Monday, March 5, 2012

Garrison Forest Skypes with Students in Cambodia

Recently, the students in our Lower School Skyped with the students of the Tchey School in Cambodia, and the event was the subject of a news story on our local ABC affiliate. Last night, on the 5:00 news, our story was featured. The entire thing, from the Skype call itself to seeing the final story on the local news, was very exciting for the students and for me. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What am I thinking?

My math students are getting ready to begin filming their math videos today. So why I am the one who is so nervous? They are excited. I am unsure. They seem to feel confident they know what they are doing. I have no idea what I am doing. This is all new to me, and I think it is new to them. Why is there such a difference in our feelings?

Earlier this year, I stumbled across the Student Made Math Videos wiki. As I looked through the videos on the wiki, I thought, "wouldn't this be fun for my students!" So I showed them the wiki, and asked them if they want to try to make their own. The answer was a big YES! Okay, we decided to make videos. "Now what?", I thought. Other teachers asked me "how are you going to do it?" I didn't know. In fact the more I thought about it, the more nervous I became. I didn't know if I wanted to take on something this new and this big. After all, I am not even the regular 5th grade math teacher. I am subbing this year for a 5th grade teacher who is out on long-term leave. Frankly, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered, "What am I thinking?" Maybe the girls would forget. No such luck. After a couple of weeks, the questions started, "Mrs. Shriver, when are we going to make our videos?"

So we moved forward. I split the girls into teams of 3-4, and I gave them their mission -- make a math video. I didn't give them much more than that. I did make a rubric, and I suggested they work in Google Docs to brainstorm and plan their videos. I gave them the link to the wiki so they could get ideas from other students. Off they went: brainstorming, planning, writing, creating. And not one word of worry from any of them. This is truly amazing to me. Don't they know how much work this is going to be?

But I don't think they care how much work this is going to be. They are having fun. They are working together. They are creating. They are even working a bunch of math problems in the process. I don't know how good the final products will be, but this is where I have to let go. Does it really matter? Shouldn't the learning that they do along the way outshine the the importance of the final products? My answer to this is YES!

So here we are -- the first day of filming. They have their scripts; they have their costumes and props; they certainly have lots of excitement. What about me? I'm providing the camera, a tripod, and a wish of good luck. Somehow, I don't think they'll need it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Seeing Far and Near

When I recently returned to school after Winter Break, I found an airmail envelope in my mailbox from the Traveling Teacher, of whom I have previously written. She had graciously sent me some Vietnamese and Cambodian money to show the girls in the Lower School. During Morning Meeting one day, we looked at the money and made predictions as to what 8000 Vietnamese Dong could buy. The guesses ranged from an iPad to a trip to Vietnam. The looks on their faces were priceless as we discovered that the equivalent in US dollars is about 39 cents! The girls were truly amazed.

As each grade came to my class later that week, we followed up on our Morning Meeting conversation by looking at the videos made, under the guidance of the Traveling Teacher, by a group of Cambodian students. In her blog she shares the story of how the videos were produced. The final products are so well done. It just amazes me what these students were able to do with a minimal amount of equipment.

The best part of the experience of watching these videos, however, was the reaction of my students, some as young as 6 years old. They watched with quiet awe as the lives of the Cambodian students were reveled through the videos. They were immediately struck by the many differences between the lives of these students and their own lives here in the US. Comments ranged from "she has to do a lot of the things that my parents do, like cook dinner and buy groceries" to "her house doesn't have electricity." But in addition to noticing the differences, they also noted several similarities...going school, doing homework, working on computers, and a fondness for Mickey Mouse.

A couple of groups viewed the water wells video and were so affected by what they saw, they now want to talk to the head of the lower school about what we can do to help the people of Cambodia. I am so grateful to the Traveling Teacher for helping bring my students closer to a part of the world that is so far and so different from our world in so many ways. It is wonderful to see such wisdom, concern, and compassion in even our youngest of students.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Now That Was Easy: Making a Jeopardy Game

Math Whiz Jeopardy
Today was planned as Game Day for my 5th grade math class. This morning, however, I walked into school with no game in mind. We usually have a game day after a test, but at this point in the year, we have played quite a few different games. I try to mix it up a bit for them, but this morning, I had no idea what we were going to play. My grand idea was Jeopardy. I have been wanting put together a Jeopardy game for some time, but I knew that making one can be quite time consuming. After a little digging around, I stumbled upon JeopardyLabs, a free web-based game maker. I was a little skeptical because, after all, it's free. But I am happy to report that it is so easy to use (I made a 25 question game in about 30 minutes) and the best part is, you can go back and edit it at a later time. My students were thrilled, the game worked so well, and it was a fun day in Math 5! You must give it a try!

By the way, if you have any ideas for fun math games, I am always looking for suggestions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

VoiceThread with Preschoolers

Thanksgiving has passed but I am sharing one of the web tools for which I am quite thankful. One of my favorites is VoiceThread. Basically it is a web-based digital-storytelling application that allows users to share their stories through audio, images, videos or text.  Other people can then make comments on the stories. I know it's nothing new or revolutionary, but it is just such an amazing tool. So simple and so easy to use. It is a wonderful way to showcase the work of an entire class. Recently, my Kindergarten and Pre-First classes made VoiceThreads for Thanksgiving. I asked them to illustrate one thing for which they were thankful. Each of the girls had the most insightful ideas, and their drawings were fabulous. They had so much fun doing working on the project, and I had so much fun putting it together with their help.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Global Connections

This coming week brings an exciting new event to my students' learning. We are going to Skype with the Traveling Teacher, a member of our community, who is currently traveling the world as a global liasion between our school and schools all over the world. In anticipation of this exciting opportunity, I spent the past week preparing my students. We first looked at her blog. The girls were in awe of the 360 degree photos of the Moscow shopping mall and beautiful Red Square, created using the Kogeto Dot camera. They were fascinated by the videos of street scenes and school scenes in Moscow. We also looked at her travels using Google Maps and Google Earth. They used the zoom feature to closly look at the various geographical features of this part of the world.

My goal was to help them gain a sense of where she is in the world. We looked at how far New York City is from our home in Maryland, and then we compared that to how far Russia and Mongolia are from our home in Maryland. They decided that even though New York is far from Maryland, in a global sense, it is very close. We talked about the difference in time and the difference in climate between these other countries and our part of the world.

As we explored and read more, the girls began to think of insightful questions to ask the Traveling Teacher during our Skype session next week. They wondered what the people in these countries are like, the wondered what languages are spoken, they wondered what the food tastes like. I am proud of the girls for their inquisitiveness...and I am certain that the Traveling Teacher will be as well.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Power of the Network

This past Friday night, I attended Art for Land's Sake, an art exhibition and sale, which benefits the Valleys Planning Council, a land trust and conservation association in Northwest Baltimore. The event, held at Halcyon Farm, was lovely, full of good friends, great food, and fabulous art. I volunteered to help out at the Preview Party since I like supporting a good cause, and this gathering always proves to be a lot of fun. My post was the main entrance, collecting tickets -- the perfect place to meet and greet friends, both old and new. My true good fortune, however, was in my introduction to Bob, the man who shared my duty that evening. As I would soon discover, he would become the newest member of my Personal Learning Network or PLN. Behold the power of the network.

As Bob and I began chatting at our post, I soon discovered that he, formerly of The Baltimore Sun, is now a faculty member of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is currently teaching a class in layout. Here is where my good fortune comes in. A colleague and I, both teachers at Garrison Forest School, have undertaken the start-up of a first-time-ever Lower School newspaper. While we are very excited about this new endeavor, we are equally nervous about the challenges that lay ahead...namely, what is the best way to get the stories that our students write into a publishable format. As I told Bob about our newspaper, The Livingston Ledger, I explained that we were thinking of using Adobe InDesign. Again, my good fortune -- Bob is currently teaching InDesign to his students. Had my story ended here, with some tips and pointers from Bob on the how-to's of layout and publishing, I would have been happy enough. But as I mentioned, the network is powerful. Bob asked me if I would like a copy of the instructions that he uses to teach InDesign! So today, in my email inbox, I found an email from the newest member of my network.

I can't say thank you enough to Bob for generously sharing his hard work with someone he had just met. But this is how a PLN works. It is all around you. You simply put the request out there, and you can be fairly certain someone will answer the call. Interestingly enough, for me, on Friday night, the answer preceded the call.

By the way, stayed tuned for more updates on The Livingston Ledger, as we discover the joys of writing and publishing with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.