Archive for the ‘Classroom Activities’ Category
According to Wikipedia, as of February 16, 2014, Tumbler had around 172 million registered blogs, and WordPress had 75.8 million blogs in existence worldwide. These are only two of many blogging platforms available around the world, so you we can only imagine the true number of blogs being published on the Internet each day. A blog, short for web log, is basically a website updated periodically by the author that shares information, a person’s interests, or…well, anything really. Updates to the blog are called posts, and they’re arranged on the site in reverse chronological order. Blogs are powerful tools because they allow for discussion and collaboration through commenting features. Most blogging platforms will also allow you to add collaborators in order to create a shared knowledge base.
As many teachers are discovering around the world, blogging is not just for people looking to share what they know, it’s also a great tool for motivating students to write and for enhancing a student’s writing abilities. According to Alison Sawmiller, author of the 2010 article “Classroom Blogging: What is the Role in Science Learning?”, blogging has many benefits for students including giving the “silent student” a voice by providing a medium where they are not interrupted or talked over, encouraging critical thinking by requiring students to actively think about and reflect on what they’re learning in class, and allowing for differentiation of writing assignments.
As with any implementation of technology, the focus should be on sound pedagogical practices, not the technology itself, and this is true for blogging as well. Our students already know how to use the technology tools, they’re just not familiar with how it can change their learning and their understanding. That’s where we, as teachers, come in. “Well, what, Lauren, can I get my students to accomplish through blogging?” I’m so glad you asked!
The first thing we need to do is to make our learning activities and writing prompts are authentic and meaningful. If our students can’t connect what they’re learning and doing to their real life, we’ve already lost them. Allowing our students to become invested in what they’re writing by providing them with an opportunity to share what’s meaningful to them, we’re creating in them an interest and motivation to do more and learn more. Next, we need to give them a real-world audience…other than you, Mom, and Dad. Publishing a blog to the Internet does that! Share your students’ blogs with colleagues at other schools. Get them to share the blogs with colleagues in other states and countries even. Encourage those readers to comment by posting feedback and asking probing questions. As soon as your students know that they’re writing to a broader audience, they’ll begin to pay more attention to spelling and grammar. You’ll also begin to witness them experiment with developing their own voice as an author. Eventually, through consistent and structured blogging, you’ll notice a shift from self-centered writing to audience-centered writing. They’ll remember a comment and tie it in to a new post, or let a conversation spark an idea for a new topic. Everyday experiences now become spring boards for new posts, your students actually become excited about writing, and you’ll see their abilities begin to bloom. Encourage your students to take risks, explore using humor, and share their own opinions, not just the facts that they’re learning.
What are some ways to get your feet wet without diving into the deep end of blogging? Start by creating a class blog rather than having all of your students blog individually. Post questions about a book you all are reading, an experiment you’re conducting, or where students are using the math they’re learning in the classroom in the real world. Have your students blog by commenting on your questions and responding to other students’ comments. Just get the conversation started!
Reciprocal teaching is a great instructional strategy to use with blogging! Mainly used as a guided reading strategy in elementary school, students follow a series of activities before, during, and after reading. A different student is responsible for each step in the series. The activities are 1.) Questioning, 2.) Clarifying, 3.) Summarizing, and 4.) Predicting. Why not designate students to blog specifically about one of the processes above. It doesn’t even have to be about a book you’re reading. You could use the four steps of Reciprocal Teaching with any subject area! That gives your students a leadership role in the classroom by making them responsible for consulting the class before making their post. Also, classmates will be responding to their (the student’s) posts, not just the teacher’s, which will also give them a sense of importance and purpose.
My point in writing this post (other than the fact it’s a grad school assignment 🙂 ) is to get you to think about blogging as something other than just students jotting down their thoughts of the day. Get them involved in research, give them a specific purpose, and give them an authentic audience. If you’re strategically planning your blogging activities/projects, students will be able to learn about giving credit to other people’s work through citations and linking, they will be able to develop their own voice as an author, they’ll begin to understand what it means to write for a broader audience, and they’ll hopefully begin to understand the power of communicating to a global audience. When blogging, students are utilizing skills such as critical thinking, questioning, working with others, providing constructive feedback through commenting, and (hopefully) proofreading. So give it a try. Below I’ve linked to some easy-to-use blogging tools that will help you get started. Please consider leaving a comment below if you’re already blogging with your students, if you use a different tool than one listed below, or if you have any questions about how to get started!
If you read the first Totally Awesome Things to do with Spreadsheets in the Classroom post, you’ll know that I’m a little obsessed with spreadsheets right now because I made the lowest grade of my life on a recent grad school assignment involving spreadsheets.
As I do more research, I’m beginning to see how versatile spreadsheets can be, and how, as teachers, it would be very beneficial to our students to use them in regular classroom activities. By using formulas, students are able to show their procedural knowledge. Through database creation, students are taken through the research process and can then use sorting and filtering to find what they need quickly. Spreadsheets have the ability to instantly take data that we have input and create charts and graphs, which will help students understand how information can be shared visually. Even young students can use spreadsheets! Go ahead and set up your input columns and headings, and insert a chart. As students (either individually or as a class) enter data that they’ve collected, the charts are automatically updated! How cool! Continue reading below for some specific activities and links that incorporate spreadsheets into classroom activities. I have included two activities for elementary, middle, and high school. Read what applies to you, or read all of them and adapt the activities to your needs!
Create timelines: To help students get used to typing in boxes (cells) rather than straight across a line, using spreadsheets to create timelines is a great activity. In the lower grades, I’d go ahead and have a template set up, but in the upper elementary, I’d let the kids play around with setting borders around boxes, hiding rows and columns that they don’t need after they’ve sent up their timeline, etc. Here’s a sample timeline template for you to use (Google Spreadsheet).
Making Decisions: Before having your students collect or input data, go ahead and set up the spreadsheet and charts like I said before. Set up several different spreadsheets for the same data, but have each spreadsheet generate a different chart. In groups, have students input the same data and examine the charts. As a class, discuss what each chart shows and then decide which chart was the best for displaying the data. You’ll want them to recognize that line graphs are best for showing change over time, bar charts are best for showing comparisons, and pie charts are best for showing percentages or parts of a whole. Although I listed this under elementary, this would be a great activity for middle and high school as well since you’ll be asking the students to justify their decisions.
Exploring Weight and Age on Other Planets: In small groups, have students research how our weight and age are different on other planets. Set up a shared spreadsheet (Google), and have the students set the formulas for what age and weight would be on other planets. Some students may not feel comfortable putting in their actual weight, so you could set the fill color to the same color as the text to “hide” their original weight. Have students draw conclusions about effects of planet mass and diameter on gravity and weight, and rotation and revolution periods on age. As a challenge, you could have students try to write the formulas for comparing weight and age on planets not starting with their Earth weight and age. I did this activity one year with my third graders, but I had already set up the template. They loved seeing how their weight changed on the various planets. BTW, Pluto was still a planet then. 🙂 Speaking of, here’s a sample template that you could use. I used the information from this article from LiveScience.com, and this website to help set up the template.
Budget Planning: Financial literacy is becoming more and more important for our students. If you’ve read the About Me page, you’ll know that my husband and I are working Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to financial freedom. We are always saying, “I wish I knew this before I graduated high school!” I love scenario-based learning, and if I were a middle or high school teacher, I’d definitely have my students go through the scenario of planning a budget based on a specific set of criteria (monthly take home salary, cell phone bill, cable bill, groceries, car payment, house payment/rent, utilities, etc.). Having students set up a simple spreadsheet where they can set up a subtraction formula would be a great way to show them how quickly money can disappear each month. Challenge them to make decisions about sacrifices they may have to make. Ask questions like, “How would you budget be different if you were supporting kids?”, “Last month, your spouse lost their job, so now your monthly budget is __________. What adjustments are you going to have to make?” You can find budget templates all over the Internet, but in middle and high school, I’d definitely have the students set up the spreadsheets themselves. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Here’s a blank template of the one my husband and I use each month.
What is Average? Read the short story, Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, with your students. It’s about a dystopian society where people are forced to wear “handicaps” in order for everyone to be equal. AWESOME story. You can even register at Izzit.org and get a free DVD of 2081, the movie version of this story. Have students brainstorm various characteristics that they’d like to find the “average” for in their classroom. Some characteristics could include height, weight, a rank for mental ability, a rank for athletic ability, etc. Create a class spreadsheet with each student’s data, then use the AVERAGE formula, filtering, and sorting to find a class “average” of each characteristic. Discuss what handicaps would be necessary for certain students/characteristics. Have students create an illustration of themselves with their handicaps.
Doctors as Detectives: This lesson activity was actually created by the Learning Times people at the New York Times. In the activity, students read an article from the Times about how doctors sometimes serve as detectives when it comes to infectious diseases. Students then research a particular disease and input data about it into a shared database (Google spreadsheet). Here’s a spreadsheet template with the fields recommended by the lesson developers. After students have filled in their database information, they write a short story like they are a patient suffering from the disease they researched. They’ll swap stories with a partner, and then the students will have to use the information in the database to try to diagnose their partner. Here is a link to the lesson plan. This one really sounds like fun!
I hope that some of these activities and spreadsheet templates are useful to you in some way. I also am hopeful that some of these activities gave you ideas of your own about how you can utilize spreadsheets in your classroom. If so, please share those ideas with us in the comments below. Thanks so much for reading!
Since last January (2013), I’ve been working on an add-on for my teaching license that will qualify me for my current position as an Instructional Technology Specialist/Facilitator. This spring I had one assignment in my current class that gave me quite a bit of trouble. In fact, I made the lowest grade I’ve ever made on that assignment…I mean EVER! It’s all good though, I still have an A. 🙂 Anywho, the assignment was on the use of spreadsheets in the classroom.
In the past, I’ve used spreadsheets to create basic gradebooks, budgets, and lesson plan templates, but I’ve never really thought about using them with the students. I’m the kind of person that I’m not not going to know something for long, so when I recovered from the shock of my grade, I became determined to learn more about spreadsheets in the classroom. Holy cow, have I been missing out!
Tammy Worcester Tang is using Google Spreadsheets in some really incredible ways. You definitely have to check out the Google Stuff page on her website. A couple of her awesomely creative ideas include:
- coloring lines and resizing rows and columns to create index cards, notebook pages, and journals. Since a spreadsheet can have multiple tabs, those are great ways of creating study aids and digital notebooks for your students. Here’s an image of an index card I created.
- use “if/then” statements to create “Guess and Check” activities for your students. Hide the actual answer in cell A1 and set the background color to the text color. The correct formula for an “if/then” statement is: =IF(what you’re testing, “true value”, “false value”). In the example below, I asked the question “How old is Mrs. Boucher?” I had three formulas that I used: =IF(C6>A1, “Too High”, ” “), =If(C6=A1, “Correct!”, ” “), and =IF(C6<A1, “Too Low”, ” “).
Some other ideas that I’ve found through my research are:
- Creating math review for basic facts or finding the average of a set of data using a spreadsheet. Print them out and have your students complete them. Show students how to use the basic formulas for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and average. Have a computer station set up where students can input the formulas and check their answers. By putting in the formulas, they’re cementing their procedural knowledge.
- Have students collect data on the latest tablets or other desirable electronic devices. Record the prices for each and have them use the MIN and MAX formulas to identify which one costs the most/least.
- Have students research different summer jobs that are available in your area. Input the data and use the MIN and MAX formulas to determine which are the best jobs. You could go a step further and use charts to compare pay per hour for the jobs to see which jobs offer the most money for the least amount of hours.
- Have students create databases using spreadsheets, then teach them to sort and filter to find the information that they need.
I always stayed away from spreadsheets in the classroom because I really didn’t understand how they worked. As I continue to research and find more classroom activities that even the youngest students can do, I’m getting more excited about them. Have you creatively used Spreadsheets with your students? If so, how? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.
According to my allergies, spring has sprung. Depending on when you school’s Spring Break is, you and your students are probably chomping at the bit for a break from each other. Here are a few spring tech ideas to help you through these last few days/weeks before the big break.
Upload an image of a Tree Map or other type of classifying graphic organizer to Padlet.com. Share the link with your students and have them generate a list of spring words. Here’s an example.
Tellagami (iOS & Android – Free)
Have students take a picture that represents spring (blooming flowers, bunnies playing, etc.). Use that photo as a background for a Tellagami story. Students can tell about their plans for Spring Break, their favorite things about Spring, or give a weather report about how the weather is changing.
Titanic: Her Journey (iOS – Free TODAY (April 8th), regular price $4.99)
The Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912 and sank in the early morning hours of the 15th. For a limited time, the iOS app Titanic: Her Journey is free in the app store. Have students explore information about the different decks, people, construction, and more within the app. There are tons of great pictures to engage your students. After exploring, have your students write a letter to a passenger on the ship, or have them write a story as if they were a survivor of the voyage.
Let your students decorate their own eggs. Take screenshots of the eggs and post them to your class website or print them out. Use the type of eggs chosen, type of egg cup chosen, and colors to make different types of graphs. An example would be to make a bar chart of the colors chosen. Take it one step further and have your students design questions to ask about the graphs you create.
Stop Motion Photography Apps (iOS & Android – lots are free)
Have your students create stop motion movies about how flowers grow, how clouds form, how tornados form, etc. This can be done by having them draw pictures and then use a mobile device to take photographs of the images while they’re being constructed. The app then puts the photographs together to make a movie.
Educreations (iOS – Free)
Spring brings lots of changes to our planet. For example, spring brings tornado season, the spring equinox signals changes in daylight, etc. After completing units detailing these changes, have your students use a whiteboard app to insert pictures of these concepts, then narrate how these things happen and/or relate to spring.
Comic Creator from ReadWriteThink.org (web-based)
Have your students create a comic strip about spring. Other ideas could be their plans for Spring Break, a story told from the perspective of the season itself, and a funny, persuasive story convincing people that spring is the best season ever!
I hope these ideas are useful to you. Even better, I hope these ideas lead you to some creative ones of your own. If you decide to use any of these, please tell us what you did and how it went in the comments below. Have your own awesome spring tech ideas? Share them below!!
Over the past month, I’ve been writing about the issues and resources surrounding copyright in the digital classroom. I’ve covered Fair Use, Public Domain, Creative Commons, and now we’re going to look at specific solutions to ensure copyright compliance in the digital classroom. Below are my recommendations for creating a copyright friendly environment in your digital classroom.
Class websites can be an amazing tool for delivering content, fostering collaboration, and sharing information with parents and students. However, many teachers (and students) will sometimes use images and content that they don’t have the right to use. Remember that Fair Use only covers face to face instruction, so if you’re using your website to deliver instruction, you cannot claim Fair Use. Here are my suggestions for protecting yourself with your awesome class website:
- Password protect your website. By password protecting your website, only your students will have access to your instruction. I recommend using Google Sites to build your class website because you can use page level permissions to only password protect certain pages. This will allow you to have a parent information page that is public. Even password protected content can still be used illegally though. An extra precaution you can take is to convert copyrighted documents to pdf files and then disable saving and printing.
- Use Google’s Search Tools option to find images that are licensed for reuse. When you do a Google Image search, right below the search bar, at the end of the advanced search options, it says “Search Tools”. The fifth option is “Usage Rights”. Choose the licensing option that fits your needs.
- Ask permission. In the world of email, Twitter, Facebook, and personal websites, finding people is easier than ever. Do your due diligence to find the authors/creators of the content you wish to use on your site.
- Link rather than embed. I have to admit that I’m an embedder. I’d rather have everything right on the page in one place. However, if you haven’t obtained permission, you could be infringing on someone’s copyright. If you link to the original source of the content, you’re safe. Additionally, if you’re using audio or video content, make sure that it is streaming rather than downloadable.
- Site all works that aren’t yours! We all learned how to cite our sources in high school, and definitely in college. Break out those rusty skills and make sure that you’re at least making an effort to give credit where credit is due.
- Utilize Creative Commons resources. There are a ton of great works available that people have licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons. Flickr and CreativeCommons.org are two great places to start.
Assigning students multimedia projects, or better yet, giving them the a menu of project choices is a great way to increase engagement and motivation in your classroom. However, sometimes students don’t take copyright into consideration when they’re choosing images and content to use in those projects. Using the suggestions above will make them more aware of the content that they’re using. My final suggestion for you will not only increase the relevance of what your students are doing, but the rigor as well.
SoundCloud, YouTube, and Flickr
Either set up an account with a generic username and password for your class, or have students set up their own accounts for the sites above. SoundCloud is for sound clip storage, YouTube for video storage, and Flickr is for photographs. Have your students create their own images, sound clips, and videos to use in their presentations and projects. I think it would be neat to have them set up their own accounts and license their work with the CreativeCommons licensing tool. Have them get permission from each other before using a classmate’s content in their presentations. Doing this will allow you and your students to build a database of content to pull from when needed for websites, presentations, and multimedia projects, and will get students in the habit of seeking resources that are copyright-friendly.