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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Beginnings

As I look back at my blog, it has been a long time since I have written. Lots of things got in the way, and my best intentions were ignored. But today I attended the Kick-Off event for my Year 2 with PLP. As I sat and listened to Sheryl and Will talk about needing to invest in my own learning and needing to model my own learning in order to become a better teacher, I realized that I had majorly dropped the ball this summer. Every week, I would look at my blog and think, I need to write, and yet, I didn't.

I feel motivated again. Today, I was asked to give my wish for this year, and what immediately came to mind is that I want to become a serial blogger. I want to get back out there. I want to read blogs, I want to comment on blogs, I want to share blogs that I find, and most importantly, I want to contribute to my own blog. So in the coming weeks, expect to see me back here...with updates on what is happening in my classroom, what i s happening in my Year 2 with PLP, and what is happening in my journey as a learner. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lessons of a Broken Window

The other day, my 11 year-old son, who was home for Spring Break, called me at school and said "Mom, I was playing outside, practicing my throwing, and I broke one of the garage door windows." I've been down this road before with my son. We had a broken insulated, double pane window on the front of the house last spring, and we still have a broken window on the back side of the garage from the fall. You might wonder about my son's ability to throw a baseball, but believe me, if I ever wanted to learn how to throw a curveball or a slider, he'd be my man. In spite of his 11 years and his occasional misses, I consider him an expert in many respects when it comes to throwing a baseball. I think his team from last year, who referred to him as "The Closer", would agree. Is he an expert because he never misses? Of course not, and frankly, to call an 11 year old an expert probably seems pretty strange. But compared to me, he is an expert. He would be my go-to guy when and if I wanted to learn. He already knows a tremendous amount about the form and techniques of being a pitcher. More importantly, he is always working on his skills. In spite of the occasional broken window, he has a strong, accurate throw.

Similarly, the other day, I was part of a discussion about the word "expert". Is it okay to refer to someone as an expert even if he or she doesn't know everything there is to know about a given topic or tool? For example, one of my colleagues, likes to use the word to describe teachers in our community who have a special expertise or knowledge, and by this I mean beyond their content area (for example, someone who has learned to use a cool, new tool or technology that might be of interest to others in the community). But what if that teacher "expert" doesn't know all the ins and outs of that cool, new tool? Is it still okay to call her an "expert"? Is it okay for an expert to still be learning and making mistakes? Can an expert and a newbie learn alongside one another? I like to think the answer to these questions is yes. I like to think that by saying yes, you demonstrate that it's okay to not always have the answers, while at the same time feel confident about what you do know. And it's okay to share what you know even if you are still learning. In fact, I would say it is vital to the survival of your expert status to be an expert who is continually learning.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What can you do with a QR code?

Ever since my friend and colleague, Renee, introduced me to QR (quick response) codes, I have been fascinated with the possibilities. I am still not sure how I might one day use QR codes, but for now they are fun to play around with. I have found a few good websites for making your own codes in case you would like to check them out for yourself. This website will let you turn a URL, text, phone number or SMS into a QR code, while this one will create a business card with your contact information contained in the code. Don't forget that you will need to add a QR scanner app to your smart phone in order to read a QR code. Once you do, you can use it to scan the code below.

Let me know if you think of any ways that you might use one of these codes, and in the meantime, have fun!

QR code for my PLP team's action research project wiki page

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring has Sprung

The first of the season. How can something so small and beautiful be so hardy? A sure sign that spring is on it's way!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Classroom Facebook?

At a recent faculty meeting in my preschool, many of the teachers were complaining that parents never read the bi-weekly class letters. The letters, which are posted to our school’s Moodle site, contain information about the current classroom themes and recent events and projects, as well as upcoming events for parents' calendars. Teachers often include wonderful photos of the students engaged in learning or exploring something new. What parent wouldn't want to check this out, right? Well, the problem is that they aren't. We don't have any great answers as to why not, other than Moodle is cumbersome/impossible to check on a handheld device, which is how many of our parents stay connected.

This got me thinking. Why not use Facebook as a way to communicate with parents? After all, most of our parents are already on Facebook. Half jokingly, I suggested this idea at that same faculty meeting. I say "half jokingly" because I knew that it would not go over easily. Like all schools, our administration and faculty are greatly concerned about internet safety and privacy, especially for our youngest students. But is the idea of Facebook as a means for a classroom teacher to communicate with families such a far-fetched idea? Many of the teachers at the meeting immediately began discussing the "how-to’s" of such an endeavor. They immediately recognized that "yes, in fact, parents would read a Facebook page". But almost immediately, the concerns too came up. How would we make it secure, how would we limit access to just our parents, how would we ensure that our parents used proper etiquette while on the classroom page?

So, I’ve recently been given the task of figuring this all out. Is it possible for our preschool to set up Facebook pages for each of our classes? I would love to hear from any of you who have ideas or suggestions that might help me along in this process. If you are a teacher, how do you currently communicate with your parents? Or if you are a parent, what would you think of a Facebook page for your child's class?

You might also check out one of Christopher Dawson's recent blogs, "Will it ever be time for Facebook?" It is an interesting read, but the comments that follow are where the real discussion takes place. Let me know what you think.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Taking a Lesson from My Children

Several weeks ago, my two younger children, Chloe, age 8, and Mac, age 10, came to me with the request to go to Toys 'R' Us. It seemed they had finally found the perfect use for the Christmas money that their grandparents had given them.

After stalling for as many days as I could (let's just say that Toys 'R' Us is not one of my favorite places), we arrived at the store. Within moments, they vanished down an aisle in search of the coveted toy. By the time I found them again, they each had an "electric" guitar and a guitar strap in their hands.

They explained to me that the guitars were called Paper Jamz; I, of course, had never heard of them. Nonetheless, they seemed to know all about these guitars. Not surprising since my children, like many children, love to watch the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, which are rife with ads for every new toy to come along.

However, what was really interesting about this whole episode was that my children had REAL information on the Paper Jamz. Chloe told me that although she liked the look of the style 5, she wasn't going to get it and had decided instead on style 18 (shown on the right). When I asked why she had decided against 5, she informed me that she had read the consumer reviews for the guitars, and the reviews for style 18 were more favorable. At this point, my son chimed in and said that he agreed. And besides, according to my son, the YouTube videos that they had watched clearly showed the superiority of style 18.

Amazing!! These were not two children who were merely going to the local toy store to buy the latest and greatest toy. They instead had become proactive in their purchasing. Had they been influenced by advertising? Certainly. But, were they passive consumers? Not hardly. They were now informed consumers. They had used resources within their means to research and investige a product before buying it. I would love to take credit for this series of events. I would love to say that I had actively modeled this behavior for them. But I can't. I can say though that I was really proud of them!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Feeding our Curiosity

I don't have any official leadership titles at my school, but I have taken on a leadership role of sorts. For the past few weeks, I have been collaborating with a fellow teacher (and member of my PLP cohort), Dana, on a weekly professional development for our Lower Division teachers (3's through 5th grade). We borrowed the idea from our Middle School colleagues, one of whom is also a member of my PLP cohort. Like the Middle School, our PD is called Breakfast Boosters, and the idea is that once a week for a half hour in the morning, we meet with half the teachers in the Lower Division and present a topic for discussion or exploration or just a "show and share" of something cool going on in one of our classrooms. Then the next week, we present the same topic to the other half of the faculty. Sometimes the topic is technology-based and sometimes it isn't. For the first few weeks, Dana and I will facilitate the discussion, but our hope is that after a few weeks, we will have other teachers volunteer to present topics. Our goal is to create an atmosphere in our division where teachers share ideas, teach one another, and try new things. And it's called Breakfast Boosters because, of course, there is always yummy food.

I would love to know what great ideas you have presented to colleagues and co-workers. What topics do you think would make for a great discussion among teachers hoping to learn and grow together? I welcome your comments!