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.