Archive for the ‘Online Tools’ Category

I just finished up summer school classes today. As a part of the class for the last few days, students had to create a choose-your-own-adventure story using Google Forms. At first glance, the project seems pretty big. There are several steps in creating the story, and getting it all to work out in Google Forms takes some patience and attention to detail. However, after having worked on the project with several students, I found that it is a pretty simple project once they get their minds wrapped around how it works.

This is where the problem rears its ugly head!

A good bunch of students do not like to wrap their minds around anything if they think it has to do with learning. It is amazing how many students would rather sit and look at the wall instead of using their allotted learning time wisely. I think that some of this is human nature, but some of it also has to do with the fact that thinking is work, something teens try to avoid like a kiss from aunt Susan.

This is where technology projects come in handy. Notice that I said technology projects, not just technology. Technology by itself is not the key to engaging students. A computer is only good if the task at hand is meaningful or has a purpose. John McCarthy says in his Edutopia article, “Igniting Student Engagement,” that there are three components to successfully egaging students:

  1. Connect skills and  concepts to student interests.
  2. Engage students in professional dialogue with professionals in the field.
  3. Challengs students to solve a problem, design for a need, or explore their own questions.

This makes a lot of sense, and with technology, the possiblility of accomplishing these tasks is very real. Just think of how much easier all three of these suggestions are when using tech in the classroom.

Too many educators, and especially too many adminstrators, think that having a shiny bank of chromebooks in the front of the room take their rooms and schools to the cutting edge of technology. However, those shiny chromebooks are only good when the students use them to think and learn. Sure, wordprocessing and research are good, but put those skills to work in having a student creat a product that can be share with classmates and even the entire world.

The following links will give you a place to start when planning a technology project to use in the classroom:




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Taking some advice from a comment braddo made in my post, 5 technology skills every students needs, I put together a class where students practice looking for information using Google and other internet search tools. The unit was based around the life of Emily Dickinson, since she is one of the poets the class is currently studying.

For the activity, I used the Super Teacher Tools Flash Jeopardy game to get some student buy in. This is an easy tool to use. In about the time it takes to type, a Jeopardy game can be set up complete with sound effects and scoreboard. I swear, put a Jeopardy game on the board, and the whole class is attentive, even if it’s about the life of Emily Dickinson. This, however, was not the focus of the lesson, and really, in the end neither was Emily Dickinson.

What  I really wanted was for the students to do some meaningful research on the computer. Before we started the game, we spent some time talking about good sources and resources on the web. There is a clear distinction between these two. Wikipedia is a resource, a great place to go and find information. It is an excellent resource to find reliable sources. At the bottom of every Wikipedia page, there is a list of sources used to write the page. Many of these have links, and many of these sources have authors. This is one of qualifiers of a good source. An author is not the only one but certainly a good one, and this is what I really wanted to students to be aware of. If they find a source with an author on the web, it is more likely to be reliable than not. There was a good side conversation also about handles like “mrkaiser208” in a forum. Yes, that is an author’s name, but probably not his real name, so it may not be the best source.

To play the game, the students were split into groups of 3 and 4. Students used  the laptops, so each student had a computer. Then we played some serious Jeopardy! When the question was put on the board, they all started looking for the answer. One of the rules was that every students within the group had to be on the same page with the answer highlighted before the answer could be considered correct. This worked really well because everyone in the group would have to go through the search process to get to the website.

I was amazed at how hard it was for the students to find some of the answers. One question would sometimes take 10-15 minutes to answer. Remember, they couldn’t just find the answer on Wikipedia. They had to find a viable source, so it took some time. The room was dead quiet as the student worked with the occasional, “I think I’ve got something. Search with this keyword.” It was a full class of research, something I have only witnessed a few times in my teaching career! Usually, when the computers come out, I spend a good part of my time monitoring improper computer use, but for this activity, the students were dialed in.

It’s great when a lesson far outdoes the expectations a teacher has when the plans are put on paper.





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Typically, reading novels with a  class consists of students dutifully filling out a study guide. This happens over and over again, but the activity is not helping the students think much about what they read. In most cases the application of knowledge is nonexistent in these kinds of assignments. Invariably, one of the better readers in the class actually reads the text and fills out the worksheet. Then it is passed from student to student as thy each copy down the answers.

These kinds of worksheet activities do keep students busy, but actual thinking and learning are often compromised.

Book trailer projects are an excellent way for students to show that they have read the book. However, this would not be the reason for doing this kind of project in class. Rather, a book trailer project should be assigned because of all the higher level thinking required to complete the task.

Here are some great links to resources that will help you facilitate book trailer projects in your classroom:

Fairport Central School District Book Trailer Page

A great resource for book trailer projects with links to sources for video and music.

Book Trailer .doc

Another great resource that has step by step instructions for using video editing software. Because this is a .doc, you can download it and edit it to fit the needs of your students.

Educating Alice

A great plan for introducing book trailer projects to students.



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This past week, I put together a quick list of resources that are handy with Smart Notebook. Here’s the list:

Smartexchange: SMART Notebook resources

Topmarks: This site has a bunch of different interactive activities sorted by subject.

Smart Notebook Games


Flash Jeopardy

Random Name Generator

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This last week, I posted a poem for my students to read outside of class that went along with an assignment. The next morning when I arrived at school, there was a gaggle of anxious freshmen standing at my door (gaggle is the only word I could think of to describe them). While working in the school computer lab, they were unable to access the poem I had posted. I told them they must be doing something wrong because I added the poem to the blog at the school with my school computer. It works on the same system as those in the lab.

However, when I went into the the lab and looked at what was happening, the site was definitely blocked. I went to my computer and it was not. The school filter was obviously blocking the site for students and not for teachers.

I would like to say that this was the first time this has happened to me. Sure, I could cuss the web filter and maybe even cry and scream, but in the end, this will do me no good. I didn’t check to see if the site was unblocked. I just assumed that it was.

If you haven’t picked it up yet, here’s some advice for teachers using blogs: check to make sure that links on sites work under a student log in. It will save you, and especially the students, a bunch of headache in the future.

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Last week, I had an interesting conversation with several classes that I teach. My Juniors wrote an essay on a prompt that basically asked them if it was fair for admission offices at universities and colleges to weigh their applications based on content found in Myspace pages and Facebook profiles. I was surprised by the results.

Overwhelmingly, the majority of students felt that it was inappropriate for colleges to view their profiles or pages. Phrases like “invasion of privacy” and “they have no business” were found in almost every essay that I read. Many students wrote about how the theses pages are private places, only meant for friends and only meant for the eyes of those they want to see. Some students were downright angry that this kind of stuff was happening in schools. There were so many students who wrote along this vane, I was both surprised and a little scared. This was the mindset of the students when they posted information to their profile: whatever they posted was private.

After they wrote the essay, we had a class discussion about the topic. I was hoping to turn this into a positive teaching opportunity. I told students that whether they liked it or not, colleges were going to do this. These places where students spend numerous hours posting, chatting, liking and commenting are not private spaces at all, not even close. Instead, they are very public by nature. Most students didn’t realize that by signing up for a Facebook account and accepting the terms and condition, they pretty much sign over the rights of everything they post, or even say, to Facebook to whatever with however they want.

The most interesting thing about this whole conversation was that the students still felt like the whole thing was wrong. I don’t think they totally bought into what I was telling them. They still argued up and down that it was wrong for schools to use Facebook and Myspace as a determiner for college admittance.

They just don’t get it. This scares me a little. In their minds, whatever they do on the web is their business. The problem with this kind of thinking is that, to use a classic cliche, nothing could be further from the truth.

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I didn’t quite know what to name this blog post. I wanted to write something like I love prezi or students love prezi or prezi is just plain cool, fantastic, awesome, but all of these titles seemed a little cheesy. So, instead of coming up with a dramatic title, I though I would just write a little about how great the web app is.

I just finished a unit with Freshmen who gave a presentation as the culminating assignment after having read a novel. None of the students had ever heard of Prezi before, so they had the option to use either PowerPoint or Prezi for the presentations. After watching students create the presentations and having sat through 50+ speech/presentations, I noticed a difference in the two tools. Fundamentally, I don’t think that there is much difference. They both are basic slideshow tools that are relatively easy to use. However, there are a few areas where Prezi h0lds the upper hand.

1. The PowerPoint presentations tend to have quite a bit of clip art in them. Prezis are generally comprised of vibrant pictures from the web.

2. Prezi presentations make the audience want to say “wow” or “cool” at times. As slides flip from one to another, there are definite oohs and aahs. I never did hear this during a PowerPoints in my classroom, and thinking back, I don’t think I have ever heard that at anytime when a PowerPoint was being given.

3. Prezi allows the creator to be truly creative. It is easy to get a picture and then build a presentation on it, in it, or around it with Prezi. PowerPoint does not allow quite the same creative flare.

4. No two Prezis look the same, even when the templates are used. I would have to say that most of the PowerPoints I observed were pretty canned.

5. It may be because Prezi is relatively new, but Prezi is just cool. PowerPoint has been around awhile, and it shows. Most of have sat through too many boring PowerPoint presentations, and hence, they are not that cool.

Just my two bits! If you haven’t tried Prezi, go there now and sign up. If you have a school email, you can get a free Pro Educators account. Make sure to look for that option.

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