Friday, December 05, 2008

Happiness - Pass it on!

photo by mathewlees
According to the Boston Globe this morning, the impact of your social network may be greater than you think. A study cited in the British Medical Journal found there are three degrees of influence when it comes to happiness. It ripples through your extended network of social contacts - as far as a friend of a friend of a friend. Now that you know you have the power to lift the mood of others, how will you show up at school today? Go out and spread the cheer! Let me know how it worked for you.

Read the full article.

Turning Trash Into Treasure

Occupational therapists see function in most objects.

7 am - picked up on curbside after spotting it on a morning run

9 am - new life as a movement tool to get students ready to learn

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Changing Disabilities To Possibilities

My K12 Online Conference presentation, Changing Disabilities to Possibilities - Using the MacGyver Approach is coming up this week. Here is a peek at the 2 minute teaser.

Learn in the Comfort of Your Own Home or School

Are you listening to the conversations? Going on right now is a free online conference for k - 12 educators. Check it out at the K12 Online Conference 2008. Listen anytime, anywhere. Listen by yourself or with your colleagues. Grab that cup of coffee and chose from among 40 different presentations (all 20 minutes in length). Let me know which ones you enjoyed...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Making it Count!

On my previous post, Jeff Utecht left a comment which I rejected accidentally when I was moderating it. My only defense was that it was way too early in the morning and I didn't have enough coffee. At any rate, I copied the comment from my email and pasted it here...
The best part about moving parent communication online is that you can track who visits and reads the website. We never could do that when we sent the paper copy home in student backpacks. A great way to 'sell' teachers on moving to communicating digitally is to embed a stat counter on the site so they can see that people are visiting and reading.
I can't agree with him more. It is so motivating to see that people actually are reading what you put out.

I use clustrmaps as a quick visual. This world map gives you a global glimpse of who is stopping by your site. I also use stat counter. It gives me information I didn't know I wanted. I can see how many people visited on a given day, what cities they came from and how much time they spent on the site.  

Jeff suggests Google Analytics. It lets you know how many hits on your site are within your school boundaries, for example.

All these programs are free.  Yes, data is useful, motivating and fun!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Parent Collaboration - Reflection # 5

Collaborating with parents is so important. I often wonder how can we do a better job. I first came upon Parents as Partners website that covers the topic from head to toe. In addition to the website, they have a regular webcast with Ed Tech Talk. It broadcasts on the 1st and 3rd Monday of each month and shares best practices in engaging parents and teachers in conversations about families and schools. Check in Monday 9:00 pm EST. The hosts for the show are Lorna Costantini, Matt Montagne and Rhoda Cipparone.

Then I read Jeff Utecht's blog post on Parent Conmmunication: From Print to Digital. As teachers move from paper newsletters to online communication, he offers 5 great suggestions on how to communicate in a digital format.

One of our principal's goal this year is to reduce the amount of copies made in the school. I think this is a great first step!

photo citation: .p a n e.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Does Learning Stop After You Leave the Schoolyard - Reflection # 4

Does learning stop when the bell rings and your students leave the four walls of your classroom?

We were on Second Beach in Middletown, RI this summer when we discovered a sand dollar. We thought this was an odd find on such a northern beach. The kids started to wonder if sand dollars where indigenous to this area. Wikipedia and google were not available. Luckily a teenager had her cell phone and I had the place to get the answer, even on the beach...ChaCha.

Mobile Answers. Just call. Just text. Just ask. We did. Within a few minutes, we received a text message explaining that they could be found in shallow coastal waters anywhere in the world, as far north as Alaska. This prompted more questions. What animal lived inside? In a few minutes a text came back explaining they were Echinoids, spiny skinned creatures. Their relations included the sea lily, the sea cucumber, the star fish and the sea urchin. Several more questions were asked and answered. I marveled that learning could take place anywhere. Yes, sitting on a beach in Rhode Island, sparked by a curious find of a sand dollar.

The cell phone is a handy tool. Imagine being on a field trip to pick apples and someone wonders how many types of apples there are in North America. I have the answer...I just asked ChaCha. Now you try. It's free (standard text message fees apply).

Text 242242
Call 1.800.2CHACHA

Nature Lovers - Reflection #3

Summertime is a time to connect with nature. If you happen to be close to the water, you have daily reminders of this. I always know when sunrise and sunset is, as well as high and low tide. This creates a rhythm to the day that effects all that I do.

In the summer edition of Tufts Magazine, there was an article titled What’s lost when kids lose touch with nature? In it, W. George Scarlett talks about the disconnect with the natural world. No longer are kids let loose to play in the woods or to roam the outside. Instead, they are indoors connected to TV and video games or outdoors in organized sports. This alienation from nature is a new focus of research. Is there a connection to obesity and attention deficit disorder in children? Not so long ago, many classrooms had a room pet. This taught the students care taking and promoted wonder. I haven't seen one in years.

Howard Gardner has added naturalist intelligence to his list of multiple intelligences. Do you have a student who is "nature smart"? Take time to gaze at a spider web and observe critters outside the school yard. Write nature journals and embed nature in math problems. How can you connect nature to your classroom?

How Much Movement Do You Need? (Reflection # 2)

I realize that summer agrees with me. I get to be outdoors, in the light, for many hours. I get to move in many different ways: swim, bike, run and kayak. All in all, it makes for a happy, productive day.

How much movement does each individual student need? It will vary just as it does for adults. Granted, some are satisfied with what they get in the typical day: walking to specials, moving around the room to get materials and running around at recess. But we all know there are students who are natural movers. They demand a great amount of movement just to reach their threshold and stay on task. How are we providing this input for them beyond what is naturally available in the school day?

At Hosmer, we have power stations in the hallways to give a quick boost to students as they transition. In the classroom, students stand to work or sit on Movin' Sit cushions. Some children require motor breaks in which they are given 5 minutes to move on a scooter board, ride a roller racer, jump on a trampoline or run up and down the stairs.

What ideas do you have? How can we better accommodate these movers and make them more productive during the school day?

Experieincing Life as a Student (Reflection #1)

During the Building Learning Communities Conference this July, I kept my eyes and ears open to how it felt to participants attending a day long learning event. I noticed several things. As adults, we could choose our learning. We had a wealth of workshops available to pick from. People got up to leave if the workshop wasn't what they expected. Comments about the difficulty of sitting all day were heard throughout. Drinks and food were allowed into the sessions. And, people even chewed gum! At the end of the day, people were cooked.

Fast forward to our students. They sit at their desks a good portion of the day, everyday. Imagine if they could get up and walk out if the lesson wasn't meaningful to them. Do they have the opportunity to go to the bathroom or grab a drink? Are they able to "back channel" when the lesson is going on to extend their learning?

Besides the great learning that took place over several days at the BLC08 conference, I think many of us realized how hard it is to be a student!

photo citation torres21

Summer Reflections

There was a lot swimming around in my head this summer that never made it down to the page. I thought I would write five short blog posts about what I was thinking about.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Come for the Conversation

An international all-day "meetup" of educators interested in talking and learning about Web 2.0 technologies, will take place on Monday July 14th, at the Newton Marriott just before the start of the Building Learning Communities Conference. All are invited--whether you yourself blog, are just an educational blog reader, or even just want to hang out with an interesting group of people. The event is free. Hope to see you there!

Visit the wiki for more information.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sitting Sensory Seekers

Keeping sensory seekers in their seat is not easy. We use a variety of solutions, from Move'n Sit cushions to wrapping Theraband around the desk legs. We schedule movement breaks and allow our students to stand to work. When touring colleges with my son and daughter over the past years, I noticed interesting chair options which provide movement and positional changes. I wondered why we don't have these in grades 1 - 12?

Well, thanks to a flickr group I belong to, I recenty saw an interesting chair used in schools. The Zumo Rocker from Virco offers us another way to embed movement naturally. It stands out from the typical line of school furniture because it provides moderated range of movement for the antsy student. The rocker chair comes in seat heights from 13" - 18" to accommodate students from preschool to high school. Do you know anyone that needs to move to learn? Here is another option!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Have A Stress Free Week

We love bubble wrap. We have it taped to the wall for finger warm ups. We put it on the floor to practice jumping or to get re-energized. Now, we can use it on the computer as well. Someone in my twitter network asked for sites to "de-stress during testing week". One response was FreeRice, which we have written about in a previous post. Another suggestion was The Original Virtual Bubble Wrap. This online bubble wrap site is just plain fun. Thanks to mswecker for passing this on. We are in the middle of MCAS testing here in Massachusetts. Popping a few bubbles may come in handy.

After MCAS is over next week, there still are the potential applications for students. It is a great training tool for point and clicking with the mouse. You get such a satisfying "pop" each time you click on a bubble. If you have students who can only guide the mouse with their arm movement (no clicking yet), use the manic mode. It will continuously click as you move the mouse over the bubbles.

I feel calmer already!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sit Back and Enjoy the Show

One thing I hate when I search for images is scrolling to the bottom and clicking "next" to get to the following page. "Scroll, click, scroll, click...look, I have 17 more pages in this search. I hope I find something soon!"

A couple of months age I discovered PicLens, a free extension to your browser (works with Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer). I am now treated to a continuous flow of the images as I roll my mouse to the right or left of the screen. I feel like I am sitting in a movie theater!

PicLens instantly transforms your browser into a full-screen, 3D experience for enjoying photos and videos across the web. With one click, PicLens makes online media come to life via an immersive presentation that goes beyond the confines of the traditional browser.

Why mundanely click through online photo galleries or squint at thumbnails? Get PicLens now, and discover what online rich media was meant to be.
Classroom and student applications:
  • Present a set of images on a specific topic in an appealing visual manner to the whole class. Assemble images of the Civil War for a middle school history class. Gather images of butterflies for second graders who are observing the chrysalis stage in class.
  • Help students quickly find an image they need without having to change pages.
  • Upload photos from a recent field trip to Flickr and view at your own pace.
What other ideas do you have for school and classroom uses?

Give PicLens a try!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Just Read The Words...Or Listen Too

In the last post I tried a new application that gives you the option to hear the text. Some of us may not have needed it, some may have found it helpful while some may have found it essential.

We have students who cannot access text for a variety of reasons. Low vision and reading challenges are two common ones. But what about the student with attention difficulties? What about the student with sensory processing issues who does not register sensory input unless it is enhanced? Hearing and seeing allows for a multisensory approach that improves attention and helps some students to "notice" salient information. Perhaps you have students who are auditory learners. Hearing is the best channel to receive and retain information.

We can provide adult support to read the material for these students. This fosters dependence. As occupational therapists, we are always aiming for independence, however.

We can let our students struggle. Just read the words some may say. Easier said than done for certain students. They may eventually do it, but what have they missed in the process?

Now, thanks to the web 2.0 world we live in, there is an easy solution...and it's free. ReadTheWords is a web based service that assists people with written material. They do this by using TTS Technology, or Text To Speech Technology. It was created to assist students with learning disabilities with their studies, by means of auditory learning and auditory processing. The developers quickly learned that it was being used by many others for a variety of purposes. It has proved to be a great example of universal design because it accommodates a wide spectrum of users in their daily lives.

There is nothing to download and you can access this service online from any computer, anywhere. Once the text is converted, it does not have to sit on your computer. Students can take their reading on the go by adding it to their ipod or mp3 player. This keeps the information at the student's fingertips, at their desk in school or available at home for studying and review. ReadTheWords provides 15 voices to choose from and you can control the pitch and speed of the voices according to your preference. They read English, Spanish and French.

We want to make the information easily available to our students. We don't want them to run a marathon each time they need information. How exhausting and tiring would that be? The Boston Marathon is coming up, by the way. It is a commendable accomplishment, but not something you do on a daily basis!

photo citation: Benimoto

Friday, April 04, 2008

Viva Le Differance

I cringe when I walk into a classroom and all the desks are the same height. Yes, they look ordered and they line up so well. Once you add the students, however, the problem begins. You see, kids come in all different sizes.

Our students do not do well with a cookie cutter approach. One size does not fit all. Watch this short video, Animal School, to appreciate different learning styles. I first discovered this video on Karen Janowski's blog, Teaching Every Student. In the past several weeks, it kept coming to my attention (my niece identified with the kangaroo, a parent passed on the link to us at school, a workshop used it in the presentation and someone in my twitter network mentioned it in the conversation).

It's time I passed it on to you!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Kids First

Autism: The Musical

This uplifting documentary explores one L.A. woman's pledge to lead a group of autistic children in defying diagnosed expectations by writing, rehearsing and performing their own full-length musical.
Autism: The Musical has been making the rounds at film festivals this year. I missed it when it was playing in Newport, Rhode Island. Last week the full documentary was available to watch online for free and I had time to watch only half of it. This week it seems to be removed, so I am out of luck again! If you have HBO, you can watch it this month, however. The schedule of showings can be found on their site.

I am impressed with the uniqueness and difference of each child in this film. It reminds me that they are kids first, kids who happen to have autism. Let's try to unlease the creativity in all children. They will surprise us!

Thanks to Karen Janowski for her post on this inspiring musical. Read her thoughts and reflections here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Beach Balls - More than just a day at the beach.

Did you know that you can have fun playing with beach balls all year long and not just when you're frolicking on the beach? Beach balls are a great way to help children develop ball skills. They're softer, easier to catch, lighter, and move slower than a regular playground ball. For these reasons they're less threatening to a child just learning to catch. The slower movement helps children develop visual tracking skills, improved reaction time, and eye/hand, foot/hand coordination. Catching is easier than throwing, so to start out, stand no more than 3-4 feet from the child and gently toss the ball to his/her outstretched hands. As the child develops skill in catching the ball, move further away. To practice throwing, begin by having the child throw the ball into a large container (trash barrel, bucket, hula hoop). Start at a close range and move further back as the child's skill develops. Once a child is having success in catching and throwing in these non threatening ways, you can start tossing back and forth with another person. Again, start at a close range and move further back as skill develops. Here's some other beach ball activities to help develop more advanced ball skills.
  • child returns a ball thrown to him/her by hitting it with two hands
  • bounce and catch - first to a partner and then to him/herself
  • kicking a stationary beach ball
  • kicking a moving beach ball
  • drop kicking
  • practice batting skills using a beach ball and a plastic bat
  • suspend a beach ball from a string to practice two handed hitting, one handed hitting, batting
Try some of these activities and have a ball!

Thanks to Maria, our physical therapist, for her ideas.

Photo citation - valentinapowers

Push Pin Pictures

Here's a fun activity to help children develop a tripod grasp. Find a simple line drawing. Preschool coloring books are a good source for these. Secure it to a piece of colorful construction paper with a couple of small pieces of tape. Put the construction paper on a rug square or on a carpeted floor. Take a regular or extra large push pin and poke holes along the outline of the picture. The holes should be fairly close together (no more than 1/8" apart). Once you're done, carefully remove the picture from the construction paper. Tape your picture in a window where the light can shine through the holes and enjoy your creation.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Staying in the Lines

Here's a nice tool made by Kim, here at Hosmer, to help a student with significant difficulty with motor control learn to draw shapes. She used a piece of foam board and an Xacto knife to cut out the lines. She taped heavy (duct) tape over the lines of the shape on the back to reinforce it. The grooves are large enough for the student to use either a marker or his finger to trace the shape. This technique can be used to make letters, numbers, names or any simple pattern. Thanks Kim.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Doodling in Class

Doodling in class doesn't always have to be bad. At times, it can enable a student to listen to classroom instruction. I know because drawing engages my attention when I am stuck talking on the phone longer than I like! After finishing a conversation, I usually am amazed how much I covered a page in scribbles and designs without being fully aware of what I was drawing.

Doodling can help a student transition from one task to another. I observed one youngster draw an on-off switch, tap it and move on to what the teacher asked the class to do.

For some youngsters, drawing is a strength that should continue to be strengthened. It might be the exact thing that determines their career path. There is a powerful connection between the hand and the mind. If you have a budding artist in your midst, think of how you can harness this ability and use it to improve other skills.
  • draw out a plan for a story using a storyboard
  • tell stories by drawing a comic strip
  • help understand social situations by drawing out social stories
  • draw out math problems to fully understand concepts
  • sketch out scientific processes
  • improve reading comprehension by drawing scenes from a book
Celebrate the strengths of our students. Be amazed at their talents. Use them wisely!

Take 5 minutes to watch this incredible video that honors an individual's strength.

photo citation: karindaiziel

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Picture Writing

Picturing Writing
is an art-and-literature based approach to writing developed by Beth Olshansky to meet the needs of students with diverse learning styles.
They learn how to create pictures that tell a story and write words that paint pictures.
Students start by painting a picture with watercolor and crayon resist. Then they brainstorm to create rich vocabulary to use with their pictures, in essence learning to "read their pictures". The writing process involves visual, kinesthetic and verbal modes which makes the students' work come alive.

One of our third grade teachers just finished a project on "Time of Day". Visit the students' stories on display in the library and be amazed by the richness of the language and paintings!

In A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink introduces six essential abilities one needs to be successful in today's world, the Conceptual Age. Two of these are evident in the process of picture writing. One is "symphony", perceiving the big picture, recognizing patterns and seeing relationships. These third graders are becoming active observers, seeing their world in new ways. The second is "story", explaining the world with "context enriched by emotion". The student passages accompanying the paintings are descriptions full of feeling. Nurturing symphony and story will help our students prepare for whatever path they choose.

connection to occupational therapy - treating the "whole person", multisensory activities

Monday, February 25, 2008

skrbl (may I buy a vowel, please?)

Try this simple and easy online multi user whiteboard. After signing up for the free account, give out your URL & start working together. Sketch, text, share files, upload pictures all in one common shared space. There are no new tools to learn, nothing to download, nothing to install. Brainstorm ideas together. Everyone sees the same screen, everybody gets on the same page. More about skrbl here.

Here is a great example of using skrbl in a classroom with students...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Global Belly Laughing Day

Did you miss it too? January 24 was Global Belly Laughing Day. I am putting this on my calendar for next year.

The physiological benefits of laughter are many. Having a good laugh releases endorphins, boosts energy and lowers stress hormones.

Here at Hosmer, we have been hit by a run of fevers. Are you looking for ways to strengthen your immune system? Have a good laugh to release the neurotransmitters that ensure your body's healing mechanisms are working. Our school nurse, Joanne, has been working hard lately. Make her job easier. Start each day by getting your students to chuckle.

Meanwhile, I am practicing for the big day next year.
Smiling Sun drawn by Jennifer Huber

Friday, February 08, 2008

Reflections on Educon2.0

Things I am reflecting on after attending the Educon2.0 conference in Philly several weeks ago:
  1. putting kids at the center of their learning
  2. kids creating, not just interacting
  3. opening the door to student creation
  4. there joy in your classroom?
  5. creating "third places" in school
  6. rethinking space - what do we want to happen here?
  7. getting away from instructional "stencils" to discovery and exploration
  8. kids bringing both heart and brain to school
  9. schools needing to be more childlike - open, curious, playful
  10. technology allowing you to go further than you can on your own
  11. hearing, "Most of what kids are doing on computers in school is just dopey" (Gary Stager)
  12. the teacher being the expert learner in the classroom
  13. knowing what's in the box before you leap out
Why change if everything is going well? Our role is to prepare students to be successful in life. Life is not static, it always involves change.

Why change? Because it's part of life!

Are you interested in hearing and seeing more about this Educon2.0 experience?
By the power of Ustream, you can watch the sessions yourself. Go to the Educon20 wiki and scroll down until you see the individual sessions. Next, choose a session and click on "click here for session notes and UStream Session Recording." These are not the 2-4 minute youtube videos that you can fit in easily, so grab a cup of tea first and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Poor G

I don't know why, but g always gets picked on when people talk about handwriting. In the Mar/April edition of Good Magazine (what a minute, it's still January!), there is an article titled Stop Teaching Handwriting by Anne Trubek. She starts off lamenting how her third grade son spends much of his school day struggling to learn the letter g. Wow, now that is one tricky letter to master.

The Onion News (the news source with a twist) tells the story of a third grader who is anxiously waiting to learn the cursive letter g in her class. Her teacher states:
"Abigail has come up to my desk five times in the past three days asking when we would be learning G," teacher Ellen Honig said. "I told her we'd probably get to it sometime next week, but that I couldn't make any promises."

The young girl's anxiety caused by the letter g is only increased when her teacher adds:
"We should get to g very soon, but you never know," Honig said. "We could have a fire drill, or the multiplication-filmstrip series I ordered might finally come in."

Dr. Mel Levine reminds us that cursive writing can be a difficult task for a student. The inability to assign specific muscles at the right time during letter formation could be a contributing factor. What letter does he use in his explanation at workshops? You got it... the g! You see, the finger muscles responsible for rotation have to get fired up. As the letter changes direction, muscles responsible for descending strokes have to take over, then there's the loop combination and finally the opposite muscle action for ascending what word was I trying to spell? It's all a nightmare.

Can we possibly give everyone a buy when it comes to learning g, please? It might free us up to spend more time on MCAS prep.

Remember What You Learned In Kindergarten

One of the big lessons in kindergarten is learning how to "share". Sharing work on the Hosmer student blog gives wings to our students' creations. Given this opportunity, they soar!

For more student work, check out Hosmer student art on the Watertown School Department web site.

1st Grade
2nd Grade
3rd Grade
4th Grade
5th Grade

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

This promises to be a great conference...instead of workshops, there are "conversations".
EduCon 2.0 is both a conversation and a conference.
And it is not a technology conference. It is an education conference. It is a School 2.0 conference. It is, hopefully, an innovation conference where we want to come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas -- from the very practical to the big dreams.

EduCon Conference

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fun and Follies

I noticed the stress level was a little high at work this week. It is helpful to remember we work with kids, after all.

We must all, in order to make reality more tolerable, keep alive in us a few little follies.

-Marcel Proust

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Play While You Learn...It's a Fact (multiplication)

While I was on Twitter, I came upon an interesting site. What is Twitter, you ask? Well that is for another post. Suffice to say that I get most of my interesting sites these days thanks to my Twitter network.

This one is from Jeff Utecht. In U Tech Tips, he writes about a math game called Timez Attack. It allows kids to practice multiplication facts in a video game format. People in the educational community have differing opinions about the value of video games. I personally would like to see students be creators and collaborators when on computers, but I can still see the value in making a task that requires automatization engaging for youngsters.

The Base version teaches 2s through 12s and is free. I would suggest kids giving this a try at home. Guaranteed they will not complain about doing this homework!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Talking Photos

blogmyspacedvd to ipod video convertertalkingphoto, dvd to psp convertertalkingphoto, dvd to zunetalking photo album

Convert any photo into a talking character with PQ Talking Photo. Currently it runs on Windows XP/Vista, but a Mac version is expected sometime this year. Here is what it can do:
  • Create animated characters from any photo you want.
  • Easy to use. With simple mouse clicks, the animation can be generated in a few seconds.
  • Only one picture is needed to construct a realistic 3D face for animation
  • Animate any human or animal photos, paintings, drawings or even sketchs.
  • Automatically match lip movement with voice.
  • Support any spoken languges: English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Chinese, etc.
  • Create your talking photo album, live avatars on blogs, funny greeting card, pets talk show, etc.
Note: If you blog about it, they will send you a free copy of the software.

I was pondering the classroom applications of this fun tool before having an adequate dose of morning caffeine when I came across David Muir's post from his EdCompBlog. He has some great ideas:
I think there is great educational potential for animated talking pictures. You could get a picture of an historical character and put pupil generated words in their mouth... Or get pupils to talk in the persona of a fictional character... Or different pupils could record the same message but present it in different ways depending on the emotions shown by the person in the picture - in anger, in sadness, with resignation etc.

Fun With Photos

Winter break is over. It was a time for many of us to connect with families and friends. If you had a camera clicking the whole time, what will you do with all those images? Now you can get creative and have fun with your photos. Check out fd's Flickr Toys for some ways to express yourself and share your pictures.

This photo used the motivational poster feature. I can imagine some great posters for the classroom. At Hosmer School, we are "Respectful, Responsible, Hardworking and Successful". Maybe we will see some posters created by the students that reflect these traits?