Last Tool Exploration of the Summer

I did a multi-tasking assignment again... I used Pixton, which I posted about a few weeks ago, to create a final reflection for my Inquiry class. Wow! I love this program. It was so much fun... I can't wait to make another comic. I didn't watch any of the tutorials, I just clicked on things to see what they did. I definitely want to use this in my classroom!

Final Project

I decided to focus my final project on one of my favorite units in my class. I have done this for 3 years now, and it just gets better each time. I would like to add a digital component this year so I have created a wiki for my students to share their investigations on. It is called:

Please check it out! Be sure to look at the 2010-2011 Investigations page to see a slideshow of some of the students last year. Another fun aspect of this unit is sharing what we learned with several 4th grade classes. You can see a slideshow of that under the Spider Sharing page. It is a work in progress and I am sure it will change as students begin to edit it and I find out what the "kinks" are, but I am really excited because I think overall it will increase the quality of the unit as students see what has been done in the past and put their own spin on things!


Hostess with the Mostest

I set off to find tools to meet my demands:
  1. A wiki hosting site that would be free and not require my students to have an email account in order to join and edit the page.
  2. A place to host a blog that was only visible to my students, preferably also not requiring an email account to participate. Even better- a built in method to keep track of comments to make accountability and assessment easier and less time consuming!
Here is what I found:

PBWorks, which I have gotten familiar with over the past several weeks, does not require students to have an email account.I do like the looks of the page, and I am certain they are very similar in operation to wikispaces. It probably comes down to whichever system you are most comfortable working with.

Wikispaces, which I have had an account at for a long time, is an "old stand-by." They offer a free upgrade to "Plus" version if you are an educator, and that "plus" version allows the teacher to create up to 100 accounts at a time that do not need an email associated with them. To find the instructions on how to make your wikispace have the K-12 Plus Upgrade, visit this page.

Phuser.com: This first tool isn't really a blog, but it allows you to create a discussion and invite people to join without them signing up for anything, they just click on a link sent in an invitation. There is also photo uploading and file sharing, which could come in handy. Drawbacks: you can only create 5 "phuses" (discussions) with the free version, although unlimited membership is less than $20/year.

Tal.ki is a way to embed a forum style discussion in your own website. This one has me kind of excited because last year I spent a lot of time transferring the online version of my class from a cloud-hosted LMS (edu20.org) to my free Google site. I was trying to work around students trying to remember a user name and password when they were at home and needing to access class stuff. I used bit.ly to shorten my web address so that was all they needed to know and it was written down in multiple locations, as well as linked to from the school website (those of you that work with middle school kids probably understand why a user name and password was such an obstacle). *phew* ANYWAY- I have been wondering what to do this year because I like the idea of having online discussions, but am not that excited about going back to a LMS that requires user names and passwords. So this might be my work-around, except for a few things:
  1. My students can use their facebook or twitter or a variety of other online ID's to sign in, but our school denies access to most of these sites, so I am not sure if that will work for them on campus.
  2. Using a variety of online ID's to sign in means that I might not know who the student is so that might affect grading for participation. 
  3. I want to maintain privacy of class discussion, and I think the fact that my class website is only accessible to those with the address will keep it that way, but I am not positive it will work that way.
  4. Not that big of a deal, but the free version of this program only allows the user 15 recent topics. Older discussions seem to be archived, but are accessible. The more I think about this, the more it seems like it might be a good thing to archive old discussions!
If I need help, I found a video to help me embed a tal.ki into my google site!

Of course, I could choose NOT to reinvent the wheel and just use my Edmodo.com account, but the point of this post is TOOL EXPLORATION!

I also spent a bit of time looking at my old standby LMS, edu20.org. It allows the teacher to assign a discussion as homework, create the original post, send a message to all students that they need to respond to the post, and sends the teacher a message each time a post is made (optional). To grade the discussion, a page comes up with the rubric the teacher created for the discussion assignment (optional) and a list of all the students. The teacher can click on the "show" icon to see the students' post, then fill in the rubric on the spot and add comments to the student (outside of the discussion as viewed by the entire class). I think this is pretty darn slick and it makes me want to use edu20.org in my classroom again this year. It is always a hardware issue at my school so we shall see where that leaves me...

Week 5: Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom

Image from Wiley Information Systems
If you scroll into the ancient past of this blog, you will find a link to the first and only wiki I ever did with students. They created an Atomic Theory Timeline and I like how the project turned out. After exploring some of the other links provided to us through our current class wiki, I have decided that I want to go BIGGER next time. I want to make a wiki that will be added to each year that I do the same unit. I think this might be my Final Project and I have that excited "I-finally-figured-out-what-my-final-project-is-going-to-be" feeling welling up inside me as I think about the possibilities!

My overall feeling on blogs and wikis after exploring the resources:
  1. In my classroom I would prefer blogs to happen in a closed environment, not out there on the world wide web for all to see. I want my students to interact with each other, not with strangers. Yet at the same time, it would be nice to invite experts into our conversation. I think the best way to do this is to use the blog feature within a Learning Management System like Moodle, edu20.org, or haikulearning.com.
  2. Wiki-Wiki needs to be shared with the world! I would like my students to create content that is shared  on the world wide web. The challenge for me will be to find wiki hosting sites that do not require students to reveal their identity, much like the PBworks site we use for class. One challenge I face is that many of my students might not have their own email account and I have to figure out if there are sites that allow them to join without an email account, or if it is okay for me to get them signed up for gmail first (how do parents feel about that?). 
So off I go to explore some tools...


Week 4:Using Online Data in the Classroom

Yikes! I am running behind in this class and on my blog. I sort of got distracted looking at online data. I have the seeds of a few ideas in my head. When I was exploring the ideas for a blog or wiki that used current events, I was looking at Science Daily, which totally sucked me in and on the umpteenth article that I read, I found a little link on the side to an old story that linked to a project called Project Bud Burst that uses citizen scientists across the nation observing plants and reporting when they do things like get their first leaf, first flower, first fruit, etc. It is all in the spirit of observing global climate change. There is data, but it was overwhelming. I think if I spent more time I could come up with something, but I also like the idea of my students participating in a project like this. There is even a version for elementary aged students called Bud Burst Buddies.

Another idea I spent some time fooling around with is water quality. There is a nearby river that has a sewage treatment facility that dumps treated water into it. I found the data for sites up-river and down-river from the facility and thought it would be an interesting "Generate an Argument" activity to ask if it made any difference in the river to have that facility present.

This topic reminded me of Performance Based Assessments that I used in my classroom last year. The ones I used supplied students with data they had to interpret. I liked how easy they were to grade. My main concern with "Generate an Argument" is the amount of time it would take to grade and give feedback to students for their step 4 writing assignment. Perhaps if this was a collaborative effort with the English department? Although I like the idea of the "Generate an Argument" I am hesitant at times to fully embrace these models that come from academia. It seems that sometimes they are a bit on the unrealistic side. This activity would take some practice to be successful with my 7th graders!


More Web2.0 Tool Exploration

I have found a few things on my explorations for my MSSE classes that I wanted to post because this blog is my way of keeping track of things I want to find again in this big world wide web.

Exploratree is a great way to make concept maps and other graphic organizers. I haven't played with it too much yet but it was developed through a project to increase inquiry in the classroom (or enquiry as the Brits say).

Vimeo is a great site to store videos. I have had an account there for a few months with the intention of putting videos of my baby boy up to share with family. YouTube is so 2007.

Picture Teller is a way to make a slide show of images with a voice over. You can zoom into details of the image and pan. There is a site that offers some "how-to" videos which is always helpful!

Scitable is a great primary resource for doing inquiry investigations. It is from Nature, one of the leading science journals.The site allows teachers to build an online classroom and students to connect with their peers, collaborate, and share content.

How have I gotten all of these tiny logos to appear in my blog post? There is a tool called Skitch that allows you to capture anything showing on your computer screen and turn it into a .jpg that can be dragged and dropped into anything. Very useful!

Digital Storytelling

The reading from Technology in the Secondary Science Classroom by Bell, et al. stresses the importance of using digital images and video as a tool, and not a substitute for good teaching. The video and images need to be discussed and deciphered when used in the classroom. I find that if I can show pictures that I have taken, my students are that much more engaged in what I am trying to show them. And if I want them to be even more engaged, I will turn the reigns over to them!

I have a blog post that is older about our little Mitosis Movie Project. It is the one project I have done where students had to create a digital content and publish it to the web. They turned out really well, and I wish my students could see how many hits some of their videos have after being on the internet for a few years. I also like to create You Tube play lists to use during different units, like this playlist about fungi.

Some of the new tools I have learned about seem like they will be really helpful in continuing and encouraging my use of digital storytelling. I really like Glogster and VoiceThread and see the potential for some great student work. Another tool I found is called Pixton. It can be used to create comics and I think that has some strong appeal for my 7th graders! I found an example on a blog by Ollie Bray and reposted the image above.


Prezi and Creative Commons

In the true spirit of multi-tasking, I have attempted to complete an assignment for another class using Web2.0 tools. I am taking Teaching Inquiry in the Science Classroom (EDCI 580) and needed to create a weekly reflection (actually two weekly reflections in one). Since Prezi was an option, I decided to give it a try.

I found the navigation pretty easy. I used images that I found using the creative commons search engine that was shared with us last week. I like how a Prezi is more like a concept map and less linear like a powerpoint. I did struggle with creating my "path" because I couldn't undo a step without undoing them all, but that is probably just my inexperience.

There is also a feature that allows others to edit, so it would be a great way to have a group of students present their findings to the class. And speaking of, if you can prove you have an email address through an educational institution, you get a special EDU version of Prezi! Some issues I foresee in my school are:
  1. Students don't have their own school email accounts so they can't sign up for the educational version of Prezi,
  2. Requires Adobe Flash Player, which needs regular updates, which are not done remotely but rather on a case by case basis by the tech guy on request only, which basically means every computer will have to flash me a screen that says the site won't work and then I have to put in a service request and then wait for it to get done (so I would have to plan ahead several days to make this work).
However, I really like how the end product turns out and I will try my best to make it work in my classroom next year!

So here it is. I suggest you click on "MORE" and view it full screen. Be sure to play the video!



I was happy to see that Screencast-o-Matic is still around. I am going to re-embed this screen cast that I made a few years ago when I found this tool. My original post is at the bottom of my blog, but to save you the trouble of scrolling...


Just a Quick Little Presentation

I had to make a power point for a class I was in this week, so I tried Google Presentations for the first time. I clicked on "share" and was able to publish my presentation in a format that can be viewed online. Pretty sweet for avoiding software conflicts, though there are not nearly as many bells and whistles in the editing. I think that actually might be a good thing, especially when we ask students to create presentations!


Guiding Principles for the Use of Technology in the Science Classroom

When considering the use of technology in the classroom, it is important to evaluate the motivation and expected outcomes. The following principles should serve as guidelines in this process:

  1. Technology is not a replacement or substitute for effective teaching practices.
  2. Technology should be used to engage students with the content through inquiry, modeling, visualizations, data collecting and processing, differentiation and multiple representations.
  3. Technology should be used to do things that might otherwise not be done if the technology were not available.
  4. Technology should be used to do new things in new ways.
(Adapted from Technology in the Science Classroom by NSTA Press and Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom by Jeff Utecht)


Reflections on Web2.0 in the Classroom

The talk about Web2.0 being the future of education, the "flat Earth," and students as digital natives is stale to me. I feel like I have heard it for at least the past 5 years, which is my entire teaching career! I suppose there might be some folks that still need convincing, but I am personally ready for some meaty morsels of how to make these tools work for me in my classroom.

It seems to me that the wheels are pretty slow to turn in public education. Teachers either have the technology but don't know how to use it, or they learn it and yearn for it and don't have the funds to procure it for their classrooms. For me, this is where the disconnect is from the utopian ideals of every student creating meaningful online content in a global village and my reality:
  • Only 65% of my students have internet access at home which means any type of work involving the internet needs to be done in the classroom.
  • My classroom has 7 working and 3 non-working laptops (circa 2001) for my 140 students and there is no other computer lab available.
  • If I want to show my students any content found online, I have to bring in my own laptop and my own LCD projector.
  • My school has one digital camera available for student use and it is at least 8 years old.
Honestly, most mobile phones are more advanced than the technology available to me in my school. And my digital native students own those phones! I might sound bitter because I am (just a little bit) but I know that I probably have it better than thousands of teachers across the country. I don't want to get side tracked, but the disconnect between knowing how to use Web2.0 tools and having the hardware to do so is real in many classrooms across the nation.

One thing that I feel excited about is how technology has evolved from big ol' expensive clunky computers that needed multiple software programs to perform a variety of functions to sleek tablets that run very affordable or free apps and the availability of web based tools, many of which are also affordable or free. It makes me feel like we live and teach in a transitional time and that in the not-so-distant future it will be feasible for ALL students and teachers to truly collaborate. Once the hardware barrier comes down, I think we will see some truly amazing products from our little digital natives!


Introduction for MSSE 580

My first name is Sarah and I teach middle school science in Belgrade, Montana. I live just a few blocks away from Montana State University, where I received my B.S. in Biology. This is my first summer in the MSSE program and it is sure to be a whirlwind! I gave birth to my first child just 3 1/2 months ago (a son named Ian). My husband and I have a furbaby named Mazey- she is a Huskadore (husky lab cross) who is adjusting to no longer being the only child. We try our best to take full advantage of our primo location and are more likely to be away from home than in it.

I am extremely interested in technology for the classroom, but unfortunately it is a constant upstream battle in my district. I could go on and on about how difficult they make it for teachers to incorporate technology into our classrooms, but I would rather focus on what I have been able to do with little to zero support from my district. Many of my technology dreams are wearing thin after three years of being dashed against the insurmountable rocky shores of our tech department, but I am trying to hold on. The pessimist in me says this MSSE 580 course will get me super excited about a bunch of stuff that I will never be able to implement in my anti-technology school... but the optimist in me is very excited for the opportunity to explore the latest collaborative online resources and implement them into my classroom!


Performance Based Assessment

I was shown a great website for performance based assessments in the science classroom. I have just started trying these and I have a long way to go but I really like this type of assessment.



I really love this online learning management system. My school has wanted to start using Moodle, but it hasn't been working out for me just yet. For example- I can't access it unless I am on a computer at school and neither can the students. That seems to completely cancel out any usefulness of the application.

A few years ago I set up a class on edu2.0 and I've found that it is very user friendly for both me and the students. It is a walled community so you cannot access my classroom unless you join Belgrade Middle School. If you would like to visit, the access code is PANTHER. My class is 7th grade science.

It is:
-Cloud hosted (no server space needed like with Moodle)
-Free, but you can upgrade to have more features
-Ad Free!

If you have any questions about setting up your own class, please contact me!


Science Notebooks

I felt that I did not utilize the science notebook very well last year. In an effort to see how I could improve that, I found a few good sites that really got me inspired to make the notebook a crucial component in my class. The Scientist Notebook Toolkit was the first site I found and that led me to www.sciencenotebooks.org, which was incredibly informative. I love all the pictures they have of student work because I can show my students what I am expecting from them. The FAQ part of the site was also helpful because it clued me in to some potential problems and how others have dealt with them.


A picture is worth a thousand words...

I really like to use pictures to explain and assess students. I found this site called BIODIDAC that has TONS of images related to biology. All they ask is that you let them know you are using their images and who will benefit from their use. They even accept contributions if you are a good illustrator or photographer!


Atomic Theory Timeline

After a few trials and errors, my students are really making some progress on our Atomic Theory Timeline Wiki. You can see that some of them are plagiarizing and using wikipedia as a source (they were supposed to find two sources BESIDES wikipedia), but it is a start. It is so blatant when they copy and paste- I wonder if they think I won't notice?! They are struggling with trying to condense the information into a nice little packet that will be easy for their classmates to study. I think they might be used to fluffing things up to write a longer paper, and it can be a real challenge to condense a lot of information into a couple choice sentences!


How Stuff Works

I have found another great source of short video clips to give my lessons a touch of tech. How Stuff Works is across the board for all content types... so enjoy!


Chemistry Resource

I am doing an Atomic Theory timeline with my physical science students and have been looking for some great sources online. This site seems to be a "must use" for them- it will really help them meet all the requirements of the assignment!