Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

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

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

Teach Your Conscience: Keeping Integrity and the Basics in Education

Earlier this week a few of the teachers in my building were chatting, after the kids left.  I stopped to talk, and in the course of the conversation, it came out that these teachers aren’t really teaching spelling, grammar, or handwriting anymore, and they weren’t really sure what to do with writer’s workshop, because these things aren’t on “the test”.  I really kind of lost it at this point and reminded them they need to be teaching what the kids need, not teaching to a test.  I know where this came from, because I too sat in meetings last year, where my principal questioned whether teaching spelling was a good use of our time.  She wants to have students spend more time on writing.  My reaction was to explain to her exactly why it is a good use of our time.  It is the only area with our reading series that word study and word attack skills are taught in third through fifth grades.  Words are selected based on a particular spelling or phonics pattern.  Our list this week was spelling patterns for words with –ing or –ed endings, other weeks it might be certain vowel sounds, or prefixes and suffixes.  Understanding spelling patterns helps children to learn decoding skills, so they can read words that are unfamiliar to them.  It also adds to their understanding of word meanings.  Without the mechanics, it is difficult for students to be good writers or readers.  After presenting my arguments, the subject was dropped, and to be honest, it had never occurred to me that anyone had actually stopped teaching spelling. 

In the past year, I have also been told not to spend time on teaching handwriting, and about a month ago, it was suggested to my grade level colleague and I,  that we shouldn’t worry when kids don’t know their basic math facts.  We should just hand them a multiplication chart.  At this point I erupted with a firm “No!” (Let me say that if I didn’t have the great principal that I do, this might have caused problems for me, but she continues to welcome my opinions.) 

I do not understand what is going on in education here, but I am not going to give these kids less than I have given others.  I am not going to give up on them and just hand them a fact chart instead or doing my job and helping them to master those facts!  How can you have any kind of math sense if you don’t know the basics?  How can you ever look at an answer and have any idea whether it is logical or not, if you have to look at a chart to know your math facts?  How can I send them into the world without having done my best to teach them how to write a complete sentence with words spelled correctly?

You may be thinking, well she’s just an older teacher who doesn’t want to let go of the way she’s always done things.  I am an older teacher, but I’m not boasting when I say that I am also the most innovative teacher in my building.  I am the only one using technology to any extent in instruction. Teaching basic skills and using technology are not mutually exclusive.  The more we use technology, the more I see the need to help my students develop stronger basic skills in reading, writing and math.  It is when my kids are writing on our blog or for Wallwisher that it becomes apparent that we need to take time to talk about grammar, sentence structure, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, usage, and so many other very basic skills. 

I am not advocating that we should sit with a language book and diagram sentences, like I grew up doing.  But we need to be very careful before abandoning necessary and basic skills in order to make more time in our schedule for other things.  We cannot assume that students will just pick these skills up along the way.  They need to be taught explicitly, but in an authentic way.  I have always had my kids doing research, reading great books, and excited about learning.  When students are reading and writing about information they are interested in, they are eager to learn more and to master the skills that make them more successful.

Two of the teachers in the hall are fairly new to teaching, and the other has been at it almost as long as I have.  My message to them and to others is that teachers need to stand up for what is right.  We need to say no, when administrators suggest new directions that defy logic.  These kids are not ours.  We only have them on loan.  What would their parents say if they were privy to some of the conversations taking place in education?  Be open to new ideas, but be selective.  We as teachers, must have integrity.  This is the only shot many of these kids get at an education.

January 8, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment