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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Using Wikis with the Youngest Elementary Students

From what I have read, wikis seemed to have found their place in today’s modern classroom.  I can see so many advantages for older student using them, though I understand the disadvantages that have been discussed.  While I see them being used often in the upper grades, it seems to be more difficult to implement at the lower levels.  Students in elementary school, especially the youngest ones, have the least amount of experience with computers and the internet.  Often, most of their exposure has been playing games under the supervision of parents or teachers. 

But I stumbled upon Patrick Ledesma’s blog post about using wikis to help students strengthen their vocabulary skills in content-specific classes.  While the article does not name the specific age level Patrick is writing about, usually students have content-specific classes starting in upper middle school.  But this technique can still apply to elementary school classes. 

A major focus of elementary curriculum is developing language and vocabulary skills.  Students can do exactly what Patrick describes:
  1. Restate the definition.
  2. Create a non-linguistic representation.
  3. Cite examples and non-examples.
  4. Edit or add to other entries.
  5. Use the pages in regular activities, or for studying.

This is a great way for students to have instant access to exactly what they have been learning about in school.  It can combine the traditional vocabulary study (lists of 10-20 “new” words focused on weekly) with the content-specific words (Math and Science terms, story elements, historical events and people, etc). 

Once students have an understanding of how the wiki functions, they can begin to expand beyond just vocabulary.  Rather than doing the traditional book report, students can create a wiki page or series of pages about books they’ve read.  And then if another student reads the same book, he/she can add to what the previous student wrote about it.  When students study a new Math concept, they can create wiki pages to help their classmates who are having difficulty understanding the concept.

Another help to elementary students is that they can see previous class’ wikis.  Personally, I would create a new wiki for each class year, but I would be sure to save the previous ones.  This would enable previous students to continue adding to or editing their work as well as having it available for them to show new teachers, friends, and relatives what they’ve accomplished together at a young age.  Perhaps this year my class is going to study the life cycle of ladybugs instead of butterflies.  They can still have access to last year’s class’ wiki pages on butterfly life cycles anyway.  This would add to their knowledge of life cycles in general while expanding beyond what we are focusing on in class. 

This also has another benefit to students.  By continuing to allow students access to their work and the work of previous students, new students will see value in the work they are adding to the wikis.  I believe that this would teach students several valuable lessons:
  1. The work they do in my class is valuable.  It is so valuable to me that I save it to show my following classes.
  2. What they put out on the internet is permanent!  It is out there for good, whether it displays good work or not so good work.  My hope is that this would help mold their ideas about the internet in general, especially when it comes to social media.  They might not participate in social media sites in the younger grades (though my 2nd grade cousin has a Facebook page so you never know), but it would be an idea that stays with them to that age and beyond.
  3. It's ok to make mistakes.  If you make a mistake on your wiki entries, someone else will come along and edit it for you.  My one wish is that there was a way to let those students see the corrected mistakes so they know what they did wrong (spelling/grammar error, wrong formatting, etc.) and learn from it.

Before reading Patrick’s post, I was definitely skeptical about using wikis with young children.  I wasn’t sure exactly how they would best be implemented with these kids.  Would they do just a single project on it?  Would it be me entering information for them?  How much time would we devote to developing a wiki?  All these questions ran through my mind while thinking about it.  But I honestly think this is the best way to use them with young students.  It’s an ongoing project that would need to be taught and reinforced at the beginning of the school year, but students would eventually be capable of doing it on their own.  It allows students to use computers without needing direct instruction or supervision from the teacher.  It allows them to work together, though not necessarily at the same time, on creating a final product.  It gives them the opportunity to take ownership of a big project without assistance from teachers (at least after they really learn to use it) or parents.  After teaching preschool for two years, I was amazed that one of my 3-year-olds knew how to get on his parents’ laptop, open an internet browser, and go straight to YouTube to watch pre-searched Thomas the Train videos.  At 3!  His parents actually assumed I taught him this, but our classroom didn’t have internet access.  Don’t underestimate what your students are capable of doing!  I always have high expectations of my students (even when they’re 3), but even then sometimes they will surprise you with how fast they learn.

You can find Patrick's article here.  I definitely recommend you go read it!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Expanding the Assembly

I recently read a post by Kathy Schrock on her blog Kaffeeklatsch about President Obama's back to school speech and her middle school.  "Today the entire middle school went to the auditorium to watch the live, streamed back-to-school speech given by President Obama. An interesting phenomenon occurred."  The speech was projected onto a large screen that made everyone feel as if they were in the Philadelphia school the President was standing before.  The students interacted as if they were there.  Kathy was impressed at both the students and the set-up of creating this feeling.

I thought this post was interesting for many reasons.  Firstly, in my own school experiences from elementary through high school, only once did we watch a live broadcast of anything (the morning of 9/11, and against our teacher's wishes one period).  But this was not as a whole school, all together.  It was out of an immediate need to know what was happening less than 100 miles from our school while teachers tried to continue teaching, out of ignorance of the events or in attempt to stay on schedule.

My school years saw many elections and world events and though we had televisions in the schools, no other major events were ever viewed live.  Comparing my experiences to what Kathy's students had that days shows the amazing leaps technology and its incorporation into our schools has made in such a short time.  Growing up, we were told it was important to learn about history, but none of us really could ever explain why.  The students in Kathy's schools that day were living and experiencing history in the making.  They were making a connection between their own lives and the rest of our nation.  They were being exposed to the current concerns of the education world they are growing up in.  They were a part of history.

I think Kathy's school did an excellent job of showing students that world/national events affect them and that they are molding our country's future while writing it's history.  Students can see the connection between the White House and their own school.  The projection of the live-streamed speech made it real to students.  It wasn't a poorly acted re-enactment or a voiced over video like so many are used to in the classroom.

They also saw technology integrated into their personal lives as well as their education.  Students today have such a great wealth of knowledge on technology, but far too often it is not involved into their school careers.  They have the latest video games, cell phones, and electronic gadgets, but rarely get to use computers of any sort in schools. This often makes me feel saddened that these tools of everyone's future are not being used by our students, but then examples like this one from Kathy prove that there are schools out there making that effort, even if not every student has a laptop for school or even computers in their classrooms.

Kathy's original post can be found at:  Interesting Virtual Experience


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Week 02- Educational Blogging

Essential Question:  Why could blogging change, or not change, the traditional classroom?

I think in general, blogging is a great way to make connections with people you may normally never have met.  Through my personal blog, I have made friends with people who share my hobby (knitting) in Manhattan, Chicago, Minnesota, and San Diego.  And those are only the ones I have become closest to- there are many many more.

My roommate uses blogging to write about her baking and interview local musicians since she is heavily involved in those two fields.  Through her blog she was able to secure a writing position on a well known music blog, as well as also make some new friends.

I could tell so many similar stories of how reading and writing blogs can bring us closer to people we don't know in our everyday lives.  This is the aspect of blogging that teachers wish to connect with- bridging communication between student and other students, teachers, administrators, parents, the community, and the world at large.

I think one important aspect that can greatly help students is that when other people (i.e., not their teacher) read and comment on their blogs, they can feel a sense of value in their work.  When a teacher reads a piece of their writing, throws a grade on the top, and hands it back to the student, the student only sees the teacher's value of their work.  By allowing the global community to have access to and ability to comment on their work, students can see varying opinions of what they think.  Isn't this more like the real world anyway?  When a book is released, it is reviewed by many people- professionals and the general public.  Why then should we limit who can review student work and give it value to a single teacher (maybe two in the case of SpEd inclusion classes)?  A teacher may not understand the reasoning behind why a student writes something, but maybe another student or reader can relate to what he/she has written.

I think blogging could also help students connect their school life with their home life.  I'm sure everyone remembers some version of this story:

Student and Parent sit down to dinner with the rest of the family.  Parent asks, "How was school today?"  Student responds, "Fine."  Parent asks, "What did you learn today?"  Student says, "Nothing important." 

Or how about this one:

Student puts a frozen meal into the microwave.  Student sits at the table and eats dinner.  Parent is in the office finishing up some work from the day, eating leftovers alone.

Parents and their children often do not have the greatest communication for a variety of reasons.  But say this student had a blog for school.  The class uses the blog for reflections, posting of assignments, posing questions for the readers, etc.  This blog is out there for anyone to read, including the parent.  So long as the fact that the student's blog exists is communicated to the parent (from the school, teacher, student), the parent will be able to see firsthand what the student is doing in school and can comment along with the rest of the world.  I think this is an important consideration that Educational Blogging failed to mention or make note of.

Of course, the article did point out that teachers assigning students writing prompts or requiring them to use the blog is not "true blogging."  I say, so what?  No, not everyone wants to put their life or opinions out there for the whole world to read about.  Blogging just isn't for everyone.  So maybe some of the students won't continue to use their blogs after the school year.  They most likely won't have access to them after graduation anyway since it seems the schools that are utilizing blogging are using software specific to the school.  The school is not going to maintain a student's space on their servers after they graduate, nor are they going to risk the lawsuit liabilities for a former student who is also likely to be a legal adult.

In the district I currently sub in (elementary schools), Blogger is completely blocked.  There is no access to any site that runs off blogger.  By integrating the use of blogs in the classroom, will the schools stop blocking other blogging sites?  Teaching our students that the purpose of blogging is so that they can freely express themselves is a bit hypocritical when the school won't let these students view other blogs.  I think this is a big consideration for any teacher who is debating using a blog with his/her students.  Because of this, a teacher can't even create a class blog on his/her own.  No one would be able to access it while they are at school, making it difficult for children to make any use of it.

Blogging would completely alter how we think of classrooms.  Students would be able to post their assignments on their blogs, where the teacher and all their classmates would be able to read and comment on it.  This could promote outside discussions that could also carry over into the classroom.  Also, it would provide the students who don't normally volunteer to speak during class the opportunity to provide their commentary on classroom topics.

It would provide students with a place for reflection on what they are learning in school.  I agree with the article that the teacher shouldn't always give a required post, but providing a choice of prompts for students when they are feeling uninspired could be helpful.  There are so many topics for students:  reflect on what you've learned; was there anything you didn't understand from today's lesson?; what is something you learned today?; what did you think of the lesson?; what would you like to know more about?; share something you've found online related to the lesson; plus a myriad questions that would be related to the actual topic.

Because I'm only family with the functionality of Blogger, I'm going to comment on some of their features here.  Using Blogger for the classroom I think would be amazing.  Many accounts can be linked to one blog (say, the classroom blog) and everyone can contribute their own posts.  It would wind up being just like a continually updated classroom newspaper available to everyone online.  Also, Blogger has added the "Pages" feature, where you can have multiple pages to separate the information being shared.  Important and relevant links can be shared in a sidebar widget- the school and district websites, state standards, interesting websites, child-friendly sites, etc.  Blogs (or at least Blogger that I know of) give anyone the opportunity to basically have their own website usually free and so easy!  I think they are a great resource for any classroom, as long as the districts start loosening their patrolling of what web-content is available in the schools.