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Monday, December 14, 2009

Annual 4th Grade Podcasts

Realistic fiction writing has taken over the Lower School for the last several weeks. Our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders have been working quite hard to publish some quality stories. In 4th grade, we added a bit of a twist to the annual podcast project. This year, in addition to recording their stories in Garage Band, we asked the kids to draw some original digital artwork using a free program called Tux Paint. They then imported their pictures into their podcasts for some extra flair. Enjoy!

Podcasts here

Friday, November 13, 2009


We’ve been doing lots of video stuff lately in classes, and in training sessions. Though we use iMovie at school, there are some helpful tools out there for beginners. One resource I encourage you to try out is animoto. Upload photos or video clips, add text, pick some music, and they make you a video! You can choose video clips, photos, and music to add that is part of animoto’s library, and all available through Creative Commons licensing.  I tried it for one of our 1st grade soccer teams...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What do you want to use technology for?

CAUTION: Reasoning while blogging. Could be difficult to understand and make no sense whatsoever. Just sayin’.

Often times, we get so caught up in the “How do I do that?” part of technology integration, we forget about the “Why should I do that?” part. When I come across something new and exciting, I fall victim to this mentality just as easily as the next person. I find myself so caught up in the “cool factor” of the latest and greatest thing, it takes me a while to rein in the enthusiasm and really look at how the technology is going to impact learning in my classroom. Put the brakes on, sister!  As educators, we must always remember our duty to pursue best practices, therefore it is a MUST to always consider the why.  Will my students learn more? Learn better? Be more actively engaged? Produce higher quality work? Understand concepts more deeply?  If these things are not considered, we start using technology for technology’s sake, not for improved student learning. Quantifying “improved student learning” can sometimes be near impossible, which is by no means a reason NOT to integrate technology. However, a good long look at the reasons behind why we want to try something new is crucial, not only for student success, but for quality teaching.

So, in my many web wanderings, I recently happened across this website, sponsored by the University of Maryland University College (I don’t understand this name, UMUC, but that’s beside the point).

Right at the top of the page, it reads:

What do you want to use technology for?

To help you answer this question, we've outlined some teaching/learning activities below that are used across the disciplines and tried to suggest through examples from the Web how each might utilize a certain kind of technology or a combination of different technologies to accomplish specific learning objectives. Each example represents a different discipline, and there are over 40 disciplines represented in the examples.
Do you want to use it for . . .?
Conceptual Learning - Ideas, theories, principles of information systems, bodies of knowledge
Problem Solving - Deductive powers, inferential reasoning, testing assumptions, decision making
Object and Document Analysis - Contextualization and interpretation using texts, documents, pictures, objects
Data Gathering and Synthesis - Research skills, methodology, evaluation and reporting, quantification
Case Studies - Evaluation of systems by observing and analyzing simulated situations or processes
Virtual Labs and Field Trips - Testing and evaluating information through experiments and in situ examination
Presentations by Teachers - Demonstrations, overviews, framing, setting forth of key information or salient points
Presentations by Students - Production or performance of representative knowledge by students
Collaborative Learning - Sharing knowledge, collective decision making, forming learning communities
Authentic Inquiry - Learner as practitioner, connecting theory to practice, taking responsibility for knowledge
Now, this is mostly university level content, so you won’t find anything for our youngest students, but you might find some useful ideas here. In particular, I find the organization of this site helpful because I appreciate the honest question of “what do we want to use it for” right up front. It requires that we answer that fundamental building block upon which all our lesson plans stand. It may sound completely simplistic, but if we get through a lesson, or even a whole unit of study, and we can’t answer “What was the point?” or “What did my students learn from this?” something has gone awry.

Now for the twist:

While I certainly believe in planning ahead, I also must confess that I think a lot of great things occur when you take a chance on something new and see what happens. This past year I worked with a teacher on two different projects, one which didn’t turn out so well, in our opinion, and the other which was a smashing success. We both learned a great deal about the technology, student behavior, and student learning along the way. Was it a mistake to try something new with less than stellar results?  Absolutely not. Believe it or not, we did plan. For months. It just didn’t come together in the way we expected. We quickly absorbed what worked well and what didn’t, and turned that over into a fantastic project several weeks later in a different class. As most teachers know, not all lesson plans go as expected, and they’re not always perfect. However, the post-project analysis was what made this experience so wonderful. We didn’t just bag it and say, “That was awful.” We broke the project down step by step to see where we went wrong, and we built in better strategies for trying again next year.

This is related to the main topic, I swear! A huge part of our analysis focused on “What do you want to use technology for?” In studying foreign languages, the goal was to have the kids practice speaking much more frequently. One multimedia project turned out to be too text-based, and these kids already had pretty proficient writing skills. The speaking part took a back seat to the content and presentation, and audio recordings sort of happened at the end as an afterthought. Our second project was video-based, so speaking was required throughout the entire project. Suddenly, kids were asking for help with pronunciation, writing scripts and practicing them over and over, and when filming began, most kids did multiple takes of the same scene, thereby practicing their speaking skills repeatedly. In their effort to create a fantastic multimedia project, and get each piece just right, they practiced the skill we were looking for all along. Speaking a foreign language! 

Monday, July 20, 2009


Wow...I’ve been delinquent in my blog updates. So here’s finally something new! Our Upper School Librarian, Jane, tipped me off about Scratch, a free programming software developed at MIT that allows kids to create their own scripts that run simple animations. I’m going to look into this further to see if it could be useful in the classroom. What I find most exciting is that what gets created is someone’s original work....very important in an academic environment where we’re trying to avoid copy/paste disease. :)

Scratch: overview from andresmh on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Google Earth

Where to begin...we are going to do a brief intro to Google Earth tomorrow at our faculty laptop meeting, and I am so excited to see what uses people find for it in their classrooms. I have been wanting to use Google Earth in my teaching, but I haven’t found just the right resource or topic to incorporate into a lesson.

Until now.

In the Lower School, I see students in each grade once a week for an hour. Though they have access to computers much more often than this, I am reticent to utilize my precious hour teaching from the front of the room, leaving the student laptops in the closet. Well, I finally did that for the first time last week, and I think it was totally worth it. The second graders are currently studying the continent of Asia, and while they have each chosen a very specific topic for their big research project, we’ve been wanting to give them a broader overview of the continent in general. In my quest for materials that will supplement their studies, I found an amazing site sponsored by National Geographic.

The site has seven activities, six of which use Google Earth, designed to “explore the food, art, wildlife, and geography of Asia--and more.” The activity for Day One  is an interactive quiz that pops up a series of 13 questions. When you answer correctly, you “fly” to that part of Asia and see what it looks like. Amazing.

What does the “earth’s largest continent” really look like? What kind of geographical diversity does it offer? How does one explain the concept of population density to 2nd graders? Looking at the satellite images over Tokyo, Japan, followed by sparsely populated regions in Mongolia, they couldn’t help but see the definition!

Next step: creating Google Earth tours of our own.

Some resources, put together by our Technology Director Jim Ferguson, that will be shared at the faculty laptop meeting:

The main link for Google Earth is  Google Earth needs to be downloaded and installed on your computer.  The Tech Department should do this for you so that you have a permanent copy of Google Earth in your Applications Folder, but Google Earth will run by downloading and placing it on your Desktop or Documents folder.

View Google Earth educational products at

Educators can get the $400 per year Google Earth Pro for free

Go to Google Earth > Help for more user guides and tutorials.

Get some Google Earth lessons ideas here

Explore the Earth, Space, and now Oceans...and let us know what you discover.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Look at Me!

Lots of folks in the Foreign Language department are experimenting with technology. One of the best ways for students to learn a language, naturally, is to get them speaking! Our amazing teachers are accomplishing this through podcasts, audio recordings in Power Point, oral presentations set against the backdrop of a Comic Life dialog assignment, video projects shot with Flip Video cameras, tours with still images and voiceovers stitched together in iMovie, and my new favorite...”green screen” Photo Booth videos of themselves in front of famous monuments! With Photo Booth, every student has a built-in camera and the tools necessary to transport themselves anywhere in the world. They can take you on tour in the native language! So many possibilities... (see 7th Grade Spanish, 7th Grade French, and 8th Grade French)

Of course, Photo Booth is just fun in general, and has MAJOR potential to be a MAJOR distraction (Exhibit A: moi, out of control below). So please be aware of the classroom management necessary to keep this educational. In all seriousness, the beauty of Photo Booth is that every student has the equipment for his/her own project. No external cameras, no hassles with cables, no worries about compatibility, etc. It provides a level playing field for all.

Now for the fun stuff:
In addition to special effects that let you put your own backgrounds behind you, there are numerous fun “extras,” special effects that people have posted online, and they’re FREE!

Channel your inner Star Wars nerd (I think I mixed Star Trek in here too), become Obi Wan-Kenobi, and record yourself in hologram form:

Put yourself into a great work of art:

In the spirit of national politics, “Obamafy” yourself:

I’m not wasting time, I promise. This is all done in the name of research.