Monday, December 27, 2010

10 Web 2.0 Tools Used in the Elementary School during 2010

It is the end of the year and time to stop and look back at what has been accomplished. I’m happy to realize that tech classes at the elementary school have taken a step further by using collaborative web2.0 tools that offer students the means to attain 21st century skills. Thank you to my PLN (personal learning network) friends and colleagues at school that have taught me about them.  I feel grateful to have this amazing learning network that has made me open my mind to new digital class tools.

I would like to share with you ten free Web 2.0 tools that my students have used during 2010 in the computer lab. They are in no specific order and are all amazing!

Titanpad was a totally successful collaborative tool in class. My students belong to upper elementary and most of them do not have gmail accounts nor have had any experience with google docs yet.  For this reason, students were introduced to titanpad, an online tool similar to google docs, where several students can participate in the creation of a common word processing document being able to make simultaneous modifications and additions. Students were deeply engaged. Some continued to work on the assignment at home and some have convinced their homeroom teacher to let them use titanpad for further class assignments such as group research and presentations.

Our social studies mapping units are in the process of changing. Old activities are being revised and new ones are emerging. Scribblemaps  is an amazing web 2.0 tool that provides an online world map that allows students to draw and add text on top of it, and once the final map image is ready, it may be emailed to the teacher. Fifth graders used it to plot explorers’ voyages coming to the new world giving them a more authentic vision of the actual explorers’ journeys. 

As a follow-up on collaborative tools, students were introduced to twiddla  to experience drawing in a realtime online whiteboard with a group of classmates.  To my surprise, and probably to their surprise too, it was harder for them to draw a picture than to type a story together with a friend.  The perfectionist side in them may have appeared, not allowing them to work as smoothly.

Students in third grade created animated movies using Kerpoof.  The website is quite friendly and it was easy for students to rapidly understand the concept of animation timelines, movements, and audio. They enjoyed working in groups, helping each other create the animations.  Many of them later at home obtained an account (parental permission is needed) and were able to save their new productions.  This free web 2.0 tool can not only create videos, it also offers features such as spell a picture, make a card, make a drawing, tell a story, and more. It is total fun.

This awesome website, Professor Garfield,  lets students create comic strips using new and previously-created characters, props, backgrounds, and speech bubbles. It is easy to use and it is fun. It also includes several comic activities that help students understand a variety of comic strip concepts.

Students used Wacky Web Tales to fill in madlibs and create funny stories.  Every time they have used it, students have practiced their grammar skills as they answered the blank spaces with adjectives, nouns, verbs, and more.

This website has been a favorite for students practicing multiplication skills. In Grand Prix they create a car race and online participants enter the competition.  Once the race starts, they have to solve multiplication problems to be able to advance.  The faster they solve the problems, the faster the car runs. This website has been a first choice whenever students finish their work before the end of the period and still have some free time.

Boolify has been a convenient website that has helped students visually understand the way search engines work. Students drag puzzle pieces together using ANDs, Ors, and NOTs to filter search results. Moreover, websites that are finally listed only contain information that is age-appropriate for elementary students.

Wallwisher  is a collaborative online board where students post online stickies to answer a question displayed by the teacher.  Teachers have used it to post questions about books that are being read in class as well as new concepts that are being studied. It has been an engaging way to have students read other students’ ideas and push their thinking even further.

Glogster encourages students to create online posters that share their learning using pictures, text, music and videos.  Fourth and fifth graders were able to use their creativity and share their knowledge about technology at the beginning of the year using this great website.

The list above presents only ten web tools that were useful in our tech classes, and of course, we all know there are many more out there. I would love to read any comments you have about these websites or any others you have used. It's always enriching to learn how other teachers use web tools in their classes.

I wish all of you a happy new year and I hope we can learn more from each other during the coming year.  I’m convinced that learning never stops and there is always more to discover. Best wishes!!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Introducing Scratch in the 4th Grade

Last week we started an exciting unit with our fourth grade classes: Animations using Scratch.  In case you are not familiar with the application, Scratch is an application developed by MIT that can be downloaded for free in both Macs and PCs. It involves simple programming and animation commands and serves as a great preparation for our students before they start with the Lego-Mindstorm unit. The software includes the creation of “Sprites” (characters), “Costumes” (character instances), “Stages” (backgrounds), motions, sounds, looks, and more.

Since Scratch is totally new to our fourth grade students, I decided to teach them an introductory lesson totally based on exploration and discovery, giving students an opportunity to find answers for themselves and not through the teacher.

The initial instructions were:
In your dock, you can find a new application called Scratch. Try to imagine that you just received this application as a Christmas present and nobody has told you what it can do or what it is about.  You are on your own and this is your time to find out…

After exploring for about 10 minutes, the class met in front of the smartboard to share findings. Things like: creating a new sprite, drawing a new sprite, deleting a sprite, creating backgrounds, etc, kept coming up and were modeled by students who found out how to do it. Once the discussion was over, students went back to their computers trying to solve a new challenge: making the sprite advance and turn as if walking in a square. They were only allowed to talk to their neighbors in case they had any questions and could not ask the teacher. Since I believe students are open to learn from one another, I used my computer’s Remote Desktop application at different times during the session, so that students could present to the class the different solutions to the problem they were working on. Putting together everybody’s knowledge, took student learning quite far!

Tech classes, in the following weeks, will work more or less in the same way (explore-discover-share). It is amazing to witness how much kids are able to learn from their explorations, their classmates’ discoveries, and their discussions. New knowledge and skills emerge as they build up from each other’s discoveries. By the end of the initial lesson, they were already moving the “sprites” using the motion and control commands, thinking about angles, distances, and speed, and of course, adding all sorts of sounds as the sprites were moving. I have to say that the activity never asked them to add sound, but someway or another many of them found their way into music and special sound effects. It seemed that students had a need to make the animations as real as possible and adding sound really helped. I found that learning in this context happened because of the excitement they felt with their discoveries, the experience they had with the hands-on activity, and the way their thinking was pushed as they listened to their classmates’ discoveries.

Some kids went home and downloaded that same day Scratch into their computers and started emailing me all sorts of animations or games they had created. They were totally into it! Here are some examples of very basic work done by 4th and 5th graders using Scratch:

I’m also including some very good lesson plans I found in a wiki that belongs to Classroom 2.0:

I look forward to finding creative lesson ideas from the links listed in the webpage.  If you have had any experience with Scratch in the elementary school, I would love to hear and learn from your experiences. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Student end-of-trimester reflections

I believe it’s very important to take some time at the end of the trimester or at the end of a unit to think about the learning that has been taking place. Since we are closing the first trimester of the school year, third grade students were given the opportunity to reflect on their learning during tech class. They answered the following questions (all regarding technology) in a word processing document:

1-   What have you learned?
2-   What was hard?
3-   What was easy?
4-   What would you like to learn?

It was interesting to read their comments.  When they were asked: What have you learned? Most of them immediately replied that they had learned the homerow position as well as how to use the Ultrakey application that teaches them keyboarding skills.  Little by little, they started remembering all they had worked on during the trimester: Wordle, Timeliner, copy-pasting pictures, capturing screenshots, Hyperstudio, Pages, and a few Mac shortcuts. They love technology and anything new they learn about it is exciting for them.  Simple things, such as obtaining an apple icon when holding the shift-option-k keys all at once, has made them really happy. When students reflected on the second and third questions, just a few mentioned that using the homerow position had been hard, but the rest said everything had been quite easy. They have a beautiful, open and positive disposition to learn anything about technology. When asked what would they like to learn, most of them stated that they would like to create websites and videos. It’s amazing to see that these young students are totally aware that they can post their productions in the Internet. They do not see themselves just as information-receivers, but also as information-producers, even though they have not yet had that much experience in the Internet.

After the reflection, they worked on an activity that taught them Mac shortcuts.  By answering an online quiz, they realized they just knew a few and there were many more out there. Since they were already using a computer, they began testing those shortcuts.  I heard lots of exciting cries as they discovered these new shortcuts. I was happy to be present in those “aha” moments. Finally, the assignment ended with an individual creation of a handy list of shortcuts that would be kept in their desktop. It was nice to watch students logging out using the shortcut they had just learned and it was also fun to listen to their conversations as they were lining up to leave the lab talking about all sorts of shortcuts they use in their computers at home. It felt like a good learning activity.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Energy Wednesday Reserved for Technology

This past Wednesday, all teachers at the elementary school attended two technology sessions during “Energy Wednesday” hours at the end of the day. An introduction to google docs session was mandatory for all teachers, leaving the other session totally up to their choice.

Ime and I offered two sessions: imovie ‘09 for beginners and imovie ‘09 for advanced users. It was so much fun! We projected student-made videos on the smartboard as teachers were coming into the lab and since that moment teachers were already engaged and talking about video-production at ASFM.

We had many people attending the beginners’ sessions, however, there was something in the session’s environment that was different from past years’ workshops. Most likely, it might have been that many more teachers showed a big interest in learning video-producing software and were now feeling at a comfortable level learning it.  Years ago, whenever we taught any video-producing-beginner sessions, stress and nervousness were felt all over even though the workshops followed a slow and friendly pace.  This time, it seemed that most attendees were simply seeing the session as an opportunity to learn a new technique/software to be able to publish a nice end product. I have to say that we did have a few scared faces, but for the most part, most teachers were eager and open to learn the how’s and the where’s. Self-confidence and high-interest floated around the lab.

The advanced session was the most fun of all. Fewer people attended and it was nice not to go over the usual basic steps such as: importing a movie, adding photos, adding titles and transitions, organizing clips, etc.  Teachers who showed up to this session had already experienced creating basic videos and were eager to learn more about it.  We first taught them useful tools such as stabilizing shaky videos, adding map clips, recording voice over clips, etc, and then ended the session with two highlight features. The first one was the picture-in-picture option, which allows the user to place a smaller video clip somewhere inside a larger clip. The smaller clip in many cases shows a person explaining what is happening in the larger one. The last feature was the use of the green screen and they loved it. This is where a scene is video-taped with a green cloth on the back of the scene totally covering the background. This green-background-clip is then placed over a second video clip. What happens next is that all the green background of the first clip is detected by imovie and immediately replaced by the second video. All the non-green parts of the first video are seen on top of the second video. Barbara, who coincidentally was wearing a green shirt that day, helped us recording herself. Her green shirt was also detected by iMovie causing the end video to be a funny one since only her face showed sliding around in the other video… right during Halloween week.

If you are stuck creating a video with iMovie or would like to learn more of its features, Apple has great video tutorials. They explain one feature per video, making it short and quite clear. You can find those tutorials at: Scroll down the webpage and you will find the list.

If you have led similar workshops, I would love to hear from you. Enter your comments or follow me @marybellr in twitter

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Understanding the Digital Generation

The last session I attended during the tri-association conferences was Ian Jukes' Understanding the Digital Generation. It was a great way to end the conferences and I left with lots to think about and most importantly... lots of things to put into practice!!

Here's a good list of books for educators to read about technology, education and the brain. I look forward to reading them soon!!
•Ibrain: Surviving the technology alteration of the modern mind - Small and Vorgan
•A whole new mind - Pink
•Everything bad is good for you - Steven Johnson
•Brain rules - Medina
•Grown up digital - Tapscott
•The Shallows, what the Internet is doing to our brains - Nicholas Carr
•Toys to Tools (iste) - Liz Kolb
•Spark the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain - John Ratey

Kids today are neurological different, they live in a digital bombardment. Digital is our students' first language. It's the language they feel most comfortable speaking. We, adults, are digital immigrants. We speak digital as a second language.

Kids have developed hyperlinked minds. The brain is highly adaptive throughout our lives. It is constantly reorganizing based on input, as well as the intensity and duration of the experience. Neuralplasticity allows this. Our intelligence is not fixed. It is under intensive, sustained and progressive stimulation. Neuron cells that are not used get pruned out, just like a tree. The most used connections develop into hardcore. "Myelin" insulates and makes connections in the brain possible. Digital bombardment continually wires kids' brains. They process information in a different way we do.

The following attributes of Digital Learners are important to keep in mind as we teach:
- receive information quickly from multiple multimedia sources (they have a need for speed)
- prefer parallel-processing and multitasking
- read in fundamentally different way
- prefer random access to hyperlinked multimedia
- network and collaborate with others
- prefer to learn just-in-time
- prefer instant gratitude
- prefer learning that is relevant and active

Digital learners need focused attention and continuous-partial attention. We need to find a way to include both in the learning environment we create for them. It is important to know that before, media complemented text, now it's the other way around: text compliments media. If a lecture becomes visual, then students instead of retaining 10%, now retain 65% of the information that is being presented.

We were paper-trained, students now are light and sound trained. Our written media is now replaced by visual media. They learn in a fundamentally different way.

Colors preferences change among cultures. Us Students reject our white and black preferences for text. The prefer:
- red, pink
- orange
- lime green
- black or dark background

Very interestingly: We use a Z pattern to read a page and students use an F pattern to read the same page. They hardly place attention on the right hand side. Ian Jukes suggested adding an image pointing up on the bottom-right to make students want to read this right part of the page.

Another interesting comment that came up was that a career for life is now uncommon. According to statistics, students will have 10-17 careers by the time they are 35. They will have 40 years of ongoing learning instead of a 4 year career. 20-year jobs will not exist anymore. Since life is changing exponentially, it sounds almost ridiculous to stay in the same job all those years, but we still do!! We keep sticking to what we were taught and the way we used to live when we were younger.

Learning goals were also pointed out: Just-in-case learning vs Just-in-time learning. Just-in-case learning goes on today in our schools (just in case it comes in the test, just in case you become an engineer, etc) and should now be replaced by just-in-time learning where students learn how to do something to be able to solve a problem or be part of an experience.

Deferred and instant rewards were also addressed. Kids get many instant rewards, however they need to learn to attain deferred rewards. Online games that students play give them those two kinds of rewards. They get the reward every time they advance to a new level and also by getting recognition from their peers. Players make frequent decisions which lead to those deferred and instant rewards.

Ian Yukes' website is (find link to Commit Me). Under Keynote perspectives, the handouts and ppts can be found. Under small bytes, there free websites can be found. All the ppt presentations with the funny pictures he presented are there. His email is
Using my learning...

• Create handouts with the F pattern in mind

• allow different screen colors in students computers

• read all those books that were mentioned!!!

• use their preference of just-in-time learning to teach at the right moments!

• assign projects that require multi-tasking

• teach students how to find information in a fast way (dictionary, calculator, etc)

Drumming to the beat of different marchers

This was a most inspiring session offered by Debbie Silver. Here are my notes and thoughts...

We need to be people smart and be able read body language, be empathetic, sympathetic and read people. It is important to be present with kids when they are in our room. No paper work, email, talk to other teachers, etc, at that time. BE WITH THEM!

Bandura's work on self-efficacy says that self-efficacy helps us evaluate our performance. It influences the choices we make, the effort we put, our persistence, and the way we feel. For students, self-efficacy is a reasonable chance for success.

Debbie talked about Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and reminded us that we need to help students only in what they need so that they can keep learning with some kind of help, but not tell them or give them the answers. We should always be raising the bar.

All students deserve curriculum activities that are motivating and fun, not just the gifted or the ones that finish work early. It's important to give kids a chance to be engaged. They all deserve a chance to shine.

The presenter then talked about student profiles, about how much to we need to know about our students. Here's the list she gave us:
- reading level
- English language proficiency
- level of adult supervision and involvement at home
- personal interestes
- preferred learning styles
- least favorite things
- fears
- strengths

She emphasized on the importance of giving students the opportunity to show their knowledge in different ways. It is not reasonable to hold a student accountable for information presented solely on text.

A few technology examples were quickly presented to show options for students to present their work. One of them was Voicethread. I wish she could have stopped and explain it a little bit further. I've used it and I know it is quite useful, however I know my colleagues sitting with me have not.

For more information, visit Debbie Silver's website: password: iamateacher

Using what I learned...

• When students are in the classroom, forget about email, paperwork and other worries. Interact the whole time with them!

• This was a good reminder not to give students the answers.. have them find out and be away of their comfort zone.

• Offer students the technology to show their knowledge or acquire their knowledge in different ways!

Fear of Failure - why do students stop trying?

This was also an incredible learning session with Debbie Silver. Here are my thoughts and notes...

Debbie emphasized on raising the bar for students. Always give them a chance to learn something new and challenge themselves.

She also took some time to talk about the reward system that in one way or another most teachers use. She emphasized on the importance to move to less of a reward system. She described task-contingent rewards where all students handing in homework get an "A" and stated that they were the worst of all the reward systems. She also said it was bad to have performance-contingent rewards such as 93% correct responses get a sticker. She explained how it is better to move to success-contingent rewards where for example everyone who has at least 93% correct responses on homework or improves his/her score gets a sticker. The effort or wanted behavior is being rewarded.

When questions are asked in group discussions, wait time for responses should be the same for all students. The following self-proficiency principles explain the reason for this:

Self-proficiency principles ( Rosenthal)
a- we form certain expectations of people and events
b- we communicate those expectations with various cues
c- people tend to respond to these cues by adjusting their behavior to match them
d- the result is that the original expectation becomes true

Praise should deal, not with the child's personality attributes, but with his efforts or achievements. Inappropriate praise can do more harm than good.

Debbie gave a good discussion question to us: What do you think parents ought to say to their daughter that did not win a prize?
1- tell her that you thought she was the best
2- tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers
3- reassure her that gymnastics are not that important
4- tell her she has the ability and surely win next time (noooo!)
5- tell her she didn't deserve to win (this is the one)
The best answer is number 5. Parents should tell her she needs to work harder and ask her what she thinks she needs to do to improve. Remind the children "If you did it once, you can do it again".

• Mindset is the new psychology of success. It is a set of ideas or beliefs of how you see the world. Fixed Mindset (Entity Theory) is a way of thinking where you already have your talents and attributes (there is no room for improvement, you were born intelligent and remain with that degree of intelligence). Growth Mindset (Incremental theory) is a way of thinking where you can get smarter and can always improve. Kids who have been praised all their lives about their intelligence usually have a fixed mindset and don't want to try something new. They need to be the best so they won't take a risk. On the other hand, students with a the growth mindset value effort as a positive constructive force. For them challenge is good and their brain connections can become bigger. Being on the learning edge is something good!

Kids need examples of effort. We need to talk about our failures to them and how we improved the situation and moved on.

We should give our mind the right message - change our mindset. A fixed mindset will get us concerned with how we'll be judged. A growth mindset will get us concerned with improving. We're taking a risk... we're improving! We have to learn to make it happen!

Some good answers for students in specific situations:
- For now you will be working in a group and tomorrow I will let you pursue an individual project on your own.
- You're a developing person and I'm interested in your development
- etc

Using what I learned...

• Always challenge students... raise the bar when possible and try not to lower it with other students

• Keep the growth mindset theory in mind and praise the students' effort, hard work, persistence, etc.I'll try to give intelligence less attention.

First Sessions - Google Apps

The first two sessions I attended were about Google Apps. They were offered by George Santos and Laura Tolone. Even though I usually use gmail and some google features, it was nice to have the time to explore Google a bit more and find useful features for my everyday management at home and at school. I'll jot my notes down...

The morning session took only 1 hour and I learned a few new things:

• Gmail attachments can all be downloaded all at once as a zipfile. (I had done this before, but was not aware that it was always done through a zipfile)

• exe files cannot be emailed through gmail

• google calendars can be synced with the iphone

• google calendars and ical calendars can by synced

Using what I learned...

 our lab and laptop online calendars could be managed as google calendars so that teachers can directly book times. This process is usually done through online calendars that are NOT interactive. The teachers needs to check the online calendar, find a spot, email the person in charge (tech teacher or it dept) and then this person in charge books the lap or laptop cart. Same procedure applies for USB headphone sets and can also be enhanced with google calendars.

• I could sync my ical with google calendars and be able to see my schedule and my updated agenda from anyplace outside of school.

Afternoon session for Google Apps (2 hrs) -

In this session, we had more time to explore and work with google apps. We started with labels. It was a good reminder and now I have it clear that labels are only for classifying. I sometimes confused the feature with Groups.. groups works for organizing my contacts.

The next thing was the use of filters. Filters were new to me. We can create and modify them under Settings. There are a few options to choose from and they are all quite clear and easy to use. This feature might be quite useful when organizing my incoming email.

My computer neighbor showed be google analytics. It is used to see statistics on how much a webpage is being visited. He showed me his school's website and how much it had helped to clean it up after he had started using google analytics.

The presenters then focused on google docs and spreadsheets showing examples. I'm already familiar with those two. They also mentioned a third one where drawings could be made. I'd like to explore that one. I'll have to add it to my to-do list!

An attendee that came from Colombia showed us how his school used google apps in different situations. The had created teacher and student accounts for everyone in school. One thing that caught my attention was that their student accounts could be managed and had Google Talk disabled from student use.

A quick and useful explanation was given about syncronizing google calendars. To sync calendars every so often, we need to download the Google Exchange folder

At the end, we were given an overview of Picasa. It can be found in gmail up on top under MORE --> photos. It's a fast way to upload photos using my gmail account and shares the photos with only the people who I want to share with.

Using what I learned...

• The school is already giving us google teacher accounts. We might be able to create the student accounts and use them for e-pals or for special projects that need communication within students.

• Student behavior forms may be google docs. It is a good way to keep track of them and to share them with homeroom teachers as well as admin.

• I'm already uploading my photos into PIcasa. I had some in which is a good place to keep them, but it's also a slow place to watch them!

• Google analytics is something I would like to try on my schoolworld webpage.

Welcome to my new blog!

I was waiting for an opportunity to start blogging about educational technology outside of a master's course... so here's where I will start. I just attended the tri-association conference in Monterrey, Mexico and I will start by posting my thoughts and notes about the sessions I have attended.

This is my second try this week to post this blog. The first one had a glitch and would not accept comments from readers, no matter which settings I enabled! Apparently, this new one is now working.  I look forward to reading your comments.