Saturday, November 28, 2009

If It Isn't Broken....

If you haven't yet read Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, MD, it is well worth the hour or so it will take. Change is inevitable and healthy. However, when you have something that works, why change it?

Perhaps one of the most eye opening experiences for me in my new role as K-12 Technology Integrator, is the dedication teachers have to certain applications. As a third grade teacher I could not wait to try something new, which is probably why the Technology Director asked me to test out Palm Pilots with my students. Having said that, with the ever increasing demands of standardized tests, new reading programs, additional benchmark testing, etc... sometimes teachers simply do not have time to check out newer applications.

Many of our teachers have loved the legacy application, ClarisWorks for Kids. When this school year ends, the program will be pulled from our images, along with its older sibling, Appleworks. Teachers have argued that there just aren't replacements that do what these programs do. I beg to differ. It might take a little time, but with the Web 2.0 world at our fingertips, and a Technology Integrator ready to assist, replacements can certainly be found.

I held off on publishing this post, and have made many edits before publishing because my intent is not to upset people, but to educate them. I finally decided to post when the Technology Director was going through some old software licensing documents and uncovered a letter dated 2002, stating that ClarisWorks for Kids had been abandoned by Apple three years earlier. It "might" work on OS9, although that was not the original intent. We are in the year 2009, running OS X and beyond. It is time to seek alternatives and move forward.

Oh, if you haven't seen Kidspiration.... it is worth a close look.....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

ENO Pointers

Our district recently purchased several ENO interactive boards, these boards are everything the teacher could possibly want.... durable, wireless, and magnetic! The computer connects via bluetooth to the stylus. The board itself is so durable that it can withstand dry erase and even permanent marker. Sounds great, right! Well, after installing 6 boards, we were having issues with everything just freezing up on us.

After getting in touch with Polyvision, I was given a number of troubleshooting steps to try, including changing batteries on the pen, trying a new driver, using the Polyvision bluetooth dongle instead of relying on the computer's build in bluetooth... PC, Mac, it did not matter. Problems persisted.

Polyvision sent a technician to assist us in our troubleshooting efforts. We discovered some minor tips that make a tremendous difference in the functionality of the boards. My only wish if that these tips were posted in BOLD on the ENO website. Our problems could really have been handled over the phone.

In an attempt to assist our teachers, I posted the tips here, on my wiki. I am pleased to report that we are up and running nicely! We run Smartboards, Promethean boards, and Polyvision Walk and Talks in addition to the ENO. It is crucial that boards "just work." Teachers do not have time to troubleshoot beyond the basics. For the sake of our teachers and students, I am hopeful that these basic steps have eliminated our problems.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


As this school year kicks off there is something missing on the computers in our district. Traditionally we have a series of application known to our students as, free choice games. These games include the likes of Super Tux, Marble Blast, Wingnuts, and other cherished favorites.

It has been interesting sitting on the fence between educational technology and the technology analysts and network administrators for the last year and a half. Last year I watched as login slowed to a crawl, computer functionality falter, and the analysts and computer lab teacher investigate. This time the culprit.... these free choice games. These particular games are awesome, but resource intensive. These games also caused storage problems because of the students copied the apps to their personal desktops/accounts.Even the very best teacher monitoring can't totally prevent determined students from playing. Once these games were removed from the computers and server, the problem disappeared.

As a teacher, I always felt it was important to have rewards for students... sitting in the teacher's chair, extra recess time, no homework coupon, and free choice computer or Palm Pilot time. However, I found it difficult to justify letting the students play games. To me, the games had to have an educational component. Our time with students is so limited, we want to make the best of every possible moment. My workaround was to compile a list of sites that had educational games and give students choices within the list.

So, for the benefit of our teachers, I thought I would share some of my favorites for elementary students:

Please be aware that I am compiling this list from home. Some of these sites may be blocked at school, due to ads or additional links on the pages. Our ultimate goal is to keep students safe, so if they are able to click out of the site and head elsewhere, we just need to move on to another site.

Lemonade Stand
Finding Educational Games
Kidz Page
Fun Brain
Primary Games
Nobel Prize (middle/high level)
Sheppard's Software
Play Kids Games
Ed Heads
Academic Skill Builders
Game Goo
i Know That

This is only a small sampling of sites available. If you have some favorites, please feel free to share.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Broaden Your Circle

Nearly a year ago I followed a tweet, taking me to a blog that I had never read. The author was commenting on why he would not attend NECC. To put it mildly, his post was quite controversial in the educational tech. community. When I read his post I became intrigued as I had never heard of anyone NOT wanting to go to NECC, the mecca for ed. tech folks. Questions started to pop into my mind as I continued to read other posts by this blogger, but, I was hesitant to comment on his blog and ask my questions, so I emailed him. His response came within a day! His response was very insightful and made me really think about education.

Did I agree with everything he wrote? No. However, he really made me reflect on the use of technology in education. Our exchanges continued and, through his tweets I was introduced to other bloggers. One blogger was comparing Everyday Math to other math programs, showing the inferiority of some of the problem in Everyday Math as compared to these other programs, (like Singapore Math). As a teacher trained in Everyday Math, having taught it for ten years, I became very defensive and actually commented on the blog! The results of which were a conversation about rigor in Math curricula. The author of the blog and commentors showed me another point of view!

Why am I sharing this??? Because, by exposing ourselves to other points of view, we can reflect, learn, and grow. If we only communicate with like minded individuals, I think we can become very complacant. So, taking Matthew K. Tabor's advice, I try to subscribe to blogs that differ from my point of view, and so far, I have learned something valuable. There is something to be learned from everyone, and we do not grow if we do not step our or our comfort zones.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Year Older and Wiser?

This morning, while enjoying my morning oj and bagel, I perused my email and twitter. THE Jim Gates sent a hysterical ecard, my mom wrote a birthday message on my Facebook wall, and my incredibly sweet Personal Learning Network wished me birthday wishes on Twitter. Isn't technology grand?!?

After much mental debate, weighing pros and cons, I decided to leave the classroom and become our district's Technology Integrator. This new role involves working with teachers, administrators, support staff, and..... KIDS! So, I spent my birthday moving out of Lakeside Elementary.

Throughout my decision making process there were many people listening to/reading my ramblings about indecision. As I reflect on this decision, I have created a TOP TEN list of things I will miss and things I won't miss.... here it goes...

TOP TEN Things I Will Miss

10.Reading and responding to writing journal entries.
9. Routine.
8. Using Palm Pilots with kids.
7. Pumpkin seed math.
6. Read alouds.
5. Blogging with kids, watching them light up as they write for an authentic audience.
4. Unsolicited hugs.
3. Watching those "lightbulb" moments when something makes sense.
2. Observing maturity shifts.
1. "Adopting" 25 kids for 180 days and becoming part of their lives.

TOP TEN Things I Will NOT Miss

10. Lunch count, we handled money.
9. Lunch duty (always afraid someone would choke, as I lost a student to choking in classroom.)
8. Restricted times to scoot out to the Necessities room.
7. Report cards.
6. Watching children take PSSAs, as I sit on my hands and bite my tongue.
5. Tracking down that "missing" precious possession.
4. Snow boots, hats, gloves, scarves, snowpants, etc...
3. Worrying constantly about what was or wasn't going on in the homes of the kids.
2. Field trips (not a fan of bus trips)
1. IST meetings.

Thanks to all who were influential in my decision. Here goes nothing! :)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Reward Systems

As a teacher, I have used extrinsic reward systems within my classroom, weening as the year progress, to help foster intrinsic motivation. This year, in my son's school, a school-wide reward/consequence system was put in place. As a parent/observer here is what I have noticed:

~The entire building has a set of expectations that are reinforced and expected everywhere.

~There are opportunities for children to earn individual "dollars" for displays of good behavior and choices.

~The dollars can be spent on school supplies and also on intangibles, such as extra recess and lunch with the teacher. Dollars can be "banked" and used for larger events called "Monthly Blowouts."

~Children earn bracelets/bands each month for displaying good behavior.

After three marking periods with this system, here is what I noticed, again, as a parent:

~My child strives to earn the "dollars."
~He has a very clear understanding of "saving" as he only spends a small amount of dollars, while saving up for the monthly blow-outs.
~The kid can make change (in dollars) like a pro.
~Obviously, money talks to my child.
~The bracelets are a great sense of pride. They are worn for a day then stashed together in his backpack.

This last month, my child did not earn his bracelet and he was quite upset. It offered his teacher and I an opportunity to talk with him about good behavior choices that he obviously not taking. In other words, it was a teachable moment.

In the many discussions that followed, my son commented on one particular child... she has never earned a bracelet. He empathized with her and thought that was not fair. As a parent/teacher I really gave this some thought. What about the child dealing with behavioral issues that are not always in his/her control? What about the child that shows improvement, but not enough to earn a bracelet? Are we showing some sort of discrimination against that child. Let's face it, that child already knows that he/she is different from the others. Are the bands just an "in your face" way of highlighting that? I am not sure. Thoughts?

Keeping Kids Safe Online

I was recently involved in facilitating online safety sessions for 9th graders followed by assisting a fellow teacher set up a moodle course about the cyber communication dangers (teachers as the audience).

In both cases the internet dangers were certainly highlighted. In my experience kids are going to be online and connected. To try to stop them would be futile and, well, pointless. Instead, here is what I would suggest... if fact, this is the approach I take with my own son.

1. Tools (internet, social networking sites) are NOT evil.
2. Not all people using these sites have good motives.
3. It is up to us, teachers/parents, to teach our children how to be safe online.
4. As teachers/parents we must monitor the internet activity of our children and make them aware that we are doing it.
5. Open dialog with children is important.

Here are some resources that I have found helpful:

and there are many more.

Comments or other resources?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

State Testing

This has been a very stressful month in our household. It started with my third grader going ballistic about having to take state mandated reading tests, math was just fine, but reading was a totally different story. The child did not simply cry, whine, or fake illness, he screaming, cried, hung on to me, and went into a fit of hysterics when it was time to get on the bus. Since he did not get on the bus, I drove him to school. When I tried to pull him from the car, he entered into a fit, the likes of which I have never seen! He was beyond reason.

This happened twice in a week.

While I refuse to let my child get away with such behavior, I still have to wonder how much emphasis was placed on the test in school. When I teach third grade and come upon the yearly exams, I have the kids set up "offices." We move desks into private locations in the classroom and I allow the kids to bring in a few pictures to place on their desks. We talk about the fact that the state wants to make sure kids are learning. Since they can't come sit in our classroom to hear the kids read, watch the kids to math, reading their writing workshop pieces, and so on, they use this test. My pep talk includes something like... "It is time for you to show all of the exciting things you know!"

I know my child has entered into a "contol" period where he is trying to see just how much he can control, test, and push. Another thing that I am absolutely certain about is that my child's halo is held up by horns. I am just wondering how the testing environment is "set up" in his school. I will find out next year when I return to third grade I suppose.

High stakes testing, right or wrong, is a sign of the times.

Do I want to do away with testing completely? No. The concept is a very good one.

Would I like to see their value put into a different perspective? Yes. Data is important, however, it is one piece of the puzzle that determines a child's progress.

Ok, rant over. If you have any cool tips or tricks to help relieve test anxiety for your students or own children, please share.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

FLIP Camera + 8 year old, part 2 ---> Incorporating Story

In my previous post, I sent my son on a Geometry Hunt. (see post) After hearing Jason Ohler and Daniel Pink speak at PETE&C, my new challenge to myself is to find a way to incorporate "story" into my students' school experiences.

If you have not yet seen The Greedy Triangle, by Marilyn Burns, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy. The main character, a triangle, has grown very dissatisfied with his life. It is boring to only have three sides and three angles, so he goes to the Shapeshifter time and again to get just one more side and one more angle. The reader follows the triangle through his adventures as a quadrilateral, pentagon, hexagon, and on and on! With each transformation, the triangle discovers different activities. For example, as a pentagon he was privy to top-secret information, but he couldn't share with his friends. While this book is excellent for reviewing and/or reinforcing many common polygons, it is also a story about being happy with yourself.

So, using The Greedy Triangle as a springboard or model, I could have students incorporate digital storytelling with the treasure hunt. Let the planning begin!

Additional Academic Standards Addressed:
1.4. Types of Writing
1.4.3 GRADE 3
A. Write narrative pieces (e.g., stories, poems, plays).
Include detailed descriptions of people, places and things.
Use relevant illustrations.
Include literary elements.

Write with a sharp, distinct focus identifying topic, task and audience.

1.5 Quality of Writing
1.5.3 Grade 3
Write using well-developed content appropriate for the topic.
Gather and organize information.
Write a series of related sentences or paragraphs with one central idea.
Incorporate details relevant and appropriate to the topic.

Write with controlled and/or subtle organization.
Sustain a logical order.
Include a recognizable beginning, middle and end.

Write with an awareness of the stylistic aspects of composition.
Use sentences of differing lengths and complexities.
Use descriptive words and action verbs.

Revise writing to improve detail and order by identifying missing information and determining whether ideas follow logically.

Edit writing using the conventions of language.
Spell common, frequently used words correctly.
Use capital letters correctly (first word in sentences, proper nouns, pronoun "I").
Punctuate correctly (periods, exclamation points, question marks, commas in a series).
Use nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions properly.
Use complete sentences (simple, compound, declarative, interrogative, exclamatory and imperative).

Present and/or defend written work for publication when appropriate.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

FLIP Camera + 8 year old

A recent Woot purchase was my Flip videocamera. The primary reason for my purchase was to have a videocamera that my third graders could manipulate easily. So, I gave my 8 year old the camera, a list of geometric shapes, very little instruction, and set him loose. From the quality of the video I can tell that we would need to work on video taping skills, but, all in all, I am impressed. I think this camera will be a fine addition to my elementary classroom.

Here are the steps Ry and I followed to make a finished product:

1.Hooked the Flip to the Macbook's usb port (cactus, as he calls it)
2.Dragged the video from the camera
3.Opened the video in Quicktime, exported it as a .mov
4.Opened iMovie09, imported the video
5.Added a title slide ... by this time I lost him to his Lego collection, so I did the rest without his assistance.
6.Exported the completed movie as Quicktime.

So now I am thinking, with some training, this type of project is feasible in the elementary classroom! We have many "treasure hunts" as part of our math program. Wouldn't it be incredible to have kids film their treasures instead of writing them down. Sharing back to the group could be much more clear! The alternative is having kids describe their findings. What if they could actually see them. And... what if the camera went home and the treasure hunt took place outside of school. Oh, the possibilities, without cords and tapes to manage.

PA Academic Anchors:

1. Creativity and Innovation
Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.

2. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.

4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.

5. Digital Citizenship
Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.

6. Technology Operations and Concepts
Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.

Warning: Video may cause motion sickness:

Special thanks to my son, who has been stuck with many challenges since I haven't had my own third graders. :)

Also...I know Ry needs to understand the difference between circle and sphere and he could point out what part of the windows, table, and tv are parallel. I was focusing on process. If I did this in the classroom. I would insist that the content be correct as well. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Powering Down

In 1995 I bought my first computer, a power mac. As a substitute teacher I began to explore the world wide web using the Mosaic web browser. From there, I became intrigued with how technology could be used in the classroom. From then on, I was "plugged in" to the world of technology.

During the last two years my ventures into the web 2.0 world has been exciting. Devouring books and blog posts, creating wikis and google docs, connecting via twitter, plurk, Discovery Educator Network, Keystone Technology Integrators, and Classrooms for the Future coaches, using, mac, pc, and iphone has become an integral part of my life.

Currently some professional development efforts have failed miserably. I have started to really ponder the concept of "professionalism" and to reconsider "putting myself out there" so to speak in terms of sharing with others. My passion for reaching our digital learners, making learning meaningful for them, and for the concept of instilling life long learning has driven me in my ventures thus far. As I am readying myself to leave the role of technology integration coach and re-enter life as a third grade teacher, I am saddened. In order to protect myself emotionally I have decided to step back a bit. Perhaps it is time for a break from the intense world I have been experiencing, not because I am overwhelmed, but because I am not making a difference.

My recent purchase was a regular cell phone. My iphone has become an ipod. It's time to refocus. I am not discouraged, but disheartened and am looking forward to some clarity of thought and restoration of some self-esteem.

Monday, February 9, 2009