It Was Just One of Those … Years!

I was really excited about the online collaborative projects amd activities that I had scheduled for my classes this past year. Some of them we had done in previous years, both successfully and not so successfully, and some were new projects that my students hadn’t done in the past.

This just seemed to be one of those years where the planets were out of alignment and many of the projects just didn’t work out the way I had envisioned …

1st Grade: Describe A Snowman

My 1st Graders in 2009 did this activity and it was very successful. They loved making and describing the snowmen and trying to recreate our partner school’s snowmen and then seeing the results. I was excited to have this year’s 1st Graders involved in this activity. My students created their snowmen and recorded their descriptions. Then, we waited for our partner school to post their descriptions and my students recreated their partner classes’ snowmen. Unfortunately, our partner school never recreated my students’ snowmen which was a real disappointment for them.

Will I do this one again next year? Writing skills are being emphasized school wide in the upcoming year so having 1st graders involved in an activity where they have to describe something in detail fits in well with this. That means that this activity is on the “let’s try it again next year” list and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that our partner class participates fully.

2nd Grade: Monster Project

I really love the Monster Project and my students have enjoyed participating in it in the past. This year my students loved drawing their monsters and worked hard on their descriptions; writing and editing with their classroom teacher and then typing and editing again in the computer lab after our 6th graders tried to recreate their monsters. I uploaded the descriptions to the Monster Project wiki and we waited for our partner class to post their descriptions or redraw our monsters but sadly it never happened. Eventually, one of the project organizers had some students redraw my student’s monsters but unfortunately my students never had the opportunity to try to recreate someone else’s monster. Since our monsters didn’t get redrawn until May, I never had the chance to have my students reflect on their experience with the project.

Will I do this one again next year? As I mentioned above, writing skills are being emphasized school wide in the upcoming year so, yes, this project is back on the list for next year. I may have both my 2nd & 3rd graders do this since my 3rd graders didn’t get the whole experience when they were in 2nd grade.

4th & 6th Grades: Progressive Story Project

Both my 4th & 6th grade students had fun writing their contributions for the Progressive Story Project. Each class actually progressively wrote their part of the story in the Computer Lab by moving from computer to computer to add to multiple stories and then voting for the best story starter as a class. My 4th graders drew their pictures in KidPix with two students sitting together at a computer and taking turns to add to the drawing. My 6th graders used the drawing tools in Google Docs to work on their pictures at the same time. Unfortunately (and you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), one of the classes on the 4th grade story never sent in their pictures and none of the classes on the 6th grade story added to the story at all so it began and ended with my class.

Will I do this one again next year? Bet you can guess, can’t you? Yes, I will do this one again because it is a writing project and the students did enjoy the creation process and my 4th graders loved it when we read the entire story. I’m not sure if I will do it with 4th grade in the upcoming year or not because 4th grade is joining the Virtual USA Project but I’m definitely doing it again with 6th grade!

5th Grade: Time Zone Experiences

This was the third year that my 5th grade students participated in the Time Zone Experiences project. This year, they enjoyed creating their podcasts for the assigned times and listening to and commenting on the podcasts from the other school. However, due to schedules and other commitments at our school and at the other school involved, there just wasn’t much interaction this year between the classes.

Will I do this one again next year? There’s definitely writing involved with this project and learning to comment on wikis and work asynchronously with others, but after three years and moderate success with the project, I think it’s time to move on. Sadly, it’s never really gotten off the ground and I think it is a great learning experience but I’m planning to do A Week in the Life Flat Classroom Project with 5th Grade in the upcoming year.

8th Grade: Digiteen

This was the first year that I had any students involved with the Digiteen Project. I had followed it in years past and was always somewhat intimidated by it but decided it would be a great project for my 8th graders. I do a lot of Digital Citizenship related activities with my Middle School students and spent the first part of the year reviewing and introducing the tools my 8th graders would need to know to work on the project. Even with that review and their past experiences, my students floundered and felt lost at times. I don’t feel that this was a failure but it wasn’t the success I envisioned either. My students could definitely have used more prior work on researching skills and the fact that I only see them twice a week for 45 minutes each class was a big issue. It was difficult for them to complete the work that needed to be done in that short amount of time. I think that the Action Projects were the most successful part of the project for my students.

Will I do this one again next year? I still love the idea of this project but I am not planning on doing this again this upcoming year. Based on some things that happen at our school at the end of the year, I feel that it would be better for my students to be involved in the Digiteen Project at the beginning of the year and my incoming 8th graders will not be prepared for the project. So, my plan is to spend the time on research skills and wiki editing and other tools with my 7th graders in the upcoming year so that in September of 2012 they will be ready for the Digiteen Project. I am going to try to do some kind of Digital Citizenship project with my 8th graders this year either on Edmodo or maybe via a blog. If you would be interested in joining us, please email me at

So, that was our adventure in how not to participate in collaborative projects. I refuse to let this scare me away from trying again with some of the same and some new projects for the upcoming year. I’m just crossing my fingers that it won’t be another of those years!

09-10 Reflections: 1st Grade

1st Grade is such a great age. They’re still loving everything about coming to the computer lab and they’re able to do more then they could in Kindergarten because most of them are reading and are comfortable with navigating on the computer. It’s amazing to watch what wonderful drawings they can create in KidPix. They haven’t gotten to the judgmental “I can’t draw” phase and they love to explore all of the options and just create and they do a lot of creating in KidPix during the year.

One of my goals with all of the grades is to have the students work collaboratively with others outside of our school through online projects. I struggle with this every year since I feel many of the online projects are not truly collaborative but more like the parallel play that a toddler might do at the park with other toddlers. Just like toddlers though, we’re learning to walk and 1st Grade did participate in two online projects this year.

How Tall Is a 1st Grader

This was the second year that 1st Grade participated in this project. It provides a great tie in to working with non-standard ways of measuring which is part of the 1st Grade math curriculum. I also use it to show how Excel can be used to make graphs of their heights. The students love to find out who’s the tallest and how tall they are and how much they grow during the year. In addition to measuring the students twice a year (in the fall and in the spring) and drawing a picture of height comparisons, the 1st graders also had the chance to play some fun online measurement games.

2009-10 How Tall is a 1st Grader

I started using this to get 1st Grade involved in a collaborative project but it hasn’t really worked out to be very collaborative – even between teachers.  I would love it if this project had each teacher post some measurement information to a shared spreadsheet so it would be easy to do height comparisons. Only six classes ended up posting their spring measurements and most classes didn’t post VoiceThreads. I should have had my students comment on the VoiceThreads that were there but forgot about it. I’m not sure if I’ll do this project again next year or not. If I do, I’ll try to make it more collaborative for my students by commenting on the VoiceThreads earlier in the year.

Winter Wonderland

It was year two with this project also, both as a participant and as one of the organizers of the project. I struggled with the collaborative nature of this project last year but this year some of the activities were more collaborative including Holiday Traditions VoiceThreads and Describe A Snowman January Activity along with the Holiday Card exchange in December. I think these gave 1st grade a more real taste of collaboration especially the Describe A Snowman activity. They really enjoyed making and describing their snowmen and trying to recreate their partner’s snowmen. It was also great preparation for the Monster Project that they will be doing in 2nd or 3rd grade. They also enjoyed the Winter in 6 Words activity which I adapted and used to create a real book at Mixbook which is now in the 1st Grade class library.

Mixbook - Create stunning photo books, cards and calendars! | Design your own photo book with Mixbook’s easy online editor.
Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book

All in all 1st Grade had a fun and productive year in the Computer Lab which included learning more about being safe on the Internet and how to use various programs on the computer. I’m not sure that they learned everything I would like them to learn in 1st Grade because I have realized that I didn’t have this well defined. Defining this, is one of the things I plan to work on over the summer.

Lessons I Learned

  • 1st Graders LOVE to draw on the computer. Luckily we use KidPix a lot in 1st Grade!
  • 1st Graders want to learn to type like older students. Of course that could be because more than 1/2 of my 1st graders have older siblings
  • Some 1st Graders are starting to become microphone phobic. They’ll record something over and over and over if you let them because they don’t like the sound of their voice or they’ll whisper instead of speaking up.

Things I’ll Definitely Repeat Next Year

  • Winter Wonderland Project & maybe some other one too.
  • KidPix drawings to support almost any theme
  • The Best Things About 1st Grade
  • 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 of the technology rich activities and projects that are successful with your 1st grade students?

Collaboration Conundrum

One of the things I have been very excited about this year were all of the different online collaborative projects I have been doing with my classes. These all involve some fun and different activities using a variety of tools and applications. The conundrum is this. My students are doing a great job completing these activities and we’re posting them online. A lot of other schools are also completing the activities and posting their projects online too. But, it feels more like the parallel play that you might see with very young children at a park rather than children playing and interacting together.

Ann Oro shared a wonderful map illustrating the collaborative projects that her students are doing this year and I loved the idea so much I am planning to put one up in my computer lab starting next week. I think it will help the students (and parents at Open House) see the connections we are trying to make around the world. Some of the projects my students are involved with have many schools participating but none that I feel we’ve connected with. So do I include these on the map as long as we’ve added to the project and the other schools have added to the project or don’t I? We’re in the project and the other schools are the in project. We’ve both posted finished activities, videos, pictures, etc. to the project but have we truly collaborated? Does there have to be a more tangible connection of some kind or is just being part of the whole project and adding to that enough?

Last year, I stumbled upon the Voices of the World wiki and loved the project and the global feel of it. I was thrilled this year when my 4th Grade class became a part of this project. This project is now one of my do I include all the other schools on the map projects. I don’t know that my students feel the connection to the other schools they way that I hoped they would or that they really understand that there are students all over the world drawing pictures and saying or singing the same thing as they are. Would putting all of the schools that have participated so far this year help them to understand?

Another of my do I include all the other schools on the map projects is the A Room With A View project. My students are doing their part. We take a picture each month and record information about the day and time the picture was taken and upload it to our wiki and to the gallery for the project. Each student also writes a paragraph about the month and what they like or don’t like about it that they post online. Once again I don’t think my students feel connected to the other schools. It’s hard to find the new pictures each month because there are a lot of schools involved. I have posted a request for a few other schools to connect with on the A Room With a View ning and may email a few participants directly next month to try to make more of a connection.  Would adding visual references for the schools help my students connect more with the other schools? Do I really add all the schools involved? Since my class is 6th graders do I only put connections with other 6th grade or 5th & 6th grade classes? Would that be missing the point of the project?

I always seem to have more questions that answers. I do know that because I’ve been thinking about this I plan to have my students spend some time looking at, listening to and commenting on the work of others involved in their collaborative projects. This is our first task in the computer lab when we’re back in school with my classes involved in the Winter Wonderland project and the Voices of the World project. As we watch and listen and comment we’ll add another string to our map as we connect our school with others around the world.

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?

Don’t Try This In Your Lab

One of my middle school classes is going to participate in the Human Genetics: A Worldwide Search for the Dominant Trait project. As an introduction to this project, I wanted to fly to all the schools currently signed up for the project with Google Earth. The problem is Google Earth won’t run on the computers at our school – at least it won’t run at any speed that is acceptable. The computers are pretty old and the graphics cards don’t support true color so we have to run it in OpenGL mode which on the computers at school is extremely slow probably due to the fact that we only have 256MB of memory in most of the machines.

I then investigated Microsoft’s Live Search Maps as an alternative. This too requires true color to run in 3D mode but I set up a tour in this anyway and used it in 2D mode instead. This is not the don’t try this part .. yet. This is definitely not as showy as their 3d mode or Google Earth but if you Map All between each school you get some idea of distances. The students were interested to see where all of the other schools are and liked the zoom to street level functions even if the flying capability wasn’t there.

The first requirement for the Human Genetics project is to write an introduction letter from the class which is to include the location of the school in latitude and longitude. I wanted to review this in a fun way so I decided to do the Crack the Code activity as a whole class project. Now, this is where the don’t try this part comes in! I wanted to use a 3d model of the earth to try to find the locations but as I noted above these won’t work in the lab. So, I found Find latitude and longitude with Google maps which lets you move a marker and the latitude and longitude will display. While this wasn’t as showy as something 3d and wasn’t very fast especially on zooming in and out, I thought it might work. Let’s just say so not successful!

Upon reflection, I feel this would have been better with the students trying this (even with the same tool or a similar tool that zoomed faster) in pairs or small groups rather than as a whole class. In our lab we don’t have SmartBoards and we don’t even have a projector so all whole class activities are around a single monitor. Another don’t try this unless you have to item. We do have a fairly large monitor and there really aren’t issues with not being able to see but it’s not extremely engaging. So, why didn’t I do it as a small group activity? We’ve been having bandwidth issues and if too many people are online at once we lose our Internet connection so I wanted to avoid that and truthfully I thought it would work as a whole class activity. I was wrong.

Since we can’t really do this project as I wanted to do it with the 3d tools, I think I may break the no homework from computer lab rule and assign this as homework or maybe as optional homework with some kind of incentive to complete it. This way the students can use Google Earth or Microsoft’s Live Search Maps at home if they have newer equipment (and most do) to find the locations in the activity and to find the latitude and longitude of the school. If there are any students that don’t have access at home, I will work with them during study halls to do it at school.

So, my advice to you if you have older equipment is to really think about how engaging the activity will be without the latest tool. I know I need to keep this in mind when I plan lessons. They might be fun at home when I’m planning them on my new with lots of memory and flat screen monitor computer but that doesn’t always translate to fun in the lab on old computers with very little memory and old monitors.