Year End Reflections #3: Scattered Thoughts & Missing Links

Where I Started

My first year in the computer lab, I had basically focused on one primary application or subject each month and I thought I would do something similar my second year but add in some collaborative projects too – though the year didn’t really work out focused on one application each month. This lead to the creation of a spreadsheet during the summer with an outline of what I wanted to teach by grade and by month:

Transition to Google Docs

This was good but during the summer as I worked to prepare the lab for the next year, I’d often have an idea at school and the spreadsheet was at home. So, I switched over to using Google Docs to keep track of the links and other resources I would need when teaching and organizing the information in to some kind of lesson ideas. This solved my problem of not having the spreadsheet with me when I needed it and allowed for more room to add notes or comments about what I would be teaching.

Organization Issues

All went well with this during the 1st quarter and into the start of the 2nd quarter. Part way into the 2nd quarter, I realized that I was actually updating this document after I had completed the lessons rather than before and I then I just stopped using it during the 3rd quarter. Was that a good idea? Probably not and in the 4th quarter, I tried to use it as I had originally intended. Did I? Sometimes and sometimes not. I find I tend to spend more time collecting links and ideas using Delicious than I do organizing my thoughts and writing down plans to use in class.

The Bottom Line

I’m not sure what all of this means and I have set up and started to build my lesson plan ideas in Google Docs again this year. I’m hoping to refine my process so I can actually keep track of the links and ideas I’m collecting and turn them in to lessons that I’m actually teaching. It’s frustrating to find something I’ve saved that would have been perfect for a lesson I just taught!

Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions on how to organize it all?

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.

Frustrations, Triumphs & Plans

This week over on the Elementary Tech Teachers Ning there is a discussion about Frustrations in the Computer Lab. I didn’t start it but I definitely empathize with it. It’s very hard when you get asked the same questions over and over and over again and no one seems to be listening. That discussion thread got me to thinking how best I can try to head this tendency off at the pass:

  • I am going to start classes out with a presentation on what we are doing for the day away from their computers. I do find that once they are sitting at their own computer they are too easily distracted and don’t listen to instructions. I have been doing this with the younger grades but not the older ones. I am going to start it with the older ones too and see if that helps things.
  • I will remind classes daily that they should read their screen and ask their neighbors before asking me.
  • I will also remind them that if they do want to ask me a question that they must remain seated and just raise their hand and I will get to them. It seems that a lot of teachers use a red cup to indicate trouble and I may try something like this. If they have to keep their hand raised they can’t continue trying to work so they become more impatient. If they could put a cup up and then try to continue that might cut down on them calling out my name or getting out of their seats. I have not used this up to now for fear the red cups would become a distraction themselves.
  • I will stop talking and start over if they begin talking over me. Some of the classes are just chatty and I don’t mind if they talk while they are working but they need to listen while I’m talking.
  • I often remind the older grades that if this were a new video game they would just be trying it and I want them to use that same approach in computer class.

I have also had some frustrations this week due to problems with our Internet connection. More and more of what we do in class depends on the Internet so when it’s not available that can be a real problem. For the next few weeks, I am going to have alternate plans available for each day so that if there are issues I don’t have to try to figure out what to do at the last minute. Our provider did come out and look at what was happening this week but they said there was nothing they could do – of course at the time they were there it was up. Isn’t that always the way it happens?

I’ve been using some of the ideas that one of the teachers that I have met online has posted on her Kid Pix Projects pages and the kids have really enjoyed them – thanks Ann. Kindergarten was introduced to the pencil tool in Kid Pix and asked to draw a picture only using that tool. A few of them really wanted to use other things available in Kid Pix but did do the assignment. 1st Grade reviewed the pencil tool, Uh-oh Man and eraser and then created Self-Portraits only using the pencil tool. I did let them use the flood fill bucket at the end to color in the background but they had to have finished their portrait with only the pencil tool first.

2nd Grade started an ABC Chart of Initial Letter sounds using stamps that start with the initial letter sound. 3rd Grade also started an ABC Chart of Initial Letter sounds but they are using stickers instead of stamps. 3rd Grade really liked learning how to move things around and about flattening stickers and how to use the scissor tool to delete things. They have a hard time with the eraser and often end up erasing more than they want to so they think the scissor tool is wonderful.

The teachers are starting to ask me if I could integrate with certain things more. I’m happy with that. All of Middle School has to turn in a crossword puzzle as part of their Book Report next month so I’m working with the Middle School students on how to create crossword puzzles in Excel and I’m giving them some web sites they could use too. I’ve also started putting spelling lists into Spelling City and a few grades have played some of the games there with their spelling lists.

I just found out that Voices of the World is starting up again this year. I had just signed up to have 2nd Grade do the Online Autumn Project (Kindergarten was already signed up to do this one) so they won’t be doing Voices of the World but I will have 4th Grade do it. 4th is a small class this year so I can teach them how to record their own voices for this. I’m hoping that our Internet connection doesn’t give us problems again because I really would like to finish the book reviews on Voice Thread this coming week.

And how is your school year going so far? Share your frustrations, triumphs and plans!