Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gaming in Education

I think, like all technology, there is definitely a place in the education field for games.  Games don't necessarily need to be "edutainment," but they must be applicable in a way.

I remember in elementary school playing Oregon Trail every week.  I hated that, though your family still has live members, you have to start all over next week.  I don't necessarily remember learning all that much from the game, except that everyone dies of Indian attacks, drowning in a river crossing, or dysentery (whatever that is...).  To an elementary school kid, it was just fun.  But we did learn from it.  We learned that choosing our supplies were important.  We learned to plan ahead how to cross those rivers.  Practicing shooting animals for food would later help us defend ourselves from the Indian attacks (maybe someone should make this game from the Native American perspective...talk about breeding prejudices).

I think a valuable opportunity that many schools are passing by is having older students create games for younger ones based on each curriculum area.  This was addressed in Prensky's article, but I think it would be most valuable for a school district to utilize their own students for workpower.  There's so many advantages for both sides- the creators and players.

Older students
  • become "experts" on the content
  • collaboration in teams
  • opportunity to differentiate learning- utilize students skills (art, computer, leadership, etc.)
Younger students
  • learning from the games (obviously)
  • build communication skills - rate the games as they're in progress and offer suggestions for improvement
For the older students, a grade could be based on the younger student reviews and the improvements made based on the younger students' feedback.

I think this could be easily integrated into the Science, Math, and Social Studies fields.  ELA and Foreign Language would be more difficult, but I'm sure still obtainable with dedication.  Most importantly, as Gee pointed out, the games should be reflective of "real-life" situations and problems (his example was making a biology game based on a scientist doing field-work).  

My reasoning for using older students to create for younger students is best exemplified by this quote from Prensky's article:

A student puts it much more simply:  'Don't try to use our technology,' she says, 'you'll only look stupid.'

Even if, as adults, we know more about the specific technologies available, students feel a sense of ownership over them- they know more than us in their minds.  Educators can use this to their advantage by having students create resources for other students.  And even if they do know more than the teacher, what a great opportunity this is for us to learn from them.

A Thought on Classroom Blogs...

This was a thought that just popped into my head...

A great feature that I have used often (on both this blog and my person blog) is the scheduled post.  Now, I'm not sure if other blog sites have this feature, but Blogger allows the user to write a complete post, but rather than publish it immediately, it can be scheduled to "air" at a specific date and time.

An example:

A teacher uses a blog in his classroom as a Do Now for the start of class.  He's not an early bird and is usually frazzled in the morning getting ready, commuting to school, and prepping for his classes that day.  He does not have to think about writing and posting a Do Now for the first period class because it is scheduled to post automatically at one minute before the class begins.  This way, students can log onto their computers as soon as they get into class and comment/write reflections/whatever the assignment is.  And if he has a separate blog for each class, each one can automatically be updated just before class starts.

For me, this has been a great feature to save some time.  On my personal blog, I don't like to post more than once a day.  The result would be about 15 posts today, and then non for another 2 months.  So if my posts aren't time-sensitive (book reviews or just little blurbs), I schedule them to be published for when I have no other updates to share.  I haven't actually updated my personal blog since September because of so many other commitments these past few months, but once I get back into it, I'll definitely be using it again.

I just wanted to share this idea with anyone else who is thinking about using a blog (specifically Blogger) in the classroom.  Does anyone know if any of the other blogging sites do this too?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Smart Board Lesson Review: Multiplication

 As in introduction to SMARTBoard lessons, I downloaded a pre-made lesson introducing students to the concept of multiplication.  I thought the lesson was very good. 

The first page gives the basics of the lesson- subject, topic, grade level, learning outcomes, etc.  Page two shows students what they will be doing.  There is a multiplication sentence at the top of the page:  3 x 5 =15.  Below are three circles, each containing five ants.  The directions below the circles instruct students to move the ants to illustrate the number sentence.  The third page is similar to the previous, except that students are expected to illustrate the number sentence “4 x 5 = 20” independently.  The next two pages have multiple number sentences in which students must write the quotient to on the line.  Next to the number sentence is a box.  Once students solve the problem, they can move the box to see the answer.  Slide six contains a dice game.  Students “roll” the two dice to determine the numerals to multiply and then solve the problem. 

I think the lesson overall is a great introduction to the topic.  The one thing I wish was included was an actual lesson plan.  I’d love to see how the teacher is actually introducing the topic and the questions that go along with it.  One problem I see with this activity is that for an introductory lesson, some of the multiplication problems included are difficult- 8 x 8 and 8 x 9 are very difficult for third graders to solve on a first try.  Another thing I would change is the two pages in which students must move images to the circles.  The way the activity is now, students have exactly the right number of images to move.  To me, this seems better suited for an introduction to division.  What would work better is to have student put dots or X’s in the circles and then count them, or to have more than the necessary amount so that students are checking that they are putting the correct number into the circles.  I really like the set-up of the problems on pages 4 and 5 (the box hiding the answer next to the problem).  I think this is a great way for students to attempt problems and self-check.  There is also ample room for students to draw a helpful picture next to the problems.  I love the dice game!  I've played similar games with students on the SMARTBoard during subbing and they love it. What's good about the dice is that the students won't be multiplying anything larger than 6 x 6.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

OpenSource and OpenOffice

Oh OpenSource, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:

  1. You're free.
  2. You're free.
  3. You're free.
A couple years ago, after graduating undergrad, I liked to download lots and lots of files.  As anyone who's done this knows, this can lead to viruses and oops, computers crashing.  Yes, this happened to me.  And after one time, I was sad to find that I had used all my MS Office installations allowed with the student/teacher purchase package from undergrad.  I didn't know what to do:  I had no money and using WordPad...how can one even consider it after using MS Word.  

I turned to my brother, a bigger computer geek than I, and he suggested OpenOffice.  He explained to me that it was practically the same thing as MS Office, except free.  FREE?!?!  How can that be possible?  It was my first venture into OpenSource programs.  I installed it and used it for quite a while.  Actually, I used it until I found out that I could install MS Office for free as a Pace student.  I ultimately went back to MS Office for ease of use (and it seemed to open faster on my Windows XP computer).  But I keep OpenOffice installed, just in case.  

Probably my favorite feature of OpenOffice is that it can be integrated with anyone else.  It is so easy to open MS Office files, and also save your OpenOffice as MS Office files.  For instance...  My co-officer from the BFA Guild emails everyone our calendar of events for the upcoming 2011 year.  She asks that everyone look it over and make suggestions or editting.  Of course she sends it as an MS Word file.  But, poor substitute teacher that I am, I do not have MS Office on my computer.  No problem!  I can still download the file and open it in OpenOffice's Writer.  I make my edits, save the file in a MS Word-compatible format, and resend to everyone to share.  The will all be able to open it on their computers, often without knowing that I didn't even use Word.  The same goes for spreadsheets, presentations and databases.  

Being that functionality is equivalent to that of MS Word, this product would work just the same in schools as the MS programs.  The only concern I would have is that students would become so familiar with the format of OpenOffice, they may encounter difficulty when later in life they are required to work using MS Office, especially since the 2010 version of Office has been integrated into many systems and appears so differently from previous versions.  But, it is just one more thing that students would need to be taught.  And judging by how intelligent today's students in the computer technology field are, I don't think it would be hard for them to pick up.  

As previously pointed out, by making use of the free software available, schools/districts would free up so much budget money to invest elsewhere.  Recently I did some observations in a very wealthy community on Long Island.  I'd never even heard of some of the tools this elementary school had for students to use- I didn't know they made iPod's with microphones!  Because this school has an abundance of money to invest in their students, they have everything- these iPods and Flip cameras.  Though I was excited to see the tech teacher utilizing Google Earth and Glogster!

The only functionality that OpenOffice does not have versus MS Office is Publisher- a way to make brochures, pamphlets, and the like.  Does anyone really use this anymore?  I honestly don't think my previous student/teacher version of Office included this program.  Realistically students can perform the same functions in Word/Writer - creating columns, setting picture layouts to be movable rather than in line with text, etc.  My biggest complaint about Publisher was I never knew where on a brouchure I was.  I really didn't like that program and found it to be used rarely during my school career.  If a school really felt that this product was necessary, it could be purchased as a stand-alone (rather than in a suite of programs) or an alternative, such as Adobe's InDesign.  The schools would still be spending less money that can be applied elsewhere.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


As I commented on Mohamed Amine Chatti's post "LMS vs. PLE", I have been very disappointed in the online learning community at Pace.  Before entering as a grad student, I had never used Blackboard before.  At first, I was excited at this online community.  But over the past couple semesters, I become more and more disappointed (and annoyed) with the site.

A PLE (personal learning environment) is supposed to offer students the opportunity to extend their learning, make it personal, and have an input on the method of learning.  At first glance, Blackboard seemed to be just that for me.  But after my first semester, I was sad to see that I no longer had access to the documents available to my classes.  There was no printed record of my class contributions.  No more lists of grades for me to keep on hand.  With a new semester, Blackboard is essentially wiped clean of my previous coursework.

One issue Mohamed brings up in relation to PLEs is the ability to extend the coursework or study of the topic even after the class has finished.  Blackboard obviously provides no opportunity for that as it is right now.  But should Pace decide to utilize a different learning community, that would have my experiences thus far more positive.  I would have liked to stay in touch or communicate or discuss with some former classmates.  If I didn't get their emails before the semester ended (or in my current case, we're no longer meeting in person for the rest of this semester for one class and I missed the last in-person class due to being sick), then I'm out of luck.  I may not have had the time during the semester to peruse all the resources and documents my professors had made available, and now there's no way for me to have access to them at all.  Blackboard leaves much to be desired and makes me wonder how my experiences at Pace would have been different had a system closer to a PLE been utilized instead of Blackboard.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chrome for a Cause

For everyone out there who uses Google Chrome (and if you don't, shame on you!)

Sign up so that for every new tab you open between now and Dec 19th, you'll help raise money for a cause!

Seriously, just sit there and keep opening new tabs.

As of this posting, I have opened 70 new tabs, and that's only in a few hours.  (OK so really I'm doing homework and have to do a lot of work online that requires a lot of internet activity...)

Want to increase your number of tab openings?  Instead of clicking on a link, right click and then choose to open in a  new tab or new window!

Blogging with Students

Though this posting on Notes from McTeach is from September, I just came across it today and I am in love with it!  The title is "Learning to Blog Using Paper" and I think it is just utterly amazing.  Karen McMillan (the author) taught 7th graders the essentials of blogging without the computer.  Before allowing them to create public blogs, they practiced in the classroom using ::gasp:: paper and pencil!  Karen got the idea from a conference introducing teachers to blogging, but decided to adapt the activity for her students.  Here are (simplified versions of) the steps she followed:

Step One
Discuss blogging in general as a class.  Go over rules together.

Step Two
Students write about something they are passionate about- a rough draft on, yes, paper.

Step Three
Students use cardstock to create their post- the written portion, the sidebars, the background, everything.  Again, on paper (cardstock)

Step Four
The class discusses commenting.  Students use Post-Its to write comments and "attach" them to the blogs

Obviously, you should head over to her post to get the full steps, plus some amazing photos of the completed paper blogs and resources available online.

Why am I so crazy about this blog post?
Well, that's an easy one.  I love blogs.  I wish I had more time to read them.  I wish I had more time to keep up with my personal one (no posts since September! gah).  I think they are an amazing free tool for students to make use of too.  I cannot say enough good things about blogs.  It gives a student the opportunity to have an online presence.  They may not be able to code HTML website, or afford one for that matter, but a blog is an easy way for them to interact with the greater world.  With a blog, students can have more annonymity than social networking sites offer (not so easy for strangers/predators to track them down) while still having many freedoms.  Students can work on them from practically anywhere- as long as they can get internet.  I know so many places with free wifi- Starbucks, many Barnes and Noble locations, most public libraries.  We still have the drawback that many schools block blogging websites.  There is a lot of inappropriate materials on blogs, but I think schools need to reevaluate their usefulness.

Then there is the concern that many students face- they don't have computers or internet access, no iPad or netbook, no way to work on these projects outside of school.  It is an issue that many teachers face when trying to incorporate technology into their classrooms of students with limited resources.  The paper blogs could be an alternative entirely to these classes.  Students are still learning the idea behind it, and can make use of those ideas later in life when they encounter them.

Back to the point of Karen's posting- introducing students to blogging.  Many teachers would assume students at the 7th grade level have already encountered or have knowledge of blogs.  It's a fair assumption with how technological children are these days.  But they may not always understand the process and still have to be introduced to many aspects of blogs.  I think this was a great way to introduce blogging and how it works to students.  And oftentimes, teachers want students to do some sort of rough draft or map before they create computer projects- Word documents, PowerPoints, and now blogs.