Creating Google Presentations with Elementary Students

Today, I want to talk about one of the most powerful and versatile technologies to use with students: Google presentations. For anyone who just groaned and thought, “That’s all? Google’s version of PowerPoint?” don’t count me out yet! It’s true, Google presentations are a lot like PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.  Except, they allow for seamless collaboration and sharing between students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the world.

That power turns a simple technology — a digital slideshow — into a way for students to teach an engaged, authentic audience as they synthesize ideas, pursue independent studies, compare conclusions from experiments, jigsaw small group learning, and even publish e-books. Continue reading

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Why We Don’t Call Kids “Bullies”

When I was in third grade, I was bullied by a girl in fourth grade named Alex. She rode my bus and always sat at the back. Whenever I could, I sat at the front, but if those seats were taken and I had to sit near Alex, she teased me the entire way home: about my clothes, my hair, the way I spoke, the way I acted. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. To me, Alex was just a bully: a mean kid, rotten to the core. I hoped she’d drop off the face of the Earth, or, at the very least, go to middle school and not ride my bus anymore. Continue reading

Blogging With Elementary Students

When I use technology in my classroom, it’s never just for the sake of using technology.  I use technology when it will do a better job of achieving my learning goals than traditional methods.  I have rigorous goals for my students and little time to achieve them.  So we use computers (and iPads, iPods, etc.) only when they give us a greater return on investment.

That brings me to one really smart investment: blogs.  Blogging is all about writing.  To write a blog well, you need to be organized, include details, think about your audience, develop your voice, and edit for conventions.  What makes blogging different from normal classroom writing?  When students write blogs, they can share their writing with the world.  Perhaps “the world” is limited to their parents, grandparents, and other family members.  Perhaps “the world” really is the world, as in, everyone in the world can see what they write.

Blogging is writing with the volume turned up to 11.  Students are more excited to write blog posts than practically anything else they write in the classroom.  And so, as their teacher, I love having them blog so I can take full advantage of that drive in order to teach them to write well. Continue reading

Teaching the Scientific Method to 3rd Graders

The post I wrote about teaching scientific observation skills has been making me think more about the importance of going back to basics with science in our digital age.  We live in a time when kids think it’s better to take digital pictures in the forest than to draw.  They think technology has to be made of circuits and silicon and that every question can be answered with a Google search.

But none of that is true!  Drawing teaches us to see.  Technology includes the buttons on your shirt and the laces in your shoes.  And Google searches will tell us the knowledge of the day, but not the answers we need for tomorrow.

That’s why we have to teach the scientific method.  So students have the tools they need to ask questions and find answers that are factual, verifiable, and provable.  Answers that stand up against critical review and analysis and reveal larger truths about our world.

Continue reading

Getting Started with Science

Being an elementary school teacher is hard for many reasons, not the least of which is you have to be a master of every discipline (as well a psychologistcaregiver, etc.).  One discipline that seems especially tough for people is science.  I often hear from colleagues that they feel like they lack the background knowledge they need to be effective science teachers.  Many colleagues who have science kits teach only those lessons, and colleagues who have less well-defined programs aren’t sure where to start.

There are good reasons to feel this way.  First, many of us had few experiences with science (and probably none with engineering) when we were in elementary school.  I remember hatching chicks in first grade, and that’s about it.  Second, women, who make up the vast majority of elementary teachers, have historically been discouraged from pursuing the sciences.  Third, while many of us read and write as part of our daily lives, fewer people see science the same way.  And if you live in an urban area, it may feel like opportunities for experiencing the natural world are few and far between.

I want to share some very simple, but profound ways to get started with science in your elementary classroom.  Or, if you teach from a science kit (I do too — there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel), I want to share some ways to get back to fundamentals and do science with your kids outside. Continue reading

Good Questions: How do you motivate students?

I was recently asked how I motivate my students.  Immediately, I thought, what don’t I do to motivate students?  I do everything short of standing on my head… no, wait a minute — I do that too, along with cartwheels, Captain’s Coming, Indian dances, and “old school” 4-Square.

Motivating students is at the very heart of being an effective teacher.  It’s a huge topic that encompasses just about everything we do, so let’s break it down. Continue reading

When Kids Make Mistakes

I noticed the doodle around 9:30.  Three big rings of pencil on one of the kids’ tables that weren’t there when school started an hour ago.  I had one student who sat at that table and had been having a tough time that morning, so I figured it might have been him.  Another teacher who works in my classroom asked him if he had made the marks, and he said no.

When I think back to being a kid, I have sharp memories just like this.  Of times when I was accused of something and, on impulse, lied.  That first denial, that tiniest, littlest lie, slips out so quickly.  And before you know it, you’ve planted your feet on the ground.  You’ve told a lie, and now you have to stick by it or else be found out as the person who did the wrong thing and then lied about it. Continue reading