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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Edmodo: Ning for Kids!

While I personally love Nings (I belong to sixteen Nings and counting) and would enjoy for my students to be able to dialogue in such an environment, the fact is this: students under the age of 13 are expressly forbidden by the Ning Terms of Service (and federal law!) to participate in such a forum.

So I spent a good deal of time searching around the web and experimenting with other sites, The best one I found for the purpose of classroom social networking is a site I knew about all along: Edmodo. About a year ago Mashable called Edmodo "Twitter for Education," but with the release of Edmodo 3.0 in August 2009 the site looks and behaves more like Facebook, and is now even easier to set up and implement. (While it's free in its basic version, the company plans to launch for-pay premium add-ons as well as school packages in the future. Get in now!).

So in brief, Edmodo lets the teacher create a social networking site which is totally closed. Not only closed, but also ad-free. Students join with a teacher-provided access code, and can then, in turn, join individual groups (which the teach has created) using additional access codes. (For additional security, you can change all access codes once students are in; in this way, even if students share access codes later, they won't work. Period One students will thus not be able to let Period 5 students into their group).

So after each of my students logs in to my created community, they are then forwarded access codes to join discussion groups such as What I'm Reading Now, Cool Videos, Sound Off (discussions about classroom topics), My Stories, My Art Work, etc. I even included a Status Update discussion so that students can just "check in" and let their peers know what they're up to, even if it's unrelated to any classroom topic. (And in case you're wondering, no, they cannot contact, nor be contacted by, students or teachers in other Edmodo networks; it's all about the access codes).

Unlike Twitter, Edmodo posts can be long! They can also include not only hypertext links, but also embedded videos and documents. Students can respond to teacher generated polls, and can be notified of important postings by teacher-generated alerts. Students can post to group discussions (The Outsiders), students in their class (Period 1), or individual members. But the teacher is able to see it all! In this way students know they're accountable for their actions.

What personal information is required of students? None. Usernames can be fictitious or coded, and avatars can be created or pasted images rather than actual pictures of their students. For those concerned with assessment, all I need to do is click on an individual student's avatar to see every posting he/she has written. If you feel a need to grade such an experience, you could even require a certain number of posts per week, in predetermined groups. I wouldn't.

I've created my Edmoto site and I'm really psyched for my students to give it a go this week. If they have additional ideas for discussion groups we'll add those as we go. I'll post again on Friday and let you know how it went.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Rethink Scholarship

Very cool. Practice what you preach.

Rethink Scholarship at Langara 2010 Call for Entries from Rory O'Sullivan and Simon Bruyn on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

For Lovers of Samorost

If you're a fan of Samorost and Questionaut, then you'll dig the new three-part adventure created the The Polyphonic Spree (which seems to be some musical group, based upon the only help box that appears at the site, shown here to the right).

Like the other two sites, you're left to your own devices and patience as you try to "click around" the scenes in the proper sequence in order to cause events to unfold, and the story to be told.

And if that's not really your thing, thanks for visiting anyway. For your trouble, here's a cool new online basketball shooting game that even I can play well. You first practice and then shoot against other real live players online. You score higher for clean baskets and quicker shots. Nice reward for those students who finish their work early.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Playnormous Health Games

Playnormous is a colorful, professionally designed, kid and teacher friendly site that features health games. Now if your first reaction was distaste or boredom, then this site was designed with you in mind. In the site's own words:
Playnormous isn't just for kids and their parents to learn about health the fun way. We've found that many teachers are using Playnormous as a learning tool for their students. Welcome to our site! We hope that you and your students will enjoy what we have to offer. Download our gameplay guides, classroom activities, worksheets, and student assessments.
So for the kids, cool online games that teach solid health and nutrition facts in a fun way. For teachers and parents, downloadable lesson plans and teaching guides. Playnormous also makes it super easy to add a button to your teacher website so that students can access their site from home.

If you teach health in any capacity at the elementary level, give this site a test drive!

For older students, check out NanoSwarm, where students wage war against a plague that threatens to destroy mankind, or Escape from Diab, a adventure/mystery to be solved through an exploration of nutrition.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Field Trip to Remember

When everyone else is blogging about tech, apps, and mashups, it seems strange that I'm blogging about a field trip. Not an online, virtual field trip, but an honest-to-goodness, real life field trip. Yes, Virginia, there is a real world beyond the key board!

My recommendation: Native Lands, a traveling program of Green Meadow Farms. Native Lands operates in much the same way as a traveling circus: the caravan arrives in a given location, sets up, and performs a number of times before moving on. But instead of one grand tent covering three rings, Native Lands operates in the great outdoors by setting up a number of stations. Each station is outfitted with sound systems and ample bleachers arranged in a U shape for spectators to take in the action.

But perhaps spectators is the wrong word, because teachers and students alike get to join in on the action: dancing and miming to harvest songs in the African Village, and playing Native American games by the Plains tipis. Other attractions include Animals of the Land and Birds of Prey. All of it educational, and all of it fun! Students can additionally feed a variety of animals at the petting zoo, shoot arrows at the archery range, and purchase food and souvenirs.

I've attended this event in fair weather and foul, and in every case (after a dozen years!) the performers entertain with equal energy and enthusiasm. Like Broadway professionals, they seem to realize that although this may be their 200th show, it is the first for most of their young visitors. And in every case, these same performers have make themselves available to students before and after the show to answer questions, explain their dress, and provide more information about their areas. (Event managers also routinely circulate, collecting feedback from teachers and parent chaperones).

The years that I couldn't attend with students, I've played hooky and taken my own daughters. I highly recommend you visit the site to see if Native Lands is visitingnear you. Definitely worth the trip!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Top 100 Learning Tools for 2009

Tech speaker and expert Jane Hart has compiled an impressive Learning Tools Compendium at her Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies site, viewable as both a slide show (below) and list of links. Essential stuff!

Also check out her Learning Tools Directory; perfect for for creators/users of blogs, wikis, all things web.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Professional Development via YouTube

Debbie Diller, author of Spaces and Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy and Teaching with Intention, speaks about creating a classroom environment with learning in mind. A great introduction to the topic for novice and experienced teachers alike; be sure to check out her books for more information.

This book is just one of the over 100 videos available for teachers at the Stenhouse Publishers YouTube Channel. You can also check out Debbie Diller's blog for more inspiration.