Monday, July 18, 2016

Web Tools to explore before the summer ends

Summer is coming to an end. As you start getting your teacher hat back on, and dreaming about your "perfect" classroom, you may want to look at some web-tools that could come in handy. Here are my favorite free or low cost summer discoveries:

Write-About: This site allows students to engage in high-interest writing for an authentic audience. Students browse through a collection of ideas, each one paired with an image, and write about them on the site itself. Students can even use the built-in voice recorder! Posts can be shared with the class or made publicly viewable so that registered students and teachers can comment on them. teachers can provide feedback on the writing and moderation tools are included. A yearly classroom plus subscription is around $40.00 USD allowing up to 250 students and unlimited posts. Want a closer look?

iPiccy: Similar, but less complicated than Photoshop, this is an image editing tool that allows users students to apply filters, add effects, crop or resize an image. All online.

EducaPlay: Create your own embeddable activities. From fill in the blanks and interactive maps to video quizzes and sentence jumbles, the possibilities are endless. You can also share activities, collections and search for content created by other teachers.  Free accounts allow you to create groups and see reports (a big bonus for data driven instruction). Watch how easy it is to create an activity in EducaPlay.

PrimaryAccess: A suite of free online tools that allows students and teachers to use primary source documents to complete meaningful and compelling learning activities with digital movies, storyboards, rebus stories and other online tools.

JustapoxJS: This Knight Lab tool allows user to tell stories by comparing two frames, including photos and gifs. Ideal for then/now stories that explain slow changes over time (growth of a city skyline, regrowth of a forest, etc.) or before/after stories that show the impact of single dramatic events (natural disasters, protests, wars, etc.). This is their own example using Google Earth's Images:

If none of these catch your fancy, maybe you will find something interesting in my growing collection:

Mrs. Garcia's Classroom Webtools, by mrsgarciaserrato

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pokemon Go in the classroom?

As I look around my neighborhood today, I cannot help but notice the bands of kids and teenagers walking around looking at their phones. Yes, Pokemon Go has hit my otherwise quiet street, and I immediately start thinking to a couple of weeks from now, when we get back to the classroom... I know the kids will come back from a summer of hunting Pokemon. I know they will be itching to talk about this or that amazing find. So, how can I harness that enthusiasm? What can I do to transform this "distraction" into some meaningful learning activities? Am I crazy for even thinking about it? Here goes:

Pokemon Go Math:

Pokemon caught are transferred into what is called a Pokedex. Clicking on the Pokedex, you can access data for individual Pokemons, including weight and height (in metric, Yay!) Students could use this information to determine things like, "If you were building a Pokemon dwelling, how many Squirtles would fit in an 64 square meter area?", the area needed to house all the Pokemon in their Pokedex, the height:weight ratio of unevolved to evolved Pokemon, or the ratio of "seen" vs. "capture" - does it vary by type or location? . You can even go as far as having students try to determine whether there is a proportional relationship between type of Pokemon and size.

The game also keeps records of all events in the Journal. The data gathered there could be used to figure out average Pidgey appearances for particular locations or times, or average out the number of Pokeballs given at Pokestops. Taking it one step further, they could also graph their Gym results, which has the added benefit (to the students) of helping them create the "best" team.

Pokemon Go Language Arts:

The game has the interesting feature of allowing users to take augmented reality pictures of "wild" Pokemon and placing them in the scene the camera is facing. Students can use these pictures to develop stories. Prompts could include things like "A day in the life of ...", or "When ____ took over the ____".

Pokemon Go Science: 

As part of a unit on biomes, students could use their knowledge of Pokemon types to develop habitats for specific types. This could also lead to lively discussions about why some Pokemons are more common in different places. What characteristics are shared by Ice Pokemon and the animals that inhabit the Tundra?

A study on the mechanisms of evolution could be followed by having students create scenarios that led to the traits observed in their favorite Pokemon.

On a more ambitious vein, you could have students develop a complete Pokemon utopic city, powered by electric Pokemon!

Pokemon Go Social Studies:

Many Pokestops and Gyms tend to be in historical landmarks.  Students could use these places as a basis for further research into the landmarks, or create virtual fieldtrips and advertisements encouraging others learn about those landmarks and/or visit them in pursuit of "Catching them All".

Any other ideas? I would love to hear all about them.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Chopped - An activity for the first days of school

The first day of school offers up many opportunities for us to define what our student's experience will be like for the remainder of the school year. Many of us spend this wonderful day asking students what name they prefer we use, going over classroom rules and expectations, passing out green sheets and having students look at our carefully crafted syllabus. The adventurous among us might even create a classroom quest to get students familiarized with the layout and having students look for different items, creating a classroom constitution or perhaps playing a round of "Find someone who...". These are all cool, and I guess important, but your students are either "listening" to you drone on, or participating half-heartedly. This year, I invite you to forego these tried and true activities for something more exciting, a Chopped design challenge.

Before the first day of school, prepare identical "baskets" of 3-5 mystery materials. These can include empty water bottles, paper towel tubes, cereal boxes, baggies of pom poms or beads, trinkets from the dollar store, etc. The more the mystery materials "don't go together", the better. You will need one mystery basket for each group of 3-4 students.

On the first day, assign  groups of 3-4 students randomly (using a count-off method or whatever you prefer), and distribute the mystery baskets. Then, in your best Ted Allen voice state:
"Welcome to Chopped. Your challenge - create a useful product from the mystery items hidden in each basket before time runs out. Every one of your mystery items must be used in some way. Also available to you, our maker items. When the bell rings (we have 10 minute bells), you will place your item in the judging table and clean up your space. During our next session you will present your product. Our distinguished judges will critique your work on usefulness and creativity. If your product doesn't cut it, you will lose the privilege of ____ for the remainder of the week ."
The maker items are any materials you have in the classroom. This may include glue, different types of paper and tape, cardboard, foam, etc. The privilege lost can be something like getting to choose seats or listening to music.

The student work time on this first day gives you the perfect opportunity to walk around learning student's names, conduct brief interviews and observing the class' dynamics.

On the second day, I provide students with a rubric to evaluate the products, and have each team present their product. Presentations on the second day allow students to introduce themselves to the class, and set the tone for peer evaluations which they will use for the remainder of the year. They also give you an insight into the students' personalities helping you create teams for future assignments.

As a follow up, you can hold a class discussion (or individual written reflection) centered around questions such as:

  • What worked well/did not work in your group?
  • How were decisions made in your group?
  • How did you organize yourselves?
  • What did you learn about yourself/your team members/your classmates during this activity?
  • If we were to do this again, what would you do the same/differently? Why?

What do you think? Isn't this a much more fun and engaging start of the school year?