This is a guest post by Daniel Burk, 4th grade teacher at Grace Lutheran School in Lancaster, CA.
I am in love with technology. I have always been in love with technology. When I became a teacher I have always shared my love with other students, even if it was talking about a video game. Diving more into Web2.0 or 21st Century Education, it has became clear to me, that I need to use these tools to help prepare my students for a job, that might not even be created yet (Check Out Did You Know Videos by Karl Fisch).
Some tell me I am crazy to think third grade students can handle these tools and create some amazing pieces of work. For those critics I tell them to check out a YouTube video “Aint Gonna Hold Us Back D-I-G-I-T-A-L.” This is done by first grade students. I also mention that during a conference on Neo 2 by Alphasmart (a Renaissance Learning Company) they talked about how a group of Kindergarten use the Neo 2’s to type sentences and then upload them into a presentation (Keynote) to show off at the end of the year, all the letters they learned and sentences they can type.
I am in no way an expert on a lot of these tools and I get most of my ideas from other educators I follow on twitter. But, some of the tools I use in my third grade class are Wiki, VoiceThread, Animoto, Blogs, and other project based assessments. We also use Audacity to create podcasts (this is something I just started this year.) I post all the homework assignments online and attached copies of our worksheets or instructions. Let me quickly discuss each one and how I use it, or have used it.
Wiki – I use Wikispaces. You can use Wetpaint or pbworks (use to be pbwiki) also. I use Wikispaces, because I believe it is very easy and they allow education to have a free secure (no ads) site. You can add students where they do not need an email address. On a wiki it is a place to store information and discuss this information. I have students create pages for their books that they are reading or a class book. They can also use the discussion forum if they need to. This year I got my 8th grade History and Literature teacher using a Wiki and the kids love it. In one week there were over 200 new posts in the discussion areas. You don’t need to be afraid of a kid changing a page that you do not want changed. You can easily browse the History of the changes and revert back any time. You can also set up that you are notified anytime there is a change.
VoiceThread – There is an educational version and a free version. The educational version does not cost that much to use. VoiceThread is great to create a digital storybook. I have even used it as a study guide for science class. I added pictures and questions and students commented their answers. I have the paid educational version and again can sign students up without a real email address. A good review of VoiceThread is found here. I am not that strong of a user with VoiceThread and still learning a lot.
Animoto – This is one of my favorite tools (especially using it non-educationally). Animoto is a way to create a beautiful slide show with music. You can now also add short (10 seconds) video clips into your presentation. Animoto does give educators a free pass to their full access (which is VERY nice). They have a wide range collection of music, even Christian music, and stock pictures. You can of course upload your own pictures and music. They do ask to make sure it is fair copyright. After the video is created, you can download it (or pay for HD version), you can upload to YouTube or iPod, or you can remix it. The limitation is you do not get to say what kind of effect your pictures will have. You just pick which pictures and what music and they do the rest. I used this to create a promotional video for our school and use it with my art class.
Blogs – There are many type of blogging services out there, some are design especially for educators. I have used Blogger. I use it because I know it. It is easy to set up. I don’t have students write articles yet. I post a question or thoughts and have them leave comments as their response.
Podcasts – In simple term talk radio is podcasts. I don’t have my student’s debate, but they read our reading story for the week. I have them explain math problems or what they learned in science class. This is a multi step process. If you have a Mac you can use garage band. For PC users I use Audacity to record the voices. It is pretty simple to use. You hit record, students talk, you hit stop. At the end you can go back and split out the extra silence or mistakes. Export it as an MP3. I then use PodOmatic to upload it. PodOmatic gives you good chunk of free space, but you can also buy extra space. From there you can let your friends on Twitter or Facebook know you uploaded something or they can subscribe using iTunes. If anything you can give the link to your parents.
There are some 21st Century Skill activities you can do without the use of a computer. The new Bloom’s Taxonomy states creation is the highest level of thinking. Especially this school years I have 13 hyperactive can’t sit still boys (no girlsL), I make them create things. For Stuart Little Chapter one I had them create a bookmark that went with the chapter. For Moses parting the Red Sea, I had them create with construction paper a 3d model of the Red Sea parted. I try to keep them active and hands on.
This is just a short, very short list of different tools out there. Every day I find new tools that could be used. The advice I give the other teachers here is to find one thing and use it for a month and make a choice is this something I can use or is this something my students need to be using (a lot of time the answer is yes!). I want teachers to transform their old lesson plans that they have been using for years. I give them the challenge: for each subject they teach change a lesson or two a year. This is a slow start, but my hope after a year or two they realize how easy it is to shift their lessons quickly and in the long run make it easier on them. One word of advice is a lot of the initial change or creating will take time and can be frustrating. Be patient and say prayers! It does get easier, I promise.