Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Books, Blogs, and Videos to Transform Learning

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.

This year has been an adventure in integrating technology. Our school acquired a cart of iPads as part of a pilot project in innovative learning. Our goal was to use them in class to see if and how they changed the way we teach and learn. The project was not just about using ipads in class but about discovering how using them would change the learning experience. My class got 5 iPads to use full time and I got  personal  Ipad to use.

Integrating technology was not new to me, but the iPads were. The first thing I did was to explore many  of the Apps that were available to use in a variety of applications. I looked at apps that helped  learn math facts, others that let you create books, video and music, and still others that let you download and read eBooks.  I had intended to try it all. 

Including the MacBooks, my goal was to use this equipment to create online portfolios of student work to motivate students and to allow parents to follow their progress throughout the year. We started with publishing  a creative writing assignment for Halloween. Each child followed the writing process in planning, drafting, editing and publishing their own story. They learned how to create a webpage, took photos of their illustrations and posted both. During the process they learned how to use Dropbox,  how to upload pictures from iPads and then download them  to use in a blog. We worked through many problems, and their resolution and enthusiasm grew with each success. They learned to value each others opinions and to rely on each other for support.

Then we started blogging...and writing took on new importance to the class.  The students began to take charge of their own learning. They started blogging about class activities. Later they took on a new role as a character from our novel and their blogs became her diary.

I had started a blog as well to experience it myself and to record and reflect on our progress.

"We started to blog with the idea of blogging once every week or two. We now blog every day we are together. The kids are always looking for more ideas to blog. They write more now. They are more creative in their blogs and they are always busy taking pictures of their work with the iPads to publish their work in their blogs."
From My Blog at the time  (Blogging a Class Changer)

About this time we finished our Literature Circle novels and started a new project. We worked in our groups of four  to create a video of the books. The students  rewrote the book as a play, created sets, characters and scripts and used the ipads and MyStopMotion to create animations of the books. They used iMovie to do voice overs for them. I showed them briefly how to use the app and gave them very basic instruction on iMovie. They took up the challenge and became directors, actors, and producers.

"We jumped in feet first and again the class surpassed all expectations. We all started together but soon leaders emerged and as problems were encountered, solutions were found. Everyone was proud of their finished movie and gained a deeper understanding of the elements of a story. As I watched and listened I realized just how important this was to them and marveled at their new found expertise in setting and character portrayal. " (Reflections on Innovative Learning year 1)

We also took on the researching of the building of the CPR and its importance to B.C. We watched several YouTube documentaries on the building of the railway and took notes. We then set out and found old pictures of Immigrants working on the railway and the dangers they faced. We used Book Creator to meld our notes and pictures and created voice overs for the books.  I wondered if students would emerge from the project with more than just  technology skills and they impressed us by answering questions on their books, When I asked them if making the book helped them learn they said ."Yes, cause the information keeps traveling around your head when you need to  use it."

I am amazed at all we have accomplished and how we have grown as a team. Technology has become entwined in my daily classroom routine. I don't plan how and when to use technology. On any given day, you will find some of my class filming or doing voice overs as others are drafting and still others are blogging. Some are busy taking photos of their latest artwork or making illustrations for their blogs. Some may even be using the time to finish up some Math or scrapbooking. We have many projects on the go and we are often all in different stages of creating. We have blocks of work time and students help each other, teach each other, work together and  technology is just another tool in our crayon box.

As we worked through each project I worried about the time involvement for each. Were we taking too long?  Was each project and effective use of time? Would students finish with a deeper understanding of the content they used? How could I evaluate each student's learning effectively?

It is gratifying to know that the students  think they have learned more and have a deeper understanding of the content we set out to learn about. They felt that they would remember more about the topics than if they had just read about them, answered questions, or written reports.

My personal observations of the time they spent actively engaged and the collaboration required in creating the movies, books, and blogs would mirror those of the class.

"I have learned as much as I have taught and am excited to try new projects next year.  Each new project we finish seems to open a new door of possibilities for another." (Reflections On Innovative Learning Year1)

We never got to those Math apps or any of the other teaching apps. In May I erased them from the iPads and we are all happy filming, writing, taking photos and building portfolios. We used Pinterest to bookmark our work and highlight out portfolios Our adventure has just begun. We are already looking to next year.

Linda Dyck is currently a grade 4 teacher in Surrey B.C. I have integrated technology in my teaching for over 20 years and have given many workshops on how to do so. I am a past president of CUEBC and was Conference Chair of TELED, a  twin International conference on technology integration in Victoria, and New Orleans. I participated in Ministry of British Columbia investigation into k-12 requirements for the successful integration of technology in schools. As part of this year long investigation I was one of the co-authors of the final report Conditions For Success. I appeared on Working TV in a documentary on the pros and cons of using technology in elementary school.

Students Discover Ancient Chinese Dynasties Using Totally Digital Tools!

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 want to thank Richard for this opportunity to be a guest blogger. His site, Free Technology for Teachers, has shown us the best free tech resources available today to actively engage our students. Technology helps us to learn more about ourselves and others. Technology helps us to do things better than we might do simply on our own. Imagination, creativity, communication, collaboration and sharing with others are all enhanced using technology.

Steve Jobs, when introducing the iPad 2, explained that “ alone is not enough. That it’s technology, married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that make our hearts sing.” You can see Steve for yourself here. We’ve felt that, haven’t we? That’s why we believe most fervently that integrating technology into our teaching empowers our students to sing their song, their way. This is one “song” we created!

This year, our sixth grade students, their teacher, the ITR Teacher and I began a study of Ancient Chinese Dynasties. What would be “new” for us would be the experience of using only digital tools to learn about these dynasties. We were familiar with some of them. We decided to use only free digital tools so students could access them anywhere/anytime they had Internet access as they completed their work. We also included the art teacher so students could create clay pots and kites representative of the Ancient Chinese Dynasties. All of us had much to learn!

We compiled a list of activities and tools that we would be using:
  • Having used Moodle, a content management system, I set up the outline for our class. While Moodle itself is free, you must host it - either on your school server or your own server.

  • Blogs - each user in Moodle has a blog; external blogs can be linked
  • Wiki - an activity module in Moodle for collaboratively creating content
  • Exabis ePortfolio - plugin added to Moodle so students are able to create individual ePortfolios

This was the first time these students were relying totally on digital tools to learn about a topic. This was a brand new experience for them and they were excited! We started first with Diigo, saving online resources to study and use. Immediately, they understood the concept of saving and organizing information (by creating lists). They realized they could use Diigo for other subject areas and for their own interests and hobbies. Highlighting helps information retention, too! Diigo has become indispensable to us as teachers! What inspired us was that they discussed among themselves the value of the information they found and they helped each other to find other pertinent web resources.

As they wrote blogs, created wikis, multimedia projects and art creations, the level of sharing and collaboration was impressive. Yes, we did use tests at the end along with their online evaluations to reach a grade. But these students respected and valued each other’s ideas and talents so much that, together, they created a solid body of content. They encouraged each other, too, which involved reluctant participants! Every student was able to use their voice and their talents to contribute to the class “song” and that was music to our ears!

This short video, Ancient Chinese Dynasties, shows just some examples of our class work! 

Having taught students from PreK through 8th grade, I’ve seen technology empower and excite students about learning. Now, I work with their teachers to integrate technology into their curriculum and I see the same excitement! You’re invited to contact me via email at or on Twitter @patmsmiley

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Making Educational Blogging Work for You

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 introduced to educational blogging in 2008. A twenty minute tutorial by a Department of Education staff member was enough to ignite my interest and, four years on, blogging is something that really works in my classroom.

Initially, I saw blogging as a bit of fun. I thought it would be a good way to communicate with parents and archive classroom information. I didn’t realise that there are countless
benefits that blogging can bring when it is working effectively in a classroom.  

When I look back at how I first approached blogging, there are few similarities to how my blogging program operates today.

I used to think blogging was an add-on. I didn’t realise that it can be seamlessly integrated into the classroom literacy program. I used to feel guilty about taking time away from my reading and writing curriculum. It was a light bulb moment for me when I realised that blogging is literacy; and an authentic and important style of literacy too. Now a day without blogging as part of my literacy block would be hard to imagine.

I used to think it was about the posts. Back in 2008, I had students writing posts from day one. There was no education or standard. Few comments were written and those we did receive were often limited to “I like your blog!!!” or “Our class is cool!!!”. The students’ writing just wasn’t developing. Working with teachers such as Linda Yollis made me realise the comments are the place to start. This is where everyone can get involved, collaborate, learn and practise their skills.

From the beginning of each school year, I now put the emphasis on writing quality comments. This requires explicit teaching, modelling, practice and feedback. I write the posts until the students develop the skills they need to write an effective post. From there the students can earn their own blog. It is a sequential process which has led to incredible gains in the students’ literacy skills, confidence and 21st century proficiencies.

I used to think participation would just....happen. Unlike traditional websites, the dynamic nature of blogs means people can be having conversations, interacting and learning from each other every day. My blog used to be a fairly dead space. It received a handful of daily visits and maybe one comment per post at best.

Over time I realised that participation cannot be left to chance. If you want parents to get involved you need to educate and encourage them. Parent handouts, videos, e-newsletters, Family Blogging Afternoons, posts for parents and Family Blogging Month competitions have all led to greater family involvement in our blog. Most teachers are well aware of the link between parent participation in schooling and improved student outcomes. Blogs provide a bridge between home and school, however, many families need to be shown the way … just like the students.

I used to think our class blog was just for our class. Little did I realise that an important aspect of blogging is getting involved in the online community. When I first began, I didn’t know any other blogging classes. Now we connect with blogging classes from all corners of the globe on a daily basis.

Blogging partnerships have allowed my students to learn about geography, cultures, time zones, seasons, language, internet safety and more in an authentic way. Global collaboration has led my students to learn alongside their peers and achieve amazing outcomes such as raising $20,000 for a Ugandan school. Our classroom program is much richer because of our blogging buddies.

This is the fifth year that my class has been involved in blogging. I am constantly learning and tweaking ideas. Implementing a blogging program has certainly been a rewarding journey for both my students and myself.

Through integrating blogging into the curriculum, setting high standards, educating families, and being active in the blogging community, my students now reap the rewards that blogging offers. Yours can too! Not sure where to start? I have written a five step guide to getting started with blogging and many other posts on all aspects of educational blogging. Happy blogging!

Kathleen Morris is a grade four teacher in Victoria, Australia. This year, she team teaches 52 students with Kelly Jordan. Kathleen enjoys integrating blogging, global collaboration and a range of technologies into her classroom program. She began teaching in 2004 and has taught grades one to four in that time. 

Blog: Integrating Technology in the Primary Classroom
Class Blog: 4KM and 4KJ @ Leopold Primary School
eNewsletter: Tech Tools for Teachers
Twitter: @kathleen_morris

Welcome to Online Textbooks

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 can’t find my textbook!” “I don’t remember getting a textbook.”  Does this sound familiar to you?  That is what I kept hearing at the end of every year.  Then I would have to go through a big hassle of collecting money from student to repurchase the outdated textbooks that I had.  I  hated having to worry about students losing textbooks or that I was always replacing textbooks that I didn’t even want that included too much information or not enough information.  Enter FlexBooks.  FlexBooks are online textbooks from a company called CK12.  I instantly liked them for many reasons, but the two big ones were that I could customize the book and that it could be posted on my website and downloaded by the students.  This video does a great job of explaining how they work.  While not every subject has a FlexBook they have a large list of books that include math and science books for middle and high school along with some other areas such as SAT Prep, History and Engineering.

So, this sounds good you say, but how can I really use it in my classroom?  I picked out a textbook that I wanted to use and then went through it to delete the things that don’t apply to my curriculum.  I also added in some information that wasn’t there that I wanted to make sure my students had in their book.  You can also include links to worksheets (CK12 has a workbook that goes along with most of their textbooks).  Once it’s created you can save it as a PDF and post it on a webpage or e-mail it to students.  Even better, students can put the PDF on their computers, phones, Kindles, IPads, Nooks or other eReader.  If you don’t want to customize your book you can find select FlexBooks already in Kindle or Nook/IPad/Android format.

Am I convincing you yet?  Maybe you want to make sure you have a teacher’s edition to refer to or a book or worksheets or labs.  Well, you got it!  Again, not every book has it, but all you have to is request a copy of the teacher’s edition and if it’s available they will send it to you.  The workbooks that are available are also customizable so can you make them fit your classroom.  I usually post them on my website and the students can have access to them all the time (no more “I lost it.”)

Looking for more?  CK12 has a more interactive way of presenting information that allows you pull short concepts along with chapters into an online interactive “book”  Many of the concepts include video clips and interactive quizzes.  It’s still a beta right now, but don’t let that stop you.

If you are an Algebra 1 teacher, FlexMath is another resource for you that provide more interactives for you and your students.  It’s more of an activities website than a textbook.
Lastly, CK12 has created I Need A Pencil.  It is great for those who are teaching an SAT prep class.  It has interactive lessons and practice test for students to work on.

About the Guest Blogger
Cristina Conciatori is a Biology and Chemistry teacher in New York. Cristina loves technology and is always looking for new ways to use technology to help her students. Connect with Cristina on Google+ and check out her blog: Tech Savy Science in the Clasroom.

Retooling Research

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.

Do you or your students cringe at the thought of research? Why not try some of these tools to help you update and revitalize the research process for both you and your students?

A journey well begun is half done.” Anonymous

Infohoio was created to assist Ohio educators and students with the research process. The Ask, Act, Achieve page offers many links which will assist  students as they plan and organize their research.

Assignment Calculator was created by the University of Minnesota. Students enter their project’s due date and are given a dated, detailed plan of action for each step of the research process. Teachers might also want to use the Assignment Calculator to set checkpoints along the research path.

Locating and Accessing Information
A well-constructed search yields the best results.  Can your students choose the appropriate keywords and phrases to ensure success? Do they believe everything they read on the Internet, or do they know how to evaluate sources?

Google Search Education offers a set of lesson plans designed to meet students at their level of need (beginner, intermediate, and advanced).  You’ll find lesson plans aligned with Common Core State Standards on picking the right search terms, understanding search results, narrowing a search to get the best results, searching for evidence for research tasks, and evaluating the credibility of sources.

Evaluation Wizard The 21st Century Information Fluency website offers a free evaluation wizard.  Students insert a website’s url and then are taken through the steps to determine the site’s accuracy and reliability.

Gathering Information: Taking Notes
My students have more trouble with the notetaking portion of research than any other step in the process.  Without good notes, students can’t hope to compose an excellent paper.

Zotero: this invaluable tool assists students in doing online research. Students will love the iTunes-like format where they capture each site’s bibliographic information, take notes, and add tags, simplifying their online research.

Notetaking templates Do students need assistance to determine what information to collect as they take notes?

Pulling It All Together:  Synthesis
The hardest work is behind you!  if you took excellent notes, then this step of your research project will practically organize itself.  (Teachers, see this Libguide from John Wood Community College in Quincy, Illinois, for suggestions on notetaking formats and organization.)

Essay Map this interactive tool from walks students through the steps of preparing their final paper.

Free Online Plagiarism Detector Once students have a rough draft, they can copy and paste it into the space provided on this site.  Students will be given feedback (on online sources only) to help them identify areas in their paper that must be edited to avoid plagiarism.

Bio: Fran taught English at both the junior high and high school levels for 29 years before becoming the lead librarian at Boiling Springs High School in Boiling Springs, South Carolina.  She is passionate about reading and using technology to enhance instruction.

Fran taught English at both the junior high and high school levels for 29 years before becoming the lead librarian at Boiling Springs High School in Boiling Springs, South Carolina.  She is passionate about reading and using technology to enhance instruction.

Connect with me:
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