How To Blog with your Students

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Students love to communicate. Allowing students to share what they are passionate about, reflecting on what they have learned, and what sparks their curiosity  benefits their learning on many levels. Students have come a long way from journaling in a spiral bound notebook or a lock and key diary.

If you are searching for an implementation of technology in your classroom, blogging should be at the top of your list.  Aside from being cross curricular, blogging facilitates meaningful learning and provides students with an authentic audience.

Why should your students be blogging?

  • They can write about what the want to write about. Consider adults in the “real world” who blog and blog successfully. They are not given writing prompts or topics, but simply write from personal inspiration.
  • They develop their writing voice. Many students do not know what strong voice sounds like and often student writing lacks voice. Not only can blog writing develop voice, reading blogs can allow students experience in identifying personality and emotion.
  • Blogging promotes reflection. Students should have the time to reflect on what they have learned. Reflective thinking is critical thinking.
  • With blogging, learning is archived. Blogging over a school year(or longer) allows students to see growth and change in their learning.
  • Blogging allows students to develop a positive digital footprint. Stress the importance developing a positive internet presence.
  • Blogging creates engagement. Students enjoy using this non traditional writing format.

Blogging tips:

  • Determine your district policy on blogging.  Keep in mind that there are blogging platforms that are secure, private, and specifically for classroom use.
  • Allow students ample time to read and comment on blogs. A large part of blogging is being participatory.
  •  Whether it be from classmates, parents, or teachers, students need regular feedback on their posts.
  • Stress the importance of a polished entry. Proofread, proofread, and proofread again.
  • Consider starting with one classroom blog where students can contribute. Allowing each student their own blog from the beginning will prove overwhelming.
  • Utilize safe, secure blogging platforms such as Kidblog or Edublogs.

For younger students:

  • Start a class blog in your k-3 classroom and make it a collaborative effort. Solicit content from your students and write a weekly blog post.
  • Invite older students or parents as guest bloggers on your blog.
  • Blog posts with younger children  should include visuals. The post can be based on a visual accompanied by smaller amounts of text.
  • Promote commenting. Younger students can be guided through the commenting process.

If you are considering implementing blogs in your classroom, there are a host of resources and tools to ensure it is a smooth process. Kidblog offers students an excellent platform to begin the blogging process while allowing them a secure writing environment.  Launching blogging lessons in the classrooms will motivate students to write while fostering authentic learning experiences.

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Avatars: Virtual Expression

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As educators search for effective uses of technology in the classroom, it is apparent that on many instances the answers are found within the students. As a one to one computing teacher, it is clear that avatars are popular among young people. An avatar is defined as a online manifestation of the student. This virtual representation can help students overcome challenges while providing instruction that appeals to a wide variety of learning styles.
Here are some simple ways to use avatars in your classroom:
  •  Use an avatar to deliver information to your students, define terms, give directions, or give praise.  Yes, allow the avatar to speak for you. It can sometimes be enjoyable for both you and your students to mix up the lecture.  www.voki.com is a free site where you can bring your avatar to life using text input or voice record.
  • Formative Assessment/varied assessment- Students can use an avatar to demonstrate understanding. 
  •  As a writing tool- Students can record what they want to write, and play it back as they transfer words onto the paper. This especially helps the struggling writer.
  •  Bring historical figures to life-Students can create a short narrative on notable people from history and present to the class. www.doppelme.com is a free site where students can personalize an avatar.
  •  Fluency- Allow students to record their read aloud and play it back to practice pronunciation and fluency.
  •  Beginning of the year icebreaker-Students can introduce themselves through their avatar. This may help alleviate the beginning of year nerves.
While Avatars are not meant to replace traditional classroom instruction, they can certainly help students build self confidence and overcome challenges while fostering a multimedia environment.

Drowning in Search Results

“You can find anything on Google!”, exclaimed my small group of fifth graders assigned to researching for an upcoming Science project. As we embarked on research, it was evident that the fact that students can find anything on Google resulted in students not finding anything at all.

Students were definitely wallowing in “Data Smog”, a term coined by David Shenk. Caught in a vicious cycle of searching, students quickly became confused and overwhelmed. Google offered too many results, many of which were difficult for an elementary student to comprehend.

With information so readily available, research has become increasingly complex. Since research skills are vital to academic success, fostering them at an early age is essential.

Early elementary students can benefit from researching definitions or images. Keep it simple by offering one online visual dictionary for use. Introduce the research process by establishing the connection between finding definitions and using a dictionary for reference.

Search terms

A good starting point for elementary students is familiarizing them with Boolean search terms. Properly utilizing search terms will allow students more focused search results. Boolify.org can guide your students through the key points Boolean searching.

Guide to Boolean Searching

Student Friendly Search Engines

Releasing students on Google produces search results that often exceed elementary reading levels. Age appropriate search engines are essential. 

InstaGrok-Grades 1 and up. An amazing search engine that presents information in a visual format. With a simple slide of a scale, the difficulty level of search results can easily be modified. Add in quizzes and a glossary, and InstaGrok becomes the ideal search engine for students.

Sweetsearch4me– Appropriate for Grades 1-4

Sweetsearch-Grades 3 and up

Both Sweetsearch search engines have educator reviewed material.

Refseek-Grades 4 and up.  RefSeek brings up academic reference materials.

Quintura Kids- Grades 1 and up. Safe search for students.

Research need not be so daunting if it is focused and organized. Assisting students in matching purposes with outcomes, and offering simple tools to refine the process will ensure an efficient and effective research experience.

Minecraft: Open World Gaming in the Classroom

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Saying “Minecraft” in any class from kindergarten through eighth grade will generally result in a bit of a frenzy. During a recent classroom visit, I noticed a group of students sitting in a small circle intensely discussing the task at hand. It was apparent that due to their fierce engagement, I had gone completely unnoticed. As I moved closer, the mooing and clucking of cows and chickens were clearly audible.

I asked, “is that Minecraft?” At that moment, the intensity broke as they all turned. It was as if  just saying Minecraft broke the spell and opened the floodgates. They eagerly explained the basics of the game and why it remains at the top of their gaming list. From creativity to survival, their reasoning clearly reinforced Minecraft as an engaging learning tool.

Many teachers have asked me what is Minecraft? Simply put,  Minecraft is an open world type game where players can travel through a virtual environment. Also referred to as a sandbox game, Minecraft is void of any artificial barriers and allows players to create and manipulate their world. Using an inventive 3d platform, players can build structures out of textured cubes, forage for resources, craft, and combat.

Can a game with no apparent goals be an effective learning tool? A small group of educators and programmers from the United States and Finland say yes by creating MinecraftEDU. If you are considering deploying Minecraft at your school, MinecraftEDU is the ideal launching point, providing tutorials and lesson plans that can be adapted to  your existing curriculum.

Minecraft’s curriculum connections:

  • Survival- One of two principle modes, survival mode requires players to maintain their health and consider the resources and skills required to survive and develop their world.
  • Geology- Mining is a key element of Minecraft.  Students can identify the physical properties and uses of minerals along with building and studying biomes.
  • Science-  From melons to squash, students can study plants and seeds, along with the essentials to make them grow. Discuss natural habitats as students explore deciduous forests,  deserts, jungles, and tundras.
  • Engineering- Complex structures can be built using Minecraft including replicas of historic landmarks.
  • Math- The Minecraft crafting system can develop reasoning and problem solving skills.

There are two versions of Minecraft available:

Minecraft Pocket Edition- Available for ios and Android.

MinecraftEDU–  Designed for classroom use and available for Mac, Windows, and Linux

As the Minecraft craze continues to spread worldwide, educators are creating engaging learning experiences by making solid curriculum connections to open world gaming.

Real world uses of Minecraft in the classroom:

Wonders of Minecraft– Chronicles the introduction of Minecraft into the middle school curriculum.

Digging For Truth-Minecraft Blog–  Jeremy Briddle writes about creating a curriculum unit that connects Minecraft to the study of early human civilizations.

Minecraft, with all its pixels, is making quite an impact on children. Innovative educators are taking advantage of student’s natural excitement and are achieving effective teaching via gaming.

Is there a place for Minecraft in your classroom?

Infographics: Seeing Information in a New Light

Let’s be honest. Data can be both dry and uninteresting. Text representations of data can also be complicated and difficult to understand.  In an attempt to make complex data easier to digest, teachers are using infographics as an effective means of delivery. Information + graphics= infographic, a visual representation of information. Not new to media, infographics are commonly used on news broadcasts as well as in various periodicals. National Geographic employs beautiful inforgraphics that allows the reader a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.

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Photo Credit: Retrieved from http://edutech4teachers.edublogs.org/

Infographics can effectively help our students conceptualize information. The visual nature of an infographic allows data to be conveyed quickly and efficiently while appealing to the students sense of creativity and design. Not only geared towards older children, educators can utilize infographics in the early elementary classroom as well. Allowing students to create simple infographics to represent concepts and text data can reach the visual learner while fostering 21st century skills in the classroom.

Integrating infographics can be rewarding for both students and educators alike. In order to be effective, educators must guide students in how to read and determine the main idea of the infographic. Guidance in creating an inforgraphic includes how to utilize creation tools and how to establish a general “flow” that will enable readers to grasp the concept. There are many tools to created infographics, but Glogster is most suited for the k-8 classroom. In the web 2.0 family, Glogster edu allows teachers to establish classes and monitor student work. “Glogs” can easily be shared using a variety of channels. Visual.ly can create more complex infographics for secondary students. Both Glogster and Visual.ly have extensive libraries where educators can browse pre-made infographics for lessons.

The uses of infographics are endless. Visual representations of numbers and statistics have emerged in all content areas. Social Studies teachers have turned migration and population data into visual data. Early elementary teachers assist students in creating visuals of concepts or word problems in math.  Let’s be innovative. Our visual students will benefit from our visual teaching.

For more tools to create infographics in the classroom, check out teachthougt’s 46 Tools to Make Infographics in the Classroom.

A Guide to Your Digital Footprint

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The age of the internet has allowed for instant information, collaboration, and communication. The internet and its perks have brought forth the need to discuss media safety; specifically googleabilty.  Ask elementary students what would result  if they googled their name and many may not know.

The virtual trail that occurs with the use of social media and other web 2.0 tools  is easily traceable by others. In addition to obvious safety and privacy  issues, this traceability can carry over to potential employers. The permanence of online activity and reputation management go hand in hand. Understanding this connection is the first step towards creating and maintaining a positive virtual identity.

Teaching about your digital footprint should be fostered at an early age. Afterall, safety and privacy are important issues to students who use the internet for many purposes. Here is a general guide for introducing your students to how to develop a positive digital footprint.

1. Define Digital footprint –Commonsensemedia.org offers an effective introductory video to the digital footprint. This video outlines the ease of searchability and the permanence of your online activity.

According to techterms.com, a  digital footprint is a trail of  data you create while using the Internet. It includes the websites you visit, emails you send, and information you submit to online services.

2. In small groups, allow students to discuss:

  • What their digital footprints might reveal based on their online activity.
  • How might their digital footprint affect future opportunities?

3. Allow students to Google their names. Discuss their findings.

4. Discuss some tips on managing your digital identity:

  • Maybe intuitive to some, remind kids never to post anything that they may find embarrassing later.
  • Use extreme caution when posting pictures online.
  • Ensure social media settings are set on private.
  • Do not disclose personal information online. Even emails and private messages are vulnerable to hacking.
  • Do not post anything hurtful to anyone. Inflicting harm through words or threats can have serious consequences.
  • The internet is forever. Information posted online stays online.

Creating a positive online presence:

While it is crucial to proceed with caution on the internet, internet activity should not be viewed as all gloom and doom.The internet and its sharing capabilities allow students to be creative while expressing themselves to a huge audience.  Once students have received some guidance on internet identity, teaching them how to create a positive presence will create internet users who publish and share in meaningful ways.

A New Generation of Social Activists

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Photo Credit: Brittney Maki via Flickr(CC 2.0)

Social activism has undergone a transformation, producing  a new generation of digital activists.  With the use of social media and web based tools, young people are now a driving force behind social change.

The internet, and its crowdsourcing abilities have enabled students to foster social awareness, connect to people worldwide, and most importantly create action.

Whether it is fundraising for the local humane society, or creating a blog to raise awareness, incorporating prosocial themes into classroom lessons will cultivate altruism, empathy, and respect, while reinforcing the idea that the small efforts of individuals will fuel large scale change.

Web resources to help integrate social justice into your curriculum:

ClassDojo– The Harvard Graduate School of Education has partnered with Class Dojo to promote empathy training in the classroom.  Launched on Oct. 2, Class Dojo has introduced an original series of animated videos aimed at increasing empathy awareness and an understanding of growth mindset.

For more information on ClassDojo “Big Ideas,” please visit https://ideas.classdojo.com/ and https://www.classdojo.com/press/.

Teaching for Change– Using meaningful, real-world issues, Teaching for Change inspires students and teachers to become active in creating a socially just society.

Teaching Tolerance– A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance is a web resource for educators to promote respect, equity, and cultural understanding.  Along with quality lesson plans and professional development, Teaching Tolerance provides guidance and materials for easy implementation of school wide programs relating to social justice.

Heifer International– Heifer International has a clear mission– to end world hunger and poverty by providing families with the tools they need to become self-sustaining. With a simple click of the mouse, we can get involved by funding local projects that bring about real sustainable change.

We Give Books-Created by the Penguin Group and the Pearson Foundation, We Give Books offers a wide variety of free digital books for elementary students.  The reading efforts of students are converted into donations made to charity partners.