It’s the End Already?

It has come time to evaluate what I have done this year with my class and what I will change for next year. I was reading on Silvia Tolisano’s Langwitches Blog and she has a great post quoting Heidi Hayes Jacobs about assessment and curriculum. So I am taking the advice and I will take something traditional and replace it with a new kind of assessment. I am pretty excited about doing this. I want to do this with more of my curriculum also. I want to incorporate some of the programs and ideas we tried out with the students to get some better results.

The other thing I want to try this year is having our team use blogs and conferences during out PLC to learn more about best practices an try to find the best of what is out there and using those ideas to help us be better teachers.

My next idea I want to work on is having the studenst do more online reasearch for subjecrts they want to learn about. This will be the fun part. My district frowns on free browsing on the internet for Elementary school students. I need to convince them that they can do it with the proper training and guidance. I need to train the students on how to use the internet and filter through the unnessesary to get to the good information. I will be working on that this next year.

I also want to put more information on our wiki/website for students to access and use. If there is a way for us to use ebooks, that is what I want to do, but I am trying to get what I can onlne for student s to access at school and at home. We will get there.

Technology is wonderful, but I need to make sure it is better and not just different. It is kinda ike changing out all the light bulbs in my house with flourescent bulbs. Is it worth the price or should I keep with what I am doing because the end result does not save me money? Will it make a difference for the students and the outcome I am looking for? That is the question.

Eek A Mouse!

I wrote a grant for 40 mice in August 2010. We have just been funded and the mice have arrived! I want to thank DonorsChoose.org for helping my grade level get mice for our computers.

The greatest thing about this is Donors Choose helps educators like me write grants to get what we need to help our students. If you do not know about Donors Choose, they are a company that provides a place for educators to tell what they need to help their class. Donors Choose then puts in on the web and anyone (individual, business) can donate however much they want or can to the cause. This is the second grant for my class that has been funded by people and businesses going to Donors Choose. We recieved a video camera last year and have used it on our class movies this year.

Thank you again Donors Choose! You are a wonderful resource for education!

Don’t get so testy!

We have been testing this week. Thei year we decided to test in our own rooms using the netbooks in our classrooms. We have a one-to-one netbook in our classrooms, so we decided to not worry about scheduling a spot int he computer lab. Each computer was set up with the computer-based testing module and each student practiced using it during a practice session in our classrooms. We used Google chat to get the testing codes from our testing guru. The students loved being in our classroom where is wasn’t as stuffy, cosed in, and they were more comfortable in here. 

One of the strategies we used this year to help our students achieve a better score was to require the stuents to write down their reasoning behind chosing each answer. each students had two pieces of white paper folded into nine boxes. That gave the students 36 boxes to write one sentence about why their answer was correct. We collected their papers afterwards, checked to see if they explained each answer, then shredded them. They looked pretty good. We are pretty excited about how well all the students will do. We are really excited to see how the below grade level students will do, but we are also excited to see how this affects the on and above gratde level students. Will it increase their scores because they made sure they read the problems more closely? We think it will.

Using the computers has been great. The best thing is that we get the raw scores back wihtin a few days so we can see what we as teachers need to change and add for next year. The paper/pencil tests took until August to get the results and we had a few days to plan the year. This way we can use what we have now to start thinking what we can change for the next year. This gives us the summer to think, learn, and plan better lessons, not just a couple days.

What you talkin’ bout, Teacher?

It has been a few weeks since we started our last new program on the computers at school. It is about time we start using another program.

We have had some success with the our Wikipage. It has become the big hit with the students and with us, the teachers. Assignments have become easier to grade, easier to give, and to explain if a student does not understand, and they are at home. We have used Open Office for word processing, and Scholastic’s Readabout program for reading help. We use the Utah Writes website to help with students writing. It is not a perfect writin gtool, but it helps stuednts get an idea where their grade might be on the site’s rubric.

We have started trying out Free Mind for mind mapping and brain storming. We have started looking at what we can use it for nad we are getting ideas for Social Studies, Science, and writing. There are more, but that is the starting point. We just bought a license for Voicethread. This is a commenting site for students to type, voice, draw, and video thier comments. I think we will leave out the video right nw, but we will put up a pictures or comment for the students to express their opinion and knowledge about, and get more options on completeing assignments. This one is a site I have been looking at for a year and I am excited about it. Another site is Prezi.com. When I first looked at it, I couldn’t see a way for my stdents to use it without paying for it, and I am willing to pay for something that e will use, but it is a glorified Powerpoint. A little more exciting in some ways, but glorified. I was at a trainging that my team and I were presenting our wiki information and a teacher told me that they had an education place on Prezi. I get back to school and set it up. We will be playin gon it in the next little while to see what the students think of it.

So there are a few new programs for my students to try out before the end of the year. I am excited to see what the students think and what the new programs will be good for. This is a great bunch of students to try things out on. They love what we are doing, and they catch on pretty quick.

Oh Where, Oh Where, Can my Program be?

When we start looking for new programs for the students and us to use, I have run across programs that are fun and exciting, but not very useful in the classroom. They are great games for the students to practice and use outside what we are learning, but do not make my job easier or let the students use the computers for actual learning. So that has been our goal, find programs that we can use instead of paper-pencil, or can take the place of another activity instead of adding something else to our day.

I love our Readabout Program by Scholastic. It has helped the students read Non Fiction better and in turn that helps their Fiction reading become better. We have always done some sustained-silent-reading time for the students. Readabout fits right into a day or two of that program. We do not have to take other time during the day to use that program.

The Wiki has taken part of our reflection writing and 5-minute writing practice and put it together in a medium that the students can not wait to write on.  Information and homework has been more available to them and we have less problems with homework and assignments not being completed.

So our job here is to find programs that work with us, with what we are already doing, that will excite and engage students in learning. HTat is what it s all about. The students and them learning… and us being able to play. But mostly the learning thing.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Who will win?… Mac vs. PC in schools. I have taken the side of the Mac since I started using computers. I loved the Macintosh when it came out and I loved how easy it is to find things, get things done, and I don’t have to search for much. It is all there and it works. I used the PC during college and found it discouraging at times. It got better with each OS output and I had my first PC with XP. It worked. It had one program I could not use on a Mac and it was a wonderful program, Publisher. I still use it to this day. My Macbook Pro has OS 10.6 on one side and, with Bookcamp, Vista on the other. They both work. I choose to use the Mac side, but I use both, depending on the need. One is not better than the other, we are just comfortable with what we use.

So what does this have to do with anything? Does the platform mean much in this web-based-program-world? I think not. Kids are not going to notice much of a difference. The programs work the same on a PC as they do a Mac. The word processors are similar and, depending on what is being used, look similar and do the same basic thing. In my classroom we use Open Office for the students and I use Microsoft Word, Apple’s Pages, and Open Office. They all do the same thing and the students will figure out what they do and what they need.

This is where we get a bit off subject. Will the platform keep the students from learning? No. Most of the programs I am using in my classroom are web-based and will work no matter what platform it is used on. Students will make the change. They are amazing in the fact that they can assimilate better than we think and much better than we can. Do we have to know the computer inside and out? No. The students can help us. They can teach us. We as teachers need to know the basics of safety and we need to set guidelines.

So does it matter what we use? No. The fight will still go on, but it will only matter to those on each side of the fence, not to the students. They will sit by and wonder, “Why all the fighting? Let’s get to creating and learning.”

What’s on your Mind, Map?

I have decided to start looking for more software that the students cna use on their computers. Software that will help them, will save them, and me, time, and will not be something new to work on, but will take the place of something they are writing already. I used to think that we need to be a “paperless classroom”. We would use the computer for everything… but I now see the error in my thinking. We need the students to write.

Students need to learn to communicate with others without a computer. They need to have good, readable, handwriting. Students need to write. The bonus with the computer is that with the amount of technology in the world, they will need to practice using a computer for their information gathering, producing, and presenting. They already know how to use technology, but students need to learning and practice communicating with technology and maneuvrering around the amount of information that is out there. We, as teachers, need to show students what is out there that can help them and how to find what they need. They can assimulate to whatever technology is out there. They have used cellphones, MP3 players, calculators, computers, and other tech toys and have come to play. They have come to be challenged and we are here to give them a challenge.

So back to the software. I found a website called Mind42.com from the Inernational Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology in Singapore, March 2010. It is a Mind Mapping Software to put together a web of ideas. It can be used for mapping anything and everything. It was a great tool to use. It was also beautiful. The only problem is that the user needs to have an email address. I have a problem with that being that I teach Elelmentary School. For security reasons I will not have students use an email address to sign up for a program. So, I started looking and came up with two other downloadable programs. They work in Java, so they will work on all computers. FreeMind is a great alternative. It can be found at FreeMind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page FreeMind is the Mind Map I will go with because of the amount of things the students can put on this Mind Map. The other is a program called VUE from Tufts University. It can be found at Vue.tufts.edu and is great, but a litle harder to use than Free Mind. We will be using this is our writing and Spelling. I am pretty excited to get started with this little program. The students can print out the maps or save them as a pdf file. Sweet.