Ed Tech Ideas

Tech Integration for Busy Teachers

Monthly Archives: December 2009

Are We Adapting for the Future?

Here’s an example of how magazines will be looking in the near future. This is the new Sports Illustrated magazine scheduled to be released sometime this year.

If this is the reality of the written word for today’s students, are we preparing them for a future of interactive paperless media, or are we continuing to teach in the same “sage on the stage” manner of yesteryear?
Will Richardson speaks of this need for shift eloquently in his blog post: I Don’t Need Your Network (or Your Computer, or Your Tech Plan, or Your…)

All too often we get hung up on the technology question, not the curriculum question. Here in New Jersey, every district has to submit a three year “Technology Plan” and as you can guess, most of them are about how many Smart Boards to install or how wireless access will be expanded. Very, very little of it is about how curriculum changes when we have anytime, anywhere learning with anyone in the world. Why aren’t we planning for that?

In short, what changes are around the corner, and are we ready for the shift? Are teachers arming themselves with the tools necessary to prepare students, and more importantly, are the methods changing to engage today’s learners and prepare them for a world of tomorrow? As 2009 draws to a close, I am filled with hope of things to come and excitement of the shift that I see happening around me. But at the same time, I am left with a bothersome question: Are we, as a system of educators, adapting for the future?


14 Nutrition Sites for Kids

Even if nutrition is not officially part of your curriculum, with today’s staggering obesity epidemic it is so important to teach and model a healthy lifestyle. Data from NHANES surveys shows:

(1976–1980 and 2003–2006) the prevalence of obesity has increased: for children aged 2–5 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 12.4%; for those aged 6–11 years, prevalence increased from 6.5% to 17.0%; and for those aged 12–19 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 17.6%.

When I was a classroom teacher, I always made time to teach a unit on health because it is such an important aspect of our lives. If we don’t have our health, not much else matters.

Here are 12 great resources for teaching and learning about health, nutrition and exercise. If you know of other great ones, add them in the comment sections.

1. Dole Super Kids

Super fun interactive site for kids with recipes, nutrition advice, fitness activities and suggestions, games, comics and much more. There’s also an educator section with lesson plans and activities.

2. BAM – Body and Mind

BAM! Body and Mind is an online destination for kids created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Designed for kids 9-13 years old, BAM! Body and Mind gives them the information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices. The site focuses on topics that kids say are important to them — such as stress and physical fitness — using kid-friendly lingo, games, quizzes, and other interactive features.

3. My Pyramid Blast Off Game

Fun site from the United States Department of Agriculture gets kids thinking about what a balanced, healthy meal consists of. In the game, kids can reach Planet Power by fueling their rocket with food and physical activity. “Fuel” tanks for each food group help students keep track of how their choices fit into a well-balanced lifestyle.

4. Best Bones Forever

The Best Bones Forever!™ Campaign encourages girls to get active and eat more foods with calcium and vitamin D. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a site design that couples pink with skulls, but I get what they’re aiming for with it. Lots of girl-geared things to do on this site like games, activities, recipes and quizzes with good information on healthy eating and living.

5. Nutritious Explorations

Highly interactive site created by the National Dairy Council with games, nutritional information, featured recipes, physical activity ideas, and more.

6. Kids Health

Health and nutrition information you can trust about kids and teens that’s free of “doctor speak.” According to the site, “KidsHealth is the most-visited site on the Web for information about health, behavior, and development from before birth through the teen years.” Lots of good information here

7. Nutrition Fun for Kids

Simple site, but a lot of gems here. Activities, puzzles, things to do ideas, downloads, recipes, links and books on nutrition recommendation

8. Playnormous

The goal of Playnormous is to use a fun media, particularly online casual games, in order to inform, educate, and inspire children to make healthier life choices regarding nutrition and physical activity. Health games and information for kids, and instructional guides for teachers.

9. Nutrition Café

This site offers students the opportunity to learn about nutrition in a fun, interactive way. Check out the nutrition sleuth section.

10. Kidnetic.com

Kidnetic.com is designed for kids aged 9-12 and their families, the Leader’s Guide is a lesson-based curriculum guide for health professionals and educators to use when working with patients and students, and the Parents’ Guide provides quick and easy-to-use information just for parents.

11. Healthy Teeth

From baby teeth to braces, Healthy Teeth is all about what goes on inside your mouth. Produced by dentists for elementary aged kids curious about the “why?” of oral health.

12. Sleep for Kids

With hand-held games, tv, laptops, facebook, mobile phones, homework, and ever-increasing after school activities, kids are getting less and less sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has created Sleep for Kids to show how important a good night’s sleep is.

13. Girls Health

GirlsHealth is geared towards specific health-related issues that affect mainly girls. Body image, bullying, nutrition, fitness, healthy lifestyles, and more sections are written in a style that will get girls on the right track towards health.

14. Nourish Interactive

Nourish Interactive is a great resource for kids, parents, and educators to learn about ways to be fit and healthy. There are games that teach about nutrition (and about not spending too much time playing computer games), nutrition worksheets, teacher tools, and lesson plans, as well as tips and tools for parents.



  • Healthy menu creation
  • Plan and cook a meal for your family and produce a video chronically the events
  • Food Journaling – students keep a log of everything they eat for a given amount of time.
  • Health Wiki – Class creates a wiki about nutrition, exercise, healthy eating, etc.

Got more? Leave a reply.

5 Upcoming Writing Competitions

Having an audience for kids is a motivator. Winning a prize for your writing is huge motivator. Here are five writing contests just around the corner:

  1. Young Writers and Illustrators Contest
    A creation of PBS Kids and Reading Rainbow, this is a contest for all kids in K-3rd grade who want to write & illustrate a story and submit it for judging for a chance to win local and national prizes. Everyone who enters gets a Certificate of Achievement.
    Deadline: PBS Stations will hold local PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contests during February and March. In late January go to pbskids.org/writerscontest to find your local PBS station and Contest deadline as well as to print the Entry Form and Rules.
  2. The Betty Award
    A writing contest for kids ages 8-12 where kids can win up to $300.
    Deadline: All entries must be postmarked no later than May 15, 2010. Winners will be notified by July 15, 2010.
  3. Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award
    International writing competition for writers age 13 and above. Amazon and Penguin are seeking the next popular novel. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance.
    Deadline: Entries must be submitted between January 25, 2010 at 12:01 a.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time) and February 7, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time).
  4. Writer’s Digest 79th Annual Writing Competition
    GRAND PRIZE: $3,000 cash and a trip to New York City to meet with editors or agents. Writer’s Digest will fly you and a guest to The Big Apple, where you’ll spend three days and two nights in the publishing capital of the world. While you’re there, a Writer’s Digest editor will escort you to meet and share your work with four editors or agents!
    Deadline: May 14, 2010.
    Add $5 per manuscript or poem to Entry Fee(s) on all entries submitted after May 14.
  5. Kids Can Do It Essay Contest
    Ongoing essay competition where kids can win $50, an autographed book from Sandra McLeod Humphrey, and an award certificate to hang in the classroom.
    Deadline: Ongoing. Next contest begins January 1, 2010.

This list just scratches the surface of the writing contests out there. A word of caution though: there are several scam contests looking to take advantage of young writers. Here are some articles you should read before entering any writing competition:

Do you have other contests to recommend? If so, please share.

Top 3 Free Synonym Sites

I had a teacher I work with wanting to purchase a thesaurus program to use for her English language learners and my principal was wise enough to say no. With Microsoft’s built in synonym finder and a plethora of online word sites, why would anyone want to spend money on something you can get for free?

So here are my top 3 synonym sites:

  1. Free Thesaurus is a clean, googlesque site that provides over 2.5 million synonyms. Simple to use and no frills. I challenge anyone to find a more user-friendly word finder than freethesaurus.net.  
  2. Wordsmyth is a great, free, easy to use online synonym finder. With a free registration, educators can not only look up words for definitions and synonyms, but also create quizzes, glossaries, and get help on anagrams and crosswords. There’s also a children’s dictionary section that states the following:

    Wordsmyth proudly introduces the first real Web-based dictionary made expressly for elementary-school-aged children. This new electronic dictionary from the Wordsmyth Collaboratory features over 30,000 entries and an array of multimedia, including spoken pronunciations, animations, and colorful illustrations.  

  3. When right-clicking for synonyms doesn’t meet your needs, WordsLike, a similar word finding site might just do the trick.
    WordsLike.net is a free service that allows you to find words and phrases that are similar or related to each other.
    Type in a word or a phrase and Words Like.net will come up with a list of related words and their corresponding definitions.
    Thanks to Free Technology for Teachers for finding this one.
  4. Bonus: Not really related, but interesting nonetheless is this site:  Connecting Mathematics.  Connecting Mathematics contains brief explanations of mathematical terms and ideas in English, Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovak.

Got others? Add them in the comment section.

Don’t Forget the Passion

I saw this video by Angela Maiers via the K12 Online Conference and thought it to be a great heartfelt reminder for all educators. Sometimes we get so caught up in the standards, scores, assessment, data, differentiation, projects, latest trends and tools, red-tape of our jobs that we overlook the real reason we are here: for the kids.

Well worth the 11:22 – Click here to watch.

60 Educational Game Sites That You’ve Probably Never Seen

Ok, so you’ve probably seen some of these, but I needed a snazzy title. I recently compiled two lists of sites from Richard Byrne’s Blog – the site is an amazing resource, and I’m pretty certain that Richard doesn’t sleep. These aren’t in order of greatness – they all have their own specific applications for education. A few of these appear on my Sites for Kids (and Teachers) page.

  1. XP Math is a good place to find math games, math videos, math worksheets, and math e-books. The games section of XP Math offers games for basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and probability. Create an account on XP Math and you can keep track of your scores.
  2. Word Twist is an online version of the popular board game, Boggle. Word Twist comes in two versions a four by four grid and a five by five grid. The purpose of Word Twist is to identify as many words as possible using the letters in the grid.
  3. Super Text Twist is a simple word game similar to Word Twist which asks plays to identify words from a set of jumbled letters. The Super Text Twist game be played online or downloaded for use offline.
  4. Parade of Games in Powerpoint was developed by faculty at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. Parade of Games in Powerpoint provides teachers with games and game templates for classroom use. The games and game templates are available for download in Powerpoint format. Some of the games and game templates that teachers can find on Parade of Games in Powerpoint include Bingo, Jeopardy, and scavenger hunts.
  5. Arcademic Skill Builders offers a collection of twenty-one quality games for sharpening math and language arts skills. All of the games can be played online and six of the games are even enabled for play using a Nintendo Wii remote.
  6. The Problem Site is loaded with great games for students. Some of the games are traditional “hang-man” style games, some of the games are traditional games with a twist, and some of the games are completely new. Each game is designed to help students develop problem solving skills. The games are categorized as word games, math games, or strategy games.
  7. Ghost Blasters is designed to help students learn to multiply and divide quickly in their heads. To play Ghost Blasters select a multiple of which each “bad” ghost will have a value that is a multiple of that which you chose. Students then use their mouse to blast every “bad” ghost. For example, if I select “5” at the beginning then all bad ghosts will display a multiple of 5. I then have to blast all of the bad ghosts to gain points, but if I blast a “good” ghost (a ghost that does not have a multiple of 5) I lose points.
  8. Learning Games for Kids offers games for mathematics as well as many other content areas. Most of the games on Learning Games for Kids can be played directly on the website although some do link out to other sources.
  9. Learn With Math Games is a site that I like because it offers online games as well as PDF templates for games that teachers and students can play in their classrooms. Learn With Math Games is organized by grade level and by mathematics topic.
  10. Gamequarium developed by Diana Dell (a great person to follow on Twitter by the way) offers an excellent catalog of mathematics games and video demonstrations of mathematics functions.
  11. Primary Games offers a collection of mathematics games as well as games for other content areas. You can grab some of the games on Primary Games and embed them into your own blog or website.
  12. Grammar Ninja is a fun game for students to play as they develop a working knowledge of the parts of speech. Grammar Ninja has three levels for students to work through. As long as you answer questions correctly, they continue through the game, but answer incorrectly and the words explode.
  13. Mad Libs offers a widget that you can install on your blog to allow visitors to play Mad Libs. I’ve always thought that having a “fun element” on your classroom blog is a good way to keep students actively visiting the blog without prompting from you. If you’re an English teacher, the Mad Libs widget might be something to consider adding to your blog.
  14.  The World Food Programme’s website offers students a large selection of educational online games and activities. The games are categorized by age group. Some of the games, like Food Force, are about world hunger while other games are more general in nature.
  15. Taking it Global, an organization for youth interested in global issues, has a small games section that includes a game based on the flags of the world. Flags of the World asks students to match flags to their respective countries. After matching each flag to its country students can click the “learn more” link to find more information about that country. 
  16. Shape It Up is one of many good educational games and activities on Kinetic City. Shape It Up is an activity that would be good for use in an elementary school Earth Science lesson. The activity presents students with “before” and “after” images of a piece of Earth. Students then have to select the force nature and the span of time it took to create the “after” picture. If students choose incorrectly, Shape It Up will tell the student and they can choose again.
  17. The Houghton Mifflin Company produces Grammar Blast. Grammar Blast offers 35 interactive grammar activities for students in grades two through five.
  18. The Grammar Practice Park produced by Harcourt School Publishers provides 12 games for students in grades three, four, and five.
  19.  The British Council’s Learn English website offers 69 interactive activities for learning the rules of grammar. The activities are not listed by grade level so you will have to preview them to determine which activities are best suited for your students.
  20. Scholastic Inc. has a page for elementary age students called Maggie’s Learning Adventures. On Maggie’s Learning Adventures visitors will find five grammar activities as well as activities for learning Spanish, Math, and Science.
  21.  The BBC’s Skillswise website is a great resource for a wide variety of content areas. On the grammar and spelling page there are 21 activities suitable for students of middle school and high school age.
  22. Playing History is a collection of 128 games related to topics in US and World History as well as civics and geography. The games come from a variety of sources across the web. Feedback on every game and suggestions for future additions are welcomed by the hosts of the site. Visitors to Playing History can search for games by using the tag cloud, by using the search box, or just browse through the entire list.
  23. Think About History is a fun trivia game on History.com. The object of the game is to cross the playing board by correctly answering a sequence of history trivia questions. The game has multiple levels that get progressively more difficult throughout the game. The questions on Think About History are a mix of video-based and text-based questions. The game can be played as an individual game or a two player game.
  24. Fling the Teacher is a website containing 68 history quiz games. All of the quizzes have at least fifteen questions and a few of the games have more than 100 questions. The average is 30-45 questions per quiz. Prior to starting each quiz game students can create their own custom game character.
  25. Scavenger Hunt Through History is a game designed to be played by students in junction with Freedom: A History of US produced by PBS. Freedom: A History of US contains is an overview of US history containing videos, documents, and pictures. In addition to the resources previously mentioned, there are quizzes for students to test their knowledge.
  26. National Geographic Kids has a wide variety of games, puzzles, and activities for students of elementary school age. National Geographic Kids has nine games specifically for developing geography skills.
  27. Learning Together offers four activities for learning about the geography of the United States. Learning Together also offers a game about world geography and a game about European geography.
  28. Owl and Mouse Educational Software offers nine, free, interactive maps for students. The maps cover every continent except Antarctica.
  29. Traveler IQ Challenge has 14 interactive geography games. The activities can be embedded in a blog or website.
  30. Geosense is a fun way to use and improve your knowledge of world geography. Players can play against the computer or challenge another player. Geosense can be played anonymously or you can register and have your scores recorded for you. There are four Geosense maps (US, World, Europe, or advanced) that players can select from.
  31. Smarty Games features games for developing basic mathematics and reading skills. There are six mathematics games covering basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The reading section has two alphabet games and nine animated stories. In addition to the mathematics and reading activities, Smarty Games offers activities for learning to read a clock, puzzles, mazes, and coloring activities.
  32. Planet In Action is a fun website that features three games based on Google Earth. All three games utilize Google Earth imagery and navigation. The three games are Ships, Places, and Moon Lander. In “Places” you navigate, from a helicopter view, five popular places including the Grand Canyon. In “Ships” you become the captain of a fleet of ships to navigate famous ports of call. And in “Moon Lander” you take control of the Apollo 11 moon lander and guide the “Eagle” to touch-down.
  33. The National Center for Education Statistics hosts a collection of games and tools for students. Dare to Compare is a quiz section of Kids’ Zone where students can test their knowledge of civics, economics, history, geography, mathematics, and science. After taking each quiz the students are shown the correct answers. Dare to Compare also allows students to see the national and international average rate of correct answers.
  34. Brain Bashers offers visitors a nice selection of word games, logic games, and puzzles. Brain Bashers is updated regularly with many games that change daily and new games added every week. Brain Bashers was developed and is maintained by Kevin Stone. Kevin Stone is a mathematics teacher in England.
  35. The Discovery Channel website lets you test your trivia knowledge while playing the same quizzes the contestants on Cash Cab play. Play the Cash Cab quiz game and earn fictitious money for every question you answer correctly. Answer three questions incorrectly and the game is over.
  36. Kids Spell provides eight free games that help students learn to spell more than 6,000 words. Kids Spell is a part of the Kids Know It Network. The Kids Know It Network provides educational games for all content areas taught in grades K-6.
  37. Spin and Spell has been featured on a number of blogs over the last year. Spin and Spell asks students to select a picture and then spell the name of the item. Alternatively, students can have word select for them and then identify the correct corresponding image.
  38. GamesGames.com offers sixteen free spelling games. Most of the games seem to be designed with grades 3, 4, and 5 in mind.
  39. Spelling City not only offers games, it also offers the capability for students to type a word and hear it pronounced.
  40. Catch the Spelling offers more than two dozen categories of spelling games. Each game has the same format; as words fall from the top of the screen, players have to “catch” the appropriate letters in the correct sequence to spell the word displayed at the top of the game. Players “catch” letters by moving a cursor at the bottom of the page. In some ways it reminded me of a cross between Tetris and Frogger.
  41. Read, Write, Think offers a crossword puzzle builder as well as pre-made crossword puzzles designed for all grade levels K-12.
  42. Just Crosswords has a new puzzle maker with which you can build crossword puzzles, save them, print them, or embed into your website or blog. Just Crosswords also has more than 300 categorized, educational crossword puzzles.
  43. Variety Games hosts a free crossword puzzle maker. You can select the dimensions of your puzzle or allow your puzzle to be auto-formatted. To use the puzzle in your classroom you will have to print the puzzle.
  44. Armored Penguin has a very flexible crossword puzzle builder. You can select from a simple puzzle maker or large puzzle maker depending on the number of clues that you want to include. Armored Penguin’s program also gives you the option of including or excluding an answer key.
  45. Ed Helper has a basic crossword builder that accepts up to thirty words. Ed Helper has other basic puzzle builders for free. To use the more advanced options, like larger puzzles, you will have to subscribe to the service.
  46. Quiz-Tree provides a wide variety of free educational games and activities for students and teachers. Most of the Quiz-Tree games and activities are web-based. Some of the games and activities are available as downloads for Windows operating systems.
  47. Multiplication.com has four pages of games for kids to use to practice the multiplication tables. (There are also addition, subtraction, and division games). I played a couple of the “car wash” games today and they were quite enjoyable. After playing the games I can see how kids would get addicted to the games in a good way.
  48. Fit Brains is a collection of free games designed to strengthen five areas of cognitive brain function. While the website seems to be targeted toward an older audience there are some games on Fit Brains appropriate for students at all grade levels above the third grade. Reading through the background information about Fit Brains you do get the impression that the games are grounded in sound neuropsychology. The Fit Brains blog has a number of interesting articles about brain science that teachers and parents will find interesting.
  49. Math Cats is a website full of short math activities and math games. The activities and games are based on word problems. What is nice about the games is that they are fairly straight-forward and easy for students to self-start. Math Cats is appropriate for students in elementary and lower middle school grades.
  50. Handipoints: Remember those “star charts” you had a kid, the ones where you earned stars for good behavior or doing your chores? Handipoints has taken the star chart concept and built a website on it. Here’s how it works, parents (or teachers) create a list of items for their kids to do. The kids then check off each task as they do it. For each task or behavior goal completed the child earns points. When the child reaches their goal they can cash in their points toward playing the Handiland game. Parents/ teachers can also print the completed charts and provide offline rewards.
  51. Novel Games provides a large list of fun, simple, educational games. The list of games includes numerous math and word games. All of the games are free and are available in multiple formats. All of the games on Novel Games are easily embedded into your class blog or website.
  52. ABCya is a great place to find all kinds of free educational computer games for elementary school students. The games do not require any special plug-ins or downloads in order to play. ABCya also does not ask for users to register. ABCya is divided into grade levels (K-5) then subdivided based on subject area. The categorization system ABCya uses makes it quick and easy to find an activity appropriate for each student.
  53. Starfall has many free teaching resources including pdf files of handouts to use with students. For students Starfall has numerous online games designed to teach reading and writing skills. Starfall.com includes a page for parents discussing activities that they can do with their children to help them learn to read and write.
  54. Sheppard Software has a fantastic collection of free web-based educational games. Sheppard Software’s free games cover Science, Math, Social Studies, and Language Arts. Most of the games are appropriate for elementary and middle school students, but some games are appropriate for high school students. The geography games are particularly good.
  55. Decimal Squares provides simple games for students to use to develop their math skills. The games do not require an account to play and they work on any web browser that has current Flash plug-ins installed. The games are best suited to middle school students, but could be used with upper elementary grades or with high school freshmen.
  56. Rice University has partnered with CBS, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and the National Science Foundation to produce web adventures based on the CSI television series. The web adventures are designed to teach students the process of forensic investigation and problem solving. There are three cases or levels to the CSI web adventures. Unlike a lot of educational games, the CSI Web Adventures are created with the highest quality graphics and navigational features.
  57. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has a great collection of interactive learning activities. The activities are categorized according to grade level and vary in format. Some of the interactive activities are like video games (Squish the Fish for 1st graders) while others are more like virtual scavenger hunts (Conservation Investigation). The games and virtual scavenger hunts could easily take students an hour or longer to complete and the students would learn something new throughout the activity. In addition to the interactive activities, Shedd Aquarium provides a host of great Marine Science lesson plans for grades K-12.
  58. Pest World for Kids is a fun educational website for students in elementary school grades. Pest World for Kids has a great index of pests which includes information on what they look like, where they are found, and how to prevent pest infestations. The Pest World for Kids website has four fun educational games that students will enjoy playing as they learn about insects and rodents. In the teacher section of Pest World for Kids, teachers will find lesson plans to accompany the educational games.
  59. MSNBC offers a gallery of online games related to the news. The gallery is called the NewsWare Arcade.
  60. Kids Past offers an easy-to-read World History “textbook” for kids. To accompany the textbook Kids Past offers five history games to which students can apply the knowledge they gather from the textbook.

Did You Know 3.0

Here’s the latest version (2008) of Karl Fisch’s Did You Know video. Always a good reminder/eye opener.

How to Create a Book Report Assignment Students Love

Me, circa 1982

Cross-posted at Learning and Leading with Technology

How many times have students written mundane, uninspired book reports that were handed in, read over by the teacher and handed back to the student, never to be seen again? I wrote so many boring book reports as a kid that it nearly turned me off to reading altogether. I remember my 6th grade teacher, Ms. Arnese, gave a book report assignment to the class back in 1982, and before my fellow classmates and I began the traditional, “Ah, do we have to?” whine, Ms. Arnese astutely informed us that this book report would be different. For this book report, we (the students) would be in charge of how it’s done. We would be allowed to deliver it however we see fit. We could work in pairs, we could use props, we could sing, we could dance – the sky was the limit. I remember how my imagination began to work overtime as Ms. Arnese talked more about the assignment. I began thinking grandiose thoughts about my book report. I couldn’t wait to begin reading, so that I could begin creating. The book I chose was The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford and it was definitely a page turner. I was really not a big reader at the time, but just the thought of being in charge of my learning inspired me to delve into the book with an open mind. After finishing the book in one weekend, my book partner Brian and I set to work. We turned an old refrigerator box into a puppet show theater, and made all the characters into wonderfully colorful stick-puppets using any supplies we could get our hands on. Luath, Bodger and Tao were drawn in exquisite detail (I was a horrible artist in my mind, but for this project, I was an inspired genius). We took a long piece of butcher paper and painted the background and attached it to two sticks so that our scenery was constantly changing during the show by Brain and I rotating the sticks with our free hands. We recorded the play that we wrote on an old tape player that we borrowed from my dad and brought our 20 minute blockbuster into class a month later, and proudly gave the performance of our lifetimes. We received a standing ovation from the class, and a big hug from Ms. Arnese (not to mention an A+ on the project) and I remember feeling proud. Not because of the clapping or the grade, but proud because I knew, deep inside that I had done something special. That feeling still arises today as I think back on that special book report.

Students today still cringe when they’re told they’ll be doing a book report. Teachers spend hours reading through their work (or in some cases they never read through them at all – gasp!). Best case scenario, the book report may find its way onto a bulletin board in the classroom where other students may glance at it and on their way to recess. Lisa Nielson writes in a recent blog post:

The authentic publication of student work should be a part of EVERY SINGLE UNIT OF STUDY. If an educator can’t figure out a way to help students publish anything in a unit of study they need to either 1) Rethink the unit or 2) Rethink the assessment. While data in an expensive database may be impressive to educators, leaders, and test prep companies, it is not intrinsically meaningful for students or helping them in an authentic way. So how can teachers change practice and move from a “Hand it in” to a “Publish it” culture?

For the last few years, I’ve worked with fifth grade students on creating book trailers. For this project, students are asked to choose a book they have read recently and would like to recommend to the class. They then create a synopsis, or overview of the book, keeping in mind what the pull factor about the book is for them. Next, they create a storyboard for their trailer with key phrases and words, letting the class know about the book, without telling them the entire book. After the storyboards are complete, students begin gathering photos from Flickr to represent the key elements in the book. As they are gathering their photos, they are also creating a photo citation page in Word so that they may give credit to their sources at the end of their movies.

To create the book trailers we use Window MovieMaker (free download). I have the students first import and arrange their photos, adding transitions between each scene. Next, they add titles to the beginning, credits at the end and either on, or before given photos throughout the movie. Students are constantly referring to their storyboards they’ve previously written to insure that their trailer plays out they way they want. After all the text is in and the timings are fluid, they import the audio. For this we use SoundzAbound, a royalty free music library with a huge variety of music selections.

When the project is complete there usually is a viewing day in the classroom with popcorn. Awards can be handed out – “Best Trailer for a Biography,” “Most Dynamic Transitions,” “Most Suspenseful,” etc. Viewing day is also a great time to reflect on what worked, what went well, what were the challenges, and what was learned. This also gets students excited about reading other books – books they may not have ever considered before watching the trailers.

I don’t know that my students will look back on this project 27 years later and be filled with prideful emotion as I was; but I do know that they enjoy the process, are thoughtful and imaginative throughout the project, and are glowing when their trailer is played for the class, and potentially, the world.

Reprinted from Learning and Leading with Technology (L&L) vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 30-31, copyright 2010, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 1.800.336.5191 (U.S. and Canada) or 1.541.302.3777 (Int’l), iste@iste.org, http://www.iste.org. All rights reserved.

The Secret to Student Podcasting

Is podcasting something you’ve wanted to do for a while, but have just never set aside the time to get it going? Podcasting enables students a tool to publish what they are learning, and also, it allows parents and family members to be able to not only hear their loved ones via the internet, but also to subscribe to a podcast via iTunes.

Setting the Stage

The first hurdle is finding a site to host our recordings, as iTunes does not host directly. There are many pod-hosters out there. One I recommend is called Podbean (http://www.podbean.com). Podbean is easy to set up a free account (100mb storage space is pretty limiting, so if and when things grow, I may decide to upgrade to a paid subscription), and the layout is similar to other blog sites, so the learning curve is fairly easy. Once you have your account at podbean set up and your first podcast recorded, you can submit your feed to iTunes (go to this page for the step-by-step procedures within iTunes). It took about 24 hours for iTunes to review my feed and accept it (I’m not really sure how critical they are with the review procedure as my only podcast at the time was me saying, “This is a test.”).  Once accepted, you have a direct iTunes link you can send out so parents, grandparents, teachers and students can subscribe to your podcast and then whenever you add a new recording, iTunes will alert the subscribers. Cool!

Nuts and Bolts

Now that the foundation is laid, it’s time to add the excitement – students’ voices! I’m using Audacity (free download) to record and convert to MP3s as it’s an easy program and the recordings come across crisp and clean. The microphones we use in my lab are Audio Spec C-100m, which are basic, middle-of-the-line mikes. We’ve rubber-banded a piece of Kleenex over the tops of the microphones to act as wind screens and this low-tech fix really does the trick in reducing the loud gusts of winds that students somehow always seem to produce while recording.  After the recording is to the student’s liking, they “export as MP3” to a shared folder. From there, after checking the recordings for quality and ensuring they didn’t give away any personal information (last name, address, phone number, etc) I upload the files to my podbean account. From there, iTunes updates the new recordings automatically in a matter of a few hours.

Give it a Listen

If you’re curious, the next time your in the iTunes Store, do a search for “SAS Geckos” and you’ll find us. You can also check us out on Podbean: http://sasgeckos.podbean.com

Got some other ideas about podcasting in the elementary classroom? Leave us a comment.

Digital Storytelling – Photo Story 3

Here’s a quick idea for Photo Story 3 (free download) for a language arts lesson.  A 4th grade teacher during a recent unit on fables had his students research fables and then write their own.  I had the students draw pictures of the beginning, middle and end of their stories using either Paint, or Kidpix. We then imported the pictures into Photo Story 3, narrated, added music and rendered. The final product is fun digital story that can be viewed anywhere. 

Here’s an example by Stephanie:

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