year though I started expanding my definition of math homework. I offered the following avenues for my kids to explore different ways to learn fourth grade math concepts, especially their multiplication tables, on their own. Here is what I did:

1) Multiplication Hip Hop
I am a sucker for math hip hop, perhaps because I'm a sucker for paradox. I first discovered this strange music genre with Mr. Duey in 2008.  But I like Multiplication Hip Hop even more, because not only do they make hip hop songs about the multiplication tables, but they parody the likes of Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber as well. At the beginning of the year I send home a few songs a week, and ask the children to listen to them on their mp3 players.

2) Khan Academy and Common Core
It is not possible to "flip" our classes in Kathmandu. The internet is just too slow and too unreliable. However, I do like to give parents relevant Khan Academy videos whenever we start a new math unit. When Khan Academy decided to create a directory of videos with grade level Common Core standards, it really became a huge boost for grade-level teachers finding the right Khan videos for a particular unit. Instead of perusing the Khan Academy homepage for videos for each unit, I now can just go to their Common Core directory and send parents the link for the appropriate standards:

3) Manga High

I really like Manga High, a very cool math games site. I like it because games can be chosen based on the Common Core standard you are working on. I like it because as a classroom administrator, I determine which games the class, group, or individual can play, and I can monitor each group's progress.
Manga High has a basic free service that allows teachers to select a subset of games, but it's good enough for me that I pay for the full service.

4) Digital Flash Cards
I have the kids make ordinary flash cards too, but I like this option too, especially if one of my students has an iPad or iTouch. If not, then it wouldn't be convenient. But many of my kids do, so my thanks to Brent Coley for providing this resource.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #6 Google Docs

#6 Using Google Docs to collaboratively edit our writing in Writers’ Workshop

It's interesting reading the small debates that pop up from time to time about the pros and cons of Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word. 

For example this year The Thinking Stick had this article supporting Google Docs over Microsoft Word. 

IT Babble shot back this response. 

For me, my interest in using Google Docs for our writing boils down to only these three points:

  1. Collaborative Editing. We have laptop carts at our school. It's a great asset to arrange the children in groups, with each child having their own laptop, and then collaboratively editing a single document together.
  2. Organizational Support: No matter what machine we're on, it's easy for all of us to find all of our stuff, and it's easy for me to find and manage everyone's work since I'm the owner of these documents
  3. Simplicity of Choices: Google Docs used to not have a lot of formatting options. Which was a good thing from a classroom perspective, because it meant that students would spend less time mixing and matching the right font combination and more time editing their content. Well, that seems to be a thing of the past. 
So in reality, there are really only two points I can stick by. Of course Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office almost makes both my arguments moot, except that it's not available for the mac platform yet. As the link states, Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft office, "adds simultaneous collaboration, revision history, cloud sync, unique URLs and simple sharing to the Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint applications."
But until it's available for the mac, our classroom will stick with Google Docs.

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #7 The Poetry of Music

#7 The Poetry of Music

Brent Vasicek has a blog post on the Scholastic website that talks about how music can be used in the classroom to explore figurative language.  I agree. I believe it is important to use music in this way, not only in aiding students to interpreting figurative language, but also opening up an avenue of exploration in their poetry writing as well. Where I might differ is the actual classroom time I spend on this topic.  After the first few lessons my class migrated from an in-class exploration to an independent online examination.
The point of this post isn't to rehash what Brent has already written, but to (briefly) write how I used different tech mediums to explore the songs that have strong figurative language, and perhaps more importantly, expand on his original list of songs that can be used in this manner.

Here are the songs I gathered this year that have strong figurative language. When choosing songs, I try to use the following criteria:
- They use metaphors, similes, or personification
- They could be read as poems, and appreciated as music.
- None of them focus on boy-girl relationships.

I also tried to group them into three levels of difficulty, starting with the easiest:

Simple Figurative Language:

"Breakaway", by Kelly Clarkson

"The Climb", by Miley Cyrus

"Wavin' Flag" by K'Naan

"Send It On" by a bunch of Disney singers

"It's A Jungle Out There" by Randy Newman

"Alice (Underground)" by Avril Lavigne

Medium Level Figurative Language (after the jump):

Monday, June 11, 2012

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #8 The Class Forum

#8 The Class Forum

Over the summer I was inspired by this post to create an online class forum to extend our classroom, expand our thinking, and write authentically for an audience (friends, teachers, parents). I thought quite a bit about how I wanted this to look. At first I went for the visually cool Wallwisher, but I saw that if we were to get into any real discussions, Wallwisher's lack of organization would be a real problem.

Wallwisher: Not a great choice for a class forum

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #9 Posterous E-Portfolios

#9 Switching from Google Sites to Posterous for student E-Portfolios

A student's Posterous "Collaborator" page

Two years ago I tried using Google Sites as a platform for my students' E-Portfolios. It made sense because each student had their own gmail account through the school, and this allowed a form of cohesion among the applications we were using and with the student body as a whole. It didn't make sense because Google Sites is clunky and horrid.

10 Ways I Tried To Enhance My Classroom This Year With Tech: #10 Prezis and Parents

#10 Using Prezi to communicate my most important units to parents

Before school started this year, I wanted to find an alternative to my long emails that explain about our class's units. I identified the longer units that take more than a month to teach, and converted them into Prezi presentations for parents. This not only helped me visualize what I was actually doing, but it helped most of the parents too. It's more fluid and more enjoyable than a long email or a newsletter. So for this year, as part of my goal to increase parental communication, I developed these units using Prezi:


Values: Language Arts and Social Studies

Classroom Economy: Language Arts and Social Studies

Social Inequality: Language Arts and Social Studies

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

3 Ways to Use Technology To Introduce Ourselves

Since Glogster Edu has moved to a paid structure, I look at a view alternative ways to introduce ourselves with technology at the beginning of the year. This post covers the following projects:
1) Videoing "Two Truths and a Lie"
2) Using ThingLink for interactive photos
3) Using The New Hive as a substitute for Glogster EDU

1) At the start of the year this year, I designed a quick "Two Truths and a Lie" video project. The goal was two-fold: To have a fun introduction to each other, and for the new fourth graders to get their first introduction to some of the technology we were to use in the classroom.
I introduced the FLIP cameras to the children, but for the kids who wanted to reshoot and for the kids who were absent, we used Photobooth. This proved to be much easier since we didn't have to download the video clips from the camera. We then used iMovie HD to edit the clips, which I find is an easier introduction to video editing than iMovie '11.

It was a lot of fun watching the series of 30 second videos for each student, and then individually and as a class trying to figure out which statement was a lie before the answer was revealed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

eduClipper and Clipboard- Alternatives To Symbaloo

I started using Symbaloo at the start of the school year. I tried to make a webmix for each of the major subjects taught at our K-12 school as a whole school resource. While working with it, I've found that it is kind of good, and kind of annoying

I kind of like Symbaloo because shiny color buttons are cooler than text. What I don't like about it is that they have sacrificed information in favor of a smaller size... to fit more candy-like buttons on the screen. I wish that the buttons were about twice as big. I would be able to put more details and better images into each of the buttons, kind of like what Chrome and Safari does on their start pages. Actually using something like the "Cover Flow" view in macs would be perfect.

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