Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New Tools, New Titles...

The current budget crisis has prompted my district to encourage its employees to be a little greener. One of things we have been asked to consider is the amount of paper that we use each year. In doing so, teachers looked at their student enrichment packets for summer practice and severely cut back the paper. I was asked to look at this from a different perspective - How can we omit this wasted paper altogether and still provide parents and students with tools to practice skills this summer?

The U.S. Department of Education published a study on the Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students. This study states that "Technology use allows many more students to be actively thinking about information, making choices, and executing skills..." Technology that is correctly designed for students to use independently can enhance their ability to think independently, practice basic skills, problem solve and develop a love of learning. My goal was to find resources on the web that students could independently use to do all of these things.

My first task was to decide the best way of sharing these resources with parents. I decided the best way to share these resources would be to create a google site housing a list of resources. This way students and parents could sit down and open one basic site with links to many more sites to explore. I then created a simple bookmark to send home with the students that included the web address for the Web Tools page on the Camp Rock 'N Read site that I had previously created for use this summer at our summer reading camp. Google sites is free, manageable, and easy to access. They are limited in their ability to embed, but I worked around that problem. I am anxious to see how this is used this summer by students and parents. I know that often times the worksheets would actually end up in the trash can. I am hoping that this technology will motivate students to practice skills this summer. We will see where it goes!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Looking For Some Advice!

Today I am looking for some advice in the google sites and flickr creative commons realms.

Google Sites

This summer I would like to build a resource for my students. I have opted to use google sites since it is free and relatively easy to use, however, I seem to have hit a little wall. I would really like to maintain an on-line book resource "center" for parents and students to use to pick out popular books. I wanted to use shelfari because that is what I am currently using for this blog. When I went to add my shelfari widget, I discovered that adding widgets to a google site is not an easy task. Does anyone out there know how I can go about doing this? I am also open using to other resources with similar capabilities. Shelfari is perfect for me since it gives an image of the book and I work with younger students who respond best to pictures.


I would also like my students to write reports about animals, continents, etc., and be able to use real pictures to fully develop their reports. When I looked at the creative commons on flickr, I found great pictures that would be awesome for my students. I understand I can add them to my favorites, but is there any way that I can mass upload them somewhere else? I do not want my students to have access to flickr because it is hard to limit their search options and I do not know what they will stumble across. I also do not feel comfortable sharing my own username and password with them for this purpose. I considered downloading the pictures and then having them pick photos from a pre-existing file, but this seems so work intensive on my part. I feel like there has to be an easier way to go about it! I am open to any suggestions for alternate tools to use in this arena, too! Picture sharing is definitely not my strength, and I want it to be a positive experience for my students!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Back In Action

After intensively blogging this fall, I am afraid that I neglected my blogspot during the cold, winter months. I am trying to get back in the swing of things! I have recently learned that the teaching position that I currently hold is being re-designed and will not exist in its current form next year. I am going to be back in the regular classroom next year and hope to be teaching first grade. If anyone has any great sites for first graders, I would love to start exploring them so please send suggestions my way! I am especially looking for sites where students can go beyond the basics, are encouraged to think outside the box, and can explore what their world has in store for them!

That being said, what have I been up to? Well I have recently been using two sites with my students. I will give a brief overview of the first one and get into a little more detail with the second!

The first site that we have been exploring is Professor Garfield. This website is full of things that are very student friendly. It has a wealth of activities. Because I am a reading teacher, I use the "transport to reading" link and look at the reading activities. For the earlier grades, I like to use Orson's Farm. The activities presented to the students are focused on developing phonemic awareness skills, enhancing decoding and blending skills, and practicing rhyming skills. The site is visually appealing to younger students and uses music to further engage the learner. For older learners, I have used Garfield's Island. This also uses games to help students practice word skills, but also includes a reading comprehension activity. The students can listen to two books. The stories are presented in a way that guides students to stop and think as they read and will also read the stories to the students. The kids seem very engaged by all of these activities.

The second resource that I have been using I was introduced to by Carrie Mitton earlier this school year. This is site is called Kerpoof and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The site allows students to explore using technology to write stories, make cards, etc. Here is a short overview of the program.

For a recent fourth grade project, I used a rubric to help successfully guide the students through the assignment and also to assess their work. The students responded well to the task and went beyond my expectations. I was especially impressed by their creativity and the creative thinking that went into the story design.

Both of these resources have been very motivating to my reluctant learners. Check them out! I am back in the blogosphere and hopefully will not neglect my blog any longer!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Final Reflections

Last semester I began to fertilize and plant my own social network. Over the course of this semester, I feel that I have watered my social network and it is finally ready to bloom. I am more connected now than I have been in the past two years. I also feel that expanding my social network has helped me develop relationships with colleagues, both face to face and online. I am now up to date on current trends in education and am far more willing to share my own knowledge with others. In fact, I feel more confident in myself as a teacher and as a professional. The tools that I have learned about in this class have helped me to pull many various websites, etc., together in a meaningful, purposeful fashion.

I think that I have changed my views on how and what to teach my students. I have always valued the need to teach them things - states, capitals,plant structure, etc. Now I realize I need to focus more of my attention on encouraging them to learn how to analyze, comprehend, share, and find information. They need to be able to not only use today's tools, but be able to use future tools. Information is going to be coming at them from many different sources, and they will need to be able to critically evaluate sources, content and usage. They need to be willing to connect to others and feel confident in sharing their ideas.

I have always felt that part of my job was to help create positive, contributing members of society. Now I realize that my students are moving in two worlds - the "real" world and the digital world. I want them to be positive, contributing members of both worlds. I want them to use the tools available to them responsibly.

The task before me is heavy. How can I sort through the tools out there and use appropriate ones to help my students develop into learners and connected citizens? I think that modeling the appropriate use of these tools is a good place to start, but I need to get my students using these tools in my classroom more often. I need to be more open to helping them use new tools, rather than fear what might go wrong. I need to encourage them to be flexible thinkers and use problem solving strategies when technology isn't quite working right.

The most important thing I have carried away from this class is that I need to develop learners who are confident enough to connect with the world and have the skills to do so in a meaningful way.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Voicethread Presentation

Here is a two part presentation on voicethread.

Part One: 2008-12-08_1320

Part Two: 2008-12-08_1327

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Response Blog # 4 - Planning and Implementation

Throughout this course I have explored many aspects of technology and how it can be used in the classroom. Edutopia describes four key elements for positive technology integration in schools - active engagement in learning, collaboration in groups, multiple opportunities for interaction and feedback , and connections to the real world. Using these guidelines, I feel that I can effectively add web 2.0 technologies into my classroom. The original project that I completed using voicethread has encouraged me to explore using this tool and other web tools in my classroom. I am currently working with my fourth graders on designing puppets that will be used to record a reader's theater production. After we have designed and recorded this production, we are planning on using voicethread to share it with classrooms around the school. My reluctant and passive readers are completely engaged in reading and acting out this play. They are bringing in props from home, thinking about story details and how to express them via a puppet show. They do not even realize that they are building fluency and comprehension skills along the way. I cannot even imagine their excitement once they are able to receive feedback from their peers on the production. I think our next project will also involve reader's theater, but perhaps we will use a tool such as Scratch or Kerpoof to retell the stories in our own words.

For students right now, this is the way the world is working. They need technology skills to function as future adults. One of our classmates shared this video from edutopia earlier in the semester. As I watched this video it again hit home about how using technology is not something that is just fun and motivational. It describes how video games are no longer "games," but are tools for learning everything from extreme sports to technical surgery skills. I want my students to be able to pursue knowledge in this fashion, and I want to give them the tools to do it safely.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Response Blog # 3: Safe Practices with Web 2.0

Warning! This is a long, but thoughtful post!

Web 2.0 has opened many doors for educators who wish to use technology to enhance learning opportunities. When considering using these technologies, however, educators must keep student safety in mind. The internet is open to the world and there are some things that the world doesn't need to know about our students. So how can educators keep students safe in school and to what extent are they responsible for students out of school on-line behavior?

Teachers need to encourage students to examine, realistically, the consequences of improper use of the web. In my district we utilize a program called NetSmartzKids. This tool encourages elementary students, in a non-threatening way, to evaluate the web and also discusses the importance of privacy and other threats. Since it uses games and songs, it is very elementary friendly, but I do worry sometimes that the some kids miss the message behind the game. When we first started using this, we actually had an FBI agent come and share the tool with the kids. This immediately got their attention and he discussed all the risks as he went through the activities with the children. I also came upon a compilation of on-line resources for teaching kids internet safety at Teacher's First. I thought these would be a great way to have kids explore safety and provide teachers with excellent resources to share with parents. The most important activity for keeping kids safe on the internet is to open discussions between teachers, parents and students. The more students know about internet safety, the more likely they are to apply these skills independently. Educators and parents need to model and discuss proper internet use with students. This includes research skills, copyright information, and appropriate use of personal information.

Teachers also need to be cognizant of the types of internet tools they are using. For instance, many tools have a "private" or "public" sharing feature. Teachers need to discuss specific projects with students and make good judgement calls on when to make student work public or private. Older students need to be encouraged and guided to think carefully about the work they are about to publish and decide whether it should be public or private.

So where then does the school's responsibility end? Cyberbullying is a new phenomenon that surpasses the school's control. In most incidences this bullying is taking place via home computer usage. In the case of Megan Meier the act of cyberbullying is believed to have led to suicide. So what can schools do? Vicki Davis's entry Techlearning blogs focuses on the need for schools to educate students on the fact that virtual worlds have an impact on real life and vice versa. These aspects of their lives are interwoven and students are responsible for their own behavior in both places. Students who are able to make this connection are able to use the web responsibly and develop critical skills necessary for making informed decisions. Student need to think critically before they act, and meta-cognitively evaluate their online behavior before they press "post". For more information about cyberbullying, I came across the book, Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard, written by Hinduja and Patchin. I have not read it, but would be interested in hearing from anyone who has read it!