Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Independent Study


During the final weeks of school, my students conducted independent studies.  They picked the subject area.  The rules were that it had to be school appropriate, it had to be something that they could find both books and internet resources about, and it had to be okay with their parents.  If it was about a sport, it had to be about an athlete, or new information that helped them to learn something.

Along with picking their own topic, they also got to choose how to show us their learning.  It could be on-line; creating a Glog, a Storybird or blog post, or it could be with pencils, markers and paper.  I thought most of the class would choose on-line work, so I was surprised when only nine chose to use technology.  The rest either created posters or made books.

The independent study was in-class seatwork as well as homework.  During the last two weeks of school everyone presented their learning to the class.  After their presentation, we took time for questions and comments from the class.

Students presented on all kinds of subjects, including Pigs, Hamsters, Indonesia, Hawaii, Mexico, and dogs.  If their work was on-line, they used the Elmo to show their work.  Posters and books were displayed in the room.  We even had a hamster guest.

This was a great way to end the year, and I really wish I had done it earlier in the year, because I learned new things about my students by learning about their interests.  The kids learned new things about each other as well.  One of my students presented on Mexico.  Even though most of my students have gone to school together since kindergarten, they were unaware that she is bilingual and speaks only Spanish at home.  They were in awe of her knowledge and experiences.

This was not an original idea on my part.  I was inspired by the Identity Day that George Couras created at the school where he was Principal.  Other educators have held similar events.  With all the the demands of district curriculum, testing and standards, I just wasn’t sure where and how to fit it in.  So we squeezed it in during these final weeks of the school year.  My goal was to give students an opportunity to choose something they were interested in to read and study about.  I hadn’t counted on the additional benefits of letting them be the leaders and teachers.  They were very proud of the work they did, and it was a great time for students to be able to appreciate and celebrate the talents and accomplishments of others.

Next year, I would like to try this twice.  Early in the year, I want my students to share something closely linked to their own identity; their heritage, a special interest or hobby, something they believe in.  Later in the year, I’d like them to choose an area of study as we did this year.  Kids need more opportunities to take center stage and shape the learning in our classroom, and it gave me the chance to step back and enjoy their talents and gifts.

June 5, 2012 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   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

Using a WebQuest

These students are learning about the American Revolution.

I have always done research projects with my fourth graders, so when I learned about webquests, it seemed like a very good fit.  Our school is a Core Knowledge school, and my  4th graders learn about world geography, the American Revolution, and the middle ages, along with our regular school district curriculum.   Webquests are another one of those things I learned about in the technology class that I took last summer.  One of our assignments was to create a webquest. 

A webquest is an inquiry based lesson plan that teaches students through use of the internet.  It was developed by Bernie Dodge at San  Diego State University.  A webquest has sequential steps that guide the student through the lesson, with a required outcome at the end.  I like the fact that it introduces children to using the internet to find information, but it controls where they  go.  It minimizes the possibility of finding inappropriate websites, but it does not eliminate it, so students still need to be supervised closely.  You can learn more about webquests at WebQuest.Org.

My first webquest was about mountains.  I used Quest Garden, which takes you step by step through the development of your webquest, even coaching you as you go along.  Quest Garden has a 30 day free trial, and after that, costs only $20 for two years.  The advantage of Quest Garden is that you can use webquests created by other people, and even adapt them to the needs of your own students. Quest Garden has thousands of webquests on file, so it’s a great way to learn about the possibilities.  Check it out at   Another source for webquests is the University of Richmond.  You can check those out at   You  can also create a webquest using a wiki or website.  There are many options.

Our school does not have a computer lab, but I have been able to patchwork a classroom lab with 3 older Dell desktops, an old Dell laptop, and 5 new HP Laptops, that are shared, but live in my room most of the time.  We had a new wireless internet installed last summer, which is what makes this possible.

The first time our class did a webquest, we all worked on it at the same time, and we worked in teams.    They worked as a team to do the research, but had to create their own Mountain Field Guide.  I found it challenging to find websites that were at my students reading levels, and that provided them with all the information they needed, so I also brought in library books, and they were required to use at least one book as an additional source.  I want them to learn to use multiple sources.

The kids were so excited!  This was the first time that several of my kids had ever used the internet.  In fact, some of our families do not have computers in their homes.  They loved clicking on the links to open up a new website, and I had some problems moving them on from exploration to actually using and thinking about the information.  I created a document to use to gather their information.  My kids need this additional structure. We also had some days when we put the computers away and took time to process our information, and utilize the books in the room,  In the end, I was pleased with the Mountain Field Guides created by the class.  Here is my first webquest, Mountain Trek.   

Since that time, members of my class have done two other webquests.  I have a group of advanced readers, who read the book The Sign of the Beaver.  This is one of my all time favorite books.  For this  webquest, I used one that was already created by Emily Fraser at the University of Portland.  She did all of the hard work, and I just modified it.    This group of students was able to work much more independently. But again, I had some problems transitioning them from research to completing the tasks.  Check out The Sign of The Beaver WebQuest.

Our webquest notebooks are 3 prong pocket folders with notebook paper and a graphic organizer.

Right now we are doing a webquest about the American Revolution.  Students are working on it, a few at a time,  when they are at the computer center (which consists of the old Dells).  This is usually during our small group reading time.  This one was created by by Carole Birdsong, at Asbury Elementary School, and modified by me.  So far things are going well.  Again, I created a form for them to take notes, to help them gather the information in one place. It does seem that no matter how academic my intentions are, my clever students always find the links to games and activities that are less academic in nature.  This one is called “A Revolution is Coming.  Which side will you be on?” 

Are you using webquests?  What has worked best for you?  Please share your ideas in the comments below.  I am always looking for ways to keep our time more focused and productive.

January 31, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment