Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Global Monster Project

The Global Monster Project is a website that connects classrooms across the world to create a collaborative, cross curricular event.  It's inventor, Terry Smith has been organizing and orchestrating the project annually, for over 10 years.  The project works well because teachers can make it as simple or complex as they want, though participants should be warned that even the simple end of the scale involves finding a space in your classroom to house an 8 foot creature. 

My students' monster
Terry has dreamed up a project that even in its basic form touches on several curricular outcomes in several subject areas.  Once I signed up for the project and picked the body part we, as a class, were going to describe, we brainstormed a description of the appendage (English Language Arts - descriptive writing).  Each of the 42 other participants in the 2011 project had their own body parts or accessories to describe.  All 42 descriptions were posted and my students chose which body part they wanted to work on.  In small groups and using the descriptors given students had to created their body parts working both with in their own group, and with groups with adjoining parts (Social Studies - working in a group, respecting all group members opinions and more) (Science - the design process).  This included measuring (Math - measurement), cutting, and decorating their own parts using materials brought from home and shared.  Once we were done our monster, we uploaded a photo and at a later date all students vote on their favorite monster from the other classroom creations.  Here was this year's winner.

We could have stopped our participation at making our own monster and voting on the others, but the beauty of Terry's Global Monster Project is becomes not website you go visit once or a project that stops once the students have voted, it is the jumping off point for so much more.   Adding your class twitter account, blog, class e-mail and/or Skype account to the site is encouraged and teachers make use of it.  Through this project my students visited other classroom blogs, getting a sense of how other classes blog, making comments on what they liked.  They Skyped with two other classrooms learning while learning about asking good questions and comparing our city and school day to theirs.  Finally our class gained a penpal class in England who we continue to keep in contact with.  We will be sending our English penpals a care package later this year, including items based on what we learn about symbols of Canada.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I can tell that a technology has made it to the far reaches of main stream culture when my mother, who is sometimes tech challenged, says "Oh isn't that old news now, isn't everyone doing it".  Which is just what she said about Skype when we talked this evening.  It is true that Skype has been around for a while, relative to how fast programs and technology are coming out these days.  Skype has been around and lasted long to become it's own verb "I am Skyping with my friends", "We are going to Skype tomorrow".  Skype is to video chat, what Ski-Doo is to snow mobile.  The possibilities that this tool can offer in classrooms however is still being explored, and chatting with Grandma who lives 100 kilometers away, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Skype in its purest form is simply connecting with others.  Making a phone call could garner the same information as a video chat session, but there is something very engaging about being able to see the people you are talking to.  Using Skype can allow students to connect with someone that lives hundreds or thousands of miles away with the click of a button.  Students can connect with peers in other classes, authors, experts, or classmates who are away on vacation or sick leave.  In all honesty of the information students get through Skype conversations could probably be found in books; but asking someone who is an expert can be so much more engaging.

Probably the most obvious subject enhanced by using Skype is social studies.  Studying the Arctic? Skype with people who actually live there.  Learning about differences and similarities between communities?  Share what you know about your city with a school in a rural community hundreds of miles away.  Teaching my students the difference between rural and urban, takes on more significance when they know this is something they will be asked by their Skype buddies.  There is an eagerness to learn it because they can see a purpose for it.  Video-chatting with other classrooms also provides a great platform for discussing physical geography and exploring maps.  As my students connect with other classes, suddenly the map on the wall has more relevance.  It is not just a 2D picture filled with different colours and place names.  They begin to see that it represents real places, where people they have met actually live.  There is even a phenomenon that has come about among tech savvy teachers called Mystery Skype, where students receive a Skype call from another person or class in a unknown location.  Through clues and questions they try and determine the caller's location.  Mrs. Avery's Classroom Blog has a great example of the variety of skills students use in solving the mystery.

The beauty of Skype is that it can be multipurpose and different kinds of learning are often happening simultaneously.  It can be used to find an audience with which students can share their learning, as tool that allows classes in multiple locations to come together and learn, or a way to connect with experts that students can learn from.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

BBC Schools Science Clips


 BBC School Science Clips is a free interactive website.  It covers topics with in a variety of clusters from the elementary science curriculum, grades 1 to 5.  The site provides students with the opportunity to participate in virtual experiments and manipulate models.  Topics are categorized by age group, and each age group has six activities that cover various outcomes.  The activities can be used as an introduction to a topic, or as way to allow students to explore concepts that have already been discussed in the classroom.

Visually this site is definitely attractive to students.  Though the graphics are simplistic, the addition of some animation seems to thrill my class.  The experiments in Science Clips are often ones that would be time consuming or unsafe to try in our classrooms, even as a demonstration.   Here students are able to independently explore and manipulate objects, test materials, and heat and cool solids to observe how they change.  When students are given the option of exploring the site on their own, is it not surprising that many of them gravitated towards the lesson on Characteristics of Materials.  Even when it's “only” virtual, many of them enjoyed being able to make glass shatter, sound effects and all, when testing its strength.

The site is pleasing to look at, easy to navigate and provides enough interaction to sustain engagement, but the thing I enjoy about this site are the little extras.  The instructions and questions for each activity are thoughtfully worded providing students more exposure to scientific language.  But the reason why I will come back to this site more than once in a year is because of the audio support.  Each instruction, and both the questions and answers in the quizzes, have audio links that will read the question to the student.   That means that the activities are accessible students, regardless of reading ability.  When students are on this site, I can circulate and see all students interacting with the website, rather than some staring at their screens waiting for me to get there so I can read the text to them. The only potential drawback to this site that I have seen is that because this is a British-born website, some of the terminology may be unfamiliar to Canadian students.  For example a green lolly on the website is a green lollipop and since the picture doesn't make that apparent, a brief moment of pre-teaching is requires.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's a Rotary Phone?

If the much loved 80's movie E.T. (1) were to get a remake today one of the first challenges would be searching for a new and equally iconic phrase to replace the outdated "E.T. phone home."(1)  The phrase simply wouldn't fly with today's kids.  I can just imagine taking my 7 year old nephew to see the original and having him say "Can't his just add his location to his Facebook status" or "Gee, that alien really needs to upgrade his finger".  The idea that an a advanced race of beings would use something as passe as a phone, and an archaic land line to boot, would seem more farfetched then the idea of this creature being lured by a tasty, candy coated chocolate.

I will admit that the idea may seem farfetched but the reality is that my students live in the world of fast paced, ever changing, technology.  Yes, kids still explore outside, enjoy building with lego and can use their vivid imaginations to pretend a rock sticking out of the dirt is really the tip of a giant dinosaur bone.  But there has been a shift.  Many of my student return to school after the weekend talking about Facebook or the latest YouTube video.  When reading a book is it common for a child to make a connection to something she has experienced in her video game.  Many kids associate 3D with movies before they have ever heard of 3D shapes.  They live in a world where information and advancements are coming faster and faster.

As an educator I am looking for ways to use the internet in my classroom to enhance lessons, share ideas and create connections, while teaching my students responsible use of technology.  So here I go exploring the net for useful applications and sharing my growing pains in exploring new programs.

1. E. T., the Extra-terrestrial. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore and Peter Coyote. Swank, 1982. DVD.