A Bit About Me

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2013 New Year's Resolution

As the new year approaches, I find myself reflecting. However, before I become knee-deep in my reflections on the many trials, tribulations, successes, failures, accomplishments and challenges, I'm deciding to take a slightly backwards approach by first taking on the task of developing my New Year's Resolution.

With each year, we set out with a list of resolutions, some general and some specific. By posting my own resolutions in this format, it will serve as a constant reminder to continuously work towards bettering myself as both a person and as a professional.

5 Resolutions for 2013

1.    I will eat out no more than once a week (that includes Starbucks). 
*Minor edit: Spend no more than $10 a week on food and drink that I don't make myself.
Eating out in general costs money. And, with the looming "fiscal cliff" there's no telling how much money will eventually be lost. Thus, refraining from eating out or ordering in as often, will slightly offset any impending debt that has yet to be seen. Besides the financial factor, let's take a look at the nutrition factor. Being a regular fruit picker (blueberries, strawberries, cherries, etc.), I've always enjoyed the "fruits" of my labor. The same concept could and should be applied to food that one cooks herself. Diverging from the financial and overall good feeling benefits, there is one last area that is effected by this resolution. The children. Eating lunch at work, a few students are bound to pop into the room. If I'm caught eating nothing more than a candy bar or a bag of chips, then what message does that send to the youth. They already notice what I wear and the color of my nail polish, so one can only assume that they're also noticing what I'm eating. Thus, if I'm eating a Twix bar and a bag of potato chips, I'm practically saying, "This is what meals are supposed to look like". With the various eating-based epidemics proliferating throughout society, I'd rather be on the good and healthy end than on the high cholesterol end.

2.    I will compete or participate in one athletic race or event each month. 
Just last month, I participated in a Girls on the Run race as a running buddy for one of my 4th graders. I'm embarrassed to admit this but the fact is that even though the race was only a 5K, I found myself getting winded a bit too easily. In the end, our dynamic duo was the first from our school to cross the finish line, but that doesn't cover up the fact that I found it hard to breath and move both during and after the race. By becoming active and physically fit, I'm essentially showing my students that these are two positive traits that they should aspire to. In this world infiltrated by technology and television, it's important to remember the usefulness of physical activity and to instill those same ideologies in today's youth. 

3.    I will read one book each week.
With literacy remaining as one of our nation's weakest content areas, I believe that it is vital that as educators, we READ. A love of reading is something that is developed through much practice. That same love and desire is one that students need to acquire in order to improve their literacy. By doing my part in reading a book a week, I'm able to honestly tell my students that, yes, adults read. Also, by reading some of the books that are now on the required reading lists for high school, it gives me a better idea of what levels of understanding the students should be striving toward.

4.    I will keep each of my email address inboxes down to no more than 50 messages at all times.
Having two weeks off for Winter Break has given me a lot of TIME. Too much, almost. Over time, I've discovered that I'm one of those people who gets extremely antsy when there is only nothing left on the To Do List. This week though, I've realized that I've been completed bombarded by hundreds of emails that I've never found the time to read or sort. That poses a major problem for a neat freak like me. In the last week, I've successfully cleaned up one Inbox, and am working to clean up two more Inboxes by midnight tomorrow night. Through this cleaning, I've learned that it's easier to stay current when you actually take the time to read email on the DAY that it comes in. Hence, the origination of a lot of my tweets for the last few days.
5.    I will create more PBL learning experiences. 
As a huge proponent of project-based learning, it is my belief that one is able to do a better job of educating the whole student by creating projects that reflect their understanding of and application of taught and learned skills. This creates an exciting opportunity for a new, school-wide initiative that might just work. Teaching technology, I only see each class for 30 minutes once a week. Under normal circumstances this would pose as a major problem. However, in working with classroom teachers, this dilemma can be overcome. 
Most of my projects for the remainder of this school year will focus on Digital Literacy. Last night, I met a college librarian. We had a great talk of the Digital Literacy problems that college students are currently facing as they fail to correctly find information, format papers, or cite sources [or, in a lot of cases, ALL of the above]. In my academic opinion, this is a complete disgrace. Every student who is a product of the 21st Century should be able to effectively research and extract useful information from sources. They should be able to type a paper with proper formatting that contains no spelling or grammatical errors. Last, and most importantly, today's students should be able to correctly cite sources! 
Growing up, I remember having to do all of the above, and that was back when the word processing software was Microsoft Works. There is no reason as to why these basic Digital Literacy skills shouldn't or can't be taught to today's students starting as young as say 1st and 2nd grade. I'm already brewing up some great PBL opportunities for Black History Month and plan to creating additional PBL opportunities to help roll out my school's new recycling program. 

So, I'm now realizing that this list of resolutions is short. Yet, in the brevity, oftentimes there is clarity and focus. In addition to the above resolutions that I plan to work towards, I also plan on creating various iPad apps, finishing the writing of my book, building my PLN, and traveling to some foreign country just to name a list. However, I refuse to specify those here as they belong on a To-Do list, not a resolutions list. 

Resolution: a formal expression of opinion, will or intent

What's yours?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Graphing and the Common Core, Pt. 2

I've recently jumped onto the DropBox bandwagon, and cannot even begin to describe how much I LOVE this file sharing technology tool. Now, I can grade assignments from home as opposed to logging onto each individual netbook to assess my students' work.

Below is the continuation and conclusion of the Microsoft Excel lesson that I began blogging about last month. Keep in mind that these lessons are designed for 30 to 40 minute long class periods, and that the complete lesson of creating a data table and graphing it could easily be accomplished within a 60-minute class period.

Graphing in Microsoft Excel

Phase One 
The first step in this lesson is to have students open their saved files. Based on the operating system and technology platform this could be a simple task, or it could be extremely time-consuming. In my situation, it was the latter primarily due to the lack of a clearly defined "Start" button on the Windows operating system. 

Students become so comfortable with the process of clicking something once to get it to open, so its important that you practice opening files on their computers in order to clearly direct them to click or double-click to access and open their file.

Phase Two
The actual process of generating a graph will vary based on your operating system and the version of Microsoft that you are using. My classes use Microsoft 2010. [Yet my work laptop uses Microsoft 2007 and my personal Mac uses Microsoft 2011]

Once the students have their data table files open, have them select the data by one of two methods:

1.   Click, hold and dragging through the cells with data 

or, my professional preference 

2.   Have them select the cell containing data in the upper-left corner of the table. Hold the 'shift' key 
      and use the arrows on the keyboard to select the cells containing data in the table.

Regardless of the process used, once the table is selected (all except for the starting cell, which will remain white), the mouse clicker or the 'shift' key can be released.

When the table is highlighted, all of the selected cells will be blue with the exception of the first one selected, as is shown in the image above.

Proceeding to Phase Three without properly completing Phase Two will lead to a blank graph as is shown below:


Phase Three
**Reminder:  The following directions apply to Microsoft 2010. Every version varies slightly. 

With the table selected, you will choose the 'Insert' option in order to create a graph. When teaching this, correlate the word 'Insert' with the action of including something on the spreadsheet.

Before allowing students to choose a graph, lead a brief 3 to 5 minute discussion on what type of data could be displayed in each type of graph. Make sure that students understand that a pie graph displays percentages or parts of a whole, as this is a concept that will surely be taught in their math classes and that will definitely be seen on standardized exams. 

Once the students demonstrate an understanding of the uses for the different types of graphs, allow them to graph. 

***When discussing the different types of graph, direct students to choose graphs where the colors in the graph don't touch. More often than not, the graphs with touching colors will generate graphs that do not properly replicate the data found in the data table. See the example below:


From here, the students will undoubtedly have fun exploring the many different graph colors, designs and so much more. 

Phase Four
For assessment purposes, I laid out the following guidelines for students:

1.   Choose a graph that relates to the information being graphed.
2.   Include a Chart Title.
3.   Include an axis label that describes what the numbers represent.

With the great quantity of time in this particular lesson committed to student exploration, I waited until everyone had made a graph prior to explaining the process of making titles and labels.

In this portion of the lesson, it is important to explain to students that the button below the 'down' button is referred to as the 'more' button, and that if they choose that option then they will see ALL of the options of that particular category.

It is also important to explain that the cursor must be blinking before they press 'backspace', because if not the text box will disappear altogether, as can be seen in the following example:


And, last, but not least...YES...you can type sideways.

Below are some of the end products from this lesson. Let's see if you can figure out who earned an A+.












Sunday, December 9, 2012

Keyboards for Kindergarten

This week, I'm really looking forward to seeing my kindergarten classes. For the last couple of months, (seeing each class for only one 30-minute period a week) we've been working on the various mouse functions:
1.  Click
2.  Double-click
3.  Click and drag (a.k.a "click-drap-drop")

They've completed activities like drawing pictures of plants on Paint software, clicking and dragging letters to match the capital with the lowercase in order to create a rainbow, and using Audacity recording software to record a line of their group's poem.

Now, they get to "play games". In order to get these young students to become more efficient with identifying written letters and using the keyboard, I happened to have tripped upon this game that requires students to find and press letters on the keyboard in a timed setting. On ABCya's Typing Rocket Game, students have to press the letter key that corresponds to the letter that they see on the rocket ship on the screen. Every time they get one right, the rocket (which looks more like a firework) explodes.

It's pretty entertaining, and disguising this keyboard familiarity building activity as a game makes it such an easy sell to any class.

The next step will be to incorporate Keyboarding Zoo, a more elaborate activity that requires the students to press one letter of the alphabet multiple times before moving on to the next ordinal letter.

Monday, December 3, 2012

First Grade Lesson: Usernames and Sight Word Practice

Just last week, I completed this really awesome first grade lesson that combined the creation of safe usernames with a fun, sight word game. I cannot even begin to describe how great it was, but, I'll give it a try.

For the first part of the lesson, we discussed the importance of Internet Safety and Privacy. We reviewed the previously taught lessons on information that should be kept private (name, phone number, address, school, birthdate, etc.). Next, we discussed the process of creating usernames based on some of the students' favorite things (like their favorite colors, words, animals, pet names and numbers). After writing a few demo usernames on the board, students were given a pencil and an index card where they were to write down their own unique username. This is where the fun began!

I gave the class 5 minutes to think of and write down their username. [If you're going to try this, make sure that you're very clear about having them write their own, real name first].

The list below shows some of the goofy usernames that the students came up with:

Making the usernames created so much laughter in the classroom as the students would crack up over the silly names that they and their peers had created. 

For the remainder of the class period; in order to put their usernames to good use, the students were directed onto Sight Words Recognition which is a relatively new game that can be found on www.ABCya.com

The game has been so great in so many ways. First, it enables the students to put their usernames to good use. Second, it helps the students to build their sight word recognition levels.

All the students have to do is:
1.   Enter their username.
2.   Click 'join' to join a game, or simply create a new game.
3.   Click 'Start Race'.
4.   When the race starts, click on the written version of the word that you hear.
5.   At the end, you'll see a results place that tells you your rank, your time, and the number of words you got correct within one minute.
6.   If you make a mistake in the game, then you're simply prevented from jumping onto the next ball of yarn.

Below are some screenshots of the game.

 This is where your kitten avatar bounces from word to proceeding word based on spoken version of the word.

 If you are the first one to jump on the couch, then you get a picture of three stars with the word 'WINNER' displayed on top of your kitten's head.

 The results page shows your place, your completion time, your accuracy percentage, your rate of words per minute and any questions that you may have missed.

All and all, I would give this lesson and the Sight Word Practice game two thumbs up, as it's important to hone in on key 21st century learner skills from a young age, while also improving upon their literacy through the Sight Words Practice portion of the activity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Technology Integration Organization Initiative: Washington, DC

Having recently relocated to the Washington, DC area, I've realized that we're a little short on local education chapters....particularly in terms of an ISTE affiliate organization that caters to local professionals. In a way, I feel as though I've been a little spoiled for the last few years. Let's face it. Teaching in Philadelphia, one has access to the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology (PAECT). Teaching in Charlotte, one has access to the North Carolina Technology in Education Society (NCTiES).

In Washington, DC, we have access to..........?

This is a bit of an anomaly to me as a technology educator.
Let's take a look at the numbers.

Washington DC has a population of roughly 618,000, roughly the same population as the state of Vermont; a state that has an ISTE affiliate (VITA-Learn).

So, in an effort to get more involved with like-minded professionals in my local arena, I'll be attending a Meetup in two weeks.

DCEd Tech Meetup

My hopes in attending this meeting are two-hold. One is that I'm looking forward to a great professional development and networking session. Two is that I'm hopeful that together, we can work towards creating a organization to support the educational technology needs of professionals in the Washington, DC area.

Who's with me?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Graphing and the Common Core, Pt. 1

In the Common Core, the ability to interpret and create graphs is something that is introduced as early as second grade. By third grade, students are expected to interpret and create bar graphs and pictographs (3.MD.3). By fourth grade, students are expected to interpret and create line plots (4.MD.4).

Being more of an analytical thinker, I have found myself becoming more fully indulged in math than in any other subject. Ever since learning how to do long division back in the fourth grade, I've found myself creating and solving long division problems whenever I'm bored or waiting in a long line. In the last five years, I've found myself getting sucked into the whole Sudoku phenomenon, and feel all the more intelligent for it. I'm not trying to knock other subjects (as I'm also keen on writing poetry), I'm simply saying that math has always held a special place in me. And, this special connection is one that I consistently work towards passing on to my students.

At my last school, I used Microsoft Excel to teach 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade students how to graph the typing test scores that they had been recording for a total of 10 weeks. The students loved seeing how their scores had changed over time, and they especially loved learning how to graph their very own scores on Microsoft Excel.

That same year, I also led a Professional Development session for teachers on the ways in which one could use Microsoft Excel. Having spent a previous work life dabbling in data analysis, I've become very aware of the many functionalities, and as a teacher I realize that there are only a handful of ways in which Microsoft Excel proves to be more useful than any other tool out there.

Ways in which Microsoft Excel is useful for teachers
  1. Creating rubrics
  2. Maintaining grades
  3. Organizing classes
Currently, I use Microsoft Excel as a way to maintain and update students' grades prior to entering them into the GradeBook program.

Below is a list of some of the many ways in which Microsoft Excel can be used in teaching students.

  1. Creating data tables from surveys.  (3.MD.3)
  2. Graphing data.  (3.MD.3)
  3. Creating pictographs.  (2.MD.10)
  4. Finding area. (4.MD.3)
  5. Finding perimeter. (4.MD.3)
  6. Evaluating and generating patterns. (4.OA.5)
  7. Interpreting and creating line plots.  (4.MD.4)
Phase One
This week, I began a two-lesson project on creating graphs in my fourth grade classes (after Thanksgiving break, I will begin the same lesson for my third grade classes). Since the vast majority of our fourth graders are unfortunately addicted to television, I decided to start with a survey that they could relate to. To begin the lesson, we started with an impromptu survey of their favorite TV shows. Once we had united to compile a list of four TV shows, we polled the class on the shows that they watched. I explained to the students that unlike the voting that transpires in Presidential elections, they could actually vote on more than one TV show, as this was a data project that was based on the shows they watched, not their favorite show.

My current fourth grade classes are very small, with only 8 to 13 students. So, needless to say, our data tables were not very large.

Phase Two
In any Microsoft Excel lesson, it is important to review the very basic vocabulary: worksheet, cell, column, and row.

worksheet = the large area in which all of the cells are located
cell = a rectangular on a worksheet; cell name is based on where the column and row 
          intersect,   e.g.: 'D4'.
column = goes up and down on the worksheet; vertical line of cells that is represented by a 
row = goes from left to right on the worksheet; horizontal line of cells that is represented by 
           a number

Phase Three
After reviewing the vocabulary we played a brief, speed game of "Name that cell". In the game, I would click on a cell and the students would have to yell out the correct cell name. The game would continue until everyone said the correct cell name 5 times in a row. By this point, I knew that they knew how to identify a cell name.

Phase Four
Next, I showed and explained to the students that any information that you typed into a cell would also appear in the formula box at the top of the menu bar. It's important to also highlight the fact that pressing 'Enter' moves you down to the next cell, as using the area keys while actively altering a cell produces no results.

I modeled for students how they would type one TV show name into each cell and press 'Enter' after each. Once the students had completed this step, we were able to move onto the fun step of expanding columns.

Phase Five
This is the part that confuses most adults who are new to Microsoft Excel. When information in a cell exceeds the size of the cell, it is easy to tell where the information starts, but hard to tell where it ends. Thus, it's important to note that the cell the information is contained in is based on the cell where the information is first seen. Below are some screenshots to show examples of this concept.

In the image above, it looks as though 'Hannah Montana' is contained in cells C3 and D3. It also looks as though 'Spongebob Squarepants' is contained in cells C5 and D5.

 The image above shows the reality of 'Hannah Montana' being maintained in cell C3 as is depicted by the fx (formula) bar. The same applies for 'Spongebob Squarepants'.

Phase Six
The ability to expand rows and columns was definitely the jaw-dropping moment of this lesson. To aid in clarifying the exact cell location for each piece of data, I taught the students how to expand the effected columns.

Much like adults, students are also fooled by what they see in Microsoft Excel. Thus, teaching individuals how to expand columns is a necessary step in any Microsoft Excel lesson.

Below is an image that depicts this process.

In the above image, the mouse appears as a line with an arrow on either side. This tool only appears when you move the mouse in between two numbers or two letters. When the tool appears, simply click and drag out to expand the column.

Phase Seven
Once the column with the TV shows is expanded, it is time to enter the votes for each TV show. In this step, it is important to explain that the numbers appear are right-aligned simply because they are numbers. Had they been words instead, they would be left-aligned.

The image above shows the words as being left-aligned, while the numbers are right-aligned.

Phase Eight
The next step is all about selecting the specific cells to add a border to. This can be done in one of two ways. 
  1. Click on the first cell of the group. Click and drag so that only the appropriate cells are highlighted. 
***Explain to students that highlighting on Microsoft platforms means that the information turns blue. It DOES NOT mean that you change the background color to yellow.

     2.  Use the arrow keys to navigate to the first cell of the group. Hold the 'shift' key down to
           highlight the appropriate cells.

The above image shows a highlighted group of cells.

Once the proper cells are selected, a border can be applied. To apply a border, you must select the border option in the main menu. Then, you must choose 'all borders'.

Once the borders are added, the final image will look like the picture shown below.

The above steps merely cover the first of two lessons on graphing in Microsoft Excel. The second lesson will deal with labeling the data as well as creating and editing the graph.

The belief is that students learn by doing. Thus, if students are given the opportunity to create and interpret their own graphs, then they'll likely be able to replicate the same process on a standardized test. This is a skill that is not just applicable to testing environments, it is also applicable to high school and college math courses as well as many different career functions.

After Thanksgiving Break, I'll be sharing a blog on my students' success with creating graphs on Microsoft Excel.

Hope you enjoyed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tagxedo and the Water Cycle

For the last few weeks, our second graders have been learning about the water cycle in their science classes. Knowing this in advance, I decided to incorporate my own version of a water cycle lesson to help the students in a variety of areas.

Online Assessments
First, we went onto Scholastic's Water Cycle workshop where students watched a video on the water cycle, read over the vocabulary words and took a 5-question multiple-choice assessment on the phases of the water cycle. The primary purpose of this portion of the activity was not to complete a graded assessment. No. The real purpose of this lesson was to expose students to the online testing that they will soon be undergoing, in a less-threatening environment.

I remember my last school, where 1st thru 5th graders took AR (Accelerated Reader) quizzes based on the books they read. I also remember the quarterly STAR tests that they took during technology class. While I refuse to disclose any type of bias for or against these assessments, one thing that I can say is that I noticed a greater sense of ease and comfort when my current students were taking their online assessments versus when my former students had done so.

It's important in this day and age that we expose our students to online assessments so that, at the very least, they are able to match computerized questions to computerized answers. And, in the case of this particular quiz, students also had to click on 'Next' in order to get to the next question. Anyone who has taken a computerized Praxis exam lately should know exactly what I'm talking about.

The second part of this lesson has been the most exciting. It's hard to tell if it is more exciting for me or for the students. For now, we'll say it's a tie.

On Day Two of this lesson (one week later), I told the students that they'd be making a Word Cloud. Needless to say, there was many a confused face in the room. After showing the students some examples, they became exuberantly excited.

To refresh their memories on the knowledge that they had already acquired from our previous water cycle activity, I distributed a simple worksheet that looked as follows:

Name:____________________________            Class:____________________________

Water Cycle Notes




We then, for the last time, viewed the video from the Scholastic website above. The class had 2 minutes after the video ended to take as many notes as they could on the different phases of the water cycle. Next, the fun began :)

I introduced the class to Tagxedo. When introducing students to Tagxedo, it is so important that you direct them to click on the correct 'Submit' option. Otherwise, they'll be sitting and waiting for their screen to change.

By clicking on load, students can type in their own text. I specifically directed students to click on only the triangles, so as to physically see all of the options that they could possibly choose from. Students had to choose a shape that related to the water cycle in order to get a perfect grade. They also had to incorporate the words "condensation", "evaporation" and "precipitation" into the text of the Word Cloud.

Aside from "Shape", the only other options that I allowed students to change were: "Theme" (color), "Font" and "Orientation" of words (any which way, horizontal, vertical, h/v).

Below are just a few of the many creations that came from this particular unit. Things went so well with the 2nd graders that I'm already planning to have the 3rd and 4th graders create a Word Cloud out of their original poems.

Coming soon......Audacity, Kindergartners and Poetry All Rolled into One.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Google Earth: World Mountain tours

One of my favorite subjects to teach is geography. This is most likely due to the fact that I've lived in over a dozen cities throughout my entire life (military family). Also, in my other life as a marketing pro, I seized every single opportunity that I could to travel for work in cities all over the country. In my many travels, I've chronicled a great number of pictures and experiences that won't soon fade. And, though I haven't yet used the passport that I got nearly 10 years ago (which expires in July 2013), I still feel comfortable in knowing that my life is all the more better and diversified from the many traveling expeditions that I've had.

Teaching-wise, I've taught in inner-city schools in Philadelphia where students knew virtually nothing of the world that existed outside of their immediate community. I then taught at a suburban school just outside of Charlotte, where the students were taking family vacations to Spain and the Bahamas. At this particular school, Disney World was more than an idea, it was the location where a lot of the students would spend their Winter Break every year. Now, I'm teaching in Washington, DC, in an inner-city, all-girls school. Every day, I'm humbled by the opportunity to show the girls more than they could have ever thought existed. I'm even more grateful to show them the world right from their seats, through the use of Google Earth.

World Mountains
Part of the Core Knowledge content for 4th Grade has been to learn about World Mountains. Teaching small groups of 9-12 fourth grade students at a time, has been great for this particular lesson. The beauty of learning about the World Mountains is that they are located ALL over the WORLD!

To teach this lesson, we first reviewed the cardinal directions (North, East, South and West). We even learned the saying "Never Eat Soggy Waffles" to help the students remember the acronym. Next, I showed the students how to use Google Earth in the most basic way (spinning the Earth, zooming in, zooming out, searching for locations).

Once the students had a few minutes to practice using the basic functions of Google Earth, I provided them with a list of the World Mountains. We practiced saying the mountain names as a class in order to build fluency.

The World Mountain list included:
1.   Andes
2.   Rockies
3.   Appalachians
4.   Himalayas
5.   Urals
6.   Atlas
7.   Alps
8.   Everest
9.   McKinley
10. Aconcagua
11. Mont Blanc
12. Kilimanjaro

Now, there's one thing that I neglected to check prior to the lesson. Google Earth doesn't seem to have a search function control option. Thus, when you're searching for places like the Rocky Mountains, it's very likely that Rocky Mount, NC will appear, which has nothing to do with mountains at all, trust me, I've been through there several times.

Another thing that I neglected to do in the lesson was to tell the students where the mountains were located. This was a purposeful omission as I've learned that students learn more when you give them less.

If you want to do this activity in your class, I suggest that you label the mountains in the following ways for an optimal class success rate:

1.   Andes Mountains
2.   Rocky Mountains
3.   Appalachian Mountains
4.   Himalaya Mountains
5.   Ural Mountains
6.   Atlas Mountains
7.   Alps
8.   Mount Everest
9.   Mountain McKinley
10. Aconcagua
11. Mont Blanc
12. Kilimanjaro

In the area where the students search for the mountain, the location (country and city) of the mountain appear beneath the search menu, so if you really wanted to, you could quiz them on the locations of each mountain. In my particular lesson, I had the students find and add placemarks to each mountain. We would then use those placemarks to create a video tour of some of the world mountains...but I'll describe that a little later on.

To make a placemark, you have to click on the yellow thumbtack at the top of the Google Earth toolbar. There are two qualms that I have about this process. One is that students are smart and investigative. They want to know what the different buttons do, so they end up spending more time looking through and choosing an alternative placemark than they do searching for the mountains in general. Time-permitting, I would suggest allowing them to express their creativity in this area. However, if they can't make a choice within 15 seconds, then prod them to move on.

The second issue that I have is that when students click on the placemark icon on their netbooks, the placemark screen doesn't fit on the screen, so it has to be moved in order for the students to click "Okay". Google Earth does a great job with notifying netbook users of the diminished size of Google Earth when they launch the program, it's just one of those situations where you have to incorporate the teaching of an additional skill into the lesson. But, that's what facilitating learning is all about, right?

The main thing that I love about making placemarks on Google Earth is the fact that once you've made the placemark, it is automatically saved in your "places". No additional steps need to be taken, and so long as you use that same computer the next time you're on Google Earth, all of your previously saved placemarks will still be there.

Since Google Earth was so new to my students, I opted to break the lesson into two separate sessions. In the first class period, students added their placemarks and were allowed to explore the pictures. During the second class period, the students used their previously made placemarks to create a tour of at least 4 of the World Mountains.

When using Google Earth, I've found that less is more. Under the "Layers" option, I had students select only three options. When too many options are selected, Google Earth tends to look like a convoluted congestion of colors and icons galore. Far too many distractions for the focused student.

3 Layers to Select:
1.   Borders and Labels
2.   Photos
3.   3D Buildings

Making the Tour

Once the placemarks are labeled, the tour can be made. To do this, you have to click on the video camera icon at the top of the Google Earth toolbar. Pay attention to the bottom of the screen when you do this, as you'll see a small, rectangular box appear. The red dot enables you to record and to stop the recording. The blue microphone enables you to speak; it's great for narrating a tour.

After clicking on the red, record button, the time may not change initially. And, when the time does change, it often goes up in 3 to 8 second intervals. Once the time starts changing, you can feel safe in knowing that your tour is being recorded. To "fly" to one of the placemarked mountains, you've got to double-click on the placemark. Single-clicking will merely select the placemark, it won't enable you to fly anywhere.

When you fly to a mountain, you can click on a blue and brown picture icon to see a real picture of the area. If you click on a picture while recording your tour, then the picture will actually appear in the tour. This is a pretty cool feature, because if I'm not mistaken, back when I tried to record a clicked on picture in one of my grad school classes, it didn't work.

To move from one location to another, you just double-click on the different placemarks.

When you're all done flying, click on the white button with the red background in order to stop the recording. Doing this will prompt an automatic playback of your tour, so don't be alarmed. I encourage all of my students to watch their tour before saving to ensure that they have actually fulfilled the requirements of the lesson.

Once the tour playback concludes, you can click on the disk icon () to name and save the tour. With this particular lesson, I had the students save the tour as their name - teacher's name - World Mountains.

E.g.  Tara - Jones - World Mountains

This has made it easy for me to go back and align the right student with the right class, in order to give them the grade that they've earned.

In the future, I plan on using Google Earth with some of the younger grades to help support the worldly views that they are gaining from their classroom content.

I hope that this post has helped any of you who may be looking for ways to incorporate the awesome (and free) Google Earth software into your lessons.

More to come...Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sharing the iPad - 4 iPads, 20+ students, 30 minutes of class time, and an assessment

Getting used to teaching 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds has by far been one of the most daunting tasks that I've been charged with. I would honestly have to say that it has been even more daunting than: teaching technology without the actual use of technology, teaching 30 kindergarteners, and last but not least, teaching 5 and 6-year-olds how to differentiate between clicks and right-clicks without much knowledge on the difference between right and left.

For the first few weeks of school, I focused on teaching the preschool and pre-k classes how to properly handle the iPads. For this activity we used small books to model the proper ways in which to pass the iPads. The three rules that we focused on were as follows:

1. Always pass the iPad with two hands.
2. Only use clean hands on the iPad.
3. When tapping the iPad, tap gently.

These rules were purposefully set up and discussed. Even now, the rules are still being reinforced at the beginning of each technology class.

Always pass the iPad with two hands.
This is an important rule because the last thing that any of us wants to see is a 3-year-old dropping an iPad because they did not know how to properly handle it. To illustrate this rule for the students, I would pick the iPad up with one hand a hold it in the palm of one hand. Being incredibly over dramatic, I would act like I dropped the iPad and ask, "Uh oh, what might happen if I drop the iPad?". The students yelled out, "IT MIGHT BREAK". While the students crack up when I handle the iPad in a funny way, they clearly get the message of holding the iPad with two hands so as to not break it.

In teaching preschool and pre-k for the last couple of months, I've learned that it is incredibly important to reinforce the most important principles of any given lesson, as they have so much to remember over the span of an 8-hour school day.

Another funny thing that I've noticed, particularly in one of the pre-k classes, is that students have a hard time sharing, no matter what the object of the sharing happens to be. This is why it is important to create "small" groups of no more than 4 students, for optimal sharing success. Last week, in one of my pre-k classes, the teachers had decided to implement a new sharing strategy for the students. They taught them to silently hold out their hands (as though they were in church), to show that they were "ready to receive" the iPad. Seeing this for the first time, I cracked up a little bit inside, for I don't think that it was the intention of the practice, but it looked the students were at a church ceremony. This "ready to receive" technique worked out pretty well, in terms of improving the students' ability to share, however, I do recall one group where the holder of the iPad behaved as though she was greater than though, staring down her group members before slowly deciding who would receive the iPad next.

*When it comes to sharing in small groups, it is important to have all group members facing one another, as it becomes rather challenging to pass the iPad to someone who is behind you, when you can't even see them.

Only use clean hands with the iPad.
This was one of the more humorous rules that I taught in the first couple of weeks of the school year. I first started by asking the students, "What would happen if you touch the chair with dirty hands?". The students responded, "The chair would get dirty". Then, we were able to correlate the same knowledge to touching an iPad with dirty hands. The funniest part of this portion of the lesson was when I asked the students the following questions:

"Would you ever give your iPad a sandwich?"
"Would you ever give your iPad a sip of milk?"
"Would you ever push your iPad in a swing?"

The students were all but rolling on the floor from the ridiculousness of the questions. They loved answering "NO" to everything. Despite the humor, these actually are important questions to ask, because while a 3 or 4-year-old is not a baby, they are still young people who are working with a brand new "toy".

When tapping the iPad, tap gently.
This is a worthy rule for a couple of different reasons.

If someone were to tap an iPad forcefully, it could very likely slip from their grasp altogether.

By introducing the word "tapping", you're actually building the students' vocabularies, which is almost never a bad thing.

Since I'm charged with assessing all students on four different criteria each term, I've recently found that creating one more group than there are iPads seems to go a long way. Say, for example, you have 6 groups of four students. Simply distribute an iPad to 5 of the groups, while you use your own teacher iPad (or the remaining iPad) to assess that leftover group. This works for two reasons. One, while you're assessing the students in that one group, all of the other groups are working on the current task. When you finish assessing that group, you simply take an iPad from the next group to give to the group that you've just assessed. Then, you assess the new group that is without an iPad. Thus far, this method has worked so well, that I'm actually able to assess the vast majority of the class within that one class period, which is a lot more than I can say for my experiences in September.

My Typical iPad Lessons (30 minutes)
2 min. =   Introduce lesson; Find out what the students already know
3 min. =   Expand on the students' knowledge; Introduce new vocabulary
3 min. =   Demonstrate iPad app.
2 min. =   Wiggle Break
2 min. =   Review process for using iPad app.; Ask and Answer any necessary questions
2 min. =   Discuss iPad handling rules
4 min. =   Create small groups; Distribute iPads
10 min. = Students work on iPads; Teacher monitors groups; Teacher assesses groups
2 min. =   Review lesson

In the near future, I plan to post some YouTube videos on what a lot of these apps. look like. I've found that some of the apps. can be rather confusing, thus going through a trial and error situation prior to the start of any given lesson is essential. Why not make it a little bit easier by recording these trials so that others are able to make informed decisions about the Education apps that they download? Find me on YouTube @TechTeacherT (soon), where I'll post how-to videos on the iPad apps. that I've had success with, as well as the ones that have been utter failures.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Week 2 - "Internet Safety"

After a semi-successful first week of reviewing the Acceptable Use Policy, it was now time to move onto the increasingly important topic of Internet Safety. In catching the news, reading newspapers, and admittedly watching a few too many Lifetime movies, I can honestly say that my Internet Safety lessons for 2nd thru 4th grade were pretty enthralling.

All of the lessons started in the same fashion...discussing the topic of privacy, and bringing attention to the difference between private and public information on the Internet. To complete this lesson, I used Common Sense Media, which provided a great source for the essential message of the lesson. However, one thing that I've learned as an inner-city school teacher, is that it's important to hone in on the message of the lesson in a way that truly hits home.

For the first part of the lesson, we discussed things and places in our lives where we expected privacy. One that was surprisingly rarely brought up was the idea of privacy in a bathroom or a bathroom stall. The main places and things that were shared included: bedrooms, cabinet crawl spaces in the kitchen, closets, diaries and notebooks. Next, I introduced an overexaggerated scenario, requiring the girls (I work at an all-girls school) to envision themselves having a crush on a boy, writing about him in their diary and then losing the diary in a public place. All of the girls, were definitely involved in this aspect of the lesson. They were like, "OMG, Ted is going to find out about the crush!!!". It was entertaining. I completed this part of the lesson by reminding the girls that posting personal information on the Internet is like going to a busy train station, and saying, "My name is Jane Doe. I live at 123 S. Main St. My parents get home at 5 p.m., I get out of school at 3 p.m......". I concluded this phase of the lesson by stating that, "One should not post information online that they wouldn't share with complete strangers at a busy train station". Needless to say, they got the point.

The next phase of the lesson involved reading an information sheet that listed and explained the different types of private information. Following this was a discussion on why the items are considered private.

The last part of my lesson was the biggest crowd-pleaser of all. For those of you who may not know, or are not from Atlanta, let me start by giving you a brief rundown of the show "Tyler Perry's House of Payne"(TPHoP). For those of you who are familiar with the show, feel free to skip this paragraph. TPHoP is all about a blended family, living under the same roof. The men in the family are firefighters. There is a young grandmother, sometimes there's a mother, and practically every episode features one of the two kids. The girl, Jazmin, is the youngest. The boy, Malik, is the oldest, ranging from age 10 to 16 or so, depending upon the episode. The show brings to life a lot of true obstacles that are faced within families, particularly blended families.

In Season 2, Episode 20 of TPHoP, titled "And Justice for All", Malik and his friend are at home, chatting online with a "girl" that they think is so cute. Malik's dad leaves the house. His friend leaves, and then comes right back over. The boys decide to invite the "girl" Stephanie over. Shortly thereafter, Stephanie obliges the boys' request. Malik and his friend agree that Stephanie is so hot. They don't even think twice about inviting her over. Stephanie comes over to Malik's house. Not a single adult is home. The two boys are alone. Malik's friend hides. When Malik opens the front door he suddenly realizes that Stephanie is not a girl at all...he is a man. Malik's friend runs to the firehouse to get the uncle and the dad, who both arrive within moments to save the day.

The introduction of this episode was one of dual purposes.
A. It shows an example of what could happen when personal information is shared online.
B. It shows how some TV shows and episodes reflect what happens in the real world.

To close the lesson we talked about how you could safely talk to people online without giving them your real name. When asked, "What would you do if someone online asked you for your name?", one student responded by simply saying "shoe". I said, "Come again". She said, "I would say that my name is shoe, because that way if they search for me online, all they're going to get is a picture of a shoe".

Some comments are simply priceless :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Week 1 - "Acceptable Use Policy"

A New Season, A New City, A New School

Last school year, I worked in Charlotte as a Technology Teacher with no SmartBoard. This year, I'm working in DC as a Technology Teacher with no classroom. Oh, the many challenges we all face in this new age of transitions in teaching.

For the first three weeks of the school year, I taught my Technology classes at this preschool thru 4th Grade school without using a single piece of technology, aside from the occasional use of my work laptop. How does one do this you might ask? I wish I could tell you it was easy, but I'll keep it real. You must first think of and conduct extensive research on all the things that schoolchildren should know about technology capabilities and responsibilities, then you must turn on the creative side of your brain and get to work.

The first week of teaching was relatively dry, as it was dedicated to understanding the newly created Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). With 30-40 minutes per class period this started off as a relative snore-fest, similar to what an average teenager might experience in a college lecture course on the History of Technology without the use or introduction of any actual technological devices. By the end of that first week however, I had begun to use real-world scenarios in my descriptions of the penalties and dangers that come with breaking the rules. Asking 6-year-olds the question of, "What might happen if you post your address on the Internet, where 10,000,000,000 users live?" extracts a lot of detailed responses that definitely get the ball rolling. Also, writing the number 10,000,000,000 on the board, an increment at a time helps the students to see and understand just how large the quantity of Internet users is.

When writing the number 10 billion, do it like this, and have the class read each number as you add the zeroes:


In distributing the AUP at the end of each class period, I required second, third and fourth graders to provide their own signature in addition to a parent's signature. This was primarily because they were at an age in which the expectations for compliance are much higher than they are for the kindergarten and first graders. In addition, just from taking a visual poll from each class when I read the words "Twitter", "Facebook" and "Myspace", only the second thru fourth grade students had the faintest idea as to what I was talking about. Several third and fourth grade students actually admitted to having Facebook pages and Twitter profiles. *Scary*

Below is the final AUP that was developed for the school. After conducting a great deal of online research and gaining a better understanding of my school's culture, I came to the conclusion that the best way to frame the document was in a positive light so as to ensure that the students would not look at the document as a mere list of rules. When developing an AUP for a school, it's important to use positive words, particularly when the document is created for an elementary school, as a great quantity of the students are still learning to differentiate between positive and negative, good and bad, right and wrong.

Acceptable Use Policy SY 2012-2013

The other challenge with that first week of school involved teaching classes of 3 and 4-year-olds how to properly handle iPads that were not physically available. This part of my week, tended to be the funnest in terms of student engagement. When teaching preschool and pre-k students about the importance of properly handling iPads its important to use comedy. I'd often ask questions like, "Are you going to feed the iPad a sandwich?", "Are you going to push the iPad down the slide?", "Are you going to give the iPad a drink of your juice?". These "silly" questions were a riot, and I quickly realized that the students loved questions where they could answer a loud, "NO", followed by a bout of laughter.

In approaching the topic of handling the iPads, we began with and continue to stress the importance of handling the iPad with two hands so that they don't fall and break. With the absence of physical iPads at this stage, we used one of the classroom books to practice passing the "iPads". Each preschool and pre-k class sat in a large circle on the carpet. Between 20+ students, we sent only one book around so that everyone could watch and model the way in which the iPad should be handled and passed. This required some patience on the part of the students, and a total of two wiggle breaks, but in the end I can honestly say that the students got the point. I can even attest to the fact that we haven't broken or dropped a single iPad to this day.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Wordle is a great tool that I have used on occasion to help give students the opportunity to literally turn their words into art, and the best part is that it's free. This has been an extremely exciting thing for the second grade students in my school, as they are the first students that I have introduced to this creative technology. Of course, it is important to mention that for the sake of time, one should really and truly have students type their words out in a program like Microsoft Word prior to turning them into a Wordle.

In my particular scenario, I had second graders conduct research on an African American of their choice for Black History Month. The research portion took two class periods. Then, students were required to type up a biography that was all about their person. The typing alone took one class period. The editing, and spell-check functions came about in the following class period. Then, students were able to copy their text from Microsoft Word, and paste it into the Wordle website.

One thing worth noting is that the Wordle website requires a Java plug in. Thus, if you're working on Mozilla Firefox, through a Macintosh platform, then you'll likely need to make sure that Java is installed on all computers, prior to having students create their Wordle. One more thing trouble that I just encountered is that Safari and Wordle don't get along too well either. When using Wordle in Safari, the layout will change randomly without so much as a click. This could also be from user-error, as I use a Macintosh with a touchpad as opposed to a mouse.

Here's How It Works:
  1. Start by going to www.Wordle.net
  2. Click "Create" in order to begin the process of creating your own Wordle
  3. Type or past your text into the first box. There are other options for inserting Blog feeds, del.icio.us tags, and things of that nature, however for education purposes, I've chosen to stick with the basic text option.
  4. It may take up to a minute for your original Wordle to appear. Once you original Wordle loads, you're able to choose from the following menu options: edit, language, font, layout and color.
      1. Edit: allows you to undo or redo an action.
      2. Language:  you can change the case of words (uppercase or lowercase). It also gives you endless options on different types (languages) of words that you can remove from the Wordle creation. You can also use this tool to show word counts for each word, which can be fun to analyze as it shows students just how frequently they use certain words in their writing.
      3. Font:  the font gives you a total of 32 options. This is one of students' most favorite things to change on Wordle as there is a font called "Grilled Cheese". That being said, it's important to note that there is also a font called "Sexsmith", which has the potential to generate a response from a few class clowns every now and then.
      4. Layout:  this feature allows the user to change the direction of the words. Choices include: any which way, horizontal, mostly horizontal, half and half, mostly vertical and vertical. In addition, the user can choose to have the words arranged in alphabetical order, and decide whether to have the rounder or straighter edges on the words.
      5. Color:  last, and most creatively is the ability to change the color of the Wordle. This is a bittersweet function. Bitter in the sense that the majority of schools likely restrict printing to black and white only. Sweet for those schools that do have access to color printing. One way to compensate for the black and white option is to have students color their Wordle after it is printed. This can prove to be great fun, especially for younger, elementary-aged students. In the color option one can choose from an area of color variations, each of which include between 2 and 5 colors per palette (BW, WB, Ghostly, Indian Earthy, Firenze, Chilled Summer, Blue Meets Orange, Kindled, Shooting Star, Organic Carrot, Milk Paints, Moss Heat, yramirP). Each palette varies in both color and intensity. If one does not see their preferred palette, then they have the option to create their own. The user also has the option to change the variation of the colors used; choices include: a little variation, some, lots or wild variation. 
  5. When the design is complete, and you're ready to print, simply select the print option at the bottom of the page. After clicking "print", you'll get a security warning message that states: "The applet has requested access to the printer. Do you want to allow this action?". When this appears, simply click "OK", for if you select "Cancel", then you will be unable to print your newly created Wordle.

The drawbacks of Wordle are as follows:
  • Printing the Wordle is a multi-click process, as you must check a box when selecting the print option, prior to getting to the printer menu.
  • Wordle can't be saved. That is to say that Wordle creations can't be saved to a disk. Instead, you can opt to post them so that anyone on the World Wide Web may see them. 
  • Wordle can't be emailed. You can email a link to the completed Wordle, but you can't log in to edit it. 

Friday, April 6, 2012


No instructional technology blog would be complete without so much as a mention of Glogster.

Glogster has been one of the most functional and, at times, most challenging tools that I've used as a Technology Teacher this year. First, and foremost, let me clarify that I'm a Technology Teacher at an Elementary School. Earlier in the school year, I had six classes of 4th grade students researching various Social Studies based facts on our state, in order to find information to include on their Glogster page. Their end product was to create a Glogster page showcasing:
  •  6 history facts with dates and descriptions
  •  a brief biography on one historic figure from the state
  •  5 of the state symbols
  •  the 3 regions of the state, and 2 cities in each region
[In hindsight the project would have been significantly more effective had the quantity of information been reduced, specifically in the areas of history and state symbols. Also, a classroom teacher would likely be able to have students complete this project in a more time-effective manner, as they spend more time with their students, whereas most technology teachers see each class only once per week at best, for a mere 45 minutes (not factoring in the time that it takes for the computers to log on). ]

After completing the research, students were then paired up in order to create a collaborative environment in which to complete their final project. This aspect worked out very well overall, but I must say that in order to complete the pairings successfully, one must first be able to identify which students are familiar with the Glogster program, and are apt to catch on to technology tools with relative ease, so as to best pair the students on a high-low scale in terms of ability to use technology tools effectively. This is one of the best parts in creating a Unit Plan centered on authentic assessments, because it supports ISTE's NETS-S, Standard 2 on Communication and Collaboration:
  • 2A:  "Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media"
  • 2D:  "Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems"

Another huge time saver when using Glogster is to create usernames and passwords for students prior to allowing them access to their Glogster page. While this process takes anywhere from one to three hours depending on the size of the class (in my case, it took around 2 hours to create 85 accounts and write down each pair's log in information), it is definitely worth the investment as it saves a great deal of time on the side of the students, by allowing them to simply retrieve their log in card at the beginning of each class without having to remember a strange combination of letters for their username (e.g. sfj19tok). When changing the usernames, creating something as simple as the partners' names (e.g. BobTom), is basic enough, and it aids in students' ability to "remember", which is on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy at the lowest level of the pyramid.  

With Glogster, students are able to select graphics (including animations) and text boxes for inputting their information. The double-edged sword here is that students' options are unlimited in the creative aspect, and at times, students have had a challenging time negotiating which option to use ranging from the background of their Glog to the text boxes used for the information. The good news here is that students can change the background as often as they'd like. The bad news is that if they're choosing a new text box, then they would either need to copy and paste their information from the old box to the new box, or they'd need to type everything all over again. For the sake of time, I prefer the copy and paste option. 

If students are completing a project using research via Internet sites, then it is our duty as professionals to ensure that they are citing their sources properly. Throughout my graduate school experience, I had always used either EasyBib, or the option located on my library's homepage or EasyBib. However, for elementary students, I happened to have tripped on a website that has proven to be significantly more functional, and one that I wish I had known about while in graduate school as the site has a free APA option, whereas the APA option on EasyBib comes with a price. The site that I would suggest for students is:  http://www.bibme.org/. This site allows students to keep and download a running tabulation of their sources, while appropriately citing their sources through a simple copy and paste of the website into the citation generator. Of course, before using this site, I would suggest that one teach the importance of citing sources, so that students understand the need for this additional step.

When students wish to find and upload images and videos for use on their Glogster page, it is important to have a mini-lesson dedicated to the downloading of pictures onto a computer and then the uploading of said picture onto the Glogster page. This process also goes for the incorporation of sound and video. The following site is one that I've used for this and many other classroom projects:  http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/

One of the greatest features of the Glogster EDU site is the ability to interact electronically with the class, and the ease at which students can interact with one another. When students are "stuck" on how to do something, they can send a message to the teacher or post the question on the message board, this is great, because it allows more time for the facilitation of student learning and creating, and less time on direct instruction.

There's also this really neat function that enables you to create student portfolios using the classroom management function of the Glogster page.


Glogster EDU    vs.     Glogster.com

Glogster EDU:
  • costs at least $29.95 per year
  • allows the teacher to have control over usernames and passwords
  • allows the teacher to see each student's progress                
  • is free
  • requires an email address in order to register
  • offers no classroom management options

  • Teacher Light (50 accounts)  =  $29.95/year
  • Teacher Premium (200 accounts)  =  $99/year
  • School Premium (up to 2500 accounts)  =  $2/account/year
  • District Premium (at least 2500 accounts)  =  starting at $4875/year 

*One last thing worth mentioning:
Currently, Glogster EDU is hosting a contest for K-12 students to see who can create the best Glogs in relation to Earth Day. Below is a link to tell you more about the specs. Cash and prizes are among the several awards for this contest: