Take a Hike

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Even though this week has been all about our new netbooks, it’s is not always all about the technology. Sometimes it is best to “power down” and explore things without a device. One of the biggest worries I have as  an educator using technology is balancing the use of technology. I try to stay aware and monitor that our netbooks do not become a distraction. So, this past week, we took some time to explore our schoolyard for examples of weathering, erosion and deposition.

Our current unit in science, Landforms, asks that students understand the processes that shape our land, and while we have a good bit of vocabulary to learn, I wanted my class to investigate what these words actually represent. So, this lead to a scavenger hike around our school to observe examples of erosion and deposition. What I was really looking to establish with my students was a connection between the process of erosion and deposition. The Ah-Ha moment came when students noticed how the eroded material covering a section of our parking lot matched the sand from higher up the section of hill.

At another location, students connected how a section of side walk was in danger of breaking due to erosion. Students even took on the role of detectives in examining the area for were that material ended up being deposited.

Another reason why I like doing this activity is that students often feel that the landforms we study in class are not connected to their real lives. I loved hearing students comment that they had never noticed the things we found before. It was like they had never noticed these things before. Sometimes, when you look hard enough you can be amazed by what you will find.


Tackling the Issues

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Warning: The following update will be rambling and disjointed, but it will reflect the kind of day it has been. Lots of things to juggle and keep in the air.

Today marked the second day with the new devices. Students began the day with issues logging in. For some reason, there seems to be a conflict with which way the chrome netbooks want to connect to the school’s wifi. It seems some devices register on the network as staff, but others register as students. I’m unclear if this is a default setting or an issue with teaching the students the right way to login.

We also updated the Chrome OS on each device today. I guess an update was made available. And combine that with the district IT folks coming in to setup a new wifi hub in my room to handle the increase demand, the devices all appeared to go a bit haywire this morning. So… patiently we put them away for a bit and worked on other assignments and material. After the break, students shutdown and rebooted to much better results once the transition to a new wifi hub was complete, and the updated devices began to work and log in as they should. I guess setting up the new hub caused a conflict of some sort.

We tested out how the devices work with ThinkCentral and SOAR, one of the original math websites we have used. These sites worked great! not one student reported an issue and all web content loaded as it should. Students also tested out the new MangaHigh site we have been trying this week, and noticed the same problem as yesterday. Half the students could only get a plain text version to load and others saw the site as normal. I think this may have something to do with how the devices are connecting to the wifi network. I believe the students connecting as staff can load the site and the students connecting as students are getting some content blocked.

Students also used their gmail a bit in class to fill our a google form based on our reading strategies for discovering meaning in character. Students linked to the form through their email accounts and shared their feelings on times they have been “wronged” like the main character in the book. I then recieve the results in a nice neat google spreadsheet so I can look at the responses in well organized file. I must say, this was my first classroom form and I like the way google makes this so easy and fast. Great, easy instant feedback.

Later on students worked more updating their new GoodRead accounts with books they read with the class and on their own. Students are learning to connect to each other, and share about what they have read. We went over some privacy settings to make sure students know how to use the site safely. I have high hopes GoodReads and would like students to find this exciting and get them reading more.

After lunch we used edmodo to connect to a group sending out a live feed discussing the issues polar bears are facing with environmental changes to their ecosystems. We listened to and observed a group of scientists that are studying the issue first hand. Their video feed came from a special Tundra Vehicle that was located near bear dens during the migration period. Students even had a chance to send their own questions in, since this was all live. We were a bit sad that we did not get picked, but it was exciting when a class from Rosewood Elementary did have their questions read!

Learning how to manage the devices and content use for students was apparent today. For one, students has had trouble keeping up with the different usernames and passwords they must know to use the different web resources and devices. This is justifiably tough. We use a number of different web 2.0 sites. And I did add a few more this week! Even I have trouble keeping it straight. I need to develop a better system so students do not have to worry about memorizing each password. I have tried to get their passwords and logins the same or similar when possible, but even when a student misspells by one letter they are unable to use the resource. I cannot tell you how many times a student was sure their device was not working, but only had a missing letter in the login or password. Second, students are naturally curious about what the netbooks can do. Unfortunatley, I had to limit use for students who felt the need to learn about video chatting, and loading chrome game apps without permission. So far, this has only been a few, and I hope they got the message when they lost the priviledge of the netbook today.

Tomorrow is another day. Lots more to try out, and hopefully get a few more kinks settled. Sorry for the poor grammar, misspelled words, etc. I did not feel up to editing and revising tonight. Just a free flow of thoughts.

Handling Big Changes

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Today was the big day.

Finally, students got the chance to put their hands on the new devices. Well… after I made a few last comments about how to take good care of the netbooks. Today students walked through the steps of how to login and use a chrome netbook, which is a tad different than the old way. They took their first try at using gmail, read through a message from me, and linked to a shared google doc that I had created. We tested out yet another math site, MangaHigh. This may be our fourth site that we have tested, and possibly my favorite so far. 


After a morning full on new technology, we then tried out some more. I’ve been thinking about a different way to organize reading logs and get students interested in reading in general, so I shared I site I’ve been interested in for some time called GoodReads. Students created their own accounts, friended others in the class, added books they have read and started tracking the current books they are reading in class. I like that I am able to share my reading with them, and also easily see and read about what other students are doing.


We did have a few issue today. At times a few of the netbooks had trouble accessing the network like the should, and one time during MangaHigh several students could not get the site to load properly. It may be an issue with the Wifi in our classroom, so we may need to add some more bandwidth. None of the sites we used today seemed to have much trouble running in chrome. A few students reported slow load times, but it was not a major factor. Not any worse than usual I guess. 


Overall, students did a great job handling some big changes. It is not easy to get used to a brand new platform. For example, it took about five minutes to just learn about using the new trackpad feature, five minutes to understand how the wrench works, five minutes to learn about extensions and apps, five minutes to see how bookmarks work, five minutes to figure out how using tabs is helpful. All the little things add up and don’t really get talked about much. Learning anything new takes time, and the first time you use it always takes double what you plan. 


Looking back at the day I’ve got a list of things I wish I’d mentioned. I want students learn about the right way to use the Chrome Web Store, adjust their settings in GoodReads, create google docs and learn about using the web camera in their device. I just need to remember to take it slow, and stay patient. I think that may have been the hardest thing about the day.


New Motto: Slow Down, Be Patient.





Book Review: Wonderstruck

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WonderstruckWonderstruck by Brian Selznick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Super book. I like how it includes two different characters that are connected. One story is told through illustrations, and the other words. Also I learned a lot about what it means to be deaf. I don’t want to spoil this book, but it deals with a boy who has lost his mother and is struggling to deal with not knowing who his father is. He finds a clue in a book, gets struck by lightening and goes searching for the truth.

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Book Review: Stone Fox

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Stone FoxStone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The ending of this book shocked me, and I cried! I was completely unprepared for how this book ended. One of the best endings of any book I have ever read. Side note: Mrs. Krapfel just shared that another Pontiac teacher used to always get her to read the last chapter. So I’m not the only one who cries with this book.

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Our New Room Is Ready!

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Phew… What an end to a week this has been.

I wasn’t sure we could do it, but it looks like my class pulled it off. A few weeks ago I challenged them to step up and make a difference in they way school operates and take charge of designing a new classroom. We were relocating anyways, and this was the perfect chance to give my students the chance at being creative.

I have had a few late nights at school this week, and I’ve been a bit frazzled by allowing students work in the room, and continuing to teach all at the same time, but I think it was worth it. I think my favorite moment of the day was when another teacher came by to check out our room, becuase one of my students had been telling her how cool it was, and how much work she had been doing to get it done. My second favorite was watching my students teach my principal about BeyBlades, since they were asking to include it in the dismissal games area. Through the whole process I have been impressed with my students inventive thinking into rebuilding our room. I wish we had the time and money to make a few of their ideas that did not get used become a reality.

Here are a few photos of the room taken this week.

Here’s a look at the new room beginning to take shape.

Early Bulletin Board Work

Isaiah and Donell discuss the Game Center design.

Bobby checks out the new design, and adds his own art gallery to a cabinet.

Rayvin works on a display.

My son Bobby checks out finished setup, and point to the art gallery he added.

The new Rethink Center

The Game Center with school and dismissal versions.

Bobby works in the New Writing Center.

A look at the table setup. The boxes are for our books – an idea we came up with. Also, that’s the new Netbook Cart stationed under TV.

Posting About Needing To Post More/ Getting New Chrome Netbooks

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I’ve been very bad about keeping up with my classroom blog this school. Not that I have not had things to share (Sorry about the double negative! I like it!), but I just seem to be so busy with planning, grading, and life in general to keep up with posting about my class. I actually feel a bit horrible about the whole thing. Especially because one of my main goals with my students this year is using blogs as digital portfolios.

August, September and October have whizzed by. And I’ve lost the chance to collect and share so many great events, feelings and lessons from this school I feel a bit sad. I’d like to go back and get the time back. I’ve thought about posting about all the things we’ve done in my room this room, but the moment has been lost and I don’t have the memory to make it right.

But… All is not lost. I can post about what is happening now. It is exciting too. So Now is the time to blog.

The school I teach in will be transitioning to more 1 to 1 computing classrooms. While I have been doing it for years, every fifth grader is slated to get a netbook device this winter in January. My class was selected a trial classroom. We will be testing the device our school has chosen. This Tuesday the devices were delivered. A fresh set of Google Chrome netbooks stacked neatly in a sturdy charging station.

My students have actually been planning on the arrival of these devices for a few weeks now. We have heard this will be happening all year, and I knew my class was a pilot group in October. Since the technology transition is a major change from the desktop computers we currently use, I asked to move a tad down the hall into a different room. I did not think having netbooks and desktops in the same classroom would be a good idea.

Well… changing rooms mid year has become kind of a big deal to my students now. We have jumped head first into the concept of recreating a 21st Century Classroom. In fact, it has developed into a class project.

Drawing from training this past summer and early fall on the philosophy of the Schlecty Center about designing experiences around work for students, I turned the project over to my students – with a bit of training and discussion about design.

Students have been collecting and drawing up ideas for the new room, and they have actually come up with some amazing ideas. Our new room will include a “chill Zone,” a “Rethink Station”, a “Game Center,” tables (not desks), newly themed display, and several other creative approaches. We did have to throw a few wild ideas away, such as lockers, and a giant plasma TV.

I have not seen my class this excited all year! Today was a half day for our school, and students used some of the time to work on creating their new learning space. I had a great time watching their ideas take shape. I must admit taking this approach has been “Very Different” for me. I’ve been a bit nervous to say the least. But, the room is starting to come together. I stood between the two rooms before leaving today. As I looked at each room I reflected on how much has changed. To my left was a room of big heavy boxes chained down by cables, and plugs. To my right was a cart about the size of one large shelf holding 22 devices the size of a one subject notebook. The space to my left was largely dictated by technical needs such as power cables. To my right the room was designed by what we wanted. I must say I liked standing to my right more than my left.

I do know the netbooks are not be the same. I have already come across several things they won’t due, so I must look at how I will change to accomodate this. But, as I realized in the process of choosing which new 1 to 1 device to use in our trial – most of what we do know is web based. And that is what the chrome book is about. It’s fast, light, has great battery life, and is designed to use the web. The web only! In fact, the operating system is just a broswer.

I’m typing this very post using one.

I will update more in the coming days as we finish up our new space, learn about our new devices and unveil our class creation next Monday.