Christmas came early to Singapore! We had the great honor of having Alan November at our school this week, and I sit here now, trying to hash out and piece together coherent thoughts, head still swirling with ideas and discussions from this afternoon’s workshop. I think the most useful post is one that shares what was learned that will be useful in the classroom the next day. What have I taken away from the workshop that I can turn around and begin using in my teaching that will enhance and improve student learning? Below I have outlined the key take-aways and how I plan to implement them.
Diigo is a fantastic tool. One I’ve used for quite some time now to keep my bookmarks organized and available no matter where I am. During the workshop, Alan said something to the effect of, “In the library, Dewey did all the tagging. Today, we have to teach kids how to do this.”
For those who do not know, Diigo, according to Wikipedia, is:
Diigo (pronounced /ˈdiːɡoʊ/) is a social bookmarkingwebsite which allows signed-up users to bookmark and tag web-pages. Additionally, it allows users to highlight any part of a webpage and attach sticky notes to specific highlights or to a whole page. These annotations can be kept private, shared with a group within Diigo or a special link forwarded to someone else. The name “Diigo” is an abbreviation for “Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff.”
What I didn’t know, (or knew, but forgot) is that educators can create groups and student accounts for free. It’s a fairly simple process that does take a bit of initial set up, but once you have it rolling, you and your students will be tagging, collaborating, researching, and learning at a whole new level. Here’s a link to specific directions on setting up your groups and student accounts. Ed Tech Ideas: I teach 3 different grade levels, and my different classes are always researching for one project or another. Students are always finding great sites, but at best, they bookmark it to their local computer, never to be seen by others. Now with our Diigo groups (I created one for each grade level), kids learn how to tag, organize, and share their finds with everyone else in the group. Everyone benefits from group knowledge, and the students learn an important skill that will stay with them and grow throughout their academic lives.
Who Owns the Learning in the Classroom: Teacher or Students?
This was a question Alan posed an hour or two into the workshop that really got me thinking about how the traditional role of a teacher has changed over the last 20 or so years. Gone are the days (hopefully) of the sage on the stage teacher at the blackboard spewing out information to struggling students with 30 different learning styles. However, we do still need to recalibrate the balance of learning between teacher and students.
Who works harder in the classroom? The teacher or the students?
Ask yourself this question and see what answer you come up with. Then ask yourself, what can I do to recalibrate to enable students to own their learning. For inspiration, watch Michael Wesch’s Ted Talk called, “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able.”
EdTechIdeas: Have students take a photo of something in your life and use it to explain a concept. Take a character from a book and have students write dialogue of a topic that is not in the book, that shows their understanding of the character’s qualities/personality. Use a hotseat-type activity and ask students questions. Have students go to the cafeteria and video what kids are eating for lunch – make a production about healthy choices; graph the results. Take photos of simple machines – use photoshop to diagram the parts of what makes the subject a simple machine. Ask Google-proof questions. Create a Google Map assignment. Have students make book trailers instead of writing book reports.
As with most workshops, the overwhelming influx of ideas from Alan’s workshop left teachers with a mix of emotions, feeling somewhere in-between, “I’m not doing enough” and “There’s so much out there, I want to try everything now!” A suggestion that Mike Pelletier aptly calls, “TBC” (Tech Baby Steps) is always a good idea. Begin with just one thing that grabbed your attention and go with it – make it work for your classroom, not as an add-on, but as an integration.
Notes, take-aways, the Tweet Sheet, and workshop info can be found here, thanks to Jay Atwood. Also a very special thanks to Alan November for an inspiring, thought-provoking, mind recalibrating day!
PicLits is a site that allows users to choose a photo and then drag words onto the picture to create sentences. There is a freestyle option that allows you to simply type on the picture, and keywords are suggested to help you out. When finished, you can save (free account required), email your piclit, or share it via Facebook, your blog, or other places. Soon there will be a print feature, a weekly contest, and the ability to search and tag photos. EdTechIdeas: This is a great site for inspiring struggling writers and for those times where you hear the complaint, “I don’t know what to write about.”
CyberChase from PBS is a fun place for kids with 45 games that focus on problem solving abilities. Challenging games like Crossing the River, U Fix It, Tangrams, and more will have kids thinking out of the box in no time. EdTechIdeas: Fantastic site for problem solving and creative thinking. Would make a good go-to site for center time in your classroom or a fun activity to spend time on after working out difficult concepts. Use the lessons and activities section for ideas that are tied to the NCTM standards.
Incredibox gets my nod for the Odd Site of the Week Award, and I’m throwing it in, just because we all need a little obscure fun in our lives. Not sure of its educational implications, so I don’t have too many EdTechIdeas, but perhaps for music teachers, it could shed light on rhythm, vocal appreciation, harmonic structure, and polyphony. For the rest of us, it’s a great diversion and a good way to bring a little music into your life.
One thing kids (and adults) often have trouble with is the concept of scale. Understanding how big or small something is can be difficult if there is no familiar reference point of which to compare. Here are 3 sites that help students gain an understanding of size and how certain occurrences that happen on our planet compare to places that they are familiar with.
If It Were My Home allows students to choose a disaster and place the disaster somewhere familiar to show the vastness of its destruction. Another feature is the country comparison, which highlights certain aspects of what your life would be like if you were born in another country compared to where you were born. Unfortunately, you cannot change the default comparison country (US). Perhaps this will change in future versions.
Show World visualizes the countries of the world not by land mass, but by certain data entered. For example, in the map below showing the world’s current oil supplies, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela appear largest due to the fact that those 2 countries house the largest reserves.
One of my third grade classes is working on a unit of learning about, and deciphering the differences between developed and developing countries. They are investigating what makes a country developed, why certain countries develop and other don’t, and trying to figure out how we can close the gap.
Step 1: The Premise
We began by gathering information on 2 counties (one developed; the other developing) such as literacy rate, life expectancy, population, GDP per capita, and other statistical facts that could be found online. They recorded their findings in a Word document. This information was later used to graph the results and to develop a better understanding of the differences between developed and developing countries.
After all the information was gathered students went to Create-a-Graph and began entering their data. They selected specific data to compare 2 or more countries (i.e., literacy rates of Singapore vs. Afganastan; Life Expectancy of people in Singapore vs. Cuba; GDP of Singapore vs. The Philippines; etc.). We used Singapore for the developed country as that is where all the students live. The students got to choose which developing country they researched and, not surprisingly, a lot chose either Haiti or Afghanistan. (Note to self: next time, I will have students sign up for a country to avoid repeats).
Step 4: Publishing
After all the data was collected and graphed, the students downloaded their graphs as PDFs and I then uploaded them all to Youblisher to share their findings with people from around the world. You can take a look at their graphs here.
In a recent Foss science unit, a third grade class was learning about the structures of life. The teacher wanted her students to be able to focus on a specific animal and learn about the following things: Physical Traits, babies, habitat, food, behaviors/interactions and anything that “wow’d” the student about their animal. What made this project different from other animal research projects is that the students could only choose their animals from a list of “animals with a bad rep.” This included animals like anacondas, sharks, cockroaches, human bot flies, killer bees, wasps, bats, and naked mole rats, just to name a few. In order to speed the project along, the teacher pre-selected a couple dozen websites which I dropped in a network folder that the students have access to.
Sharks - by Nicholas
After gathering all of the information, I had the students begin an Inspiration diagram about their animal. The diagram had three levels: The main topic (the animal); the research category (physical traits, habitats, etc.); and the information that the students found. After all the information was entered (the rapid fire feature in Inspiration makes this step go quickly), the students were then instructed on how to arrange their diagrams to better display their findings in a hierarchal way.
Watch this video to see how rapid fire works.
Monkeys - by Ellen
The open-endedness of this project made differentiation effortless. Some students were able to get their research organized with a few facts and display it in an organized way. There were others who listed over 30 facts on their given animal, and then went on to change the font, create new line colors, add new shapes, and insert pictures. Read more of this post
One of my 4th grade classes is about to embark on a research project, so in a recent lesson, I decided to teach and hone their research skills. Not wanting to go the standard route of, how to Google more efficiently, I chose to select 2 topics, have the students search for information on one of those topics, and then share what they have learned. The 2 topics students could choose from were, the Tree Octopus and All About Explorers. (Note: I did skew the activity purposefully by telling them that they had to search for those exact phrases).
Most students went directly to Google and without much thought clicked on the first link and began writing down “factual” information about their chosen topic. Some facts that were discovered included:
Christopher Columbus was born in 1951 in Sydney, Australia.
Marco Polo, Bill Gates, and Sam Walton, helped finance Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Islands.
Lewis and Clark were inspired to become world-famous explorers after being mesmerized by the stunning color photographs in National Geographic magazine.
The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America.
Unlike most other cephalopods, tree octopuses are amphibious, spending only their early life and the period of their mating season in their ancestral aquatic environment.
Tree octopuses have eyesight comparable to humans.
And so on…
Actual "sighting" of the tree octopus
The students shared their findings with the class and as the discussion moved on, several of the students began to see some flaws in our research. We then began to inspect the websites more carefully and found many erroneous claims and facts throughout. The students were stupefied and couldn’t believe that there were websites that look so real (one student said, “They even have pictures!”) but lie. They were even more amazed that these were the first two hits that Google presented them in their search. We continued the discussion with what to look for in websites that are reputable, using the “5 W’s”: Who, What, When, Where, and Why, looking for url suffixes (.edu, .gov, etc.), and how to double-check sources.
I’ve done many internet research lessons in the past but none have the lasting impact that this does. The kids jump right into the task and roll along smoothly, impressed with how easy the task is and what good researchers they are. The harsh dose of reality at the culmination of the lesson truly sticks with students and really makes them think about facts and information they find on the web.