Revamping My Classroom: Goodbye Desks Hello Couches and Bean Bags

So over the past year I have toyed with the idea of removing the desks in my room. Why you ask? Well, I have always felt that rows of desks and has always added to the robotic nature of an industrialized school system. This type of environment really is not very conducive to creativity. What our schools really need at this point is to teach students how to be creative.

Creativity is becoming a key to success for our society so as teachers we need to promote this and teach this in our classrooms to truly prepare students for the future. The first step in developing creativity is creating a comfortable environment where students feel safe to explore and try out new ideas. This is not done just with a change in decor but room setup as any teacher knows is essential in developing a classroom atmosphere. So, I have taken out the desks and moved in the couches and bean bags. Today, students may be shocked!

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Launching of my 7th Grade Class Blog (Comments Greatly Appreciated)

My 7th grade social studies class decided that they wanted to do a class blog.  They created this blog and placed all content on this blog themselves.  They have decided to do this with as little help from me as possible and see how they do.  I was impressed by their motivation and effort in creating this blog.  It truly was a class collaboration.  Please have a look and post some comments on the content.

Link to class blog.  http://studentthoughts.wordpress.com/

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Help!! 32 Handhelds and Two Months to Show Relevance in Education!

Over the past year I have been looking into augmented reality and how I can develop this medium for the classroom.  I have discussed this before in my blogs multiple times. (See links below.) At this point I have been lucky enough to convince my district to pilot 32 HTC Touch Pro 2’s in my classroom.  These devices will run windows mobile 6.5 and Goknow mobile software.  The district is going to pay for the data plans through Verizon.  This will allow me to begin to develop different types of augmented reality learning environments for my students.  At the present I see that I will use Mscape and Goknow, including  their multiple applications that they provide  with their service, to begin creating these learning environments.  The purpose of this blog is to asked others what have you used to create these type of learning environments?  Also what are your experiences using augmented reality in the classroom?  Since this is a pilot program that is getting started late in the year I don’t have much time to convince my district of the validity of these types of learning environments.  So any help here would be great so that I can prove the worth of these devices and be able to retain them for the upcoming school year.

  1. Augmented Reality How do you use it?
  2. Augmented Reality Lesson Plan “History Detectives”
  3. Augmented Reality with Bing Maps The Wave of the Future?
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Blogging an Essential Part of a Successful Learning Environment

Over the past year I have begun to use blogging in my classroom as a way for students to communicate with each other and me.  I have found that it can be an engaging and useful tool for students.  I often use blogging to have students answer sample test questions  to prepare for their upcoming state standardized tests.  I have found that students seem to put forth more effort into their writing in this type of medium.  Students also seem to really enjoy looking at other student work and commenting.  So I have begun to put out grading rubrics to the students and have them grade each others work.  This has led to some heated discussions about different topics that have been incredible learning environments for these students.  This has also helped them prepare for their testing by making them well aware of the grading criteria on our state standardized tests.

The key to blogging in the classroom seems to be timely responses to their posts.  As long as students feel that someone is reading their posts they see a real world connection and this really seems to motivate them to keep writing.  Blogging as become a big part of my classroom learning environment and one that I will continue to use in my classes.  Here are some great resources for more information on blogging in the classroom.  They will provide you with ideas and how to write  and comment on blogs.   Blog Basics; Blogging Support

If you are looking to try blogging in your classroom here are some great places to setup a class blog.

  1. KidBlog.org http://kidblog.org/home.php: This site is designed for elementary and middle school students.  It allows the students to create unique blogs with no email addresses.
  2. Class Press http://www.classpress.com/: This site does require a reasonable yearly fee.  They however do monitor the writing and will send you emails with questionable content. This site also also allows kids to create their own unique blog.
  3. ClassBlogmeister: http://www.classblogmeister.com/
  4. Edublog: http://edublogs.org/
  5. 21Classes: http://www.21classes.com/ This site does require a monthly fee but provides lots of storage and tools for your students.
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Augmented Reality How do you use it?

Over the past few months I have been looking to design augmented learning environments.  An augmented learning environment is a mix of the real world and technology.  What I found, about the environments that I have created so far, is that student seem to really get engaged with this type of learning.  I really see the potential of these type of learning environments.  Two key aspects that really enhance these environments are that students must work together to solve a problem, and students must be moving around in the real world not on a computer.

What I am interested in learning from all of you right now is:

  • Have any of you used any of these environments?
  • How have you used these environments?
  • How did you set them up?

I have used Mscape to create CSI type learning environments that require the students work together to solve a mystery or murder.

Please post a response and let me know what are your thoughts.

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Augmented Reality Lesson Plan “History Detectives”

This assignment was created with Mscape and is played on window mobile 6.1 or higher devices. Since Mscape is going to be discontinued by HP I was hoping that someone out there could point me to another platform that I can use to create these type of learning environments.

Here are the programs I am aware of:

In this simulation students are in groups of two or three and each have a specific character that they select and play in the simulation. Also each character is vital to the overall game and students must discuss what they find at each location to correctly solve the mystery.

Storyline or topic:

Skeletal remains have been found in the back field of the school. Students will investigate the scene to discover what took place. As they investigate, they will learn that this event is a murder; however, it took place over 150 years ago. Their task is to discover what happened to this individual. While investigating the scene, they will gain valuable insights and an understanding of the conflict between Native Americans and white settlers in the mid 1850’s in the state of Washington. Through this process they will discover the 10 major reasons for conflict and gain insight from both perspectives. Students will conduct interviews, read journals, and hear native stories throughout the simulation. Like my last scenario, I will give the students a week to conduct the simulation and develop a presentation to present their findings and theories.

This project will consist of two to three people per group: an archeologist, detective, and a historian.  All the roles will be vital in the development of the groups overall theory. Each individual will be responsible for finding and developing key pieces of evidence to assist the group in developing their overall theory and game strategy during the simulation.

Archeologist: This role is responsible for dating the evidence and discovering the physical evidence of the scene. In a way they are setting the stage for the group.

Detective: He/she will take the information from the Archeologist and the Historian and piece together the events that occurred at the site.

Historian: This player will provide valuable insight to life of the times including opinions, feelings and biases.

As they work together, they will be able to put together what happened at this site and be able to draw inferences to the conflict that occurred throughout the rest of Washington State.

I have chosen three players, because it seems to work better for middle school students. It distributes the workload without overly taxing the individual student. This allows students to work collaboratively by assisting each other to discover the mystery behind the skeletal remains. Since the roles may overlap, I can have some students take on two roles, again, without overloading them. This will allow me to separate the class into groups, whether I have an odd or even number of students.

Curriculum standards are as follows: Based of Washington State Bench Marks

Social Studies:

4.3.1 Analyzes and interprets historical materials from a variety of perspectives in the state of Washington or world history.

4.3.2 Analyzes multiple causal factors that shape major events in the state of Washington or world history.

5.1.1 Understands evidence supporting a position on an issue or event.

5.1.2 Evaluates the breadth of evidence supporting positions on an issue or event.

5.4.1 Analyzes multiple factors, makes generalizations, and interprets primary sources to formulate a thesis in a paper or presentation.

Science:

2.2.1 Apply curiosity, honesty, skepticism, and openness when considering explanations and conducting investigations.

2.2.5 Know that ideas in science change as new scientific evidence arises.

3.1.3 Analyze multiple solutions to a problem or challenge.

Technology:

1.1.2 Use models and simulations to explore systems, identify trends and forecast possibilities.

1.2.1 Communicate and collaborate to learn with others.

Analyze, synthesize and ethically use information to develop a solution, make informed decisions and report results.

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The First Two Steps to Ensure a Successful Lesson

The bell rings and students are beginning to filter into your classroom.  As a teacher you need to grab their attention and refocus it from  previous classes and what just happened in the hall, on to your subject.  This is often a daunting task and one that can seem impossible at times.  I have found two strategies that have been quite effective in getting students focused and  ready to learn in class.

Step one: “Baiting the Hook”

First have a learning target on the board everyday for them to read.  How often as a teacher do you hear, “What are we going to do today?” or my favorite,  “Are we doing anything in class today?”  After you have trained them to look at the whiteboard for the learning target they will form a habit of look for and reading the learning target each day.  This will start to refocus the students on your subject and topic of the day.  I tell my kids to help me out and remind me if the learning target is not on the whiteboard.

Step Two: Reeling Them In

The next thing is to captivate their attention.  This can be done through many different types of bell-ringing activities.  One of my favorites is to use a movie clip to get them talking about the topic of the day.  This catches their attention and ca be very effective in engaging your students.  A couple of great sites to use are MOVIECLIPS (http://movieclips.com/) and AnyClip (http://anyclip.com/).  These sites give you short clips on many different subjects from modern films that always get the kids excited and engaged.  There are many different types of bell ringer activities here below are some links to a few lists of activities that have been useful to me in the past.  Doing these two steps at the beginning of each class is an effective way to refocus your students and get them learning in your classroom.

Here is a list of some ideas for bell ringer activities:

  1. —Political Cartoons
  2. Historical and Current —Video Clips —
  3. Online —Games and Activities —
  4. Art and Images
  5. —Pre-assessment & Review —
  6. This Day in History —
  7. Short Readings

Other Links I have found useful:

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