Cool Tools for Schools is a great way for me to explore new technology tools or brush up on old ones, that perhaps I didn’t realize need significant brushing up! This year my new activities at school included Nearpod.com, Teaching Fake News, Coding Night, Skyping, and ePals. Because of Cool Tools for School, I am able to try out new activities and do research before applying them in the classroom. Most recently we’ve Skyped with a forest ranger from Everglades National Park and a zoologist from Smithsonian National Zoo. I’ve also connected with teachers in India and Russia so far and my students have begun an email exchange with students in India. I’m hoping over the remainder of this year and then beginning the next school year I can develop relationships with teachers in order to have a more meaningful and constructive exchange. This year has been experimental for both myself and the teachers in India using the website ePals. My comfort level grows with each successful exchange I host for my students and I can see right away how powerful connecting with students in other countries can be. My students were asking thoughtful questions and our discussions led to being respectful about cultural differences and how something that is accepted in the United States may be frowned upon in India.
I also wrote about Twitter and using it in the classroom. This wasn’t as easy to implement because I had to get permission from my principal and I had to set up an account and experiment it over the course of a few weeks. Twitter has a lot of pop-up ads and even with my account very tightly locked down I felt that some of the ads could be inappropriate. I received permission from my principal to use Twitter in the library and then I reached out to the other librarians in my school district to see if they wanted to do the same. As of right now, my plan is to use Twitter as an introduction to social media with my youngest classes (kindergarten and first grade). We will begin by reaching out to our very small Twitter community (the other schools in our district) and as I get more comfortable with it, I will expand the community perhaps to parents and grandparents of our students.
I will continue seeking out virtual guests. I have two more arranged for this school year. One, the kid representative of KidsSavingtheRainforest.org. She is 12 years old and she’s going to teach us about the rainforest in Costa Rica. The last one is with a National Park in California and this is the only virtual guest I’ve contacted through the Microsoft Skype for Educators website. I’m hoping that because it is through this resource that the connection will be excellent. We had some difficulties with the Smithsonian Zoo, the zookeeper kept freezing while she was showing us the lions and tigers.
The connections I’ve made with virtual guests and ePals have excited a few teachers in my building. Teachers don’t seem to get involved with coding, presentation tools, social media websites, etc. But building my online community seems to be a great way to show teachers the potential of collaborating with me in the library.
This course has been a great way to continue to read about advancing technology. It encourages me to try new things and make small adjustments here and there. This year’s major breakthrough, for me, was connecting with a broader community online.
I love learning in this way at my own pace. Some things I just sample and don’t go back to. Other things like building my online community are going to change the way my program impacts students. And other things like Google Maps and Twitter will make a small difference to my students but overall the things I learn and try in this course improve my practice. I look forward to taking the course again next year because even if I do something small, it keeps me moving forward in a world that it means I become obsolete if I don’t keep up with changing technology and opportunities.
My third grade classes are learning about maps. I told the teacher I would get them on Google Maps and we would label the maps she wanted done during classroom time. Once we got into Google Maps, I found I was suddenly getting a lesson from my students. Sure, I can put in a destination and get directions to and from a place. But my students were asking me to put the little human in the map. When I tried to do it the first time, nothing happened because I didn’t put it in the right place. A student came up and gave me better directions. It was a great lesson for me but I’m not sure how much my students progressed that day.
So when I saw Thing 40: Mapping and Geography Tools, I realized, this is a great place for me to spend a few hours exploring and learning. I started in Google Maps with the little human exploring our summer destination in Thailand. Because I had read the Instructional Overview for CoolTools I knew there had to be more to Google Maps, but I couldn’t easily find how to make my own map.
I realized, I needed to click away from the directional setting, which is my default tool in Google Maps and go deeper into the menu. The menu only pops up when the directional tool is out of the way. Then you have to click on Your Places and under that menu is an option for Maps. This is where I figured out how to create a map that could be saved and shared with pictures, directions, sequential locations, etc.
I was confused initially about how to upload a file with coordinates or locations. It turns out, it’s super easy! I watched this video suggested by Cool Tools: How to Map a Spreadsheet. Then I mapped all of the places I’ve been. It couldn’t have been easier. This could easily be done in a class with a shared spreadsheet. As in the example in the video, students could get onto the shared spreadsheet, enter their location (perhaps places they’ve been, or places they’re learning about) and then the spreadsheet can be loaded into the map. Map can read a column in the spreadsheet and find all the locations as long as they’ve been spelled correctly and inputted in the correct manner.
Here is a map for our summer trip: Thailand and Vietnam. I think it would be great to use a feature like this as we travel. It would be so fun to have the map shared with family members and add photos to each location as we visit them. I can also see the benefits in the classroom as we Skype with or email people from around the world. If they mention certain places in their country, we could locate those places and if our international friends are familiar with google maps we could share a map and add locations and images to the map.
This Thing 32 was a great way for me to brush up on my Google Map skills. I wasn’t even aware of what I was missing! I have used sites like HistoryPin before. I find for myself, it is better to stick to one website that I understand and works well. Otherwise I get overwhelmed. We are a google school so Google Maps will work great. Eventually I would like to explore Google Earth and perhaps consider using GoogleLitTrips with some of my classes. Google Lit Trips seems like a more controlled way to ensure students are getting a specific type of experience while exploring maps. I’m excited to start using Google Maps in a more in-depth way with my students!
I understand Creative Commons pretty well and teach it to my students when applicable. I love the idea of Open Educational Resources. I think this is the way of the future and that we should be sharing our best work online. This is a way to enable all people access to a great education, especially with vibrant Public and School Library spaces.
I always look for free resources and tools that I can use from someone else who has already done it. There are great tools out there. Usually they come from a teacher or a school who is okay with sharing their work. I suppose it is out of principle that I refuse to pay for resources on Teacherspayteachers.com. Or maybe I am a miser. Either way, I think OER is the way to go.
In the OER Commons explanation of what OER are, it says that OER are clearly labeled with a license. In that case, many online tools may be posted online without much thought for how people are taking and using them. These would most likely fall under Fair Use and most of the time in my experience are just a page here and there. In OER Commons, schools can share big things like entire grade level units. I thought the article, 5 Questions to Answer About OER Use was helpful because it emphasizes collaboration between teachers and technology specialist (media literacy teacher or librarians) to take resources from OER and redesign it so it works best in the program and school it is being used.
Our school uses the modules available on EngageNY.com. I had talked to my family in Connecticut who also teaches with material available on EngageNY.com. To confirm my suspicions, that EngageNY modules are available in the OER, I visited OER Commons and searched for EngageNY. It popped up with a Custom License. The Custom License of EngageNY.com specifies that curricular materials that we currently supplement and enrich modules are available for free use under the Creative Commons Attributions Non-Commercial Share Alike law. These are videos and links are available because NYSED is licensed to use these materials but NYSED is not the owner of these materials. The license goes on to explain that anything NYSED has created, such as lesson plans and graphic organizers are available for free use. It also emphasizes that nothing is to be used for Commercial benefit.
EngageNY is a huge resource in the OER Commons and is having an enormous impact on the students in our district.
I went into OER Commons to search for possibilities for my lessons. I found Project Look Sharp lesson plans to teach students about Fake News and how to be critical thinkers about the information presented to viewers. Project Look Sharp materials are available as Share Only which means they cannot be remixed and distributed. This makes a lot of sense when fighting a Fake News epidemic.
While searching the STEM are of OER Commons I found Ad Access, a collection of advertisements from 1911 to 1955. This tool could be a fun extension after studying commercials made for children in the 1980s from Project Look Sharp. Teaching young children how to be critical thinkers in the face of information is difficult. I like how OER Commons will allow you to log in and save favorite pages. This is a great tool for teachers looking for access to lesson plans and ideas.