Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Using Google Docs to Create and Embed an On-line Quiz

I am a Google Docs novice.  I just started using them about a month ago.  This week I learned how to create a quiz using Google Docs forms.  Then I embedded it in a page of our class wiki.  Many of you may be saying “Well, duh!,” but I didn’t know you could do this, and I think it is so cool. 
Once again this is something I learned through my ongoing professional development on Twitter.  I’m not even going to try to explain it to you, because I couldn’t possibly do it as well as Richard Byrne, (@rmbyrne on Twitter), on his blog, “Free Technology for Teachers”.  His post from Friday, January 29, 2010, How to Publish a Quiz Using Google Docs  explains it all.
You can create a quiz including multiple choice questions, essay, check lists, or a short line of text.  I found it easy to create the quiz and easy to embed it.  Once it was embedded, it was simple for my fourth graders to use.  
I tested it first, by taking the quiz myself.  This turned out to be a really good idea, because then my answers were posted first on the spreadsheet, and that gave me my answer key.  Your first question needs to be “Student Name” so you know whose work you are looking at.  All the answers that students give are displayed neatly on a spreadsheet.   
I really liked the spreadsheet.  It made it easy to analyze the questions that my students had difficulty with.  Now I know where reteaching is necessary.  When it came to grading the quiz, I found it easier to print off the spreadsheet.  Then it was very easy to correct the quiz and interpret the results.   There is also a date stamp, so you know when each student completed their work.  
Google Docs are so great for those of us who work on multiple computers.   Thanks, Richard Byrne, for teaching me something new!

February 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 4 Comments

An Update On Our American Revolution Webquest

After completing our research, students wrote persuasive letters.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the webquest we are working on:  A Revolution is Coming!  Which Side Will You Be On?  We finished our webquest last Friday.  This week I have been looking at everyone’s work.  This includes their webquest notes, graphic organizer, and letter.  The kids did a great job reading on-line information and taking notes about the causes and events that led to the beginning of the American Revolution. 

It is important for students to understand that support for separating from England was far from unanimous.  We talked about how the war divided families, pitting father against son, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor.  After taking notes, we formed teams, and students drew slips of paper to determine if they were going to write their letter from the viewpoint of a patriot or a loyalist. 

The art work was done by my son, Michael Day and his friend, Brandon Archer, when they were in fifth grade. They are now 22.

This is where we began to have problems,  The half of the class that were to argue from the perspective of the loyalist were very upset.  They all wanted to be patriots.  We also found that information for the loyalist perspective was much more sketchy, since historians have done better record keeping for those who supported the revolution. 
We also ran into problems as teams began to use the Read, Write and Think Persuasion Map    I could not find a way of saving their work, so they had to complete the entire task in one sitting, which our schedule did not permit.  I solved this problem by printing off a copy of the final organizer, and having teams work on it with pencil and paper.  
 Overall, it has been a good project.  It just needs some modification.  Next year I think I will model and write the letter from the viewpoint of the loyalists.  then the students can all be patriots.  To encourage them to give more details, they can write to their cousins in England describing the events taking place in the colonies, and explaining why they are patriots, and wish to fight for independence.

February 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Learning With Storybird and Edmodo

I have a really good student teacher, who is now teaching most of the day.  During the next two weeks, he will be teaching full time, and then he moves on to a different grade level, in a different school,  in a different town.  It occurred to me earlier this week, as he was teaching a social studies lesson, and I was working with a small group in the hall, that having two people in the classroom, is just about the only way to accomplish all the interventions, small group support, and individual attention that a teacher needs to provide each day.  While he has been teaching, I have been able to make up work with students who have been absent, run small groups to share writing, and meet more frequently with students who need the extra support.  It also gives me extra time to just connect and have fun with kids.

This extra time meant I was able to explore the website Storybird with a group of students.  Storybird is a digital story telling website.  The website is very easy to use.  The first time we visited the website we spent time just reading other people’s published “Storybirds.”  The next time we got together we looked at the tutorial, and then we plunged right in.  My students are collaborating, and their first task was to agree on a picture to use for their first page.  As soon as they made that choice, they were provided with a large selection of other artwork by that same artist.  From there on, it was simple.  Just drag the picture you  want to use onto the page.  Then write about it.

I do have one caution.  When you go to the Storybird Homepage it says “Start a Storybird Now”.  Be sure to log in or register first.  Don’t make the mistake I did, and just begin the story.  We saved our work, but because we were not logged in, we lost it.  Fortunately, the kids had such a good time, that they have forgiven me for that one.

Students carry on a book discussion using Edmodo.

I have another group working on Edmodo.  This group is made up of some very strong readers, some of whom are at least 2 years above grade level.  Edmodo is a closed social networking site, that looks similar to Facebook.  In fact, when we returned from our winter break in early January, I discovered that some of the kids had been on it over vacation, and were using it like Facebook.  Students access the website with a unique code, which keeps the discussion private.  Edmodo is a very cool website and the kids love getting on there.  We have been using it to discuss a book we are reading. When we started the book, I was able to introduce them to the author and build background knowledge by providing them with links to websites.  There is a component for making assignments and grading, as well as conducting a poll.  I think it would be an even better platform for reading and discussing non-fiction topics. 

We started out strong with some thoughtful discussions, and students soon figured out that they could shape our conversation  by posing their own questions and thoughts for discussion.  We have had several talks about courtesy to one another, and the importance of staying focused on our reading discussion.  The problem that I have been having is that one or two students are being very thoughtful in their comments, while others are being silly with comments like “Yeah, what she said.”  “Me too!”  or “Ditto”.  This week my student teacher and I told them, if they weren’t going to use Edmodo responsibly, we would go back to paper and pencil.  It has improved some, but I am looking for ideas on how to use this great website, and keep our time productive. 

Please tell me what has worked for you.  How have you used Edmodo?  What other websites do you recommend for small group work?

February 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

Engaging Book Reports

Our Biography Presidential Posters were due this week.  I teach at a traditional school, where we assign homework on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights.  I have been looking for ways to have that homework be a way of practicing important skills, instead of just completing worksheets.  Part of our homework, most nights, is to read for 20 minutes.  I started out having the kids write a summary of what they read, each homework night, but that became tedious very quickly, and I want them to love reading, not learn to hate it.  I also need for them to have some accountability.  In the past,  I have had them complete the usual book report forms, but this year I was looking for something different to do.

Can you tell what book each cereal represents?

During the month of December, my students read fiction, and created a Cereal Box Book Report. Students were to invent a cereal based on a fictional book that they had read during the month.  They were to think of a name and shape for the cereal,  that was somehow connected to the book they had read.  We covered real cereal boxes with paper, and each side of the box was to follow a specific guideline:

  • Front:  the name of the cereal and picture to go with it.
  • Back:  A game based on the story, which must include information from the story.
  • Right Side:  Ingredients—the characters and story setting.  (Some of the kids got confused on this one and just listed food ingredients.)
  • Left Side:  A  summary of the book, including the main conflict and resolution.
  • Top:  The title and author of the book, and the student’s name.

The last step was for students to plan and present a commercial for their cereal to the class.  I was very pleased with the results.  We had 100% completion of this project, and the kids seemed enthusiastic.

I didn’t come up with this idea myself.  It came from the book 24 Ready-to-Go Genre Book Reports by Susan Ludwig (published by Scholastic).  I like the fact that the instructions for each project are well laid out, with a teacher page that describes the project, and reproducible student directions that take the kids step by step through the project.  Each project also has an evaluation rubric, which can be used by the student or the teacher. 

By Susan Ludwig

During the month of January, we read biographies.  Students were to “nominate” the person they read about for president.  Then they made a presidential poster to describe the person’s qualities and background. The posters included:

  • Character traits that made this person a good leader.
  • Background:  information about the person’s family, education, home, etc.
  • Jobs and accomplishments
  • A drawing or photograph of the person

Each student then presented their poster to the class, by telling us about the person they had read about.  Some even gave little campaign speeches or brought props.  There are lots of other ideas in this book that I haven’t tried yet, but I’m sure I will in the future. 

This month we are working on a social studies project instead.  We are writing state reports.  Each person is reading a non-fiction book about one of the states in either the northeast or southern regions of the United States.  This is a shorter project and I am using a form from a different source.  When that is complete,  I think we will do something less formal for the end of February and during March.

I saw this idea in the Really Good Stuff catalog.  A pocket chart for kids’  book recommendations.    If you haven’t checked out, you should.  They really do have a lot of really good stuff.  Mmmmm…..that advertisement gives me an idea.  I’ll let you know where we go with this one.

What have you tried in the way of alternative book reports?  How do you keep the kids reading and keep the interest up?  I’d like to know.

February 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments