Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ramps - Simple and Specific

I was looking for a game or simulator to link with our science study on position and motion.   Something that would connect to some of the experiments we had done on incline planes and ramps and I came across this gem.

Ramps is a game created by Tyler Sticka as part of a class assignment in his last year of college.  It is a simple enough concept.  A ball falls down a tube and you need to use the available ramp or ramps to get the ball into the tube on opposite corner of the screen.  The player can change the position and the angle of the ramp.  Each level provides a new challenge and my students have discovered that some additional obstacles appear in the higher levels.  As the levels progress it becomes clear, as well, that sometimes it is how the ball ricochets off of another object that helps you win the round.  

As first glance this seems like a cute little application that can lead to some discussion about slant and slope.  I certainly thought it would be a onetime activity that my students would enjoy and then forget, but I was quite mistaken.  The game has been linked to our blog since November and it is still the number one choice of activities to do during free time in the computer lab.  I realized that there was more than just exploration of ramps going on.  The ramps vary in size and number depending on the level and each level requires the use of problem solving skills.  If the first attempt doesn't work, how can I change the ramp slightly?  Do I need to change the position or the incline of the ramp, or both?  I could see students considering these issues, I could hear them working out the answers.

The second and probably more surprising result of students playing this game is that it became a group activity.  Using the computer moved from solitary to social as students assisted each other when they got stuck, describe how they passed a particularly challenging level and challenged each other to beat their top level.  This tool is an example of extending students understanding on a topic and having them apply it to an online simulation.


Twitter is a free social networking site that allows its members to write short messages known as Tweets that others can read.  I first signed up for twitter about six months ago, but had no real idea how to use it.  I had heard mentions of it being used in education, as a means for teachers to connect with their students and keep them informed or share interesting sites.  As an early years teacher most of my students don't have their own cellphones or Twitter accounts, so I wasn't sure if it could be useful to me.  That is, until I explored it in more depth recently and realized it could be a useful professional tool.

There are hundreds of teachers, consultants and educational organizations to be found on Twitter.  I started by adding a few teachers I knew locally, then added a few more that they seemed to be following, added a few organizations and in no time I realized I had created my own personal learning network (PLN).  Through Twitter, I have found links to activities I can use in the classroom, read Tweets that make me think about my own teaching practices, connected with classrooms interested in sharing their learning with my class and discovered an online conference, that I then viewed live.  I have shared links with teachers seeking help with a topic and asked for assistance with my own planning.  Through Twitter I have broadened my teaching support network and can now ask many sources about a topic, rather than only those I have met face to face. 

The only drawback to Twitter that I have found so far, is that with access to that many people, it can becoming overwhelming to sift through all the tweets that can come through in a day.  In the beginning I added almost every teacher I came across that tweeted something interesting, but soon was overwhelmed with a lot of irrelevant information.  I am learning to follow only those I think will forward my learning and challenge my thinking.  Rather than follow every educational organization out there, I follow a few and check on the others semi-regularly.  By being judicious with who I follow I find I can catch more interesting tweets when I am skimming through the days catch.

There is another part to Twitter that I have yet to explore fully; the education chat nights.  Groups such as #D5chat, which consists of teachers who are looking to gain and share information about The Daily 5, meet once a week on Twitter, on a certain day, at a certain time, to discuss a predetermined topic in more detail.  It allows those interested in the topic to have a more concentrated conversation, usually in the span on an hour, and share their thinking.  This is one part of Twitter I look forward to exploring in the coming weeks.


Storybird is a website where budding authors can, tell their stories, using pre-created illustrations.  The website is free to access and will store your work on its server.  A student logs onto the site and chooses a story art theme.  Themes are created by artists commissioned by the site to create a series of thematic works of art.  All the pictures in a single story art theme are drawn in the same style and were created around a specific topic.  

There is no cost to join and create, however if you wish to download or print your creations there are fees involved.  As a teacher, I can sign up my students with their own passwords which allows them, and me, to access their stories.  These stories can only be seen by my class and I, unless I choose to imbed them in our blog or buy the book from the site.

For grade two students this is an exciting project.  It allows students to focus on what they are writing, while having great illustrations to go with their ideas.  On the flip side, because the story art themes each have a single concept they focus on, students who don't have an idea to start with can choose their art work first and then build a story from the pieces they choose.  Another advantage comes from the fact that the stories can be embedded right into our blog, it creates a larger audience for the student's work.

Below is a sample story that I created to show my students what a story on Storybird can look like.

Super short story. on Storybird

Vocabulary Spelling City

Vocabularyspellingcity is a website where students can work on their personal spelling lists in a variety of manners.  There is a free portion of the website which allows students to input their words and begin playing right away.  A premium version also exists at a cost of $49.99 per year for a class of 25, but as a supplement to classroom spelling activities, the free version will suffice.

Once the words are inputted, students can use those words for a spelling test, to go over the spelling of the word with a computerized instructor or to play a variety of games.  The spelling test feature will say the word to the student and then read the word in a sentence.  The spelling instructor does a similar task, but also spells the word for the student.  The best use of the website though, is the games that students can play.  Once the words are inputted they can play a version of hang mouse, where they must figure out which of their spelling words is hidden and how to spell it before the cat wakes up.  Another popular choice is Audio Word Match, a version of memory that uses the students spelling words and reads them aloud when they flip a card, a great way to connect the list to reading. 

While I have never signed up for the teacher account there is one available that I may try in the future.  It allows teachers to save spelling lists to a personal home page for students to access.  This may alleviate the frustration that some students experience when trying to use the keyboard.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Pinterest is an online pin board, a virtual bulletin board that allows you to keep track of websites and ideas that interest you.  I first saw a link to this site from on of the teachers I am following on Twitter, and I instantly became intrigued.  You can explore Pinterest without signing up, look at others pages, or search for specific topics.  Instead of signing up to join, you sign up for an invitation to join.  I did just that through the site and three days later had not received an invitation.  After looking into it further I discovered that, for now, Pinterest is promoting itself through friends inviting friends to join.  I believe that this is to ensure that it is used by the general public and not by those looking to sell their products.  Digging into it more I discovered a Facebook page where you can request an invitation from someone who already has an account.  I tried this method and received an invitation in about 5 minutes.

I like Pinterest because I can organize my education links to blogs, lesson plans and professional readings into different pages with an accompanying picture.  I am a visual learner, so I sometimes find it hard to remember what the links in my favorites are connect to.  Sometimes it's a story, or a lesson or just a picture of a classroom set up that I like.  Pinterest has a picture for each link which can jog my memory as to its significance.  I can also create different pages for different subjects which, as an organizer, I really like.  I also appreciate that I can see a pinned site on another person's Pinterest board and immediate link it to my own page.  My only complaint is that in order to add it to your pinboard, Pinterest has to scan the site and find a picture it can connect to it.  This is not always the case so not all my links can go here.  This is not a tool that every teacher needs, but I find it a good way to organize most of my online resources.

If you are looking for more other ways to use Pinterest as an educator, check out this online post.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Answer Garden

AnswerGarden is a free poll tool that allows viewers to write in their own answers.  You are not required to sign up, though you can include your e-mail address with the poll and the site will e-mail you a link to your poll.  You can embed your poll in various other online tools such as Blogger, Twitter and Wordpress.

This tool could be used as part of our blog to get feedback from our readers on a question we are wondering about.  The questions would have to be worded so that answers could be given in one or two words, as the maximum number of characters allowed is 40.  Similar to Wordle, each time the same answer is given, the word gets larger, so it is a great visual to show the most popular responses.  When visiting our blog my students could use it to provide feedback on a topic we are exploring.  While the number of characters is limiting, AnswerGarden is a very simple tool to use and add to our class' online presence. 

Please feel free to answer the question below and see how simple AnswerGarden is to use as a responder.

What technologies are you using in your classroom?... at


Weblogs, more commonly known as blogs, are web journals created by individuals to voice opinions, share ideas, or journal experiences.  Several different companies provide blogging services that include different design options, privacy settings and widgets (additional gadgets you can add to your blog to provide links, track visitors and make lists, among other things).  One of the most user friendly blogging host sites is Blogger, which is what I am using for this blog, as well as my classroom blog.  There are also more education focused publishing sites such as Kidblogs and Edublogs.  I chose Blogger because it was quick to set up and edit, and did not require each of my students to have their own passwords.

Why Blog?
There are as many different reasons for blogging as there are people who blog.  The first step is to decide on your purpose for blogging.  Do you want to communicate with parents?  Would you prefer to share reflections on your teaching practices and look for advice from other teachers?  Are you looking to provide opportunities to connect with other classrooms?  Is having students share their learning, or have a presence online your reason for blogging?  Your blog can reflect one or several of these focuses and do so in either simple text or with the addition of photos, weblinks, videos and podcasts.

When I started my own exploration into the world of blogging this past summer, what first struck me was how many teachers were already blogging with their classes and had been for many years already.  Kathy Cassidy is a grade one teacher who has been blogging both professionally and with her class for over 10 years.  From reading blogs like hers I realized that I wanted my own class blog to be a hub of my students' online experience in our classroom.

Over the past 5 months it has become apparent that my blog is multipurpose.  The reason I wanted to start the blog at the beginning was that my school connected website was difficult to edit and even more difficult for students to access. I was looking for a tool that would allow my students to feel like the space we created online was theirs too.  Our blog extends beyond the classroom as well.  I know students who will explore the learning activities after school or on the weekends. Our blog is now where my students go to find links that I want them to explore and it is the first place they look when we get to our computer lab.  It is the place we post pictures of our activities, write about what's happened in the classroom, and have galleries for our art work.

A place where we could share our learning with others soon became a second purpose of our blog.  With the addition of some widgets that allowed me to post due dates for forms and book orders parents could check the blog for these dates.  Google calendar is easily attached so that important dates are always available and up to date.  It also offers families a window into what is happening in our classroom.  Some parents also approached me during student led conferences and let me know that we they checked the blog often and could get a sense of what was happening in class even when their child said "nothing" in response to what they were doing during the school day.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends from coast to coast have been able to see what were are doing, not to mention other teachers and classrooms around the world.

One of the hidden benefits that I hadn't truly considered when starting a classroom blog was the conversations that might occur about writing through our weekly blog posts.  Every Friday, at least, we sit down and create a class blog post.  Student's have the opportunity to share something about the week while I act as scribe with a wireless keyboard and mouse (two of the best inventions out there I have to say).  What started off as simple say and write has now become an instant conversation about mechanics of writing, sentence flow and adding details.  Frequently, before I am even finished writing a dictated sentence, one or more students will have their hand up to point out a word I have spelled incorrectly or debate whether or not the sentence makes sense.  I could have these conversations while writing on paper but the fact that the students know that this is going to be available for others to read seems to making the editing process more immediate.

If you are considering blogging with your own classroom, I highly recommend checking with your school division's technology department before making your class blog public, as many of them have very specific rules about sharing information online.  Mine states that students in photographs and videos cannot be identified by name to protect student's privacy, a guideline I strongly agree with.  Once you have some safety guidelines set and have had a conversation with your classroom, then you are ready to get blogging.