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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Web 2.0 Collaborative Projects in the Middle School

I am the library media specialist for my school and part of my job is to assist my faculty with the integration of technology in the curriculum. As such, I am always searching for new ideas to use in collaborating with my classroom teachers. Showcased below are a few of the Web 2.0 tools I have used with classes along with details of specific projects I have helped students to produce.


Cacoo is a free online diagraming tool which allows real-time collaboration. Teachers can sign up for a free Academic Plan which allows them to add student users. *Please note the Academic Plan is free through June 30, 2012 after which it will be half the price of the Team Plan.

The Project:
After studying Georgia's barrier islands for the term, students used Cacoo to create a food web of native plants and animals. The class was divided into groups of four students. All four students in each group had individual Cacoo accounts and were required to work collaboratively via Cacoo to design one food web. As an added challenge, group members were not allowed to talk about the project but were required to “chat” online within their Cacoo accounts instead.



My Observations:
Teaching the kids how to use the program took half a class period as students caught on very quickly. We had a few problems with students returning permission forms, forgetting passwords, and one group not working well together. Since group activities and the guidelines for group work were very familiar to students, group problems were quickly resolved. I found no technology problems with Cacoo at all and will use the tool with future projects. I do wish they would reconsider the upcoming price increase for the Academic Plan.

Weebly is a free site which allows users to create websites and blogs using widgets. Weebly for Education enables teacher users to create free accounts for students to build their own websites.

The Project:
After studying all year about New York City, our 8th grade gifted groups take a five-day guided bus tour to the Big Apple. Upon their return, students create websites about their trip and are required to use their own digital images. Requirements include at least four categorized pages on the site and a minimum of 10 articles about New York City.

My Observations:
Teaching classes to use Weebly took one class period and required mini-sessions during the week-long project for some reteaching of the multimedia and blog sidebar items. Good web design techniques(compared to bad) as well as using complementary color schemes were also a part of the lesson. Since students had been studying the topic all year, they already had a vision for the content. As soon as I completed instruction, kids quickly got to work on their designs. Weebly was a very simple tool for their websites and I would use with students again.

Photo Story 3 is a free software download from Microsoft which enables users to create slideshows using your own digital pictures. The program allows you to edit photos, include text, add motion, insert narration, and create your own soundtrack. Please note the program is  Windows-based and is not available for Mac.

The Project:
Students created book trailers on their favorite fiction book to share. Similar to movie trailers, a book trailer is a video advertisement for a book produced to encourage viewers to read it.

My Observations:
I always start with a project introduction a week before we begin working with Photo Story 3. To grab their attention, I show several examples of trailers and talk about persuasive advertising techniques. Students work on storyboarding for the next week in the classroom to graphically organize their thoughts. Once they come back to the media center, teaching how to use Photo Story 3 takes one full class period before they can begin creating their book trailers. More details including examples, a rubric, and a project timeline can found on my book trailer post.

One of my 8th graders chose to create his book trailer on Peak by Roland Smith.


Fotoflexer is a free online image editor which allows you to perform basic editing options as well as some advanced features. You can create an account to save a project you are currently working on to login later to complete.  


The Project:
Students must select an online image to edit and employ techniques taught during the Fotoflexer Media Literacy lesson.


My Observations:
Most of my students have no idea how much editing is done to photos. I start my lesson by showing some before and after celebrity photos. We discuss that our perceptions of a normal body image are impacted negatively by these examples. 





I also show classes how edited photos are used to manipulate the way we think. After our class discussion, I show students how the pros edit photos. 


I use Fotoflexer because it is very simple to use but it also has some advanced features under the “Geek” tab. My favorite tool is the Smart Scissors which allows you to cut out a portion of an image for placement in another. The kid’s favorite is the distort tab which allows a plus-sized model to lose 30 pounds with one mouse click.


About the Guest Blogger:
Denise Borck has been teaching for 20 years at the middle level, the last twelve years of which have been spent in the library media center. She loves being able to share her love of reading with her students as well as her interest in technology. Denise has been selected as the 2012 Teacher of the Year for her school and the 2010 Media Specialist of the Year for the Coastal Region District of Georgia. You can follow her at http://dborck.wordpress.com or at http://wjms.bulloch.k12.ga.us/media_center_home.

Guest Post - Look at the Camera and say "Think"

I think back on my own days in elementary and even high school and am disappointed by how little I actually remember, despite the fact i probably spent 75% of my time there from ages 5-18.  How could I have spent so much time in a place that I really did enjoy and feel successful but still have relatively little memory? Now, one of my top goals as a teacher is to make what happens in the classroom everyday a memorable learning experience.

No denying, drill and kill will most likely embed a skill into someones’ brain. It's how I learned most of my elementary math and spelling skills, for sure. My daughter, who really has the natural desire to get better at basketball, will shoot baskets outside for an hour everyday and I see her improving. The more we review what we want to learn, the more permanent it becomes in our brain and the more likely we are to find an opportunity to connect it to some other fact we know.  That is when the fact becomes part of our working knowledge.  “Drill and kill” really means reflecting, repeating and meta cognition.



Ok, great. I really want all that in my classroom but how do I get that without drill and kill?!  Here's my secret, I trick my students into reflecting.  



My students get excited to see and hear themselves, so I've made my camera my most essential piece of technology in my room. We take lots of pictures and video in class but I don't put it away for just an "end of year" wrap up. I use it daily and, suddenly, my students are eagerly wanting to examine these images, individually and as a class. They watch their own student produced videos for homework. They proudly watch it with their parents, maybe even siblings or grandparents. They start talking about what they’ve made and watched in their social interactions. (I’ve overheard the conversations!) Without even realizing, they've revisited their learning multiple times!



I use tools like Voicethread, fotobabble or Qwips to have the students do their own narration and captions, describing their thinking captured in the picture. Homework has changed from "answer the reflection questions 1-5, on pg 54" to "Narrate what was happening and what you were thinking about in these 5 pictures of you in class today."

I give opportunities with photoblogs made on Posterous to pose questions and comment on what's happening in the pictures of their peers. Class discussion goes deeper and the participation level skyrockets. The students who hesitate to raise their hand now have the opportunity to contribute.


It is almost too easy to use iMovie to create green screen movies.  They're honestly magical productions that let my students observe themselves being transported out of their everyday classroom  into ANY of the environments they're studying, without actually leaving the classroom.  It's like that great book series, The Magic Schoolbus, actually taking place within our four walls.

If you want to trick your students into reflecting too, you need a camera. Keep it on your desk. Never put it away. Teach your students how to use it, if they don't already know. Take pictures. Let the students take pictures. Take video. Carry it around as you collaborate with student groups. Document their learning. Make it personal. Capture their expression, their mood, their interactions. Then post it, create slide shows, albums, , montages, collages, scrapbooks, newsletters, YouTube channels, a website- whatever it takes! These are the annals of our learning, what ever form they take. All these images  we compile turn into "texts" that are so much more meaningful and memorable than the same old textbooks we pass out at the start of the year and then collect at the end to put back on the shelf, and wait, unchanged, for next years' class.



If a classroom is a place where it doesn't seem like a lot of pictures should be taken , then it makes me think memories are not being made. As a society, we treasure our photos of our most valued memories. We capture the important moments like birthdays, weddings, vacations, etc. gather them together to tell the story, keep them somewhere safe, and go back again and again to remind ourselves of that time. We owe it to our students to make their time in the classroom an event they want to capture, remember and revisit over and over again.


About the Guest Blogger
Alison Anderson is a proud Marquette University graduate and spent her teacher training years in the public and private schools of Milwaukee, WI. Since moving to Portland, OR to start her family, she has experienced different schools and  philosophies of education, like Reggie Emilia and Montessori as well as being involved in the more traditional forms. 


Someone once asked me who “Ted Rosececi” is, but, really, my twitter handle is @tedrosececi because my most important job is mothering 3 not-so-small children, Ted (14), Rose (12) and Cecilia -aka Ceci (9). After doing that full time for quite awhile, I have fought my way back to the teaching realm where I spend my day with the coolest bunch of 5th graders I've ever met. Together, we are bringing tech into the classroom and are each others' biggest supporters.

Guest Post - Using Microsoft Word to Create better Word Walls

Word Walls are an effective strategy for building vocabulary with students, especially for subject-specific terms. These lists are usually posted on classroom walls and sometimes have a definition attached to them. A more interactive word wall that includes images requires students to be more active learners as they attach meaning to each of the words in the list. Teachers may post these in the classroom after first using them as teaching tools when introducing a concept. They may continue to refer to them as students make deeper connections. Another good option is to use an interactive whiteboard, allowing students to place words in the correct place in the diagrams. As a pedagogical tool, an interactive word wall requires students to attach meaning to the words and build their own definitions. Because there is no definition attached to any of the terms, there will be no reason to hide these when there is a quiz or test.  


Creating these more interactive word walls is easily accomplished by making us of some of the image tools in Microsoft Word. There are 19 mathematics images ready to print as posters and a template that you may use to create your own. You may download the .pdf and just print the posters for your classroom, or use the Microsoft Word file and edit what is here, or create more of your own.

You may also want to use the Mathematics Tool Kit for Teachers … it will make your job a lot easier when you are creating those beautiful mathematics documents. 



About the Guest Blogger
Joe Sisco has taught Secondary Mathematics for 25 years in the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board. He is currently the e-Learning Contact, coordinating e-Learning, Blended Learning, Homework Help, and distribution of tech resources for teachers in our Board.
joe_sisco@wecdsb.on.ca
BLOG - http://wecdsbit.blogspot.com/
Website - https://sites.google.com/a/wecdsb.on.ca/math-matters/

Interactive Bulletin Boards - Guest Post

As my students have transitioned more and more into creating digital projects over the last few years, I have struggled with ways to showcase their work in a community that does not always possess the tools to access the World Wide Web. Lately, I’ve been playing with the idea of bringing together the digital and “real” worlds in their projects. My students yearn for outside feedback, but rarely get it when they post their work on a blog or in an Internet gallery. Thus, after reading a post about Transliteracy, my Interactive Bulletin Board was born.


Using a project from Read Write Think about Parallel Poems and an art project from Princeton Online, the students had a beautiful 2-D Bulletin Board to display in our hallway.  But, I wanted to bring its viewers into the digital world as well, so I used a few tricks to engage the audience - QR codes, a puzzle, and an iPad.

First, I mixed up the artwork and poetry on the board so that they weren’t matched with each other.  Then I placed QR codes on the artwork that led the reader to an audio file in which the artist/poet read his or her poem.  I also placed QR codes that led the reader to Google Forms online that allowed the viewer to vote on their favorite pieces of art and poetry. This was a hit with my own students, but I wanted to widen the audience, so I then sent out e-mails to surrounding classrooms offering the loan of some of our classroom iPads so that their students could experience the bulletin board, too.

The teachers who volunteered to participate were not very familiar with either iPads or QR codes, but they thought their students would enjoy the opportunity.  With a few instructions, the students themselves (third grade) were able to tutor each other as small groups strolled over to our hallway to view the board. For almost a week, there were students standing in front of our board with iPads, discussing the art and poetry, trying to match them up, and giving their input on the work.  It was the most feedback we have ever gotten on student work - virtual or otherwise.

The success of this “pilot” has definitely made me want to branch out to other ideas - codes linked to videos or blog posts so viewers can comment, a bulletin board in the library to reach an even wider audience, etc... 

Students find QR codes engaging.  Sure, the novelty will wear off in a few years, but we can certainly take advantage of it now to enhance learning.  For a few more ideas on how you can use QR codes in the classroom in novel ways, such as for classroom coupons, check out my blog at http://engagetheirminds.com, and do a search for QR codes, or you can just click here. 

About the Blogger
Terri Eichholz is a teacher of Gifted and Talented students in North East Independent School District in San Antonio, TX.  This is her 21st year of teaching and learning from her students.  You can find her blog, Engage Their Minds:  Different Ideas for Different Thinkers, at http://engagetheirminds.com

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