Thursday, June 8, 2017

Have you ever written over one million words? These kids have...

I think, as educators, we can all agree that “the process of composing is, in a nutshell, critical thinking”. That particular quote is from our own Collin Nuismer, ELA teacher at Central Middle School. I definitely could not agree more. That is why I was so excited to hear about the work he is doing with his students, or more accurately, the writing his students are doing. For example, here is an excerpt from one of Collin’s student’s, Elizabeth, and her writing from a prompt about volcanoes.

the Earth shakes, the mountain trembles, on the verge of eruption
smoke billows from it’s dark maw, blocking the sun, casting a shadow on the world
lava spews upward,  raining fire from clouds of grey ashes,  gleaming bright in the gloom.
(For Elizabeth’s full piece and access to her other writings, follow this link.)

She, in addition to all of Collin’s students, is composing a large percentage of her writing on a web platform called, Write About. In fact, his students had been writing so consistently and with such quality, that Write About contacted Collin, as his students had surpassed 600,000 words written, and threw down the gauntlet to reach 1,000,000 words written. Both Collin and his students responded by crushing that challenge with over 1,360,000 words written this year!

Okay, so Collin Nuismer’s ELA students have written over a million words, is that not what is supposed to happen in an English Language Arts class? Well, yes, but it is not just about a number of words they have written; it is about the meaning behind those words. These students are developing their voice beyond simply answering questions or responding to a prompt. One of the reasons that have allowed for students to develop a more personal writing style has been the level of choice and ownership they are afforded both through Collin’s instruction and the Write About platform. In the words of one student, “I wrote a story about the exoskeleton of a grasshopper. I would have never actually ever chosen to write about that.” She, as well as others, agreed that having a multitude of writing prompt options allows her to write, experience, and think about topics that she would likely not have been exposed to previously. Collin has purposely implemented ample opportunity within his courses for student choice and Write About enables him to do that with relative ease.

Alright, writing options and developing one’s voice are great, but what else do you have? How about peer review and assessment? Yes, these students are encouraged to review each other’s work for comment and assessment, helping students to become the experts in the room. Being able to read classmates’ work with ease has allowed for students to modify their own work. Writers who are well read are better writers. And given the opportunity to dissect another’s writing, both good and bad, only helps to enrich the writer’s style and understanding of language. In the words of another student, “It [Write About] helped me realize that I didn't have that much detail, and it taught me to add more detail.” And another, “I have started writing more as I have had peers checking my work.”

Finally, what makes 1,000,000 plus words and the frequency with which students write so important? When asking one class, “When considering the amount of writing you have completed this year, both on paper and with Write About, who of you would say these things have caused you to do more independent writing, outside of assignments and homework?” Of a class of thirty students, twelve, almost half, of those students responded “yes”. That is why we do what we do. Thanks, Collin, for developing in your students a passion for writing.

“I've been able to express my ideas better, and been able to refine it so it's better. I love Write About and I'm going to end up doing it during the summer.”
- Lelia (student)

If you would like to learn more about Collin’s adventure with writing in his classroom and Write About, be sure to visit him at PPS Tech Camp in his session, Writing Should be FUN! Choice, Authentic Audience, and Accountability to Engage All Writers.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Make IT! LED Name Tags

LED Name Tags are a fun project to do with your students when you are learning about circuits.  Students use watch cell batteries, and small LED diodes to make their name tags shine!

Materials Needed 
● 3 x 5 index cards 
● Hole punch 
● Marker(s) 
● String or Ribbon 
● LED Diode 
● Watch Cell Battery 
● Copper Tape 
● Duct Tape

Step 1: Write your name on your 3 x 5 index card.  Decorate as desired.

Step 2: Use a hole punch to punch a hole where you want your LED light to poke through.

Step 3: Flip card over

Step 4: Gently bend apart the “legs” of the LED diode so that it looks like it is “doing the splits.”

Step 5: Cut 2 strips of copper tape, approximately 2-3 inches in length

Step 6: Carefully remove the paper backing on one of the strips of copper tape.  Adhere the tape to the card so that the copper side is up.  One side of the tape should be directly above the hole.  The other end should be directly across from the hole. 

Step 7: Place the battery on the end of the tape away from the hole.

Step 8: Leaving the paper backing on the second piece of copper tape, place the tape face down so that one end is below the hole and the other end is on top of the battery.

Step 9: Use duct tape to secure the tape and battery.  Make sure your two copper tapes do not touch.  This will short your circuit.  

Step 10: Place the LED diode through the hole so that one of the “legs” is touching the copper side of each of the pieces of tape.  One leg should be on top, the other should be under.  

Troubleshooting:  If the light does not turn on, turn the LED diode around.  The LED is directional so will only light one way.
Step 11: Once the LED is lighting up, place a piece of duct tape over the LED and tape to hold it in place.

Step 12: Attach a lanyard, string, or ribbon to your 3x5 card.  

NOTES: The LED will burn out after a week or so.  Since there is no resistor to ration the amount of power going from the battery to the light.

Printable Directions

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Google Slides: Creating Computer-based Manipulative

Google Slides is an amazing tool.  You can make the usual presentation, but you can also do so much more!  Newsletters, posters, class newspapers, and computer-based manipulative activities are all great ways to use Google Slides in the classroom.  As our elementary teachers use their Chromebooks more and more in their classrooms, they have been looking for ways to create quick formative assessments and activities that they can assign in Google Classroom for their students to complete in order to practice skills they are learning in math, ELA, science, and social studies.  One way they are accomplishing this goal is by creating Google Slides manipulatives that they can assign to their students in Google Classroom.

Here are some examples:

Spelling Practice
Spelling Practice
Graphic Organizers
Graphic Organizers

Telling Time (Hour and Half Hour)
Food Chain
Place Value
Number Charts

Google Slides manipulatives are fairly easy to create.  The important thing is to place anything you want "locked down" on the Slide Master.  This way the students will not be able to move around or delete that item.  Here is how to edit the Slide Master in a Google Slide in order to create a manipulative.

Step 1: Open a new Google Slides presentation
Step 2: Click on "Untitled Presentation" and title your manipulative
Step 3: Click on the "Slide" menu and select "Edit master"
Step 4: If you want to change the fonts for the entire presentation, do so on the top slide labeled "Master".  If you want more font choices, click the font menu and select "More fonts..."
Step 5: After your fonts are set the way you want them, click on the first of the "Layouts" slides.  This will become your first template for your manipulatives.  Remember, what you put on this slide will be "locked down" and students will not be able to move it.  Think to yourself - what do I want on the background?  If this were a worksheet, what would be on the page that I copy for my students?  You may need to delete the title and subtitle sections if you don't want those on your slide.  Simply click on those placeholders and click backspace or delete.
Step 6: Add your background elements.  When adding elements, keep these things in mind...

  • Adding Text: There are four types of text boxes you can add.  The first is the usual "Text box".  This is static text and cannot be edited unless you are in the slide master.  This is great for titles, directions and text you don't want to be changed by the students.  The next type of text boxes are the "Placeholders."  These are to be used to add spots where you want the students to type.  There are three different placeholders, Title, Subtitle, and Body text.  The difference is simply which default font it uses, and "Body text" also has the bullets.
  • Adding Shapes: There are numerous shapes native in Google Slides that you can add and recolor for your presentation.  There are four major categories: Shapes, Arrows, Callouts, and Equations.  Hover your mouse over each major type to see the shapes available in each category.  Once you add a shape, you can click on it to adjust the fill color and outline color.
  • Images: There are also many ways to add other images to your presentation.  You can go to the "Insert" menu and select images, or you can click the "Image" button on the tool bar.  In both these cases, a window will pop up that allows you to Upload an image, add an image from your Google Drive, or Search for an image.  You can also copy and paste images from other sources, but make sure you have the rights to use those images and you site your sources.  One of my favorite places on the web for clipart is:  A note on images - I prefer to use .png files since they have the option for a transparent background.
Step 7: Once you have your slide set up the say you want, you can move onto the next template, or if you only want one template, you can click the slide preview on the far left side of the screen.  This will close the Slide Master.
Step 8: Add any elements to your slides that you want the students to manipulate.  
Step 9: Add more slides as necessary.

To share the presentations/manipulatives with your students, simply assign it in Google Classroom.  Make sure you select "Make a Copy for Each Student"!

NOTE:  As of this post, you cannot move around objects in Google Slides using the touchscreen on the touchscreen Chromebooks.  Your students will need to use mice or the touchpads.

What manipulatives could you make for your students?  How could you use this in your classroom?  Share your Google Slides Manipulatives here!