Tuesday, November 25, 2008
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
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
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
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
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.