Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fantastic Websites for Tech Integration

Two more school days to go and a look back in time… new location, new building, new schedules, new computer labs, new colleagues, new experiences, new technologies.  All within the school year. It’s funny how far the first days seem to have happened when we were still moving in and doing our best to be ready to get the ball running with our classes. 

As I reflect, homeroom teachers have been integrating technology more and more in their lessons. The labs as well as the laptop carts have been quite popular this year.

Many websites have been used by teachers to support tech integration or actually, to make tech integration possible. Diana and I have been trying to keep in our Schoolworld sites track of those websites used with students in third, fourth and fifth grades.

I’m presenting in this post most of the websites that supported tech integration. I’m saying “most” since there were times when teachers used the laptop carts, booked the sign-up lab, used their homeroom computer or may have used any other alternate resources that we didn't hear of. In addition, there were times when our labs were used and time ran so fast that we did not get to add the websites to our links.

Some of this year's websites might be helpful, some may not, for next year. Units change, new technologies come to life, and new necessities are born, however these links could definitely be helpful next year when the units are first unpacked by teachers.

Here’s the list:







Food Chain


Human Body

Language Skills





Multiple Intelligences



Searching the Internet


If you have any websites you would like to recommend, please add a comment below. I’m sure there are many out there that could benefit teachers next school year.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Learning about Internet Safety

Back from Spring break, ready and full of energy for the last stretch of the school year. Five or six more weeks to go until the end of the year!

The focus during this last school period for third, fourth, and fifth grade tech classes will be Internet Safety. Students undoubtedly need to master the skills and knowledge on the subject since they surf more and more often the Internet to find information.

Fifth grade classes will dive deeper into the subject. These groups had already started with the unit before the break, so they will now center their attention on website evaluation. The lesson includes an amazing activity created by Kathy Schrock, that comes along with very helpful resources. The main objective is to encourage students to develop valuable critical thinking skills that will lead them to identify reliable websites and accurate information.  Hopefully students will end up questioning themselves about the sites they normally choose and will figure out if those sites are the best ones to use.

During this activity, fifth graders read together a poster that contains the 5 Ws of Website Evaluation, also created by Kathy Schrock, and then in groups of 2, answer her website evaluation activity sheet. For the task to be effective,  a few words such as "bias", "cache", and "citations" have to be clarified before starting with the assignment so that students will have an entire understanding of the questions being posed.  In fact, going over each question as a class before the activity starts really helps students work better.

Fourth graders are also learning about Internet Safety during tech class.  In groups of 2, they choose a few online games to play from the following list:

Safety Land
Online Safety Quiz
Phineas and Ferb
Dongle's Guide to Be Smart
The First Adventure of the Three CyberPigs
Surf Swell Island
Internet Safety Hangman
Internet Safety Game

Once they have connected to their prior knowledge and have gained ideas playing the games, students use Keynote to create a multiple-choice trivia game for third graders to answer. A question along with a set of answers is entered on each slide, and all answers are converted into text hyperlinks, which act just like buttons. This feature allows the user to advance to the next question when the right answer is clicked or get a "wrong" message and be forced to try again when the wrong one is chosen. Once the slides are all created and linked, the final document is exported as a quicktime movie and selecting the option: Hyperlinks Only.

The Internet safety trivia games are currently being built. Soon they will be completed and posted in the technology class' Schoolworld site where third grade students will be able to test themselves on their Internet Safety knowledge. So far, fourth graders have been enjoying the learning activity as they take a teacher role and try to reach an authentic audience.

If you have taught a similar lesson on Internet Safety and would like to share your experience, please add a comment.  I would like to read about your lessons!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Keeping up with blogs and tweets

For over two years, I have been constructing my PLN (personal learning network) happily advancing in my self-directed professional growth. It seems like a long time has passed since I thoroughly read complete tech magazines to  keep up with new trends and technologies that could be used in my lessons. Now 
I’m not even sure those printed magazines and newsletters are still sold. I’ve totally replaced that past learning task by participating in a community of learners that share knowledge and experiences through blogs and tweets.  Luckily, reading digitally is something I certainly enjoy since it introduces me to new web 2.0 tools, allows me to test these tools on the spot, and instantly social-bookmark them for later use through my diigo account.

At times, it has been quite hard to keep up! There have been days when schoolwork has piled up and there has been no time to read through tweets, and even less time to sit and be absorbed in blogs.  Now and then, I have felt overwhelmed just to see my mailbox getting fatter and fatter with blogs that I have subscribed to and have not even skimmed. Fortunately, as it usually happens in most longterm tasks, little by little I have become faster at selecting which articles to read and which ones not to read. At times, I have saved promising articles for later and once my regular workload has diminished, I have calmly sat down and gone through them.

I remember feeling lost when I started my own PLN.  As a good beginner, I got excited and added too many people in my twitter “following list” only to later find out that I was not interested in many of those conversations. I then started cleaning up the list and getting better at choosing whom to follow.  I still make occasional changes, but not that often. I feel much more organized now.

In addition, if I hear about a good educational technology book, I acquire it, read it, and reflect on how it can help in my lessons.  I’m now starting to read iBrain written by Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan which points to be good. It has been sitting and waiting on my side-table for a few weeks and hopefully this weekend, I’ll finally immerse into the text.

I’d like to share with you a list of blogs that I usually read. They have taught me a great deal about integrating technology in the classroom as well as new trends in educational technology. They are listed in no specific order and are all worth reading!

The Thinking Stick by Jeff Utech

Always Learning by Kim Cofino

iLearn Technology by Kelly Tenkely

I also recommend Ted videos.  These videos are usually creative, inspiring, and a pleasure to watch. They have certainly opened up my mind.

My PLN is still work in process and I expect for it to evolve as time passes by and as I learn more. I wouldn't want it to stay the same. 

I’m still on the search for more blogs and tweets that focus on tech integration. If you know of any other blogs or tweets that might be beneficial, you are welcome to enter a comment.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Social Networks in the Elementary Classroom

Students have finished working in most of their assignments since labs will mainly be used for MAP testing in the next two weeks.  Fifth grade classes continued with Internet safety lessons and watched a thought-provoking video that focused on protecting reputations online. 

After watching the video, students participated in an interesting online conversation using Edmodo. Edmodo is an educational social network where students may post comments and reply to their classmates within class groups in a user-friendly online environment. The website functions solely for education, so fortunately, there are no publicity-images nor any other distractors displayed on the site. Throughout the task, students were quite engaged in their chat. Even though they were using a social network where the wall worked somewhat like Facebook, students were expected to use appropriate language, capital letters, periods, etc., and were reminded that they were participating in a class assignment within a school setting. It was exciting to observe the great conversations that were taking place.

Here’s are some samples of their conversations:

Coincidentally, as I was writing this blog, I received one of my favorite blogs, Kelly Tenkely’s iLearn blog, and noticed it talked about Edmodo as well. Edmodo has provided a safe, teacher-controlled, social network and has made amazing discussions possible in my class. In addition to the great conversations, I was happy to read and agree with the author's statement in that:  “Using social networks in the classroom provides you with the opportunity to model proper use of social networking, digital citizenship, and teach Internet safety in an authentic environment”. I expect to keep using this helpful social network in my lessons.

If you have used social networks in your lessons, you are welcome to enter suggestions and comments!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Publishing student work in a class wiki

This past week 5th graders wrapped up their lego-mindstorm unit by publishing their final projects in a class wiki. With eight sets of lego-mindstorm robot-cars to share within groups of 22 kids, students worked in teams to learn basic programming skills and generate a final creative, programming task. A few of their favorite tasks were: getting the car to follow a line, making the car bump on walls and steer, advance the car along with a handclap, and having the car take reverse when detecting a wall. All these actions involved various sensors that were previously attached to the robot.

Sharing in a class wiki brought more excitement into the learning process. Each team was assigned a section which had to include their project title, a description of the robot's task, an explanation of how the team was achieving it, a video, and important screenshots of the software commands that were used. Clarity in their writing was a big goal for students as they published their wiki  since they knew that their immediate audience, other classmates, may want to perform the same task and would need to follow clear instructions.

Here’s a sample of their work:

Last year we worked on similar projects but used Pbworks wikis instead. Even though it had been a good option, we decided to use Wikispaces this time as an opportunity to explore a new alternative. Now that students have used both and I am able to compare, I liked last year's final wikis a lot more. Both were easy to set up and quite user-friendly, however for some unknown reason, students were not able to embed their videos in Wikispaces. They ended up adding a link to the video, making their final page not as attractive as it could have been. I assume there is a way to do it, however we were rushing to have the wikis ready for student-led conferences, leaving us no time to look for a better solution. Here’s a sample of last year’s wiki:

Photos were not a problem at all, they were easily embedded into the webpages. This feature allowed students to add screenshots of their programming instructions and were able to explain in a more visual way.

It was a fun, team-work unit. Students collaborated, helped each other understand commands, problem-solved again and again, and created a challenging task using the skills that they had learned.

If you have worked with lego-mindstorm robots in elementary and would like to share your experiences, please add your comments.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Class Collaboration with Google Presentations

A few weeks ago I attended a tech inservice at school on advanced google apps and learned about Google presentations.  I had the idea that it only contained the common features: text, images, background color, font, sizes, etc. which we already have in our labs’ software (Hyperstudio and Keynote). However, it was nice to discover it can be a useful tool to create collaborative presentations with students.

What makes google presentation a great collaborative tool is that it can be shared and edited by any user even though the editors do not own a google account.  Anyone who clicks on the link may edit the slides. Since my students do not have gmail accounts, this was a terrific opportunity for them to work on a common presentation contributing with their own slides.

The lesson was an introduction to computer parts during our third grade tech class. Kids watched the video “The Magic School Bus Gets Programmed” and paid close attention to all computer parts that were mentioned. Right after the video came a short discussion about those parts. Students then got together in teams of two and worked on a slide using a link I had posted in my schoolworld website. This is the way the slides looked when students saw it first:

When I was creating the document, I set the privacy settings so that anyone with the link could access the presentation and anyone could edit it.

Each slide needed to include: name of computer part, image, description and function. In a few minutes, each group finished their slide and were able to present it within a single presentation right after.

It has been easy and fun to work with google presentations. Normally, students would have worked with separate slides, dragged them into a drop-box, and I would have had to put them together in one presentation.   Using this feature, the presentation was ready as soon as the slides were completed and the students were able to present it in that same period.

Several learnings took place in this collaborative assignment. On one hand, students learned from each other as each team presented their slide.  On the other hand, kids also learned that online web2.0 tools can help them work “together” without having to be in a same physical space.

We did have one little problem to troubleshoot.  To my surprise, the presentation's saving mode initially did not work and students were not being able to save their changes.  Since I had used my  school's google account to create those documents, I tried switching to my personal gmail account, created new presentations, copied the same settings listed above, and then fortunately, everything worked perfectly well!  

If you would like to share your experience using any other collaborative tools in class, please post a comment. I would love reading about it!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Third Graders Searching the Web

At this time of the year, third grade students are working on an exciting non-fiction writing unit in which they do research using the school’s library books. The difference this year is that Internet research is now included in the project.  This gave us, tech teachers, a great opportunity to teach a lesson on safe and useful web searches. In past years, they had only done research using specific websites, so this was actually the first timthey were instructed to surf the Internet looking for useful information. Research topics ranged from certain sports to animals, biographies, world cities, space, and even current events.

The tech team came up with the following six different options for students’ research. The options, listed below, were also posted on the Schoolworld website.

Google – Basic Results
Students who used Google were initially sent to the Spanish version of the website, probably because it detected the IP address coming from Mexico.  Since we wanted the students to work and look for information in English, we asked them to click on the bottom link:google.com in English. This way, all text and buttons were in English and needed no translation.

The lesson taught students how to use two Google Search features: Safe-search and Basic Reading Level. Third graders followed the next steps to set these up.

Safe Search in Google
Students entered http://www.google.com and clicked on the top-right-side button: Search Settings. A new page appeared and they clicked on the option: Use Strict Filtering under the section SafeSearch Filtering. Then, at the bottom, they clicked on the Save Preferencesbutton.

Basic Reading Level. Students went back to http://www.google.com and clicked on the middle right-side option: Advanced Search. They scrolled down and found the section: Reading level. In there, they selected: show only basic results and then clicked on the button:Advanced Search. Students were then given results they could really understand, but still had the option to move to intermediate and advanced levels if necessary.

Students loved using Google. In most cases, it gave them a variety of websites to research at their own reading level.

Twurdy was another favorite.  The results of the search were displayed with different background colors so that students could identify the reading level.  Light backgrounds were the easiest to read and dark backgrounds, the hardest.

Boolify was quite popular. Students took its puzzle pieces and filled them in with keywords.  The search engine would give results depending on the ANDs and NOTs they used. This was a great opportunity for them to visually understand how Boolean operators such as AND, OR, and NOT work.

Quintura Kids
Quintura kids was another websearch engine that helped students in more specific searches. Students would type the keyword in the boxprovided, and the site would then display a word cloud with words related to their search.  By clicking on any of those words, the search changed and different results appeared.

Kidrex was also a good option. Most of the results that were displayed were at their grade level.

Sweet Search
Sweet search has a special section for elementary students (SweetSites) organized by subject and academic level. Another useful section was SweetSearch Biographies, which could be used by categories or by names of people.

Students walked away that day knowing some tools to get to useful websites, being aware that some of those websites may or may not be at their reading level, and no longer believing that the best place to find information in the Internet was Wikipedia.

There might be other websearch engines that you are using that may be useful for elementary students. If you would like to share them, please add them as a comment. I would love to extend this list of search engines!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Our Brain's Right-Side Skills and our Digital World

The end-of-the-year holidays gave me the opportunity to relax, unwind and then catch-up as much as possible with what is new. I enjoyed reading Daniel Pink’s thought-provoking book, “A Whole New Mind” which discussed the ideal skills that need to be taught in schools to prepare students for work and life these days. Through the chapters, the author explained the way our existence is affected more and more by three forces: 1) Material abundance generating a need for products that are not only unique but attractive and meaningful; 2) Asian workers taking over routine jobs at a very low cost; and 3) Automated jobs such as software programming, medical diagnosis and legal advice, being performed by computers. All these current factors require changes in what is being taught in schools. Kids now need to develop artistic and emotional abilities, as well as a capacity to detect patterns, behaviors and opportunities, and an overall vision that can drive them toward innovation. In addition, students nowadays have a need to acquire skills that will make them empathetic, understand human interactions, and find meaning in the things they do.
It was interesting to read how some schools are starting to direct their attention and time to art.  An example given in the book is a high school that uses design to teach core academic subjects giving students a daily art or design class period. This institution aims for students to develop empathy, detect patterns, and acquire a holistic understanding of the context through design. Hopefully, these students will be able to apply these design skills further on in their lives.
Throughout the book, the author clearly shows that to be successful in these times, students require a whole new mind where the left and right sides of the brain work hand-in-hand having the left side taking care of the sequential, logical, and analytical chores and the right side being in charge of inventions, empathy, happiness, and meaning. As a result, schools need be teaching in a way that helps students develop abilities not just from the left side, but from both sides of the brain.
My perspective of students who are artists but have a difficult time with their academic work has changed.  They are already strong in aptitudes that are needed for the 21st century and I can see that there is a lot to learn from them. For students who are not there yet, technology that is available in the school’s lab as well as in the Internet can offer students many tools to develop the skills that are needed. Students can use them to create videos, pictures, songs, slide shows, podcasts, collages, storybooks, etc. The possibilities are unlimited. One thing I could do in class, is encourage students to be more creative adding art, music, animations, videos, sounds, etc,  to their assignments. Students need to know that attractiveness does make a difference. It’s no longer a matter of just entering information.  The way information is presented and the way it gets to people is relevant.

If you have any ideas or lessons that could help develop right-side skills using technology, please share them in a comment. I would love to read them.