Monday, April 19, 2010

How Will You Save the Earth This Week?

Tonight (Monday, April 19th), the PBS series American Experience will premiere the Robert Stone film Earth Days: The Seeds of a Revolution. This Thursday, April 22nd, marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and this film provides an excellent starting point for a discussion about Earth Day and the history of the environmental movement around the world. The following is a brief trailer for tonight's film:



Teachers may find the Earth Days Teacher's Guides particularly useful, along with:

Earthcast 2010

Earthcast is a 24-hour global webcast held on Earth Day that hopes to foster a global conversation on the issues that face all of us. To find out more about the webcast and how you can get involved, visit the Earthbridges wiki. Other information and ways to get involved can be found here:

Earth Day Resources

Here are some other Earth Day resources I've been collecting:

[I'll be adding more links to this list, so check back! If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What A Lovely Shade of Red

[cross-posted from Just A Thought blog]

I'm just sitting here in my nice quiet classroom trying to do a little reflecting on my day, and I'm really not sure what to make of it. Today had moments that made me want to pull my hair out (which I'm really trying to avoid as I'm letting my hair grow out right now), moments of joy and laughter, and moments of total embarrassment for the teacher. Well, just one embarrassing moment, really, but it was a good one!

Where to begin...

I began my day by introducing the seventh graders to a new website that I think is pretty slick for research, and showing them a quick video that explains some of the new changes in Google Docs. I'm not sure which one we were more excited about! Google has finally added a chat feature for Docs, so now my students can chat while working on a document. You know middle schoolers will love anything that includes the word "chat"!

We're also very excited about now having real-time collaboration abilities in Docs. My students will be able to see the changes their group-mates are making on a document as they're making them. We've had too many issues with students writing over one another in Docs because they can't tell where another person is writing at any given time. That has been changed! This is the video I showed my seventh graders this morning that explains these changes as well as the addition of Google Drawings:




I'm not sure what it says about me, but the fact that Google is adding rulers and tab stops to its documents made me happier than the new chat feature made my students. [It is NOT necessary for any students of mine who may happen upon this blog to offer their opinions of what this says about their teacher! Thank you.]


What I showed the kids next is a website I can't wait to start using with them! I'd heard about this new search engine when it came out, but the best I could do at the time was to bookmark it for checking into later. Late last night I watched one of the videos posted on the WolframAlpha site that explains how teachers can use this new tool. I found my way there after clicking on the link that Shannon Smith shared on Plurk. Turns out, Shannon and her mom, Nancy Brachbill, are two of the teachers in the video which I just thought was too cool for words! You can find the videos at WolframAlpha for Educators.

After watching one of the videos last night, I decided to play with the site a little bit [it was almost midnight...I really should have been asleep by then, but you know what they say about us edtech geeks and our new "toys"!] One of the first things I searched for was my date of birth. I know, I know...it's all about me, isn't it! So, I typed in this:

And the first thing I saw:


Oh, come on...you know it's the first thing you're going to do when you check out the site, aren't you!

Well, one of the first things that Shannon mentioned in her video was using WolframAlpha to search for vocabulary words. What a great idea! So, this morning when I was demonstrating the site for my seventh graders, I asked one of them to give me one of their words; you can see the results here:

As someone who enjoys writing poetry, I was especially excited to see, and show my students, that the search results include a list of words that rhyme with the search term. [Stick with me...this will come back to bite me later in the morning.] Of course, mentioning to my seventh graders that it provided rhyming words led at least one boy to call out, "Type in 'orange'!!"

Oh brother.

My seventh graders are currently finishing up giving their presentations about Africa. Each student researched a different African country and created a powerpoint to share what they'd learned in their research. I'm so proud of my students; they have done an amazing job with their presentations! But it took me all of about 30 seconds using WolframAlpha to realize that their research time probably could have been cut in half if we would have been using this wonderful tool. Here, try this and see what information just one search can provide you:

I'm sure you'll have roughly the same reaction that my seventh graders and I had this morning. Whoa! "Dude, that's totally awesome!!" Yeah, thanks Devin.

I tried to avoid the gazes of those students who were shooting me death glares. "You couldn't have found out about this before we spent 50 gazillion hours on this project???"

Sorry.

Fast forward about two hours...time for eighth graders. They are currently working on a research project about the Civil War, so I wanted to share with them this same website. I shared with them the birth date search...middle schoolers just love hearing how old and decrepit their teacher is. Then I asked for someone to give me a name to search for. "Bob."

Sigh.

I think I need a little more than that.

"Robert."

No, seriously. I swear I live in a cartoon. I'm just waiting for that darn anvil to drop. [It's coming, by the way.]

I decided to show them how to search for their vocabulary words. I asked an eighth grader to give me one of their words, and the first one that came to mind was "vex." [Don't get ahead of me, here.]

Now, picture me standing there in front of my ActivBoard, sharing this wonderful new website, thinking it's just the coolest thing since the invention of the modem; I haven't a clue. No, it doesn't even enter my mind that I am about to show a list of words that rhyme with "vex" to 34 soon-to-be giggling eighth graders. No, no...I proceed with "so if you're writing some fabulous poetry and you need to find a word that rhymes with 'vex'..."

That's when I saw it. The word that shall not be named. At least not in my blog that would eventually be spammed by who-knows-how-many who-knows-what-kinds of websites. I kept my face turned toward the board for a moment or two, but I'm sure the bright red glow from my face bounced right off that board toward all of my now-giggling students.

I tried to make like I had planned that all along by quickly adding, "Of course, I'm not really sure any of us wants to see what kinds of poems you can create with these words." But my brain was already composing a limerick or two while they continued to giggle.

Ok, one last search...somebody give me the name of a battle. [Quick!!]

"Wilderness!"

God love ya, George and Zane!

Joy and Laughter

There were at least a few moments of joy and laughter today. One of my favorites occurred during lunch recess. No, I wasn't shooting hoops, although I really wanted to. I had my camera in hand, and didn't feel like risking dropping it. I was taking some pictures when Kate ran by me, chasing after another student and yelling in a "we're just regular kids having some good old-fashioned 'tag you're it' kind of fun." Well, she nearly took out the teacher as she ran by, so I yelled out "Kate!!" That's when this quietest of quiet, reserved to the point of being almost hidden, students stopped, turned, ran back to me, threw her arms around me, and yelled "I love you, McTeach!!"

Oh, geez. "I love you, too. Now, get off!"

Laughter ensued.

"Oh, McTeachy!!"

Sigh.

Just another typical day in middle school.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Teachers Can Have Fun Too!

Students aren't the only ones who like to pull April Fool's Day pranks, you know:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Is It Just Me?

Or do any other middle school teachers find themselves faced with correcting the spelling of "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"? Why is it that seventh grade boys, especially, are obsessed with being able to use this word in their writing? Is it just because they can?

Well, I've come up with a plan. It may be considered student abuse, but I'll do anything to make my students BETTER writers! So, here's the plan...I'm going to play this video over and over and over until they cry Uncle!! Bwa-ha-ha!!!!