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Monday, May 28, 2012

PowerPoint Alive and Well in Elementary School!

I feel almost guilty writing this post as I know many folks think PowerPoint is "passe".  Honestly, I really felt that way too until the other day.  With such a wide variety of presentation tools available for use including Prezi, Voicethread and Glogster,  it seems almost silly to be using 'boring, old' PowerPoint.  As I'm constantly searching for new ways to incorporate technology into my classroom it seems that I sometimes overlook the obvious.

My students have been studying and using this essential question to guide their learning: "How Can Scientists Classify Animals?"  They have learned about the major groups of Vertebrates: Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, Mammals and Fish.  Initially, the plan was to have the students create a poster using a rubric agreed upon by my colleagues.  As we had time in the computer lab I decided to give the students a choice between making a poster and creating PowerPoint presentation.  One hundred percent of the class voted on the PowerPoint.

Before we went into the lab I surveyed the class to find out how many students were familiar with the program.  A few students raised their hands and stated they had used it in second grade.  For most of the other students this would be their first attempt.  So off they went, with notes in hand to work with their partners.

In the lab, they were given some basic instructions regarding the program itself: How to choose a layout and how to insert a new slide.  Most of the instruction was on how to create a PowerPoint that was not 'text heavy' or too glitzy. Using the modified poster rubric they started a storyboard and began creating the slides first with plain text. When that was complete, they were allowed to go back and add pictures, change fonts/colors/themes and add transitions if wanted. The focus of this lesson was really identifying the information needed to answer the Essential Question.

It took about 2 class periods for the students to finish their work. Early finishers were taught how to add transitions and animations, which they picked up quickly.  Those students then taught other classmates, and so on.  It truly was great to watch the students in action helping one another and problem solving.  Some students discovered how to add sound while others found they could add a video clip! Needless to say, all the students were proud of their work.  Sharing begins this week!

So, when I look back and see the excitement, motivation and enthusiasm for this project, it makes me think that PowerPoint is not to be overlooked at the elementary level.  I love that it is on most computers and therefore, accessible. By customizing the product, it can be used to differentiate. It's ease of use is another reason I like PowerPoint.  The trick is to not "over-use it" but that doesn't mean to NOT use it.   Students can also upload their Powerpoints to Voicethread as a way to share and allow comments globally or from classmates and relatives! 

When planning your next project - why not rethink PowerPoint.  It is attractive to the students and it might not be over-used to them.  

But make sure to alert your students to avoid the mistakes advised in this funny 4 minute video.(Quality is not the best but it is about what he is saying.)

Please tell me if you have used PowerPoint lately or do you prefer another presentation tool for your students? I would love to learn from you.

PowerPoint in the Classroom:  A tutorial that walks students through PowerPoint 2007.

What's Good About PowerPoint? Geared for teachers but some of the information is useful to students.

Project ideas for using PowerPoint

Encourage Students to Use PowerPoint Effectively - Great tips from Teaching Today

From Death to Life by PowerPoint - by Ellen Finkelstein

Friday, May 4, 2012

Taking Outdoor Science-Indoors!

Tadpoles feasting
During a science lesson yesterday about Vertebrates, the life cycle of a frog became a focus.  This of course led to a discussion about tadpoles.  In a weak moment, I shouted "Okay, tomorrow wear your old sneakers and jeans because we are going to go in search of tadpoles in the stream behind the school!"  The chairs went flying as the kids jumped out of their seats with joy. When the cheers died down, I instantly realized what I had done.

My lesson for the day was done as the students couldn't think about anything other than the upcoming science class outdoors.  Then came the questions and comments: "What about poison ivy? Last time I was in those woods, I got a bad case." "How long are we going to be out there?" "I don't have any old sneakers." "Wow, my mom can come because she knows all about poison ivy."  "Where are the tadpoles? Did you see them?"  I realized I was over my head on this one.

As a mom and teacher, I DO know how careful you have to be with your words.  In actuality I really thought it would be so fun to go outside in search of tadpoles.  The reality was that I needed to plan for an outdoor adventure of the science kind.  (Here is a great site that explains how to use the outdoors for science.) To really do justice to a lesson of this type, having a clear objective with careful planning is a must.

Interestingly, last evening on Twitter our elementary science chat group (#elemsci) was discussing "Outdoor Science".  Questions such as: What do primary students find fascinating about the outdoors? How do we tie this into their learning? and, If you can't be outside, how can you bring the outdoors in for a lesson? were discussed.  Little did I know how these would come guide me in the day to come!

I tried to sheepishly avoid any conversation about "the field trip". Some students remembered their sneakers, others were worried they hadn't brought them.  One by one, the students came to me to see if we were really trekking behind the school.  I felt awful about not taking them outside.

Then one child came to me and said, "You know, the third grade teachers have some tadpoles in their room."   I knew if I could somehow have my students observe THOSE tadpoles then I would once again regain their trust.  So I asked my colleague (thank you Deb for sharing!) if we could take a peek...she did better...she wheeled this large fish tank into our room when the kids were at recess.  Well, it was amazing as there were hundreds of tiny tadpoles swimming in that tank.  (Apparently, one of the third grade students got them out of their pool.)   This following video is what it was like when my students returned from recess to find the those little froggies-to-be in the classroom.

This excitement really inspires me to bring science to life for my students....allowing them real world experiences and providing opportunities for authentic learning.   I can't wait for Monday so that the students can really take time to make observations and learn about these creatures!


The Teacher's Guide:  Frog & Tadpole Lessons

Thinking Beyond the Classroom: 10 Lesson Ideas

Scholastic Outdoor Activities: Includes Skills and Objectives

Foss Video with Helpful Tips for Outdoor Learning