Friday, January 25, 2013

How did I live before Youtube?

So, last year, after fighting for years and promising that we wouldn't spend every class watching videos of cats using the toilet or pandas crying, my district decided to unblock YouTube!  I had known what a powerful tool this would be for the classroom because I had been illegally ripping videos and burning them to CDs for years.  As a Department Chair, I was a little amazed at how fast my department jumped on the bandwagon.  Seeing that this was something new I thought it might take a year or two for people to feel really comfortable with it.  Well, obviously YouTube is what spans the generations because my teachers jumped on it so fast that only one teacher asked for any DVDs last year and those were merely to have in our library for emergency sub plans.  So my next step was figuring out how I could help them vet the sources out there.  As I played around with YouTube I have found that Playlists is my answer!
For me, Playlists can be used for two reasons.  First this was a great way for me to organize content by grade level and share the entire Playlist with my teachers.

I created ones for each grade that I called Singles where I would just put singular movies that matched the content.  
There is also a fabulous thing that Playlists allows you to do.  Many of the videos uploaded have been split into multiple parts in order to meet upload criteria.  In order to show these as one full movie,  pull them all into a Playlist in order.  When you choose to Play All, it plays all of the videos together as one.  Brilliant!
I just recently showed one of my kiddos' favorites:  Future Fright:  Losing the Bill of Rights.

It is a Discovery School Movie that details what life would be like if we suddenly lost the Bill of Rights (it also stars Timothy Busfield so all of us old people can give a "What up?" For Thirty Something!). The kids love it but I find it funny because they think the video is "long" (it's 24 minutes long).  I guess gone are the days of watching a movie over multiple class periods.  Usher in the era of YouTube!  Come on over to my YouTube Channel and see all the great middle school social studies movies I've found!!
Click here: http://www.youtube.com/user/mrswilkinshms?feature=mhee

Thursday, January 24, 2013

QR codes.... Linking life together

Originally posted on Weebly 1/20/2012

So, although this has nothing to do with teaching, I totally think I could make it work in a classroom and eventually be a rich alternative to the in class presentation.
I am a scrapbooker. Back in the day I used to spend hours at AC Moore or Michael's buying the right paper or vellum word art. I would save my photos and memorabilia in a pretty box and spend days on the actual layout. Then I had kids and stuff got real. The dog ate my glue stick. The beautiful, chunky first born son would sit on the paper and rip the embellishments. I actually have a page detailing the day he was born and the dates and times are wrong. This was my first child! I can believe getting it wrong for my pixie girl of a second child because my brain has turned to Gouda, but you remember everything about the first.
I then began digital scrapbooking and fell in love. I used iRemember for Macs and adored that I could use paper and embellishments over and over. Gone were the days of only scrapbooking during the summer.
Our Mac began to die and I acquired an iPad so now I use Coolibah. They have partnered with my favorite scrapbooking artist so that makes me very happy. I also love that I can scrap in bed while watching Downton Abbey....sometimes life is pure serendipity. 
Awhile ago I saw this great idea on some link on Pinterest. I obviously take thousands of pictures and videos of the Prince and Princess. In order to solidify the events together, the post suggested I scrapbook a QR code of my video onto my scrapbook page. I usually upload my videos to Vimeo (and larger videos to YouTube but I mark them as private) so this totally made sense. So voila!!!!


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Isn't that just darn amazing? I love how they are integrated and long after the immediate memory is gone we can relive these events with multimedia. 
Sooo...... Can you see how this could work in the class? I do a great poster project on the inventors of the Industrial Revolution with a major focus on the question, "Which region of the United States most benefitted from these inventions, i.e. cotton gin, steel tipped plow, textile mill, etc.?". Students have to present their poster to the class. Wouldn't it be fun for them to give their presentation and upload it to Youtube and then to embed the QR code into the project? I can even see posting these up in the hall and having the kids experience a talking museum! Oh the ideas that have poured forth!!!

Change is good

Originally posted 1/19/2012 on Weebly
Although I have been teaching the same subject for twelve years, my ADD kicks in constantly and I always feel the need to change how I attack each unit. This doesn't always end in success and many times I've gone back to what I did the year before. Sometimes, though, it really pays off.
Although I have alway been happy with my Bill of Rights unit, I decided to jazz it up a bit this year. I used to give an illustrated explanation of the Bill of Rights but this year I decided to do a foldable. After nine years away from using interactive notebooks, I've decided to launch it again next year. When I first had students keep interactive notebooks all those years ago, foldables hadn't even been imagined. Now Dinah Zike has entire books on foldable activities created especially to fit into notebooks. I've decided to start to integrate notebook activities into my binders this year as practice.


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At the end of our discussion on the Bill of Rights, I gave the kiddos a homework assignment that asked them to name the most useless of the amendments and the most important.

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When they came in the next day, I had made a grid on the board representing the ten amendments. They were to put a green sticky on the most important amendment and an orange sticky on the one they felt we could live without. I then asked them to tell me what they noticed. In each class, this led to deep conversations mostly concerning the usefulness of the 9th amendment and we continued our discussion on how some of these things seem like nonnegotiables but maybe that's because we have had these freedoms for over two hundred years. My favorite insight was into the lack of stickies for the eighth amendment. One student commented that although that amendment doesn't matter to him because he is fourteen he like knowing it is there just in case he ever needs it:). 

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After we finished our discussion, we watched a BrainPop on the Bill of Rights and then this very fun video I found on YouTube.


We were able to just start our next activity where the students created law firms and I present them with various scenarios dealing with the amendments and they need to identify the amendment for each case. For each one they get right they receive $100 Wilkins' dollars.

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I'm really glad I tried some new activities this year. I think I have improved the unit!!

Afternote:  The kiddos also love the Student Rights Video on BrainPop.  It really helped them understand that they have rights, but being in a school makes it a little different.

Sometimes the Darndest Things Work

Originally posted on Weebly 1/15/2012

Ha!  Sometimes you try the simplest little things and you get the hugest return.  When my kiddos come into class, their first job everyday is to complete the "Do Now" list before we can begin class.  The list is in the same place everyday and written in green for consistency.  The "Do Now" includes writing down the homework, updating their table of contents in their binder, completing a geography bonus question and taking out their homework.  Some of my classes were able to get into the swing of getting this done daily by the beginning December.  I have one class, though, that was really struggling and every day it would eat up over ten minutes.  I even tried using some Fun Timers and although they loved the timers, it really didn't make them want to complete the tasks.
In absolute desperation, and almost as a joke, I started to look around for a virtual ticker, like those at the Stock Exchange.  I couldn't find one but it gave me an idea.  I wanted a visual remembrance that moved to catch their eye and get them movin' and groovin'.  I decided to go to my one of my favorite tech creators, Animoto.  I created one slide on PowerPoint that stated "Complete the Do Now!".  I imported that picture, duplicated it multiple times and used the tools on Animoto to add text, (i.e. Do Now!  Do Now!  Do Now!).  I chose a generic rock song (royalty free of course because that's how Animoto rolls).  Voila!  Instant reminder video!!!!
So although I made this totally on a whim and almost as a joke to myself...... IT TOTALLY WORKED!!!!  Holy productivity Batman!  My husband told me not to use the music because he felt that would be too distracting.  I tried it after a couple of days, as an experiment, and the music made the experiment even more successful!  Somehow the music centered them even more and seemed to tap into their auditory learning.  These kids come in, now, and really start to get organized and prepared without a single reminder! 


One of my classes really 
doesn't need this reminder but I decided to use the video with them a couple of days after my initial launch.  One of my brightest students said to me, "Mrs. Wilkins.... this is a brilliant idea!".  I love when I'm brilliant and I really don't try.  If you aren't able to h it:)view the embed below, click here to go on over to Animoto and watch it :)

Google Docs and ICivics walked into a bar....

Originally posted on Weebly 1/12/2012

So although I absolutely loooooove iCivics, I have found their sign up process for students to be iffy at best. In one class during one period I could only sign up 2/3 of the kids. To this day I have two kids that can't sign up no matter what email they use. I had wanted to give students bonus points if they played so many minutes a month but that really wasn't possible. I figured out a solution to my problem when iCivics sent me an email last month announcing they were launching a new game called "We the Jury". The game placed students on a jury where they had to collaborate to decide guilt or innocence.

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To offer this assignment as a bonus but hold the kids accountable for playing the game for a decent amount of time I decided they could write a review of the video game. To do this, we used Google Drive.

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I created a form and embedded it into my classroom website. The students had to reflect on what they learned, whether they would recommend this game to another middle schooler and include information that swayed their decision.

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I felt like I got a really good glimpse of the experiences the kids had while playing the game and I think I'm going to email the comments to iCivics. We are in the midst of a government unit right now and I think I'm going to use this method so they can experience some other games and take me along for the ride. Do any of you use iCivics? What results have you had?

Status Updates from the Past

Originally posted on Weebly 12/28/2012

When I had finally finished my Constitutional Convention unit I wanted a really great culminating activity to top it all off! I had been trolling the net for ideas on how to use Facebook pages and had found some really great things. Most of the templates I found were wonderful and PowerPoint Presentations but they just weren't for me. The PowerPoint format meant my kiddos were going to spend a lot of time searching for pictures and inserting text boxes. I felt like this would distract them from what they were really trying to do. I decided to give Fakebook a try. My friend had sent it to me a couple of years ago and I had avoided it because of a couple of things:

  1. It has ads embedded into the work sheet. The ads don't show up when you print it but I was worried my students with attentional difficulties would find the ads distracting.
  2. It's free but sometimes free means difficulties. Although they give an option for saving I was worried it wouldn't be good enough.
I decided to give it a whirl. I loved how it automatically added pictures for you and you didn't have to worry about formatting. The kiddos were going to make a Fakebook page for the Founding Father they had represented during th simulation. They needed to include the following information:

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After explaining the project I had the kids complete a rough draft graphic organizer.

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Once we got in the computer lab I was absolutely honest with the kiddos and let them know that I had never used this before and this might blow up in my face. I looooove to use technology and I think the first thing you need to embrace is that things might fail... So you might as well let the kids come along for the ride.
The first day was slightly horrible. Something must have been wrong with the website or our server because we had a lot of glitches... So many that I almost gave up. I'm really glad I pushed through it though because the next day was smooth sailing and the kids produced really amazing artificacts!


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When the kids printed it out they had to go through and highlight the fifteen words and phrases they had to use. My three days in the lab turned into five but at least it was the week before Christmas.
On a totally separate but connected note, when we were in the lab we got to try out PollEverywhere.
I used it the first day in the lab and they loved it. Of course I got some stupid comments but I told the kids I wanted them to only post questions that didn't need an immediate response and the answer would probably benefit other students as well. I would work with kids around the lab and in between helping I would answer new questions that had surfaced.


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Of course some of the comments were brown nosing but I will take brown nosing everyday!!!
Overall the project was a major success... Now I just need to grade them:(

100th Day... My Boy's Wicked Smart

Originally posted on 12/27/2012 on Weebly

So although I have gone to school almost every year of my life I have never celebrated the 100th day! I went to Catholic school for my elementary grades and I'm pretty sure it's a sin to celebrate, have fun, smile, etc. Other than that I've always attended or taught upper grades. My fabulous and amazing son is in kindergarten this year and I just don't like to engage my students.... My kiddos are the first midgets I like to engage. In my many post holiday hours on Pinterest I found this:

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Which led me to this website:

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This tee was totally up my little bubba's mathematical alley. My little man is apnot only a math genius, but he's really passionate about the subject. Not any old 100 tshirt would do. The tally marks just gave him something mathematically to play in his mind. I read her directions and decided I could do it but since I'm a working mom, I was going to rely more on technology and less on crafty. I created this on Google Drive Drawing:

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Feel free to download it yourselves!(Just let me know in the comments because I'm not sure if anyone even listens to me;) )
Click here to access


After I played with it way toooo much because I am a perfectionist (and my math teacher husband felt I put the diagonal tallies in the wrong direction), I found a fabulous 50% off coupon at Vista Print.

I uploaded my .png to Vista Print and was able to use their design tools to add text that complimented the design.

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This is the finished product!!! All together it cost me just over $14. A tshirt, iron on transfer, color ink(because we never have any) and my time would probably have cost a bit more. The tshirt is ordered and my kiddo was so jazzed by it he skip counted by 5s to 100. I told you my boy's like wicked smart, right?

Skitch and Simulations


Originally posted on Weebly 12/23/2012
I have never been content with my pre Constitution unit so this year I used all the resources for the History Alive series and implemented their Constitutional Convention simulation. I've already marked down the things we will change for next year but the kids enjoyed the immersion into the topic.

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I love me some simulations! On a dorky tech note, although a lot of people love the Skitch app, I've never found any need for it until now. It has a "blurrer". You know... That tool the blurrs kids' faces so they don't get kidnapped! Awesome and now I will use it all the time!!!

#tweetingfromsocialstudies

Originally posted on 12/23/2012 on Weebly
As I've stated in another post, I'm really trying to spread my wings this year with small processing opportunities like Entrance and Exit Tickets. I've had my kiddos make these small little booklets they keep in their binders explicitly for their Exit Tickets. Upon researching on Pinterest (oh Pinterest.... How I love thee:) ) I found some great processing ideas using Twitter as their focus. I have a lot of free space on my rarely used whiteboard so I thought I would turn it into my Twitter board. I loved the idea of thinking like a tech project but completing it in class with nothing but a writing utensil and sticky notes. For my first activity I had them actually tweet out on two separate topics. The kiddos had just finished a Common Core graphic organizer where they read a debate on whether Google was making us stupid. In this activity they had to compose a thesis statement and cite textual evidence to support their claims. On the Twitter board the kiddos had to write down one piece of evidence and then place it in the"Yes" or "No" category. On the second board they had to give their answer to a homework questions, "Do you agree with the Constitutional Convention's rule of secrecy? Why or why not?" The funny thing is that even though only three or four of my kids actually have a Twitter account, they all knew how to hashtag! Some of them were downright masters at it!

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The kids absolutely looooved this and it has become a mainstay over the last couple of weeks. They have been begging to use it all the time but I know that as soon as we use it consistently it will turn into a chore. We have retired the hashtag "YOLO" because Mrs. Wilkins just finds it downright stupid:). On the day before Christmas we watched the end of year wrap up on CNN Student News and the Year in Rap for Flocabulary and the kids were given this Tweet prompt: Time Magazine has contacted you about writing the cover story on the Story of the Year. In your opinion, what is the Story of the Year and why?

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When given the chance, my kids are kinda insightful huh?

No exit, no return

Originally posted on 12/17/2012 on Weebly

One of the things I pride myself on is after a decade of teaching the same subject I am constantly changing the way I teach. It would be easier to just pull last year's assignment out of a binder and implement it but my ADD kicks in or I hear about some new way to engage and I change it all over again.

I have been considering implementing an Exit Ticket system in my class for years but I find it is so hard to give up the time when I only have forty five minutes. I was feeling really disjointed this year so I decided to try the exit ticket system when it made sense. I wanted to challenge the kiddos a bit more than, "What did you learn?" and I certainly was not going to ask them, "What questions do you still have?" Because my kids' questions tend to range around' "Can I eat pretzels in class?" to "Can I tell you about my new puppies?. 
So far I ha've asked my kiddos to write acrostics...


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And letters home to England

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But my favorite were haikus on the Articles of Confederation.

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The kids definitely did way beyond where I had gauged their performance. I used to do this assignment as a large project (write 10 haikus on the French and Indian War). I really think I will put this in my rotation or processing assignments.