Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some new blogs to check out...

     Danny Nicholson, author of the wonderful Whiteboard Blog is hosting an "Ed Tech Blog Carnival." There are some great links to blogs that you may have never seen before. I particularly like Janet Abercrombie's idea of having her kids create news videos as an alternative to the often mundane monthly newsletter.
     Using video with kids is so much fun. At the moment, my kids are using IMovie to create Book Recommendation videos in the style of Reading Rainbow. First, I give them a very simple script to guide their recommendations via Google Docs.BookRec Template When they finish writing the script, they are required to read their script out loud at least three times. Always have kids read their writing out loud before activities such as this. Often they read write through mistakes when they are reading to themselves. When they read out loud they are forced to hear all of their little mistakes. Once they feel confident with their script, they sign up to be filmed.
     I have three pre-assigned "directors" who have been trained to be "experts" in using IMovie. Training experts for technology implementation is key to the management of this activity. In fact, whenever I introduce kids to a new tech tool, I always try to pull a couple kids aside, and train them to be "experts" with that tool. That way, when it comes time to start using our new tool, I have three kids that can bounce around the room and help others who have fallen behind or are struggling with a direction.
     My "directors" for this project take turns setting up a single laptop to film. They also create a split screen where the student being filmed can see themselves as well as their script on Google Docs. Then, the director shouts, "Quiet on the set please," the room goes silent, and the filming begins. Each book recommendation is only about one minute long, so we can usually film quite a few in a short amount of time. The last bit of editing is done by myself. I overlay an image of the book cover, upload it to YouTube, and add it to our catalog of book recommendations on our classroom website. Here's an example (Yes, we're working on trying to get Brian to slow down. You should have seen Take One. He also has one of the greatest Maine accents of all time.):

     The kids enjoy this part of our Reading Workshop and we are all trying to get better using the tools that we have to create the short videos, and their summarizing skills have increased greatly since the beginning of this project. The eventual goal will be to have a searchable database of videos that will be linked directly to our school library. So, a child could search for a book, and watch the recommendation that comes with it. What are you doing with video in your classroom? Do you use IMovie? How involved are your students in the process i.e. filming, editing, publishing?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Classroom Window

I've been looking forward to getting an email from the folks at ClassroomWindow for sometime now. Today I received an email from them announcing that they will be launching their website at the end of this week. If you haven't heard of ClassroomWindow, they are a startup out of Needham, MA that has created a website that allows users to rate and review different Ed. Tech. resources. Here's an excerpt from their website:

No one knows better than teachers what works – or doesn’t work – in the classroom. But until now there hasn’t been a way for teachers to share their expert opinions about the books, curricula, and tools they use every day.
At ClassroomWindow we want teachers to have a seat at the table. We want their voices to be heard by publishers, product developers, and district decision makers.
After all, with today's focus on student performance, shouldn't we know if teachers are being given the best tools?

Works for me! I couldn't resist the temptation to review a few "Web Tools" right away. It was very easy. You are given the space to write about what you like, a space for what you don't like, and an "overall" section for any other comments you may have. I chose to write something about Diigo and Evernote. There are not a ton of resources at the moment, but as a registered member of their site you are also able to submit resources of your own liking. I submitted a review about XtraMath, and it was up and running very quickly. I think they review your submission before it goes live.

There are character limits on everything a user writes, so you have to get used to being concise, which for me was a bit of a challenge. It should be fun to watch this site grow. ClassroomWindow is basically doing what Ed. Tech. bloggers have been doing for a while now, but they are organizing the information in a much more accessible way, and accepting reveiws by people who are actually using these resources. It's one thing to have a blogger tell you all about a "great" website, but unless they are actually using that product in their classroom, it's hard to tell how truly effective that site may be. Like I said, the site should be fully up and running by the end of the week. Check it out when it's available.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Screencasting: A Pillar of the Flipped Classroom

     This morning I presented during a technology workshop at our school about "screencasting." Over the past year, I've become a bit of a "screencast" junkie. I've made them for students, teachers and parents. I've made web page log in tutorials, math manipulative explanations, concept introductions and Holdiay Craft instructions (that last one is cinematic gold). Here's a little screencast mash-up that I made with Dragontape (the volume is a little weird in some spots because I've used different types of microphones over time). It also includes some professionals: Sal Khan and Vi Hart who have recently joined forces at the Khan Academy.

     Below is the slideshow that  accompanied my presentation, complete with helpful links and other fabulous information.

     Thank you to all of my patient participants, and I hope that you were able to take away some valuable information and tools from my presentation.

     Have you "flipped" your classroom yet? Do you want to "flip" your classroom? If so, what's your screencasting application of choice? Personally, I use Screencast-o-Matic. I don't know if it's the best, but it's the one I am most comfortable with. I even sprung for the PRO edition ($12). Their customer support is excellent as well.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Xtra Math

It never fails...every year my students come to school suffering from the "summer drip." The "drip" is especially apparent when it comes to their basic math facts. Conceptually, they understand that 5+7=12, and 3 * 9 is three 9s or nine 3s. But when it's time to sit down, get serious, and rattle off those facts like a machine gun, more often than not they can be seen sheepishly working their little "finger calculators" under the desk.
     If you have any experience with the Everyday Math curriculum, you know that time is extremely valuable, and, although there is some Math Fact practice built into the program, it's really not enough to help those students who need that daily practice that has proven to be the best way to learn math facts: daily short bursts. That's where XtraMath comes in. I can't remember where I first heard of the program (perhaps Richard Byrne, Larry Ferlazzo, or Ilearn Technology), but I started the program mid-September.
     Here's how it works. You assign the kids to a specific program. The default program is Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division. Next, they take a pre-test in their program. After that, they just log in (at home or at school) and solve the given facts as quickly as possible. The program adjusts what problems the student sees based on need. Each session takes about 5-10 minutes. The students are able to see their progress on Math Fact grid after each session. Green squares are mastered facts, yellow are facts they need to work on, and white squares mean they will get to those facts later. There's also a substantial amount of progress data for the teacher as well (the two images on the right).
     Check this program out when you get a chance. The data that this program has collected for me proves that it works. It might not be right for every student though. For example, the program qualifies mastery as getting the answer correct in less than 3 seconds. I agree with the level of proficiency, but there are some students who get very anxious when you put a timer in front of them. I would like the option to increase the mastery timing. Other than that, I have been very pleased with XtraMath. Set up is easy, so get started today.
     What do you use in your classroom for math fact practice? Flash cards? Rocket Math?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


     There seem to be more and more online mind mapping tools popping up everyday. How could you possibly have time to try them all out, and then decide which one is best for you? Sometimes it's frustrating when you just get comfortable with a particular web tool, and then you read some amazing review about the "best of the best" thing that your classroom cannot live without. Well, I strarted using Wise Mapping last year, and it really works for me. The true test will be when I have my students start using it during our Biomes Unit in Science this year.
     The video below does a good job of explaining the usefulness of this very handy Web 2.0 tool.

     For my class Read Aloud, we are reading Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby. It's a fantastic book, but the progression of events can be very confusing. There are basically three main characters: Hannah, Frederick and Giuseppe. In the beginning of the story, the chapters go back and forth, focusing on each character individually, completely separate from the other characters. As the book moves along, the characters' paths slowly converge until they are, all three, sharing the same story. The beginning can be confusing for students though. You've got three characters, each with their own collection of supporting characters. So, together we created the mind map below to help us keep everyone straight. You can zoom in and out (buttons in the bottom left-hand corner) to see different parts of the map.

     As always, I am by no means a master of this tool, but its intuitive design had me up and running in just a few minutes. The maps are easy to share and publish, and they also have a pretty sleek design. I'll let you know how things go when my students construct their own Biome maps. Like I said, that will be the true test. Until then, try this one out, or let me know what mind mapping tools you prefer.