Friday, July 25, 2008

Moodle Online Classroom

I've been fairly involved in technology trainings this summer. Recently I attended a training on Moodle, which I will be using in my classroom next year. Moodle is free, and I highly recommend it, although without some kind of support from your district, it's next to impossible to implement.

Moodle is an online classroom, and I'm very excited to see how it goes in the classroom. I'll be using it in science and social studies to start with, and hopefully, as I get my feet wet, I can use it in other disciplines as well, I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

100,000,000 Authors, Will You Read?

There used to be a time when reading involved picking up a book and, you know, reading it. The library was the place to get information, and people planned their entire lives around their proximity to one (especially college students). In fact, just as recent as the mid '90s, when my dad was working on his master's degree from Eastern New Mexico University, a three or so hour drive from our then home in Carlsbad, he would literally have to go there to do research and things of that sort. In fact, it finally led to him having to relocate to dorm life for one summer in order to complete his degree.

Now, I could do my degree entirely from here at home, where I write this. All of the information, research and otherwise, is literally at my fingertips, brought to me at lightning speeds. Yes, the internet has changed our existence. I will be able to do a Ph.D. with ease unimagined just 15 years ago (I'm not saying it will be easy, but definitely easier than it was before the internet become widespread). Just thinking about the internet boggles the mind. This web of information continues to grow by the second. Anyone with a connection can participate, for free, and throw information to the world.

With all of this participation by humanity, we have a different literary experience than our parents and grandparents did (heck, even than WE did). Yes, books are out there, and they're being published and printed with greater speed than ever before in the history of humanity. Over 3,000 new and unique books are published in this world every single day. On top of that, over 800,000 videos are uploaded to Youtube every day, over 4,000,000 blog posts are made every day, and if all of the internet users were put together to form a country, it would be the biggest in the world, even bigger than China.

This is a lot of talking (probably too much, congratulations if you're still with me). What does all this mean then? It means that this isn't 1965, it isn't 1985, and it isn't even yesterday. This world is dynamic, and it's changing. Thanks to the internet, change is instantaneous and world wide. The world is so small we can see it all at once through the windows that are our computer screens. If schools don't adapt, we will die, and we'll drag our students to the depths with us. The time has come and passed, put down those textbooks, pick up those computers, and start preparing your students for the future, as crazy as it will be.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Did You Know That Literacy Technology Is Necessary?

I am facilitating a group of teachers learning science content this week, and today, while I was presenting, I was actually a little surprised at my passion when discussion the usage of technology and innovative, or at least interesting, techniques in teaching literacy (science as well, but I went off on a tangent). I actually went as far as to tell the group of elementary school teachers I was presenting to that they need to stop teaching out of textbooks, they need to stop using worksheets, and they need to pick up the innovation, even if that means more work for them in terms of preparation and set up time.

The actual words I used were "stop doing those things, just stop it, or it's time to retire." I actually got some head nods and thumbs up. These teachers knew that I wasn't criticizing their methods, but I was reacting to the need for innovative methods to reach innovative minds.

I could actually go on here for a long time, but I think the need is obvious. We have students that will be living and working in a world that doesn't exist, even in theory, right now. I am in the late stages of the creation of a reading program for my class that integrates technology and authentic literature (books, graphic novels, magazines, newspapers, NOT textbooks, NOT basals, NOT those little lame made up books, NOT worksheets). I will explain my program in full once I'm done with it, and I'll update the readers of this blog on its progress once school starts. Of course, I'll throw that out there for free, I'm not trying to make money, I'm trying to teach kids they way they deserve to be taught, and hopefully others out there are doing the same.

In the meantime, here is the video that I was actually reacting to today when I had this discussion at this conference. It's called Did You Know?, and is rapidly making the rounds in the field of education. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Life As We Knew It

Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, is a great "Armageddon-esque" story, but not really to that extent. It's the story of what happens after a massive asteroid slams into the moon, knocking it off balance, sending the earth into spiraling chaos. As dormant volcanoes erupt, the ocean currents are thrown out of whack, and the earth is sent into nuclear winter, we follow the story of Miranda and her family trying to survive that first winter in Pennsylvania.

This book is pretty good, and is currently sitting on my classroom bookshelf for my 5th graders to read if they so choose. It is a little long, and I almost felt like its format, although interesting (it was written like a diary, with daily entries), didn't read like the diary of a pre-teen. The story is good, but in my opinion isn't a very friendly book to do as a read aloud. I think this one is better served for students to choose to read it. It did get tedious, and a little monotonous, but I definitely enjoyed the book in the long run. If you need some higher quality literature for your classroom collection, or are interested in either reading ya literature or possibly spinning this into some sort of research, it's certainly not the worst book out there.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Goodreads: Another Classroom Resource Possibility

I've always enjoyed discussing the books I've read, and finally ran across Reading Social, an application within Facebook where I could make a list of books I've read, want to read, and am currently reading. I could also rate books and leave reviews. The main problem with this is it felt pretty limited by Facebook.

Recently I found, a great book networking site with many options, many members, and the ability to form groups. I ran across classroom groups from anywhere 4th grade and up into college. It was great to find such a nice application to use, and I wanted to discuss its benefit to the classroom.

Within, there is the ability to make groups, and set them to private (even to the point that outsiders can't even see who is a member). I am planning on using a group, having each of my 5th graders (once the year starts in August) make a profile, and share books through the group interface in Goodreads. Within this, I can start discussions, post books we're reading, will read, or have read (students can do this as well), put events and reminders on the page, and basically interact with my students online at any time. I am thinking right now about how to incorporate Goodreads into my reading program, which is also still in development. Hopefully by the time school starts, I will have a complete, working program to share with everyone. Until then, I recommend Goodreads, both for its networking value and its possible educational value.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Castle in the Attic: Solid Children's Literature

I first read The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop to my 5th grade class three years ago, and have read it each year sense. I actually start the year off with this book as a shared read aloud. I have a classroom set of this book, so I read it with students. Alongside the book, we discuss King Arthur, the knights, and the middle ages, more as an informational unit than an all out social studies unit (because 5th grade social studies in New Mexico is United States history).

The Castle in the Attic is a great fantasy story all around, students love the mundane life of the protagonist (a 5th grader) that is disrupted by magic and a fantasy world. I didn't want to get into spoilers here, so I won't, but I do want to recommend this book to 4th or 5th grade teachers, it's a great, easy to read book that doesn't challenge social norms or anything of that sort. Check it out, an adult can read it in probably a few easy hours.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The People of Sparks (Sequel to The City of Ember)

The People of Sparks, by Jeanne DuPrau, is the 2006 sequel to the now hotly popular The City of Ember (which has been made into a movie that will come out in October). I personally sat down with The City of Ember recently and decided that it was a great books that 5th graders will enjoy (see my review of it HERE). I enjoyed The City of Ember so much that I went out and bought The People of Sparks and began reading it immediately.

Like The City of Ember, Sparks is appropriate for the same age set, and carries a 5.5 reading level or so, slightly above The City of Ember, because it is longer and deals with events of a more overtly political nature (not that Ember didn't, but it's much more in the open in this book).

The People of Sparks is a departure from Ember. Like Ember it is focused mainly on Lina and Doon, but the events also focus on the relations between the people of Ember and the people of Sparks. As their relationship grows more complex, and eventually, negative to the point of almost open war, we are shown a glimpse into the dark side of man and the triumph of humanity. Overall, I think this book sends out a very positive message to children who read it, and therefore would recommend it.

Like The City of Ember, The People of Sparks contains no profanity or extremely adult themes. The images of anger and war are age appropriate and are written very nicely. This book isn't as dynamic as Ember, but is a good sequel all in all, and I am happy to place it on my book shelf.