Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Building My Leadership Capacity

At the onset of 2009 I decided I wanted to build my leadership capacity. I had grown comfortable with teaching and wanted a new challenge. So, while I love teaching, I thought I would begin to explore the next level up. I told members of my school's executive team about my interest, and they found me some things I could begin working on to enhance my leadership skills. I also began a Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership, which I hope to turn into a Masters at a later point in time. To begin with, it was like learning a new language - all the educational leadership theory was new to me. I'd never realised how much was involved!

Things really started making sense to me when I "won" (by default!) a temporary position acting in higher duties. Initially it was supposed to be for 4 weeks, but due to changing circumstances, it continued for two terms. What an opportunity! I was so excited by the new challenges and ran on nervous energy for a good few weeks. I set out to do whatever was required, take every opportunity, even if I'd never done it before. And let me tell you, I experienced a GREAT deal of first times. I hate first times. They were mostly successful, but they just take so much out of you. On the flip side, they DO make second times much easier!

At the end of the first term, I was still chomping at the bit - keen for more, so was very glad to have it extended further. I was developing my systems, becoming more confident, finding my own ways to contribute to the executive team. When I arrived at work on my 'exec day' I wrote myself a 'to-do' list and worked my way through it. As much as possible I tried to stay a little ahead of myself so that should anything unexpected arise I wouldn't find myself drowning.

Big Picture Perspective
One of the things I really loved about the experience was that it gave me a much better understanding of the 'big picture'. Most of the time I have an excellent understanding of what I am doing in my classroom and a considerable knowledge of what is going on across my year level. In terms of the rest of the school, or my school system, I only find things out as they become important to what I'm doing in the classroom. In the exec role, however, I gained a much better understanding of how everything ties together. I came to understand a lot more of the 'why' behind what we do and how the school runs.

Problem Solving
I loved the opportunities I had to sit down and discuss the big issues with members of the exec team. In particular, I enjoyed popping in on my acting Deputy Principal, who was also doing the Grad Cert, to share ideas and talk through some of the things we were working through. She was a great support to me, giving me guidance as I took my baby steps in leadership. I also enjoyed chatting with the other acting School Leader C (that was my role) about the things we were learning and how we were tackling things. I learnt a lot from watching her approach to things and can see some areas for my personal growth.

Connecting with Teachers
I also enjoyed getting to know teachers across the school. The nature of my varied roles this year meant that I ended up rubbing shoulders with every teacher in some capacity. I would like to build this further during future opportunities, because I didn't feel like I did this as well as I would like. I would like to support my teachers more and take time to check-in with them on how things are going.

One of my pet peeves this time was that it wasn't clear from the outset which teachers I would be writing supervisory reports for. I was given one teacher at the start of my time - for whom I feel I did a thorough job because I was aware of my responsibilities. But then another popped up about a week before the report was due, and then another at the end of the next term. The result of this was that I was writing reports for teachers I didn't actually have the opportunity to mentor or support. As I said, it was a pet peeve not a major issue of contention. I was able to write the reports based on informal observations and discussions I'd had with the teachers, but I just didn't feel I was providing them with the best learning opportunity that I could have provided.

I was a bit disappointed with how things went in terms of the projects that I was working on. I think that I may need to develop some assertiveness to ensure that my visions don't get steamrolled by others. There were also times when I felt that things may have gone a little off track. I'm still trying to determine the proper pace for introducing things - again coming back to assertiveness - in order to get the ball rolling, gain the momentum and interest of staff, but without overwhelming people.

My two big projects were the Enrichment Committee and Microsoft Peer Coaching (to include the introduction of laptop computers in Year 5/6). On the Enrichment Committee we did a lot of talking, planning and data collection. We didn't get to have a PD session for staff until Term 4, Week 8 - which at that point felt almost pointless. On the positive side, it sounds like the staff are all on board with the sort of thinking we're working through and are keen to get something started in 2010. I will probably work on some things during the holidays to springboard us into the new year.

As far as the Peer Coaching went, the laptops didn't arrive until the end of the year, and despite chasing it quite consistently, I wonder whether it would have made a difference if I'd gone up the ranks harder and faster. In terms of coaching teachers, I did bits where possible, but don't feel I really gave it enough attention. Most teachers were feeling overwhelmed trying to fit everything in as it was without adding additional pressure to integrate technology more. This is something I would like to continue to build further in 2010 regardless of whether I am on the executive team or not.

Reading and Editing Reports

Reading and Editing reports was a challenge, and possibly the closest I came to failing at something in my exec role. I had the stupid idea to 'track changes' in Word, and it proved difficult for some teachers to work with, and then also difficult when it came to printing. I also had some teachers argue for the wording that they had used rather than accepting my recommended changes, and I wasn't blunt enough to tell them that the words they used made them sound arrogant and judgemental. This wasn't in a lot of reports, but it did make me wonder who is SUPPOSED to have the final say when it comes to wording. Should I have been more assertive, or is it essentially up to the teacher to determine their choice of wording?

Extra bits
There were also lots of extra things that came into the role. I got to do quite a bit of data analysis looking at our NAPLAN results, ICAS results and School Satisfaction Surveys. This helped me to develop that big picture perspective and to consider the future direction of the school.
For the last few weeks I took charge of organising relief teachers (not too bad at this time of year).
I ran a few meetings and workshops for staff or parents on various things and became less nervous with this.
I did a little behaviour management - sorting out issues between students, and sometimes between students and teachers. I was quite happy with the approach I took to this - which while at times lengthy, seemed to help students to really resolve the issues.

All in all it was a great experience, but by the end of the school year, I was feeling drained. In hindsight, I wonder if it was the reports that broke my spirit, as I didn't seem to have the same energy or enthusiasm past that point. I'll learn from my mistakes this time and be better prepared next time. And maybe I'll just have to accept that this is one of the tougher parts of the job, and that I won't always please everyone!

So, what's ahead? I'm going to sit tight in my own school a little longer and continue to take up any leadership opportunities that come my way. At this stage that means more Microsoft Peer Coaching, more sitting on the School Board, more Enrichment, and contributing to the validation process through the School Improvement Cycle. There's enough there for this year even without the official title of School Leader C!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year That Was - 2009

I've been doing lots of thinking about the year that I've had and the many things that filled it. It was possibly the most productive year I've ever had, but I don't feel I had time to really live and enjoy it. Here's what happened...

January - Enjoyed the holidays and joined the Twitter 365 Project group with Flickr. Unfortunately I couldn't keep it up for long once school started back! Started Tech Tips Tuesday and The Teaching K-6 Blog Carnival. Camped a night with my sister at the coast. Did lots of coast trips with my hubby and dog to put more kilometers on the car for our car lease!

February - Started school again, back where I feel challenged and inspired, and began teaching Year 4. Started a unit of work on the book Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda. Joined the School Board as a teacher representative. Organised Harmony Day Assembly.

March - Started my Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership. Began mentoring an intern teacher.

April - Presented at the Edna Mini-conference. Went to my Nana's 90th Birthday in Gosford. Began using the Flip Mino and Blue Snowball microphone in the classroom. Began weeding on the Ridge.

May - Went to Sunshine Coast for Microsoft Innovative Schools Conference - presented during the unconference. Started an Integrated Inquiry unit of work on Australian History and a Literacy unit on the book New Gold Mountain by Christopher W. Cheong. Year 4 Camp to Warrumbui.

June - Prepared nomination for my school in the Excellence in Teaching Awards. Year 4 students performed Fairytale plays and Fife and Drum music for their parents. Went to Gosford with my Mum to visit my grandmother.

July - Began a higher duties role in my school which continued until the end of the year - this involved less time on class and more time working on school projects and planning/managing/mentoring etc. Began training in Microsoft Peer Coaching. Ordered and kept chasing laptops for the school (which didn't actually arrive until late November!) Year 4 visited the Ridge for more weeding and made the local paper.

August - Ran in the City to Surf road race in Sydney. Went to Pink's concert. Had my first go at geocaching. Presented at ATESOL workshop. Started Integrated Inquiry unit of work on Textiles and Design. Experimented with Cooperative Reading Groups in Literacy. The Showboating Showoffs began to learn creative dance which they later performed in an assembly.

September - Had an article published in EQ Australia. Worked on ABC 3 Promos using claymation and other video production. Year 4 excursion to the CSIRO. My class attempted geocaching for the first time. Returned to New York City for a couple of weeks holiday - enjoyed all the favourites yet again and caught up with friends. Ran in the New York Fifth Avenue Mile race.

October - Began an Integrated Inquiry unit of work on Space. Struggled through the rest of my uni studies. Trained our school's team for the GATEWAYS challenge. Bought Guitar Hero for XBOX 360 - great stress relief at the end of the day!

November - Collected and sorted data about enrichment programs at my school and presented these to staff and also to principals from my district. Year 4 excursion to Questacon. Went to a friend's wedding in Sydney.

December - My youngest brother got married. We drove to Melbourne to pick up an old fashioned bathtub to hold drinks for Christmas. Struggled through the last few weeks of school. My class did another geocaching adventure on the Ridge and helped our department's Learning Technology Support Officers to create a video about geocaching. Cleaned and cooked for Christmas lunch at our place.

I considered putting in links so that you could read more about these things, but realised that that would make for a lot of hyperlinks and would be annoying to read. Instead, if there's something you want to know more about, you can probably find it in the archived items for that month, or if it's a unit of work - in my Units of Work section.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry Christmas

I haven't been around in the blogosphere so much over the past few weeks. And I've felt a little guilty, but must say, I've enjoyed the break. I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and thank you for your support during the year. It has been fun to share my ideas with you and to learn from your ideas and suggestions as well.

It has been a crazy, busy year for me. I think I ended up taking on a lot more than I initially intended. A number of times along the way, I said to myself, that I could only get through it all if I managed to stay healthy. And, stay healthy I did.

I think the last couple of weeks of school were tough emotionally and I struggled to keep it together until the end. I got to the end of each day and just felt drained. I found myself wondering why I had slogged away so hard through the year. One of my old youth group leaders (only 5 years older than me) died of a heart attack, which stopped me in my tracks a bit and made me question the direction of my life. I hate goodbyes and found myself wishing I'd had more time with my class. And then there was all the packing up and cleaning of the classroom. Ugh. So, at the end of all that, I needed a break and didn't have the emotional energy for blogging.

After the first weekend of holiday, I was already feeling SO much better. I read through some old high school diaries to reconnect with the me that was, and actually discovered I'm pretty happy with the me that is! It's strange how we only remember the good stuff from our past. The diary fixed that and reminded me of all the issues I had as a boy-crazy, nasty Year 9 student; and then later as a confused and frustrated Year 11 student uncertain of the future and desperate for answers. I must say (and it's embarrassing to admit it) I was quite hooked and couldn't put the books down DESPITE the fact that I already knew how things ended! I have about 15 of them still to go, but am avoiding them for the same reasons I avoid too much Twitter! I was reminded how lucky I am to have my husband and the life I have. I was also reminded that I've never really had things 'all worked out' and that I've always had my fair share of crazy ideas.

So anyway, I hope to be writing a little more frequently now that I'm having a bit of a break from normal work, but I'm trying to make the most of some time to relax and do other things I love as well - bike riding, painting, cooking, and reading. Looking forward to it!

Hope you enjoy any holidays that come your way at this time of year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip: Photo Fun
For some quick fun with photo effects, Photo Funia is the place to be. It's very easy to use and the kids LOVE it! Why not create a moon scene display board and get your students to put themselves in a spacesuit? Students can put their face on money, or wanted posters and see themselves as Jedi masters. I got a bit carried away with this, making myself a cupid, Mona Lisa, Marilyn Monroe and body builder. My students said: "Mrs Ryder, you seem to be having too much fun with this!"

Take a photo of all of your students in good light and save these to a location that is easy for students to access. (Files need to be less than 8MB). Ensure that the website is not blocked in your school.

  1. Students go to the website:
  2. They select the desired effect.
  3. THEY SELECT NOT TO HAVE THEIR PHOTO ADDED TO THE FACES SECTION OF THE WEBSITE (Some effects say this will not happen, others require students to tick the box).
  4. They choose the image they would like to upload and wait for their picture to be created.
  5. They then choose to save the image to an appropriate location (their folder).
  6. Students can then print the image from this folder or use the file in other multimedia products

Update: Please be warned that from time to time, inappropriate scenes may be included in the effects. Use at your own discretion.

Monday, December 7, 2009

11th Teaching K-6 Carnival

Welcome to the December edition of Teaching K-6 carnival. With Christmas just around the corner, teachers in Australia and New Zealand are getting more than their fair share of the silly season. Finishing the school year is tiring business - with Christmas concerts, graduation ceremonies, reports, Christmas crafts and the hustle-bustle to finish everything off in time. The summer heat doesn't help either as tired children feel tension in the friendships that have been so strong throughout the year.
There haven't been an overwhelming number of relevant posts this month, so enjoy this small sampling of delights. As you 'unwrap' this month's offerings, I hope you find some goodies to motivate and inspire.

Gripes and Brags

This month Sonja Stewart shares her frustrations about the state of education in US schools. In Where Have All the Students Gone? posted at Parenting Squad she wonders how her child is going to receive a world class education with only 15 days at school during the month of November. She questions the usefulness of half-days and their impact on student learning. Why not pop by and share your thoughts on the issue?

Following on from this, Edwin Choi presents Elementary School in Seventeen Easy Steps posted at K12 Directory of Schools Blog. These tips may be useful considerations for parents when determining the best place for their child's education. It always helps to know the philosophy of your child's school and what the school offers. This list may also help schools to identify those issues of greatest concern to parents. Edwin Choi also shares her list of The Top Ten Books for Preschoolers. These all time favourites would make great Christmas prizes or presents. Alternatively, they could be purchased for a fresh new library set at the start of 2010.

Wendy Piersall at Classroom Jr. shares free Christmas Math Worksheets saying, "These were a huge hit last year, so I wanted to share them with your readers early this year!"

Brain Strain

Tracy Rosen shares her thoughts from Alfie Kohn's QPAT speech in her post On de-rubricizing at Leading From The Heart. She questions our use of rubrics and goes so far as to call them 'creativity killers'. Rather than limiting students to a set of boxes in which they find a place to sit, she encourages us to lose the rubrics, but raise the bar.

Innovate - Beyond The Slate

In his post at Open Educator, Graham Wegner considers the term Digital Transition to describe the current state of his school - somewhere between a traditional paper based, non-digital classroom and the always on, 1:1 connected environment. Read his blog and consider your own situation and your progression within the 'digital transition'.

At NZ ICT Edublabberings you will find the must-read post from Rachel Boyd, For Kids, By Kids: Nelson Kids' ICT Expo. Here she shares the story (and videos) of the amazing things her 6-7 year old students are doing with ICT. Not only have they developed skills in the use of ICT, but they have also taken the initiative to share their knowledge with others. This a very inspiring post demonstrating what can be achieved with the right encouragement and opportunities.

Look No Further

Ferrari Dude presents Top 50 Bloggers to Help You Study, Focus and Learn Better posted at Best Online

Why not submit your post for the next carnival?

The Teaching K-6 Carnival is posted monthly on the 7th. I will be collecting submissions throughout the next month, looking in particular for posts that discuss and exemplify innovative teaching and the integration of technology in the K-6 classroom. I also invite some discussion around education related news articles and a few "brain strains" to keep our minds alert and challenged. Please submit only articles of which you are the author and refrain from using this merely as a sales pitch. For full details, please read my call for submissions.

If you have a relevant post that you would like to submit to the next edition of Teaching K-6 Carnival use our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Support this Carnival

If you enjoyed this edition of the carnival, you can support its continuation by sharing it with others. Link to us, add us to a tweet, stumble or digg us. Thanks!

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip - Look after your stuff!

I have been teaching for two weeks without my Smart Board. Why? Well... I failed on the basics of using technology in the classroom. My data projector was mounted under a skylight, which (it turns out) had been collecting and dumping leaves and dust down onto the projector. Some of this clutter burned its way into the optics of my data projector and the resulting image was a great big purple smear on one side of my Smart Board. I tried to use it like that for a couple of days, but it kinda got in the way!! So... my data projector was taken down and delivered (by us, to save on costs) to the repairman. Unfortunately, his estimate to fix it was $1000. We don't have that sort of money sitting around, so I think the job's on hold at the moment. And I'm feeling REALLY guilty for not having noticed that mess was falling down from the skylight.

So, this week's tip: If you're lucky enough to have an Interactive Whiteboard, treat your data projector with the utmost of respect.

As for me, there's only three more weeks to go for this year, so I'll try to live without the Smart Board. I'll borrow my teaching partner's space if I really need to use the Smart Board and go back to marker on a whiteboard for the rest!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Friday Fun - 27/11/09

You can imagine my relief to have come to the end of writing reports this week. I'm not sure why I find it such a challenge. I guess because I want to get each comment "right". I have enjoyed teaching all of my students and value each one of them as individuals, and it can be difficult to communicate that in a report. There are set protocols for how these should look, and I find myself spending about half an hour per child, per report.

I'm very aware that the year is drawing to an end, and am trying to make the most of all the last moments.

Fun This Week

Through all the assessment and report writing, I discovered that some of my students have 'forgotten' some of the spelling patterns they 'knew' earlier in the year. I started to think more about this, and wondered whether it might be that they have just been guessing the correct spelling patterns each time, coming up with the right one sometimes, but not other times. I felt the need for more explicit instruction about base words, and how to correctly add prefixes and suffixes.
As a result, this week I provided a base word and together we made adaptations using a range of prefixes and suffixes. We considered how the base word changed as these additions were made. I'm going to continue this for the rest of the term in an attempt to help students make these connections in their spelling. I am hoping that students will begin to think more about the base words as they write, using this information to assist with spelling rather than relying on 'sounding out' alone.

On Thursday we had a Cricket Clinic at the school. Students participated in some games and drills to practise cricket skills such as striking a ball, throwing and catching. They had a lot of fun and enjoyed the 'prizes' we were given to share out.

Kindergarten Buddies
On Friday I invited students from Kindergarten to come and join my class as their teacher was providing orientation to Preschoolers who will be Kindergarten students next year.
I set up a range of activities and put students in buddy groups. They rotated through the activities, spending about 10 minutes at each. The Year 4 students did a marvelous job of being caring tutors and the Kindies had a ball meeting one of the big kids and trying out some new activities with support.
Activities included:
Writing in Microsoft Word and adding Clipart

Adding to a theme poster - jungle, theme park or underwater world

Maths games

Looking at fibres through a microscope

Reading together

This week we made star advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas. The star was a geometrical pattern and we made colourful links - one for each of the days until Christmas. Children take off one link each day as they count down to Christmas.

For more fun from the past two weeks, remember to check out Space Spectacular #4.

Space Spectacular #4

Week 6 and 7 - Finding Out, Sorting Out, Making Conclusions, Going Further

The activities in these weeks were designed to provide opportunities for students to find out about space and sort their ideas in a range of forms. Students took a test to demonstrate the conclusions they had made from their learning. We then had an excursion to Questacon for students to take their learning further and explore other scientific concepts through hands on exhibits and shows.


One of the focus questions for our unit this term is: What is gravity and how does the force of it pull things on or above the Earth's surface towards it?In preparation, I took the text from Ask an Astronomer for KIDS! and spread out the key ideas on a worksheet:
As we discussed each key idea, students drew a picture to illustrate the concept. I found that this was a helpful way to unpack the ideas. I particularly liked the last point and showed students these photos from when I stood on the special scales in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

We also read and discussed this simple explanation.
We then made artificial satellites as explained in this NASA activity. The gravity of the larger clump of plasticine balances out with the centrifugal force of the smaller clump of plasticine, keeping it 'orbiting'. I'm not sure that this is the best way to describe how orbits work, but it was fun to do anyway! You can see a video of the result below:

Earth's Atmosphere
Jonathan, my teaching partner, crafted the following lesson using this lesson plan found online. In teams of four, students drew the Earth and then added the atmospheric layers using a scale of 1mm=2km. We used this website for further information and also watched this animation to see it all in motion. The only change I would make is that I would make sure the Earth is to scale next time as well, by checking out the diameter of the earth and using a compass to draw it. (I just found this animation that would be helpful as well - too late for us this time, but may help others).

Guest Speaker
"Commander Cooper" (AKA Captain Lister) came to talk to us about his experiences with Space travel. We actually combined two grades - the Year 1s who are learning about transport and the Year 4s who are learning about Space. Yet again, Commander Cooper did an awesome job of engaging students with costumes, photos, videos, student participation and valuable, kid-friendly information about Space travel. Thank you Commander Cooper!

Making Conclusions - Taking the Test
I created this test to determine whether students had achieved the key learning outcomes for the unit of work. I asked them to give as much detail as possible and not just take short-cuts with their answers. I was impressed by how much students demonstrated in their responses and was also surprised when some students asked for a spare copy so they could do it again at lunch, just for fun! As you can see, the test ties very closely to the activities we did throughout the unit.
Going Further - Excursion to Questacon
I've found no better place to take students to experience science on a large scale, than Questacon. It is fun, kid-friendly and brings science to life. Rather than post all the photos separately, I've added a slide show here for you to see.

Integrating with Literacy

Journey to the Moon
Jonathan crafted and taught this lesson. He began with astronaut training, briefing students on some key information about the Moon. They then buckled in as Jonathan used Celestia to take them to the Moon. As they got close, their lunar module experienced difficulty and crash-landed on the surface of the moon. Students worked in small groups, to prioritise a list of items they would need as they travelled toward a space station for support. I found a similar lesson plan here. Students then reported back to the group giving justifications for their choices. This was a very engaging activity and provided students with opportunities to use language to discuss the problem in small groups and also to share their ideas with the whole class.

Descriptive Writing
This activity is similar to one we did about spiders earlier in the year. We looked at some photos of nebulae and created a list of words that could be used to describe them. Students then played with the words (and their own adjectives) to create descriptive pieces of writing. Some had a poetic structure and others were descriptive paragraphs. My plan is for students to type these up and display them with their Nebula Watercolour Paintings from Week 4.

Evaluating Explanations
Earlier in the term students wrote explanations of the life cycle of a star. This week I displayed their posters around the room and gave students mini post-it notes on which to write constructive feedback (one + and one - ) for each other and attach to the posters. I asked that they ensure every poster had some feedback. They continued with this process of reading and providing feedback for about 10 minutes, collecting additional post-it notes as necessary. At the end of the 10 minutes, students collected their own poster and made a circle sitting on the floor. We went around the circle with each student sharing the feedback they received and what they had learnt about themselves as a writer and the process of writing an explanation. It was a great way for students to reflect on their work and learning and to consider areas for improvement in the future.

Reading with Expression and Comprehension
We have had a strong focus on writing during Literacy this term, so I wanted students to have an opportunity to practise some reading as well. Some of the students in my group have become a little lazy with their reading: not self-correcting when reading aloud, and not focusing on what they are comprehending. I decided to address that with some reading aloud about space.
We only had 7 copies of a book called "Life in Space" which provides explanations about elements of space travel, so I grouped students to read together.
Each person was given a topic to master. They needed to be able to read it fluently with expression and to have full comprehension of what it is explaining. Students took turns to read aloud to their group, who then provided feedback on their expression/volume etc.
Next week students will 'perform' their reading to a larger group and explain their topic and/or any diagrams on the page.

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out previous posts in the Space Spectacular Series.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip - Experience the World Without Leaving the Classroom

Today I would like to share with you another great resource for educational videos and photographs. Explore has three main goals:
  • to champion the selfless acts of others
  • to create a portal into the soul of humanity, and
  • to inspire lifelong learning
The videos are short and captivating. They shed light on life beyond the classroom walls and explore the experiences of people around the world. These snapshots spark interest and lead to further questions about the world and its people.

The resources on this site are categorised both by topic and by country, making it easy to filter for the materials you need. As long as they're not blocked at my school, I can see myself using these with students during those transition periods while I wait for students to pack up and come to the floor for the next activity.

They would also fit nicely into units of work on culture, animals, the environment, and music.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday - 15 Free Tech Tools for the Classroom

Today I share with you a guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the Guide to Business School. She also writes about online classes for You may have also enjoyed Karen's previous guest post: 20 Free Learning Technology Resources.

15 Free Tech Tools for the Classroom

Tech tools don't have to put a strain on your district's budgets. There are plenty of free tech tools that can be found online. Many of these tools were designed specifically for the classroom or for educators who want to enhance their lessons. Here are 15 free tech tools to try throughout the school year.

Edmodo - Designed specifically for the classroom, Edmodo provides a private platform for students and teachers to communicate online. Some of the things that can be shared through Edmodo include grades, assignments, polls, files, links, and class calendars.

Engrade - Engrade is a free classroom community for teachers who want to communicate privately and safely with students and parents online. Teachers can post assignments, grades, event reminders, progress reports, and more.

Empressr - Empressr is a web-based rich media presentation tool that can be used in the classroom to present lesson plans. The tool is easy to work with and allows everything from text and images to audio and video.

Eduslide - Eduslide makes it easy to create and deliver your own lessons, tutorials, and elearning modules online. You can also use this site to create your own websites for the classroom.

Web-Chops - Web-Chops is a great way to share specific parts of the web with your students. The site allows you to clip parts of the web--text, images, videos, etc.--and place them on one easy-to-navigate page.

Mikogo - Mikogo is an amazing tech tool for the classroom. It works across multiple platforms and can be used for multiple purposes. Mikogo is ideal for desktop sharing, web conferencing, online meetings, and remote support.

Anki - Anki is an intelligent flashcard program that works on a spaced repetition system. You can use it to create and share decks of flashcards with your students in the classroom. Flashcards can contain text, images, and audio.

Popling - This desktop application also works well for creating flashcards that can be displayed on a computer at scheduled intervals. Popling is most often used by language learners, but works just as well for students of other subjects.

Class Marker - ClassMarker is a testing website that allows users to create free quizzes and tests that can be taken online. The site creates professional-looking quizzes and tests and marks them when students are finished so that you don't have to.

FreeRice - FreeRice is a unique web program that allows older students to practice their vocabulary and participate in a charitable cause at the same time. For every answer students get correct, 10 grains of rice are donated to the UN World Food Program.

The Stacks - This scholastic site is a fun place for young readers to connect with each other and explore books and authors. The Stacks also offers games, videos, daily polls, and other interactive materials to engage students in literature.

International Children's Digital Library - This multicultural digital library provides award-winning books in multiple languages. After reading a book, students can expand upon the stories, create games, participate in scavenger hunts, and much more.

Shmoop - Shmoop offers study guides and unique web-based teacher resources that are perfect for the classroom. Covered topics include literature, poetry, U.S. history, and civics.

Topmarks - This UK site provides a wide range of interactive whiteboard resources on nearly every K-12 topic imaginable.

Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Metropolitan Museum of Art provides interactive virtual tours that give students an inside look at the museums permanent exhibits. Other site features include a timeline of art history and a collections database.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Blogger Behind this Blog #7

I know you've all been dying to hear about my trip to New York City, and I've been dying to tell you about it. It was really very depressing to arrive back home and have to jump straight into work again, so it's nice to have a few minutes this morning to reminisce and share my experiences with you.


For those of you who don't know my background with New York, I'll give it to you quickly here. In 2005 my husband and I did a whirlwind 17 day tour of the US including LA, Vegas, Grand Canyon, Orlando (Kennedy Space Center and Disney), and New York City. During our four days in New York City, my husband said "We should come and live here for a year!" I agreed, thinking he would probably forget about it when we got home. No such luck! In fact, his interest only grew stronger.

So, I looked into it and finally managed to get a job etc lined up. We packed up everything, sold our house and moved to New York City with the thought that we might end up making it permanent. We did, however, have a safety net - we both took a year's leave from our jobs so that we could return if things didn't work out. (You can read more about our experience at my New York blog.)

It wasn't so much that things didn't work out. In fact, we were loving our lives in New York. But when we weighed up all the elements, we felt that we had greater security in the long term back in Australia - superannuation, secure jobs, health care, etc. So we did the 'sensible thing' - we came back, bought a new home, returned to our jobs and...missed New York! In 2008 we returned for a month holiday during the summer, and then this year we went for another 17 days in late September/early October. This time my husband's mum, sister and her partner came along.

We just can't stay away!

Highlights from this trip:

As I was very busy in the lead-up to the trip, my wonderful husband took responsibility for most (all) of the planning. He managed to line up a number of tickets to sporting events. This was a real highlight for me because spectator sport is so exciting in the US. There's always such a great atmosphere with lots of tradition. I also like to do the whole food thing while watching the sport!

We went to the new Yankee Stadium for a Yankees vs Red Sox game. It got rained out and was postponed for an hour or so, but was a great game and well worth the wait.

We went to Michie Stadium to watch Army play Tulane in College Football. (Again a little rain, but not game-stopping)

Also on the same day as the football, we raced back to NYC for the first ice-hockey game of the season for the Rangers.

Another highlight was the Statue of Liberty. The crown has been closed to the public every time I'd visited, up until this time. We booked crown tickets well in advance and I enjoyed exploring this extra aspect. I'm always captivated by the beauty of Lady Liberty.

I really enjoyed catching up with friends and just generally hanging out with them. It was great to see our friends' kid who was a teeny-tiny baby on our last visit.'s not impossible to do babies in NYC...hmmm!

Another of my favourites was the view from our apartment - again, thanks to my husband. We were on the 31st floor in a mid-town apartment. Throughout the night I would stir and look out the window at 'my city'. As you can see, it was truly beautiful.

I also had the privilege of doing a school tour of Collegiate College. This counted as a highlight for me because it reminded me of the things I love about teaching in New York. I taught the boys a song "Waddly Archer" and met teachers and IT specialists.

We went to Sofia's to watch Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks play their 1920's style music. They were great as always and there were plenty of dancers to watch as well.

And, of course, I loved just being back - the smells, the air, the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the people.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday Fun - 14/11/09

Yet again I'm catching up on two week's worth of activity. I was away at a wedding last weekend and so didn't get a chance to post. Our learning continues to be very heavily focused on Space, so be sure to check out the Space Spectacular posts.

Fun this Week

I realised that students were making many mistakes with homophones in their writing, so last week our Spelling lists focused on homophones. We discussed some homophones together and then used the BBC Homophones quiz to practise some examples. Students voted for their answer using a show of 1, 2 or 3 fingers. This allowed me to see the students who needed extra support. I introduced students to the Confusing Words website which can be used when students are uncertain which word to use. Students then brainstormed all the homophones they could think of and circled the ones they find most difficult to remember. I used the circled words to create Spelling lists for the students for the week.

We have been learning about 3D shapes as well as reviewing previously taught concepts. I found some really useful resources through both Mathletics (subscription based program) and Smart Kiddies (free but need to register) to support students with developing these concepts. Smart Kiddies had some great worksheets that I could print out, while the new concept search in Mathletics offered step-by-step instructions for how to draw cubes, cones and cylinders. I also used one of the interactive games from Smart Kiddies for students to sort 3D shapes as prisms, pyramids or neither.

We have had students out of class over the past two weeks playing cricket for school teams. They had a lot of fun doing so and came back to school hot and exhausted at the end of the day!

Students have been learning a new song to perform for our next assembly and have been experimenting with pairing their voices and instruments to get the right rhythm. They are becoming very skilled at this and the song sounds amazing when they put it all together.
We are also preparing for our "Best Of 2009" concert where we will be performing "Rak Niwili" and "The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas".

Space Spectacular #3

Week 4 and 5 - More Finding Out and Sorting Out

The activities in these weeks were designed to provide opportunities for students to find out about space and sort their ideas in a range of forms. Students typically "found out" through books, videos, websites, songs and experiments. They "sorted out" using writing, diagrams, reports and art.

One of the focus questions for this unit is: "What are the relationships between distance and apparent size of objects to an observer?" My first thought was, "Huh?" closely followed by "Hmmmm." The models we made in weeks 2 and 3 touched on this but didn't really EXPLAIN anything or help students to make these deductions. I found an explanation of Emmert's Law on Wikipedia, but it was still too confusing for Year 4 students to really grasp. Somewhere along the way I thought about the funny photos you can take that play with this concept. Like this one by Andy Hay: / CC BY 2.0

I found a bunch of these at 100+ Funny Photos Taken At Unusual Angles and pulled out some appropriate ones to use with my class. (WARNING: Some are inappropriate, so do not use this site uncensored with your students.)
We looked at these at the start of the lesson and discussed the concept about apparent size and distance. I compared this to the apparent sizes of the sun and moon from Earth. I then gave students two different sized balls which they took outside and had to space apart in such a way that they looked the same size when viewed through the camera. Students then glued these pictures into their books and wrote an explanation of what they did and what they learnt. Those who finished early had time to create their own funny photos using their creativity.

Integrating with Literacy

Writing an Information Report

We needed to assess students' writing in preparation for end of year progress reports, so we decided to have students research and write about the sun. Information was provided through:

Students took notes while we explored these together. We watched the videos twice each and I demonstrated how I would take notes and add to them during the second viewing. Students then had the rest of the session to begin sorting through their notes to determine which ideas could be grouped together and to consider paragraph headings.
In the following session students began writing their report and drawing a diagram. In our next session students will review their work. You can see a copy of the Assessment Booklet below:

Integrating with Art

Nebula Watercolour Paintings

Having just explored the lifecycle of a star together, I showed students some photographic images of nebulas and super novas. We discussed the range of colours and the shapes and lines that were used. We then looked at these watercolour paintings by Ken Bandaruk. I gave students a large sheet of paper and some watercolours and left them to their own creativity to make nebula watercolours of their own. Once the painting was complete, students used a bamboo skewer and some white paint to add a layer of stars. Students who finished early went on to create super nova paintings using crayons and watercolours.

One Point Perspective

Building further on the concept from Emmert's Law, I taught students how to draw with one point perspective using these step-by-step instructions. Now that students have the basics, they are going to take it further, creating scenes of their own.

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out previous posts in the Space Spectacular Series.