09-10 Reflections: 2nd & 3rd Grades

This year both 2nd Grade and 3rd Grade were very small classes so they came to the computer lab together. This presented a few challenges but worked very well for the most part. I think it really helped the 2nd Grade students do their best work to prove they could do what the 3rd Grade students were doing. Both classes really enjoyed using the Jumpstart series for their grade as their what to do when you are done activity during much of the year and everyone was really excited when they got to use next year’s version (Jumpstart 4th Grade for 3rd Graders & Jumpstart 3rd Grade for 2nd Graders) at the end of the year for a few classes. I wouldn’t want to use these programs as what the students always did during computers but they do supplement what the students are learning academically and the students enjoy them.

Keyboarding & Microsoft Word

Starting in 2nd grade, students begin to do some real keyboarding lessons. This year I used some of the levels of Dance Mat Typing with 2nd & 3rd Grades. The students really enjoy this site but many of the students don’t have time to finish a level during the 30 minutes that they are in the lab. I think next year I may do my own directed lessons teaching the keys in alphabetical order that way I have more control over the length of a lesson. I’m still working on how exactly I can present this but I hope to have it figured out by the time September rolls around.

As I look back on the work that 2nd & 3rd Grades did with Microsoft Word, I feel that I need to take a slower approach to Word Processing. Even though they, used Microsoft Word for a variety of writing projects, many of them continue to struggle with where to find things and how to format sentences and paragraphs. We do not have the most current version of Microsoft Office on the computers in the lab and won’t be getting an upgrade any time soon. This means I want my students to understand the basics of any Word Processing (or Spreadsheet or Presentation) software so they can use newer versions at home or use Open Office of Google Docs and still accomplish what they need to do.

Collaborative Projects: Winter Wonderland & Monster Project

2nd & 3rd Grade also participated in the Winter Wonderland Project again this year during December and February.  They completed the Holiday Traditions VoiceThreads and the Holiday Card exchange in December which helped them to understand the collaborative nature of the project. They absolutely loved seeing all the cards from the other classes and enjoyed hearing other student’s holiday traditions. In February, they participated in the Winter Olympics poll and got some practice using Excel by doing Candy Heart Graphing.

The Monster Project was a big hit again this year. Based on my experience with the project from last year, I did involve the classroom teachers this year. They students drew their monsters during computer class in KidPix and then I printed them out and they wrote their descriptions during their writing time in class. They then came back into the lab and typed their descriptions which were then added to the Monster Project Wiki. For some reason this year, things just seemed to be rushed and there wasn’t time to have the students record their reflections; instead, I just compiled all of the written reflections into a single file and shared them in a book format.

09-10 StM Monster Project Reflections

I love this project in that the students do get that they are working on something with another class far away. It was disappointing that no one seemed to post reflections this year and again I would love to have had a Skype session with our partner class but that didn’t happen either. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Lessons I Learned:

  • 2nd Graders hands are really small and it takes them a lot longer to type things than I think it will!
  • Students don’t instinctively know the toolbars in applications. I really need to take the time to explain toolbars more and point out the similarities.

Things I’ll Definitely Repeat Next Year

  • Winter Wonderland Project
  • Monster Project
  • Educational Software & websites – these are great for fill in time after students complete a project or activity and are waiting for the rest of the class to finish.

What are some successes you’ve had with 2nd Grade or 3rd Grade in the computer lab or with technology infused projects?

Year End Reflections #2: Monster Project

Another class and another collaborative project – this time, it was my 3rd grade class and they were participating in the Monster Project. I felt this project was a lot of fun for the students and they learned quite a bit about being detailed with their writing. I really appreciated the lesson plan ideas on the Monster Project wiki and used many of these with my class.


I began this project by having the students watch the Schoolhouse Rock video Unpack Your Adjectives:

The video was a fun review of adjectives and the students enjoyed it. Then, we read the book Many Lucious Lollipops by Ruth Heller and created a favorite food adjective web in PowerPoint.  Once these were completed, I took two of them and read just the words describing the food to see if the students could identify the food – one of them was easy to identify and the other was more difficult. We then took some time to figure out what words could have been used to make it easier to identify the second food.

Drawing The Monsters

The first drawing class started out with the book Go Away Big Green Monster by Edward R. Emberley and instructions on how to draw their monster. We discussed how it would be easier to describe their monster and for their partner to re-draw their monster if they used simple shapes like circles, rectangles, triangles, etc. Even though the students were told to keep their monster simple, some of the students used non-standard shapes and some of the fancier paint brushes in KidPix. I had planned two class periods for the drawing portion of this project but we actually used more time than that due to absent students and accidental saving of a blank picture on top of a completed monster.

Describing The Monsters

The first step in describing the monsters was to create an adjective web for their monster by coming up with describing words for each monster body part. I created a template in PowerPoint and printed this out for student to use with their monster.

Monster Template

Some of the students completed this quickly while others had a more difficult time with it. It took two class periods for all of the students to have this completed. One thing I noticed in this process is that in some cases it would have been better for the student to describe their monster in a way that didn’t include using adjectives. For example, one of my students drew a monster that looked like a wave coming out of the water. He described it with adjectives like blue and curved, etc. but it would have been much easier to redraw if he had just said it looks like a wave coming out of the water. Next year, I will emphasize that sometimes you can describe things not only with adjectives but in other ways too.

I then added a Monster Prompts template to each student’s computer and they used this in Word to write their monster descriptions. This step took more time than I thought it would due to student absences, lack of Word and keyboarding skills and difficulty in the actual writing process. After doing this in the lab, I feel that the actual writing process should be done with the classroom teacher instead of at a computer. It is difficult for the younger students to compose in Word. Next year, if we do this project again, I will have the students write their descriptions with their classroom teacher and just type them during their time in the computer lab. I have already mentioned this to the 3rd Grade teacher for next year.

My Turn

After the students were done with their monster creation and descriptions, I combined all of the descriptions into one Word document and exported all of the pictures out of KidPix as JPG and resized them according to the instructions on the Monster Project wiki and then added our descriptions and our monster pictures to the wiki and updated the main page on the wiki to reflect where we were in the process. I think this was a really great idea on Anna and Ann’s part so that you could easily tell where your partner school was. The timing between our two schools was pretty good in getting the project completed and online.

Drawing Their Partner’s Monster

Before the students redrew their partner’s monster, I printed out two monsters from last year’s project along with their descriptions. I purposely picked one monster that was described really well and one that did not have a really great description. We then went into KidPix as a class and drew the monsters from their descriptions only and crossed out each sentence of the description as we went. The students were amazed at the monster that was described well and how it matched the original. They were frustrated with the second description because it was missing information on colors and some of the body parts. This is when I saw the light bulb truly go off for them. Some of them realized at that point things they might have left out of their own descriptions or ways they could have drawn their monster to make it easier for someone else to recreate. Next year, I will do this same thing before we ever draw the monsters and maybe even repeat it before we write the descriptions.

Each student was given the description of a monster drawn by a 3rd grade student in Mintot, ND. They were really excited to try to draw their partner’s monster. Some of them discovered that the descriptions were detailed and made it easy to draw what they thought the monster should look like. Others discovered that things like the color of their monster and other important details weren’t there. Good descriptions or not so good descriptions, everyone finished their redraw within a few class periods and then I uploaded the redrawn monsters to the wiki.

Reviewing & Reflecting

My students were all really excited to see what the students in Minot, ND had drawn from their descriptions and to see what their partner’s original monsters really looked like. We took two classes to view these and I heard a lot of “But they didn’t draw what I said” and “Wow that looks like my monster” and “Hey that’s pretty close”. After we had looked at them all, we talked about why there were differences especially in colors. It’s hard for 3rd graders to understand that even though your blue and their blue are different that doesn’t mean that they drew it wrong. It could be that they used a different drawing program and the blues in there are just different than the blues in KidPix. We spent some time reviewing some of the monsters and descriptions to see where things had gone right and where they had gone wrong.

Each student then used PowerPoint to write and then record their reflections on the project. They had to answer the following questions or complete the following sentences:

1. What did you enjoy most about the Monster Project?
2. Was there anything you didn’t like about the Monster Project?
3. I did a good job describing my monster’s
4. I used describing words like
5. It was difficult for my partner to draw my monster because
6. If I could do this project again, I would
7. What words made it easy to draw your partner’s monster?
8. What words were missing or wrong that made it hard to draw the monster?
9. What do you think they should have added?

This step in the process took 3-4 classes to complete because the students had to think about their answers and write them in complete sentences. After they had their written answers completed, they had to actually record their answers in PowerPoint.

Sharing Reflections Online

I then combined these into one big presentation but I wanted to just take the recording from the first slide for each student and put them all on one slide and let people click on the voice they wanted to hear and then continue through the other slides. I created this in PowerPoint and it worked great. I typically upload and share PowerPoint presentations in SlideBoom because it keeps voice and transitions and animations, etc. This time it didn’t work, however, since the ability to click on the speakers went away when I uploaded the presentation which meant you couldn’t hear what the students had to say – so it was on to Plan B for this one.

Aha, I thought, I’ll use VoiceThread since I had read you could upload PowerPoints and I hadn’t ever tried that. I haven’t used VoiceThread much this year. I currently only have a free account and I used to have all of the computers in the lab logged in to the same account using different identities. Since that’s not an option anymore I just didn’t do much with VoiceThread after the first semester this year. I decided to see if it could handle what I needed by uploading the PowerPoint presentation. Sadly, it couldn’t since all I ended up with was the images and they all had speakers on them since my students had inserted recorded sound on each slide. So back to the drawing board but I knew there had to be a way to get the images and recorded information from the PowerPoint into VoiceThread so here are the steps I used to transfer my PowerPoint presentation to VoiceThread:

1. Save the presentation as a web page. This exports all of the sounds files for me. It exports other things too but I was interested in getting the sound files.

2. Take all the speakers off the slides and then save the presentation as jpg images. This saves all my slides as individual images.

3. Upload all the images to create a new VoiceThread. It might be a good idea to rename the files before uploading since it names them slide1, slide2, etc. which means slide2 will come after slide 10 and not right after slide 1. I didn’t and just reordered them in VoiceThread.

4. Using each of the student identities that I already have under my account, upload the sound files as comments on the slides in VoiceThread. I did change the pictures for each of the student identities to match the Monster Project since this class had not done any other VoiceThread project this year.

Voila! A VoiceThread from a PowerPoint including the recorded information on the PowerPoint.

Ann Oro had also created a VoiceThread for reflections from the teachers on the project and I spent some time adding my reflections to that too. I am interested in hearing what everyone else has to say about the project. One slight disappointment I had with the project was the fact that we didn’t get to Skype with our partner class. We were attempting to set this up but they were out of school about a month before we were and I hadn’t realized that fact and we didn’t get this set up before they were out for the summer.  I think this is a wonderful project to teach the students about descriptive writing and to get teachers involved in an online collaborative project.

If Only

Do you find yourself saying things like if only I had new computers or if only our Internet connection were faster or if only we had a Smartboard or any other if onlys? I definitely do this because the equipment in our lab is very outdated or sometimes non-existent but then I have to stop to remind myself of what we are able to accomplish even with our outdated equipment! Here are some of my Wow – Look at what we HAVE or WILL be doing items.

The theme in the Computer Lab this year is It’s A Small World and in addition to learning the basics like: Internet Safety, Parts of the Computer, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Keyboarding, we are participating in collaborative projects with other students around the world. This is where one of my If Onlys definitely comes in. Google Earth is an amazing way to introduce a project like this because you can fly around a 3D world to all of the places where schools are located. Unfortunately, the computers at school do not have new enough graphics cards or enough memory to support Google Earth. I have been able to use the 2D version of MSN’s Live Search Maps to show where the other schools are located. It’s not as impressive and doesn’t run really fast but it does at least give the students some idea of the scope of the project and where the other schools are in the world.

Kindergarten and 2nd Grade are working on a project called Online Autumn which is a project to have students in Kindergarten through 4th Grade share art work and creative writing about Autumn. 2nd Grade started this project using an on-line brainstorming tool and are currently working on pictures of the things they like most about Autumn. We will be creating either an interactive book or a VoiceThread from the pictures. Kindergarten will also be creating some art work and creating a book or VoiceThread too. There are schools from all over the United States and Canada participating in this project.

1st Grade will be participating in a project called How Tall is a First Grader with schools from all over the United States, Australia and Lebanon. This will be a fun project because 1st Grade will get to explore Excel and read some on-line interactive books and do some writing too and will be able to compare how tall they are to other 1st graders all over the world.

3rd Grade will be participating in a Monster Exchange project later in the year that will let them draw an original picture and write a description of it and then exchange their descriptions with another school to see if the other student can recreate their drawing. This is a project that can be done with or without computers but having computers adds an extra zing to the project because you can see the drawings compared and read the descriptive paragraphs right online.

Last year I discovered the collaborative project called Voices of the World and thought at the time how I would love to participate in it. Schools around the world record the voices of their children singing or saying something – for example: Introducing themselves, singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, singing their National Anthem, etc. These are all shared on a wiki each month. This year 4th Grade is participating in this project along with other schools from the US, Scotland, Australia, Poland, Sweden, Lebanon, Greece, Norway & more! 4th Grade is really excited about this one and loved listening to some of last year’s projects before we worked on our first project for this year. Yes, this one brings an If Only too – we are limited on microphones in the lab and it would be great for every computer to have it’s own microphone. We are recording a lot in both this project and other things with our limited resources but it would be nice to have more.

5th Grade is just getting ready to start their collaborative project called TimeZone Experiences which includes schools from NJ, NY, IL, England and Australia. They will be learning all about Greenwich Mean Time and reporting on what they and their classmates are doing at each hour of the day and during each month of the year and getting to see what other students around the world are doing at the same hour of the day and/or month of the year.

6th Grade has joined a really fun year-long project called A Room With a View with over a hundred participating classes. The project was introduced using Live Search Maps and will involve taking a picture of the campus each month and reporting on the weather and other information about what they observed on the day the picture was taken. All of the 6th graders will also be reflecting on each month in a VoiceThread. I think it will be very fun to look back at the year once we are done. All of the parents can follow along during the year since the entire project will be posted online in the VoiceThread and on a wiki page that will be maintained by the 6th graders. This project and the 5th grade project might have a tiny If Only associated with them since both projects either need or should have a picture taken each month and another thing that I’d love to have is some digital cameras for student use. Now, I just bring in my camera and it works but it would be great to have some in the lab for projects like this.

7th Grade’s project, Human Genetics Project,  was chosen because it ties in with their Science curriculum for the year. They are currently learning all about Google Docs and how to collaborate with others on a document while they write part of the Introduction Letter for this project. They will then be collecting and analyzing data based on certain observable traits and then downloading and analyzing world-wide data about the same traits.

8th Grade isn’t participating (at this point anyway) in any specific collaborative project because they are creating their own Social Studies wiki. This project will hopefully enhance their Social Studies knowledge and help them to learn new useful and fun tools. Of course there are If Onlys with this one mainly because of the low amount of memory and limited amount of bandwidth available. There are times we run into roadblocks because of these things but that just means I have to think creatively or pair students up in order to accomplish what we want!

I’m really excited about some of the sites that the students are using as they complete projects and wait for others to finish. They allow the students to compete with other students around the world or contribute to worthy causes. If you haven’t visited Tutpup, I’d highly recommend it. All of the students love seeing which country they are competing against and don’t even seem to realize that they are practicing spelling skills or math facts. I really like the fact that the students can register but they really are safe because their screen name has nothing to do with their real name and there’s no chatting or anything like that to worry about having to monitor. Both Free Rice and Free Poverty donate to worthy causes based on correct answers in various quizzes. The students love that they’re donating to a good cause and have fun with the quizzes too.

So there you have it some of my Wow – Look at what we HAVE or WILL be doing items. Would these be better If Only? Well they would definitely be faster and there would probably be less outages and some things might be more engaging but better? Not necessarily. The learning going on and the things being achieved can be done (usually anyway) with even our outdated equipment but … If Only … you can’t blame me for wishing now can you?

The Journey Begins

My second year in the computer lab has begun and it looks like it will be an interesting one. I am hoping to have each class do at least one collaborative online project with other schools in the US and potentially around the world. I’ve already signed up for a few and have a few others in mind. Here’s what I’m hoping to do by grade level:

You’ll notice I didn’t list 8th Grade. That’s because I have a year-long project planned with them that I don’t want to take away from with anything else. If I find that they have time for other things later in the year, I’ll try to find a project at that point and I am going to have them, along with the other grades, participate in World Math Day in March.

I can already see some challenges for this year in addition to the fact that the equipment is old and prone to running slowly at times. Many of the Kindergarteners seem very inexperienced on computers which means they’ll need more individual help and it’s hard to be everywhere at once. 7th Grade is very chatty and is difficult to motivate and to get to listen so that poses a definite challenge but they’re all very bright and I think we can do some interesting things this year if they’ll settle in.

I’m trying something all new with 8th Grade this year. They’re going to build a wiki around their Social Studies curriculum throughout the year. I hope that we’re going to be able to learn to podcast and we’ll build an online timeline of important events and add resources to help with studying and to help to bring Social Studies more alive for all of them. This has the potential to be really good or to crash and burn – only time will tell. Before we can start I need to get signed permission slips from all of the students and we need to cover Internet Safety and Copyrights.

I’m excited about the potential of this year and hope that the ideas that I have in my head work out in reality!