Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

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

Creative Writing With StoryJumper

After bringing our Medieval History unit to a close, and following our big celebration of Core Knowledge Night, I needed to do something to excite and hold the interest of my students during the remaining four weeks of school.  Earlier this year we wrote digital books on StoryBird.com and they had a ball!  It’s a great website, but I was less than satisfied with the quality of my students’ writing.  They loved dragging the photos into place, but their stories seemed to be a matter of drag a picture, write a sentence, drag a picture, write a sentence.  I wanted their books to be more story centered, and less illustration centered.  After blogging about our experience with Storybird,  Blake Williams, one of the co-founders of StoryJumper, contacted me and told me about StoryJumper.com.  StoryJumper.com  is a creative writing and book publishing website for kids.  It allows anyone to create and publish a kid’s book, both online and also in hardcover.
 

The StoryStarter Workbook can be printed off or downloaded to your computer as a PDF file.

One of the things I really like about StoryJumper is that there is a complete downloadable lesson plan for 7 step story creation.  This first time, I stuck pretty close to the lesson plan.  There were lots of chuckles from the class as I revealed the lists of possibilities for character building, setting, and plot structure ideas. I can see lots of opportunities to use this 7 step plan with the class.  After they have learned how it works, we could build on the original plan and brainstorm possibilities of our own to get everyone thinking.

 
I also like the prewriting that is involved with this website, before we ever get to the computers.  This seems to work better with my class, not only because the quality of their writing is improved, but we also have only nine computers to work with.  This way I can rotate my authors through the computer centers, while others are still working on their first drafts at their desks.
 
StoryJumper lets you set up an on-line class and assigns screen names to the students, which adds to security.  The teacher can decide whether to permit home access to the stories.  If you choose home access, you can print off a note to go home with each student, that provides information about accessing the website, as well as a password for the child to use from home.  All the teacher has to do is print off these notes.  It is already done for you.  To me, that is a really big plus.
 
After we had our writing under way, the website also provides step-by-step directions on how to build their story on the website.  There is a video available, but we had trouble getting that to work.  This may be due to the weak wireless internet in our building.  Our wireless internet was down on Thursday, and we struggled with it again on Friday.
 
Once the students are working on line, they select backgrounds, props, and use text boxes to add in their writing.  They can resize, rotate or flip scenes, props, and text boxes. They create a cover, dedication page, and can easily add and move between pages.  Your own photos can be uploaded and used as scenes or props. We aren’t doing this at this time, but that opens up a lot of possibilities for future projects. 
 
We are now six and a half days away from the end of the school year, and my class is totally engaged in this project.  I think that’s saying a lot.  Most of the problems we’ve encountered are due to the limitations of our aging equipment.  We’ve had some problems with writing showing up in places we didn’t want it, but kids are helping kids, and the project is going well.  I’m hoping we will have most of the story creation finished by the end of this week.  I want each child to have time to present their StoryJumper book to the class during that last two and a half days of school. 
 
Once the project is done you can decide who to share the book with.  It can be kept private, shared with friends and family, or submitted to be included in the StoryJumper public library.  For a reasonable fee, you or parents can also choose to have a hardcover book published.   This is a great website for the upper elementary student!

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , | 5 Comments

March Reflections

I just completed two days of parent-teacher conferences.  I’m happy to say I had the opportunity to speak with all of the families of my students.  We are lucky to have great parent support in our school, so this is not unusual.  As I prepare to visit with the families, I can’t help but reflect, not only on how the kids are doing, but also on how I am doing in teaching in the most meaningful way possible.  This is even more important this year, since I have tried so many new approaches, mostly through technology.  While it’s nice to feel I am being more  innovative, it’s imperative to be sure that I am meeting my academic goals, and not just providing a lot of electronic fluff.

We just completed a project using Storybird.com.  The kids had a ball creating digital books on Storybird.  They worked in partners, with some students teaching others how to use the website.  They select a picture to use, drag it onto the page, and then write.  It’s a great website, but I was disappointed by the quality of the writing.

Even though I modeled a book for them, and talked with the kids about writing a real story, most wrote one sentence per page.  Some were funny, but I didn’t see that they were really telling a story, and I certainly didn’t feel that they were doing anything to improve their writing.  I want them to be writing much more developed stories by the second half of fourth grade. I am also frustrated that they are still not self editing, even with the simplest things like capitalization and ending punctuation. 

I had some frustrations with the website itself, as well.   Some of the kids were working on stories that, for some reason or other, would not save.  We could never figure out why.  This was frustrating, because there were many instances of lost work.  Sometimes we were able to resolve the problem, but other times we just had to abandon that digital book.  This website also has some very tight standards as to acceptable content.  We had two digital books that were not accepted, and I’m still not sure why.

I have a couple of ideas which I hope will help solve some of these problems.  I set up student blogs through KidBlog.org, which the students will begin using after spring break.  I got this idea from Lee Kolbert (@teachakidd on Twitter).  She has some great ideas on her GeekyMomma’s Blog.  I think we will do some work with the old Daily Oral Language approach.  I’m also thinking of printing off some of their blog posts and having them proofread and edit.  Anybody out there have better ideas?  How do I get them to recognize and correct their own errors?

Later in the year we will make another try with digital storytelling by using the website Storyjumper.com.  This website has lesson plans to spur character and plot development.  I hope that by developing and writing a story first, the kids will do some better quality writing.

For now though, I have the next ten days off!   I will go into school sometime during this time, and now that the snow has mostly melted there will definitely be yard work on the agenda.  Mostly I’m going to enjoy spending some time at home.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

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