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Get Out(doors)!

DSC00672_2 The school days are winding down and the weather is getting warmer.  It seems like a perfect time to teach students to appreciate the great outdoors!  Here are some of my favorite nature-themed ideas and web resources that can carry students through the last weeks of school and even into the summer.

What's in a name? 
Teach your students to classify and identify the plants and animals they see around them.  If your school will allow it, think about putting a bird feeder somewhere on your campus.  Have students use the website What Bird to identify the name and hear the call of the birds they see. You can even have students create charts and graphs to measure the number of visits by different species and then use that information in a math lesson.  If birds aren't your thing, do a similar activity with insects and plants on campus.  The eNature Field Guides site makes it easy to identify a plant, insect, or animal by listing its characteristics.

To see even more animals from other habitats, check out the PBS American Field Guide for videos of animals from around the country. 

After an afternoon of exploring the schoolyard, have students imagine that they are great explorers on expedition. Share images and text from the Lewis and Clark Field Journals published online by the University of Nebraska, then ask students to write descriptive paragraphs about their plant and animal finds.  It's a great way to encourage the use of descriptive adjectives as they share the identifying features of their discoveries.

Grow for a cause
A fun way to carry learning through the summer is by starting plants from seed in the classroom. Even better, you can grow plants for a cause you and your students are interested in supporting.  LiveMonarch is a non-profit foundation where you can request a packet of milkweed seeds to plant on your property and help provide habitat and food for monarch butterflies.  To help your students learn more about the life cycle of a butterfly, you can even "Adopt a Butterfly" on the site and receive regular emails as your adoptee goes from egg to adult.

In another venture taking place across the country, gardeners are participating in the Plant a Row program to help feed the needy.  If you'd like to participate with your students, think about starting a garden on your campus and donating part of the produce to a local food bank.  You'll benefit the local community by filling a need while also giving students a chance to learn more about plants and how they grow. Got a great idea for a school-based garden, but lack the funds for seeds?  Tomato Bob donates seeds to schools each year - visit the site to fill out an online form describing your project to apply.

How do you use technology to teach students to appreciate the great outdoors? Share your ideas with us!

Google Search Secrets

Student_search So, if you're like most web-savvy teachers, you probably use a Google Search several times a day.  But, how Google-smart are you?  Here are a couple of tips and tricks that can make you into a Google Guru!

Tip 1: Use Google as a Calculator
If you type an equation into the Google search box, instead of a website, you'll find that your first search result is the answer to your calculation! Use an asterisk (*) for multiplication, a slash (/) for division, a carat (^) for powers and the abbreviation sqrt for square roots. You can even add parenthesis to an equation. Try this one to see how it works:

Tip 2: Use Google to help with unit conversions
Quick! How many miles are in a 10K race? What's 75°F in Celsius?  You can type these questions into Google to find the results fast.  To do so, type in the conversion like so:
10 kilometers in miles

75 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius

Tip 3: Search a specific domain
Ever been frustrated because you *know* a page is somewhere on a site, but you can't seem to find it?  Use Google to search a specific site or to limit your search to a specific domain by starting your search with site:
For example, to find the two posts on the Tech Tutors blog that mention NASA, you'd type the following into a Google Search:
NASA site:blogs.scholastic.com/tech_tutors

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Social Bookmarking

Bookmarking How many times have you found a website that you really like and you bookmark it on your computer? Then later when you aren't around your computer, you tell someone else about the site and don't know the URL.  You may also have the problem of too many bookmarks that aren't organized somehow. Social bookmarking is a solution that may help you.

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National Poetry Month

Young red hired girl uid 14 Each year, during the month of April, the Academy of American Poets hosts National Poetry Month.  It's a month-long celebration of the art and beauty of poetry and the role it plays in American literature. Here are some ways you can bring the celebration into your classroom!

Idea #1: Read a Poem

There are lots of great poetry sources out there, but one that's especially good this month is straight from Poets.org.  By visiting the site, you can sign up to receive a poem in your email inbox every day during the month of April. The poems vary in theme and level, but are probably most appropriate for middle and high school readers.  For elementary age students, have fun exploring the poetry of Shel Silverstein and  Jack Prelutsky at their websites.  Both have lots of colorfully animated poems and activities to explore.

For interesting visual poems, check out the Graphic Poetry site. The combination of striking photography with free-verse poems is something that might inspire your students to create their own!

Idea #2 Write a Poem

Get your students involved in writing poetry with tools and resources from across the web. A good starting point is from the National Council of Teachers of English with their Read•Write•Think online activities and interactive tools. Students can write an Acrostic PoemDiamante, or even create a Shape Poem with support and guidance right on the site. When students are ready to write independently, send them to the Poetry Rhyming Dictionary and Thesaurus to help them brainstorm for rhyming words.  

Idea #3 Share a Poem

This year, Thursday, April 30 is "Poetry in Your Pocket Day" where poetry enthusiasts are encouraged to carry a poem with them to share with others.  Have students select a favorite poem and then create bookmarks or postcards to share with others that day.  For the Poetry in Your Pocket celebration a few years ago, my students and I designed stickers with lines from their favorite poems.  Students then traded stickers with others all day until they had a collection of stickers and a list of new poems to read!

Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky formed the Favorite Poetry Project in 1997 to help others share the poems they love. By visiting the site you can see Americans from all walks of life on video as they read or recite the poems they love best.  For even more poetry reading pleasure, check out the audio library on the Poets.org website where they've collected over 300 author interviews and poetry readings.

At my school, our Creative Writing students are getting into the poetry mania by writing and publishing their best poetry in video form. Travis Brown, Creative Writing teacher, worked with his students to select the best poetry from their portfolios and then had students work in teams to develop visual interpretations.  Every week this month they'll publish an new example of their work. Check out their first entry, titled Time, on our school podcast channel.

For more ideas on teaching with poetry, check out the Scholastic Poetry site where you can participate in poetry workshops with renowned authors as well as find lesson plans and activities to make every day of April into poetic perfection!

Connect with Tech

Busy If you're a classroom teacher, then there are probably entire days that you don't see another adult for more than a few minutes.  It's tough to develop professional connections with your fellow teachers if the best you can manage is a quick hello as you run to meet your class at the end of recess.

Never fear! There are lots of great technology tools you can use to connect with other innovative teachers to share lesson plans and ideas.  The best part? The sharing can occur between teachers in the same building or across the globe!  Here are some of my favorite tech tools and websites to foster collaboration and communication with other educators:

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Science Tech-explorations

Science Science is always one of my student's favorite subjects.  Learning about the world around them while being able to explore and experiment makes science a hands-on, minds-on class.  While experiencing science directly is best, it's not always possible for many reasons (I'm guessing a field trip to an active volcano wouldn't be something my principal would approve...).   That's where virtual experiences can really give your science curriculum a boost.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use online tools in science:

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Picture This!

Wea01505Kids are naturally visual.  By adding an arsenal of image-friendly techniques to your toolbag, you'll help your students link what they see to what they're learning. Here are some of my favorite ways to use images in the classroom along with a couple of great image search websites.

  • Create a slideshow preview. Collect photographs based on the current science or social studies unit and create a slideshow that can play as a screensaver on classroom computers during down time.  I love to use this technique at the beginning of a new unit so that when students arrive in class, they see images related to what we're about to study. It makes for a great conversation starter as students use prior knowledge to explain how the images link to the unit.
  • Create writing prompts.  If you have students use a daily writing prompt for journals, create a set of interesting images that can be used as story starters.  This is a great way to help students learn to add descriptive elements to their writing too.  I keep a set of images in my iPhoto library that are labeled Writing.  As I find interesting pictures that are begging for a story, I add them to the folder.
  • Make student stickers.  This is great for Kindergarten classes and pre-readers! Take a picture of each student and print their picture and name on address labels. Use the labels to mark mail cubbies, notebooks, and other personal storage spaces.  If you use chore charts or group lists, use the stickers to create index cards for each student to denote their tasks.
  • Create a class memory movie.  Select a student of the day to take pictures of each day's events.  At the end of the year, use the photos to create a slideshow or video from the first day of school to the last.  If you have a DVD burner, you can make a copy of the movie to send home with your students as a keepsake.

If you'd like to find more ideas, check out this list from Gayle and these ideas from "Digital Cameras in the Primary Classroom." Want even more ideas? Look no further:

If you don't have access or time to take your own photos, all is not lost.  Look to one of these sites for classroom friendly photographs.

  • US Government Photos and Graphics.  Links to dozens of government websites that contain public domain photographs.
  • NASA Image Exchange. Space images, video and audio from NASA's archive.
  • My Florida Digital Warehouse. Images and public domain clipart collected and housed by Florida's Center for Instructional Technology.
  • Pics4Learning. This collection of photographs was largely donated by teachers, students and others who wanted to create an image bank geared to education.  You'll find a dozen of my photos in there.  Why not work with your students to add to the collection?
  • Flickr's Creative Commons Search. Flickr is a social photography site where users share their photos. Many users license their photos under a Creative Commons license to make them available for use by others. Read more about the license at the site. (Note: Flickr may contain images that aren't suitable for younger students.)

Wondering where the photograph above came from? It's part of the NOAA Image Library, which is one of the many sites listed under the US Government Photos and Graphics link above.

Learning Online

If you're like Gayle and I, the holidays are a great time to spend a little time learning something new. Last week, Gayle shared several excellent tutorial sites for learning new technology skills.  If you're looking for new teaching skills too, here are some thoughts that will help you meet your professional development goals.  The best part?  None of these require travel - all it takes is a comfy chair, a computer, and time to sit back and learn!

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Holiday Compu-Crafts

Picture_2 Looking for some fun and easy holiday crafts?  Every year around this time, my computer lab would be filled with busy student elves who worked to create holiday gifts for mom and dad.  Here are a couple of favorites from my computer lab.

Primary Grades: Make a Holiday Card

In primary grades, we combine learning to read and recognize our shape names with creating an illustration that can be used on a holiday card.  Using a drawing program like KidPix, have students create a Christmas tree with the following instructions:

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Look Out for Monsters!

Monster With Halloween just around the corner, my first grade students are thinking about monsters. I am always thinking about technology, so I gather online and technology monster resources. Let me share with you the ways I add technology to the students' learning experiences using monsters as a theme.

As my students learn about poetry, each group writes a poem about a Halloween topic. They illustrate each line of the poem using KidPix. Then using GarageBand they record their poem, add their KidPix drawings and create a podcast. Listen to a Monster poem created by one of the groups.

Continue reading "Look Out for Monsters!" »

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tutors "Supporting Teachers Use of Technology" are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.