Monday, April 26, 2010

Cool Site - FreezeRay

I think Freeze Ray is a very cool site.  It has many interactive activities that demonstrate abstract concepts in a very concrete way.  For example, when explaining the concept of using a convex or concave lens to adjust vision in glasses, it literally shows how the image changes with the lens in place using the slide bar at the bottom of the screen.  That is under the physics category in the Eye Defects lesson.  

There are many other valuable interactive activities as well.  You should really check it out!  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cool Sites - Broken Calculator

One of the cool’s sites I have come across is The Broken Calculator.  It involves finding the given numbers using only the keys that are available on the “broken calculator”. This promotes students’ number sense which is important.  According to Fennell and Landis’ (1994) chapter, Number and Operation Sense in the book Windows of Opportunity: Mathematics for Students with Special Needs, "[Number sense] is an awareness and understanding about what numbers are, their relationships, their magnitude, the relative effect of operating on numbers, including the use of mental mathematics and estimation" (p. 187).  They are suggesting that students must understand how numbers relate to each other.  Recognizing these relationships is important for all students, not just for those with special needs.

This cool site also has a timer, which increases motivation through friendly competition amongst the students.  Students can also compete against themselves by trying to improve their own times. There are different levels, which provides opportunities for differentiation.  Even though this site is not very flashy, I think it is very cool because it helps students to become more proficient in math, while having fun at the same time!!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

WebQuest Reflection

Completing this WebQuest project has been quite the experience!  I have learned so much about inquiry-based learning and how to create a meaningful WebQuest for students to complete.  It is essential that it have the following components:

I believe the collaboration component is one of the most important components so that students are able to share ideas and work cooperatively to accomplish a common goal. 

After reflecting on this project, I have come to the conclusion that it takes a great deal of work to develop a meaningful WebQuest for students.  There are so many steps included for students to complete the project successfully.  After reviewing the WebQuest with a colleague, I noticed I would initially leave steps out and then have to go back and make sure that I addressed all of the important points the students needed to be able to accomplish their tasks.  I also realized the importance of having students walk away from this project with not only a greater understanding of the concept covered in a WebQuest, but also the desire to learn more about new ideas that arise as the students learn more about a particular concept. It is also important that students are able to apply what they have learned to other areas of their life, whether it is how to compromise when working in a group, or a more specifically a skill that pertains to a particular concept.

As I reflect upon the evaluation of the WebQuest, it became apparent that peer reflection and peer evaluation are important components to be considered when developing a WebQuest.  When students are evaluated by their peers, there is a greater motivation for the students to complete a quality project.   It is also important for the students to get new ideas from their classmates, which they might not otherwise had the opportunity to encounter.

Lastly, I have a new appreciation of the amount of time that is required to locate and develop quality WebQuests.  So many WebQuests that are on the Internet are simply busy work or worksheets that are designated “tasks” as part of a WebQuest.  They do not qualify as inquiry-based learning projects that require thoughtful collaboration, which leads to further inquiry.  Although finding and developing quality WebQuests is time consuming, I truly believe completing a project like this is worthwhile for both the students and the teacher.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Professional Learning Networks are Essential

Do you have a PLN?  After attending the ICE conference this past week, I have an even greater appreciation for my expanding PLN.  I learn so many new things from them and also enjoy the collaboration and enthusiasm we all share for learning.  During this past year, I have been participating on Twitter, Nings and various blogs, and I have come to rely on these resources for the new ideas and energy that I need to be able to teach my students.   There are always people who have great resources and new ideas for ways to incorporate technology into the curriculum.  I find that if I have not checked in with these resources for a few days I am not as excited about my teaching.

At the technology conference this past week, I gave a presentation on incorporating the whiteboard into classroom instruction for differentiation and tier 1 interventions.  I was amazed by the turnout (standing room only) and the consequent positive feedback from those that attended my presentation.  Where else in the world would people come up to you and tell you that they really liked your presentation?  The positive feedback is like a shot in the arm, and gives me the validation I need to know that I am on the right track and providing positive instruction for my students.  I feel very lucky to be able to be a part of such a positive group of educators who want to make a difference and are willing to go out of their way to let you know you have had a positive impact on their teaching as well.  It is also exciting to go back and visit the conference wiki to access the many resources that the presenters have put online to share.

If you don’t have a PLN, it is easy enough to get started!  I created an account on Twitter and started to follow those individuals who I had seen and admired at past ICE conferences, such as David Jakes and Will Richardson.  Then I investigated who they follow and then I add some of their network to my network!  Before you know it, you have a wealth of resources at your fingertips! 

In education we keep encouraging our students to collaborate with each other.  I think it is essential that we practice what we preach.  So if you don’t have a PLN, I would recommend you get one so you can be a good example to your students!

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Second Chance at Life

Have you ever wanted a second chance at life?  Oh, you know, where you would have more control over your destiny?  Then you should check out the Second Life virtual world. It is known as “The Internet’s largest user-created, 3D virtual world community.”


The possibilities are endless there.  You can meet people, go shopping, travel, work, and even find love!  You are also able to create who you are and how you look.  That alone was enough for me!  So I logged in and created my avatar with a long ponytail, cape and more!  I then began to explore and the different places with my fellow students from class.  I was glad I wasn’t the only one that did not know how to sit, make friends and fly.  I have tried to explore Second Life in the past but quickly gave up out of frustration.  Now we were pioneers exploring together and we were able to talk to each other and collaborate, which made the experience much more enjoyable.

After learning the basics, I explored some of the many educational sites in Second Life.  I see great potential for using this with older students in school.  I went to the Tsunami and was able to see how the wall of water comes up on the beach and quickly washes away everything in its path.  Students would learn so much from just watching that short clip.  There is also a book that you can read for further information.  After I dried myself off from the Tsunami I went to explore the space museum where you are able to see the different space ships and even board them for further exploration.  There were also meeting areas and conference rooms, which could be used for “virtual collaboration.”

The time passed so quickly with my fellow classmates that I went back into Second Life later on for further exploration.  I was surprised to see the complexity of this virtual world.  There are ski resorts, beachcombing events, and even a virtual Sistine Chapel with authentic artifacts, to name a few.  Overall I found it to be very interesting.  It can be frustrating at times to figure out how to explore and knowing how to find everything within the different areas.  I would recommend reading the quick start guide before you start.  I can definitely understand how people can lose themselves for hours when there is so much to see and do.  I would recommend checking it out. Maybe I will even see you there!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Social Networking in School - Not an Oxymoron

Can you imagine being on Facebook at school?  Impossible you say?  Not with Edmodo, a free, private social platform for teachers and students to share ideas, files, events and assignments. This Web 2.0 tool was created by Jeff O’Hara, who recently participated in a Classroom 2.0 Ning webinar explaining how to use it successfully with your students.  I have used it with my students and have had fabulous results!

Once the class got past the “adding a picture to my profile” phase, we discussed the Great Depression and how it affected Americans.  The comments from my Special Education students were far more comprehensive than any other assignment we have completed.  I think the students feel more comfortable using the social networking platform than pencil and paper. The students’ comments are viewed by their classmates, and therefore there is more accountability with their peers than when the teacher is the only person viewing their assignments.  Also, some students who are uncomfortable responding in class are more comfortable responding in this format. The students were so motivated to participate that some even went to the public library to check their accounts since they do not have Internet at home! I also noticed that the students’ level of participation increased significantly when using Edmodo, and they ask at the beginning of class, “Are we using Edmodo today?”

Since Edmodo is private, it is a safe alternative to traditional social networks to use in the classroom. Teachers and students can send notes, links, files, alerts, assignments, and events to each other. No email is required and it can be private or public, depending on the teacher preference. It is so easy to use.  Teachers sign up for accounts, and then create groups. Each group has a unique code which the teacher givers to the students. Then the students can sign up and join the class group. I was very surprised at how intuitive it is to use with my students.  There is also a mobile web version, which allows teachers and students to use Edmodo on their mobile device.  There is even an Edmodo wiki with screenshots and directions for using Edmodo.

Edmodo is becoming very popular, and it has been reviewed on:

Edmodo continues to include more features.  During the webinar on Feb. 13, 2010, Jeff O’Hara talked about the Beta version of “Chalk”, which will be an added feature, which will allow students to collaborate on the same document in a way that is similar to Etherpad or Google docs.  The lesson possibilities for Edmodo are endless.  If you have not checked out Edmodo yet, you need to because your students will be so excited to use it you will have to beg them to stop working at the end of class!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Web 2.0 Tool

What is a Web 2.0 tool?  According to Webopedia, the Web 2.0 is “the term given to describe a second generation of the World Wide Web that is focused on the ability for people to collaborate and share information online.”  There are many of these Web 2.0 tools that are useful in education.  A new one that I think is easy to use and is very flexible for integration into the curriculum is  This free site allows users to add a post-it note with up to one hundred sixty characters to a wall, and others can collaborate and add to the same wall at the same time.  The “wall of post-its” can be private if desired, filtering is possible, and the post-it notes can be moved. The post-its can include text, images, links, video and music.  The opportunities for collaboration with students are endless, and an email account is not required either.

In my district, students use paper post-it notes while reading a novel to document various literary elements as well as character traits etc.  It would be very exciting for students to be able to use the tool to add character traits, story elements, examples of literary elements and even quotes to the “novel wall” to expand the pool of ideas of the class while studying a novel.  Another lesson idea for this tool would be for the teacher to post videos of an abstract concept, for example the laws of motion, and students would add a post-it to describe the particular concept in one hundred sixty characters or less, which requires a great deal of critical thinking.  Another example would be for the students to take notes on the post-it about a historical event, for example the causes of WWI, and then other students would add their brief comments about the resulting effects. Similarly, a music teacher could have the musical notes displayed on a post-it and the students would add the audio file of that music to the wall.  The possibilities are endless. 

Although this Web 2.0 tool was not initially meant for use in education, I think it would be a great tool to use in school for all grade levels as well as with teachers.  Resources that teachers use could be posted on the wall for others to view.  The benefits of this site are the ease of use and the flexibility with file type.  I am excited to use this with my students to see if they think it is as much fun to use as I do.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Resource Depositories

According to Webster, a depository is a place where things are deposited, especially for safekeeping.  This is definitely true for the following online resource list,  The “cybraryman” is a website that has links for everything that has to do with education and more. There are over 20,000 relevant links personally selected by an educator/author with over 30 years of experience. These links are organized according to the categories of parents, students, educators and general interest.  This website has also won many awards, including the following:  

The phenomenal thing about this site is that there are links for everything and they are all live.  I did not find one dead link, which is very unusual and refreshing!  The subcategory I explored was the SMARTBoard list of resources located in the technology list in the educator category.  There are many SMART Board resources here that I have not seen, including articles about professional development for the SMART Board. There are many other articles, lesson plans and links to other interactive resources as well.

In the general interest category of sites, there are links to websites that pertain to marriage, home repair, taxes, helping the less fortunate just to name a few.  I even went there to check out home repair tips.  The cybraryman is quite resourceful!  He is very efficient as well.  He even sent me a direct message “thank you” on Twitter when I asked to follow him! He has definitely left no stone unturned when it comes to Internet resources.  You should definitely check this one out!

This website is a great example of the resources that are available if a person knows where to look.  How do you find these gems?  The answer is Twitter of course!  Using social networks to discover resources is valuable.  Furthermore, social bookmarking sites, such as Delicious, Mister Wong, Simpy and Diigo, are making resource depositories obsolete.  The advantage of social bookmarking sites is that they are resources that have been compiled by people who are selected by you!  The people in your PLN are researching the Internet and filtering out the less desirable resources so you don’t have to!

However you decide to find Internet resources there are plenty out there.  It is important to be discriminating when it comes to using the Internet.  This is definitely a skill we should pass on to our students as well!  

Friday, January 22, 2010

What makes one inquiry-based lesson better than another?

What makes one inquiry-based lesson better than another?  There are many answers to that question and just as many different answers.  In my opinion it is important to start with a quality essential question that allows for students to be able to answer on many different levels with varying degrees of creativity.  Other essential components include opportunities for collaboration, inquiry which leads to a greater understanding, which leads the students to more questioning, encourages synthesis and evaluation, and the acquired facts can be transferred to new situations in a creative format. With this in mind I am very impressed with the following World War II WebQuest.


This WebQuest is very well structured while also allowing students to make their own choices and it includes opportunities for differentiated instruction.  The essential question is powerful and does not have one correct answer.  The students participate in the process of authentic inquiry by collaborating with peers to synthesize the information obtained through research to reach a conclusion.  Students would be further challenged to defend their answer to their peers.

Unfortunately this is not the case with the followingWebQuest.                                                                                                                                         

This inquiry-based lesson does not have much of an introduction or planning section.  Those sections are very important for the students because they essentially structure the project for students to follow and they provide for a successful learning experience.  Furthermore, the rest of the WebQuest does not offer an authentic question or problem, the inquiry process is not significant and the synthesis and evaluation is minimal.  Honestly, I do not believe this WebQuest involves much inquiry or critical thinking, but rather it involves restating ideas.

A well designed WebQuest is one that puts the student in charge of his or her own learning, allows students to use their preferred modality of learning and leads to a greater understanding that can be transferred to other areas of learning. These critical thinking skills are essential or students to acquire so they can become successful problem solvers in life.  After evaluating several WebQuests, it is clear to me that a quality inquiry based project is not easy to find, and that many of them that exist are merely short-answer questions disguised look like WebQuests.  There is definitely a need for more teachers to design quality WebQuests, which can be used effectively in a variety of grade levels for various subjects. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Value of Using Internet Resources

        Can you imagine waking up in the morning and not checking your email?  Can you fathom not being able to “Google” something that you wanted to know more about? How would it be to hear something tragic happened in a country across the world and not be able to monitor the news as often as you wanted to? We have become so used to having the Internet at our fingertips that many, if not most people, cannot imagine life without it.  Yet, many educators do not include Internet resources regularly in their teaching. How can this be?  That is like asking students to write a paper and not give them paper and pencil, or asking them to solve advanced math problems without giving them a calculator. Using Internet resources is an integral part of learning for both children and adults.
     The value of using Internet resources in education is immeasurable on so many different levels.   Information can be communicated to large populations in an instant. We are no longer waiting for the five o’clock news to find out what is going on in the world. At any time we have the capability to look on the Internet to find out what is happening just moments after it happens.  The Internet offers not only information in a timely manner, but also resources that would not be available otherwise, such as Google Earth as a tool to learn about geography.  Similarly, the Internet allows us to be able to communicate with others in ways that would also not be possible, such as using Skype.  Students have the opportunity to learn about many different cultures, not from a book, but rather by communicating directly with individuals themselves from around the world.  The possibilities are endless, not only for students to acquire information, but also for them to be able to collaborate with others worldwide.  Collaboration is such an important skill for students to acquire, and the Internet provides the vehicle for students to be able to learn from each other beyond the classroom.  The social networking aspect of the Internet is something many students use proficiently.  An integral part of educating students is instilling a sense of responsibility.  This transfers to using the Internet and social networks.  It is our responsibility as educators to teach students to be ethical and responsible, whether they are in school or not, when participating with online communication of any type.  What a great way to model appropriate online interactions than by using a social networking site as part of a curricular unit!
     Yet we also need to use caution when using Internet resources.  We must teach students how to effectively evaluate what is posted on the Internet and to be critical and not just accept everything as fact just because “it is on the Internet.” This is a valuable skill for students, not just for using Internet resources but also in life itself!  It is equally as important to educate students about online safety and copyright issues.  Now that we have all of the warnings out of the way, how do you go about using Internet resources effectively?
     Should we let students chat to do their homework?  Should we have students work together and collaborate to learn more about the topics we study in school?  The answer is yes!  However, we keep students from being able to do just that.  How?  We block the very websites students use to collaborate.  Why?  I believe it is because many teachers do not feel comfortable using a tool that they are not very familiar with.  The issue is if we really want students to be more engaged in learning in school, then we need to use the tools that they are most comfortable using.  If you are wondering if students are using social networking activities look at the following chart.
     According to the Journal article, Research: Students Actually Use the Internet for Education, “…social networking is increasingly used as a communications and collaboration tool of choice in businesses and higher education. As such, it would be wise for schools, whose responsibility it is to prepare students to transition to adult life with the skills they need to succeed in both arenas, to reckon with it."  The following graph confirms it.  So let’s get more educators to use Internet resources, and even social networking as tools in the classroom.  Who knows, maybe the students will be more successful and even like coming to school!