Oh Where, Oh Where, Can my Program be?

When we start looking for new programs for the students and us to use, I have run across programs that are fun and exciting, but not very useful in the classroom. They are great games for the students to practice and use outside what we are learning, but do not make my job easier or let the students use the computers for actual learning. So that has been our goal, find programs that we can use instead of paper-pencil, or can take the place of another activity instead of adding something else to our day.

I love our Readabout Program by Scholastic. It has helped the students read Non Fiction better and in turn that helps their Fiction reading become better. We have always done some sustained-silent-reading time for the students. Readabout fits right into a day or two of that program. We do not have to take other time during the day to use that program.

The Wiki has taken part of our reflection writing and 5-minute writing practice and put it together in a medium that the students can not wait to write on.  Information and homework has been more available to them and we have less problems with homework and assignments not being completed.

So our job here is to find programs that work with us, with what we are already doing, that will excite and engage students in learning. That is what it s all about. The students and them learning... and us being able to play. But mostly the learning thing.


Can't We All Just Get Along?

Who will win?... Mac vs. PC in schools. I have taken the side of the Mac since I started using computers. I loved the Macintosh when it came out and I loved how easy it is to find things, get things done, and I don't have to search for much. It is all there and it works. I used the PC during college and found it discouraging at times. It got better with each OS output and I had my first PC with XP. It worked. It had one program I could not use on a Mac and it was a wonderful program, Publisher. I still use it to this day. My Macbook Pro has OS 10.6 on one side and, with Bookcamp, Vista on the other. They both work. I choose to use the Mac side, but I use both, depending on the need. One is not better than the other, we are just comfortable with what we use.

So what does this have to do with anything? Does the platform mean much in this web-based-program-world? I think not. Kids are not going to notice much of a difference. The programs work the same on a PC as they do a Mac. The word processors are similar and, depending on what is being used, look similar and do the same basic thing. In my classroom we use Open Office for the students and I use Microsoft Word, Apple's Pages, and Open Office. They all do the same thing and the students will figure out what they do and what they need.

This is where we get a bit off subject. Will the platform keep the students from learning? No. Most of the programs I am using in my classroom are web-based and will work no matter what platform it is used on. Students will make the change. They are amazing in the fact that they can assimilate better than we think and much better than we can. Do we have to know the computer inside and out? No. The students can help us. They can teach us. We as teachers need to know the basics of safety and we need to set guidelines.

So does it matter what we use? No. The fight will still go on, but it will only matter to those on each side of the fence, not to the students. They will sit by and wonder, "Why all the fighting? Let's get to creating and learning."


What's on your Mind, Map?

I have decided to start looking for more software that the students cna use on their computers. Software that will help them, will save them, and me, time, and will not be something new to work on, but will take the place of something they are writing already. I used to think that we need to be a "paperless classroom". We would use the computer for everything... but I now see the error in my thinking. We need the students to write.

Students need to learn to communicate with others without a computer. They need to have good, readable, handwriting. Students need to write. The bonus with the computer is that with the amount of technology in the world, they will need to practice using a computer for their information gathering, producing, and presenting. They already know how to use technology, but students need to learning and practice communicating with technology and maneuvrering around the amount of information that is out there. We, as teachers, need to show students what is out there that can help them and how to find what they need. They can assimulate to whatever technology is out there. They have used cellphones, MP3 players, calculators, computers, and other tech toys and have come to play. They have come to be challenged and we are here to give them a challenge.

So back to the software. I found a website called Mind42.com from the Inernational Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology in Singapore, March 2010. It is a Mind Mapping Software to put together a web of ideas. It can be used for mapping anything and everything. It was a great tool to use. It was also beautiful. The only problem is that the user needs to have an email address. I have a problem with that being that I teach Elelmentary School. For security reasons I will not have students use an email address to sign up for a program. So, I started looking and came up with two other downloadable programs. They work in Java, so they will work on all computers. FreeMind is a great alternative. It can be found at FreeMind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page FreeMind is the Mind Map I will go with because of the amount of things the students can put on this Mind Map. The other is a program called VUE from Tufts University. It can be found at Vue.tufts.edu and is great, but a litle harder to use than Free Mind. We will be using this is our writing and Spelling. I am pretty excited to get started with this little program. The students can print out the maps or save them as a pdf file. Sweet.


The Three E's in Education

The three E's is a blog post from David Warlick on his CoLearners blog. I found it very interesting and enlightening that he would want to change the three R's to the three E's. He wants to change the three R's to Exposing information (Going beyond what is there, evaluating the information, organizing it, and decoding it), Employing information (adding value to the information that is there), Expressing ideas compellingly (producing a message that will attract and audience and communicate an idea). I am not sure that exposing is the right word to use, I would have used Evaluating instead. In elementary school we evaluate information to find out what it does for us and how we can use it in math, reading, and writing.

I see the students not relating to the basic of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic in this world of technology and innovation. They are seeing innovations monthly and using most of them within a short period after they are presented. Students need to learn to Evaluate information, Employ that information, and Express that information to others in many different ways. How are we as teachers doing this? What can we do to not just teach information, but teach how to get it, evaluate it, and use it? This will be our challenge over the next generation.


Care to Discuss it?

One of the great things I like about using a wiki is the discussion page. Having the students complete an assignment on the discussion page is a wonderful way to get the students writing and enjoying the method of writing. When completing a topic in social studies and science, having the students do a short summary about what they learned helps the students review information in the lesson. They have to recall and put into words the information they learned. It also gives them a place to review the information before a test. The discussion also gives the students the opportunity to read other student's information to help recall other information in the lesson. Students also reply to other students' writings to ask questions, give support, and comment on something they liked. It gives the students an opportunity to learn how to use writing to communicate with others. We have moved into an age where we are communicating by text a lot: texting, Facebook, email, blogs, and messaging. Students need to learn etiquette online when writing. The discussion page in one way to learn how to communicate with others online.