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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Skype, Egypt, and Classroom Revolution...

[Note: This piece is cross-posted at TeacherThink]
How many state budgets in 2012 will account for field trips to the Middle East? My district actually has a new "200 mile policy," in which it is nearly impossible to take/justify a trip beyond that. Scratch the Egyptian tour. I now have to get creative. At the high school level, it will take more than arranging the desks like a tour bus [which I have done] and more of a virtual class trip that harkens memories of "The Magic School Bus" and Ms. Frizzle. Through a combination of Twitter, Google Earth, and Skype, I am able to take my classes around the globe FREE!
Rewind to February 6, 2011. I was looking around the web for resources to teach a Human Rights unit in my Senior American Citizenship class. Admittedly Thankfully, I was multitasking on Facebook. Phil, a friend of mine, now in Law School at Seton Hall University, was providing updates on the uprising in Egypt. He often referred to his friends in Egypt and their individual struggles for freedom. He spent about 13 weeks studying International Law and Human Rights in Egypt the last two summers [jackpot!]. So, I commented a couple of times on his status/posts and threw out the hypothetical, "What would it take to get you to Skype with my class?" Not only did he play my game of quid pro quo, he committed to 3 classes on Friday, February 11 [an important date in Egyptian history as you will soon see]. This interaction justified all of those hours Facebook wasted perusing status updates and pictures of people I normally wouldn't have cared to see until the class reunion [maybe a bit harsh].
Move to February 11, 2011: First period American Citizenship class. Enter seniors on a Friday [sometimes an oxymoronic statement]. I start the class with a tweet to get things rolling: #EgyptianRevolution #?sforPhil. [Click here to see how I tweet in my classroom without access to twitter] I love using tweets as an opener, because they require students to focus on my topic and create a concise statement [question in this case].
After the tweet we hop on Google Flight #221 [my room number]. Using Google Earth, we fly from room 221 at Mt. Spokane High School to Seton Hall University School of Law. The international leg takes us to Tunisia [where it all started] then Tahrir Square and Libya, a pit stop in Uganda and Rwanda [as we have studied both countries] to give us some context, and all the way back to Egypt. Check out the video below:
Finally, we get to Skype with an expert on International Law and Human Rights who is 2500 miles away. I start the conversation with a bit of our curriculum to give Phil some context of our learning. We started our unit on Human Rights with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR]. Phil then went into his experiences with everything from law to the Egyptian people. As he spoke of the regimes to go through Egypt from his flat in Newark, NJ, he took a pause for a moment to listen to the TV behind him. Though not completely audible, we could hear the reporter in the background announce "Mubarak has stepped down." The elation that overcame Phil's face was memorable and this moment for my students was priceless. If we are looking to reach enduring understandings, this lesson just etched a moment of revolutionary success into the brains of the malleable minds sitting in my classroom. Our fieldtrip was a success.
Classroom Connection:
Twitter: Like I said in the piece above, I use twitter in the classroom. I actually use it on a nearly daily basis, and I love it! Check it out here.
Google Earth: This is a great FREE resource to take your kids on that "Magic School Bus" that transcends all state budgets. If you are interested in recording "tours" on Google Earth like I did in the video above, check out TeacherThink this upcoming week. Subscribe to TeacherThink here.
Skype: So long as you have the hardware [webcam, computer, and internet connection], Skype is a powerful FREE tool to break down the walls of your classroom. It now includes group video chat, so multiple people can be on at the same time to conference!
Jeff Naslund is @TeacherThink. He teaches History and Math at Mt. Spokane High School in Mead, WA. He is the creator/author of TeacherThink. TeacherThink strives to improve the teaching experience by providing several levels of support, including but not limited to technology resources [oftentimes FREE], innovative lesson ideas, and out-of-the-box educational thought. Efficiency and collaboration will allow educators to weather the current economic storm. Click here to subscribe to the email list, here to follow @TeacherThink on Twitter, and here on Facebook.

Using Google Sites in Second Language Instruction (Guest Blog Post)

I am a Canadian French Immersion Educator at École Wilfrid Walker School in Regina, Saskatchewan. That means that I teach students whose first language is English, in French. Students in a French Immersion program are taught all subjects in French starting in Kindergarten. By the time they reach middle years, they have strong oral, reading and writting skills in both languages.

As a second language instructor, I often find it a challenge to find relevant resources for my students that are both at their reading level and at their interest level. I teach Social Studies and Science to students in Grades 6/7/8. These subject areas are often a challenge at this grade level in French Immersion as most resources for middle years in French are written for first language readers in Quebec which means that the vocabulary and verb tense can be difficult to understand. Having students read a text and fully comprehend it can be a frustrating experience. Being a small market, publishers who create fantastic materials in English to support our provincial curriculum often ignore the Saskatchewan French Immersion market, as it is not profitable for them to produce the same resources in French. As a result, I have come to rely on online resources to support my instruction of our curriculum. How to present, share and utilise these online resources with my students is always a challenge.

As an avid user of technology in my classroom, my students and I have experimented with numerous sites and applications over the years to enhance our learning experience and to showcase our deeper understanding of curricular outcomes.

Our school division uses Google Apps for Education. All of my students have their own accounts that I can control. This has revolutionized how I teach and interact with my students. Through one platform, my students can access their work at school or at home. I can share documents and presentations and decide if they are public or private. They can email me their questions and comments and I can reply anytime I choose from my computer or even my phone. They can also build collaborative documents and presentations with their classmates. We have also cut back on printing costs because my students simply share their assignments with me for evaluation. No need to waste paper in my classroom.

Google Sites has become an easy way for me to share links and resources with my students. This year we have used this platform in numerous ways in both Social Studies and Science. Being able to easily create a site and have numerous editors has empowered my students to become responsible authors who are excited to learn about the world around them and share their knowledge in a second language. Knowing their site has the potential to reach a global audience adds an extra level of engagement.

My first experiment with Google Sites was to create a site to frame a project my Grade 8 students were working on about the ownership of water. Le GRAND Débat  linked resources and presented the steps each group had to follow to prepare for our class debate. It was easy for me to embed video tutorials and explanations into the site. Groups also created podcasts using their iPod Touch and Sonic Pics to introduce their arguments. Using Google sites for this project was very well received by my students. It was easy for me to create a site, use a template and add resources.

Other ways I have used Google Sites in my classroom include:
  • Building sites to showcase student projects: Grade 7 Mining project and Grade 6 First Nations Legends and Constellations project
  • Coordinating virtual literacy and numeracy centres where Grade 6 and 7 students work with Grade 1 and 2 students on different skills: Centres 1 and Centres 2
  • Students building their own sites to present their Science projects (modelled after Google Virtual Science Fair): La Foire de sciences virtuelle
  • Building collaborative inquiry driven projects. My students wanted to learn more about the recent disaster in Japan. We built this site in groups (Une catastrophe au Japon) based on questions we had about the disaster in Japan and making connections to our lives in Canada. We then used the site to promote our student council's efforts to raise money for the relief effort in Japan and to educate other students in the school about the disaster. They were rewarded by raising over $1000 for their charities of choice in a school with less than 250 students in two weeks. 
The more I use Google Sites in my classroom, the more I love it. I would be interested to learn how other educators are using this tool in their classroom with their students.

Joanna Sanders Bobiash is a French Immersion Middle Years Educator and Teacher Librarian in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Joanna maintains a blog entitled My Adventures in Educational Technology. Joanna is also on Twitter.

My experience with wikispaces and webs in the classroom

I have never considered myself to be a techie, but after my school brought Will Richardson in to present, I discovered that I was using technology a lot more than my co-workers. I currently have a facebook page, twitter account, and I am a member of personal learning networks. I have been using the internet to make connections in my own hobby for years. I am a cichlidoit, a tropical fish enthusiast for those who do not have this addiction. I am a moderator on monsterfishkeepers.com and a member of another ten to twelve sites dedicated to the hobby. I tell you all this information because here I was using technology to learn and teach others, but I was not using these same skills in my classroom. After sitting through Will Richardson’s workshop I knew this had to change.
Before I get into the programs that I am using and how I am using them, let give you a little background on my classroom and school. I currently work at Stonegate Early College High School, a chartered school, in Indianapolis, Indiana. We serve a population of 70 percent free and reduced. We do not get to pick our students. I teach social studies and college prep courses. This is the first year that I am using these programs in my classroom. I currently host a website for all my classes with webs.com and in both classes I started using wikispaces.com. I also have my students in my college prep course create a portfolio on webs.
Webs.com allows users to create websites for free. I use webs in my courses in two ways. First, I use webs to create a website for my classes. It is free, but I went ahead and bought my own domain to make it more personal. Currently, my students and parents can go to mrdunagan.com to access information for my classes. On my website I keep a page for each class. On the class page I keep the class syllabus, notes, reading assignments, project directions, and links to any other materials that I use in class. My website also has a calendar that I keep upcoming test dates, school events, project due dates, and homework due dates on. I have also created a forum where students respond to questions as homework. In the forum they can link websites that they find helpful while continuing their research from our class activities. I have the ability to control who is allowed to post and view the forum. In my college prep courses I have my students create a website portfolio to show case themselves. This website can be used in the future to help market themselves for college or after college when trying to get a job. This is the first semester that I have had students create these and I am fine tuning what they need to have on them. So far my students keep a resume, contact me page, and an about me page. I have encouraged my students after this term to continue to update these websites. In college prep II we will start next year by adding samples of student work to the page. The website even has a blog feature that I hope to use with the students next year as well. Working on these projects requires a great deal of time in the computer lab. A fair number of my students do not have internet access, but I allow them to come in early, stay late, or use one of two computers in my room during their study hall classes. Most of my students have been able to complete the required work without issue.
Wikispaces is a terrific website that allows educators to create wikis for free. I currently have two wikis setup. In my world history class I have setup a history wiki where students pick a topic from our class and create a wiki page over it. These are the first students to begin working on the wiki. Students are encouraged to take topics like the Ancient Greeks, Carthage, and Ancient Rome and create a page similar to Wikipedia. The students can share videos, pictures, or links in the page. The students that follow these students will add new wiki pages, go in-depth, or edit the wikis that have been created. Wikispaces allows you to control who see and who edits the wiki. In my world history class we have a closed wiki that only the approved users can view. At the end of the semester I can delete the users. In my college prep class I have a wiki that is viewable by others. The students have multiple projects in the course that I have adjusted to be used on the wiki now. The first project we are attempting in class is creating a wiki page for their college research project. I use to have student create a binder about a selected college and share it with the class. Your school requires freshman to research colleges and I thought why not give them a helping hand. So now each student is taking what use to be put into a binder and making it a wiki page. Each page includes information on the school’s history, mascot, sports, top program and degrees, map of the campus, demographics, cost to attend, and campus organizations. The purpose of this project is to compile information on as many colleges as we can and have it in one place that any student can access. Next year we will do a similar project on different careers.
As educators we are now bombarded with this notion that our students are digital natives and we must teach in a way they understand. I agree with this statement, but I have found that most of our current students cannot use the internet beyond the social aspect. It did take a lot of baby stepping to get my students to start using these programs.
Find me on twitter: mikedunagan
My website: www.mrdunagan.com
mrdunagan@gmail.com

Museum Webquests, Sites and Apps for Using iPods or Laptops in Your Classroom

As I attended the Iowa 1:1 Technology Conference this past week, it has become apparent, now more than ever, that technology is vastly changing the way we teach (if we want to be effective, that is). Apple iPods and iPads have become big-time players in such advancement. They are mini-computers, of sorts, that allow for a synthesis of apps and websites to take students to the next level through challenge, cross-curricular study, real-life application, and the amalgamation of higher order thinking skills (HOTS). Below is just a tiny sampling of some of my favorite free iPod apps and websites for classroom use.

The British Museum provides a host of terrific sites for teaching Social Studies and world cultures. It provides extensive information, pictures, and games, paired with links for word meanings and extended exploration.














The museum's site is intriguing, inviting, and has very user-friendly navigation. Among my favorites are the specific sections about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, and Ancient India. For a link to my printable webquests for each of these sites, click here.

The sky's the limit in terms of what this site provides to educators and students. The challenge games within each section do require Flash Plug-Ins, but are fun and educational, appealing to any and all individual learning styles.

There are also many free apps that I have used for my classroom iPods/iPad. Included in my favorites is Splashtop Remote Free. It is an app that also has a download for your PC/Mac which enables you to control your computer (and, thus, your Smartboard) with your iPad. While the free version does limit you to 5 minutes of connectivity per session, it is a great way to manipulate your computer with a more portable device . If 5 minutes is a struggle, there is a paid version that allows for unlimited time.

Bump is an app for sharing pictures, facts, ideas, information, and audio files/stories. By gently nudging two iPods together, information is transmitted back and forth between iPods or iPads with ease. In school, this has been a valuable tool, as my students have the ability to transfer information temporarily for such purposes as editing work, sharing pictures or stories, apps, or even location. You can also "virtually bump" without being near each other. I have found this to be a great feature to use on scavenger hunts. Students can "bump" information back to me as they go out and about answering curriculum-based questions. I can also instant message them through Bump to give hints, clues or other important information.

English-Zone is also a great website that we access via iPods and laptops. There are many free activities, quizzes, and printables throughout the site, and it's not just limited to English. There are many reading, social studies, and standardized test prep links, as well.

TweenTribune is one of our favorite sites for keeping up on age-appropriate current events. The site is very easy to maneuver and allows students with a username and password (also free) to blog posts on articles. Adding to the safety of this site is the ability of classroom teachers to manage all posts and print any class posts for grading purposes.

TodaysMeet is a fantastic site for backchanneling. We use this site for online "forum quizzes", which are ways that we can have an all-class "discussion" about a topic, plot, theme, etc... It is a phenomenal venue for students who typically shy away from oral discussions. Dialogues can be printed upon completion for grading purposes or for written record. Very simple setup.
While this is in no way a complete list of the various free tools we use in my classroom, hopefully this can jump start you to explore even more ways to integrate free technology into your classroom. A special thanks to Richard and FreeTech4Teachers for always being a source of inspiration and information!

Rachel Langenhorst is a 6th grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher in Rock Valley, Iowa and has been in education for 16 years. As a child and grandchild of former educators, she shares a life-long passion for learning and helping kids push themselves to reach their full potential. She is a wife to Deric, mother to Alex, Mason, and Ella, and owner of an insane black lab, Howard.
Twitter @rlangenhorst
Facebook Rachel Langenhorst (mention post when friending)

Week in Review - The Most Popular Posts

Last weekend I had some great guests contribute their posts to Free Technology for Teachers. Judging by the number of views and the comments those posts were well received by many of you. This weekend I have some more guest bloggers making contributions. But first, let's take a look back at the most popular posts from the last seven days. 

Here are the most popular posts of the week:

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