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: 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.

Okay I admit it – I LOVE PowerPoint!

Yeah, I know, it’s so not Web 2.0 but I find it so useful on so many levels. Here are just a few things we’ve done or are doing using PowerPoint:

Math Books: I first saw this used by Kevin Jarrett in the fall as a Pumpkin Math Book and adapted this for my own use with my Kindergarten through 2nd Grade students. Since that time I got involved with the Winter Wonderland project and adapted this yet again into Penguin Math Books. You can download the templates on the Activities page of the Winter Wonderland project. While you’re there, check out the Penguin Glyph too – that’s also done in PowerPoint!

Keyboarding for Kindergarten: Collins Trott has designed a keyboarding curriculum for Kindergarten students called Trott’s Typists which uses Kidspiration focusing on learning letters and starting letter sounds as well as finding keys on the keyboard. We don’t have Kidspiration but I’ve adapted her idea into PowerPoint and now my Kindergarten and 1st Grade students are using this on a weekly basis. So, if you don’t have Kidspiration, don’t let that stop you – adapt those Kidspiration ideas into PowerPoint!

Idea Webs: My 3rd Grade students are involved in the Monster Project and one of the lesson plan ideas for that project involves using a word web in Kidspiration. Once again I took the idea and created a web template in PowerPoint that my students are using.

Internet Safety Posters: Using the ability to export slides as images, my 4th and 5th Grade students designed Internet Safety Posters in PowerPoint and then exported them as images.

Animoto Videos: Taking the concept used in the Internet Safety Posters, my 8th Graders designed a series of slides about Cyber-Bulling which were exported as images and then uploaded to Animoto to create Cyber-Bulling PSAs. An added benefit of this is that it gets the students to think of PowerPoint as a visual medium and not as something with just a bunch of bullet points.

Presentations: Yes, I actually do have my students use PowerPoint to make presentations, too. My 6th Graders have just finished up Christmas Around The World narrated presentations. You will find few (if any) bullet points on these. What you will find is lots of visuals and recorded audio to narrate the slides.

Poetry Books: In the same vein as above, my 4th Grade students and 6th Grade students are creating a slide in PowerPoint which will contain snowflakes that they have digitally altered from Wilson Bentley’s photographs and a poem that they have written about winter or snow or snowflakes or Bentley that is being recited by the student that wrote it. These are being combined into one presentation for pictures and poems by the students.

Bottom line, PowerPoint isn’t just for the dreaded Death By PowerPoint presentations anymore! I do promise to train anyone and everyone who will listen not to make these mistakes:

What are some ways that you use PowerPoint?