A Bit About Me

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Google Earth: World Mountain tours

One of my favorite subjects to teach is geography. This is most likely due to the fact that I've lived in over a dozen cities throughout my entire life (military family). Also, in my other life as a marketing pro, I seized every single opportunity that I could to travel for work in cities all over the country. In my many travels, I've chronicled a great number of pictures and experiences that won't soon fade. And, though I haven't yet used the passport that I got nearly 10 years ago (which expires in July 2013), I still feel comfortable in knowing that my life is all the more better and diversified from the many traveling expeditions that I've had.

Teaching-wise, I've taught in inner-city schools in Philadelphia where students knew virtually nothing of the world that existed outside of their immediate community. I then taught at a suburban school just outside of Charlotte, where the students were taking family vacations to Spain and the Bahamas. At this particular school, Disney World was more than an idea, it was the location where a lot of the students would spend their Winter Break every year. Now, I'm teaching in Washington, DC, in an inner-city, all-girls school. Every day, I'm humbled by the opportunity to show the girls more than they could have ever thought existed. I'm even more grateful to show them the world right from their seats, through the use of Google Earth.

World Mountains
Part of the Core Knowledge content for 4th Grade has been to learn about World Mountains. Teaching small groups of 9-12 fourth grade students at a time, has been great for this particular lesson. The beauty of learning about the World Mountains is that they are located ALL over the WORLD!

To teach this lesson, we first reviewed the cardinal directions (North, East, South and West). We even learned the saying "Never Eat Soggy Waffles" to help the students remember the acronym. Next, I showed the students how to use Google Earth in the most basic way (spinning the Earth, zooming in, zooming out, searching for locations).

Once the students had a few minutes to practice using the basic functions of Google Earth, I provided them with a list of the World Mountains. We practiced saying the mountain names as a class in order to build fluency.

The World Mountain list included:
1.   Andes
2.   Rockies
3.   Appalachians
4.   Himalayas
5.   Urals
6.   Atlas
7.   Alps
8.   Everest
9.   McKinley
10. Aconcagua
11. Mont Blanc
12. Kilimanjaro

Now, there's one thing that I neglected to check prior to the lesson. Google Earth doesn't seem to have a search function control option. Thus, when you're searching for places like the Rocky Mountains, it's very likely that Rocky Mount, NC will appear, which has nothing to do with mountains at all, trust me, I've been through there several times.

Another thing that I neglected to do in the lesson was to tell the students where the mountains were located. This was a purposeful omission as I've learned that students learn more when you give them less.

If you want to do this activity in your class, I suggest that you label the mountains in the following ways for an optimal class success rate:

1.   Andes Mountains
2.   Rocky Mountains
3.   Appalachian Mountains
4.   Himalaya Mountains
5.   Ural Mountains
6.   Atlas Mountains
7.   Alps
8.   Mount Everest
9.   Mountain McKinley
10. Aconcagua
11. Mont Blanc
12. Kilimanjaro

In the area where the students search for the mountain, the location (country and city) of the mountain appear beneath the search menu, so if you really wanted to, you could quiz them on the locations of each mountain. In my particular lesson, I had the students find and add placemarks to each mountain. We would then use those placemarks to create a video tour of some of the world mountains...but I'll describe that a little later on.

To make a placemark, you have to click on the yellow thumbtack at the top of the Google Earth toolbar. There are two qualms that I have about this process. One is that students are smart and investigative. They want to know what the different buttons do, so they end up spending more time looking through and choosing an alternative placemark than they do searching for the mountains in general. Time-permitting, I would suggest allowing them to express their creativity in this area. However, if they can't make a choice within 15 seconds, then prod them to move on.

The second issue that I have is that when students click on the placemark icon on their netbooks, the placemark screen doesn't fit on the screen, so it has to be moved in order for the students to click "Okay". Google Earth does a great job with notifying netbook users of the diminished size of Google Earth when they launch the program, it's just one of those situations where you have to incorporate the teaching of an additional skill into the lesson. But, that's what facilitating learning is all about, right?

The main thing that I love about making placemarks on Google Earth is the fact that once you've made the placemark, it is automatically saved in your "places". No additional steps need to be taken, and so long as you use that same computer the next time you're on Google Earth, all of your previously saved placemarks will still be there.

Since Google Earth was so new to my students, I opted to break the lesson into two separate sessions. In the first class period, students added their placemarks and were allowed to explore the pictures. During the second class period, the students used their previously made placemarks to create a tour of at least 4 of the World Mountains.

When using Google Earth, I've found that less is more. Under the "Layers" option, I had students select only three options. When too many options are selected, Google Earth tends to look like a convoluted congestion of colors and icons galore. Far too many distractions for the focused student.

3 Layers to Select:
1.   Borders and Labels
2.   Photos
3.   3D Buildings

Making the Tour

Once the placemarks are labeled, the tour can be made. To do this, you have to click on the video camera icon at the top of the Google Earth toolbar. Pay attention to the bottom of the screen when you do this, as you'll see a small, rectangular box appear. The red dot enables you to record and to stop the recording. The blue microphone enables you to speak; it's great for narrating a tour.

After clicking on the red, record button, the time may not change initially. And, when the time does change, it often goes up in 3 to 8 second intervals. Once the time starts changing, you can feel safe in knowing that your tour is being recorded. To "fly" to one of the placemarked mountains, you've got to double-click on the placemark. Single-clicking will merely select the placemark, it won't enable you to fly anywhere.

When you fly to a mountain, you can click on a blue and brown picture icon to see a real picture of the area. If you click on a picture while recording your tour, then the picture will actually appear in the tour. This is a pretty cool feature, because if I'm not mistaken, back when I tried to record a clicked on picture in one of my grad school classes, it didn't work.

To move from one location to another, you just double-click on the different placemarks.

When you're all done flying, click on the white button with the red background in order to stop the recording. Doing this will prompt an automatic playback of your tour, so don't be alarmed. I encourage all of my students to watch their tour before saving to ensure that they have actually fulfilled the requirements of the lesson.

Once the tour playback concludes, you can click on the disk icon () to name and save the tour. With this particular lesson, I had the students save the tour as their name - teacher's name - World Mountains.

E.g.  Tara - Jones - World Mountains

This has made it easy for me to go back and align the right student with the right class, in order to give them the grade that they've earned.

In the future, I plan on using Google Earth with some of the younger grades to help support the worldly views that they are gaining from their classroom content.

I hope that this post has helped any of you who may be looking for ways to incorporate the awesome (and free) Google Earth software into your lessons.

More to come...Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sharing the iPad - 4 iPads, 20+ students, 30 minutes of class time, and an assessment

Getting used to teaching 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds has by far been one of the most daunting tasks that I've been charged with. I would honestly have to say that it has been even more daunting than: teaching technology without the actual use of technology, teaching 30 kindergarteners, and last but not least, teaching 5 and 6-year-olds how to differentiate between clicks and right-clicks without much knowledge on the difference between right and left.

For the first few weeks of school, I focused on teaching the preschool and pre-k classes how to properly handle the iPads. For this activity we used small books to model the proper ways in which to pass the iPads. The three rules that we focused on were as follows:

1. Always pass the iPad with two hands.
2. Only use clean hands on the iPad.
3. When tapping the iPad, tap gently.

These rules were purposefully set up and discussed. Even now, the rules are still being reinforced at the beginning of each technology class.

Always pass the iPad with two hands.
This is an important rule because the last thing that any of us wants to see is a 3-year-old dropping an iPad because they did not know how to properly handle it. To illustrate this rule for the students, I would pick the iPad up with one hand a hold it in the palm of one hand. Being incredibly over dramatic, I would act like I dropped the iPad and ask, "Uh oh, what might happen if I drop the iPad?". The students yelled out, "IT MIGHT BREAK". While the students crack up when I handle the iPad in a funny way, they clearly get the message of holding the iPad with two hands so as to not break it.

In teaching preschool and pre-k for the last couple of months, I've learned that it is incredibly important to reinforce the most important principles of any given lesson, as they have so much to remember over the span of an 8-hour school day.

Another funny thing that I've noticed, particularly in one of the pre-k classes, is that students have a hard time sharing, no matter what the object of the sharing happens to be. This is why it is important to create "small" groups of no more than 4 students, for optimal sharing success. Last week, in one of my pre-k classes, the teachers had decided to implement a new sharing strategy for the students. They taught them to silently hold out their hands (as though they were in church), to show that they were "ready to receive" the iPad. Seeing this for the first time, I cracked up a little bit inside, for I don't think that it was the intention of the practice, but it looked the students were at a church ceremony. This "ready to receive" technique worked out pretty well, in terms of improving the students' ability to share, however, I do recall one group where the holder of the iPad behaved as though she was greater than though, staring down her group members before slowly deciding who would receive the iPad next.

*When it comes to sharing in small groups, it is important to have all group members facing one another, as it becomes rather challenging to pass the iPad to someone who is behind you, when you can't even see them.

Only use clean hands with the iPad.
This was one of the more humorous rules that I taught in the first couple of weeks of the school year. I first started by asking the students, "What would happen if you touch the chair with dirty hands?". The students responded, "The chair would get dirty". Then, we were able to correlate the same knowledge to touching an iPad with dirty hands. The funniest part of this portion of the lesson was when I asked the students the following questions:

"Would you ever give your iPad a sandwich?"
"Would you ever give your iPad a sip of milk?"
"Would you ever push your iPad in a swing?"

The students were all but rolling on the floor from the ridiculousness of the questions. They loved answering "NO" to everything. Despite the humor, these actually are important questions to ask, because while a 3 or 4-year-old is not a baby, they are still young people who are working with a brand new "toy".

When tapping the iPad, tap gently.
This is a worthy rule for a couple of different reasons.

If someone were to tap an iPad forcefully, it could very likely slip from their grasp altogether.

By introducing the word "tapping", you're actually building the students' vocabularies, which is almost never a bad thing.

Since I'm charged with assessing all students on four different criteria each term, I've recently found that creating one more group than there are iPads seems to go a long way. Say, for example, you have 6 groups of four students. Simply distribute an iPad to 5 of the groups, while you use your own teacher iPad (or the remaining iPad) to assess that leftover group. This works for two reasons. One, while you're assessing the students in that one group, all of the other groups are working on the current task. When you finish assessing that group, you simply take an iPad from the next group to give to the group that you've just assessed. Then, you assess the new group that is without an iPad. Thus far, this method has worked so well, that I'm actually able to assess the vast majority of the class within that one class period, which is a lot more than I can say for my experiences in September.

My Typical iPad Lessons (30 minutes)
2 min. =   Introduce lesson; Find out what the students already know
3 min. =   Expand on the students' knowledge; Introduce new vocabulary
3 min. =   Demonstrate iPad app.
2 min. =   Wiggle Break
2 min. =   Review process for using iPad app.; Ask and Answer any necessary questions
2 min. =   Discuss iPad handling rules
4 min. =   Create small groups; Distribute iPads
10 min. = Students work on iPads; Teacher monitors groups; Teacher assesses groups
2 min. =   Review lesson

In the near future, I plan to post some YouTube videos on what a lot of these apps. look like. I've found that some of the apps. can be rather confusing, thus going through a trial and error situation prior to the start of any given lesson is essential. Why not make it a little bit easier by recording these trials so that others are able to make informed decisions about the Education apps that they download? Find me on YouTube @TechTeacherT (soon), where I'll post how-to videos on the iPad apps. that I've had success with, as well as the ones that have been utter failures.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Week 2 - "Internet Safety"

After a semi-successful first week of reviewing the Acceptable Use Policy, it was now time to move onto the increasingly important topic of Internet Safety. In catching the news, reading newspapers, and admittedly watching a few too many Lifetime movies, I can honestly say that my Internet Safety lessons for 2nd thru 4th grade were pretty enthralling.

All of the lessons started in the same fashion...discussing the topic of privacy, and bringing attention to the difference between private and public information on the Internet. To complete this lesson, I used Common Sense Media, which provided a great source for the essential message of the lesson. However, one thing that I've learned as an inner-city school teacher, is that it's important to hone in on the message of the lesson in a way that truly hits home.

For the first part of the lesson, we discussed things and places in our lives where we expected privacy. One that was surprisingly rarely brought up was the idea of privacy in a bathroom or a bathroom stall. The main places and things that were shared included: bedrooms, cabinet crawl spaces in the kitchen, closets, diaries and notebooks. Next, I introduced an overexaggerated scenario, requiring the girls (I work at an all-girls school) to envision themselves having a crush on a boy, writing about him in their diary and then losing the diary in a public place. All of the girls, were definitely involved in this aspect of the lesson. They were like, "OMG, Ted is going to find out about the crush!!!". It was entertaining. I completed this part of the lesson by reminding the girls that posting personal information on the Internet is like going to a busy train station, and saying, "My name is Jane Doe. I live at 123 S. Main St. My parents get home at 5 p.m., I get out of school at 3 p.m......". I concluded this phase of the lesson by stating that, "One should not post information online that they wouldn't share with complete strangers at a busy train station". Needless to say, they got the point.

The next phase of the lesson involved reading an information sheet that listed and explained the different types of private information. Following this was a discussion on why the items are considered private.

The last part of my lesson was the biggest crowd-pleaser of all. For those of you who may not know, or are not from Atlanta, let me start by giving you a brief rundown of the show "Tyler Perry's House of Payne"(TPHoP). For those of you who are familiar with the show, feel free to skip this paragraph. TPHoP is all about a blended family, living under the same roof. The men in the family are firefighters. There is a young grandmother, sometimes there's a mother, and practically every episode features one of the two kids. The girl, Jazmin, is the youngest. The boy, Malik, is the oldest, ranging from age 10 to 16 or so, depending upon the episode. The show brings to life a lot of true obstacles that are faced within families, particularly blended families.

In Season 2, Episode 20 of TPHoP, titled "And Justice for All", Malik and his friend are at home, chatting online with a "girl" that they think is so cute. Malik's dad leaves the house. His friend leaves, and then comes right back over. The boys decide to invite the "girl" Stephanie over. Shortly thereafter, Stephanie obliges the boys' request. Malik and his friend agree that Stephanie is so hot. They don't even think twice about inviting her over. Stephanie comes over to Malik's house. Not a single adult is home. The two boys are alone. Malik's friend hides. When Malik opens the front door he suddenly realizes that Stephanie is not a girl at all...he is a man. Malik's friend runs to the firehouse to get the uncle and the dad, who both arrive within moments to save the day.

The introduction of this episode was one of dual purposes.
A. It shows an example of what could happen when personal information is shared online.
B. It shows how some TV shows and episodes reflect what happens in the real world.

To close the lesson we talked about how you could safely talk to people online without giving them your real name. When asked, "What would you do if someone online asked you for your name?", one student responded by simply saying "shoe". I said, "Come again". She said, "I would say that my name is shoe, because that way if they search for me online, all they're going to get is a picture of a shoe".

Some comments are simply priceless :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Week 1 - "Acceptable Use Policy"

A New Season, A New City, A New School

Last school year, I worked in Charlotte as a Technology Teacher with no SmartBoard. This year, I'm working in DC as a Technology Teacher with no classroom. Oh, the many challenges we all face in this new age of transitions in teaching.

For the first three weeks of the school year, I taught my Technology classes at this preschool thru 4th Grade school without using a single piece of technology, aside from the occasional use of my work laptop. How does one do this you might ask? I wish I could tell you it was easy, but I'll keep it real. You must first think of and conduct extensive research on all the things that schoolchildren should know about technology capabilities and responsibilities, then you must turn on the creative side of your brain and get to work.

The first week of teaching was relatively dry, as it was dedicated to understanding the newly created Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). With 30-40 minutes per class period this started off as a relative snore-fest, similar to what an average teenager might experience in a college lecture course on the History of Technology without the use or introduction of any actual technological devices. By the end of that first week however, I had begun to use real-world scenarios in my descriptions of the penalties and dangers that come with breaking the rules. Asking 6-year-olds the question of, "What might happen if you post your address on the Internet, where 10,000,000,000 users live?" extracts a lot of detailed responses that definitely get the ball rolling. Also, writing the number 10,000,000,000 on the board, an increment at a time helps the students to see and understand just how large the quantity of Internet users is.

When writing the number 10 billion, do it like this, and have the class read each number as you add the zeroes:


In distributing the AUP at the end of each class period, I required second, third and fourth graders to provide their own signature in addition to a parent's signature. This was primarily because they were at an age in which the expectations for compliance are much higher than they are for the kindergarten and first graders. In addition, just from taking a visual poll from each class when I read the words "Twitter", "Facebook" and "Myspace", only the second thru fourth grade students had the faintest idea as to what I was talking about. Several third and fourth grade students actually admitted to having Facebook pages and Twitter profiles. *Scary*

Below is the final AUP that was developed for the school. After conducting a great deal of online research and gaining a better understanding of my school's culture, I came to the conclusion that the best way to frame the document was in a positive light so as to ensure that the students would not look at the document as a mere list of rules. When developing an AUP for a school, it's important to use positive words, particularly when the document is created for an elementary school, as a great quantity of the students are still learning to differentiate between positive and negative, good and bad, right and wrong.

Acceptable Use Policy SY 2012-2013

The other challenge with that first week of school involved teaching classes of 3 and 4-year-olds how to properly handle iPads that were not physically available. This part of my week, tended to be the funnest in terms of student engagement. When teaching preschool and pre-k students about the importance of properly handling iPads its important to use comedy. I'd often ask questions like, "Are you going to feed the iPad a sandwich?", "Are you going to push the iPad down the slide?", "Are you going to give the iPad a drink of your juice?". These "silly" questions were a riot, and I quickly realized that the students loved questions where they could answer a loud, "NO", followed by a bout of laughter.

In approaching the topic of handling the iPads, we began with and continue to stress the importance of handling the iPad with two hands so that they don't fall and break. With the absence of physical iPads at this stage, we used one of the classroom books to practice passing the "iPads". Each preschool and pre-k class sat in a large circle on the carpet. Between 20+ students, we sent only one book around so that everyone could watch and model the way in which the iPad should be handled and passed. This required some patience on the part of the students, and a total of two wiggle breaks, but in the end I can honestly say that the students got the point. I can even attest to the fact that we haven't broken or dropped a single iPad to this day.