5th-6th Grade Civil Rights Project: Technology-Based Activating Event

The learning expedition for the 5th and 6th grade this year is civil rights.  The teachers in the three classes started this expedition by having the students study literature and view media (Little Rock Nine) related to civil rights.  During these initial activating events, students identified vocabulary related to civil rights.  The teachers requested that their students create covers for their binders during their technology class.  They asked for Word Clouds of their vocabulary words and a related quote to be included within this cover.

Content Standards Addressed (Idaho)


  • Demonstrate increasingly sophisticated operation of technology components.
  • Locate information from electronic resources.
  • Use formatting capabilities of technology for communicating and illustrating.
  • Publish and present information using technology tools.

Language Arts:

  • Use words and concepts necessary for comprehending math, science, social studies, literature and other Grade 6 content area text.
  • Read grade-level-appropriate text.
  • Apply context to identify the meaning of unfamiliar words and identify the intended meaning of words with multiple meanings.


A Google Presentation was set up with sharing permission set for anyone to edit (plans to change to view only once their pages are complete). This permitted all the students in the class to work within the document without the need of an email to log in.  This would not only result in student binder covers, but also in an embeddable presentation of all student work for that class.   A template was developed that included a block for the Word Cloud image and text box for the quote.  The individual student names were included on the slides so the student could find and work on his or her individual slide.

Students came to their technology class with lists of their civil rights words.  Two types of Word Clouds were introduced to the students:  ABCya Word Cloud and Tagxedo.  I introduced Tagxedo during the first group but didn’t realize that Tagxedo needed Microsoft Silverlight to operate.  Due to the block on the system, any additional software needs to be downloaded by the network administrator.  ABCya Word Cloud became the back up tool.  But the third group (another day), got the opportunity to test out Tagxedo.  The students loved producing the word cloud into a shape of their choice.

To find a relevant quote, the students were directed to go to Thinkexist: more than 300,000 quotations by over 20,000 Authors. When students located their quotes, these were copy and pasted into their slide.

So with this few hour exercise, the students learned how to

  • engage in language arts content standards through a technology interface
  • convey their vocabulary words in a visual format
  • creatively play with words
  • download an image
  • insert an image
  • search for and locate a relevant quote
  • copy and paste the quote from a website into a Google doc
  • work collaboratively on an online document

Junior High Technology Project

The Junior High Technology project was developed using the following rationale:

  • Sometimes It is About the Technology: Many educators involved in educational technology believe “pedagogy before the technology.”  I agree, but sometimes it has to be about the technology.  Learners may not discover the full potential of a technology without direct instruction. There is a false belief that students, being digital natives, will intuitively learn all how the technology tools operate.   I have observed something quite different. If a student does not immediately understand the workings of a technology, he or she will quickly get frustrated and/or move to onto another. My role as a technology instructor is to know the tool and demonstrate to students how to use that tool . . . learning the tool separate from its connection to a curricular area.
  • Offering Choice of Technologies: I know that has been some questions about the existence of  learning styles, but I also know, through years of working with and observing students of all ages, that they have different needs and desires for expressing their knowledge and understanding of content and concepts. In most classes I teacher, I offer a choice menu of projects – see A Technology-Enhanced Celebration of Learning.
  • Tinkering is Important: At first I expected students to jump into their content-based project. I realized that the students needed to play with the tools to learn how they function. Now when I introduce a tool, I tell the students they can experiment with the tool, create projects on one of their hobbies and interests. Their content-related school project will come after they get the opportunity to explore and tinker with the various technologies being offered.
  • Supporting the Content Area: Educators embracing the potential of educational technology believe, as do I, that technology should be integrated into existing curriculum rather than being offered as a separate course. It is similar to teaching multicultural education and character development. These areas, like educational technology should be embedded into all curricular areas.  But, since I am a technology instructor (and like being so), I want to use technology to support the content being covered in the students’ classrooms.
  • Technology as Project-Based Learning: Along with supporting the content area, the technology project is designed to be just that – a project, one that will take several weeks to complete.
  • Addressing National Education Technology Standards: Built into the structure of the Junior High project is learning and practicing technology skills: developing innovative products and processes using technology; applying digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information; and practicing safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology.

Idaho Content Standards Addressed


Basic Operations and Concepts

  • Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of technology systems.
  • Students are proficient in the use of technology.

Social, Ethical, and Human Issues

  • Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
  • Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.

Technology Productivity Tools

  • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.

Technology Communications Tools

  • Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.

Technology Research Tools

  • Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
  • Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.

Humanities: Visual Arts

Goal 3.1: Demonstrate skills essential to the visual arts.

Objective(s): By the end of Grade 8, the student will be able to:

  • 6-8.VA.3.1.4 Produce art that demonstrates refined observation skills from life.
  • 6-8.VA.3.1.7 Locate and use appropriate resources in order to work independently, monitoring one’s own understanding and learning needs.

Goal 3.2: Communicate through the visual arts, applying artistic concepts, knowledge, and skills.

Objective(s): By the end of Grade 8, the student will be able to:

  • 6-8.VA.3.2.2 Demonstrate the ability to utilize personal interest, current events, media or techniques as sources for expanding artwork.

Goal 3.3: Communicate through the visual arts with creative expression.

Objective(s): By the end of Grade 8, the student will be able to:

  • 6-8.VA.3.3.2 Create a work of art that expresses personal experience, opinions, and/or beliefs.
  • 6-8.VA.3.3.3 Use the creative process (brainstorm, research, rough sketch, final product) to create a work of art.

The Junior High Technology Project

General Goal:

This is a semester long project.  The goal of this project is for students to use a technology creation tool to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of one of the following content areas:

  • Digital Citizenship (Technology)
  • Universal Human Rights (2009-10 learning expedition)
  • Africa (2010-11 learning expedition)

Progression of Learning Activities

For five consecutive technology classes, students will be introduced to different Web 2.0 project creation tools – one per class:

Students will be provided with an overview, during these introductory classes, of the expectations of their assignment.

  • At least 10 facts with references about their topic.
  • At lease five live links to additional resources.
  • At least 10 copyright available images.
  • A video embedded into the presentation
  • An audio segment embedded into the presentation.

Safe and responsible internet use will be demonstrated throughout these lessons:

  • Locating appropriate information sites.
  • Judging the validity and legitimacy of a website.
  • Conducting a Google Image search using strict filtering and user rights that permit use of the image.

Beginning with the sixth technology class, students will work on their technology projects.  They will provide the teacher with the topic and the technology tool they will use for their project.  As part of this contract, students will also specify possible extra credit projects.  The expectation is that students will work on their extra credit projects in the case that they finish their project by the end of the semester.

At the time that the students select their project topic and technology tool, they will be provided with a rubric of the assignment criteria.  At the end of each class, they will be asked to write a reflective statement at the bottom of the rubric specifying progress and challenges related to the project.

Criticizing, Pondering, and Actualizing: An Educator’s Guide

I posed the following philosophical question on Twitter yesterday:

Why do folks spend time criticizing what is rather than pondering-actualizing what could be?

Three themes emerged from the Twitter stream of responses:

  • Is Pondering Just for the Privileged?
  • Is it Critical vs. Criticism?
  • Is it action for change or pseudo-action to appease the masses?

Is Pondering Just for the Privileged?

Bill, via his tweets, believes that pondering that (1) is for the privileged and (2) it does not lead to sustaining change.  Pondering is defined as: to weigh in the mind; to think about, reflect on;  to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply. I disagreed with Bill in that pondering is for the privileged.  I believe that all change begins with pondering. A follow-up question, for me, then becomes, “Can we afford to not ponder what education should and can be?”

Our Junior High students area reading-studying William Kamkwamba’s Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.  He pondered how a windmill could change his village in Malawi.  More about him can be found at Real Life Education ala William Kamkwamba.

I also included in my original question a double proposition with the first part being pondering and the second one being actualizing (to realize in act and not merely potential).  These two parts equal a more unified whole in terms of possible sustainable results.  Pondering without actualizing leads to stagnation.  Actualizing without pondering leads to shabby and non-sustainable results.

Finally, Bill expressed his concern that his pondering does not lead to change outside of the classroom.  The resiliency research demonstrates that change can occur given a caring adult, often a teacher . . . but that the results may don’t show up for years.  I experienced such a story with Mark http://jackiegerstein.weebly.com/peak-experiences.html

Is it Critical vs. Criticism?

The next theme that came up was the need for critical analysis or criticism for change to occur.

As you can see by Candace’s and Melanie’s tweet, there is a belief that change is driven by criticism.  This prompted me to respond with a difference between viewing problems with a critical (involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit) versus with criticism (the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding).  Approaching problems without a critical and discerning eye often leads to haphazard and trial-error problem solving.  Approaching problems with criticism often leads to tunnel vision in terms of possible solutions.

Is it action for change or pseudo-action to appease the masses?

The final theme to emerge was related efforts to change.

Candice believes that lots of efforts have been made for educational change.  I agree that there have been efforts.  When I look at them, I think they are more of the same – standards and test driven reform.  I believe this to be pseudo-reform that is often politically driven.  These are efforts to maintain the status quo with only cosmetic change.  Historically, few efforts (e.g. John Dewey and Progressivism) have attempted reform from the ground up.  Given the reform efforts of the past few decades, I tend to side with Alvin Toffler’s position that “We don’t need to reform the system; we need to replace the system.”

It would be hypocritical of me if I just criticized the criticizers.  It might be easier to say and do nothing – especially on my emotions and psyche as swimming up the metaphorical stream takes energy, but in the long run, I would suffer from the incongruence. between my core beliefs and my real world practices.  I had a boss once who said that if we were to come to him with a problem, then we also need to bring along our solution.  I attempt to live education reform in my own local settings –practicing think globally act locally.

This I know to be the problem

  • Human learning cannot be measured through metrics.
  • Competencies are one thing.  Standards are another.  Student should have some basic competencies related both to the process and content of learning.  Specific age-grade level standards are counter-productive to learning.  Standards assume that all students of a given age are developmentally the same . . . cognitively, emotionally, physically, socially.
  • Given the previsous, one size does not fit all.
  • Public schools are not preparing students to successfully maneuver in the real world – now and in the future.
  • Kids are bored in school and similar to Pavlov classical learning theory, they are associating learning with pain.

What I Do “Locally” to promote educational reform

  • I am an educator in both teacher education and elementary settings.
  • I do not give any tests – none!
  • I have chosen positions (PE and gifted) and schools where I can develop the curriculum.
  • The students in my classes speak a lot more than me.
  • I voice my thoughts and ideas – in my work settings and now via Twitter, Facebook, and BLogs.

Finally, these are these are the questions I believe educators, as change agents, “should” be asking themselves:

  • Am I complaining or risking making a change?
  • Am I contributing more to the problem or more to the solution?
  • Am I a criticizer or an actualizer?
  • Do I ponder what could be? Do I give my students and colleagues the time and venue to ponder what could be?
  • What did I do today to actualize educational reform?

Integrating Technology This Week: Resources Discovered, Re-Discovered, or Created

One of my hobbies and frankly, passions, is finding free, exciting, and engaging resources to enhance the curriculum at my K-8 school.  Here are my finds for this week:

Language Arts

Got Brainy – Got Brainy features user-generated visual-based vocabulary definitions.   These include Brainypics (photo/image definitions) and Brainyflix (video definitions).  Students can create and submit their own Brainpics/Brainflix for their own vocabulary words.  If there is enough school-wide interest in this project, we can create our own site of student visual definitions.

International Children’s Digital Library has a digital library of outstanding children’s books from around the world.  The search engine for these online books include categories based on age level, genre, types of characters (kids, imaginary, animals), length, and picture-chapter books.

Tools for Educators offers free word search generators, word search makers, worksheets and programs for preschool, kindergarten teachers, elementary school teachers and language teachers to make word search puzzles to print, games for lessons, lesson plans and K-6 printable materials for classes.

Zooburst is a digital storytelling tool that lets anyone easily create his or her own 3D pop-up books.  I tried it and what I liked is that I can upload my own images into the 3D book.  I think the students are going to love it.


PBS Kids: Sid the Science Guy is a science web site appropriate for our K-2 students.  It includes three discovery zones: the Super Fab Lab at Sid’s school, the playground and Sid’s family kitchen.

National Geographic Creature Features allows kids to search through photographs and videos of all kinds of animals. The photographs are stunning.  This was used with 1st and 2nd graders this past week, all easily staying occupied for their 45 minute technology course.

Golems is a 3D recreational physics simulator.  Some of the older students, Junior High, have expressed an interest in 3D rendering.  I plan to offer this as a choice project later in the year as the Junior High students will be asked to identify technology projects they would like to produce.

Production Tools

Google Apps in the Classroom is a Google site I created that contains an aggregate of Google Presentations on Google Docs, Calendars, Sites, and Maps/Earth.  We have Google Apps for Education for our school.  These resources will, hopefully, get more teachers to utilize these resources.

Stupeflix Studio is a video creator similar to Animoto.  Pictures, video, titles, and music are mixed together to create a video.  They are planning a version for educators.  Animoto has become a very popular tool for the teachers and students at our school.  It will be nice to offer them another option for video mash-ups.

Technology Integration for the Students: The First Month

Technology integration continues at the K-8 Charter School.  To refresh your memory, I took a position as a part-time technology instructor at this school starting in September.  The previous technology instructors were volunteer parents whose primary focus was on keyboarding skills and using the Microsoft suite.  Part of my self-imposed role is assisting teachers in integrating technology into their learning activities and supporting classroom learning during the students’ technology time.  A subgoal is to demonstrate how technology integration can be achieved with computers and internet connection and no other costs.

Here is the summary, an overview of technology integration for the different age groups that occurred during September.

Junior High – 7th and 8th Graders

PBWorks for African Learning Expedition

The learning expedition for the Junior High this year is studying Africa, past to present. Students have been assigned a specific African country to research, to become an “expert” about that country.  A PBWorks was set up for students to post their research.  At this point, the students are posting general facts they are finding about their countries.  These facts will be used to create Glogs, Animoto videos, and Dipity Timelines.

Glogs About Their Countries

This past week during their technology class, the students were introduced to Glogster.  They spent most of their time learning how it works.  A few began creating their Glogs about their African countries.

Part of their instruction included how to use Google Image advanced search to find images for their Glogs using strict filtering and usage rights “labeled as reuse with modification”.

Shelfari for Book Discussions

The Junior High language arts teachers asked all of the students to set up Shelfari accounts.  This was initiated by one of the teachers after she saw me demonstrate it during my interview last Spring.  What follows is part of the permission letter she sent home to parents for permission or students to sign up for Shelfari:

As students discover wonderful books, they will share their reviews and recommendations with each other.  Over the summer a few Anser students piloted an online site for discussing books.  Students found Shelfari.com to be a fun and interactive way to share their excitement about books.  On Shelfari, students can create a virtual bookshelf, rate the books they have read, write and read book reviews, discuss books with readers from around the planet, create a reading wish list, and much, much more.  Our class will also have a private group where we can safely discuss books we are reading together.  Only group members can see our discussions and reply to our questions.

Participating students will have a profile (bookshelf and friend list) on the Shelfari.com site.  In order to create a Shelfari account, students need parental permission.  Shelfari registration requires an email account; however, for the safety of the student, I recommend that you use a parent email to register.

A Group Shelf of books was established for the class.

They are asked to participate in monthly discussions on Shelfari where they post their own questions and respond to questions posted by other students:

Middle and Upper Childhood – 3rd, 4th, 5th, & 6th Graders

Where I’m From PicLits

One of the beginning of the year projects for the 5th and 6th graders was composing lengthy poems. Where I’m From.  The teachers asked how technology could assist with the expression of these poems in an artistic and visual format.  PicLits was the tool I believed could best support this project.

The students’ PicLits were all posted on a single page: http://anserupperchildhood.pbworks.com/Where-I-Am-From-PicLits

Word Clouds for the River Expedition

I showed the teachers Wordle at the beginning of the year and it immediately sparked the interest of the teachers for the students in these grades.  They have requested the creation of word clouds during technology time to support classroom activities.  I started with Wordle but wanted a tool that can easily  saved as images to the desktop.  Wordle does not have this characteristic.  After exploring other options, I decided to use ABCya Word Cloud. The Upper Childhood students practiced using it by inserting autobiographical words.  The Middle Childhood students created word clouds based on their river expedition.  They included words that they associate with rivers.  They will create another similar one after they finish their river study.  The two word clouds will serve as a pre-post assessment of terminology gained from their river learning expedition.

Thinkquest for Networking and Posting Work

I learn about many of the technology tools I use through Twitter and blogs.  Thinkquest was demonstrated to me a few years ago at ISTE’s National Education Computing Conference.  I love this site and so do my students.  I used it when I was a gifted teacher a few years ago.  The students at my “new” school are having the same excited reaction.

I don’t understand why I never hear it mentioned in any of my social networks.  It is a safe place where students can create an online identify, communicate with other students from their own school and from schools from around the world, post questions and polls, and participate in online projects (way too many benefits to describe in this blog entry).

Internet Safety with Professor Garfiled

Along with the production tools the students are learning, they have been studying Internet Safety with Professor Garfield. We watch the video together and then the students work through the Try and Apply components at their own computers.

Kindergarten and Early Childhood – 1st & 2nd Graders

Given the variance in the literacy levels of this age group, especially the 1st and 2nd grade group, the challenge has become how to differentiate to meet the needs of all children in the class.  I believe that technology provides a great venue for differentiation and it has proved to be the case for this age group.

ABCya Educational Games

ABCya provides educational games for grades Kindergarten through Fifth with an assortment of games for each grade.  From their website:

ABCya! is the leader in free educational kids computer games and activities for elementary students to learn educational computer games and activities were created or approved by certified teachers. ABCya! educational games are free and are modeled from primary grade lessons and enhanced to provide an interactive way for children to learn. ABCya! games and activities incorporate content areas such as math and reading while introducing basic computer skills. Many of the kindergarten and first grade games are equipped with sound to enhance understanding. on the web.

This site provides options for self-differentiation as students pick their games based on their grade level and interests.

Literacy Development

For the first half of the Early Childhood classes, I focus on literacy development.  Kidblogs were established for those students who have basic writing skills. The kids, at first, weren’t that thrilled about writing the blogs.  But once they realized they could comment on each other’s blogs, their excitement rose dramatically.  One student asked if it was like Facebook for kids.  Even at age 7, they understand and are attracted to social networking.

While the students are writing their blogs, the other students, emerging readers and writers, listen to and interact with online books such as Pinky Dinky Do.

Online Drawing Tools

The kids love to draw and paint with online tools.  Along with the ABCya games, students have been given the opportunity to draw during the second half of their technology classes.  Tux Paint was downloaded on all of the computers in the technology lab. (Note: even the Junior High students like it!).

Up Next – Technology Integration by the Teachers: The First Month

Comic and Animation Technologies in the Classroom

I have several lists of online project-product creators for my K-8 technology students.  I cover a new tool every week or so.  But being kids, they like to explore the other tools from these lists.  The ones that overwhelmingly get noticed and the ones the students get most excited about are the comics and animation creators.  There were several tweets over the weekend that inspired me add to my knowledge, tools, and personal excitement for using comics and animations in the classrooms.  I have aggregated and compiled the following resources for my students.

Here is what covered S. Hendy in her slideshow plus some additions of my own:

Online Comic Creators


The following amazing animation, shared via Twitter, was completely made using the open source 3D software, Blender:

contains minor violence but the story is excellent (and sad)

Animation Creation Tools

Using Comics and Animation in the Classroom

My ultimate goal for using technology in education is having students love learning and creating.  The tools are the means to do so.  As such, they can be connected to a number of content-based assignments: