Oh Wiki You’re So Fine…

Having used wikis with my middle school students, I can say the transition is not a difficult one. They enjoy the opportunity to use technology, but they really appreciate the opportunity to work on a document from anywhere with the help of others regardless of being together or separate.

I remember a recent project. I specifically told this curious bunch of students I had in certain class that I was subscribed to the wiki via RSS and received all updates and changes. Furthermore, the wiki would tell me who changed what and when and also allow me to revert to previous versions. Anyone caught defacing others pages would be using School 1.0 to get his or her project finished. I had not seen any issues with the wiki through the first week, so I thought I was home free and the world was a happy place (my world anyway).

Then late Saturday night happened. I started getting notifications hand over fist about edits occurring on one certain site. Instead of looking at the changes in the feed window, I quickly navigated over to the wiki to shut down access to whatever terrible thing was taking apart one of my group’s hard work. I knew the offender had logged in with a student ID, and I was sure to confront him/her about it on Monday. So, I get to the wiki and start looking around the pages being reported as edited. Nothing. They looked fine to me. I could not see the difference from what I would have expected at this point.

So I went into the history to see what the kid was up to. And then it hit me. Editing. He was editing. This ESL, only in the country three years, never talks in class, speaks broken English kid was editing the work of his peers (one of which was one of my top students). He cared enough about his group’s work and its appearance to the public that he wanted it right. Were all of his corrections accurate? No. But most were, and he was doing English VOLUNTARILY on a SATURDAY night. That is what wikis and collaborative work is all about. I shut my machine down to go to bed knowing that my work had been a success. Even if he was the only one who chose to go the extra mile, he CHOSE to do it. That made it all worth it.

My students used the wiki to aide each other in weak areas. They found missing parts in their own work and asked others to help them by adding to it. Some took the initiative, others did not. But they all favored the Web 2.0 version over the School 1.0.

Online collaborative word processing sites (wikis, Google Docs, etc) allow people to share and mold and create and recreate information and ideas. It is an awesome opportunity. These people may never meet, but their ideas will. Their intellect will collide and combine in a virtual environment that will change the real world. This is powerful. Our students deserve to at least learn how to harness this power on a local basis, because after high school they will run into it on a global basis.

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Stories Online for Elementary Teachers/Students

I have blogged about this before, I think, but there have been some enhancements to the site that makes it worth repeating. The Storyline Online site is one where stories are narrated by actors and actresses. It is an awesome addition to the classroom.

The addition I have seen is the activities to download that go with the books. Very nice. Wish I had these when I taught first grade. I counted twenty-one stories as of today.

The screen capture above is Amanda Bynes reading The Night I Followed The Dog. Very. Funny. Book. Take a look at the site and see what it can do for you.

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Clue for Writers… and then some

“a zoo at night” “a thief” “no one wants to help your character”

Those are the three story components given to me by the Interactive Plot Creator found at Writing Fix just in case I could not think of a story to write on my own. Winner of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers 2008 award, this is a wonderful little tool that offers your students a way to get out of the “I don’t know what to write about” slump they always seem to be in. Give it a whirl. Seems to me a neat use of just this feature would be daily/weekly writing time where you put the site up on the VGA and the kids all learn at the same time what will test their creative writing juices. It could even be turned into a circle story where everyone starts their own and passes it to the right after a set amount of time. It would be an interesting twist seeing as everyone has the same three components (setting, character, and plot) yet end up with entirely different stories.

By the way, you will also find plenty of other pertinent tools that will help in your writing classroom:

11) Author Studies Homepage

This site is created by the Northern Nevada Writing Project which is a part of the National Writing Project. I had a chance to meet these folks a few years back at the NCTE conference in Tennessee. They are extremely dedicated and are focused on improving the way writing is taught and viewed in the classroom. Their tools work write along your NWP, New Jersey Writing, or 6 Traits training. Trust me when I say, this site will change the way your students view writing in the classroom and how you create lessons for your students.

Here’s one for the math teachers!

Need some online quizzes to help your kids (K-12) get more practice with math concepts? Then ThatQuiz has the answer for you.

Go to the site, choose a math category to fit your needs, and practice away. Students do not have to register. If you just want their final scores, they can always print out the screen when they finish the quiz. Free is always a great price, especially when the product has as much value as this one.

Students will find practice in these categories with MANY subcategories:

  • Integers
  • Fractions
  • Concepts
  • Geometry

I know my 7 year old will be trying out the concepts portion this summer to stay in mental math shape.

Pick your author, any author

Okay, reading teachers and librarians. This site is just neat in so many ways, yet it only does one thing. It finds you an author.

The premise is simple. Go to Literature Map. Type in the name of an author you (your students actually) like to read. Literature Map goes out and does some crazy style of mapping and finds authors that write like your chosen author and about topics similar to the ones your chosen author writes about. Not sure how it does it.

It seemed to do a pretty good job of nearly all I entered (one or two children’s book authors were not in there). The funniest response I found was when I put in Eric Carle (not one of my fav’s, by the way) and it suggested Stephen King as one of the options. I could not agree more, because Carle’s story lines bore me to death (get it? Death, Stephen King…insert cricket chirp). Sorry. I know it is more about the art than the words in his case.

Anyway, here is what it looked like when I did Lois Lowry. Consider that the closer the author name is to your chosen author in the center of the screen, the more alike the writing styles and other attributes. In this case, Judy Blume was closest. It may not be perfect, but it will get kids reading new authors. Neat stuff. Should have one computer in the library just with this turned on.

Free the Reading!

For those who do not blog or read blogs, I truly feel that you are missing out on tremendous resources shared by other educators. I was skimming through my Bloglines account today and found this jewel of a post from Kevin Jarrett over at Welcome to NCS-Tech! Consider this reading site.

Free Reading is a site devoted to offering high quality reading resources for grades K-3. They define themselves as:

Free-Reading is an open source instructional program that helps educators teach early literacy. Because it is open source, it represents the collective wisdom of a wide community of teachers and researchers. Free-Reading contains a 40-week scope and sequence of primarily phonological awareness and phonics activities that can support and supplement a typical kindergarten or first grade “core” or “basal” program.

What you will find on this site is research-based reading materials, the research that support them, and a collaborative group of educators sharing their resources to make your classroom instruction the best it can be. To me, this is what Web 2.0 is all about. Share great material with like minded individuals, and you will find equally as valuable resources to partake from. Here is the mission behind Free Reading:

* To help educators worldwide teach kids to read
* To make quality, research-based, explicit and systematic instruction for early reading widely available and free (in two senses of the word “free”: “at no charge” and “openly offered so as to be used, reused, mashed-up and shared again”)
* To nurture a community of educators who share effective methods in a form that others can easily apply in their own teaching
* To disrupt spending in education away from traditional textbooks and towards more customized instructional materials, more support and training for teachers, and better tools for data and knowledge management.
* Ultimately, as Catherine Snow has said, for kids to be able to “read books with enjoyment while lying in a hammock under elm trees”.

Though no individual skill taught here may be an end in itself, we believe each is a step on the path to that ultimate goal.

You will find many skills covered in categories including:

  • Phonological Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Fluency
  • Writing

So dive into their resources and see what you surface with. I bet you will find it more valuable than anything out of the textbook. Besides, that’s their goal.

PS – Feel free to share some of your great curriculum with them. It is the only way to make the collective grow.

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Jacques Cousteau is sitting in your classroom and you just don’t know it!

Let’s face it. Your students love nature. They love computers. They love media. Why not have them create short documentaries about cheetahs, water lizards, polar bears, and more using real video footage, authentic sounds, and background music?

What? Your kids don’t know how to make videos? You don’t know where to get the media for the film? Well, let Nat Geo step in and save the day. Enter the Wildlife Filmmaker. Your kids do not need to be professionals, but they just might turn into them. Using drag and drop technology, National Geographic has done a wonderful job of simplifying the process for teachers (I say ‘teachers’ because the detail could kill us if we had to walk our younger students through the process in MovieMaker or iMovie).

The students will be given a code to write down when they are through to allow them to retrieve the video once they are completed. Now, retrieve means it will bring it back up and play it in the Nat Geo site. I did not see a way to download the video yet, but I am sure it will not be long. A teacher could very easily write the numbers down to create links on his/her web page for parents and students to view their creations.

So, if you are lucky enough to have an administrator order you to teach the things you wanted the students to learn but testing got in the way of, then try this out. The students can preview the animal clips and make a short video or two to try the site out. Then, once they are comfortable with it, they can do some research on the animal of choice and return to the site to make their own Animal Planet documentary short. The side benefit of this is that they will gain some great skills using the video timeline window on the site. It is very much like the software programs such as Windows MovieMaker, Apple’s iMovie, or the more advanced Apple Final Cut Studio we use in our high school.

Awesome tools for science and literacy (digital storytelling), so go give it a try! Let me know what you think about it.

Online Learning Sites by Grade Level

Rolla Public Schools in Missouri has a neat little section of its website where it archives links to online activities by grade level and subject area. I thought I would share it here as both a resource for my staff but also a nice little archive for me as well. Thanks RPS!

Also check out what the Utah Education Network has posted on their grade level/subject area links:

K-2

3-6

7-12 

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Daniel Cook is at it again!

If you have a young one at home, I know you watch PBS. I also know they are aware of who Daniel Cook is. Quite the bright young man, Daniel spends his time working with adults learning about their jobs and the things around them. His videos and strong personality kept my son engaged every time it came on the television (all I kept thinking was “Boy that kid would wear me out.”).

Now, Daniel has his own website. He has a Playroom and a Backyard area to for kids to explore, interact, and learn. You will also find episode guides. The guides share a short summary, learning objectives for the program, and contact information of the location that was visited for additional information.

Graphic credit: www.thisisdanielcook.com

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Literacy Practice Through Online Gaming – Early Readers

Interested in some online Guided Reading practice via games? Then you might find Roy the Zebra worth your time.

You will find digital stories that you can scroll through one virtual page at a time. Included with the stories, you will find pre and post questions and literacy worksheets for vocabulary practice. You will also find games that help with alphabetical order, double consonants, high frequency words, singular or plural words, rhyming words, and much more.

If your early readers need literacy practice then this might be the site for you. Give it a try and shoot me some feedback in the comments as to the pros and cons.

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