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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Five Tools Every Teacher Should be Aware Of


Teaching in the internet age can be stressful, but it can also be a lot of fun. Sure, we have an ever changing technological and psychological landscape to keep up with -- but that means that we also get to explore an ever shifting array of tools and resources. It can be overwhelming, but there's always something new to explore and discover.

With that in mind, here are five awesome resources I've recently discovered and wanted to share!

1. Pixaby 

Pixaby is an amazing repository of public domain images. It's fantastic for teachers looking for royalty-free images to use in classrooms, but also as a tool to teach younger students about copyright law. If your kids are too young to understand how to do an advanced search for creative commons images, or how to cite resources properly, you can still talk to them about not taking other people's work, then direct them to Pixaby for some fantastic free images.

2. Classcraft

I've actually looked at Classcraft before, but recently I wrote a review on the new and improved system for Graphite, and I was quite impressed with the slickness. Although Classcraft is designed to monitor student behavior like an older version of Class Dojo, but for those of us who have gamified our entire classrooms and spend hours each week tracking points and the like, the system is a brilliantly simple way to keep track.

3. Volume Monitors

I didn't link to any because each teacher will have their personal preference. But if you have even one iPad in the classroom, you can set up a noise monitor (anyone remember paying upwards of $100 for a "yakker tracker" less than ten years ago??). Noise monitors are a great way to get students to self-monitor their volume. Yes, you'll have to put up with the "class clown" deliberately triggering the "too loud" setting, but if you give them a few minutes to get that out of their system, it works surprisingly well.

4. Edmodo

I remain a big fan of Edmodo. It's an excellent way to keep kids informed and engaged. Many teachers also use Schoology, and I've seen many who prefer it. Myself, I signed up for Schoology, but I keep coming back to Edmodo. The only thing I don't love about it is that the Facebook style messaging makes it easy to lose important messages, but I find the kids are adept at dealing with that problem.

5. Remind

Remind allows teachers to easily and freely text updates to students and parents without giving out their personal phone number. Although this is a fantastic way of keeping in touch with parents and making sure they're updated on homework, school events, and the like, it's also a great system to remind older students of their obligations.

These are currently my top five go-to teacher tools!

Question of the Day:
What online teacher tool could you not live without?

It didn't make my list because it's not a recent discovery, but Twitter is my absolute favorite tool for teaching and sharing about learning. I know many people use Twitter for different purposes, but for me it's always been an amazing professional resource.



If you liked this, you might like...
Edmodo For Noobs

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Doing Video Games in Education the Right Way


Video games in education are a great way to capture student interest and attention, but only if used properly. Otherwise, they have a tendency to become a huge waste of everyone's time and not accomplish what you set out to do. Here are a few tips to help you use video games most effectively.

1. All games are not created equal 

Educational games often aren't games at all: more like interactive worksheets that "reward" players with a few seconds of an inane and dull game students would never choose to play on their own in between questions. Don't get sucked into this. Make sure that the games you play have actual educational content interspersed with learning and fun!

2. Don't be afraid to play part of a game

Some games, especially commercial games, are really long. The Professor Layton series, which I love to use in my classroom, can take upwards of fifty hours per game. If you look at it from this perspective, you'll never use a commercial game -- and I wouldn't blame you! But don't be afraid to play parts of a game and let students pursue the finale on their own time if they're interested. For example, if you're playing Professor Layton, you could make your games available for lending out to interested students.

3. Listen to your students

Students aren't shy about telling you whether a game is good. They are experienced gamers (even those who don't play games probably play some type of mobile game) and know whether a game is good or not. Ask them! Don't be afraid to say, "Hey, did you like this game? What would have improved it? Which of these did you like better, and why?"

4. Create extension activities

A game by itself can be a great learning activity. A game with "sponge" activities to help the information sink in much more deeply than simply saying, "Hey, here's a game -- go play it." The more activities you can center around a central theme -- whether that's the game, or the game is a supplemental activity -- the better.

5. Choose games that cover a wide variety of curricular outcomes

If you're playing a quick ten minute game, then it's no big deal if it only covers a select few focused outcomes. But if you're playing a long involved game, it had better hit a lot of objectives. Sticking with my Professor Layton example, one of the reasons I invest a lot of time in this game is because it covers so many objectives in language arts and math, two of my main areas of curricular concerns.

It's easy to get caught up in the hype of "educational games," but if we do them the right way, video games have a lot to offer education.

Question of the Day:
What are your favorite games to use in the classroom?

As mentioned, I'm a huge fan of Professor Layton. I also really like Prodigy. Ever since I started reviewing for Graphite, I've found them an excellent source of reliable information about games.



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Freebie: Prof. Layton and the Curious Village



Tuesday, 30 September 2014

How To Embed Partial YouTube videos



Have you ever wanted to embed part of a YouTube video in a blog, or a quest on 3D Game Lab, or a website, and not known how to do it? This is something that took me a while to figure out, and I thought others might benefit from some "how to" tips. There are tutorials online, but none I found that I was able to follow without a bit of experimentation. I wrote the steps out for myself, so if anyone else is having the same troubles, here's how to do it. You can make your YouTube video start part way through and end anytime before (and including) the usual end.

1. Go to YouTube and find the video you want.
2. Beneath the video, you'll find a button that says share. Click this, and an embed code will appear.
3. Copy your embed code

Next, turn your start and end time into seconds. You're then going to add the start and end time (in seconds, not minutes) to the embed code.

For example, here is the embed code for a video on Athenian democracy.

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/tyYjgxDf4R8?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

I want to start this video at 1:17 and end at 5:17. So start by converting this to seconds:

Start: 1 X 60 = 60 + 17 = 77
End: 5 X 60 = 300 + 17 = 317

To insert this in the embed code, you want to find the url, which is this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyYjgxDf4R8. How do I know? It's the website address, or url, that appears in the web browser when I navigate to that video.

So inside the embed code, find that url. Also note the characters after it: ?rel=0 before the quotation marks:

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/tyYjgxDf4R8?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Now, I want to insert the start and end times. You're going to enter the following right after the rel=0:

&start=your start time&end=your end time

So in my case, I would enter:

&start=77&end=317

Make sure that the quotation marks that were formerly after the 0 are now after the new information (in my case, 317). For comparison sake, here is the old embed code:

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/tyYjgxDf4R8?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

And here is the new embed code with my additions highlighted:

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/tyYjgxDf4R8?rel=0&start=77&end=317" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Now all I have to do is paste that embed code into the html section of my website, blog, or what have you. There's usually a place that allows you to do this: either a button with a video picture that will give you the option to embed, or a button that says html. You just click over and paste it in.

You're done!

Question of the Day:
What do you do when you don't know how to do something online?

Google is my best friend in those situations. It's amazing how many problems can be solved with a five second search!



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How to Use Game Design in the Classroom

Monday, 22 September 2014

Capturing Students' Interest With Quest Based Learning



Lately I've been experimenting with 3D Game Lab. For those who aren't familiar, 3D Game Lab is a way of organizing your units into individual quests. The system is heavily gamified (students earn XP, level up, earn achievements and rewards, etc.). As we all know, that doesn't naturally lead to engagement or deep student learning, but it absolutely can. If a teacher just ports a bunch of worksheets into 3D Game Lab, they're unlikely to find it worth the money. If you take advantage of the features, though, there's a lot to explore and discover in 3D Game Lab.

One of the things I've been reading about in my own quests (3D Game Lab is into the learn by example method, and you learn to use the system through questing yourself, which is quite engaging) is about quest attractiveness. Although that probably sounds like it's referring to what the quest looks like, Chris Haskell actually defines quest attractiveness as "the characteristics that draw in, entice, cause fascination, or otherwise attract a player/learner to choose an activity based on a relative personal preference."

In other words, quest attractiveness is what makes a student think, "Hey, that quest sounds like fun. I'll do that."

To me, 3D Game Lab's quest based learning is very similar to the idea of layered curriculums. The idea is that what's interesting and exciting to one student may not be to another. Two students may know the material with equal ease, but if you make them both draw a poster, the student who likes art may get a great score while the student who would really rather just tell you the answers scores low. Layered curriculums, like quest based learning, are about giving students options in how they demonstrate their knowledge and present material.

With that in mind, quest attractiveness becomes about variety. The idea should be to present information in a variety of ways, so that all students can access it, then give them many different options to express their knowledge.

For now, I'm trying to provide three paths students can follow in learning social studies: Knight (learning with a focus on social justice and helping others), Artisan (learning with a focus on the arts: drama, visual arts, and music), and Scholar (learning in a more traditional sense, through essays and the like). I know these are far from exhaustive, but they do appeal to a wide variety of students, and give them an element of choice in how they learn.

I think choice is the key when it comes to quest attractiveness: the more options you can give your students, the more likely it is that something will jump out at them and draw them in. Other elements that I think are effective in creating effective quests include:

  • Clarity: it should be easy to figure out what to do to succeed at the quest
  • Brevity: less reading, and using active verbs and short sentences, helps kids to stay engaged
  • Hook: there should be something to catch their attention and draw them in
With choice as the primary umbrella, using these three elements helps us not only create effective quests, but effective lessons!

Question of the Day:
How do you let your students exercise choice in the classroom?


If you liked this, you might like...

Social Studies Lapbooks



Monday, 15 September 2014

Attending Virtual Conferences


I attended my first virtual conference two years ago, and I've been hooked ever since. If you've never done a virtual conference (sometimes called unconferences by their whimsical creators), they're really worth looking into. Here's why!

How it Works

Virtual conferences work much the way a regular conference would: they have keynotes speakers and regularly scheduled sessions you can attend to learn about topics that interest you. Instead of physically travelling to the conference location, though, the conference occurs online. Most conferences use a virtual environment such as Blackboard Collaborate. This is basically an online classroom where you can chat with other session attendees and view the powerpoint of the presenter(s), as well as asking questions. So you basically get what you would out of a physical conference, except...

Why It's Awesome

Although there will always be a certain allure in large numbers of dedicated professionals getting together in physical space, there are many reasons virtual conferences are worth checking out. 

1. Cost

The obvious reason is financial. Many of us can't afford to travel around the world (or even the continent) checking out the newest and best educational conferences, as much as we might like to. Virtual conferences remove that barrier -- most of them are completely free, and there's certainly no travel cost involved. 

2. Convenience

Unlike traditional conferences, virtual conferences almost always record sessions and store them on the website for future playback. That means that if you can't access a session at the time it's presented, you can easily view the recorded session at a later time. It also removes that conflict of two simultaneous sessions that capture your interest!

3. Creating Connections

Virtual conferences let people interact as fully or minimally as they see fit. The funny thing, though, is that within a chat room, most people seem to feel pretty liberated. There's a lot more audience participation than in traditional sessions (and if you're like me -- the person who dreads the moment the chirpy presenter says "Let's all get up and try it out!" -- you get an added bonus).

4. Accessibility

Many people who could not present at a physical conference due to time or cost constraints are very willing to present online. And it's not like you don't get the big names -- Quest Boise had Lee Sheldon as a keynote this year, among many other fantastic speakers. 

5. Support

Virtual conferences are very good about accommodating people of all technical levels and comforts. You can almost always find someone willing to help you out, and it's not hard to set up the virtual environment. Just ask -- someone is probably willing to walk you through the steps.

I'm Sold. What Now?

Thought you'd never ask!

Gaming in Education has their virtual conference kicking off tonight with two amazing keynote speakers (who I won't be able to see because I'm at a school event... how fortunate that they're recorded for me to watch later!). 

You can view the entire conference schedule here. And you may notice that I'm presenting tomorrow night at 6:00 MST on using game design for assessment in the classroom. I'd love to see you there!

Question of the Day:
Have you ever attended a virtual conference?

As I said, I've attended a few -- most recently Quest Boise 2014, and of course I plan to take in some of Gaming in Ed!



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Global Education Conference

Sunday, 14 September 2014

How Making Ice Cream Teaches Cooperation


Last week, I mentioned that I sometimes use an ice cream ball to teach cooperation at the beginning of the year. A number of people seemed curious about that, so here are the details.

The ice cream ball is the YayLabs Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball Ice Cream Maker , which you can get from Amazon or many camping supply stores. It's pictured above. Basically, how it works is that you put your ingredients (cream, sugar, etc.) into the metal tube on one end of the ball and seal it up tight. You then open the ball on the other end, which allows you to pack ice and salt in there. From there it works like the old freezer bag ice cream method, except that it's a ball, so you can shake it, toss it (I don't recommend this, although the company seems to think it's a great idea... once it's stuffed, the ball weighs about as much as your average bowling ball), or roll it.

So, how does this teach about cooperation?

Yummy Metaphors

I usually start by choosing one kid (and I usually choose THAT kid... you know the one. You can tell even on the first day) and having them come to the front of the room. I tell them the ice cream ball needs to be shaken quickly for about 20-30 minutes before it will turn into ice cream and invite them to get started while the rest of the class times them.

They always start out vigorously enough, but it starts slowing down quickly (see the aforementioned bowling ball comment). When they start to lag, I jump on it right away: "Shake harder! We aren't going to get any ice cream at that rate!" When the kid is tired or quits, I ask if they'd like some help. If not, we keep going until they decide that maybe help would be a good idea after all (for the record, this has never taken longer than three minutes).

We then pass the ball around the room and each kid shakes it for one minute while we work on something else (a questionnaire or puzzle or the like) at the same time. After each kid has had a turn, I pop the ball open and take a look. If the ice cream isn't ready, we have another few kids take a turn.

Once the ice cream is ready, we dish it out (it only makes a small amount -- just a taste, really, but the kids seem satisfied with that). And while we eat, we discuss how much easier it was for everyone to take a one minute turn with the ice cream ball than it would have been for one person to shake it for twenty five minutes (the original kid is always pleased to pipe up and corroborate this point!). From there, we make the obvious connection about how the same is true of our schoolwork, our classroom chores, and even keeping our class mentally healthy and positive: one person working alone will quickly be exhausted, but twenty five kids all working together will barely notice the work.

They remember this lesson all year (okay, let's be honest: it's because they get ice cream out of the deal). But all I have to say is "Remember the ice cream ball?" and their eyes light up in comprehension. In fact, I didn't do this activity this year, mainly because I didn't feel like buying the ice. But now, I think it's going to become my second week of school team building activity -- because it's fun, it's memorable, and it works!

Question of the Day:
What lessons do you use to encourage teamwork among your students?



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My Classroom Tour

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Five Ideas for Back to School


As the first week of school wraps up, I wanted to share some of my favorite tips that I've collected over my teaching career. This week was my eleventh first day of school, and over the years I've tried out a lot of first day tips. These are the five I've stuck to through thick and thin -- the ultimate survivors, if you will! Unfortunately I don't remember where most of these ideas come from -- some are mine, some come from books and blogs. But they've all been adapted over the years so that they work for my classroom, and hopefully they'll work in yours, too!

1. On the first day of school, every kid should go home able to tell their families one thing they learned, show one thing they made, and have one thing they received from their teacher. 

I've stuck to this rule for years, although the actual things have changed. The thing they learn is often a big vocabulary word, or a math trick, or a word in Japanese. The thing they make has ranged from an origami water cup to ice cream to a bookmark. And the thing they take home is sometimes the same -- but often not. I've also given out bookmarks, small candies, and back to school survival kits. The point is for each kid to get something as a souvenir of the first day of school. 

2. Summer letters

Every summer, I take some time to send a short letter or postcard to each student. It's a nice way to keep contact between school and home over the break, it makes kids less nervous about the coming year, and it establishes a positive relationship between me and the students before the start of classes. 

3. Focus on agreements

The concept of creating classroom agreements (as opposed to rules) springing from students' conception of the perfect classroom comes from Tribes Learning Communities (which you can learn more about here). I focus intently on these agreements for the first four weeks of school. I would never tell you that my classroom is full of perfect listeners or free of conflicts, but the focus on agreements over rules makes a huge difference. 

4. Goal Setting

Many teachers set goals with their students, and I'm no exception. Students fill in checklists to identify their strengths and areas of need.  Inspired by Jane McGonigall's Superbetter, they then set three goals and identify bad guys (things that could hurt them), power ups (things that will help them), and win states (how they'll know when they've achieved their goals). We reflect on these goals weekly all year, setting new ones as needed. 

5. Something fun

Every year I try to find something that's just really fun and do it on the first day of school. I might show a funny video, or play a silly game. I have a Ice Cream Ball Ice Cream Maker and we've done that, too. Often the activities have a meaning to them too (for instance, the ice cream ball I use to show how much easier things are if we work together), but the main part is always fun!

These are my five core back to school activities. The others change, but these five are always the same.

Question of the Day:
Are there any back to school routines you never change? Why?

Over eleven years of teaching, very little of what I do on the first day of school now still resembles my very first day in grade three! The above five, though, have remained standard. While I'm always up for learning and changing, there's something to be said for the mantra if it ain't broke, don't fix it.



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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Free Social Studies Project Based Learning Unit on Democracy

image by bencherlite

As promised, some talk about project based learning -- and a free project based learning assignment from my social studies collection on democracy.

So, I mentioned last week that I spent a lot of the summer learning about project based learning. I like the idea, but I've resisted it for a long time because of some basic confusion in terminology -- ie, I was assuming that by "real world problems," people meant that the students needed to solve a problem immediately visible to them and clearly definable in their classroom. For example, in terms of democracy, I thought I would be limited to holding class elections, which sounded boring and not workable in the realm of fantasy I intended.

I've since realized that "real world problems" just means problems that have application in the real world. Instead of "Suzie and Paul went to the store and spent $4.99. If they had $10.00, what was their change?," you might say "A family of five is trying to budget their groceries for the next week. Money is tight, and they only have $75 to spend. Plan a nutritious menu for the family that stays within their shopping list."

The first problem isn't really a problem at all -- it's just a fancy way of saying what's 10 - 4.99? The second requires students to understand  nutrition, finances, how to research prices or read grocery flyers... it has a lot more meat to it, and while getting change is technically a problem that kids can relate to, the second is an actual situation someone might face, and that it would be useful to solve.

It's a lot more interesting, too.

It's The End of the World As We Know It

The project I designed is specifically designed to fulfil curricular requirements for grade six students in Alberta, but if you're studying democracy, it will work for you. There's only one activity (lesson four) that specifically relates to the textbook we use in class, and you can feel free to adjust it to match your own requirements.

The basic premise is (in an attempt to capitalize on certain well known "reality" tv shows and post apocalyptic fantasy novels): scientists have realized that a possible meteor strike could mean the end of the world as we know it. If this comes to pass, students will find themselves exiled to a small island uniquely situated to avoid the environmental devastation that the rest of the world will undergo. Students must find a way to govern themselves on the island.

There are four main lessons and a final activity to this project. The lessons consider:
  • What types of government are there, and what do they look like?
  • Why do we need government at all?
  • What would be the challenges of starting out a new government?
  • How can you persuade others to your point of view?
Students will work with a group to come up with a way to govern the island, as well as a potential leader (or leaders). As a final project, students must persuasively present their idea to their classmates. Students must then decide how the government will be governed. This is the part I think will be interesting, because I have no intentions of interfering. If the kids decide to have a king, they get a king. If they decide to break into tribes and rule themselves independently, so be it. The plan right now is to use their decision later in the year with another project.

The project begins with viewing some of the reality show Kid Nation, which you can find on YouTube. There's room for some interesting language arts and media links in there if you also use (a heavily edited) version of this article, which is a Cracked article written with one of the actors from the show.

There are quite a few documents in the file, which you can find linked here. I would start with the one called "The End of the World As We Know It," which outlines the entire project, and the one called "EOTW project calendar," which goes through which handouts and lessons you will need each day. Many of the resources you will see are free downloads from the excellent www.bie.org. It should be largely self-explanatory, but if you have any questions, please feel free to email me or catch me on Twitter (@missrithenay) and I'll be glad to help!

Question of the Day:
Do you use projects for teaching? Why or why not?

As I said, I resisted the idea because of a misunderstanding of what real world problem meant. Some people may still argue that my problem is not real worldy enough -- but I'm at peace with that.



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Social Studies Lapbooks

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Back to School and a Busy Summer

Image by Avalore


Well, it's been a busy summer! Next week, I plan to share a project based learning assignment I've been working on in social studies. In the meantime, with teachers back at school next week and students the week after, I wanted to share what I've done with my summer.

1. I finally read Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess. For the last year I've heard nothing but buzz about this book. The #tlap community on Twitter is vibrant and active, and many educators I personally know and respect love the approach.

My own opinion is more mixed. Actually, this review sums it up very nicely. I liked a lot of things Burgess had to say about enthusiasm, immersion, and engagement, and I agreed with much of what he said. But there were a lot of things in this book that did not appeal to me -- the emphasis on "edutainment" and the teacher as a performer, at a time when I firmly believe we should be shifting the responsibility of learning away from teachers and onto students, stand out as primary concerns. The book also advocates a one size fits all model of teaching, which I tend to resist. That said, I got some great ideas for lesson hooks which I plan to use this year, and some good reminders about being fully engaged in what we do.

2. I've been doing a lot of research into project based learning, much of it from the Project Based Learning (PBL) Starter Kit from BIE. I'm a bit behind on this, although a lot of the PBL I see aligns quite nicely with the idea of games based learning or quest based learning, something else I spent (more) time researching this summer. The book provided a good base for planning projects, and I really appreciated the line it drew between DOING A PROJECT and creating a unit based around a project. I feel like some of the professional development I've attended on PBL confused the two. I won't talk too much about this right now because I plan to share a project next week.

3. I attended the Quest Boise Unconference and got totally overwhelmed by all the amazing learning that happened there. If you're remotely interested in games based learning, check that link and go through the videoed presentations... wow.

4. I participated in the Metagame book club from the good people at Your Inevitable Betrayal, the educators' WoW guild. We read Cory Doctorow's book For the Win which lead to some really awesome discussions about the role of technology in kids' lives today, the economy, workers in developing countries, and many other deep topics. It's a great book -- I highly recommend it.

So much for my teaching. In my writing life, I had a few other things on the go.

1. I'm still writing reviews of educational games for Graphite, which is why I don't do them here as much anymore. You should check them out. Here's a great article (not written by me, sadly!) to start with.

2. I participated in Pitch Wars by Brenda Drake. Whatever comes of it, it was great to revisit an older piece of work and go through it with a fresh eye.

3. I wrote a book on the Mississippi river for Reading A-Z. More on that when it becomes available.

So all in all, a busy and productive summer!

Question of the Day:
What did you do with your summer vacation? Was it actually a vacation?

In addition to the above, I did in fact have a great holiday. We hosted a Japanese exchange student, which was fun, and I spent some time with my family in Saskatoon. Lots of lazy days in the sun, too! Oh, and my husband got me playing Neverwinter, so I'm finally on an MMO.



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Thursday, 26 June 2014

One Second Everyday, Revisited

Now that school is finally done, I have a final post for the year. After that, I'm going to do something I don't often do: take a break! I have a number of writing projects on the go that will take up a great deal of my time, so I'm going to put the blog on hiatus until September or, more likely, late August, when I start getting excited for back to school again.

Way back when, I discussed an app called One Second Every Day and an idea I had for integrating it with learning. I was pretty happy with how this project turned out. Here's what we did:

Back in September, I asked my students to take short videos or snapshots of their learning each Friday. We were already doing genius hour, so I just had them grab the iPads and take pictures at the same time. By the end of the year, most students had a collection of 25-50 photos and videos documenting learning and important classroom events. We then put them together using Windows Movie Maker, which was a bit of a disaster since there's a file corruption error that affected about 20% of my students and which we didn't have time to fix (you have to submit the files to Microsoft for correction). However, generally I, and the students, were pretty pleased with the results, so with their permission, I'm going to share them with you!



















Question of the Day:
How do your students showcase learning at the end of the year?

This is the first time I've done the learning videos. Other years, I've done projects, graphics, posters.... so far, I think this is my favorite.