Thursday, March 26, 2009

That Was Easy!

In my last post, I wrote about the need to name student computers so that I'd know whose project was whose during a collaboration activity. Thanks to the intuitive nature of SMART Sync, the task was simple. Just a few clicks and I was done. On the student computers in student configuration wizard, I chose the setting to have students connect using their first name. On the teacher computer from the Sync toolbar under View and Thumbnail name/Description, I chose Student ID and viola, that's what was displayed under each thumbnail. That was easy!
Another thing that's easy is to fall in the trap of doing things the way they've always been done. Some wise person once said that the seven last words of a dying school will be, "We've never done it like that before." True. Encourage new ideas, new thinking, and new ways of reaching students through innovative lessons and projects. Do you think that will be easy?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sync and Write

After a week of spring break, we're back at work in our classroom. Happy, carefree days will soon return with summer break arriving in 8 more weeks.
However, with only 15 days remaining on the SMART Sync free trial, it was back to work for everyone with collaboration on the forefront. We began a Twitter collaboration with a third grade class in Connecticut our first day back from break. That project is shaping up to be a great way for students to write an interesting sentence in 140 characters or less as we communicate with new-found friends across the country. Our big emphasis the remainder of the year is to polish our writing skills so that we become master communicators. Adding colorful, interesting adjectives to sentences is a great way for third graders to add interest and meaning to their paragraphs. So with that in mind, our next Sync collaboration focused on writing. First a quick review of adjectives, and the students were off to their computers to complete the assignment, which I divided into part 1 and part 2. Groupings of two were chosen this time, with the computer randomly pairing students. For the teacher to assign partners requires a different log in with a student name on each computer and I haven't figured out that option yet. Maybe during afternoon conference there will be a window of opportunity. Back to the assignment details. Part 1 was to copy and paste the best adjective into the correct sentences. When that was complete, each individual "handed in" their document. The students were eager to chat again. Armed with a list of interesting adjectives for possible use, they were set to write collaboratively with their partner. Each group was to compose three interesting sentences containing two adjectives before one of the nouns. One group had so much trouble, but in reflecting upon why, it's because both are hesitant speakers, learners, and writers. This exercise was certainly a challenge for all the students as composing a sentence while considering the other person's ideas was a new experience. This time, the recorder knew what to do and had no trouble "handing in" the assignment. But they still forgot to put their name on their work! Perhaps I really do need to name their computers!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sync Thoughts and Observations

Three days ago I began using SMART Sync in my third grade multimedia classroom. Since that time, I've learned several things and became aware of even more opportunities.
The first afternoon of the completed install drove me to try a collaboration assignment. I love new techie things and don't mind experimenting with them. The student assignment that afternoon was to read a few pages in our Social Studies textbook and then answer six questions about the reading material. Specifically, they were to match a legendary American with his/her quote. I know this was quite a low-tech assignment, but on the spur of the minute, it fit with the goal - to try out SMART Sync. So, I quickly transferred their document into Word with instructions to cut and paste the correct name with the quote. Simple enough. First, the students completed the assignment at their computer and "handed it in" to me via Sync. Then part 2 was the same assignment but with 1 or 2 more in each group. We called it "Two Brains Are SMARTer Than One". I turned on the chat feature and students were able to collaborate with each other by typing messages to each other. You'd have thought I'd sprinkled candy on the keyboards! Such engagement! Such excitement! I set the timer for 15 minutes and said, "Have fun - get busy". They did and then "handed in" their paper. Groups were randomly chosen by my teacher computer this time. Next time, I'll pair up students more equitably. Some observations about this assignment: In two groups' excitement of chatting with each other, the recorder for each group forgot to cut and paste their answers on the document. I know they were really working because their chat showed they were discussing the answers with each other. They're hooked, too. They've already asked when they can chat again. The other observation is the smooth way their papers were handed in to me on my teacher computer. Navigating through My Documents to Submitted Files to the Collaboration folder to the day's assignment was smooth sailing. All of the group projects made it to the appropriate folder but one or two individual's documents didn't make the journey. I'll chalk this one up to student error. Next time I'll watch their clicking more closely.
For the next collaboration assignment, I'll choose something new. There is value in doing old things in new ways, but even more value is added when something new is done in a new way. Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

SMART Sync Trial

Trial period. Sounds like something good for potential married couples.
Today I'm installing a 30 day evaluation version of SMART Sync, classroom management and collaboration software, after experiencing it at TCEA last month. First, I uninstalled SMART SynchronEyes software from all my classroom computers. I must add I really liked using SynchronEyes to keep up with my students. Data shows it saves teacher time, and gets students on track faster and for longer periods of time. I won't disagree. Time will tell if I revert back to our district license of SynchronEyes after this 30 trial period
Next I watched the 11 min. video on TeacherTube. Now I'm about to begin the daunting task of installing the teacher and client programs on my classroom computers. Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From TAKS to Texas History

Not only is it TAKS time, Women's History Month, Black History Month, Dental Health Month, American Heart Month, Presidents' Day Celebrations, it's also Texas History Month in Texas. Yeeha!

March 2 (also Dr. Seuss's birthday and the annual Read Across America observance) is Texas Independence Day, the day all red-blooded Texans celebrate the kicking of Santa Anna's army and our declaration of freedom from Mexico. We were a whole 'nother country for 10 years before slavery brought us into the United States and the Civil War.

However, I digress. Schools are decked out in bluebonnets this month celebrating Texas History and the lupine flower that decorates much of our Texas countryside. In my childhood, my grandmother laid claim to the largest bluebonnet patch in the county. Now I lay claim to the largest patch of artificial bluebonnets in my school hallways. Each year I pop up a batch of unbuttered popcorn, toss in some blue tempera powder, and turn the kids loose with card stock, construction paper, real glue, and blue popcorn. Always a striking display, our bluebonnets earn comments from the parents and students who visit our hallowed hallways. If you're thinking of creating some, just a hint that it takes very little tempera powder to turn a whole bag of popcorn into bluebonnets. You can always tell when a student can't resist sampling a little popcorn. Their teeth tell the whole story.
Legend of the Bluebonnet
, a legend of sacrifice, bravery and the tale of how the bluebonnet came to be our Texas state flower, is our current week's study. Over the years, I've acquired a video retelling of the story, a video of the Texas symbols, several great Texas sites about symbols and legends, and a SMART Board. Tying this altogether in digital format was a labor of love. Not only can my students see the video, they can interact with the vocabulary, plot, story elements, and sequence AND they can do it all on a SMART Board. This year I reworked my Notebook lesson activity and wrote a student research project using Notebook. Today, after completing the third grade TAKS Test and enjoying a looooong recess, we begin our study. First, an introduction to Texas Symbols, the retelling of the Legend of the Bluebonnet, and tomorrow students will begin their projects. If you'd like to download my file, it's located on the SMART Exchange in the Texas download folder and titled Grades 2-3 Legend of the Bluebonnet.
Post a comment if you enjoyed the lesson activity or if you have additional suggestions.