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Sep 30, 2011

Microsoft add-ins

I found two add-ins for Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010: one very practical and one novel and kinda fun.  Check them both out and see how they can help:

1. Academic Lists Templates: It seems a bit bland at first but how long have you sat at the computer trying to create an assignment sheet, a simple, professional looking contact list for back to school night or figure out a way to help students get organized with a homework organizer.  With this list of templates, instead of struggling with Microsoft Office and wasting time creating these yourself, work more efficiently and search these templates...and now I sound like an infomercial.

There are 32 templates in all, some designed for Word and some for Excel. Take a look and see if any could help make you a more efficient teacher.    

2. Microsoft Mouse Mischief: If you are running Office 2007 or Office 2010 check out this cool add-in Microsoft has developed.  By downloading it for PowerPoint you can create a presentation that allows students to interact with the presentation as you run through it.  This is a great add-in if you are a teacher that usually uses PowerPoint presentations to supplement lectures.  There are a plethora of sample lessons to inspire or, just download and use and, the video tutorials are fantastic.

This little program would be a great way to create test prep lessons that aren't excruciatingly boring for the teacher and students. It could be used with pre-readers as a way to learn colors, numbers or letters. Almost any topic that forces students to recall facts can be practiced, in a whole class setting. As well, in a lecture setting, check-in questions could be throughout the presentation to make sure that the class is following along with the teacher.  If the majority of the students aren't correct, it may mean you need to take some more time with that section of the content.  

There is a but coming: The add-in is a free download but there are technology costs involved.  USB hubs are needed along with a class set of wireless mouses.  There are many, many grants out there that allow for this type of expenditure or, it may just be in your department's or school's budget.  Check out the add-in, see if it would be useful for your classroom and/or school and then figure out how to pay for the hardware.

Happy clicking!

Sep 28, 2011

Ancient Egypt

Each year in elementary school students delve deeply into a specific theme as a way to teach research skills, problem solving, critical thinking and long term planning. In almost all cases it is the first major project for students.

Ancient Egypt is one of the more popular themes and there are many resources available. The British Museum has a great online exhibit broken up into 10 different sections.  Each section is made up of three areas: story, explore and challenge.  The story area (a-day-in-the-life) includes images and a glossary.  The explore section uses primary documents from the museum to help teach details about Egyptian life and the challenge area is an interactive activity that range from board games to "ask an expert".

A well developed exhibit and teaching tool, teachers could use the story area in any section to introduce Ancient Egypt in a whole class setting.  The explore and challenge areas could also be used in a whole class setting or, for older elementary students, these areas could be used as the jumping off point for a research project.

Sep 26, 2011

YouTube Annotations

This is for all you teachers who proudly wave the tech-geek flag.  The annotations tool built into YouTube is a novel, interesting and powerful tool that will allow you to add hotspots, hyperlinks and text bubbles to your videos.

Roi Werner does a fantastic job at explaining how to annotate your video by demonstrating throughout his series of videos how each option works.  As soon as I read the article and then watched the videos my mind began racing with possibilities.

In any K-12 classroom this feature of YouTube could be used to introduce topics.  A teacher could record a short introduction and then pose a simple multiple choice question.  When the student clicks on the response it would link to a video explaining the response.

Individually or in groups students could build projects with the finished product being a multimedia, annotated video with links to websites covering their topic of research.  Along the way they would become more tech-literate: learning how to validate sites and confirm sources before adding them to their finished product.  Just remember, if they are linking to other videos they need to be youtube videos.

I know, I know, I can hear you saying "There's the rub. I can't ask my students to do research on dogs skateboarding or out of focus home movies."  My response is, remember, Khan Academy started on YouTube and there are other, amazing resources on YouTube if you know where to look.  YouTube has an education channel where, as a teacher, you can feel comfortable allowing students to explore.  There are many different catagories set up in YouTube to help guide and filter the viewer.

So, explore, try something new, ask you students for help.  You may all fall into a teachable moment.   


Sep 19, 2011

SmARTt History: Art. History. Conversation

For high school students who are serious artists; those planning on going to art school or major in fine arts at a university there are very few serious art classes they can take at the high school level. In the past there have been AP Art History classes but they are now few and far between.  As well, at the college level, the founders of this website state, "We are dissatisfied with the large expensive art history textbook. We find that they are difficult for many students, contain too many images, and just are not particularly engaging".

smARThistory attempts to overcome the founders issues with art history textbooks by creating a site that allows students to hear what experts have to say about specific pieces of art ranging from Ancient Cultures to the Post-Colonial Age. There is usually a small article accompanying the video 5-10 minutes long) and the public can make comments about the piece or the commentary.

As a classroom resource high school teachers can use this site as a way to introduce students to important pieces of art that they may not be able to get visuals of otherwise.  As well, for serious art students looking for an AP Art History course, this may be a way to build a curriculum.    

Elective budgets are being slashed across the country.  This resource is a nice way to continue to bring primary documents into an art classroom and helps to cover state standards for high school art classes. Students could do an exploration of a specific time period, could compare pieces and materials used from different time periods or artists and, along the way, be introduced to famous works that they may otherwise, never see.

Sep 16, 2011

Bloom's (Revised) Taxonomy - Interative

This is not the type of post I normally do but Bloom's Taxonomy was such a huge help to me when I was teaching and developing educational products that I thought it was important and relevant.

Bloom's Taxonomy is a structure to help explain the different levels of questioning.  It has been revised recently and there have been many attempts to explain the revisions.  This interactive diagram is one of the best explanations I have seen. The diagram is set up so mousing over each square pops up an example of an activity that matches the level of questioning.

In many cases teachers are asked to make sure classroom assessments cover all levels of Bloom's taxonomy and this diagram would be very helpful in doing that. The diagram is written so that teachers of all grade levels can see examples of different question types. This is a great resource for all new teachers, teachers of new subject areas and teachers writing classroom assessments for the first time.

Sep 14, 2011

Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15th marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month and the National Museum of American History has put together a series of lessons that help celebrate.  The entire list of lesson plans can be found on the Smithsonian Education site but there are some standouts:  

From Vaquero to Cowboy:   Lessons teaching about the Mexican and Spanish heritage of the American cowboy.  Primary resources and music is used to help K-12 students understand the roots of the modern day cowboy. Following NCTE standards, lesson plans are written for all age groups.

Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente: Geared towards middle school students this series of nine lessons celebrates the remarkable life of Roberto Clemente.  Using the online exhibit and the supplied lesson plans students learn about a remarkable man and, the difference between the public and private lives of their idols.

Sep 12, 2011

Squirrelly Behavior

The National Zoo has done a great job at utilizing their scientists to help introduce students to the scientific process. One of the big complaints about K-12 science is that the students very rarely "do science".  Students learn about scientific topics and content but they rarely behave in the way scientists behave on a daily basis.  Squirrelly Behavior is a great example of "doing science" in the classroom.

By using squirrels as the subject almost any student in the country (or world) can  recreate the experiment.  Scientists from the National Zoo introduce the topic and the experiment and, the site a step by step lesson plan, worksheets already created and, a data entry page which outputs a pie chart identical to the one the scientist uses in her presentation.

For late elementary or middle school students this lesson gives students a real world example of animal field work.  They will work in pairs or small groups, observing animals, recording data, analyzing and displaying data and drawing conclusions. This is a great lesson to introduce the scientific process, field work or group work into a classroom.  

There is one plug in necessary for the video so make sure the computer you are going to show the 10 minutes video on has the correct plug in installed.


Sep 9, 2011

Self Portraits

Self portraits are complicated.  They are never just what the artist sees in the mirror but are a reflection of the artist's character.  For me, the most interesting thing about self portraits is that the artist can tell whatever story they want, what the audience sees is exactly what the artist wants them to see. 

This concept may be difficult for young artists to grasp but it is an important one.  A well done self portrait can tell a story that very few other mediums can express. 

The National Portrait Gallery has a lesson on self portraits that is very complete and helps students understand the importance of expressing themselves.  The lesson plan uses the tremendous resources of the gallery to show many different types of self portraits and how to talk through them, asking questions that will help students look beyond the face starting back at them. 

The lesson plan is geared towards all students, K-12, and can actually be used by all of them.  This would be a great way for students in any K-12 classroom to introduce themselves at the beginning of the school year.  It could also be used as a serious study of self portraits in a high school level art class.  

Sep 7, 2011

September 11, 2001

Photo by Andrea Booher
The 10th anniversary of September 11th is coming up this weekend and it is an event that I continue to react emotionally to.  I was a classroom teacher in 2001 and on the way to work my (now) husband called and told me to turn on the TV as soon as I got to school.  I then spent most of the day watching TV with my students, allowing them to call their parents, many of whom were in the armed forces and trying to explain what was happening.  We were/are in Austin, TX, home of, at the time, the newly elected President Bush and there was some concern that Austin would be a target.  I had built a computer lab in my classroom and, as the day progressed, one of the things I did with my students was have them go to the news sites and refresh on a regular basis to see how quickly the story was changing and unfolding.  It became a good lesson in technology, real time information gathering and how to decide what was a site with valid information.

How do you teach the events of September 11th? It can be taught in many ways depending on the age group.  First, very recently, a digital archive has been released.  This is just an information dump and, some images are graphic so I think it would only be appropriate for high school students and searching it should be in a very guided way.   

Tribute Art and 9/11: This is a fantastic, very detailed lesson plan that allows almost all age groups to discuss September 11th in a totally non-political, non-religious way.  There is also a whole list of lesson plans to choose from if this one is not what you're interested in.

Lastly, the September 11th Memorial has opened to the public and there are resources available.  They have a "Teach + Learn" section that I have discussed above. As well, Flight 93 has been memorialized in Pennsylvania. 

Sep 5, 2011

Eyes on the Solar System

NASA just released this extremely cool tool for exploring our solar system. There are some very simple features: changing the date and time, speeding up and slowing down time and jumping from satellite to planet to comet.  There are also some very complex tools: size comparison, measurement and ride along features just to name a few.    

You do need to download plug in to use Eyes on the Solar System so teachers trying to load this on classroom computers may run into some problems but, it is a very safe plug in and, if you can get around the IT blocks and get the plug in downloaded, you'll be in great shape.

In an elementary classroom you could use this in a whole class setting to compare the size of planets, satellites and moons since they have a visual comparison feature. In a middle school setting this could be used in a whole class setting  or by individual students to explore different bodies in space as well as use the more advanced, number based measurement system. In a high school setting students could use this individually or in groups to study orbits, compare the sizes of planets and other bodies. At all levels this tool could be used to simply explore the galaxy and give students a different perspective.

The tutorials are a must and it's something the teacher really needs to play with before turning the kids loose on it.  

Sep 2, 2011


I "stumbled upon" iCivics at a online gaming conference I attended.  Looking through the program I noticed that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was going to speak.  Well, I couldn't let that opportunity get away! I was a bit perplexed about what Justice O'Connor was going to speak about but, iCivics was it.

Conceived by Justice O'Connor, iCivics is her answer to a concern that civics is no longer being taught in many middle schools and high schools.  The site is full of sophisticated, problem solving games dealing with all three branches of government and using real federal budgets and supreme court cases as source material.

Constitution Day is September 17th and iCivics already has a fantastic lesson plan up on their site.  I can not recommend this site highly enough. Appropriate for middle school and high school students games can be played individually, in groups or in a whole class setting.