July 28, 2010

Glogster EDU

Anybody using Glogster EDU? I ran across this tool the other day, and I think it could be a pretty amazing way for students to show their learning. Since I might be asking students to use it, I figured I better give it a try myself. You can see my cheesy little attempt below. It looks pretty good, right? Literally took me 10 minutes. And I'm not good at creative, cutesy stuff at all.

All you do is drag the boxes, stickers, tiles, etc. you want on the screen and you can click on them to edit and add text. You also get to choose your background, add music, links, video, podcasts, voice recording, etc. etc. etc.

I didn't get that fancy. I'm actually still not entirely sure what a podcast is, but I felt cool talking about it. Isn't it just a voice recording? Meh. My point is you should try Glogster. Make sure you do the EDU version if you're going to try it with a class. You can register (free!) and the students can sign in on your account. Also, I think the regular version may be a little shady. There seems to be a lot of emo, sad, weird stuff going on there.


July 27, 2010

Getting Back on the Grid

I have officially gone off the grid. You know how people talk about going off the grid to get away from technology? I have done the exact opposite. While going off the grid from other human beings has its perks (you don't have to shower, brush your teeth, change clothes, go outside, etc.) it also has downsides.

Ailments I now have since I began blogging, tweeting, and sitting at the computer all day every day:
  • permanently numb right arm
  • permanently numb bottom
  • lower back pain
  • vision shifting in and out of focus
  • possible seasonal affective disorder- caused by sitting in the dark, blinds drawn, with the air conditioning cranked up
  • many stained shirts - from eating while typing
  • creaky phone voice - I sound asleep when I answer the phone and I'm not sure why. Then I realize that I haven't spoken a word in 8 hours or so.
  • I think my dog is becoming depressed as well. I'm cramping his style by being home all day. Also, the primary place he wants to sit is in my lap. He's plotting revenge against the laptop as we speak.
I've got to find some balance. While, yes, there are a lot of resources to be found, and discussions to be had, a girl needs to enjoy her summer. Well, she at least needs to clean the house, grocery shop, and catch up on laundry. I'm also going out tonight with my husband and some friends. Hopefully I will remember how to act!

Let me leave you with an essay that I reminds me to act fast before I become one of those Wall-E hover round people.

July 23, 2010

Teaching with Contests

I ran across a really fun blog today. TeachingWithContests helps teachers find contests that will motivate students and assist in getting free materials. If you're interested in this type of thing, I encourage you to visit their link. I included a few contests that I am thinking about entering with my class this year.



What is more fun than a Lego contest? All you have to do is to go the Lego education website, enter, and come up with a way your class can be creative with Legos. I'm actually thinking I'll have the students come up with a brilliant plan. They send you all of the materials and it's totally FREE. . Since there is absolutely nothing to lose, I already signed up for this one. You can win up to $1000 worth of prizes.



Siemens Change the World Challenge

This contest is for elementary, middle, and high school science students. The goal is to design and implement a project that will benefit the environment. A project like this would take a lot of work, but what better way to get students engaged and excited about science?



Letters About Literature

This contest is hosted by Target. Each student thinks of a book that has made a big impact on them, and writes a letter to the author. Target doesn't actually send the letters to the authors, but I think I will try and have the students do this (assuming their author is still alive) in addition to the contest.

I like this contest because it promotes authentic reading and writing experiences. Also, the prizes are Target gift cards. How bad can that be?








Reinventing the Wheel

"Don't try to reinvent the wheel."

This is what I have heard so many times since I began this teaching journey. In many ways I have to agree. If something is working for others, why change it? On the other hand, is what we are doing working? Should we keep doing something because it has been done that way for a long time? Should we keep doing something because someone else thinks we should?

That being said, I usually do not try to "reinvent" anything. My approach is to Google search whatever I'm trying to find out until something I find matches what I want to do. Seriously. Ask the wonderful teachers I work with. Every time someone tells me, "What a great idea! How creative!" My response is always the same.

"Google."

Well, this "Google" approach doesn't always work. Besides the fact that I would have probably been the world's most boring teacher before about the year 1998. Yes, for those who are wondering, I did just Google the year Google was started. It was also originally called "Back Rub," which is just plain weird.

Okay, back on task. My next project is figuring out reading centers/reader's workshop for my classroom. This is definitely easier said than done. I now realize why most of my teachers passed out the textbooks, had you answer questions, made you do a few worksheets, and then gave the test. While this approach is boring and leads to kids hating school, it sure is easier on the teacher. My goal is to use research-based practices in a workshop/centers format so that students can choose their activities to get the help and practice they need for the week.

First of all, I need to create a system that incorporates the Scott Foresman Reading Street program that we're required to use. I'm going to keep my personal opinion of this program to myself, even though you can guess by that disclaimer that I'm not the biggest fan. However, this is part of it. Part of the fun. Part of the challenge. If I were handed what I considered to be the perfect reading program that addressed all of my student's needs and fit with my philosophy of teaching, that would be just plain boring. Right?

I have some ideas for how to do this, and luckily I work with wonderful people who want to collaborate and figure out what is best for our kiddos. For now, I'm going to leave you with another cool little app I stumbled upon.


Storybird lets you choose artwork that artists have posted on their website to create your own little book! I think this may be a little young for fifth graders, but I would be all over this in the younger grades. This would also be a fun little project for bored kids at home over the summer. I attached an example that I thought was really well done. Enjoy!

I feel Small on Storybird

July 22, 2010

Just for Fun

I found some fun new apps today and I thought I would share them. Some are really silly, but I can see how they would be fun for 10/11 year olds (my demographic). The first one is Loonapix. All you do is upload a picture from your computer and you can create some pretty crazy stuff. Here are a few that I created. Seriously, this takes 2 seconds.

Photo Effects. Graffiti

Photo Effects. Christmas Decoration

Photo Effects. Football Fan

Don't you just love that last one? British footballers are really into Daniel and me if you haven't heard. Another fun photo editing site I ran across is Picnik. It is a little more useful for adults and it's also totally free. The possibilities are endless. I took the same picture and edited it like this:

Finally, the app that I'm probably the most excited about is fodey.com. Here you can create your own newspaper clipping, create your own clapper board message, or create your own ninja text.

July 21, 2010

Digital Storytelling and other Happy Things

Okay, I am officially in it. You know, that place where you feel like you are going to have the best year ever and that you are going to have a million awesome things planned before school even starts?

I expect this feeling will disappear, so I am going to take advantage of it while I can! Let me say thank you to all my friends out there who have given me some fabulous ideas. I have been loving the music suggestions! If you're interested, look at the comments on this post. I also got some great suggestions from my friend Caitlin that I'll share with you. She suggested using state-themed songs in Social Studies, such as "Walkin' in Memphis" and "Georgia on my Mind". Love.

Also, Caitlin remembered something her fifth grade teacher did. She would let a different student bring in a song each week. They had to give her a copy of the lyrics so that she could approve it first. I think this is such a great idea, because what are kids more interested in than music?

I'm thinking I might try to do something like this, but I will have to model what I want by picking my own songs first. I would like to pick songs that lend themselves to analyzing theme, tone, characterization, plot, figurative language, etc. I think doing this will really help the students with their writing. Here are some songs that I am thinking of using. Don't laugh.

The Circle Game - Joni Mitchell (really powerful images, and it deals with the theme of growing up which weighs heavily on the minds of fifth graders)

One Sweet World - Dave Matthews Band (deals with conserving resources and environmentalism)

Coat of Many Colors - Dolly Parton (an amazing song. they will laugh at this, but it tells such a great story about accepting people, appreciating your parents, etc.)

The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band (vivid images from the Civil War)

I hope this idea will actually materialize, because I think it will be a good way to reinforce some of those skills they will be tested on. Also, sharing music is a pretty personal thing, so hopefully this activity will help build our little learning community. I'm not sure if we'll be able to analyze the literary elements of say, a Miley Cyrus song, but we'll try!

Okay, to change gears a little, let's talk about digital storytelling. I went to a wonderful workshop hosted by my district the other day and I'm really excited to share what I learned.

First of all, let me give you a link to the county's wikispace which gives you a ton of links and information about how to use digital storytelling in the classroom. I found this other wikispace that also has good resources/examples.

The first thing you need to do is download Photo Story 3. This program is incredibly easy to use. You begin by importing pictures you would like to use. You can use pictures from the internet or import your own. You can then arrange what order you'd like them in, add text, voice narration, and music.

Here are my ideas about how I'd like to use digital storytelling in my classroom this year:
  • Biome study- during our ecosystems unit we study the different biomes and characteristics of each. I'm thinking that I can have students work in groups of 4 to research their biome and create a digital story about it.
  • Human body systems- I can assign a different body system to each group, have them research it, figure out how it works and why it's important, and they can present it to the class. I think this would be a great alternative to traditional assessment!
  • Sharing writing- We do a ton of writing in the fifth grade and I think that creating a digital story would be a great way for students to publish their finished pieces.
  • Book talks/Book reports- students can import a picture of a book they've read as well as import drawings to convince other people to read the book.

The presenter at the workshop was very helpful in suggesting ways that I can actually incorporate this technology in my "one computer classroom". Here's what she suggested:
  • Have students work in groups of 4
  • Give all group members jobs (Facilitator- the boss, Researcher- looks everything up, Photographer- makes sure the group has all the photos they need, Typist- well, they do all the typing)
  • Have them plan their project on a storyboard ahead of time
  • Give each group a set time limit on the computer
  • Have them put their content (words) in before adding pictures, voice narration, music, etc.
  • Give them a planning checklist they must complete before starting the project on the computer

Has anyone else tried digital storytelling? If you have, or if you just have other ideas about how it might be used, I'd love to hear!

Well, I'm going to keep taking advantage of my semi-manic state right now! My next goal is to get my wiimote interactive whiteboard set up. I got this idea from my friend Angela, who set it up in her own classroom. Angela is an art teacher with two phenomenal websites- one for her art classroom, and one with resources for art education. I never quite got the wiimote whiteboard project figured out last year, so now it has become my summer project. Or should I say that it has become my husband's summer project?

If you're interested in doing this, click here for a website that gives step-by-step instructions for how to create your own interactive whiteboard using a wiimote, an LED pen, and a USB to bluetooth adapter. I think this is a great opportunity to have an interactive whiteboard for a fraction of the cost!

July 15, 2010

Will you get reimbursed for all that stuff??

This is what my precious husband asked me yesterday. I just smiled and changed the subject.

Time is ticking away. School is starting in less than 3 weeks. I've actually gotten a lot accomplished this past week, and I'm feeling sort of, maybe, kinda, a little, vaguely ready for school to start.

I organized my classroom library, which was a total mess, and I inherited and bought some super cute furniture for the students to lounge on while they're reading. This is a futile exercise because it will be destroyed in a month, but I'm excited about it for now.

I also went to a really fun workshop today about digital storytelling, but I'm going to share more about that once I get a better handle on it myself. Right now I'm looking for some old digital cameras for my class. Does anyone have any old cameras they'd like to donate? A long shot I know! Was that a pun? Yikes. Also, does anyone know of any grants to apply for to get digital cameras?

For now I want to share with you some of my exciting finds. If you're like me, you see something you like/need and instantly forget where you saw it. In my trips to Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Rite-Aid, Big Lots, Office Depot, Fred's, Hobby Lobby, and Party City (whew!) I seem to never be able to find what I'm looking for. This week the stars have aligned and I have actually found some of these elusive items.


Well, I guess this is another pun, but I'm really excited about these star shaped magnets I found at the Dollar Tree. I'm doing sort of a Hollywood, movie theme this year so these magnets were perfect. It may not seem like it, but plain magnets of this size are very hard to come by. They also had hearts this same size and bigger stars and bigger hearts. I think I'm going to number the magnets and use them for my lunch count system this year. I considered doing stars for boys and hearts for girls, but I remembered being told in school that you should never "genderize" the students (I may have just made that word up, but you get the point). I also figure numbers will change throughout the year as students come and go. You don't want to be the new boy who gets stuck with the heart shaped magnet. Scarred for life.



I also found some "welcome" decorations that fit my theme. You know, you put stuff out in the hallway that says "my classroom is inviting" and "look how much fun we're going to have this year" and "don't get too excited, I'm strict and we're not going to have toooooo much fun." That being said, I'm not sure if I'm going to use all these things, but last year I looked for things like this and never found them! It became this sort of holy grail-esque search so now I'm buying this stuff up like crazy. Here are some things I found at Party City.





I bought a "Lights, Camera, Action" bulletin board set at Teaching Things in Trussville as well as little mini, sparkly directors boards (the things they snap closed and say "action!"). I think I'm going to write their names on these and put them in the hallway because everyone likes to see their name written somewhere!




My final purchase, and one that I'm probably most excited about is this tall director's chair. The chair I have right now is pretty wobbly and I just don't think breaking my chair the first few weeks of school is the impression I want to make on these young minds. I found this chair and I ordered it with black canvas. I might get it monogrammed, but I'm not sure yet. That might just be a little too much. Besides, is that weird to have something monogrammed for yourself? Hmmm... Also, this chair is $15-$20 cheaper than ones they sell at Target that have gotten this review:

We ordered four of these chairs for the back row of our home theater. After assembling them all during the Florida-Alabama game I sat in one to take in the second quarter. Within minutes I was picking myself up off the floor after the chair snapped and I slammed the back of my my head off the wall. To give you frame of reference and prevent someone else from getting hurt, it's not like I'm huge at 6'1" and 200 lbs.

I thought oh, that doesn't apply to me. Then I read the next review:

Nice looking chairs but broke two in the first week by just sitting on them. I weight about 150 lbs and my friend weighs about 180 and the wood on both chair rails broke.

Basically, I'm going to break my cheapy chair in front of my entire class in less time than these people. Oh well, it looks cute.

July 11, 2010

Google Apps Part 1

As the search for free teacher apps continues, I keep coming back to Google.

I am by no means an expert here so I am going to give you the "Google Apps for Teachers" information from the Free Technology for Teachers website. I think all you need to have to access all of these apps is a Gmail account (this excludes the Google Lit Trips).

1) Google Docs- I was amazed when I started reading about all you can do with this app. It basically gives you a huge amount of online storage space. Goodbye flash drive that I can never find anyway! You can upload files and access them from any computer anywhere. You can also keep it private, share files with certain people, or make them public for anyone to see. Google Docs also allows you to create Word documents, Power Point presentations, and Excel spreadsheets without having any of these programs on the computer you're using.

I'm not exactly how I'm going to use Google Docs in the classroom but here are a few ideas:
  • Saving my lesson plans in a folder so that I can share them with administrators, other teachers, etc.
  • Saving all my Power Points, rubrics, etc. in a folder so that I can share them with people
  • Organizing all of my school related documents in one place so that I can access them wherever I am
  • Generating student quizzes/forms/questionnaires. I'm not quite sure how this can work with one student computer in the room, but I can try, right?

There are also some really cool ways to use Google Docs for student writing, but the students have to have an email address and they have to be 13 and over for this feature. Oh well.


2) Google Books- Here you can create your own "library" where you can organize/review/show off the books you're reading. You can not only find book titles, but many books are in the "public domain" which means you can see the entire book for free! Some books, like The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, have parts of the book available online. I'm trying to figure out how to embed the book onto a website so that I can have it available for my students in the fall.

I have to give credit to my fabulous teacher friend, Jennifer, who decided we should read this book this year since the movie is coming out in December.



Well, that's all for today. I plan on posting about the rest of the wonderful world of Google Apps another day. Is anyone else using Google Apps in the classroom? Thoughts?


July 6, 2010

Word Clouds


I designed this cute word cloud in Wordle to put on my class website. You choose the words you want to use, and the words that you list more frequently appear bigger in the word cloud. You can also just copy and paste a website and Wordle will choose the words from there. It's totally free to create one, but I think the site is designed for you to either print the word cloud or share it on their website. I had to save mine as a pdf which kind of limits how I can use it. Oh well, it's cute!

As I was designing this one, I started to think of the different ways I could use word clouds in the classroom. Here are some of my ideas so far:

  • Have students create a word cloud of character traits about a character we are studying.
  • Create one using the week's vocabulary words
  • Create one for each mode of writing
  • Create one to put at each learning center that includes the activities that students may choose to complete at that center
  • A first week of school activity-- Have students use a word cloud to describe themselves, including any hobbies, interests they might have. You could even cover the name and have the class guess whose word cloud it is. I think this would make a cute display in the hallway, don't you?

I'm not sure how much I'll be able to use this tool with our one lone student computer, but luckily we have an amazing computer lab teacher at our school who would probably let the students use this site during their computer lab time. On second thought, this site might be blocked at school, so we'll see.

I am amazed daily at how many free technology apps are available to teachers. I will continue to share things that I find, and I would love to hear about any of your new discoveries!


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