Sunday, January 28, 2007

Teaching Gifted Kids?

I just read a post Differentiated Instruction, Web 2.0 and Learning Differences that referred to an old blog post from Vicki Davis blog site, How wikis, podcasts, and laptops help students with learning disabilities. I went to Vicki's original post to see the entire thing and this is the first paragraph:
Any teacher can teach a smart kid -- a "smart kid" with regular learning abilities can learn from an inanimate object -- a book. They can teach themselves on the Internet. Teach them and you are knowledgeable about your subject. But it is the child who has challenges -- you are true teacher when you accommodate and reach that child.

The gist of the posts were the benefits of using Web 2.0 tools with learning disabled students, definitely a good idea don't get me wrong.

I take offense :) to "any teacher can teach a smart kid". I've spent the last twenty years advocating for gifted kids in the regular ed classroom and many of them spend hours a week in an academic desert. Who learns the least new material in a given school week? Not the student with learning problems, but the gifted kid. "Any teacher" can't always teach a smart kid. NCLB has exacerbated the problem. i could rant on but 'Nuff said.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Really, What are Blogs Used for in the Classroom?

Dave LaMorte at Lesley University is exploring the option of a central location for "blog/ Web2.0 lesson plans". Seems like a good idea. I wrote a lengthy comment on his site and it would not post! Of course I forgot to c/p it before I submitted it. Oh, silly me. Anyway, I decided to rewrite my comment here. Then I'll leave a very short comment on Dave's site referencing this entry.

I'm fairly new to blogging, certainly not the expert many of you are, but I've been teaching, writing curriculum and doing technology presentations for years. As I may have mentioned before, I have opinions about everything and "blog lesson plans" did not sneak in under my radar.

My students have been blogging for several months and, all in all, they are doing a super job. You can see the details in my Blogging for Elementary Kids post 1/14/07 I'm stressing blogging as a "formal" writing experience and students must meet certain criteria in their writing; i.e. no IM and chat lingo, no personal drivel, correct grammar, punctuation, capitalization, citation, links, etc. In my opinion the beauty of blogging is the idea of writing for an authentic audience and being able to write discerning and insightful comments.

As I've slogged through the class blogs out there I see them being used for a lot of different purposes, some good some mis-purposed. (is that a word?) I've seen posting of projects, personal kid sites listing neighborhood schools, grades, last names, yikes!, lists of links, home school communication, etc. I hope blogs are not being used as "catch-alls". Blogs are not websites and shouldn't be used as such. Blogs and wikis are so much easier to post to than websites; teachers may latch on to that. Blogs are for communicating, blogs are for writing, thinking, and reflecting, blogs are for debating, discussing and affirming. Blogs give teachers the opportunity to get in there and really talk to kids. I hope they (blogs) don't get watered down...OK not my job to be the the "blog-police".

Some ideas I've thought of that would be appropriate used for blogs:
  • book/movie discussions (we're discussing Eragon, the book and the movie)
  • student/parent book discussions
  • book reviews
  • current events (we use RSS feed)
  • student opinions
  • reflecting on visual images
  • reflecting on primary source documents
  • debates
  • student poetry and reflection
  • posting student artwork for critiquing
  • posting student books for critiquing (we're doing this)
  • podcasts
  • vidcasts

So, you have any ideas you could add? Be sure to check with Dave LaMorte if you do. N.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Wikis for Elementary Students

My gifted sixth grade students did their first wiki quite by accident. Background: We had finished reading a book called The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett. The book is Balliett's second novel for kids, the first one is called Chasing Vermeer. All in all I love the way the books are written; they are filled with historical connections, math puzzles, codes and ciphers, like D'Vinci Code for kids. The plots are not as strong as I'd like and the mysteries are easily solved at the end of the books but the kids seemed to like them. I wrote curriculum for each book and students learned a lot about Frank Lloyd Wright and Johannes Vermeer.

Back to the wiki...I had planned for my sixth grade students to write a reflection essay on the book and what they had learned about Frank Lloyd Wright. The night before they were to start that assignment, I decided that they would hate it! We'd started a blog several months ago and in my researching of Web 2.0 technologies I'd run in to wikis and knew what they were. I decided, after I'd turned off my computer for the night, that they would love to do a wiki.

I got up early the next morning, went to school, cranked up my computer and in 30 minutes had the skeleton of the wiki ready. Several cautions: At the time I didn't realize that each student would have to "join"so there was a scramble to get everyone signed up. I use Wikispaces and they will set up accounts for all your students if you email them. I was savvy enough to realize that if students worked in pairs, each one would have to have a separate page. Two kids can't open the same page, work on it and save it. Notes are taken on two separate pages then combined on one page for final publishing.

I showed them Wikipedia and we did searches on chicken nuggets and Super Mario I could tell they were hooked right away! They loved all the connections. We discussed copyright, looked at Wikipedia's copyright (which I really like), and talked about notetaking and plagiarism. Then I set them loose!

Since I teach in a gifted pullout program the students are with us all day one day a week. In about five hours the seventeen kids finished the wiki on The Wright 3 and Frank Lloyd Wright. They really enjoyed it. Here are some of their comments:

“Boy, I’m glad we didn’t have to write!” (hello….you just spent the whole day writing!!)
“It is so cool to know that somebody might use what I wrote for their research!!”
“I write a lot more carefully knowing the ‘world’ can read it”
“I liked the fact that we could work together, help each other out and link to stuff someone else wrote”
“It is so cool to put something ON the Internet, rather than always taking stuff OFF.”

Let me know if you have any questions. We are in the process of completing two more wikis now.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


I bumped into this website, Scrapblog, quite by accident but it is fun. Several years ago I tried my hand at scrapbooking and I liked it but it is time consuming and expensive so I was thrilled to find a virtual version. this is a page I made about my students' forensic science unit. You can see all the pictures at one of our websites but this is a fun and creative way to reflect on things we have done. I'll try it with students soon and let you know how it works! You are suppose to be able to embed the scrapblog into your blog, but blogger doesn't seem to like that option, so here is a captured image.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Too Little Time; Too Much to Do

I posted the following comment to a discussion on David Warwick's site 2 Cents Worth. The comment from Randy Rodgers led me to think about "time" and people's frustration about adoption or non-adoption of certain technologies in the classroom.

Last year I heard Christopher Paolini interviewed on 60 Minutes. Christopher wrote an 800 page fantasy called Eragon, recently released on film at the theaters. He was 15 years old when he wrote the book and he said, in the interview “The gift my parents gave me, by homeschooling, was the gift of time.” I think that’s what missing in the whole “blog/wiki in the classroom” discussion. With NCLB and state assessments students no longer have “time” in the classroom. In our district the last thing students have time to do is something as spontaneous as sitting down to write what is on their mind. (hyperbole, I’m sure) The beauty of what I do, teach in a pullout gifted program, is that we have the time to think and explore areas of interest and new technologies. I also teach kiddos who have supportive parents and computers at home. There is no doubt that many, if not all, students would enjoy blogging and benefit from writing for a “real” audience. OK, finished rambling about that.
The same holds true for doing wikis. We did our first one in lieu of a reflection essay and 17 6th graders worked for 5 hours to complete it. Teachers in my building, a Title 1 school, would never find the time. They are required to teach reading for 2 1/2 and math for 1 1/2 hours a day. A sad state of affairs.

What barriers do you see to adoption of blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 technologies in the general ed classroom?

Monday, January 15, 2007

RSS Feed for Elementary Students

My students started blogging about two months ago. I wanted to have RSS feeds come into our site as an added topic for writing. I started my search with Annette Lamb, a national presenter, who has looked in to all current technology issues. She directed me to her bloglines account. After getting several ideas from her I continued to search the Internet. I felt strongly that the incoming feed needed to be appropriate for kids since I was making a conscious effort to bring the feed in. After all my searching, I found and use the following:

CBBC Newsround -Frontpage
Science Buzz--science
Why Files--science
Cybils --literature/books
Discovery Channel Headlines--science news
Nova Science Now --science news
Patent Pending inventions (blog written by a 15 year old boy)
PBS News Hour --news
Wands and Worlds--fantasy book reviews
Surfing the Net with Kids

The first lesson I learned..."you can have too many feeds"!! Second don't want adult news feeds coming in from CNN, ABC, CBS, etc.. Third lesson...the BBC feed has lots of news articles on "football", which my kids quickly figured soccer!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Blogs for Elementary Kids

My 4th, 5th and 6th graders started blogging at a site called A Really Different Place several months ago. Luckily, I had a student's dad offer to set up the blog site using Drupel, he also offered to serve it. My main objectives were safe and responsible social networking, understanding of copyright and intellectual property issues, and of course writing real and relevent content for a real audience. I looked at dozens of student blogs, mostly high school student sites. Aside, I had to have the CIPA representative in our district unblock about 100 blog sites that I was trying to look at!

I saw things I wanted to include in our site, all the while thinking "what are they going to write about?" I envisioned that I would post a topic once a week or so and they would respond. Each student has their own blog but I have administrative rights and can delete or edit all of their entries. I started by explaining the rules, got permission to use these rules from Bud the Teacher. We then discussed commenting and I used Vicki Davis' How to Comment Like a King or Queen. I had used for several years for online curriculum and online book discussions, so I was pretty comfortable about some of the hurdles we would have to overcome. I stressed that this was "formal" writing and they were not to include IM and chat language. I told them they must write using appropriate conventions and Iwould make them edit spelling and puncuation mistakes. Drupel used a WYSIWYG called tinymce, which has spell check, thank goodness! I told them they were participating in a written "conversation" and I would delete any comments like "Cool" or "Neat"!!

My co-teacher and I posted our first several blog entries and included a link to some creative writing prompts in the links section of the site. I also dug up appropriate RSS feed (a challenge) and included a Word of the Day node. The rest is history, they jumped in with both feet. I give them time in class (I only have them one day a week) and told them to blog 2-3 days a week in their regular classrooms or at home.

All in all I'm really pleased. The quality of the writing for the most part is very good condering our youngest bloggers are 9 years old. We have had blog entries on black warming...and the theory of relativity. We've also had entries on "50 Things I Would Not Be Caught Dead Wearing"..."Firedrills"..."Talent Shows" and opinions about the Katie Holmes and Tom Crusie nuptials!!

Some of our "writers" wanted a place to write books and comment on each others book writing so we included a "Book" section to remove creative writing from the blog posts. We do have several poets who post poems on their blogs. We also have a book discussion section, which is still being developed.

The only disappointment is that some of my best bloggers don't take the time outside of class to participate, but they'll come around!! Several parents and teachers have joined in and that has been a great add-on. Let me know of your blogging successes and frustrations.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Maiden Blog

I decided to write my first blog entry about blog entries. Three months ago I knew what a blog was. I had seen it offered as NECC sessions for the last several years and had heard about blogs on the news. Something, slips my mind now, inspired a lightbulb moment and I started taking a look at Web 2.0 technologies for my classroom. Now, three months later, my students are adding posts to a great blogsite and sixth graders completely their first wiki. Even though I spend an hour+ a night replying to their blogs and posting on our class site, I've decided to try my hand at a personal site. I forgot to mention one thing...I hate to write.