Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Once Upon a Time…Everyone Went Digital

I remember curling up for a bedtime story every night as a child. My mom would open the newest book of the month and delve into the latest Fairytale, coming of age story, or even (yes, even) Frog and Toad tales. I love reading books, and even enjoyed writing in class. Growing up in a time when computers and the Internet were just beginning to be explored allowed for little creativity.
Now, though, we live in Web 2.0; the new age of the web where creativity, social networking, and interactivity is at an all-new high. Digital Storytelling is a way for students, teachers, or any one else to create informational videos with creative outlets such as music, images, and voice recordings. Some digital videos are as simple as a web blog via video. Others are video podcasts. These new outlets for creativity are allowing many different people to express themselves in a way that paper and pen never would allow.

For an educational setting, Digital Storytelling is incredibly helpful to both students and teachers. The options are endless when using this method in the classroom:
·      Have the students create a video on a topic to “teach the class.” In English, this could be “How to Create an Outline for Your Essay.” Students could benefit from each other by learning the material through different mediums.
·      As a teacher: create instructional videos to give to your students when differentiating instruction. For each differentiated group station, give the students the Digital Story video to follow along to instruction. This helps visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners because they can listen, watch, and act along with the video.
·      Have the students re-create their own version of their favorite story. For the English classroom, the students can take a character that was not explored in depth, and re-create their own story from that new character’s perspective. This proves understanding of the story that was first read, and explores the student’s creativity in the process.
·      For group work, students can use Digital Storytelling to summarize and present group projects at the end of a unit.
Digital storytelling can be useful in many ways all throughout the unit. Teachers can use it and students can use it in simple ways. Some programs allow other viewers to watch, and then comment on the video. This allows students to feel some form of interaction with the World Wide Web and the social aspect of Web 2.0. 

For students today, it is important for them to show a better understanding of the Internet and how they are using the different tools that Web 2.0 is able to offer them. The better they are able to understand Web 2.0, then the more aware they are of the different tools and capabilities they have at their fingertips. Research projects are more accessible, learning can be more enticing, and last but not least: reading and writing can be taken to the next level for students who show an interest in releasing their creative ideas into the content.

That’s right, English just got that much cooler. J

For more information of Digital Storytelling and all that it has to offer, check out these links:

For a neat student Digital Storytelling check out this nifty video explaining Digital Storytelling at its best:

Until next time,
"The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts."
-C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Quest For Knowledge

When I was a kid, I remember receiving packets upon packets of projects. I would become overwhelmed, frustrated, and eventually had to buckle down to finish the many different assignments. Well, now there is a way to present a project to your students without the paper, and with the ability to engage your students at a whole new level.

Web Quests are a way to present new information and to engage students in assignments via the Internet. Students are assigned a role and are encouraged to visit a series of websites, videos, etc as they accomplish the assignment. An introduction, grading rubric, and much more is available to guide students through the tasks.

A website that I found to be interesting and helpful was Quest Garden where many different Web Quests were shared for other teachers. There is a search engine so you can look into any topics you wish. One of my favorite books, To Kill A Mockingbird, prompted me to look to see what other teachers have come up with for a Web Quest.

Upon my search I began to notice both the advantages and the disadvantages of Web Quests. I loved that you have the freedom to come up with so much for these. As a teacher, you have the opportunity to create many of these throughout the year and still reuse them in later years. Students will be engaged and will love the organization and structure that is presented. I also enjoyed that teachers are able to share their Web Quests for everyone to use. I think that is the epitome of teaching, where we can help each other out in curriculum.

I was a little worried by the risks with Web Quests. Some colors and backgrounds were irrelevant and some were hard to read. Spelling errors were an occasional problem and should be fixed because students will always catch them when we least expect it. Sometimes I felt that the assignment would have made more sense if it was presented on a single worksheet to the student. We have all heard the saying, “Keep it simple, stupid (KISS).” I think that if you do have a very extravagant project for students (especially in secondary education!) then you can definitely take advantage of a WebQuest, other times, it may just be easier to use worksheets. Also I noticed that it can be difficult to make sure that all links work. Sometimes the websites I clicked on were old or incorrect. So beware! and always double check the links.

Overall, I think if you double check the work, and make sure that everything flows well, then Web Quests are amazing. They are an awesome way to engage students to become intrinsically motivated in the topic and to learn something new while using one of the greatest in-class helpers: the computer.

For more information concerning WebQuests: http://questgarden.com/
To see a great example of TKAM WQ: http://questgarden.com/93/32/9/091208174539/t-index.htm 

Blog you later, 
Ms. Watkins

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reading is FUN-damental

    I remember growing up with enough books to build a fort. And I did just that. I would surround myself with books to read. As I got older I would read multiple books at a time, and I am so grateful that my mom was able to turn me on to reading. Part of the reason I am en-route to becoming a teacher is because I hope to one day inspire children in the same way I was. Reading is Fundamental; here's why:

    Started in 1966 by Margaret McNamara, a school teacher, and a group of school teachers who distributed books to schools in Washington, D.C., Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) began as a way to give students and children the opportunity to have their own books.
    With grants from foundations such as Ford Foundation and money from the United States Congress, RIF took a step further by being able to support children with free books across the Nation. By 1977, 1 million children received books and RIF is now serving 4.4 million (and growing) children a year. They are not only working to help America, but also spreading literacy programs in Argentina and the United Kingdom. 

    RIF's vision includes providing students with books all over America. No child should ever grow up without a good book to read! Their website offers many different opportunities for volunteers, parents, teachers, and children. There are articles and lists that help to educate parents and teachers, and even book lists of the new books out there for children. 

    Okay future English teachers (and every other teacher!), I know what you are thinking: How can I use this in the classroom? Well behold, there are multiple opportunities to incorporate the great knowledge from this website.
  • There are opportunities for monthly activities that students and at-home children can engage in to encourage their curiosity with reading. These activities are offered in Spanish and English and they cover multiple content areas including Science, Math, and History. (So Elementary-Ed...you have options!)
  • If you are looking for a good book, but don't know where to start, try the Booklists link where RIF offers multiple lists ranging from Newbery Winners to Young Adult books. These are always helpful because students will be able to read the latest and the greatest!
  • As previously mentioned the articles offered by RIF are important for getting parents and teachers to understand the importance that reading holds in their child's lives. If you are looking for a shorter and briefer way to educate other teachers and parents check out the brochures that give quick and colorful advice. 
  • One of my more favorite parts of RIF's website is the Multicultural page. Here, there are many ways to see the best books for bilingual students, and books that incorporate different cultures into the classroom. I think it is so important to include the great variety that we have in our classrooms, so why not start with books?!
  • In my future classroom I hope to have students that not only love reading but are engaged in spreading the great love for reading. I think that as a class, it would be a great community activity to have the students help raise money for organizations such as RIF. There are many opportunities to do this, and if the word is spread through students, parents, and teachers, then the options are limitless. 
    RIF has now expanded and as of 2010, RIF has been able to reach 4,302,116 children and distribute 15,432,853 books. WOW! To check out more about their annual accomplishments check out their Annual Report. RIF now has ten partnerships for spreading the love of reading, and has come so far since 1966. I think Margaret McNamara should be proud, I know I am for her because she is spreading the one important thing that all children should have: A love for reading. 

To find out more and to explore: http://www.rif.org/

Blog-you later,

Ms. Watkins

P.S. Happy Valentines Day!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Help!: The Love Song to Every Teacher's Last Minute Lesson Plan

It happens to the best of us. In fact, many times it happens simply because we have worked so hard on making sure our students learn material that we forget to create a worksheet, or an assessment. Well, teachers, fear no more. Thanks to Education World, there are seven helpful websites to help last minute lessons perfect. The following hyperlinks in this blog will direct you to more in-depth helpful information. Enjoy!

5-Minute Websites
Web Poster Wizard will help you create a class website when in a pinch. Four steps help guide you through creating the perfect website. EducationWorld also offers other helpful resources for ideas and tools.

From Barriers to Bridges
BabelFish is helping teachers all over create accurate letters home to families. Alta Vista's BabelFish simply allows you to copy and paste your document into the translation box, pick the language you want to translate into and...voila! you have a freshly translated document for the families at home. This is a great way to make sure that you are getting you information across to the families who are not fluent in English. It keeps them in the loop and on their toes for what to expect with their children. But be careful, these translations are very literal. While you may be effectively getting your point across, there may be a few mistakes or choppy meanings.

Good Job!
CasaNotes allows for teachers to create their own unique notes for students, teachers, and families. The opportunities are endless with graphics, color options, and most importantly a Spanish Version for ELL families. A helpful tip: Print in black and white to help save on the color ink. For many K-5 classrooms, awards and encouraging notes help students acknowledge a job well done. Education World offers more templates for awards and notes on their website as well.

Wonderful Worksheets
Creating engaging worksheets last minute can be time consuming and stressful. Thanks to PuzzleMaker, teachers have the opportunity to create crosswords and word searches for students to use. While I do think that this would rarely be used in secondary education classrooms, it is a great idea for students to use in Elementary schools. PuzzleMaker even has the option for students to create their own puzzles. So give your students the chance to challenge each other while they are still engaged in learning the content.
Education World also provides Enchanted Learning as a source to find more puzzles and worksheets. Some may require a small fee, but most (like PuzzleMaker) are free, so enjoy!

Poster Templates
Classroom decorations can become pricey and time isn't always on our side, thankfully though, Education World's Teacher Templates has multiple for decorating your room for free. If you are still having trouble finding what you are looking for they offer a tutorial for creating your own on Excel.

The Key to Success is Assessment
Assessment is quite obviously the most helpful tool a teacher can use in adjusting or modifying lesson plans for students. The good thing is QuizStar is a helpful website to create multiple choice, true/false, etc. assessment tests for students to take online. The great thing is, the website grades the tests for you and the teachers can have the students see what questions they got wrong. Online testing is also great for students who have a hard time focusing on tests on paper. ADD and ADHD students are better at keeping focus on computer screens than on other tests. Also be aware to not always test students online, there are many different ways to assess students.

Plan in a Pinch
Imagine a website that can give you a lesson plan on anything you may need. Education World's Lesson Planning link can help you find a lesson plan for any topic. So if you don't have the time, need fresh ideas, or a new way to teach the topic, check it out!

These seven quick and helpful ideas help teachers find what they need quickly and creatively. Be careful to use some sparingly and others, whenever you need them. Sometimes we just don't have the time, and other times we need a fresh burst of inspiration. Education World has many other links to the helpful use of technology for classrooms. I can't wait to use some of these websites and internet sources in the classroom. Part of being a teacher is sharing what we know, so share the wealth!

More on Education World's website: http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech/tech203.shtml

Until next time...
Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it. Marian Wright Edelman (1939-) American activist for the rights of children.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beuller...Beuller: Classroom Engagement At A Whole New Level

    Remember the days of waiting for someone to answer the question? Remember the silence and the awkward shifting in the seats? Technology has taken us from zero to sixty with the helpful Open-Ended Response Systems. Thanks to programs like Google Moderator, Poll Everywhere, IdeaScale and Response Ware, students are able to use electronic devices to engage in classroom discussion through posting comments and questions. Raising hands is a thing of the past. 
    It's simple, really. A teacher can post a question or discussion topic to the application. Students are then free to open the application and respond via tablets, iPhones, iTouches, etc. Not only can students reply to questions, but they can ask their own questions and then vote as a class on the most important questions to be discussed. Depending on the application, students can use their name, or use an anonymous name tag. This encourages uninhibited student engagement. Shy students are given a chance to speak up and everyone is given a chance to voice opinions. Students can see the questions and responses being posted on a live feed on their electronic devices or on the main screen at the front of the classroom. 
    For teachers, assessing student comprehension has become easier. Teachers have the same advantage and are able to answer questions as they appear. After class, a teacher can review and look over responses that the students were able to make individually. The advantage of having some responses being anonymous is that students aren't afraid to answer truthfully. This allows teachers to take the assessment seriously and improve future lessons. 
    Students are able to take this outside of the classroom by continuing the discussions on blogs, Twitter, FaceBook, and other online sources. Images and other multimedia can be posted and discussed further than the classroom discussions. This not only encourages further exploration and understanding outside of the classroom, but students are able to really enjoy learning and discussing the new topics. 
    Many schools are also updating their technology labs with tablets and touch devices for students to explore new ways of learning. With the ever-growing market for smart phones and tablets, the capabilities with Open-Ended Response Systems are endless. This is a great way for students to discuss the latest chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird, or review test material for Poetry and Grammar. Whether it is individual efforts or a team win, students are able to connect to the material in a more engaged and personal way that they can carry with them outside of the classroom. I think this is a great way for students to take English material (or any other subject!) to a personal level of interest. I look forward to using these great advances of technology in my classroom one day. 

For more information on Open-Ended Response Systems: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7068.pdf

Until next time... 
"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth." ~John F. Kennedy