Monday, December 8, 2008

Just Jan's Blogger Award

It seems many of the blogs I follow are sporting a nifty little badge lately. It's the Eddies...well, actually it's the 2008 Edublog Awards. What that means to us is a chance to choose from some of the best educational blogs on the web!

I have taken the liberty of reviewing a few dozen blogs and I've narrowed my favorites down to the following:

Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs: This dynamic teacher includes links to some really great sites and actual files you can upload for use.

Teach42: Steve Dembo's blog. If you read no other, his is a must! Ideas you can use right out of the box.

Teachers Love Their SmartBoards: and so do I! This blog has links to ready to use SmartBoard sites and files, in addition to great ideas for using the SmartBoard in new and creative ways.

Education Investigation: I stumbled upon this blog, and I don't even know this guy's name! Great ideas and great sharing, though.

Classroom 2.0 : A must see collaborative site where educators meet to discuss education and help each other

ICT Teaching and Learning: This blogger is from New Zealand, and boy does she have a lot to share!

That's all I'm going to share with you, but I can guarantee there are some real beauties I haven't even mentioned. Don't take my word for it! Get over there and check it out for yourself, and start filling that Google Reader with some really great blogs!

The 2008 Edublog Awards

...and the Just Jan Blogger Award goes to...Sorry, there are just too many great bloggers out there to pick just one.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Cyber Bully Battle

My students are fifth graders, and after an informal poll I determined about half of them use instant messaging chat programs. About three-fourths of them own cell phones and send texts to their friends. None of them have been formally taught how to use these social networks in a respectful and ethical manner.

As teachers who use technology, we have an added responsibility. It is our job as educators to educate our students about possible dangers related to social networking and the ethical responsibility of using social networks. If they aren't taught, we cannot assume they will know.

Based on discussion, it was obvious that all of the students were aware of the dangers of giving out personal information and talking to strangers over the internet. What they weren't aware of however is the dangers of cyber bullying. Below are a couple of videos I used to begin the discussion.

We discussed the videos and several others. You can find more here: During the discussion, I was surprised to see some of the students squirming. They admitted that they were guilty or knew others who were guilty of "cyber bullying."

Some important points discussed were:

-Forms of cyber bullying include but are not limited to abusive text messages, hate sites, poisonous emails, and rude instant messaging.
-In addition, spreading rumors and forwarding what someone says is also unethical and disrespectful.

-If cyber bullied, students should save evidence and tell someone right away.

Most importantly, I told my students that now that they know about cyber bullying, they have a responsibility to teach the world. With a global audience, a blog on the internet seemed the perfect venue to do so. Students took the challenge and after some further research, they created podcasts, Power Point presentations and digital movies to portray the dangers of cyber bullying.

Below is an example of one group's project.

To view more, please go to our Cyber Bully Blog at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Connecting Outside the Classroom

Teaching fifth graders poses a challenge in terms of how much to expose them to online social networking. Should they have a My Space page or Face Book? In my opinion, absolutely not! They are, however, right at the cusp of socialization, which makes it the perfect time to train and prepare them for it.

About seven years ago I stumbled upon an online email program created for students and teachers called Gaggle. I needed my students to have an email address for an online Moodle course I had created. This seemed like the perfect solution. After obtaining parent permission, I set up an email account for each student in my classroom.

In Gaggle, I found not only an email address for my students, I found a safe way for them to communicate. With a built in filtering system, Gaggle allows little or no spam. The program also bounces all incoming or outgoing email that includes inappropriate language. Another nifty feature Gaggle has is a built in digital locker for each email account. If students are working on a project at home, they can transport it in their digital locker .

Over the years, Gaggle has expanded from an email program to a full communication program. Included in the package are blogs, message boards, digital lockers, chat rooms and profile pages. Teachers are in control and can decide whether the blogs, chat rooms, etc. are open to the district, the school or just the classroom. With my fifth graders, I always choose "just the classroom."

There are two versions of Gaggle, the free version and the paid version. The free version includes all of the options for keeping students safe with the following limitations. There is a limit to the amount of space students have in their digital lockers, teachers can only control fifty accounts, and there are annoying flashing commercials on the screen. I put up with those limitations for about six years, and the only real issue I had was having to boot students out of the system every two years. Even though they were in seventh grade by then, the students were disappointed to give up their account. I was proud that I had kept them safe from all of the unmonitored email accounts for a couple of years, and it really bothered me when I had to cut them loose.

Last year I convinced Gaggle to provide me with a free account (just for being such a loyal and veteran Gaggle user.) I also promised to work on my district to provide accounts for all students. This year my school district bought accounts for the middle school and high school. The teachers are amazed by the convenience and the ease of the program. They are also excited to integrate all the features into their classroom.-

In closing, I would like to share a creative way I used Gaggle last year with my classroom outside of school time. Before we went on Christmas break, my students and I made a pact to get into our class chat room to discuss our presents. We set the time for noon on the day after Christmas. About twelve students remembered to log onto the chat room that day and one teacher forgot! When I realized that I missed our "chat" I was disappointed and logged into my account. A wonderful feature with Gaggle is that every chat that occurs in your class chat room is saved in the teacher account. I was able to read the entire chat. I was amazed and proud of the way my students discussed their Christmas presents (and their missing teacher.) They were respectful and appropriate, just as they had been taught in class to behave in a chat room.

As teachers who introduce and open up the world of technology to our students, we have a responsibility to not only keep them safe, but teach them how to keep themselves safe. Instead of shutting their world out of school, we can use programs like Gaggle to enter that world and educate them.

If you are interested in checking out Gaggle, here is the link.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Creativity in the Classroom

Students in my classroom are all part of a literature circle group. Groups are formed because the students are all reading the same novel, or the books they are reading are from the same series or perhaps they share a favorite author.

Literature circle groups come with some responsibilities. Students are required to complete at least one novel each month and they must respond to their reading each week. Time is given during the week for literature circle groups to get together to discuss the books they're reading or just to do some shared reading. The coveted day, however, comes at the end of the week.

On Fridays, student share their literature circle novel responses with the class. This began for me as an exercise to determine who was reading their book and who was not. A list of mundane ways for students to respond were provided for the students, and none of the assignments required a whole lot of creativity. In my original plan, students shared their responses with their group only.

Something happened however. Students began asking me if they could go outside the box and perhaps do something a little different than the choices provided. Of course, I agreed. The projects that began arriving at school on Fridays became increasingly more creative. It wasn't enough for these students to share their projects with their groups. We began sharing them as a class.

I was so impressed by some of the projects, that I began taking pictures of them. The collection grew and suddenly I realized...these projects are too special to keep to ourselves. We decided to share them with the world.

Below are some examples of projects the students have created. The one thing I didn't mention is that these projects are only worth ten points. Please remember that when you look at the projects. You decide what is motivating the students!

A pair of shoes: Two students reading the same book split a pair of shoes and each decorated one of them with story elements from the book.

A response to Superfudge: This student made a BUCKET of dirt (the dessert) to share with the class. The summary of the book she was reading was taped to the bucket and the characters' names were on sticks in the dessert.

This student created these pages on Microsoft Publisher. He changed them to jpg files so we could put them on the site.

This is just a small sampling of the projects students have created. To see more, please go to our blog by clicking on the link below:
Literature Circle Blog

If you're impressed, please leave a comment for the kids. They love them!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Project S.C.A.T. (u03a1)

Each year my class chooses a community service project. The students always come up with good ideas and worthy causes, but last year's project was a "once in a lifetime" experience. It all started when we agreed to participate in an international online project called Project Lemonade. The project was inspired by the four-year old girl named Alex who raised over a million dollars for pediatric cancer research. The premise was that kids can accomplish anything if they work hard enough and if they work collaboratively, there's nothing they can't do.

My class, Mrs. Abernethy's Cyber Chickens chose to take on a large corporation that had polluted property next door to our school. Wait! I'll let them tell you about the project.

The project was definitely interdisciplinary. Students researched the history of the site all the way back to the early 1900s. They found community members who used to work at the plant and they interviewed them, recording them on a podcast. They summarized dozens of articles they found on the web. The local newspaper was not on the web and they researched articles from this paper in the community library's archives. They also researched the chemicals found on the site.

Students created a wikispace and blog to post all of their research. After working on the project for a few weeks, the local newspaper published an article about a "task force" and the students not only joined the task force, they were an integral part of the town meetings.

Students instituted a "letter writing strategy" in that they developed a list of people they wanted to write letters. Their list included Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, DEP, Governor Ed Rendell, Phil English, Trinity Industries and more. Each week each person on the list received a letter from a different student. A google calendar on their wikispace kept track of who needed a letter.

The last week of school, their hard work paid off. They received a letter from Trinity Industries. The company acknowledged the students' concerns and told of a plan they had to clean up the site. This school year, workers can be seen from our playground. When I see them, I have to smile, because I know that a group of children can make a difference!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Blog on Digital Media (u02a1)

The next theme in my reading series is called "In the Wild." It begins with an excerpt from Semour Simon's book called Wolves. As a proponent of integration of content and skills across the curriculum, I simultaneously begin a unit in Science that includes the study of animals. Sub-topics include animal classification, habitat, open loop, close loop, adaptations based on environment, and ecosystems. The goals for Language Arts include reading, writing and understanding expository text. Fact and fiction and the use of literary devices are also explored.

Since animals is kind of my thing (check my website: Mrs. Abernethy's Global Gorillas), this happens to be my favorite topic. We spend a lot of time on wolves in particular, because of their nature and the controversy surrounding them.

While browsing the hundreds of clips about wolves on Discovery Education Streaming, I knew I hit the jackpot when I found Mammals of North America: Predators and Prey. This little jewel meets ELEVEN assessment anchors for science alone! With eleven small clips all adding to a total of 17 minutes, this clip is ideal for a variety of multi media projects.

The first, albeit, the most obvious is to use the clip as an introduction to the unit. Playing the video straight through, however, would probably not hold their interest, and since it's so jammed pack with content, much would be lost. (So, don't count this as one of the five ways!)

In my classroom, this is probably how it would go:

To get the most out of the clips, they would need to be viewed more than once. The first time would be as a teacher-led activity. The clips would be shown in their segments as various topics are being taught in class. Students could break into groups after viewing a segment and discuss various things they noticed in the video, perhaps challenging the groups to come up with as many facts as possible and then coming back and sharing them with the whole group.

At the end of the unit, students could work in small groups of two or three. Each group or partnership would choose no more than one of the clips. Their job would be to create a multimedia project based on the content that they could bring back and share with their classmates. In addition, they could research the topic further. This allows students to gain a deeper meaning of the content, take ownership of it, and learn from their peers.

The following are some possible student projects:

1. A podcast done as a radio show with the host interviewing experts on the subject of wolves and their habitat or any of the other various topics found in the videos.

2. A jeopardy game show including at least five categories of questions with five questions from each category. Students could hyperlink their answers in Power Point presentation or create a live game the whole class could play.

3. Students could use Windows Movie Maker or Photo Story to tell a digital story about the content in their chosen clip

4. A wikispace webpage could be created by the group, then opened up to the class for further collaboration on the topic.

5. Students could start a blog and each group could post about their topic. Then students could go in and comment on each other's posts.

6. Pull the clip into Windows Movie Maker, mute the audio, and students could narrate the clip.

7. Students could make up a skit and perform it for the class using content from their chosen clip.

Honestly, this list could go on forever. However, I must say that the best resource for ideas doesn't come from us. It comes from the kids. When we are doing major projects in my classroom, I generally have a class meeting and we brainstorm all the possible ways they can show what they have learned. Their ideas always far surpass mine in creativity.

On the topic of wolves, a few years ago the students put together a talent show for their parents to raise money to adopt a wolf. They charged their parents admission and charged for food (that their parents had donated.)

In conclusion, it's great for us to come up with these ideas and it does allow us to provide our students with choices, but ultimately, don't forget to ask the kids!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Meet Mrs. Abernethy

Meet Mrs. Abernethy…fifth grade teacher in Greenville, Pennsylvania. This year’s class has adopted the name, “Mrs. Abernethy’s Global Gorillas.”

When the students came up with this name, I’m not sure they understood the significance or the secret glee their teacher felt. This class is very global indeed in that our website and our wikispace have been visited by thousands of people from hundreds of countries. With a tracking feed on the site, the students are amazed to realize that someone from China or Spain or Africa has just been on our site. They think they are famous! I’m not sure about famous, but they definitely have global presence.

Below you can watch a video I made in my last class “Digital Storytelling” that tells a little bit more about me and my students.