Monday, December 28, 2009

Setting up My Wiimote Interactive Whiteboard

While I am sure I should be grading and doing all sorts of other things instead, I've been spending a lot of the last few days investigating interactive whiteboards and tablets for my class. Then, on Tuesday, I found the site where I could order all the parts for making Johnny Chung Lee's homemade version. On a whim, I called Penteractive for some advice, spoke to a very helpful gentleman, and ordered the needed parts (Infrared Pen with CR1-, Intec Wave Remote "wii", Table Top Tripod, and Wiimote Versiclamp) for a total of $72.20 including shipping. They arrived all the way from Tennessee in two days! So, time to get to work...

I downloaded the software to my Mac and read a number of website accounts and watched some YouTube videos for help setting up my wiimote on Thursday. One problem I kept running into was that my bluetooth setup wizard never seemed to actually "save" my device. Still, I thought I had it working, but, of course, I really need it projecting to the wall, which takes a projector. So, on Friday, I went into work to try it out with my projector. Although the computer and wii had "talked" at home, they weren't at school. I went home and fiddled some more, getting the wii and computer talking again, and "testing" it with the computer screen. Back to school on Saturday, and, again, the wii and computer wouldn't "talk." How frustrating! I did, along the way, learn about another cool feature of my new wii remote: I can use it as a programmable remote control for my computer with the help of a downloadable program called Remote Buddy. I have never been able to get my projector's remote to work properly, so this was a nice side discovery. I may just buy another wii (i.e., Intec Wave) remote for that.

Finally, I figured out my problem. I had been trying to set my wii up using the Mac's bluetooth setup wizard. The wiimote software I downloaded for my Mac, though, does the setup itself and using the setup wizard actually interferes with that process! Yesterday, on my third trip to school, everything worked! It took a lot of experimenting to figure out where to place the wii, and I still am not sure if I have the best spot. Right now, though, I'm going to place it on the little tripod right on top of my projector.

The next step, of course, is figuring out how to use my new tool effectively in my lessons. I want to give all my students opportunities to come up to the board and get involved. I will be focusing on writing and grammar in January and February in preparation for the 7th grade writing assessment the first week of March. I am hoping we can use the wiimote for interactive lessons in writing and revising. For help setting up lessons, I downloaded and started experimenting with the free version of Promethean's ActivInspire software, but I also liked the suggestion I read somewhere to use the Elluminate whiteboard feature. As a member of the site, I have used the free vRoom several times and experimented a bit with the whiteboard. Using Elluminate would mean that I would have to be online, but would have the advantages of letting me use a tool I already have some familiarity with. I could also record lessons with it for absent students.

If anyone out there has suggestions, both for software to use with my wiimote and for lessons that will work with my students, please send them my way!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Animals Opening Presents

I just loved this Paws and Presents series from National Geographic:

I learned about it from a tweet by Larry Ferlazzo, whose blog and Twitter tweets are always great sources for inspiration. I don't really know how I can fit these videos into my curriculum, but it's sure tempting to try. Any ideas out there?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Break Is Here!

by Leo Reynolds at

I made it to winter break! Can I ever use a couple of weeks of quiet and relaxation. Of course, I have a long list of stuff to do, including lots of grading and prepping for my students, but at least I can mix it with catching up on household chores, some recreation, not waking up to the alarm, and, of course, indulging my addiction to checking bloglines, Twitter, and email for great new and fun ideas. You can see that I am either really determined to procrastinate that grading and those household chores or that I must have way too much time on my hands when you see the Scrabble piece "Happy Holidays" I put together up above from flickr images. I discovered these graphics from a tweet by russeltar, and figured I just had to use them for something fun! (I did sort of save myself a little time downloading each of the letters, I think. I just downloaded the complete alphabet image, then used Cmd+Shift+4 on my Mac to create a png file of each letter and renamed it the name of the letter. I'd be happy to email anyone the png file set.)

I am excited to have learned that a lot of blogs and sites I follow were winners or runners up in the Edublogs Awards, including two that I included in my nomination list. Mrs. Yollis' Class Blog was first runner up for best class blog, and Joyce Valenza's Never Ending Search won best library/librarian blog. Hooray! I also discovered some great new blogs to add to my Bloglines subscriptions as I went through the winners.

Wishing anyone out there a very happy holiday season and New Year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Visiting Another Blogging Classroom

Last Tuesday, all the coach/mentors for our district EETT grant had the privilege of visiting Mrs. Yollis' third grade class at one of the elementary schools in my district to learn about their class blogging process. Every student contributes to the Mrs. Yollis' Classroom Blog, with Mrs. Yollis as the publisher. Students write articles by brainstorming on paper, composing on their alphasmart computers, peer editing, then going to their teacher for final edit and approval. As part of the process, they hold class discussions about articles and critique each others' work. They also rate incoming comments and decide whether they are publishable. They only approve well written comments. Comments get a rating of 1 if they just say they like the post without giving any details. Comments get a 2 if they compliment, ask a question, or make a suggestion. I have sent them a couple of comments so far; I hope my comments were 2's! The class has also collaborated with other blogging classrooms as far away as Australia, and has held Skype sessions with them and commented on their blog postings. It is very clear that these students are learning excellent writing and evaluation skills, as well as becoming astute digital citizens.

I had already been reading the class blog and Mrs. Yollis' wiki about blogging before our live visit, but the in-person opportunity helped me to process some of these ideas better. I plan to take advantage of a lot of them in my own classroom. One change I made in my class already last week was asking students to address comments like a letter, including both a salutation and a closing and signature. I hope this requirement will help them to better understand that I expect their comments to be written like good letters, not text messages. I am also going to be encouraging my students to comment on Mrs. Yollis' class blog, with, of course, the goal of being rated with 2's. I hope to process and implement more ideas from this vibrant teacher, class, and project soon.

Do visit this outstanding blog, as well as Mrs. Yollis' wiki. The blog is on the Edublogs Awards nomination list for best class blog; you have until December 16 to visit the nomination page and consider voting for it.

Finally, CSLA folks won't be surprised that Mrs. Yollis is one of the graduates of CSLA's Classroom Learning 2.0.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Edublogs Awards

For at least a couple of years now, I have been enjoying reading about and voting on the annual Edublogs awards. This year, I have been intending to take some time and add nominations for several of the categories. But, here I am less than an hour away from the deadline, so my list is going to be shorter than I intended. I don't want the nominations to close without at least listing these three blogs:

Mrs. Yollis' Class Blog Mrs. Yollis and her third grade students do an outstanding job of blogging and commenting. This class project exemplifies how the integration of technology in the classroom can really enhance the development of students' writing, inquiry, and online citizenship skills. I am nominating this blog for best class blog.

Joyce Valenza's NeverendingSearch blog is always my number #1 source for discovering new web tools and how they can be used in the library and the classroom. I am nominating this blog for best librarian blog.

Jackie Siminitus does a great job of finding and describing new web tools in her 2CoolTools blog, which I am nominating for best resource sharing blog.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Book talks and individual student blogs

It’s hard to believe that there are just two weeks left until Winter Break. I am torn between being so relieved to have a two-week break coming and fretting that I won’t have accomplished as much as I intended with my students by then. Nevertheless, I am trying to tell myself that there is a lot to feel good about. Here are a couple of accomplishments that I feel pretty good about:
  • With just a few exceptions, my students are all engaged in their independent reading and finding good books they will enjoy. I learned pretty early in the semester that my plan for reading aloud at the end of each period just wasn't working; we almost always ran out of time before I could get to it. About a month ago, I tried a new idea suggested by my friend Jody, a teacher at one of the other middle schools in my district. I am starting the period on most days with a book talk, and then I read a few pages of the book to get the kids hooked. As much as possible, I choose books the library has multiple copies of, but I am also including recently published books. I have had the students start a "Reading Ideas" sheet; if they like what I book talk, they add that book to their list. I am also encouraging them to add books that their friends suggest and those they learn about from other sources. My hope is that they will all have a list of at least several "next read" ideas ready whenever they finish a book.
  • I am also proud of most my students for the work they have done on their individual blogs. I can't say that all of them are into blogging, and most still have a long ways to go improving their writing, editing, and proofing. That said, though, most of them are really enjoying the opportunity to learn Web 2.0 skills, to write for an authentic audience, and to read and comment on each others' work. This weekend, they are completing their third blogging assignment. For this posting, they are responding to a choice of prompts related to our current reading of Where the Red Fern Grows. To check out some of their blogs, go to my blog/webpage, select the Period 1, Period 2, Period 3, or Period 7 Class Blog from the sidebar, then select any of the student blogs links from those class blogs. You will also notice that the Period 1, 2, 3, and 7 blogs have student entries for each (or some) class days. I'm afraid that project -- of having a "guest blogger of the day" -- isn't producing the results I had hoped for. Too often, students forget to post on the day they volunteered for, or, when they do post, they don't take seriously the need to write well, tell about something interesting, and proof their work. Any suggestions would be welcome!