Saturday, August 29, 2009

It’s not the tools. It’s how to you use them.

I was biking along the coast of Block Island and I came across this sign at the end of a driveway.

I studied it for a second and realized it said O’Toole spelled out in tools. I got such a kick out of this sign and that I stopped to snap a picture despite my rush to make the ferry. I was thinking about this sign as I set up my classroom today.

It’s not about the tools. It’s how you use them. This year I am going to let this photograph serve as a reminder. I plan to learn from the O’Toole family’s example and use the tools in that I have always had in my classroom in new creative ways that push the boundaries of the classroom walls.

What inspired you this summer?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Word About Wordles

I just showed my sister She loved it and is excited to frame her first worlde to decorate her daughter’s new room. Then she asked me how I use wordle.

Hmmm… although I love worlde and I have played with wordle, I have never used worlde in my classroom. I began to think about how I can use wordle in my classroom and ideas that other teachers have shared with me.

For those of you who have never heard of wordle. It’s a simple website that allows you to enter a series words. Then the stie organizes your words into a unique, colorful word splash. If you don’t like the layout of your wordle simply click the randomize button, and the site creates a new one. The more times you enter a specific word, the larger it appears in your wordle.

Through ChrisLAtkinson,who is part of my twitter network, I found a great blog called the wordle blog. It’s written by Jonathan Feinberg, the creator of worlde. One of his posts explains how to use wordle safely in your classroom. (Sometimes inappropriate wordles pop up in the gallery.) In other posts, he describes some unique uses of worlde. For example, he used it to compare inaugural addresses. It was interesting to see which buzzwords remain popular over the years.

This reminded me of a suggestion I heard from another teacher at the BLC Conference. She uses wordle when teaching students about overusing words in their writing. She simply copies and pastes a student’s composition into wordle. The student can clearly see that some words are larger than others, which means that the writer used them over and over, and over again. Wordle gives the students a nice visual and teaches them about overused words in a fun way.

I’ve heard of teachers using wordles to kick of a lesson or build background knowledge before reading a text. I was thinking about using wordle in the beginning of the year. I might have my students interview their classmates and then create a wordle about them. What are some ways you use wordle in your classroom or your own life?

The image was created on

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why I Need a Writing Tablet in My Classroom

Screencasts are a great way to teach students 21st century skills. They require the students to move beyond the 3 Rs reading, writing, and arithmetic and incorporate the 3 Cs: creating, communicating and collaborating.

When producing screencasts, the students have to work in teams to plan, write and create the final product. They have to think of creative ways to capture the attention of their audience and have to explain new math concepts in their own words. In today’s world, it is no longer acceptable for students to acquire new knowledge and keep it to themselves. It is their responsibility to move beyond the walls of the classroom and share their knowledge with the world.

We want our students to become life long learners which doesn’t mean that they will sign up for class after class. It means that they will have the ability to find resources and educate themselves and teach others. Two years ago my principal and I saw Alan November speak at the MASS Cue conference. He talked about transferring the responsibility of learning to the learners through classroom jobs. I was going to copy the notes I made but I found Gail Desler’s blog and feel she explained it adequately. One of the classroom jobs mentioned by November was screencasting.

Last year I spent a lot of time working on the jobs in isolation: blogging, podcasting, screencasting and more. This year my goal is to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, so I can transfer the control of learning to my students.

I found that my students loved making and watching each other’s screencasts. As I’m sure you all know, students hate explaining their thinking when performing math problems, but because screencasting is an authentic experience, my students wrote eagerly. They got a lot out of the experience, but it was hard to manage and eventually I was forced to phase out screencasting.

The problem was that I had one group of students at a time working on screencasts. Students needed the SMART Board to write out the math problems. The rest of the class was suppose to be doing independent work while the group used the headset and SMART Board at the front of the room As you can imagine, nobody could take their eyes of the screen. It was very distracting to the other students. Although I thought the process of having my students work together to explain math concepts to their peers was amazing, I was forced to give up production until now…

The writing tablet is the perfect solution to my problem. Students will be able to create screencasts without disrupting the learning of the peers and the control of learning will shift to the students.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Technology Bridges the Reader

Technology allows readers to represent texts in different modalities to enhance their understanding. Then go beyond the text to the outside world. Readers can connect with others to discuss the reading or present their responses to the reading to an authentic audience and receive feedback.

At the recent BLC Conference in Boston, I learned how some educators are using technology to teach reading. Sara B. Kajder, author of Bringing the Outside In, Visual Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers, spoke of using movie making software to have students demonstrate their thinking as they read. For example, a student would use the first voice track to record herself as she read the text. In a second voice track, she would state what she was thinking as she read certain sections of the text. The visual track would contain images of what she pictured as she read.

Kajder and other educators including Jim Wenzloff had students respond to their reading by making movie trailers about books. The students produced engaging multimedia presentations and presented them to authentic audiences online or in local libraries. Wenzoff showed this book trailer as an example: Number of the Stars book report.

Jim Wenzolff also uses technology to connect with readers with authors, experts, and other readers. For example, after his students read Night of Twisters, they interviewed a meteorologist from the National Weather Board. He also set up a blog where readers of Traders in Time could interact with author, Janie Lynn and other students.

Other educators who attended each session shared other ways they used technology to respond to reading. One teacher had the students write reviews in the form of podcasts. Another educator had her students write the next chapter of a novel using xtranormal.

When I return to school in September, I want to think about how I can use technology to enhance my students’ understanding of the text and link my students to the outside world. The ideas presented at the BLC have opened my eyes to new possibilities.

Notes of the Future

Have you seen the Pulse Pen? It will revolutionize the way you and your students take notes. Imagine attending an algebra class. The teacher shows you a problem on the board and explains how to solve it. You record the problem in your notebook as the teacher talks.

That night you sit down to do your homework and need a little help. You pull out your Pulse Pen and your handwritten notes. As you look at the problem in your notebook you can tap the page next to the problem and playback exactly what the teacher was saying as she was going over that part of the problem.

Then you can upload your notes to your computer, so you and your friends can see and listen to them. Great, huh? How does it work? The pen has a camera in it and a special recording device. It takes pictures of what you are writing. You need to write on special paper coded with teeny, tiny dots. You can buy the paper or print it off your printer.

Although I have yet to play with the pulse pen myself, I felt the need to write about it. What a great tool for students! As a former special education teacher, I can’t help think that this would be a useful tool to fill in the gaps for all learners.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Using Google Earth in the Classroom

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly looking for material that challenges my top math students but aligns with the elementary curriculum.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a technology blog from one of the people I’m following on twitter. This blog led me to an exciting website called The website belongs to Thomas Petra. He uses Google Earth to apply math concepts to real life situations. There are lessons, projects and more.

I found a great project that ties in with the fourth grade earth science curriculum. My students used Google Earth to explore the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. They had to measure distances and calculate the rate the waves traveled.

For our next math unit we will be covering area and perimeter. I plan to use the lesson on complex area and possibly the lesson that involves Sketch Up.

Does anyone else have any good math websites that I can add to my collection?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Meeting Bridgit

The other day I had the opportunity to attend a session on SMART’s Bridgit Software at the Blue Ribbon Blueprint for Excellence Conference in Reading, MA.  The presenter, Shayla Rexrode, was a representative from SMART.  She set up a video conference with one of her colleagues in Toronto in order to model the product.  I was impressed with the how easy the software was to use.  With a few clicks of a button, you can send out an email to invite all of the interested parties to attend a video conference.  The other parties do not have to own or install in Bridgit software.  As the video conference organizer, you can control the computer or you can permit other people to control the computer.  You can also view the desktop of any of the participants’ computers.  As you video conference, the participants can chat by using text. 

I was disappointed that that you could not hear each other’s voices through the computer.  The presenter set up conference call using a telephone that was in the room.  She told us that another option would be to chat using Skype.  Also, we could only see what was happening on the computer screen.  We could not see any of the participants.

There were only a handful of educators who attended this session, so we had the opportunity to share ideas. A couple of teachers said that they used similar video conference software with a high school math class.  They had their students present geometry theorems and invited the students’ parents to watch and listen in from work.  After each presentation the parents got a chance to ask questions using the chat feature.  The students were excited to answer the questions and the parents were glad they had the opportunity to see what was going on in their child’s classroom.

Another woman at the workshop works as a computer specialist.  She pointed out that this software would allow help people in other parts of the building or even other schools. One man said he had used the 30-day trial, so a student who broke his legs could attend class.  We also thought that video conferencing software would allow parents to attend PTO meetings from home, so they wouldn’t have to worry about a babysitter.

Despite the drawbacks, I impressed with the product, but I left wondering if there was a cheaper (or free) online program that has similar capabilities.  Has anyone had any experience using video conference software in his/her classroom?