Seven Things

I thought I would take some time to look back over the last couple of weeks, and write down some things I’ve learned recently that might help with instruction. Here they are:

  1. I have learned that kindergarten students can take a challenge. I worked with a kinder teacher a couple of weeks ago at Colonial Hills and we asked a group of students to try their hand at using Microsoft Paint. The teacher selected a book on Tumblebooks, and set it to read aloud. We paused at critical points in the story, and asked some questions regarding the plot, and it seemed like the students enjoyed themselves. We then discussed the main features of Paint, and asked the students to use the program to paint pictures of the story’s main points. We were amazed at the ability displayed! An extension of this assignment (which we hope to accomplish soon) would be to import the students’ pictures into PowerPoint, and ask the students to discuss their pictures while the teacher types on their particular slide. We will end up with a nice summary of the story.
  2. I have learned that Weebly offers an incredibly easy way to make a free web site. Easy and free! Pretty cool. I helped a few teachers introduce this site to their students, and I helped another intern at Jackson open an education account and create accounts for his classes with the click of a button. Add painless to the list under easy and free! It is a snap to create a fully functioning web site in under 10 minutes. You can even make sites private with a teacher account. I have never known it to be so easy to make a web site.
  3. I have learned that Museum Box is a neat tool for presenting information like images, text, links, and sounds. A teacher at Castle Hills has embraced the software, and is using it to help her students chronicle their learning on the topic of weathering and erosion. What I really like about the site is that a free teacher account allows the students the ability to submit their work to the teacher rather than letting it go immediately live on the internet. The teacher gets to peruse the work prior to putting it on the web. They are able to review the work, edit it, make suggestions and send messages to the students, or submit it to the site for live viewing. This is a great resource.
  1. I have learned that a blinking cursor is a fabulous thing. I refer to the lovely relationship between the blinking cursor and alphasmarts and neos. Did you know that you could have your whole class typing information (notes about a nature walk, an essay, a solution to a math problem, etc.), each student having their own alpha smart or neo, and then, with the connection of one little cable and a blinking cursor on the screen, each student may send work quickly into your computer. All you need is a blinking cursor. Pretty awesome. Think about all the programs that have a blinking cursor…Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, Paint, Inspiration, Kidspiration. I have named six programs that are each loaded on district computers. I haven’t even mentioned interactive web sites. The opportunities are really amazing. Let me know if you are interested in learning more.
  2. I have learned that iPods and iPads are more than just sleek gadgets. There are some very helpful basic things that iDevices can do for you in the classroom. If you happen to have iTouches or iPads on your campus, you might want to think about checking them out for use with instruction. We are in the process of updating them with the new operating system, and with that update, we are placing on each device, an email account that allows the user to send (but not receive) email. The benefits of this function are great. Imagine your students using something like a whiteboard app and being able to send their work right to you when they are finished. Or maybe you would like to spend some time in class allowing your students to collaborate. There are many apps that would accomodate this.
  3. I have learned that SMART Notebook software is extremely versatile. If you have not spent much time scrolling through the resources available to you in SMART software, I encourage you to do so. There are keyword-searchable lessons waiting for you, interactive dice, clocks, timers, and stories, and so much more. I have seen how a SMART board or a slate can get students engaged. I hope you will give SMART a try.
  4. I have learned that there is still much to learn. I cannot emphasize how flooded my brain is right now with new concepts! I am finding it easier and easier to just accept that I cannot know it all, because today I know more than I did yesterday or last week. I appreciate all who have been so patient with me as I find my bearings in this new position. I hope that I can serve you as you serve your students, and I hope that you will take the challenge to make your classroom more interactive. Your students will thank you.

Today’s Meet

I encourage you to visit the site known as Today’s Meet. It is a site where you can host online discussions, and there is no sign up needed. You simply visit the site, name the meeting room, decide how long you would like the conversations to remain, and send out (to desired participants) the URL that is generated when you create the room. The duration options range from 2 hours to 1 year. This way, you, your students, or peers may revisit the discussions you had on a particular day.

Some classroom applications would be to collaborate with other classes within your school or district, or even buddy with a teacher across the country or in another part of the world to participate in discussions related to curriculum.


A helpful resource for ideas about Today’s Meet is Lisa Johnson’s Blog (another ITS).

Be sure to let me know how it goes if you use this in the classroom.

 

 

 

Google Earth and Environmental Changes

I am teaching a lesson this week using Google Earth. The objective I’m trying to hit asks the question, “How have people in San Antonio adapted to or modified their physical environment?”

I decided to use Google Earth to focus on a couple of facts about San Antonio, Texas. We San Antonians really would like it to rain more, and we San Antonians like to dig quarries, and then build things in the hole that is left over after the quarry is spent.

SO…I pinned places in the city to Google Earth, saved a .kmz file, and then dropped the file in the school’s student_shared drive. Once Google Earth was up and running on the students’ computers, I had them click file/open, and navigate to the file to open it. This brought up all my saved places with the informative notes that I had written about each place.

The places I included are Medina Dam and Canyon Dam (both dams that really changed the physical environment around them), Six Flags and San Antonio Zoo (both built in a quarry), and Olmos Dam (a change to the physical environment that PROTECTS the city from floods rather than causing a lake like the other two dams).

We had great discussions about how these things have changed the environment, and about how to navigate around in Google Earth. As a fun highlight, I pointed out that I had pinned their school to Google Earth. I asked them to look at the place where they spend much of their time. I think this lesson went well overall.

Possible extensions?

One of the teachers at this particular school mentioned that a great way to extend this activity would be to ask each student to find a place in Google Earth where they have visited, and then write about the experience they had in this place. I might have to try that sometime.

A side note…

Just yesterday I did not know how to pin places in Google Earth. I asked a fellow ITS, and she gladly explained it to me, and I am so thankful for that. I mention this to give credit where it is due, but also to emphasize the importance of continual learning. I am always glad to learn new things.

The Answer

I have had this question rumbling around in my mind lately. “How can I use Simplenote for classroom instruction?” I have scratched my head again and again during the last few days. Then I decided to get more brains involved.

I asked my family to help me with this question. First, I described the Simplenote program to them. I told them the following information about Simplenote:

  • Simplenote is a place where you can keep your notes online.
  • Simplenote is also available in app form for iPhones, iPads, etc.
  • Automatic synchronization occurs whether you are entering notes on your PC or mobile device.
  • Simplenote is free.

The brainstorming session that followed really encouraged me. My family and I had a discussion about the technology involved with Simplenote, and a wonderful list of ideas sprang up. We assumed hypothetically that a teacher would have a Simplenote account opened and displayed on the screen, and that the students in the class would have the SAME Simplenote account opened on their laptops or mobile device. Here is the list of lesson ideas:

  • a KWL chart generated by the students – they type in the note, and they see the synchronization results on the screen, since they are using the same account as the teacher
  • the math teacher poses a math question, and students type in their answer, which then displays on the screen
  • mental math contests
  • collaborative research  –  example: students are studying Abe Lincoln, and they are each given a different aspect of his life to research. They type in the results of their research, and a class discussion follows
  • vocabulary review – the teacher asks for the meaning of a word, and the students type what they think
  • students annotate a poem or other piece of literature – this way, other students benefit from their thoughts
  • students type in what they did this weekend, summer, etc.
  • cloze passages – students type in what they think goes in each blank
  • somebody, wanted, but, so, then
  • flash card answers
  • multiple choice assessments
  • test review
  • quizzes – teachers would turn of projector for this one
  • prewriting ideas
  • teaching outlining
  • teaching note-taking – students get to see other people’s notes

I am hopeful that Simplenote can be used profitably in the classroom. I know there are also many more ways to use this technology in education. Let me know if you use it, and please share your ideas.

 

Addendum – The Simplenote Discussion

So some time has passed since I wrote about the Simplenote/Evernote debate clanging around in my head. Although I refuse to give a definitive cut-and-dried answer regarding my preference as to one more than the other, I will say (for now) I have settled on Simplenote. My decision is based on its simplicity as compared to Evernote’s robust abilities.

I really like the ability to save a web clip, upload a photo, and search text in photos, all in the confines of my personal notes, but I also like just being able to type notes into a simple text file that is searchable by keywords and tags. The simplicity of it all brings me relaxation and satisfaction.

So for now…I am using Simplenote. Case (sort of) closed.

The Burning Question

In the last post, I asked how apps like Simplenote might be used in the classroom. I have given this much thought, and I have some ideas, but I decided to Google the question, and I found some cool stuff.

Here is a link that you might like to check out:

Simplenote and Collaboration in the Classroom

Here is an excerpt from the link above:

To make this work with the students, we developed a lesson to model effective collaboration using Simplenote. We begin by talking to students about how they usually share ideas with one another. Students say that they turn and talk, or talk in their learning groups, or listen to other people when the teacher calls on them. Then we explain that the iPad can give them a new way to share their ideas with one another. Using a document camera and projector, we demonstrate how to create a note in Simplenote. Then, we have a student use another iPad to create a note. Students notice instantly that the student note appears on the teacher’s screen. The teacher then goes in to the student’s note, reads it, reflects on a new idea, and then incorporates that new idea into his or her own note. We explain that the purpose is for everyone to generate ideas about a particular topic, but at the end of class, we want students to be able to share one idea they got from another student’s note. We also make it clear that they can only write in their own note and talk about how it would negatively affect our ability to work together if people don’t follow that rule.

In summary, Simplenote becomes the vehicle for immediate feedback, and thus, collaboration among peers, and from teacher to student or student to teacher. By using a single Simplenote account, a whole classroom begins to build a thought database that anyone in the classroom may access and contribute to.

Whether you are teaching science and are asking students to comment on a recent laboratory experience, or whether you are an English teacher assigning a haiku to each child, and asking students to comment on another’s work, it makes no difference.  It all seems very real-world, and engaging to me. I like it a lot.

I am really excited about the possibilities of using Simplenote in the classroom! Stay tuned.

Personal Note-Taking


OR

If you are like me, your short-term memory fades with each day. Should I be worried? Anyway, I have found a solution for this. I take notes.

My problem with traditional note-taking is that I lose the paper the notes are on, or I get flustered with the amount of notes through which I have to sift just to find the tidbit I seek. Enter digital notes.

I have been using what is called Evernote since March of this year, although I admittedly have not used it enough to praise its abilities or criticize its shortcomings. So I turned to Google to find out more about the program.

Most blogs I read seemed to echo the same thing; Evernote is too clunky. Simplenote is, well, simpler.

I also read a blog post that speaks to the possibilities of both worlds. Basically, Simplenote allows you to send each note you take to an email address, and Evernote gives you a free email address when you sign up. What this means is that you can automatically send each note you type in Simplenote to Evernote. This is a handy feature for those who like the simplicity of Simplenote, and the organization methods of Evernote.

I have been trying this feature today to see if I like it. I’ll let you know. I will say that what I like about taking digital notes is that they are searchable, they sync up with the server when I get online if I add notes while offline, and you can add tags to each note to help with the search feature. I already think I am sold on the idea!

Now the burning question arises…How do we use this in instruction? Glad you asked. I am mulling over that thought as I type. Can I get back to you on that?

I encourage you to try both of these alternatives, and let me know what you think.