Students Know Technology NO THEY DONT!

This past month I received a set of netbooks for my classroom.  I feel very fortunate to have received these and wanted to incorporate them into my class as much as possible. So I decided to make my class a paperless classroom.  As my classes have begun working in this new digital learning environment I have found that many students really do to know how to use technology and really need to be shown how to correctly use a computer.

So often I hear teachers say things like, “I don’t want to teach kids technology because they already know it all and I don’t.” Or that “the kids know more about this stuff than I do.” To put it bluntly, NO THEY DON’T! This is a myth and in fact I believe that you will find that things like file management, proper email, and using many online tools will be foreign to them.  Although many students will pick up how to use these digital tools quickly we must remember as teachers, students need to be taught how to use many of these tools. Assuming that students can use technology is a pitfall that many educators and schools fall into. Any technology to used in the classroom must be taught to the students before its use to ensure the best possible application of that learning tool.  This is a lesson that even though I knew, really has been pointed out to me in the past few weeks.

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20 Student Favorite Cartoon Creators

As I watched Tom Wujec’s TED talk today I was struck by the simplicity of his message. All teachers know that a good visual is key to success in the classroom. But what really intrigued me was the concept of students creating visuals to cement their learning. Over the past two years I have noticed that students who create visual projects in my class often retain information better than those who wrote papers.

In my project based classroom one of the most popular mediums for students projects has become cartoon creators. Not only do students enjoy creating these projects but the the process of taking their knowledge and depicting it visually on paper seems to be very effective in their learning process. I have often talked to students about one of their projects that they created at the beginning of the year and not only can they tell me about the project but they still remember the underlying concept taught at that time. This has always intrigued me and led me to create a long list of cartoon creators for students to use.

For those of you interested in giving this a try here are 20 of the most popular cartoon creators my students like to use.

  5. Chogger
  6. Comic Creator
  7. Comic Lab
  8. Make Believe Comix
  9. Strip Creator
  10. Strip Generator
  11. Zimmer Twins
  12. Do Ink
  13. Comic Strip Generator
  14. Comic Master
  15. Captain Underpants
  16. Comicbrush
  17. Marvel Comic Creator
  18. Witty Comic Creator
  19. Cartoon to Customize
  20. Bitstrips

Mr. Miyagi Education and “BALANCE”

MiyagiTonight as I was watching the original Karate Kid with my kids I was struck by a conversation between Miyagi and Daniel.

Miyagi: [Daniel has just gotten his driver’s license and Miyagi has given him a car for his birthday] Just remember, license never replace eye, ear, and brain.
[notices Daniel has suddenly gotten quiet]
Miyagi: What matter?
Daniel: I’m just scared. The tournament and everything.
Miyagi: You remember lesson about balance?
Daniel: Yeah.
Miyagi: Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?

This of course got me thinking about education.  I know get a life take a break from teaching.  But I really began thinking about the state of education and how the the focus on standardize tests, teacher accountability, funding and how to fix the current state of education seems to be missing the point.  There is no one thing that is going to fix education.  What we need to provide students is a balanced education.  Public education was originally designed to create well rounded citizens.  This is what we need to consider when we begin to think about revamping education today.  We need to develop a system that has balance and is not putting all our emphasis into preparing students for tests but rather preparing them for life.  Jefferson stated that education should be “adapted to the years, to the capacity, and the condition of every one, and directed to their freedom and happiness”.  So as the discussion continues and the debate rages on lets remember what Mr. Miyagi says “Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?”

Great Links on this topic.

The real problem of U.S. public schools

14 Student Favorite Project Websites

Over the past two years my students have been allowed to create their projects in any format or medium in which they choose.  This had led to some amazing and creative projects that have not only inspired me but opened my eyes to what my students are truly capable of creating. I have noticed however that there seems to be certain sites and programs that they gravitate to every year.  So the following list, are sites that my students seem to use at some point every year and really seem to enjoy.

  1. Glogster: is always a fan favorite since they can add music video and images all in one project.  This virtual poster site is always one that I see multiple times a year.
  2. Photo Story 3: has become a big hit over the past year and a half.  This is a simple video creator that allows students to take a series of images place them in any order and then narrate each image and/or add text to each image. It then generates a movie adding in transitions and panning automatically to the video.  It is simple and creates great short informational videos. They do also have a mac version.
  3. Museum Box: This is a great site for history classes.  Students place items in a box that would help describe a person or event. They can add video, audio, images and text.  This site has led to some great projects.
  4. Goanimate: takes a bit of learning but is a animated video creator that students love to create their projects with.  It generates great animated cartoons that my students have used to explain many different historical events.
  5. Google Search Stories: is a great video creator for quick informational video clips.  It uses the Google search engine and results to tell a story or explain and event.
  6. Picture A Story: allows students to tell stories about history, explain topics or concepts using preloaded images characters and objects.
  7. Flixtime: Is another video creator that allows students to take a series of images ad create great videos to explain concepts or historical events.
  8. Poster 4 Teachers: Is a free program that allows students to create online projects and reports in a poster format.  It also allows them to create simple websites to explain or discuss topics presented in class.
  9. Slideroll: This site allows kids to create simple slide shows to tell a digital story.
  10. Animoto: This site allows students o create professional looking videos projects.  This site is easy and fun for students to use.
  11. Alice.Org:  A animated story creator. That also teaches programming. I have had a few students really get into programming after using this application.
  12. Digital Story Teller: This is similar to Photo Story 3 students can add text and audio to their digital stories.
  13. Kerpoof: Always a favorite site for students to create movies and other digital media.
  14. Fotobabble: This is really a card creator but students have used it in a variety of ways to narrate  a digital story and have used it a segment in other digital projects.


Failure = Learning

My son went to a basketball camp recently and at the end they had a contest.  At the conclusion of the contest all of the participants were pronounced the winner.  I was amazed that everyone thought that this was just great.  Everyone received a ribbon and the camp was over.  After the ride home I asked my son to see his ribbon and he replied, “What ribbon?” “The one you got 30 minutes ago at camp” I replied.  “I am not sure I think it is in the car” he replied and walked away.  This response really made me think.  All the parents felt great at the end of camp but the kids were robbed of any real feeling of accomplishment.

As I thought about this event I began to think about the conversations in my PLN.  Over the past week we have been discussing grading and the value of letter grades. When students receive a grade on an assignment what does that really mean to them?  Is the real value and learning moment being lost with this traditional assessment.  Life is learned through failure.  More specifically through the reflection and correction of mistakes.  So why does education for the most part avoid this type of assessment.  This traditional assessment robs students of any real intrinsic value to that assigned task.  Causing students to become disconnected with the learning process.  Having student assess and reflect on their individual tasks is key to developing a true learning environment.  Then this morning I see Diana Laufenberg’s   TED talk on “How to Learn? From Mistakes”.   In this talk she discusses the value and importance of helping students assess their own work and learn from their own and others mistakes. Take a look.

Want to revamp your presentations? Try these 10 programs!

Presentation ProgramsLets face it, when students see a PowerPoint presentation they moan and grown.  PowerPoint has been used so much that anymore students often tune out.  As a teacher I am always looking for new ways to present information to my students.  I still do use PowerPoint occasionally but have begun to use other programs as well and have found some of these to be quite useful.  After talking to some colleagues about this topic I decided that I would share some of the different programs I have found.  These programs are not only easy to use but a nice change for the students.  So here are the top ten alternate presentation programs that I have been using over the past year.

  1. Prezi is the first program that I found to be easy to use and entertaining for students.  This program allow you to simply place words, images and video in any order you would like.  It is very simple and the transition from topic to topic is very captivating for the students.  Also once you have created the Prezi it is saved on their website and available from any internet connection.
  2. Empressr is a lot like PowerPoint in its lay out and delivery.  It is an online program that allows you to upload video, images and audio.  It saves it on their server so that you can easily share your presentation on your own website, blog, or social networking page.
  3. Museum Box is a great site that students love.  This site allows you to create a box with different drawers and number of boxes to display your information.  This is very interactive and easily shared.  Again like the others you can add video, audio and images.  Great one to have student come up to the interactive board and explore each box and share what they find.
  4. Animoto is a great site to easily and quickly create videos for your classroom to present information.  This site will take your images, sound and video and then it creates movies that look like movie clips that can be fun for students to watch.  This is also a great site for students to use to create projects for class.
  5. Glogster is a site that allows you to present information in the form of a virtual poster.  You can imbed photos, sounds, videos and text right on the poster for students to view on their own or present to them in class.  Like Animoto, Glogster is a great site for kids to use to create projects for class.
  6. 280 Slides is simple put an online version of PowerPoint. However, it does allow you to easily link videos and images from the web into the presentation and it allows you to share your presentation easily on the web.
  7. Present it This site is like 280 slides this is a online version of PowerPoint.  This site does allow you to download your presentation so that you can use it offline as well.
  8. Wix is a flash website creator.  This site allows you to create interactive presentations or website to use in your classroom.  They have a great look to them and students seem to respond to these types of websites well.
  9. VIDDIX this site combines video with your PowerPoint type presentation.  It is a double window player that has video on the right and presentation notes or information on the right. This combination can be very powerful and really help to drive home your learning targets.
  10. SlideSix is a unique presentation application it allows you to record audio and video directly into your presentation.  It embeds the audio or video into your presentation allowing you to narrate slides and video.  It is easy to embed and share your final project.

A Call For Help! Standard based grading in a traditional world

Icon from Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x.
Image via Wikipedia

Over the past few years I have really begun to move to a standard based classroom.  The idea of moving away from grades and focusing on learning and not the letter grade really appeals to me.  I also have found that the students really do respond well to standard based grading.  My dilemma is that my district works on a traditional grading system.  I am asking for help here!  Is their a way to combine these two styles of grading?  My hope is to find a temporary solution until I can convince my district to switch to standard based grading.

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