Sunday, March 29, 2009

Contest Challenge: New Drawing Tool in Google Docs

Here's your challenge for the week:  go to Google Docs, try the brand new drawing feature, then enter my Docs Draw! contest.

Yes, it's true! Now we can create rich and colorful shapes and drawings in a Google document, spreadsheet, or presentation! Just go to the menu bar and pull down from Insert to select Drawing. Play a little (or a lot), create something fun or inspiring, then invite me to share your document. If you have the best new drawing in a Google Doc, you will win a prize!  

From the official Google Docs Blog: 
"It's easy to create drawings using lines, free hand scribbles, text labels and a large choice of shapes that you can move, resize, rotate and adjust. Group, order, align and distribute and other features are available when you select objects you've drawn. You can also customize a range of shape properties, from line widths to fill color, and from arrowheads to font size, and much more. If you change your mind, there is undo and redo. You can collaborate with a friend or colleague on a drawing, or work alone, just as you can in [all] Google Docs..." 

Of course, if you're giving assessments this week (or recovering from last week), you'll be longing for some creative outlets, so "draw" on your creativity and enter this Docs Draw! contest. Simply invite me to share your document or publish it and send me the link. The deadline for contest entries will be midnight Sunday, April 5th. I can't wait to see what you create!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Big Screen, Small Screen - A Modern Paradox

In a recent Pickles comic, Sylvia brags about watching a movie on her iPod, which confuses Grandpa because a big screen television is mounted on the wall behind her. Paradoxically, this is the age of the BIG screen and the small screen, and we can use both in our classrooms.

This year we've been focusing on using our projectors and BIG screens to engage students in learning, but we probably aren't using the small screens on our iPods as well as we should. Tony Vincent's Learning in Hand web page provides amazing ideas for using iPods in the classroom. 

Basically, any slide show can be saved or exported as graphics and synched with an iPod (yours or a student's), and these photos can be used as flash cards, project instructions, and review materials. In addition, audio and video podcasts from iTunes (and iTunes University) can be downloaded and placed on our iPods. Obviously, students can hear music on our iPods, but they also could listen to audio books and recorded class instructions or presentations. Videos from any educational source can be loaded on our iPod Classics, Touches, and iPhones, and applications from the iTunes App Store can be added to the iPod Touches and iPhones for students to explore. BHS science classes recently used the Virus science application with their reading of The Hot Zone, and students responded well to this activity as they utilized real-time physics and blood-flow simulation to defeat stages of an infection on the iPod Touches, as in this image:

If you have an iPod of any type, please consider using it with your students. I would love to share ideas and help you synch learning materials to the small screen. Your students will thank you, and they will learn!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Screencast-o-Matic: Making Movies of Your Computer Screen Activities

Ponder a moment the possibility of making a movie recording of your computer screen, including the audio and all your clicks and other movements. Now consider the possibility of adding your own audio narration while creating this movie. And what if you could do this quickly and easily, without any cost whatsoever? I'm sure that I'm hearing virtual shouts of glee as you think about ways you could use the Screencast-o-Matic web tool to enhance student learning in your classroom. Obviously, you could include the movie in a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, but it also could be embedded into wikis, blogs, and web pages, as well as synched to teacher or student iPods.

Below is a screencast movie that I created in just a few seconds to explain how to create a screencast movie using Screencast-o-Matic. Yes, the irony abounds. 

Double-click on this movie to begin playing it. Don't worry--your video made with Screencast-o-Matic will not be this small. 

I would love to read your comments and suggestions related to this blog post! And as always, I am "on call" for Buhler educators to assist with this and any other tech tool used to "amp it up" in our classrooms for both student engagement and student learning.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Seven Things You Don't Know About Me

I've been tagged! Mary Frazier recently tagged me for the "Seven Things You Don't Know about Me" meme. Just for fun, I'm going to use the Top Ten (actually, Top Seven) format. Here goes:

Number 7: I won the Hadley Junior High School typing contest in Wichita in 1966. As a result of my famed fast fingers, one of my professional nicknames has been "Machine Gun Miller."

Number 6: When racing my 6th grade boyfriend after church (circa 1963), I somehow didn't stop in time and ran right into the front church door, breaking the glass and almost destroying the fingers on my right hand. Have you ever looked at the fingers on my right hand? I'm lucky to have them so I don't complain, and remember, I was able to win the typing contest 3 years later!

Number 5: I play the piano, but I don't really remember learning how to do so. My mom would hear me play, come to the piano, and give me tips. She may have given me a few real "lessons," but basically this was a skill I learned with true "just in time" instruction.

Number 4: To follow up on the piano theme, I come from a long line of women who learned to play piano from their mothers. My mother taught me, her mother taught her, my grandmother's mother taught her, and on and on into the past for several generations. Of course, I don't have daughters, so this particular legacy has ended with me. Remember, though, I am Bryan Miller's mom, and those of you who know him might agree that he could be considered the final amazing piano achievement resulting from all those generations of fine musicians.

Number 3: Many of you know that I taught English for many years, most of them at Buhler High School, but did you know that I also taught Spanish, speech, debate, and forensics?

Number 2: I count among my former English students (and proudest achievements) these current Buhler educators: Willie Adkins, Kelley (Meyer) Pankratz, Jera (Lane) French, Vicky (Withrow) Richardson, Randy Doerksen, Christine (Gillen) Schletzbaum, Carla (Schultz) Goertzen, and Stephanie (Deatrick) Tucker.

And the Number 1 Thing You Don't Know About Me is: This is my 35th year of teaching, and what a ride it has been! Truly, nothing else could have been more fun and more rewarding for so many years.

Now, Tammy Gilley, tag, you're it! Give us the Seven Things We Don't Know about You!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008: The Year in Review for Tech Integration

2008 has been a great year for tech-enhanced learning experiences in Buhler USD 313! 

Recently I asked our secondary teachers to share some of the exciting opportunities they have provided for their students, and I am including their responses here.  In fact, these are just a few of the many, many digital learning projects that Buhler teachers have developed in 2008. 

BHS Communication Arts teacher Holly Kimble has modified her American Literature class structure to enhance student engagement this year.  Using a thematic approach rather than the traditional chronological one, Holly has developed a meaningful way for her junior students to interact with the works they are studying.  In the fall they focused on war themes in literature, and students completed podcasts about family members' experiences with war. She provided a script for students to follow, with each student required to ask five open-ended questions, and the resulting podcasts were very meaningful as well as engaging for the students. Now she is developing a thematic unit on the theme of tolerance, and it will include a class wiki as well as Wordle and VoiceThread projects. In addition, Holly's senior students recently created modern videos of The Canterbury Tales, many of which have been posted on YouTube.

Prairie Hills Middle School science teacher Teresa Poulseen also engages her students in learning through technology integration. She has led our district in the use of Gizmos from ExploreLearning for both instruction and assessment (pre and post-instruction). This amazing software allows the students to experience science-related situations that cannot be created in a classroom, including building atoms and viewing the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. To organize student assignments and resources, Teresa has created a class wiki and a PortaPortal, and she recently has added a WebQuest to her webpage for students to use when they study energy this spring. In her Japanese enrichment class Teresa's students listen to music and the language, quiz themselves on kanji recognition, and take virtual lessons on Japanese houses, flower arranging, and sumo wrestling. Google Images and Google Earth provide engaging and real-life information about Japan for these students.

The traditional "report" on an important person in history has become much more engaging in Trish Unruh's World History classes. As part of a competition for "the world's worst dictator," Trish's students research evil leaders from the present and the past, then create movies which include photos, video clips, and music. All classes watch the movies on a DVD created from the projects.  In addition, while learning about important figures in the scientific revolution, students make business cards using slideshow software. 

Communication Arts teacher Carol Johnson has developed unique and interesting ways for students to share what they have learned as part of their final exams. Last year she allowed students to create GarageBand audio projects as their semester final, and recently she had students develop videos to demonstrate their knowledge of the narrative structure they had studied all semester. These movies were much easier to manage this year because of the set of flip video cameras now available for secondary teachers to use. In addition, Carol's students have used Comic Life to develop a short research project, and she has used Google Earth to present information that ties in with the stories read in class.

As Curtis Morgan's biology classes have worked on their projects based on genetic diseases, he has offered them much more choice than he has in the past. In fact, his students have created Comic Life  posters, digital presentations through Keynote or PowerPoint, brochures, movies, and radio informercials to share what they have learned. Curtis explains the results in glowing terms: "I feel that by giving the students the option of choosing what they want to turn in, they get more excited about the topic at hand. I get better quality work out of students, and those students that don't normally engage themselves fully into projects or work are fully devoted to accomplishing the task at hand because I let them choose."

To engage his students in learning world history, Dave Schroeder recently used VoiceThread to create an activity in which students research and create short video "podcasts" to explain various aspects of the French Revolution. Dave's students truly enjoyed these media projects! Our new subscription to the educational version of VoiceThread has made it an easy project to manage, and Dave has created foolproof instructions for both students and teachers that he is willing to share. View some of these student VoiceThread projects on Dave's web page.

BHS Communication Arts department chair John Knapp has developed an innovative way for his AP English students to interact with him, with each other, and with the texts they are studying. Using Facebook, our students' preferred social networking resource, John created a "Group" and invited the students to be his "Friends."  He then set up a "Discussion" and posted a series of questions that students were required to respond to.  As John explains, "Their responses to the questions were often works in process. In other words, they were postulating theories about what they were reading so that their peers could comment on what they were thinking. More than once, I watched as they guided each other's understanding of the social issues addressed in [the text]. They did all of the plot summary, character analysis, English-teacher-stuff that I had traditionally [wanted], only they did it in context and it seemed to have meaning to them. I also watched as they figured many of the important thematic issues and actually placed them into contexts that had meaning to them--imagine that. In fact, the fun part was, I got to join into the conversation over the summer so that when class started I already knew these kids."

Resource Room teacher Denice Thompson uses technology to meet the needs of her special education students. They have created multimedia slide shows about the Holocaust and Wordle collages as get-acquainted activities. As a followup to the Kansas Career Pipeline assessment results for personality, career strengths, and learning modalities, Denice's students have researched careers that fit their interests and aptitudes. In fact, one student is taking an independent biology class on the computer as he takes notes, does the daily work, and takes all tests online. Denice definitely has discovered that technology can "level the playing field" for her students.

Remember, these classroom activities are just a few examples of the many engaging and "out of the ordinary" experiences our teachers have provided for the digital learners in their classrooms this year. This list could go on and on....

Thanks to everyone who helped make 2008 GREAT for our students. Now let's make 2009 SHINE!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rosemary and Mary's Excellent Adventure in Washington, DC

Co-Starring and Directed by Dayna Richardson

What a whirlwind week we have had in Washington, DC at the National Staff Development Conference!  In fact, it was an "L" of a week as we listened, laughed, and learned, all while attending workshops and sharing ideas with colleagues from around the country. 

We also enjoyed a night bus tour of the major sites, a comedy performance of the Capitol Steps political satire troupe, a performance of A Christmas Carol, trips on the water taxi ferry and the Metro, lots of taxi rides, and many stunningly beautiful Christmas decorations.  Our visits to the historical monuments, the U.S. Capitol, and the White House were especially meaningful. Actually, in the photo above Mary and I are standing at the front gate of the White House, near the place where the Presidential inauguration will occur in just a few weeks. We truly felt that we were at a special place at a special time in history, as we viewed monuments to the past alongside the preparations for the inauguration which gave us a glimpse into the future.

In a sense, our district is at an equally significant moment in its history, a pivotal point that will bridge the past and the future as we endeavor to embed 21st-century skills and tools into our students' learning experiences. As we are inspired by national monuments and inaugurations, we should be equally inspired by the symbols of our own past and future struggles and accomplishments.  

Monday, December 1, 2008

Marilyn Bolton's Digital Classroom

Marilyn Bolton's Spanish III classes truly have moved into the 21st century.

Recently named the 2008 Kansas World Language Association Teacher of the Year, Marilyn proves daily that the teacher is the most crucial element in a meaningful learning environment.  

With her typical self-deprecating humor, Marilyn admits to being "low tech" herself, but she knows that her students are digital learners who thrive when provided with digital learning opportunities.  She also knows that students can be self-directed with technology, so she does not have to "know everything" in order to create content- and technology-rich lessons for her 21st-century learners. Finally, she knows that Mary Frazier and I are available to brainstorm ideas, plan projects, and help in the classroom to ensure that projects go well.

Let's take a quick tour of Marilyn Bolton's Spanish classroom:

Exhibit A:  On her blog entitled Conversacíon Española, Marilyn posts a new topic each week, with students writing their responses in Spanish.

Exhibit B:  BHS Spanish students are creating podcasts on different topics using their cell phones.  For example, these poetry readings are amazing!

Exhibit C:  Marilyn's Spanish students are communicating and collaborating with a class in Argentina.  They "met" this group of students through ePals, which is now available on the KanEd desktop.  In fact, since all of our Buhler students already have KanEd ePals accounts set up by the media specialists, it is easy to find a classroom for communication and collaboration. 

Exhibit D:  After deciding that most of the YouTube videos on Spanish grammar were "boring," BHS Spanish III students created their own videos and posted them to YouTube. Their "Hammer on the Grammar" videos on the present subjunctive tense are included below and also are available here as the first two on the list. (Note:  If you are reading this in one of our school buildings, you will need to authenticate to view these YouTube videos.)

This ends today's inspirational tour of Marilyn Bolton's classroom. In future posts I will be featuring other Buhler teachers who are making a difference. And of course, I would love to help you move forward in creating a digital classroom for our 21st-century learners!