Monday, July 2, 2012

Making the Classroom More Like Space Camp

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

I just returned from Advanced Space Academy for Educators at Space Camp in Huntsville, AL. When you are at Space Camp, you can’t help but dream about a world of education that looks a lot less like a traditional classroom and a whole lot more like Space Camp. At Space Camp, teamwork, problem solving, excitement, and fun are the norm. It is definitely inspirational.

This was my second summer at Space Camp. My first adventure was last summer, and it challenged me to create environments in my classroom that emulated my Space Camp experiences. One of the activities I developed is the “Epic Fronts Project” a new take on the jigsaw lesson.

In case you aren’t familiar with the jigsaw lesson strategy, it involves students being divided into expert groups and jigsaw groups. Each expert group becomes an expert on a section of the lesson and creates a way to teach the concept to classmates. Once all expert groups are ready, students move into jigsaw groups. Each jigsaw group is composed of members from each of the expert groups. Each expert is then responsible to teach the members of the jigsaw group about their assigned concept. It is a great strategy, but it can be a little tricky if you have odd numbers of students. Also, it usually takes more than one day to complete effectively, so absentees can also be a challenge.

I decided I wanted to use the basic strategy but I also knew I wanted to incorporate a larger sense of teamwork, problem solving, and technology - just like Space Camp. My classes were already divided into teams of 7-8 students with four teams per class. For our Epic Fronts Project, each team was assigned one of the four types of weather fronts. As part of the project, students were instructed to create a handout of notes about the front, write a song about the front, create a video to teach the basic concepts about the front, and to develop six assessment questions about the front.

Student teams had a week and a half to complete the project together. We used Flipcams to shoot the video sections and Windows Movie Maker to edit the videos together. Some students took the project a step further recorded audio for the song using microphones and Audacity to split tracks.

The best part of this project was watching students work together to figure out how to create their video and the format it would take. It was problem solving and creativity in action. My role was basically consultant and overseer. I visited the groups to check their progress and offered any assistance as needed. However, most of the time the students really didn’t need me. A few groups needed some help narrowing down ideas to get started, but after that, they flew with the project on their own. It was definitely one of those times when school didn’t feel like school, but it did feel a whole lot like Space Camp!

I hope you enjoy watching a couple of my favorite videos from the “Epic Fronts Projects”. I challenge you to find ways to make school more like Space Camp and less like school where problem solving, creativity and technology are so seamless, kids don’t even realize how much they are learning because they think they are just having fun. And, if you love space and would like to check out Space Camp for yourself, please look into the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program. It is a fabulous, all expenses paid program sponsored by Honeywell for middle school educators around the world. It’s an experience of a lifetime!

Janelle Wilson is a sixth grade Earth science teacher and self proclaimed space geek and science nerd. She teaches in Gwinnett County, GA just outside of Atlanta. You can find her blog at Stretching Forward and follow her Twitter. She is also a part of the EdCamp Atlanta Founders Team.

Tech Alternatives for the One Computer Classroom

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

So you have been ordered to integrate technology in you classroom. Only problem is, you only have one computer. There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Here are 10 ways you can use your one computer as an invigorating learning tool.
  1. Presentation Tool- The first (and simplest way) to use your computer is to present notes or information to your students. To do this project your computer screen onto a presentation screen or smart board. If you don’t have one a dry erase board works just as good. This also requires the aid of an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) projector. The best way to do this is for the teacher to walk the room explaining the notes and making sure students are on task while a student works the keyboard.
    • Example- Present a power point on the steps of solving a quadratic equation.
  2. Game Show Host- There are a ton of interactive games, note taking techniques, and simulation activities on the internet. Allow one student to direct activities projected on the screen or fill in a graphic organizer on the dry erase board and another student to make the movements on the computer. Students can be grouped to increase competition.  
    • Example- Go to and search for games based a lesson you will be teaching.  Divide students into groups of 3-4 and allow them to compete against each other in a game. One student will operate the computer and be the score keeper.
  3. Competition Tool- Play the games or competition listed above (in #2). However, make it a competition between classes to get the whole class involved. The results can be calculated on the board or tracked using an excel spreadsheet with a bar graph.
    • Example-  Have students compete to identify the battles of the Civil War of the parts of the body on
  4. Learning Center- Setup learning centers in your classroom. Create an activity where groups of students move through various learning centers with one of the centers being a computer learning center.

  • Example-Create learning stations about the stages of mitosis. Have a one station where students take notes, have another station where they color diagrams on the stages of mitosis, another stage where they interact with a simulation on the stages of mitosis (such as  , another where they create a model of mitosis, and another for assessments.

  1. Computer as the Peak Activity (Pre-search, Research, Post-search) - Have a group assignment where students have a before the computer part (or parts) of the assignment, on the computer part of the assignment, and an after the computer part(s). This allows each group to prepare for what they will do on the computer as well as evaluate what they did while on the computer.

  • Example- Students prepare to write a debate on abortion by writing a thesis and creating an outline, get on the computer and research information about cell phones in school using , and then use the research information to formulate their debate.

  1. Jigsaw Puzzle- By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the jigsaw method. It breaks a lesson down into parts and groups of students work on different parts of the lesson. Each part of the lesson will equal one piece of the puzzle. One of those pieces will be a computer group.
    • Example- When teaching a lesson on China, I jig sawed the lesson into a language group, a culture group, a religion group, a history group, a customs group and a geography group. While the other groups used the textbook and other resource books , I allowed the geography group to use my computer to map famous places using Google Earth
  2. Students-Teacher- Allow students to become a specialist on a particular topic and they can create a PowerPoint or other activity to teach the rest of the class about the topic
    • Example- As an end of the year review, students can pick a war (i.e. World War I) and create a short 3 slide PowerPoint on the topic to present to the class. Other students can be busied doing their research in a textbook or creating a multiple choice quiz about their PowerPoint.
  3. Post Master-Allow students to work on an activity at their desk. When they get their part correct, they can go type it into a master list or Power Point projected on the board.
    • Example- This is a great “Get to Know Your Classmates” activity for the beginning of the year. Have each student come up and make one PowerPoint slide about themselves and present a master PowerPoint show entitled “Getting to Mrs./Mr. ___________’s class”
      1. For fun make it a quiz, where the student puts a weird fact about themselves and the class has to guess who it is.
  4. Scavenger Hunt- Have students complete an in class scavenger hunt that allows students to get on the computer for only part of the answers.
    • Example- Have students answer questions in the different resources in the room (textbook, encyclopedia, classroom books) about the Civil Rights Movement and for one of the questions have them listen to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech on
  5. Tutor- Use it for struggling students for remediation or enrichment for early finishers. This is also a great for students who need some extra credit.

Kimberly Scott has more than six years of teaching experience. This includes middle and high school, both in the traditional and online environment. She has done numerous trainings, designed several innovative curriculums, and developed end-of-course assessments. She specializes in innovative teaching techniques, curriculum design, and integrating technology in the classroom. For more information, visit her blog

Sunday, July 1, 2012

One Music Class - One iPad - Now What?

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

I was one of the first teachers in my district to receive an iPad to use in my classroom. I was elated. I immediately found all kinds of apps for doing administrative tasks, but I really struggled with how to use the iPad with 25 or more students and only one iPad. It has taken a lot of trial and error, but I’ve found some free apps that work for me in a whole group situation. Here are a few of the apps I have used successfully.

Singing Fingers - This app allows the student to “paint” with sound. This is a great app to get your singers to do some vocal exploration. Project your iPad so that all students can see what is happening. Choose one student to come to the iPad and create a vocalise then have the class echo while the student either points to the projection or retraces the line on the iPad. I’ve used this app to assess K/1 students on their understanding of high and low sounds. The YouTube video makes me laugh. It has some really creative ideas for other uses of this app.

Rhythm Cat Lite HD - I just recently discovered this app, so I haven’t actually used it with a class yet, but I am excited to introduce it next fall. This game allows students to practice reading rhythms and playing them to music tracks. This will be a great way to assess rhythmic accuracy since the app will not accept rhythms that are not held for the full duration. If I can get my hands on another one or two iPads, this would be a fun one to include in a music center.

FingerStomp Lite - FingerStomp Lite gives you two scenes (a garage and a basketball court) which allow you to create rhythms à la the music group Stomp. I’ve been using this app to assess students on rhythms. Students take turns playing rhythms I’ve displayed by playing them on the app. This activity is fun because it moves quickly and gets many students to the iPad in the same lesson.

Monster Chorus - If you teach your students melodies using solfege or numbers, this app gives a fun little twist rather than using a glockespiel or xylophone. Help the students figure out how to play some of the melodies they know. I have also shown students which “monsters” are sol and mi (or mi, re, do, or whatever syllables I’m focusing on for that lesson) and have them play back the melody I sing for them.

Many elementary music teachers are aware of Mallet Madness, the fabulous resource by Artie Almeida. I often use the rotational instrument system described in Mallet Madness and I’ve recently had the brainstorm that the iPad can be put into the rotation as one of the instruments. You can download any number of free instrument apps such as Percussive Free, Conga Drums Free, or any other free app you’d like to use. You will need to connect the iPad to a set of computer speakers or an amplifier or the sound will be completely drowned out by the other instruments. I also suggest that you put the iPad on a short table or get it off the floor in some other manner so you avoid having it accidentally stepped upon during the transitional times.

Mozart Interactive - This is a great follow-up to a lesson on Mozart or Rondo Alla Turka. The students get to choose which instruments they hear in the story. Even the students who are not using the iPad will enjoy watching this. I draw names to allow students to come to the iPad and make the instrument choices. This app reminds me a little bit of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books I used to read as a child.

My Musical Friends HD - This app is from the same developers of Mozart Interactive. I use this app much like I would a picture book, but it is better because it can be projected so the students can see well. Students are introduced to the instrument families and the individual instruments. There is a fun fact about each instrument and students can “play” each one.  I invite students to the iPad to choose the instruments and play the different instrument sounds.

VidRhythm - This app includes Flight of the Bumblebee, Maple Leaf Rag, Beethoven’s Fifth, and a couple of holiday pieces, so you can use the app as a follow-up to a listening lesson on one of those pieces. Okay, I had to stretch a bit to think of a good educational purpose for this app, but it’s so much fun I can’t leave it out. The app has you record different percussive sounds and then remixes the sounds into a video using your chosen themes. You will be surprised how hard students will work at meeting a lesson’s objectives if the carrot is spending three minutes using VidRhythm at the end of class. Invite students to the iPad one at a time to create the sounds the app requests and let the class watch the finished result. They’ll be begging for more, so you can use this as your super-duper bargaining chip to get quality work out of them.

Please be aware that some free apps have in-app purchases available. Be sure to disable the in-app purchases for apps you plan to use with students.

I know there are a lot of other free apps out there and I’d love to hear about them. Please post in the comments of this post if you have other ideas for using one ipad in a music classroom.

Beth Jahn is an elementary music teacher in the Yellow Medicine East school district in Granite Falls, Minnesota. She is also a technology coach for teachers in the district. She is in the beginning stages of creating the Music Mish Mash blog where she writes about using technology in the elementary music classroom. When she is not teaching, Beth enjoys spending time with her husband and their four-year-old twin girls. You can reach her at 

The Design Cycle in Humanities Class

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts. 

The first time my students used the Design Cycle, it wasn't because I told them to. My middle school student council representatives needed to create a website for the student government events. My 7th graders, trained by Kim Cofino in MYP Design and Technology class, immediately started to investigate what other student council websites looked like, designed and planned the website by hand-drawing what they wanted the site to look like, and then created the site. Periodically throughout the year, they evaluated their work, asked for student feedback and changed the layout as needed. And when I saw what they were able to accomplish, with minimal input from me, I realized the Design Cycle was something I could implement in my grade 7-9 humanities classes*.

In middle school and high school humanities, most of our summative assessments are project based. I truly believe that humanities offers students an opportunity to learn about the world and start to think about how they can be change agents in today’s world. So the Design Cycle easily fits the demands of our class*.  

In the investigation phase, student have to identify a problem, discover how it relates to their lives and figure out how to solve it. They also need to investigate different ways to to present their information. I rarely, if ever, assign a specific tool for them to use. This can mean that students have to experiment with a list of tools to see which best fits their product needs.

  • In my grade 7 humanities class, students investigated what a infographic was and then made one using analog tools (like popsicle sticks and balloons). It was a chance for them to think about how they can communicate their understanding of statistics using infographics and what tools work best.
  • In my grade 8 humanities class, students had to investigate what storytelling tool they wished to use to create a family history presentation. This took a lot of time and was often frustrating, but this is a constant struggle in project work. For this project, we also investigated characteristics stories shared. We watched short commercials, mash-ups, and excerpts from movies to think about how sound, visuals, and voiceovers could add emotional impact to a historical facts. 

For me, this part is often the most important. What I'm really looking for is if they have thought about how they will accomplish the objectives of the assignment and how they are going to present their work. And the plan and design phase often has more bearing on their final grade than their final project.

  • Grade 9 students created movies answering the unit question, “Do leaders make history or does history create the leaders?”  My students know that if they are not allowed to turn on the camera until they have created a storyboard and written a script. I want my students to take pride in these and they are posted on their websites along with their final project.
  • Nothing is worse than sitting through a bad PowerPoint presentation. So Grade 7 students, in the Story of Yokohama project, had to create a hand-draw "slides” that showed what pictures they wanted to use and the order they wanted. This ensured that they were thoughtful about what went on the slide, what order their presentation was in, and they did not use any bullet points. The Presentation Zen style was much more interesting and demonstrated that students knew the topics they were discussing and and weren't relying on the slides to prompt their speeches.

This is the fun part. Students put their plans into action. My students run around the school filming, using their storyboards as hall passes. They create awesome research projects on world religions, that demonstrate analysis and research, but are more exciting than a five paragraph essay.They create awareness campaigns for Child Labor, including Tumblr pages or Facebook groups.The plan may change, but not a lot and the changes are always justified. I try to limit the days for project means they have to have a good plan in place and they have thought about what they have to accomplish on each day. Creation days are a buzz and they do amazing things.

I must admit, this is the part my students always groan about. They have to evaluate whether they met the goals of the assignment, if they followed the plan, and if they solved the problem they investigated at the start. This is often done on blog posts, either written or included as an embedded video. And while they may not love this as much as the other phases, it has equal importance to the learning and cannot be skipped.

Final thoughts
The world my students are entering is one where they will have to create projects, whether they are creating a website, a pitch for non-profit, or an awareness campaign. My students are much more likely to do these things, once they leave school, than a write a five paragraph essay. So it is imperative that I teach them how to create a project in a thoughtful and creative way. The Design Cycle gives both me and my students a framework in which to accomplish our goals. And my students are able to do so much more than I ever imagined. 

*Just a quick point, I probably don’t implement the Design Cycle the way they do in MYP technology. I’ve adjusted it for my own needs as a humanities teacher. Also, in this post I haven’t talked about how I teach other skills like research or how I teach the content. Check out my blog to see how I do those things. 

Rebekah Madrid is a MYP Humanities Teacher at Yokohama International School, Yokohama Japan. Her professional blog can be found at and your can see what is going on in her classroom at . Follow her on Twitter @ndbekah

The Teacher-Librarian is Your Best Tech Resource

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts. 

The school librarian, once known for handling books, is now responsible for both print and nonprint resources. My job description has changed more in the last two decades than any other teaching position.

If you are a K12 educator, you are aware of the term "technology integration", but did you know that perhaps your greatest assistance can come from the school media specialist (
or teacher-librarian)?  Let's talk about what kind of help you can expect:

1. You have assigned your students a research paper and have given them the requirements. Now what? If your class has questions about how to evaluate a website they'd like to use, what would you tell them?
Many school librarians have set up pathfinders on the school's website to aid students with a myriad of topics. The pathfinder lists information on that topic, including the Dewey Decimal number, (books) book titles in the library, and websites, which have already been approved by the librarian. If your school subscribes to EBSCO, Facts on File or any other databases, we can give a tour and explain the best way to search for a specific topic.

One lesson that I have done for grades 7-12 
is on searching.  My students are very quick to use Google, without understanding Boolean logic.  Here is a simple explanation from
 Kent State University's libraries on the left.

This type of search can be done in databases including EBSCO, and is the way that Google's advanced search is set up.  I always offer other search engines that are best for scholarly work, because they are specific to academia.

Students will believe that Google is all they need to research their topic.  Wrong. I explain to them that Google will merely provide results it thinks they are looking for without saying whether or not the website can be trusted.  After showing them some hand-picked sites which are hoaxes, (here's one which looks like the White House website and has links which are real, except this one) and mentioning that anyone can make a website and put it on the Internet, the students begin to see why it’s important to know what they can and can’t  trust. The anatomy of a URL (web address) is also discussed so students can understand how an address is created.

Once classes have begun to research their topics, I talk to them about curation (collecting information to share later on) and various sites to assist them, such as LiveBinders, Evernote or Zotero

Since today's kids are digital learners, I will also suggest apps for their phones, which will make the research process easier on the go.  EBSCO, LiveBinders, Evernote and Follett Destiny have mobile apps available. Students can check the card catalog for books remotely. (Boy, so much easier than when I was in school!)  Even the citation process is easy for them, with BibMe, and EasyBib creating the bibliography for the student.  There is an app for only EasyBib right now.

2. Information Literacy: Are your students information literate?
With budgets being cut across the nation, many school librarians have lost their jobs. This mapdepicts how bad the situation is.  Students in elementary school enter middle and high school without the proper skills and are then are lost when they need to attach a file to their email account.  I make it a point to create posters on how to do various things in the computer lab, such as checking the spelling and grammar in Word for a Spanish document, things students should know about EBSCO, HP smart printing made easy, finding images on the web with high resolution for inserting into Word documents, and how to search for a job online.  When I worked in another school, I actually taught a class in Information Literacy. In my opinion, this class should be mandatory for every student, now that the 21st century has arrived.

3.  Looking to make presentations easier for your students and yourself?
It's no secret around my school that I dislike PowerPoint.  With the PC version much easier to use than the Macintosh version, (and students still finding it difficult to locate where things can be found in the interface) I have introduced SlideRocket to quite a few classes with great success. You will never have to worry about lost presentations, because they reside in the cloud on SlideRocket's server. The interface is clean, and adding images, video and audio are a snap. No more excuses from students about forgetting their USB drive. Compare SlideRocket's interface to PowerPoint:

4.  Trying to keep up-to-date on all things related to technology in education?
It's a daunting task for anyone, especially when lesson plans, quizzes, teaching duties and more fill up your schedule.  Your librarian can find resources that are best for you to try.  Many of us have blogs or websites where we post thoughts, ideas, and information on tech tools and apps.  Edmodo is loved by our students because the interface emulates Facebook.  I demonstrated this program and many others, including Pixton, (Spanish classes created comics using their vocabulary words) and took the students through the registration process.  I posted the winning cartoon on our school's website. (Only 2 frames shown here)

I have only touched on a few of the  many things that your teacher-librarian can offer you and your students. Use us. Take time to visit your library-media center. Make it  the focal point of your school.

Julie Greller is a Media Specialist at Ridgefield Park Junior-Senior High School  in N.J. and  has been teaching for 22 years. Her blog, "A Media Specialist's Guide to the Internet", has won numerous awards.  You can find her original CD, "Welcome to the World: A Musical Collection for the Nursery" on iTunes, and CD Baby.