Archive for September, 2011

Khan Academy is awesome! This past week, I was finally able to get all the kinks worked out so I could get students working on Khan Academy. I am currently working with a class of seventh graders and the first day I thought that maybe we would work on Khan for a half hour or so and then move on to something else. The students ended up working for over an hour and were begging to do it more next class.

When we returned to class the next day, one of the students had went home and learned all about parabolas and completed the whole unit. He was so excited to be learning math on his own.

It think that this may be a key point with a program like Khan. Students have some control over what they want to learn. When a student wants to jump ahead a few lessons, they either see that they are smarter than they thought, or if it is too hard, they go back to where they were working before. The teacher is not “giving” them lessons to do. They get to choose.

We have only used it for two days in the classroom this week, but I am excited to see the progress with the students over the course of the next few weeks. I think it is going to make a big difference in their math instruction. If you haven’t tried Khan Academy yet, do. I would do it right now!


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I can’t think of a better place to use Fakebook than in the Social Studies classroom. This is the class where students learn about people in history. The hard part is getting students to find an interest in all of these, as students might put it, “dead people.” Having students create a Fakebook will engage them in the history of anyone they need to study. Not only will they have fun creating the project, but they will also learn, which is the whole point of anything that a teacher does in the classroom.

So, now we know that we need to have students create one of these pages, but how? The first thing is to find a suitable template. Click here for a list of different Fakebook platforms that can be used with students.

Once you have chosen a platform, decide on who the students need to research. The class could be assigned several different historical figures from the same time period at the end of a unit, or maybe this can be used as an end of the semester project where students choose someone that has been covered in class over the course of the semester. This would allow for more research and discovery.

The best way to set up an assignment like this is with little guidance. A project like this can serve dual roles. The students can learn about the historical figure and also develop their creative mind. Showing one or two examples might be appropriate, but show no more than that. The students know what a Facebook page looks like, and they will create a much better product with less guidance. Rubrics should also follow this rule. A rubric with too many points takes all of the creativity out of the project. A quick Google search will bring up a bunch of different rubrics to use, but my favorite so far is from Mona Morris at Harlem Middle School. It is short, concise and easy to use. Click here for the rubric.

Once the assignment is given, let the student have some fun with it. Support them in accomplishing the task, but let them create a true Fakebook page. Let them write posts just like they would have on Facebook. This means that there is going to be some crazy spelling of words and maybe even some words you won’t know. There are going to be abbreviations and short phrases rather than nice, neat complete sentences. It’s probably going to get a little crazy. That’s okay.

Remember the purpose of the activity; students are going to be learning about a historical figure, not writing a formal report.

This actually brings me to another good point; this is a great activity to use as a springboard for a more formal research paper. They will have done some great preliminary research in order to create the Fakebook page. Now they can take this new found knowledge and put it into a paper!

To put is simply, if you teach social studies, and I don’t care at what level, you need to try this with your students. They will love it, and you won’t regret it!


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Animoto has to be one of the quickest and easiest ways to display student art work and projects. I know that I have written about this before, but I just have to write about it again. Making an Animoto is super easy, and the student will be impressed that their teacher turned their artwork into a video. Here’s how it’s done:

Step 1: Take pictures and upload them to Animoto

When taking pictures, remember that the better the picture, the less work there will be when making the video. I like to use a tripod and set up the artwork in such a manner that all I have to do is place the picture in front of the camera and click. This makes quick work of a whole pile of student posters. Often, I will use a few pieces of masking tape as markers for where the edges of the posters need to go. I was able to take all of the pictures for the video below in less than 10 minutes.

One thing that makes uploading pictures to Animoto easier is to set your camera so that the pictures are in the 1400 megapixel range. This will help them to load faster. Bigger pictures take a lot longer to load.

Step 2: Choose some cool music

There is a bunch of music to choose from on Animoto. Choose something that the students will like, not necessarily something you, the teacher, thinks is great. They are the ones who need to watch it, and if they like it, they will really enjoy showing off their work.

Step 3: Sit back and relax

This the truly great part of making an Animoto. Once the pictures are uploaded and the music is chosen, they do the rest of the work. The end product is always amazing. To do the kind of work they do with all of the slick transitions would take hours for me to do in a movie editor, and I still wouldn’t be able to get it to look as good. One thing I noticed with this last movie that I made was that the rendering time has greatly improved. My video was done and ready to show within 5 minutes, so I guess I really didn’t get to relax for that long!

I’m not really counting this as step 4, but it is also pretty important: upload the video to Youtube. I don’t care if you work with 3rd graders or 12th graders, they like to see their work on Youtube. That makes it “real.”

If you have never used Animoto before, give it a try. They offer a free educators account for you and 50 students by signing up at Animoto for Education.

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Sometimes, teachers get stuck in the rut of thinking that every project in the classroom has to be done on the computer. I know I find myself thinking this at times. However, there are numerous projects that don’t even require the use of computer at all, and students still love doing them. Most students enjoy creating something by hand when give the opportunity.

Instead of making every project in the classroom computer based, have the students do an art project. Then take pictures and display their work on a blog or website for all to see. This can be every bit as powerful and engaging as having the students work on the computer. Again, they have a real audience for their work.

Probably the easiest way to display student work is to use the class blog. If you don’t have one for your class yet, start one. They are relatively easy to set up and manage, and once the students and parents know where it is located on the web, you will be surprised at how many of them look at it for new student work.

Here are few blogging sites that are a good place to start:

WordPress: You are reading a WordPress blog right now. I have been using this platform for several years, and I like it!

Blogger: Another popular free blogging platform.

Tumblr: This one caters to posting pictures and video quick and easy.

If you are looking at making a class website I would try either Lifeyo or Weebly.

Honestly, there are about a hundred (or maybe thousand) different platforms out there. They are all fairly similar. The platform used isn’t going to make that much difference. The key is finding one and using it. Show off your student’s work!




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This week, one of my classes has been working on a website using the Lifeyo. That might not seem like something worth writing about, but what is cool is that they are all able to work at the same time. They all log into the site and are able to add content to the site.

These students are in my Current Issues class, and I have asked them to go out on the internet and find different current events from around the world. They then write down the title, author, and a two sentence summary on a Word document. After that, they cut and paste their “event” onto the website which has several pages named after different classifications of world news that the student came up with like education, crime, and government.

I have 12 students in the class, and they are all able to get on at the same time and post their events without much trouble. Sometimes it does get a little messy as events tend to be place on top of each other. However, this is quickly fixed after everyone is done posting.

Basically, we are using the website as a place to post the student’s assignment. By doing this on the internet, the project is much more real for the students, and their engagement level is quite high. To be honest, they are loving it!

There are lots of applications for a project like this in most any classroom. Here are a few more ways to try this in your classroom:

1. Math: Have students work out problems and post the instructions on the website. Your class could have their own “Math Instruction” site. I am guessing that this would also serve as a good reference for them in the future.

2. English: Students could make a “Grammar Guide” site. Each student could find one grammar rule (or be assigned one), research it, and post the rule along with examples. Maybe they just all find examples. There are lots of places this could go.

3. Science: The teacher could give a topic and have the students go out and find information relating to a topic to post on the site. This is a great way to pre-teach a topic!


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Classrooms across the country are being flooded with technology, one form of this being the interactive whiteboard. The expensive boards are hung with care in the front of classrooms, most of which will never be used to their full potential, and many of which will never be used at all. From what I have seen, many teachers use the board more as a screen for their projector than a tool for teaching.

I am not a fan of the movement that supports installing interactive whiteboards as an answer to the nations education woes. However, I do like using the boards as the educational tools they are designed to be, and here is the real key to the interactive whiteboard: use it in an interactive manner. The name itself implies this. In other words, let the students touch the board!

I don’t care if you are teaching 1st graders or high school seniors, design activities that will involve students walking up to the board and interacting physically with it. It is a great way to improve engagement in the classroom.


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Students live in a different world than most teachers do, and the lines of what to post online are not as clear for students as they may seem for most adults. When working with students on tech projects, it is important to give specific expectations as to what should not be posted online when making websites, blogs, videos or any other online application.

Having just said this, actually lining out all of the expectations is easier said than done. Here are a few areas to think about where expectations may come in handy:

1. Profile pictures: You might think this would be a logical place to put your own picture, but students will probably want to post a picture that does not show their smiley mug. Instead, expect bikini clad women (hopefully they have that much on!) and a myriad of other pictures that may or may not be appropriate. This is one area where some direct instructions about what is proper will pay dividends when you inspect their work later.

2. Music: This is a hard one. Sometimes it is hard to even understand what the musicians are singing. I recently had some elementary students post a video with a song that I personally downloaded for them. When we showed the video to the parents on show night, I discovered, along with all of the parents, that the song had several inappropriate words in it. Needless to say, some more work on my end may have saved me some embarrassment.

3. The written word: Students do not always think when they do something. Writing is one of those things. I have often had to stop classes in the middle of a project to remind them that what they write on the internet is going global. Their parents, the principal and the school board may be looking at their work, so they need to make sure that what they write is appropriate for that audience.

These three points seem to cover the biggies. However, pretty much anything that can be posted online should be monitored, and I don’t necessarily mean by the teacher. The students need to learn to monitor their own behavior. This doesn’t mean that I am going to sit back and let them post whatever they want. What it does mean is that I will try and teach them what is proper before I go crazy and start deleting all their work.

In many of the cases where I have had problems along these lines, I have found that I was partly guilty for not talking enough about what is proper and what is not. Take time to teach students the rules of proper online behavior, especially when used in professional setting.

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