There's a Wocket in my Pocket!

I realize that March is still nearly 2 months away, but I thought I'd share a fun project that I do with the pre-k students. If you like planning ahead, you can get this in your planbook early!

As you may know, Dr. Seuss's birthday is March 2nd. It's easy for me to remember this because it's also my oldest daughter's birthday! I like to do activities revolving around Dr. Seuss's stories that week. The PreK boys and girls and I read There's a Wocket in my Pocket in the Library. Then during Computers we create our own Wockets using Kidpix. We look at the illustrations in the book and make note of all the different characteristics of the various Wockets. They are different colors. Some have really long tails. Some have feathers coming out of the top of their head. Some have duck feet. I encourage the students to be creative. It's a lot of fun to see what they come up with!

These are some of the pre-k Wockets from past years:

When their Wockets are finished and saved, I print them as wallet-sized color pictures. I have a piece of tagboard for each student that says, "There's a Wocket in my Pocket", at the top and has a book pocket attached underneath. (If you're wondering what a book pocket is, check out the picture below.) The pictures are the perfect size to fit in these book pockets. The PreK boys and girls are excited at the end of class when they find out that they have their very own Wocket in a Pocket to take home!

Word Clouds for Younger Grades

Word clouds are a fun way to present words visually.

Kindergarten/PreK teachers can create posters to put up around the classroom as they teach the letter(s) of the week. A great site for this is ImageChef. Here's an example I created of the letter S made up of all sorts of age-appropriate words that begin with the letter S.

How do you do this? Choose "Word Mosaic". Click on the Initials tab. Type in the letter you want to work with. Type all of the words that start with that letter that you want to use in the text box. Choose the Font style you like from the drop down menu. Click on Preview to see your creation. If you want to save the image to your computer, click on Export...choose an image size...right-click and save the image to your computer or drag the image to your desktop. To make a poster, insert the image into Word, Publisher, or some other program.

First and second grade students can easily create word clouds of their own. You might want to start with a site like Wordle, a very easy site to use. I've had the first and second graders create Mother's Day word clouds similar to the one here to give as a gift. They had fun choosing the layout, fonts, and colors to really personalize it for their mom.

How do you do this? You might want to brainstorm possible words to use before you begin this activity. Then have those words available on a handout or projected somewhere in your classroom. Type your words in the text box. Remember that in Wordle, the size of a word is determined by the number of times it is typed in the text box. Click GO when you have finished adding words. To personalize your word cloud, you can select options from the Font, Layout, and Color tabs. When your word cloud is finished, you can print it. One downside of Wordle is that you can't download the finished image. To get around this, I use PrintScreen to copy the whole desktop and then paste it into Paint. Then crop the excess and save the image.

Once the younger students have mastered the art of creating a word cloud in Wordle, you could have the third, fourth, and fifth grade students use a site like Tagxedo to create something a little more advanced. Since it is winter, we are going to create snowflake word clouds like the one here. The students are reading Snowflake Bentley and learning how each snowflake is unique. These snowflake word clouds will represent each unique student in our class.

How do you do this? Have the students create a list of words that describe themselves. Choose the snowflake shape from the Shapes menu. Click on Load... under the Words category. Type the words in the text box (not the webpage box). To personalize the look of the snowflake, students can adjust the color, font, layout, etc... When you are ready to finish, download the image to your computer by clicking on Save|Share|Print.

Have fun creating these visuals to post in the classroom, to give as gifts, or to reinforce concepts learned in class!

So You Want Your Students To Create a Podcast?

Two years ago I went to a podcasting workshop and got really excited about trying it out with my students. For some reason, I just didn't get myself comfortable and organized enough to try teaching it until just this year. After my first go-around, I thought I'd share some tips based on my experience.

  1. Spend some time discussing beforehand what a podcast is. Look at examples of podcasts created for students and podcasts created by students. I found this wiki to be very useful: Examples of Educational Podcasts.
  2. Discuss the basic parts of a podcast: intro (episode name, tagline, etc...), bumper music, segments, outro. This Radio WillowWeb Handbook is a great resource. 
  3. Make sure that students write out a script for their part. It will save time in the long run. It helps if they have their thoughts written down when they begin recording. Without a script, there are a lot of mistakes made and time wasted.
  4. For our first attempt, I didn't make any rules about how many students were recording at a time. There were a lot of groups who wanted to have a conversation style segment in their podcast. This ended up becoming a problem. Most of the groups got silly and giggly instead of getting their work done. On our second attempt, I said that only one person could speak in each segment. It really helped speed up the process. Just a thought!
  5. I would also strongly suggest that you have the students record their parts in chronological order. There will be less editing necessary later. Another time-saving tip!
  6. We recorded our audio clips using Audacity which you can download for free to a pc. You could use GarageBand if you are on a Mac. Before students begin recording their audio for the podcast, spend some time showing them how to use the program. I also created short videos showing how to record audio, how to save the project, how to use the editing tools, and more for students to use as a reference later. I stored these videos on our school server for easy student access.
  7. Make sure to have background music available for students to use or sites that they can download music from. I had students download music from Television Tunes. Be sure to adhere to copyright laws.
  8. Give the students a reason to create their podcast. My students did book reviews which I posted on the Library page of our school website. They were told that other students and parents would be listening to them. This was a motivator to do a nice job.
After my first experience teaching podcasting, I can confidently say that I will be doing this again next year. The students had a lot of fun! They'll be able to use this knowledge to create podcasts for other classes too.

Great Gadgets!

I love all of the wonderful technology that I have access to in the Computer Lab everyday. Obviously, there are the 31 desktop computers, the laser printer, the scanner, the SMARTboard, the projector, and a laptop. Nothing really unusual there, right? There are several other pieces of technology that I use on a regular basis and would recommend to any classroom or computer teacher. What are they you ask?

The first is called the Easi-Speak USB Microphone. This sturdy little microphone is awesome. You can record mp3s and download them onto a computer in just a few minutes. Because they are mp3s, they can be embedded into Smart Notebook for a seamless presentation. I found this and the next gadget that I'll tell you about on my visit to BETTs in London a couple of years ago, but they are available for purchase online at various websites.

My second recommendation is for a wireless mouse/keyboard. I purchased a Cideko Wireless Air Keyboard from Amazon. This fun gadget looks a bit like a game controller but comes in very handy in the classroom. With this tool I can be freed from standing right next to my laptop during a lesson. It allows me to move around the room to monitor student progress.

The last gadget I'll mention here isn't quite as techie as the first two but awesome nonetheless! It is my Xyron machine. A Xyron is a machine that turns a piece of paper into a sticker or magnet. After we create our works of art on the computer and print them out, the students love being able to turn them into their very own sticker or magnet.

What fun gadgets do you use in your classroom? What tools would you hate to have to do without? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Keyboarding Boot Camp

Several years ago I found a great idea on Beth Newingham's website for a keyboarding camp. She has explained her ideas in this article: Take Your Students to Typing Camp! I really liked her ideas, but had to modify them a bit to make it work for my situation. I only see the third graders twice a week, so I wouldn't be able to spend a whole week or two dedicated to a typing camp unit.

I changed our theme slightly from Keyboarding Camp to Keyboarding Boot Camp. Each student has a dog tag with their name on it. These are hanging on the wall in our Computer Lab at the beginning of the school year and create a nice display. The students wear their dog tags during class and are able to keep them once we have finished all of our keyboarding lessons. As soon as we have learned all of the keys that spell a student's name, I take a picture of them wearing their dog tag and add it to the display. It's exciting to see who will be able to type their name each time!

Not only do students get to keep their dog tags when we finish our keyboarding boot camp, they are also able to earn other charms to add to their chain. For example students earn a hand charm when they have successfully completed all of the keyboarding lessons. You could be creative with this and give charms for other reasons as well. (I purchased dog tags, chains, and charms from Fitness Finders, Inc.)

I wrote a Keyboarding Boot Camp chant that has three verses. The refrain lists the home row keys. The hope is that learning and singing this will help them remember the home row keys which will in turn help them with correct placement of their hands on the keyboard.

The students learn the first verse the first day of our boot camp.
Left, left, left-right-left
We are learning the home row
These are the keys we have to know
Our fingers stay on these eight keys
Reach somewhere but come home please
Sound off: a, s
Sound off: d, f
A, s, d, f, j, k, l, semicolon!
They learn the second verse after completing lessons on the Home Row.
Left, left, left-right-left
Now we know the whole home row
Learning keys, we’re on a roll
Press the space bar with one thumb
Don’t use two, that would be dumb
Sound off: a, s
Sound off: d, f
A, s, d, f, j, k, l, semicolon!
They learn the third verse after learning all of the keys.
Left, left, left-right-left
We finished learning all the keys
Our parents surely will be pleased
Keyboarding boot camp was lots of fun
We’re sad to say that it’s all done
Sound off: a, s
Sound off: d, f
A, s, d, f, j, k, l, semicolon!
As we learn each verse, I record them singing it and post it on our school site using Audioboo.

The Keyboarding Boot Camp theme adds some excitement and fun to keyboarding which could be a little dull and monotonous otherwise. Thanks to Beth Newingham for the inspiration!

Decorating the Computer Lab

It's important to create an inviting atmosphere for your students and for yourself since you'll be spending a lot of time there! I found some cute technology themed scrapbooking paper to use around the room for various things. I made signs to put around the room that say things like:
"No Food or Drinks in the Lab"
"Remember to Log Off"
"Clean Up Your Workstation Before Leaving"

I also created these flower pot decorations... They have emoticons, texting lingo, and other techie graphics on them. I just thought they were fun to look at!

I like to let the students see the insides of a Computer, so I took some old parts and created a piece of wall art with them. The CTRL, ALT, and DELETE keys and the QWERTY keys are on the poster, so we can talk about their function.

At Christmas, I like to put up some fun bulletin boards. This is one I created based on a sweatshirt that I bought for myself.

Type that Christmas Tune

One of the fun activities that grades 4-8 do in Computers just before Christmas break is called Type that Christmas Tune. It's a great way to practice keyboarding skills and have some fun at the same time. We listen to instrumental versions of various Christmas songs, and the students have to type the name of the song. I use some of the more recognizable songs for the lower grades and use some of the more difficult songs with the older students. After I play 10 different tracks, we go through each one again and name the tune. The student(s) with the most titles correct wins a little prize. I usually get candy cane pens from the local Walgreens for a reasonable price. This activity could really be done with any kind of music at any time of the year.

Polar Express Christmas Around the World

At this time of the year, I have the first graders listen to The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg read by Lou Diamond Phillips at Storyline Online at the beginning of class. Then they each create a passport of their own using ReadWriteThink's stapleless book maker. You can include the names of the countries you are going to be learning about during your trip around the world in your passport. Before the students leave, I give each of them a ticket to board the Polar Express and tell them that they'll need to bring the ticket to the next class when we will be traveling around the world to learn about Christmas and other holiday traditions in other countries.

When the students arrive for our next class, I have a Christmas around the World webquest for them to complete. As they read about each country's traditions, they write down one thing they learned in their passport. I got a free CUSTOMS stamp from VistaPrint to stamp their passport page when it is filled out. This makes it seem even more official.

If you wanted to make this lesson more exciting, you could find schools in other countries to Skype with. The students at these schools could tell your class first hand what some of their holiday traditions are. I'm making this a goal of my own for next year!

Making Patterns in KidPix

This lesson can be done at any time of the year. We happen to do this in December, so I added a Christmas theme to it. First I sit the students down, and we talk about what a pattern is. I create a pattern by having the students alternate standing up, sitting down, standing up, sitting down, and standing up. Then we talk about what the next student would have to do to continue the pattern. I pick a student to show us the answer by joining the pattern. We do several more examples like this, making some of them harder by creating a pattern of 3 repeating. After the students have done several examples, they head to their seats where they finish some Christmas patterns in Kidpix using the Rubber Stamp (see example below). After they complete the Christmas patterns, I challenge them to create a pattern of their own. When they are finished, we add their name to the page and print it off for them to take home.

Our Computer Lab Pets

A fun way to bring some cute and cuddly animals into the classroom is to adopt a Webkinz (or several!). These animals will surely put a smile on the faces of your students. Plus, these class pets won't make a mess, won't escape their cage, won't bite one of your students, and won't cause little Bobby or Susie to break out in hives. You don't even have to feed them. Bonus!

Another neat thing about Webkinz is that you can choose a name for them and adopt them on the Webkinz site. You can assign one of your students the job of "taking care of" your class pet for the day or the week. This job would involve logging onto the Webkinz site, making sure your pet is happy, healthy, and well-fed, completing the daily activities, creating a nice room for the animal, and playing some educational games to earn money to buy more items for your Webkin.

You can only log into an account on one computer at a time. If you try to log in on a second computer, the student on the first computer gets bumped off of the account. For this reason, I created 3 separate accounts to add our Computer Lab pets to, so three separate computers could be logged on at the same time.

Our Computer Lab pets have names that relate to the Computer Lab or technology in some way. Some of them are pictured below. We also have a koala named KeyKey, another bird named Twitter, and a hippo named Hulu. I have the First and Second grade students "take care of" our class pets. They are well-loved!

Megabyte our Webkinz monkey
Browser our Webkinz puppy