Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Blogging Through the New School Year

My school district has adopted Journeys by Houghton Mifflin as our new reading books. The little crates below are from our previous book, which was Houghton Mifflin Reading.

This week is registration at school.  I haven’t been in to work on my classroom, because our custodians are still cleaning and waxing, but I will be going on Monday.  When I do go in, these boxes holding our new reading materials are waiting for me.   The last week in July is usually about the time that I begin my gradual transition into thinking school thoughts and  beginning work on school projects.  This year I did not work a summer job, so I’m feeling more ready than other years to get started again.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not eager to give up those extra hours of sleep in the morning or the leisurely cup of tea that I get to enjoy this time of year, but I miss the kids, and I like being in my classroom.

July is always a time that I re-evaluate how I’m spending my time and money, what has worked effectively, and what needs more improvement.  One of those areas needing improvement is the ways that I’ve been using technology.  I want to consolidate and improve my blogging, both for me professionally, and for my students.

Last year I had a class website, a class blog on Blogger, two class wikis, and all my students also had blogs on KidBlog.  This was too much, and it really became unmanagable.  This summer I have revamped our class website, and next year we will use the blog attached to our Weebly website.  Our class website is here.  My kids will still use Kidblog, and writing on our blogs is going to be an important part of our daily work.

I also need to consolidate my professional blogs.  I love the way WordPress blogs looks, but I’ve been frustrated by how difficult it is to embed material in a post.  I’ve also had problems with school district filters and losing formatting of posts.  This year I am moving to a new blog, titled Day’s Class Notes.  It is on Blogger.  There’s nothing easier to use than Blogger, so hopefully that will help me to resolve some of these issues.  Please look for new posts there.  Here is a link:   http://daysclassnotes.blogspot.com/.  I hope to see you there.

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July 26, 2012 Posted by | Education, Technology | , | Leave a comment

Adding Photos to Your Classroom Blog or Website

For the past three years I have been participating in a photo a day project.  During 2010 and 2011 I was very faithful about it, and I posted a photo every day of the year.  This year my posting has been much more sporadic.  While photography is a personal hobby, I also use a lot of photos for school.  Last year we even had a classroom photographer who was responsible of taking photos and posting pictures on our class blog.  Using photos is a great way to share things that we are doing with parents and others at school.   They can see the projects and activities that we are doing, even if they don’t have time to come to school.

If you are going to use photos that include students, be sure to check out your school district’s policy on this.  Our parents sign a release at registration each year, but I take additional precautions by having parents sign a permission slip  just for my class.  I let them know how I might be using photographs, so they can be fully informed.

If I do post photos of students on either our class website, class blog, or my professional blog, I never put a name with a face.  Depending on how the photo will be used, I sometimes photograph students from the back or side, so they are not easily recognizable.  If a parent does not want their child’s photo included, I simply leave them out.

When you have 28 kids in a class, it’s hard to pick just one or two photos to share with parents.  For a big project like our castle project, I photograph each child with and without their castle.  Students may use the castle only photo on their own Kidblog.  I usually make an Animoto, which is a slide show set to music, to show all the castles and kids.  Here is our Castle Animoto for 2012.

Our Castles for 2012.

I have been having some fun experimenting with several on-line photo editors to create photo collages or mosaics.  This is a great way to share several photos at once.  My families and the kids seem to like this.

One of my favorites is Big Huge Labs.  This is the first website of this kind that I learned about.  This website has lots of ways you can use photos.  I have made mosaics.  You can also easily create motivational posters, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, and lots of other things.  This website is easy to use, so check it out. This mosaic of our Medieval Paper Doll Project was made on Big Huge Labs.

Photovisi is another Photo Collage maker.  It has some different layouts than Big Huge Labs.  You can also add different backgrounds. During the last few days of school, we used M&Ms for math. We sorted, graphed, and worked with fractions with our M & Ms. Here is a collage I made on Photovisi with some of those pictures.

Sometimes a photo doesn’t come out the way I would like.  There are several websites that allow you to edit or enhance photos.  One that I learned about recently is called iPiccy.  You can crop, change colors, add special effects, and add matting and frames.  This is a photo of the mastadon skeleton that I took on our field trip to the Iowa Historical Building.

Here is the photo after I have played with it a bit on iPiccy.

Funky Photo is a website for adding special effects.  It has less options than some of the others, but it is fun to play with.  This is one of my students at our Valentines Party.  He doesn’t usually look that. He has on a plastic mustache and lips.  His photo has been cartoonized on Funky Photo.

Recently I have been experimenting with a website called PicMonkey.  This website lets you edit photos, create collages and add special effects.  You can either upload photos, or there is a drag and drop option.  This collage of the flowers in my front yard was made on PicMonkey.  This website has lots of options.

Whether it’s for personal photos or school pictures, check out the possibilities with these websites.  They are fun to play with, and the photos add a lot to a classroom website or blog.

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Education, Technology, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Schools Out!

Thursday was the last day of school, and I have already stripped the bulletin boards, name tags, and posters out of my classroom.  The books and materials are all safely stowed away for the summer.  Summer vacation has officially begun.

Despite what many people believe, teachers never really take the summer off.  I have reading and math classes I will be taking this summer. We have a new reading series coming in, so I will be exploring that when it arrives.  I am already wondering where I will store all the necessary materials. As I wrap up activities and store materials away, I begin thinking about how to make things better and be more effective for next year.  I already have a three page list of “to do’s” for this summer.  At the top of my list is to make a re-commitment to my own writing and blogging.

This poor little blog has been sadly neglected over the past two years. During that time, I have been posting to my blog on Edublogger, called Day In the Classroom  and to be honest, I haven’t been posting very often this year.  I had planned to devote this blog to writing about our reading work, but that never happened. Now I’m planning to do some budget cutting, so I will be moving back to this blog as my main blog.  Edublogger costs me money.  In the coming weeks I will be reviewing and reflecting on the school year, and I plan to do it right here.  My first big change was to change the name.  Now Prospecting For Treasure has become the new Day In the Classroom, because that’s who I am, Barbara Day, in the classroom.

Speaking of our classroom, we had a lot of fun during these last two weeks of school.  The kids conducted and presented independent studies. I’ll write about that next week.  We ended our year with M & M Math.  There are some really great resources on line for ideas to do math with M & M’s.  The kids were all for it.  I asked students to bring an individual size bag of plain chocolate M & M’s to use for math.  A couple people showed up with large bags.  If you buy the big bag, you end up with a lot more work to do.  It made for a very colorful lesson.  At the end of our class, everyone ate their math. Here is a link to the activities that I used for our lesson.  M & M Activities.   If you don’t find what you want here, do a Google search, and you’ll find loads of other ideas.

June 2, 2012 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Barbara’s Got a Brand New Blog

Teachers in my school district return to school on Monday, and the kids begin on Thursday.  To go with my new school year, I have a new blog.  It’s called Day In the Classroom, and you can find it at http://dayintheclassroom.edublogs.org/.  Like Prospecting for Treasure, I will be writing and reflecting on the things we are doing in the classroom.  My goal is to post more frequently, while projects are in progress and at their conclusion.  A lot of changes are taking place in our school district, so I will appreciate your input, as I work to adapt these new requirements to my classroom. 

I’ve written my first post about my strategies for getting ready for the new school year.  Check out my new blog to see the Animoto I created, to welcome my students to 4th grade. Please join me at  Day In the Classroom, and see what’s going on this school year.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

My First Year of Teaching With Technology: Where Do We Go From Here?

It is the last week of school, and this is a great time for reflecting on and evaluating the new things I have tried in my fourth grade classroom this year .  It is also a  time for making plans for next year.  I am amazed by how much my teaching and personal life have been transformed by my venture into using technology in my classroom.  It all started last summer with an on-line technology class, Using the Internet in the Classroom, and has continued throughout the year with my continuing professional development via Twitter.  At the beginning of the year I was trying something new almost every week, to the point of exhaustion.  Since January I have continued to explore new resources and new ideas, but at a slightly slower pace. 
 
By far the best thing we have done this year is the blogging, which is interesting since that is where I began.  The way I’m utilizing blogs has changed greatly since last April when I set up my classroom blog, Ms. Day’s Fourth Grade.  Our very first blog post was last May, following our annual field trip to Living History Farms.  Keep in mind that prior to that, I did not know what a blog was, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach classroom blogging, but my goal has always been to keep the kids writing.  I started out by writing a question and having the kids respond through a comment.  This worked ok, but it didn’t keep my students’ writing at the forefront, and they had little flexibility in deciding what to write and therefore, little ownership.   At the beginning of second semester,  I began having the kids write as the  “Guest Blogger” on our class blog.  We were working on opinion pieces so they were to write on a topic they felt strongly about.  This worked for some kids, but not for others. 
 
Then I learned about Kidblog.org   and after spring break, every child began to have their own personal blog.  I have seen real improvement in their writing since we began this latest venture.  It has also been very gratifying to receive the feedback and support that we have, from their third grade teachers, parents, our principal, and members of my Twitter PLN.   The kids have been excited about their blogs, but I was really hoping,  that more kids would go on-line from home to write on their blogs, or that they would write additional posts when they had free time at the computer center.  I have had only two students do that. 
 
I know how I feel about the things we have done, but I’m not always sure how the kids really feel, so I decided to have the class complete a survey about the technology we have used this year.  I created it on a Googleform and embedded it in our ReadtheWeb Class Wiki.  That is something else I learned this year, and I blogged about it in my post, Using Google Docs to Create and Embed an On-line Quiz.   As I was getting ready to analyze the data, I clicked on summary, and accidentally learned it was already done for me.  I often learn by hit or miss.  I am so glad I decided to survey the class, because I have really enjoyed seeing what the kids have to say.

Students were asked to rate each website on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1=I didn't like it and 5=I loved it.

They have really liked the Kidblogs, Storybird, and StoryJumper.  When asked what was their favorite thing that we did involving technology this year, one student wrote, “I liked the StoryJumper the best, because I love to write and the StoryJumper brought out my best story yet.”  How could a teacher not love a statement like that. 
 

No doubt about it, they love our class wiki with all the links to games and other resources.

Our ReadtheWeb class wiki is very popular.  Our wiki has pages for different subject areas.  With the help of teachers on Twitter, I have collected links for math and language websites here.  When students do not have a specific assignment at the computer center, they may use the wiki to play games, which build reading and language skills.  We have a link to the wiki on our class website, so students can also go on from home.  Someone said, “I like the ReadtheWeb wiki, because I got to play fun games, and learn at the same time.”  
 
When asked “What did you learn this year about computers and/or the internet, that you didn’t know before?  One of my students said, “I learned that there are kids’ blogs.  I only knew about websites for adults only.” 
 

Our webquests were not nearly as popular.

Not nearly as popular were the webquests we did.  The kids have better memories of “Mountain Trek” which was our first technology experience, than they do of the American Revolution webquest.  One of the things I liked about a webquest was that it controlled where the kids went on the internet.  I felt that it kept them more accademically focused.    I asked the kids if they felt 4th graders were old enough to do their own research and find their own websites, because this is a direction that I think I will be going next year.  I am very interested in learning about Glogs, and having kids collaborate on Googledocs.  I have seen examples of these from other teachers on Twitter, some from kids younger than mine.   I am thinking about having kids take more control of their research. 
 
One student responded with, “Yes, because there are some things that we cannot find on the websites you give us.”  Another said, “Yes, because if they do that they will not be bored, plus they will learn more, also.”  
 
Next year I want to do more in the way of  teaching actual computer skills;  helping kids to learn how to use search engines, upload photos, and add links to their blog posts.  I think all these things will make the things we do more personal and meaningful.  I think their Kidblogs could become a personal portfolio for each student.  It would be great to have kids present their work to parents at parent teacher conferences. 
 
When I asked the kids about what they have learned this year, someone said, “I learned how annoying technology can be sometimes.  But it can also be fun, if it works correctly.” 
 
Boy, isn’t that the truth!  We have three aging Dell desktops, an ancient Dell laptop, and five — year old HP laptops for 24 kids.  Next year I will have 29 students.  I am concerned about how to make this work with five more kids. One of the laptops is designated for a special needs child who will be in 5th grade next year, so there will be one less computer.   This cart of laptops is actually for the entire school, but they have been housed  in my room most of the time, since only one other teacher has shown any interest in using technology.  While I keep sharing the things I am learning with my colleagues, I also worry what will happen if anyone else on staff gets the technology bug.
 
My school has just aquired ten new IPads.  One of my projects this summer will be learning how to use them.  We can have a lot of fun with those.   But I’m wondering if any of the other teachers will be interested.  It would be fun having someone to share ideas with face to face, but with such limited resources, it would be hard to do the things I have done this year if I had less access to the equipment.  
While equipment concerns are sometimes frustrating, I have learned that once you start on this technology trail, there’s no turning back.  For me personally, incorporating these new ideas into my classroom has revitalized my teaching.  I am excited about the things we are doing and learning, and I know I communicate that enthusiasm to my students.  So many times this year I have begun lessons with the words “I want to show you something  I just learned.  It’s really cool . .”   So no matter how many kids we have, and how little equipment, somehow I’ll make it work.  There’s no stopping now!
 
 
 

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Core Knowledge Night: Wrapping Up Our Study of Medieval History

Our classroom was full of castles of every shape and size.

Thursday, May 6th was Core Knowledge Night.  This is the time when we show families all the projects we’ve been working on.  For fourth grade we displayed things we had done for the American Revolution and the Middle Ages.  We had our Giant Medieval Paper Dolls and their letters on display in the hall.  I wrote about this project in an earlier post.

 
After reading The Door In the Wall, each person designed their own coat of arms.  There are several resources that have good information about heraldry.  I like to use Medieval Times from Teacher Created Materials, Inc.  Page 27 has a key to some of the symbols that were used in heraldry.  You will find a pattern to use for your shield on page 28.   The size of the shield we make is usually dependent on the supplies I have on hand. This year I just ran the shield pattern onto cardstock, and we have displayed them on our lockers.  Other years I make them larger, and students trace a pattern onto larger posterboard or cardboard.
 

Each person created their own coat of arms, and we used them to decorate our lockers.

Our castles were due on Wednesday, May 5th, and they were incredible!  Every child completed the project with two making posters, and the rest building models.  We had castles made with cardboard, wood, sticks, sugar cubes held together with frosting, and styrofoam.  They were very impressive. 
 

A Motte and Bailey Castle

One of the girls made a motte and bailey castle.  These were the earliest castles built, and they resembled our early American forts.  The keep was built on a hill (this was the motte) that was often made with the dirt that was dug from the moat.  The castle and bailey (the yard) were surrounded by a wooden fence.  The drawback was that attackers used to burn the castles down, which is why they began building them from stone.
 

Visitors from other classes come to check out our castles.

We had lots of visitors in to see the castles on Wednesday and Thursday.  All the kids were able to explain the construction of their projects.  Each student presented their castle to the class.  We interviewed them and asked questions about the materials used, who helped, what they were proudest of, and how their castle is like a real castle from the middle ages.  I always take lots of pictures, and this year I experimented with a Flip Camera that was just acquired by our school.
 
On Thursday we wrote a fairy tale about our castle using the following story starter:
 
  • It was the day of the Core Knowledge celebration, and room 205 was full of castles.  Ms. Day’s 4th graders entered the classroom, but Ms. Day was nowhere to be found.  Instead, there was a very strange looking substitute sitting behind the desk.  Instead of a school bag, she carried a cauldron.  Instead of a Phillips sweatshirt, she wore a long black gown and cape .  Instead of a pencil, she carried a wand.  Her name was Miss Magica.  Miss Magica put that wand to use, just as soon as the class began talking.  There was a crash and a bright flash of light.  It started with a tingling from your fingertips all the way to your toes, and before you knew it you found yourself shrinking so small that you could fit inside your castle.  There was another flash and crash, and the wind began to blow.  Your castle with you inside, had been transformed into real stone and wood, and was spinning through the air, back in time to a land far far away.  Write about your adventure!
 
We worked all this week to  finish writing and post our fairy tales on our Kidblogs. We have also included a photo of each person’s castle.  You can read their fairy tales and see more of their fantastic castles  by visiting http://kidblog.org/msdaysclass/.  We welcome your comments.
 
It’s been a very successful unit.  The kids have learned a lot, and they have been enthusiastic, but I think we’re all ready to move onto something new.
 
 

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Our New Student Blogs

We just finished a very stressful week filled with daily test-taking.  It was our week for Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. This is how Iowa schools are judged as successful or failing, so much rides on these tests.  The actual testing was the culmination of several weeks of “test preparation.”  We actually took less of the test this year, but I felt more stressed than ever, and went home exhausted each night.  Our school has been one of the few in our part of town that has managed to stay off of the “watched schools” list, and hopefully we will be able to accomplish that again this year.
 
It was a regular school day the the rest of the time, and my students spent time reading each other’s new blogs.  Everyone now has their very own blog at Kidblog.org.  I introduced the new blogs when we came back from spring break on March 22nd.  We spent that week writing, editing, and posting, so it wasn’t until last week that the kids could really see their published work.  Now that the kids are seeing their own blogs, and reading and commenting on other student’s blogs, they are getting excited about this project. 
 
The Kidblog website is really easy to use.  I introduced the project using the list of Ten Blogging Ideas from A Geeky Momma’s  Blog.  I set up our blogs so they are public, but all posts and comments must be approved by me.  Mine is not a paperless classroom.  We started with our initial draft written on paper, and we did our first edit on paper. Then students began to post on the computer.  I like the fact that there is a button to “Submit for Review”.  At this point I printed a copy of the blog, so that students could edit once again before posting on line.  
 
I was feeling pretty frustrated.  The content of the posts was good, but my students are not using correct capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.  I don’t know where you stand on this, but I do believe that if I continue to edit their work, it is no longer their work, so mistakes or not, at this point we posted.   
 
I sent out a link to their blogs, so that others in our building could see what they are doing.  The website is very well organized so that you can access all our class blogs from one page.  It is also easy for the kids to sign in.  All they have to do is find their name in the drop down menu, and sign in with their password.  Our blogs are grouped as Ms. Day’s Class
 
The other teachers in my building have been great about writing comments on the kids’ blogs.  I like the fact that the comments show up on the right side of the screen, next to the students post.  This way the kids can easily see that people are responding to their writing. 
 
The third grade teachers are impressed with how much their writing has improved.  I felt reassured by this, but even more important, one of my students got on line from home at seven in the morning, and wrote a second blog post.  She also wrote very nice comments on other students blogs.  This student has been a reluctant writer in the past.  Now I’m excited!  I hope some of the other kids feel as motivated by the response to their work, and will continue writing on their own. 
 
In the meantime, we are using a Daily Oral Language approach, to work on our editing skills.  It can’t hurt, and it just might help!

April 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments