Sunday, December 4, 2011

FREE Holiday E-Book!!!

I was excited to have a chance to participate in the FREE Holiday E-Book that Rachel Lynette put together. Each Teacher-Author who took part created a page highlighting several free items for Christmas and some wonderful teaching tips too!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Five: 5 Tips for Successful Professional Development

Photo courtesy of Barrett Web Coordinator via Flickr
I am a school technology coordinator, and a lot of my job involves formal and informal professional development. At the outset I will admit that I have only been doing this job for a year and a half, so I am not in any way an expert on professional development. With that being said, here are my 5 tips for making your next professional development session a success.

1. Consider giving out door prizes to those who arrive on time. I collected all of the freebies from the professional conferences I've attended into a box. As people come into the session, they put their names into a basket for the door prize drawing. Once it's time for the session to begin, I take the basket away and do the drawing. I usually draw 3 names and allow the winners to come and select a prize from my box. This encourages people to get there on time, starts the session on a positive note, and puts everyone in a good mood. If you don't have a box full of conference swag, consider getting a few items at the dollar store, or ask your principal if he or she would be willing to donate some school promotional items that were leftover from past events.

2. If you're teaching about how to do something, if at all possible, allow the participants to practice during the session. That means if you're showing off a new website or going over how to create a file folder center, you need to arrange for the participants to have the materials and try it along with you. Particularly with technology, you'll have more buy-in if the teachers have had a chance to play with it on your time before you send them out with a mandate to use something on their time.

3. Avoid acting as if you're in a hurry. It creates an atmosphere of stress in the room, and may make the participants feel a bit cheated, like they aren't getting everything out of the session that they should have. Plan sufficient material to fill the time, with a few extras you can use if the session runs short. Treat those extras as a bonus rather than something they're missing out on if you don't have time to share them.

4. Always, always, always show how the material you're teaching is going to be a benefit or help to the participants. Avoid the temptation to sympathize about mandates you personally aren't sold on by saying things like, "I know you don't like this, but it's something we all have to do." Be the Ambassador of the Silver Lining, putting a positive spin on whatever it is you're asked to present.

5. This last tip is one that I have struggled with myself. If you're teaching the rest of the staff how to do something, chances are that you're pretty comfortable with it. Try not to say that it's easy. Chances are there is someone there for whom it won't be easy, and it makes them feel incompetent that they can't master something that should be easy. This has been very hard for me, because my instinct is to soothe. When teachers are stressed about learning something new, I always want to reassure them, "Don't worry, it's really easy." I am learning to bite my tongue!

I'd love your feedback on professional development to improve my own skills. What do you find works well when presenting? As a participant, what are your pet peeves?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Evernote is my B.F.F.

Have any of these situations ever happened to you?
  • You're in the grocery store and get an idea to make a favorite recipe, but you can't remember all of the ingredients.
  • You are trying to remember what the hours are for your allergist to see if you can get an allergy shot today.
  • You need to call someone who gave you a business card, but you're not sure where the card is.
  • At Wal-Mart shopping for something else, you saw several great toys to get your kids for Christmas. Unfortunately, when it's time to plan your Christmas list, you can't remember what they were.
  • You have a hundred little notes you've written yourself to remember your library card number, various passwords, the combination to your gym locker, and miscellaneous ideas you've had.
  • You have trouble remembering movies you'd like to see or books you'd like to read.
  • You wanted to use a coupon at Archivers (you know, your favorite scrapbook store), but you forgot to bring them with you.
  • The doctor's office, church, and your in-laws' house all have wi-fi, but you can't remember any of the passwords. 
Sadly, all of these memory-impairment episodes are examples from my actual life. Good thing I discovered Evernote, because it has solved every one of these issues and more! First thing's first. Check out this quick video that explains what Evernote is.

Are you starting to see the possibilities? Whenever I receive a business card, I take a photo of it with my phone and add it to Evernote. When I discover a book or movie I'm interested in, I can clip the info from the web, take a photo of a poster or cover with my phone, or just type in the title. As I've walked through stores, watched T.V. commercials, and browsed the web this holiday season, I've collected a Christmas list for my kids. I've used my camera phone to save several of my favorite recipes into Evernote so that I always have them handy at the grocery store. All of the wi-fi passwords for the places I frequent are saved in Evernote, just in case I ever need them again. At the Georgia Educational Technology Conference, I took all of my session notes with my Livescribe pen and uploaded the pencasts to Evernote.

All of this information is text searchable, including anything from a photo note, and I can access it from my home computer, my laptop, my work computer, my iPhone, and my iPad. Everything syncs between them automatically. When I need to know the hours for my allergist, I can search the word allergy, and it pulls up the card I photographed showing the hours. You can even organize your notes into custom notebooks, so my notes from the conference are in one notebook, while all of the wi-fi passwords are in another. Are you thinking about the possibilities?

Do you use Evernote? What do you use it for? How has it saved the day for you in the past?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Teaching Resources, All Through the Year!

Images (c) Microsoft. Used by Permission.
I just got home from school; how about you? I'm sure like me, your evening outlook involves making dinner, cleaning house, wrangling kids into bed, and hopefully, at some point, putting your feet up to relax a little. There are just a few more hours left for the big Cyber Monday sale at Teachers Pay Teachers, so be sure to take a few minutes to take advantage of the 30% off savings! Everything in my store is 20% off, and with coupon code CMS28, you can take an additional 10% off of everything!

Not sure what to buy? Why not stock up for the year? Here are some great resources for all through the year!

There you have it: twelve wonderful seasonal resources to last you all year long! 

Did you find any great deals for Cyber Monday, on TpT or elsewhere? Share your finds in the comments section!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Five: 5 Books I Love to Read Aloud

This week's Friday Five will be a quick one. Here are five of my favorite read-aloud books!

All ages. Who wouldn't enjoy reading these books, with their silly language, lovable characters, and of course, the requirement of your "very best Spanish accent"?

4th grade and up. I always loved the many opportunities for discussing idioms and playful use of language while reading this book to my fourth graders. It was definitely on the high side, so be ready to take it slowly and explain the difficult vocabulary. The video is a lot of fun to watch when you finish the book.

3rd grade and up. This is one of my absolute all-time favorite children's books. If you haven't read it, you need to. I will say that I don't think I ever got through it without crying in front of my class. This always bewildered the students. It isn't as emotional for them as it is for us!

All ages. This cute picture book is a great discussion starter about having a positive attitude. Upper grade students will also enjoy the sarcasm.

3rd grade and up. I dare you not to cry as you read aloud this inspiring story about a teacher that changed Patricia Polacco's life as a young girl. This book opens a door to talking about teasing, bullying, and learning differences as well.

I adore books, and reading aloud is such a special experience. I couldn't possibly limit my read-aloud favorites to five. Expect a follow-up on some Friday in the future!

What are your favorite read-aloud books, and why? Share them in the comments!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's Coming, It's Coming!

Teachers Pay Teachers is getting ready for a big ol' Cyber Monday sale, with lots of sellers participating and thousands of products being sold at a discount. Monday only, Smarty Pants Teaching Resources will be offering 20% off of every item, and you can use coupon code CMS28 (Cyber Monday Sale on the 28th) to get an extra 10% off from Teachers Pay Teachers, for a total of 30% savings! Whaaaaat! That means that file folder games will be just over $2.00, and all of the individual ordered pairs activities will be under $2.00! It's a great time to buy bigger packs like the Fall and Winter Ordered Pairs Pack, normally $8.00 and on Monday, just over $5.00!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Wallwisher

Don't worry, you don't have to choose lime green.
Picture a giant corkboard covered in sticky notes. That's the idea behind Wallwisher, a site that allows you to create custom notice boards for sharing text, video, pictures, and links. You can create a wall without signing up for an account, though you do need an email address. Walls can be set to private so that only you can see it. You can also moderate a wall. This means you approve all new notes before they're added publicly. 

How can you use Wallwisher in your classroom? Here are a few ideas.
  • Create a board to collect reading responses. My friend and colleague Maureen has such a wall, along with a page on her school website with directions for students and a rubric. By the way, she recorded the audio directions using Voice Memo for iPhone. It sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
  • Use a wall to collect comments in a debate. For instance, who was in the wrong in the Boston Massacre? Have some students represent the colonists and some the redcoats. 
  • Wishing a student well as he or she moves along to another school, or to collect birthday wishes from classmates.
  • Allow students the option of gathering resources for a research project on Wallwisher. Students can include links, photos, and videos related to the topic, and can rearrange the notes to organize the information.
  • Allow students to do class note-taking on Wallwisher and share with one another, or with students who were absent.
  • Have students share a note about themselves at the beginning of the year on a Meet Our Class wall.
  • Post assignments, reminders, and coming events for your students and parents.
  • Allow parents to use a board to network with one another throughout the year. It's a great way for parents to get quick answers, organize volunteers, and coordinate special events and parties.
  • Create an interview board. Allow students to post questions for a subject-area expert, and then invite the expert to answer his or her favorite questions, either with text or video.
Have you used Wallwisher in your classroom? Do you have a great idea for using Wallwisher or a similar service? Share it in the comments!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Five: 5 Websites for the Interactive Whiteboard in your Music Classroom

Copyright © 2011 Pratibha Varshney,
As with everything else, my school's specials rooms are a bit different than a typical school. Except for the computer lab and the media center, our specials rooms are set up for teachers to bring their classes and use the rooms without the benefit of a dedicated specials teacher. That means that when teachers visit the music or science room, they must come up with their own lessons. Our wonderful teachers are up to the task though, and our excellent paraprofessionals are assigned to maintain the rooms and provide lessons that the teachers may use.

One room that was not getting a lot of use last year was our music room. Our principal mentioned to me that she'd love to see classes come in and use the room more, and I offered to hunt around for some websites that classes could use on the interactive whiteboard to make music lessons more engaging. The 5 sites listed below were some of my favorites, not only for the board, but also for students to visit independently or in small groups at the computer. You might even consider using some of them for extra credit or homework.

Incredibox's music man looks bemused.
1. Incredibox
I found this site to be so much fun that I have played with it on my own several times! It's pretty self-explanatory: Drag the symbols at the bottom of the screen to the t-shirts of the characters to select instruments, percussion, effects, chorus, and voices. They blend into a lovely whole. The Bonus symbols will unlock as you go, and provide an optional, pre-made animation and song. Click them if you're interested; skip them if you're not. Secular schools, be aware of the yellow Bonus shaped like a cross: it's religious in nature.

Many of you likely already know Aviary. This site makes it easy to mix up all sorts of instruments and make your own original compositions. It's simple, yet powerful. Just set the number of beats per minute at the top, choose the instruments you'd like to include, and then turn "on" the notes you want by clicking the circles. When you first select an instrument, all of your notes on the left are for the same instrument. You can change individual lines to different instruments by clicking the Change Sounds button on the top right. You'll need to create an account to save and share your creation. Here's a simple one that I made.

Simple Melody.egg on Aviary.
Imagine students creating a video or slide show and creating their own original music for accompaniment. You can even work in a lesson about copyright and respecting others' work. Word to the Wise: This is not a site where anything you create will sound good. :o)

3. Tony B Machine
Here you'll find an 80's-style keyboard / synthesizer with several options for beats, vocals, and more. It's easy to make something that sounds nice here since it basically takes your options and makes them work with existing melodies and beats. There are also advanced options if you want more control. Click on the CD at the bottom to listen to other users' compositions. Something I really like about this site is that you can work the whole thing with the keyboard. That makes it fully accessible for blind or low-vision students who can't interact with the completely visual-based options above.

4. SFS Kids
The San Francisco Symphony Kids' Site includes a tour of each family of instruments, where you can click on individual instruments to learn more. I liked the feature that lets you zoom in on interesting areas of the photos and also hear each instrument. Music teachers will no doubt enjoy the Music Lab portion of the site, which contains some great basic lessons in music, including some interactive demos for some of the topics. The Performalator in this section allows students to try playing familiar melodies on a simple keyboard using numbers and color-coding. You can also use the number keys on the keyboard. The Composerizer has a selection of measures that students can piece together to form their own creations. Finally, The Radio allows students to listen to a variety of classical compositions. Your students may recognize several of them!

New York Philharmonic Kidzone's main page is the theater.
5. New York Philharmonic Kidzone
This site is polished, professional, and by far the most comprehensive of any I visited. The site's divided into several sections. In the Composition Workshop students can mix their own minuets, play a game called Musical Mingles, and experiment with orchestration, taking one piece and hearing it with different instruments. The Composer's Gallery lets you learn about a wide variety of composers of different styles and periods. You can read a short bio, see an illustrated portrait, and for most, hear a sample of the composer's music. In the Dressing Rooms you can meet the composers and soloists of the New York Philharmonic with photos and a short bio of each. The Newsstand provides period newspapers (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century), as well as current NY Philharmonic news. The Instrument Lab includes directions for creating your own homemade instruments as well as lots of information about how instruments are classified and what makes different types of instruments work. Some of the craft directions include a sound bite of the instrument you'll create and an audio description of the instrument. In the Musicians' Lounge (you've got to appreciate a website that uses the apostrophe correctly!) you can meet current Philharmonic performers and read a short description of the instrument each plays, along with hearing a sound clip of the instrument. The Game Room contains a collection of games (obviously), including some that are found elsewhere on the site. Check out the Music Match Composers and MusiQuest games on the interactive whiteboard. 

Finally, the Instrument Storage Room has all of the instruments of the orchestra arranged by family. Clicking an instrument lets you read about the history, link to descriptive information on, see a video of a performer discussing the instrument, hear a clip of the instrument in action, and see related instruments. The one I checked out, the french horn, included some connections to other cultures, mentioning its relation to the ancient Jewish shofar and a trumpet used by native Hawaiians. There is also a Videos section, but to find it I had to click on the site map link at the bottom. Whew! That's a lot of material. This would be a great leaping off point for a research project. Something else I like: All of the text is written at an appropriate reading level for students; I'd guess from 2nd grade readers on up. 

Honorable Mentions:
These sites didn't make my top 5, but were still interesting.
Do you have any favorite music sites I missed? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: All Abilities Playground

Finally, at long last! It's a website that my blind students can use! In our school we have one pre-k classroom with two blind students. The teacher and I have been struggling to find new activities for the students to work on in the lab and on the classroom computer. With our students being pre-readers and not quite ready for the complexity of a screen reader like JAWS, we've struggled to find things that will work and keep them engaged. We have Braille overlays and have had success with games that give audio feedback when a letter is pressed, such as Animal Who? and Letterella on TVOKids and the "Letter Machine" section of the Millie and Bailey CD-ROM we use in the lab, but obviously after months of doing these same types of activities, the students were beyond bored. Then I received my November newsletter from Ian Bean a.k.a. SENICT, who I follow on Twitter. There I read about the All Abilities Playground.

I was super impressed with the audio feedback and explicit directions, as well as the ability to work the whole site from the keyboard. I was immediately able to play a memory game with my eyes closed, and I didn't have to cheat once! If you work with blind or low-vision students, visit the Mouse and Keyboard Playground and check out Memory, IbisBuster, and TrixMix. There are also switch-accessible versions of the games in the Switch Playground.

A big THANK YOU to Ian Bean for bringing this site to my attention. Our students thank you too!

Do you work with students who use a switch to access the computer? How about blind or low-vision students? What sites do you use to meet their needs?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Go ahead and blab about it.

I {heart} Blabberize. I haven't had a chance to use with students yet, owing mainly to the fact that it's blocked for our student accounts at school. I think it's super cool though, and I'm still hopeful! Blabberize lets you take any picture or photo, cut out a mouth (you make it any shape), and record audio to make the image talk. The resulting video is called a Blabber. It's easier to just look at an example than to try to explain it. Here's a cool one my daughter Maggie made a while back. You can see some ideas for using Blabberize in the classroom below the Blabber.

A few ways to use Blabberize for instruction:
  • Have articulation students practice their speech for an authentic audience. (That's what my daughter has done here.)
  • Allow students the option of sharing first-person animal or historical figure reports by Blabber. 
  • Really any type of factual report would work here. How about if a flower told you about its parts?
  • Use Blabberize as a publishing option for student writing.
  • Have two students, or a small group, perform a debate with a Blabber using multiple characters.
  • Consider a Blabber for a short video podcast on your blog or class website to share what you are doing in class.
  • Create a class e-card using Blabber--for instance, a holiday or get-well card. Think of a creative image to do the talking (a cartoon doctor? a Christmas elf?) and let your whole class read the sentiments together chorally or in turns.
  • Practice writing dialog with correct punctuation, and use Blabber as a culminating activity. Perhaps you could have 2 characters and a narrator.
  • Shy students might want to use their own photos (make sure you have parent permission) and use a Blabber as an alternative to a presentation in front of the class.
Have you used Blabber for instruction? Do you have some great ideas for using it with your students? Share them in the comments!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Woot! Holiday Freebies Link Party!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday 5: Five Sites for Creating Comics

Wahoooo! Tomorrow is Saturday morning! Time to watch cartoons and eat 7 bowls of sugary cereal! In honor of my 1983 self's favorite part of the week, this Friday 5 will run down some tools for creating cartoons (well, comic strips, actually) with students. I'll also throw in a few ideas for how to use them for instruction.

1. Pixton *Top Pick!*
I almost didn't find this site, which turned out to be my favorite!. I was debating whether to make it a Friday 4 or maybe a Friday 4.5 and include an animated cartoon maker. Finally I stumbled upon Pixton. This site is divided up into Pixton for Fun, Pixton for Schools, and Pixton for Business. Pixton for Fun is the free version (there's also a Pixton Plus option here with a few more features for a fee), so I jumped in and made a "Quickie" comic. I think I love this option for students! You start from a template that is already set up with background, props, and a space for a character or two. You choose the character(s) when you begin creating. I was able to make the comic below in just a few minutes! What I love about this route is that students can get to the content you want them to create without monkeying around changing this and that option and adding a lot of fluff that's not needed to communicate the message.

I also did a quick test-drive of the regular comic editor and found that I really liked the options to customize what the characters are doing! You can manipulate their bodies and facial expressions many different ways, like editing each eye separately to be open, closed, wide, halfway closed, and so on. You can even bend legs and arms and turn the person around to show the back. I checked out Pixton for Schools briefly and was impressed that they offer secure sharing, rubrics for assessment, teacher moderation, and more. Check out the video on the Pixton School page for a rundown of the features. The pricing is customizable for the number of students you serve and looked reasonable. You can get a yearlong subscription for 24 students for $75, and it even gives you the per student pricing in case you want to pass the cost on to your parents. At $3.13 per student, it's less than I paid for my daughter's Scholastic magazine for the year.

2. ToonDoo
ToonDoo claims to be the "world's fastest way to create cartoons. I'm going to have to take issue with them there. I made a toon and didn't find it fast at all, but I did find that there were tons of options to build my strip. There were also some great features like sending layers to the front or back, resizing, rotation, and cloning. Drawbacks: I couldn't clone anything from one panel to the next, and some of the characters were wearing two-piece bathing suits. This would be distracting for certain special needs students and too much going on for very young students. I'd say the controls are ideal for 2nd grade and up, but the bathing suit content might not be acceptable for students below middle school. Here's the one I created. It took a lot longer than I wanted to spend. This is a real re-enactment of a conversation I had with my four year old son.

Family Times

3. Make Beliefs Comix
"...And now for something completely different." Make Beliefs Comix is very simple to use. There aren't a ton of options or controls to learn or manipulate. Something I really like is that although there area  limited cast of characters, each character is available with a range of expressions. This site also offers a Teacher Resources page and a series of pages with suggestions for using the site with students who have special needs. Specific suggestions are listed for autism, deafness, stuttering, and 4 other areas. One drawback to this site is that there is no option to save your creation on the site. You can print it, but you have to send it in email if you want to keep a digital copy.

4. Bitstrips
Bit Strips bills itself as a comic creator for use in the classroom. At first glance I only noticed the pay service, but eventually found Bitstrips Page One, which allows you to create comics for free. I found it easy to use. You can create custom avatars and characters with lots of options, including a choice of expressions, which is handy if you want to populate your strip with certain characters reacting to what's happening. The style reminded me a bit of the TV show The Family Guy. It had more options than Make Beliefs, but fewer than ToonDoo. It would be a good choice for 2nd grade on up.

5. Stripgenerator
Stripgenerator is more of a creative comic tool for adults. It looks like artists frequent this site, along with older kids who enjoy using taboo words and general Internet trolls. There are lots of creative comic strips here to browse, and it even has a feature called Strips On Topic that have comics tagged together by a (weekly?) focus topic. The current topic is Halloween (see the sample I found below, which is not so much a comic strip as a graphic.) Recent topics include Gadafi, Steve Jobs, Ships, and School Time. Stripgenerator had some tools the others did not have, like the ability to blur, mask, or otherwise edit stock objects and characters. Teachers need to know, however, that this site has lots of inappropriate content. Not only did I see foul language, but sexual themes as well. Personally, I would not even feel comfortable using this site with high school students because of the material they may encounter. If you're the artsy type, you might check it out for yourself.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Holiday Freebie Link Party Coming!

Image from Open Clip Art, by gustavorezende
Halloween is almost here, and then we're on to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, and all of the other fall and winter celebrations. Beginning on Monday, I'll be hosting a link party for holiday freebies! If you have a holiday freebie in your TpT store or on your blog, get ready to post it! If you don't have one, why not consider adding one?

Check back Monday to add your link or to download some wonderful holiday freebies to use in your classroom! Oh, I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Online Converter

Just a quick post this Wednesday to tell you about a tool I've recently discovered called Online Converter. I have only played with it a little, but I am already impressed. A simple interface lets you convert an existing file to almost any format of video, audio, image, document, or e-book. If you need a quick tool to convert a JPG to a PNG, a DOC to a PDF, or an AAC to an MP3, look no further!

Have you tried Online Converter? What did you think? 

Do you have another favorite tool for converting files?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween Resources on Sale!

Be sure to check out the Teacher2Teacher Halloween on Sale Link-Up going on right now! Find some great resources to use in your class this week, and add your own link if you have a wonderful item in your store that teachers would love to use.

 You can check out the Teacher2Teacher blog for in-depth weekly articles, short book reviews, weekly link-up parties, Teacher Author profiles, and more! Teacher2Teacher is near and dear to me, as I have been involved as an editor from the beginning. If you're not reading it, you're missing out!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday 5: Five Tips for Teaching Ordered Pairs (Coordinate Graphing)

Are ordered pairs, A.K.A. coordinate graphing or cartesian graphing, a part of your math curriculum? Here are 5 quick tips for teaching this fun topic!

1. Give your kids a mnemonic device to remember the order.
What's the hardest part about ordered pairs? The most common mistake kids make is confusing which number is the X-axis and which is the Y-axis. Two memory tricks that have worked for my students are: the airplane has to go forward before it can go up, and the O in Over comes before the U in Up in the alphabet.

2. Make it fun.
Incorporate fun graphs that allow students to practice the skills while making pictures. I always liked to use seasonal ones. No matter when you teach graphing, you can find seasonal graph activities to match in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Check out these options for Halloween, Thanksgiving, winter, Christmas, MLK Day, Valentines, St. Patrick's Day, and summer. (There's also a bundle of 5 of these activities available for less than if you purchased them separately.) It's also fun to incorporate mascots. Don't forget to pull out the Battleship games! You can also include a Spelling Battleship activity to tie in literacy. Just use large graph paper (say, 0.5 inch grid) and have students "hide" their spelling words in the grid. They can then get with a partner and play Battleship the traditional way.

3. Start simple.
Begin with easy graphs that require only a few points connected in a simple outline. My free bat ordered pairs activity is an example, as is my summer ice cream activity and my simple shamrock.

4. Gradually progress to more complicated designs.
This is a no-brainer. Just do what you do every day: gauge your students' readiness and move along at an appropriate pace.

5. Revisit the topic throughout the year to keep it fresh.
Come back to coordinate graphing occasionally throughout the school year to help students remember what they have learned. A simple practice activity thrown in for homework every couple of months should do the trick. Alternatively, I always had a "Puzzles Folder" in my classroom containing activities students could work on independently for fun when other work was complete. I always kept a few coordinate graphing practice activities in there. Since they form a recognizable picture, they are pretty much self-checking, too.

What are your favorite ideas for coordinate graphing?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday 5: Five Ways to Spice Up an Interactive Whiteboard Lesson

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) are becoming more and more prevalent in schools. Whether you have SMART, Mimio, Promethean, or something else, there are some common features to all of them that can add interest to a lesson. Here are 5 quick ideas.

1. Add video, either embedded or with a link. Discovery Streaming, BrainPOP, and BrainPOP, Jr.  are great sources if you have access to them. If not, try School Tube for safe videos created by other educators and students. Disclaimer: School Tube does have advertisements if you’re using the free version.

2. Use animated clip art (but use it sparingly). Microsoft Office provides free animated clip art to its users, and the Animation Library website purports to be “the world’s largest free animation collection.” Occasional use of animated clip art can keep things fresh for your students. Avoid using multiple animations on a page or using animations on every page, however. It is distracting, and an eyesore if used too often.

3. Use reveals and other effects provided on your IWB community website. These provide more interaction for students. For instance, Mimio Connect offers balloons that pop to reveal an answer. Promethean Planet has a number of “magic eraser windows” that let you see behind an object. Check out the website for your IWB to see what is available.

4. Link to relevant web content--but look for interactive sites. If you can find a simulation, instructional game, or Web 2.0 tool related to your topic, provide a link to the site, and then return to the flipchart or notebook after using it. Stumped for ideas? Google Maps can be used to make a custom, annotated map. The Apple II emulator includes the classic Oregon Trail that I played in school in the 80’s and lots of other games (Lemonade Stand is another one I played in the 80’s and is great for basic economics). Check out my Web 2.0 Wednesday posts for more tools.

5. Most importantly, get the students to the board. Too many teachers stand at the board all day and never get the students out of their seats. Vary the types of interactive activities that students will do. Have you been leaning heavily on sorting activities? Try matching, fill-in-the-blanks, and reveals. Pull out those student response systems and integrate their use with the lesson at the board. Create brainstorming and comparison activities. Add in decision-making and inference activities. How about a choose-your-own-adventure simulation or story? What if you asked students to create it? So many possiblities! If you get stuck, go to your IWB community website and download some of the wonderful creations of your talented colleagues! Get inspired!

What are your favorite IWB lesson tips? Share a link to your favorite lesson!

Related Links:
Mimio Connect
Promethean Planet
SMART Exchange 

Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by missy & the universe

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: George? George, are you there?

This week's Web 2.0 site is Where' 

What is it?
Where's George (WG) is a site for tracking currency. The site offers maps and tables showing data for the travel of U.S. currency, and the cool thing is it tracks your currency! That's right: You can finally find out exactly where all your money goes!

How do I use the site?
There are two ways to interact with the site: entering a bill that is already registered, or registering a new bill. To enter a bill that is already registered, well, you have to have one! You'll know you have a registered Where's George bill in your hands because it will be marked or stamped with the website's URL (see the picture on the left). If you haven't found such a bill, that's okay! You can take any U.S. bill in any denomination and register it by entering the serial number and the series year, including any letters or stars (see below).
The order is Enter - Mark - Spend, or EMS. Enter the bill's information on the website, Mark it so others who receive it will know to return to the site, and Spend it as you normally would. Then you can come back later to see if anyone has found and entered your bills. 

But wait, isn't it illegal to mark on currency?
Yes and no. It's illegal to deface currency, but the law defines defacement as making the bill unfit to be reissued. Small stamps or written messages that don't interfere with using the bill are not considered defacement. There is a law forbidding advertising on U.S. currency, but ever since the Where's George website stopped selling stamps, the Secret Service have no longer considered it an issue worth following. You can read more about legal issues at the Where's George FAQ and on the Wikipedia page for Where's George. Check out the citations at the bottom of the Wikipedia article if you want to read more. You don't have to purchase a stamp to be able to mark bills. A fine point Sharpie works just fine, too.

That's all great, but how can I use Where's George in the classroom?
As I mentioned above, the website has some great non-linguistic representations such as interactive maps and charts. You can use these as real-world examples for working with data and maps. As with any website, make sure you preview any page before having students visit. This website is not intended specifically for children, so adult participants could choose to include objectionable ideas or information. Most pages are fine, but check first! Try one of these activities:
  • Print out the chart showing a popular bill's "hits" (entries on the site). Have students create maps showing the bill's travels and calculate the total miles. They can then compare their maps to the one on the website.
  • The website report for a bill shows the average miles traveled per day. Have students compute this figure and then compare to the site.
  • WG is a rich source of real-world data. Have students use the data for your graphing and other data objectives.
  • Invite students to enter the bills from their own allowance or ice cream money on the Where's George website and track their bills throughout the year. Whose bills traveled the farthest? Who entered the most bills? Whose Where's George "score" ended up being highest?
  • Have students use critical thinking to answer the question: How do you think this particular bill could've gone from Location A to Location B?  For instance, this bill was first entered in Vermont in November of 2008, and was not entered again until March of the following year, in Germany! 
  • Use the journeys of a popular bill as a story starter. Have students write about the adventures of "George" based on the actual travels of a real bill. You might challenge older students to write in the first person.
  • Where's George users can be very dedicated. A whole group of loyal followers have created advertisements and custom stamps for Where's George. Have your art or computer lab students design their own ads or stamps for Where's George.
  • You can view a color-coded map showing total hits by state and county. Have students practice their map reading and critical thinking skills using these maps. What patterns do you discern as you look at the map? Which areas have the most and the least hits? Why do you think that might be so? Could our class change the trend? Why or why not?
  • You can look at a list of the top users on the website. Have students create math questions for one another using the statistics found on users' profiles. For instance, top user Gary Wattsburg has entered over a million bills! If it takes 30 seconds to enter a bill, how much time has Gary spent entering bills? Gary joined WG on January 15, 2002. What has been his average time on WG per day, just entering bills?
Now it's your turn: What are your great ideas for using Where's George with students?

Images courtesy of Wikimedia.

Note: There are no "aff" links on this post. I have received no remuneration or special consideration from any of the websites linked here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

This Week in the Preschool Computer Lab: Animals!

Age: 4 Year Olds (Pre-K)
Themes/Topics: Animals on the Farm

Make It! Make "Your Wild Self" and print out your creation.
Share It! Bring home printed copies of your creations to share with parents.
Solve It! Decide which animal parts to include on your wild self. Why did you choose the parts you did?
Protect It! Follow the teacher's directions and only go to the site that you are supposed to visit.
Use It! Double-click to open the file; use scrollbars to see all choices.

Websites / Software: Build Your Wild Self! by New York Zoos and Aquarium

Once again this week we begin our lesson on the carpet with a review of computer lab rules and the parts of the computer. It's especially necessary this week since our students did not have computer lab last week due to conferences. We have been using the interactive whiteboard each week to find and sort out photos of one given computer part each week. This week we will answer questions like "Which one is the keyboard?" I'll then model the activity we are doing today for the students, talking about some of the animal parts that we see.

At the computers, students will visit the website and create a wild self. The adults will circulate and read the names of the parts to students or answer their questions. Students will print a color version of the "wild self" at the end, which includes a description of each of the parts and how the animals use them. I'll encourage the teachers to discuss these further in the classroom, and encourage students to take it home and read it over with their parents.

Students with motor difficulties may use the touch screen to choose the animal parts. Alternatively, we could have an adult move the mouse while the student makes the selection using a switch. It's nice that the printed creation includes text explaining the picture so that nonverbal students' parents will understand what the activity was about. Severe / Profound students may do an activity with Intellikeys or a capability switch that deals with animals. Here are some examples:

Zoo Virtual Field Trip
Match the Farm Animal to His Home
Barn Scene

 What are you doing in the lab this week? How do you use technology to help teach about animals or farms?
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