Friday, April 17, 2009

Managing a 21st Century Classroom

The following is a post I made to my Authentic Learning Blog about a year ago. At the end of the post, I will explain how a classroom like this is managed.

What does a 21st Century Classroom look like? About ten minutes before lunch today, I looked around my classroom. I grabbed a pen and paper and walked around the room recording what students were doing.
  1. Three students sitting at a laptop using Audacity to edit a podcast they made for literature circles.
  2. Two students adding titles and descriptions to Morpheus Fortuna's Flickr page.
  3. A student typing his blog entry on "What is Project S.C.A.T.?" (Stop Contamination at Trinity)
  4. Three students quietly reading newspaper articles to research for Project S.C.A.T.
  5. Two students using laptops to research the history of the Trinity site (taking notes in Microsoft Word.)
  6. Two students looking up Trinity stock prices on Yahoo Finance and recording in a table on a wiki page.
  7. Three students down the hall using an iPod and Tune Talk to record an interview with a teacher whose father died from asbestos exposure.
  8. Two students sorting through printed material and dispersing to students according to topic.
  9. Two students researching the chemicals Trinity dumped on our school's neighboring lot.
  10. Four students using laptops to research and record websites and small blurbs on a wikipage
  11. Two students saving pictures to network folder
I rang the classroom bell to let students know it was time for lunch and I heard a collective groan as students slowly pulled themselves away from their work.

Do you think that's what a 21st Century classroom is supposed to look like?

A year later, my classroom looks much the same, but the tools have expanded exponentially. For example, instead of just creating podcasts, students are using a flip video to create movies. Blabberize, Voki, Voice Thread, GoAnimate, ToonDoo and Glogster are just some of the web 2.0 tools students use to demonstrate knowledge of the content areas.

How is this possible in a fifth grade classroom? What are the management techniques employed? First of all, this doesn't just happen. Students don't arrive on the first day of school knowing how to use the tools and knowing how to work independently and collaboratively. This all takes time and patience. Starting out small in the beginning of the year, teaching mini lessons, and raising expectations as the year progresses are critical.

Behavior management is key. I am lucky in that the school I teach in has quite a few programs in place that produce respectful citizens. A program called Responsive Classroom is employed district wide. By the time students reach fifth grade, they have had five years of morning meetings and are well-versed in what it means to be a community learner.

In addition, our district adopted the Olweus Bullying Prevention program. This is a comprehensive program designed to reduce and prevent bullying problems among school children. DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is another program taught at the fifth grade level that not only teaches students about avoiding the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but also uses play acting to equip students to resist peer pressure.

With the combination of all of these programs coupled with the interest students have in what they are doing, I can honestly say behavior issues are minimal in this 21st Century classroom.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dog for Obama

The Obama's have chosen the new "First Dog." Check out our research to help them make the decision.

(Special Thanks to my partner Denise Whiteman.)

Click to learn more about Hypoallergenic Dogs.

Check out past President's pets.

Click to view our wikispace.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wikis, Blogs, and Diigo

Web 2.0 has changed the way we as educators look at technology integration in our classroom. I used to think I was so tech savvy, because I had a website and my students made Power Point presentations. Web 2.0 tools opened my eyes to a whole new way to use the world wide web to make my students not only more tech savvy, but global collaborators. Below I will tell about two tools that are ever present in my arsenal and one more tool that I haven’t opened up to my students yet, but plan to now that I know the possibilities.

I discovered wikispaces about two years ago at a conference, and since then I can’t believe I ever lived without them. Wikispaces can be used as an easy website interface, as a place to provide links for students, a place to provide information for parents and a place to showcase student work. There is no html code and ftp uploading or any of the other things that make web design so awkward. An example of a wiki acting as a website would be Mrs. Abernethy’s Global Gorilla Wikispace.

Wikis are much more than glorified websites, however. They can be used to collaborate. Students can work together to create a website even if they’re not on the same computer, in the same room, in the same city or in the same country. My first experience with interactive wikispace work was on Project Lemonade, an international collaborative project my students participated in last year. As a part of the project, my students worked together collaboratively to create their own interactive wikispace called Project S.C.A.T. The collaborative nature of wikispaces is what makes them a true web 2.0 tool.

Here is a great video on how and why to use wikis in a classroom.

Wikispaces provides their own interactive tour on how to get started. Included is an introduction and how-tos on personalizing your wiki, adding files and pictures, and personal settings. Wikis can be as open or as protected as you choose. For use with young students, it’s best to set up the privacy settings for them to be sure they are safe.

Blogs can be used in a multitude of ways. They don't always have to be for typical journaling. I create new blogs for topics we are learning about. They make it simple to embed student projects or provide a place for students to interact with each other's projects by leaving comments. This year we have created blogs for our class election, for the Revolutionary War, for Literature Circle projects, for Science, for Pi Day, for PSSA Preparation and more! The students enjoy being able to share their work with family and friends. They really love it when someone leaves a comment on their blog!

When first setting up a blog, it is important to set up the correct comment protection. I choose comment moderation and allow anyone to comment. That way you are not shutting out opportunities to collaborate globally with people who may read your blog. On the other hand, no comments can be viewed on the site unless you approve them first.

Allowing students to blog creates another set of concerns. Gaggle provides very safe blogging that can be opened up to the public or closed off to just the classroom or the school. Regardless of what avenue you take for student blogging, it is the teacher’s responsibility to approve or reject all posts before they are made public.

Here are some tutorials (one for Blogger and one for Word Press.)

I have been using Diigo for about a year to accumulate, highlight, and code websites for my own consumption. Only recently have I realized the possibilities for classroom use. Creating a group with my students can change the way we collaborate and share resources on research projects. Jennifer Dorman is an expert at using Diigo in the classroom.

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:


In addition to all of the academic standards, meeting the National Educational Technology Standards NETS is a challenge all teacher face in this 21st century. It may seem a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With the help of Web 2.0 applications and the access to global participators, we have all the tools we need to create projects rich in content and skills that meet all the standards.

Many teachers get overwhelmed and frustrated as they try to meet and check off each standard on a lesson by lesson basis. This is not the way to do it. By employing project-based learning, online and offline collaboration and web 2.0 tools students and teacher can meet dozens of standards at once and create a love of life-long learning in their students that reaches far beyond the classroom walls.

Last year, my students participated in an international collaborative project. As part of the project, students decided to go after a large corporation who had abandoned a site neighboring our school. The company was charged with dumping hazardous waste, and my students decided to go after the company to clean it up. (See the Project S.C.A.T. post on this blog for more details.) In this project, students made a comprehensive plan, created multimedia products, wrote letters, researched history, interviewed local citizens, researched chemical compounds and more. In one project, they met almost every NET standard in addition to reading standards, writing standards, Social Studies standards and Science standards.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is PBL Worth it?

In my last post I justified the use of Project Based Learning (PBL) in the classroom with the help of my fifth grade students. In this post, I am going to take a deeper look at reasons some say PBL is just not worth it.

Collaboration Issues: Some say that teaching students to work collaboratively can be impossible. I disagree. If we don’t teach our students to work together when they are young, they have no prayer of working together to change the world as adults. Paying particular attention to the makeup of groups at the beginning of the year is crucial. As the teacher gets to know her students and as they become a community, this becomes a less important factor. Mixing it up from project to project is one way to keep students from falling into bad habits. In my classroom, collaborative groups can be formed a number of ways including student choice, random draw, or teacher choice. Because we are a community of learners who have learned to respect each others’ strengths and weaknesses, we rarely have problems. When we do, it only takes a gentle reminder to get students back on track.

Content Acquisition: Some say that students working on a piece of a project only learn that piece. What about the rest of the content? When my students are working on a big project, it is true that we generally divide the topic into manageable group topics. For this reason, different groups of students become experts on a piece of the overall topic. However, when the project is pulled together in the end, students share their knowledge with the rest of the class. They learn the rest of the content from their peers. Of course, they will always know their piece best, because they have not only learned the content, they have taught the content and in the end they own that content. Knowing the part their piece makes in the big picture only makes the content more understandable.

When I speak of PBL and how it works, I am generally speaking in terms of my own fifth grade classroom. Since it is April, my students truly have become a community of learners. When given a topic, they get right to work brainstorming ideas, collaborating with their peers, and creating awesome projects.
Just recently students completed a collaborative project on the Revolutionary War. Each student was responsible for researching an event that happened during the War. They were required to complete a “Who, What, Where” worksheet and take that information and write a summary. From there the students were on their own as to how we would present the information.
The wheels started spinning. They brainstormed ways to use all of their favorite web 2.0 tools in order to create a cohesive project that tied all of their projects together. Below is their final project. The timeline includes all of their summaries. In addition, each student chose a web 2.0 tool to expand on the summary. The links to their projects are included. (Works best if you click for full event details.) Please explore and enjoy.

Here's one of my favorite projects: Revolutionary War- Battle of Saratoga