Bring some holiday spirit to your classroom with these fun tech lessons!
Google’s Santa Tracker
Google’s Santa Tracker has a game for every day till Christmas. Students can choose the clothing colors for Santa’s elves, share a texting conversation between Santa and his reindeer, prepare and send a phone message from Santa to a friend, play games of skill, and explore Santa’s village. On Christmas Eve, Santa will unveil the dashboard of Santa’s sleigh.
This is a super fun center for your classroom computer, and it gives practice with basic keyboard and mouse use. Most activities do not require reading, and there are no Santa spoilers, so you can enjoy this with kids of all ages. Santa lets “big kids” create mp3 greetings for friends, and offers a nice collection of things to celebrate, from la Navidad and Kwanzaa to Winter and the Season.
On the way to the solstice (that’s a holiday, too!), track seasonal changes with Journey North. There are ideas and activities that won’t require every student to have a computer, which is nice if you don’t have the ideal level of access, but students can still see how data can be collected, organized, and shared through the use of modern technology. You can communicate with other observers of seasonal signs, add information to the sum of knowledge, and use live cams to observe a number of different animals.
Joining the Citizen Scientists who support Journey North, whether you make a class project of it with a Seasonal Showcase or just set up a computer center and let kids explore on their own, can provide deeper understanding of the seasons as well as real world opportunities to use technology for science.
Interactive Reindeer Orchestra
Care2′s Reindeer Orchestra is pretty silly, but it offers some intensive keyboard and mouse practice, number recognition, and a bit of musical fun, too. Set it up as a center at your classroom computer. Challenge students to make their own tunes. Have students write them out on paper as a series of numbers and leave them for others to play.
If you teach music, let students use the reindeer with sheet music. Ask them which key works best!
Throughout our history, we humans have wanted to go from one place to another, and to take things from one place to another, so a lot of our ingenuity has gone into transportation.
We have a number of relevant classroom themes and lesson plan collections already posted:
- Car classroom themes
- Trucks lesson plans
- Hot air balloons
- Airplane classroom theme
- Travel classroom theme
- Hiking classroom theme
- Boats lesson plans
- How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go
What if you want to have a more general transportation theme? Of course, you can mix and match ideas from the different themes. However, we have some fun ideas for general transportation themes.
Carson-Dellosa has a new Signpost Job Assignment Bulletin Board Set that could make a great starting point for your transpotation theme. Write different locations and their distance from your classroom (easy to find — just Google “How far from Sydney to Miami?” or wherever you are) on the arms of the signpost, or write goals like, “Memorizing the Multiplication Tables” and “Confident reading.”
North Star makes a general Transportation Bulletin Board Set with lots of different vehicles. Post them for a fun decorative board, or arrange them in a line across the board to create a graph. Then have students research different characteristics of the vehicles and fill out the graph. Some questions to answer:
- Where would you find this vehicle?
- How fast does it go?
- What kind of power does it use?
- What does it carry?
- Is it used for work or play?
- What jobs is it associated with?
- How many students have seen one of these?
Do the same thing with pictures of various forms of transportation cut from magazines, if you like to include students in the process.
Slogans for a transportation theme:
- Here we go!
- Let’s go!
- Look at us go!
- Moving on!
There are cute printables around for younger grades:
- DLTK has quite a few, including games and worksheets.
- Shapes, Etc. has a nice school bus idea; for young students, the school bus my be the most exciting form of transportation they know.
- Print a cute transportation mini poster in French
- Alphabet cards to print
- Preschool transportation printables
Once you’ve introduced the various vehicles, play a game to introduce map work. This can be done with the whole class, if you have a projector hooked up to your computer, or it can make a great pair activity for the computer lab. It’s simple enough to use at the beginning of the semester to get used to the technology, but conceptually complex enough for students of all ages.
- Go to the Random Global Point Generator.
- Have two students each generate a random point (choose “Select Whole Earth”). Each time, click on “See it on map” to find the point on Google maps.
- Decide as a class what form of transportation would be the best choice between the two points. Require good reasons, to an age-appropriate degree.
- Finish up with a paragraph writing assignment. Depending on the ages of the students, you might have students write about their favorite vehicle and why they like it, a story about traveling between the two points of their choice, or about the criteria that emerged (convenience, environmental impact, fun?) during the class discussion.
You can also add transportation cutouts or word cards to your classroom timeline or classroom map. Again, this is simple enough to use as an introduction to these classroom elements, but it can bring up higher level concepts as students research questions like, “Which came first, the taxi cab or the tractor?”
We also like to use things like toy cars or boats to explore movement:
We like this theme to introduce students to some of the the main areas of the classroom. You’ll notice that the activities listed above can introduce all these classroom areas:
- computer center
- math area (use the graph or Learning Resources MiniMotors Counters)
- writing area
- science area
This makes a great theme to start off the school year!
At WordCamp in Kansas City this month I heard a speaker who suggested using a WordPress website for quick in-class assessment. When you’re giving a lecture or explaining a concept, you can have everyone logged into the class website, have them answer quick questions online, and thus make sure that everyone is catching on — not just the one or two who answer a verbal question.
Her method was complicated and unattractive, but it’s a great idea, so I set about to see whether I could reproduce it easily with a standard WordPress set up.
I used a free plug-in called “WP Survey and Quiz Tool.” It’s easy to install check out how to install a WordPress plugin), and then you can just create your surveys or quizzes. If you just had a quick comprehension question, you could set up a survey and watch the totals to get a quick gauge of how much of the class is getting it. I decided to give students a few minutes to do a fast in-class quiz following my lecture on the thesis and before I set them to work on a project.
To set up a quiz, you just go through the wizard and fill n the blanks. Step one, shown above, is to give your quiz a name. You’ll use this name and people will see it, so go with something meaningful, not “Qz4forchptr16wk9fall2013.” This decision is followed by a bunch of questions that let you decide whether students can retake the quiz, the percentage of correct answers required to pass, what to show when the quiz is over, and so forth. You can also upload a certificate if you care to.
Next, you have to set up sections for your quiz, even if you just have one section. Here you can define the difficulty level and choose to show the questions in order or randomly — more useful for tests than for in-class response, so we won’t go over this.
Type in your questions next, specifying multiple choice, short answer, or open-ended answer. Again, you have multiple options, none of which relates to this use of the quiz builder. We’ll discuss the use of this plugin for other types of assessment later. For now, accept the defaults and get those questions typed in.
For multiple choice and short answers, you’ll need to type in the answers as well. You identify the correct answer from multiples, save the question, and move on to the next question.
This is a nice robust tool — you can give hints, show the correct answer on a review page, and weight questions. Again, not high priority for this use of the tool.Get as fancy as you want, and then save your quiz.
Now you have to put your quiz into a post (check out how to post). You have to use square brackets. Type “wpsqt,” which stands for “WP Survey and Quiz Tool.” Now tell the computer what name of the quiz is using “name=” followed by the name of the quiz in quotation marks. Aren’t you glad you used a meaningful name?
You also have to specify whether you made a quiz or a survey by saying type=”quiz” or “survey” as the case may be. If you make any errors in punctuation, this won’t work. If you’ve done it right, you’ll get a page like this when you publish and view your post:
So, when I’ve explained the concept of a thesis to my students, I can give them a minute to take the test, and the computers will instantly score their answers.
The students get a thank you screen (and a link to a certificate, if you did that). You can quickly check in and see how the students did. I took this test anonymously, so my name shows up as “anonymous,” but if your students are logged in, you’ll see their names. This lets you find any sheep who need a little help over the stile.
If you just want a fast take on whether the class as a whole got it, you can use a survey. In very large classes, this would be more practical. I can quickly scan 20 results for my class — and look back later and see who’s really not catching on.
I’m using the Gleam theme from Elegant Themes. I can have all students log in at the beginning of class, ask them to go to the page for in-class response quizzes, and then say, “Now please take the quiz named ‘What’s a Good Thesis?’” when I want that response. As you can see, I can put a lot of other things here, too. I’ll replace the background picture (that’s for summer!) with a shot of the class once school starts.
You’ll notice that this will work only if all of your students have access to computers. In my classrooms for next term, I expect to have almost enough to go around, and many of my students carry smart phones. I’ll show a QR code at the beginning of class for those using phones, and get everyone into the habit of logging in as they arrive.
If you try out this idea or some variant, I’d love to hear about it!
“What comes next?” is a deceptively simple question. Identifying a series and predicting what comes next is a critical thinking skill that lets us test comprehension of a wide range of math concepts — and one which we use as adults in reading, planning, and decision making as well.
Use craft sticks and chart stickers to create “What Comes Next?” games or centers customized for your classroom, or have students make “What Comes Next?” puzzles for each other.
It’s very easy. Use stickers on one side of a craft stick to establish a pattern. End with a question mark. Turn the stick over and add the next item in the series so the puzzle will be self-checking.
Here we have groups of pink stickers in simple patterns: one sticker, two stickers, one sticker, two stickers… Other sticks show [one, two, one, one, two] and [one, two, three,one, two, three], and so on.
You can use chart stickers to match your current classroom theme, or put all your leftover chart stickers into a box and pull it out for this project.
Use numbers of items, colors, right and left facing stickers, different items, or any concept or pattern you’re working on in class.
Stickers make this fun for younger students, but you can also create puzzles with numbers or expressions. Have students work out puzzles for one another. The steps are simple:
- Decide on an action that can be taken on any number. This could be “add 3″ or “multiply by 2 and add 1″ or “subtract the preceding number” or “multiply by the final digit of the preceding number” — anything at all.
- Choose a beginning number and write it on the left of the stick.
- Apply the action to that number to create the next number in the sequence. Repeat this step several times.
- End with a question mark.
- Flip the stick and write the next number in the sequence. You could also give the rule, such as “n-3,” and write that on the back (answer side) of the stick.
When students have completed their puzzle sticks, have them trade and work to figure out one another’s puzzles. Add an element of competition by allowing students to keep the puzzle sticks they solve and return those that stump them.
Alternatively, keep the puzzle sticks in a pencil cup, pocket chart, or shoe box for fast finishers to solve — and let them create more, too.
One of the realities of the 21st century is that we get information from many different media. Typical scene in an ordinary American home: you get up in the morning to the sound of the news on your clock radio and check Twitter, then turn on the TV to follow the story you got interested in from those two channels, read the paper with your coffee, turn on the radio as you drive to school, discuss the headlines with colleagues at work, catch some international perspectives at Facebook and the BBC news site, read a related article in a magazine at lunch, and finish up in the evening with a YouTube report or response on the subject.
That’s also how we want our older students to approach a subject, using primary sources, interviews, and a range of print and other media to gather, analyze, and synthesize information before they write their papers.
How can we prepare little kids for this relationship with information? Fortunately, there are things for little kids that are available in multiple media channels. One example is a new book/CD from Trout Fishing in America, a family music band .
Their newest recording, Chicken Joe Forgets Something Important, is a CD with a book. It’s not just a recording of the book, but a CD containing songs and the story, plus a home movie of the band in Ezra’s treehouse and a printable PDF file with lyrics and the illustrated story. (Get full details about Trout Fishing’s latest release.) A product like this offers a variety of different kinds and sources of information, which kids can put together to gain a fuller understanding of the story, just as we do when we get information from multiple channels.
Here’s a video of one of the songs, “16 or 17 Hours of Sleep,” to enjoy in your classroom.
Chicken Joe Forgets Something Important is the story of Chicken Joe, a cat who sleeps in a hen house, and how he forgot a very important day: his own birthday!
Think of all the teaching points here:
- animal homes
- remembering and forgetting
- sleep and health
- rock and roll
How can you bring lots of different media into the classroom without bringing in chaos as well?
Start with the book. Read aloud to the students and use your favorite techniques to ensure and assess understanding — we like Feelings Puppets and sentence strip sequencing, acting out the story, and using story maps and graphic organizers to retell the story or follow along.
Move on to a video or listening selection, whether it’s a recording of a story, music, or another related multimedia element. With this example, there are lots of choices, so you can experience different aspects of the story each day as you work with it. Giving kids a focus for listening, such as finding the answer to a particular question or drawing an illustration for the story or song, can help keep the classroom calm even when the video or recording is exciting.
The illustrations by Stephane Jorisch are charming, and lend themselves to “read the picture” activities as well. Following up with a quieter, more focused activity of this kind can help students settle down while bringing in new information. We also like to move kids away from the screen for a while and give them opportunities to interact with physical objects like books and art supplies.
Finally, give the kids a chance to produce something of their own in response. For young children, drawing a picture or creating a dance that expresses what they understand of the story is perfect. Slightly older students can write a letter to the artists (contact info at the links above) or write their own song or story.
We hear a lot about “information overload.” It isn’t practical to reduce the amount of information children receive or to limit the number of channels, but by helping them to learn how to process it, we can reduce overstimulation and help them make good use of varied media.