USN Lower School Technology!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

November Goings-on!

I do find myself posting less here than last year, and I'm not sure that's altogether a bad thing. One of the things we're hearing from teachers and parents is that they feel they're approaching the end of their ability to stay up to speed with all the online information in their lives. The new USN website is fantastic and offers scores of new ways to communicate. Our Lower School newsletters have morphed into Classroom News items on Classroom pages only accessible to parents of teachers and grade level colleague faculty. This is very good in many ways, certainly in its environmental impact (let's see, 352 two-to-four-page newsletters once a week for 40 weeks equals 56,320 pieces of paper every school year, yup, that's a good thing).

Still, it's a lot to maintain, both from the classroom teacher's perspective and from that of a parent. Overnight, it seems, the responsibility for checking in for new communications has been placed on the shoulders of the parent. This is as it should be, and I speak from a parent's point of view. I only wish it were a bit less time consuming!

That said, let's move on to what's happening in the Lower School computer lab, where technology is for learning. The short story:

  • 3rd graders have worked well into Type to Learn 3 and began "All About Me" PowerPoint presentations this week
  • 4th graders headed into the virtual worlds of Quest Atlantis last week, took their typing practice home as daily homework in Keyboarding for Kids, and are learning how to navigate their new 3 dimensional virtual environment
  • Kinderkids are tracing their hands on the computer monitor and sprucing up imaginative and colorful drawings of turkeys with Drawing for Children
  • 1st graders have met SebranABC and are exercising their analog time-telling skills at the new skills page
  • 2nd graders are doing the same activities as their 1st grader counterparts, only delving more deeply into them as befits their growing performance capabilities
The longer story:

PowerPoint is a great starting point for learning presentation software. It's a universal standard, though more and more alternatives are giving it a go for its position. These include GoogleApps Presenter, Voicethread, Animoto, and one of my (very quirky but fun to tackle) favorites, Prezi. I've even seen effective and engaging presentations in Picasa, with slides created by overlaying digital pictures with text in, say, Photoshop or Paint.

Still, PowerPoint is a great starting point. So many of the menu options and the graphical user interface, the GUI, mirror those in Word that learning one helps reinforce skills in the other. In this project, which will take us over the month of November, students create a 5-8 slide presentation on their favorite subject, themselves. I introduce them to the program, make expectations clear, demonstrate a few beginning procedures, like "new slide" and "slide design," then get out of their way, becoming the advisor I like to be as learners learn. Watch for some results here before Winter Break.

I've written extensively here about Quest Atlantis (see earlier posts), and this year I'll expand upon that earlier introduction as my fourth grade learners make their way into the vast and fascinating worlds of QA. Last year was the pioneer year, as the kids and I dived (dove?) into it with a fury, immediately seeing learners from other schools and other countries and chatting with them as they navigated the rather steep learning curve. About a month after we started last year, the QA folks at Indiana University revised the entry path for new users so that when they first come into Atlantis they see no others and can interact with no one except the animated beings who serve as guides. This works famously better, and I'm monitoring student progress already as some figure it all out without any help, while others struggle and collaborate with one another to do so. This is ideal learning territory, of course, and expect posts here specifically about milestones. I'll be assigning quests more prudently this year (last year I ended up with 41 quests for students to choose from, and I am looking for a more manageable, though still individualized, experience for all this year.

Kindergarteners still enjoy Boowa and Kwala, and I'm lingering there this year as they keep track of their own progress by making marks on a spreadsheet displayed upon the Interwrite (Smart) Board. We veer off each class into other activity though, and we're currently working on a project I do annually, using Drawing for Children to create fabulous turkeys to print and take home for Thanksgiving. This week we're beginning them and saving them, and next week we'll learn how to reopen them and continue revising their splendiferous beauty. The week of the 16th, well open them once again and print them to take home. Look for them in backpacks! I'll likely also put some up on the blog in slideshow fashion.

We opened and played SebranABC the past couple weeks, and this week we visited's fine collection of 25 telling-time interactive sites at the Webliographer's Time and Clocks topic. This proves to be an excellent way to note which children are struggling with analog time telling and advise their teachers accordingly. As always at USN, I note a wide range of abilities in each class. We played "Bang on Time" at the site first, then children could pair up with another to play "Willy the Watchdog," and then explore the other games. Next week we'll play "Telling Time with Word Problems," kind of a 1st grade twist on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

I usually pair activities for Kindergarten and 1st graders, and I'm finding this week and last that these particular activities seem very well suited to 2nd graders, so that's what we're doing, moving the time telling into second grade, where it's apparent that work still needs to be done on this important skill. It'll be time well spent. I already see 2nd graders choosing Sebran as a free-choice option, and watching them play its Hangman game reminds me what a valuable game that is for predicting based on knowledge of vowels, consonants, and spelling. In a time when educational games can be huge downloads, I find Sebran's 857 Kb filesize nothing short of endearing!

That's it for this post. More later, of course!!!

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