Monday, December 7, 2009

About Me

Wow. Aaron Iba has just sold Etherpad to Google for an estimated $10 million. We used Etherpad earlier this year for an online collaborative assignment within the computer lab. It is a "real time" online notepad that allows multiple users to collaborate. In real time. Did I mention real time? That is HUGE. Google Docs tried to do this...and they were close. They made collaborative documents with chat areas and when the page refreshed, the changes by all collaborators were visible. But it still wasn't real time. How do I know this? I know this because I have been using Google Docs with my students for the past three years. And it isn't in real time.

So why the Wow? I mean really. I know I am probably one of the only geeks in a 5 county area that cares about this transaction. But I have just had some serious validation. Kids want to use tech. Some of them, like Aaron Iba, need to use tech to learn and be engaged and NOT BORED.

Please take a moment to read his "About Me" page on his personal website. is worth the read! And if you know me and what I stand will understand my WOW!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Discovery Education

Yesterday I decided to put together an assignment for my students that would enable them to become completely independent learners. How did I do it you ask? (Ok even if you didn't ask I am still going to tell you!) I decided to dive into our school's subscription of Discovery Education (formerly known as United Streaming). I spent about three hours clicking on various buttons and really taking in the options that are available for teachers. It was pretty easy to set up a "classroom" by giving my students usernames and passwords for individual access to the site. I also created an assignment in the assignment builder area. I am amazed at the possibilities for using this feature with the kids to create online classes for any subject area. It is a matter of choosing what media I want the kids to view, websites to access, and providing instructions for the kids to follow. Voila...instant lessons the kids can access independently to take control of their learning. I created a google doc for my students to fill out with answers to questions that went along with the two videos on plant classification. Little did I know, there is actually a quiz builder that I could have used right in the site. I will be sure to try that for the next online assignment. I asked the kids whether or not they liked this format and they all assured me that watching a video and answering questions on a virtual "worksheet" was much more fun than the traditional science book lesson. I sort of figured that is what they would say....

I hope the kids will take a look around the Discovery Education site in the next couple of days. I know I will be thinking of more and more ways to utilize this site for differentiation as well as alternative forms of assessing students!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank You

There is no better day to say thank you to all of the students, staff and parents of NorthWard Elementary than today. Thank you for making my job challenging, entertaining, and worthwhile. I am truly blessed. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Wolfram Alpha Video

A while back, the crew from Wolfram Alpha visited our classroom to see how we have been using this "computational knowledge engine" to assist in student learning. Here is the video they captured.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fall "Leaves" Me Happy!

At least that is the theme of my classroom bulletin board right now. And that theme was definitely the source of happiness this past Saturday as a handful of my students, parents, and I did some leaf raking for the community. What an absolutely gorgeous weekend! It was the perfect day to be out and about with the K-Kid leaf raking caravan.

I am sure we are a site to see as approximately 10 vehicles packed with kids descend on a yard. I would liken it to a swarm of bees coming in, doing their work quickly and efficiently, and then swarming off to the next location.

There are two phases of the leaf raking process with kids that are absolutely my favorite.

1.) The initial hard work. Watching the kids work together to tackle a yard with the help of their parents and teachers is very satisfying.
but I think I enjoy even more...

2.) The look of pride on the kids' faces as the owners of the yards come out and thank the kids for their hard work.

I am not sure if more learning took place on Saturday during our community service project or in the classroom all week. I am sure both are considered productive learning experiences. I guess I just have to believe that Saturday's learning experience is one that will benefit the kids for a lifetime.

Happy Fall!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Online Brain

"The Online Brain"

"The Homework Helper"

"The Online Tutor" (as I have it linked to our classroom homepage)

"The One Stop Shop" for all of your classroom assistance.

What am I writing about?

Why Wolfram Alpha of course!
This website is opening up a whole new way of helping kids become successful students.

Just in the past few weeks I have used this site to help students with vocabulary definitions, spelling patterns, longitude/latitude, and state research projects.

But honestly, that is just the tip of the iceberg. I am very excited about its use when checking math problems for immediate feedback as well as locating nutritional values for common foods that don't necessarily have a label printed directly on them (think fruit and veggies here). We are in the middle of our unit of study on the human body and I will be asking students to begin tracking their food intake for a day or two so we can evaluate whether or not we are getting proper nutrition. Using Wolfram Alpha will be a a major contributing factor to these nutritional journals.

I had a wonderful opportunity to show the parents of some of the students who are in my classroom how we are using this site. It is my hope that parents, too, will use this site at home for aiding in homework success. Whether is takes the place of the home dictionary, thesaurus, calculator or conversion tables, students and parents alike will be able to benefit from this resource.

I was also fortunate enough to present Wolfram Alpha to a large crowd of teachers this past Friday to show them how their students could benefit from the site. They were equally as excited as me. I imagine their students will be too! You can read more about that at the Recess TEC Inc. blog.

If you haven't had the opportunity to visit yet, please click on the link and take 10 minutes to look around. Take a look at some of the examples that are listed by subject area. I continue to be amazed and excited about the possibilities for my classroom!

Your first task when you get there...type in hello.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Light Bulb Moment

All teachers know it... The light bulb moment. The exact moment when all of your hard work pays off because you can see the light switch on in the eyes of your student. The "I've Got It!" look. The " I understand" expression. I am not sure what causes this to happen for some students or why it takes longer for some to finally get there, but it is one of the best payoffs in the world of a teacher. Better than dare I say...the paycheck.

However, as wonderful as the light bulb moment seems, I have found another moment as equally as satisfying. The smile. The smile that creeps on the faces of my students as they watch their completed digital stories appear on their screens in full viewing mode. The moment they see their creative writing combined with music and real images is unbelievably fulfilling.

That happened to me a couple of weeks ago in the computer lab. As the kids were finally done searching for images on, putting them in order to coincide with their stories, double checking transitions, recording, rerecording, and recording AGAIN to achieve their desired fluencies, the time came to insert their background music. That was when the smiles started to appear around the lab. Since they each wear a set of headphones, I don't know what music they choose while we are working. I can just see the smile and the heads bobbing. Then more clicking with the mouse. Another smile, head bob and finally a hand shoot in the air indicating the readiness to publish. Once the program runs its course and puts the elements together into a movie-like story, the students can view the finished project on full screen. It is the easily the best part of my job!
Please be sure to visit and click on student showcase. Their first digital stories are "Nothing Ever Happens at North Ward".

Monday, September 14, 2009

Parent Computer Class

I have officially scheduled the parent computer class for Monday, September 21st from 7:00-8:00 pm. Some topics that I will cover include:
  • subscribing to classroom podcasts
  • receiving email alerts when AR tests are taken
  • commenting on student blogs
  • participating in our classroom wiki
  • following our class on Twitter

I would be more than happy to add any other topics to the list if someone would request something. Please don't hesitate to drop me an email or leave me a voicemail if you have a suggestion or question. I look forward to seeing anyone who can make it next Monday night in the computer lab at North Ward.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Edusomnia Srikes Again

Here I sit at 1:49 on a Friday "morning". Oh who am I is definitely still Thursday "night". Edusomnia has struck again and I have a gazillion thoughts running through my brain. I am very excited about some of the projects I want to tackle this school year but still trying to figure out how to balance it all and cover the IL learning standards all at the same time. The mention of learning standards just caused me to yawn. Could my edusomnia be coming to an end? I think not.

While the standards are definitely something that bore me to even contemplate, I must admit they keep me focused on what I need to cover in my classroom. It is easy to get distracted by all of the tools and fluff that make learning exciting for the students, yet educators must also stay focused on the task at hand. The standards aid in my focus.

Reflecting back to my Parent Orientation presentation, I wonder if I over-spoke about the tools that would be used in the classroom to aid in learning rather than their infused pedagogical use. Ugh...did I really just use the word pedagogical? I exhaust myself. Too bad I can't use that exhaustion to aid in SLEEP! I digress.

At the end of both sessions I did have several parents approach me about teaching them to use the tools so they could be an active part of the classroom environment this year. WOW. I have actually always wanted to have a Parent-Class for this type of parent involvement, but figured the parents of my students would a.) think I was completely NUTS (ok, I am a little). or b.) tell me they had better things to do with their time (which they probably do). summary.... Parents: If you ARE interested in learning how to add comments to the children's blog pages or wiki pages... or if you are still wondering what language I was speaking during orientation, please drop me an email or even a voice mail and I will get several options scheduled. I think it would be fun to have you come to the computer lab one evening and actually have some hands-on practice with some of this.

Also, if you have any requests for different topics, please let me know. I would be happy to accommodate any type of "info" session that would benefit you and your child.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meet the Students of 2009-2010

We headed down to the computer lab for the first time this year on Friday. As soon as we walked in I immediately knew I had my work cut out for me...WOW! isn't what you think. It wasn't the kids, or even me. It was the fact that I had no teacher computer with LCD projector from which to teach. It was going to be a tough lesson. I had the kids make a list of words they wanted to use to describe themselves in a wordle. So...step 1, type the list in Microsoft Word and save it to his or her student folder on the server. Since some students didn't even know they had a folder on the server, this was a task in itself. BUT...we got step one accomplished. I had to have the kids use Word to type the list instead of just going straight to worlde for a couple of reasons. 1, if they accidentally close out wordle, they would have to retype which can be a nightmare for beginning keyboarders. 2, they need to learn to create a file and save it in an appropriate place. 3, it is a great opportunity to learn to toggle between two open windows as well as learn to copy and paste. to step 2. The kids had to open the internet, navigate to the class wiki and click on the link to create a wordle. Easy enough! The third step was to cut the text from the open word document and paste it in the wordle box. So far so good! The final step was a rough one. Since I wanted the kids to save these wordles as images I had them take a screen capture, paste it into powerpoint, crop it and finally save it as a jpeg. Whew...all without a display to demonstrate!!! While it was quite exhausting for me...they did a great job! Here are the wordles to prove it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Goodbye Summer

In the words of one of my favorite India Arie songs, Summer, "Goodbye summer, I hate to see you go." However, I am excited for another new year and all of the feelings that accompany it. Teachers know them... the anticipation of seeing the class list...the determination to try something new...the hope to better the lessons that were taught last year...the fun of buying new "stuff" at the teacher store. It happens every year, and I am excited to say this year is no different. I have a lot of new ideas and can't wait to see how they go.

One of my new "trials" is a new blogging platform for my students. Last year we tried to blog from this same blogger account, but it just didn't quite work the way I had anticipated. So this year I have set up each student with his or her own blog on Class BlogMeister. The link to this class blog is on the front page of our website Each student will also have his or her own wiki page. I like using the two different platforms for two different purposes. The blog will supplement and quite possibly replace the journal that is used in Spelling class. Did I just detect a possible eyebrow raise? I know...I know...the kids have spellcheck on the computer. That would be cheating right? You see, in that last sentence, if I would have put write instead of right, the computer may not have picked up my error. So spellcheck isn't necessarily the all-encomposing fix it for even the best spellers. The wiki will be a place to work collaboratively with students in the classroom or at home. It is as close as I can get in providing each student with his or her own webpage. And the beauty of a wiki lies in the fact that the kids can create as many wiki webpages as they would like. Our class wiki can be found here. I am going to head over there as soon as I am finished with this post to get pages started for this year's class. Last year's class pages will be archived in one folder.

I am looking forward to meeting the 19 students that match my class list and working with them this year. I hope they are as excited as me!