Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Alternative to Live Student Presentations


Have you ever had a great idea for a student project only to get to the presentation day and realize that you have done something terribly wrong. Without proper planning sending students to the board to give presentations can be a nightmare. The time wasted in just getting their presentation, often a PowerPoint with way to many words on it, on the board can be horrifying. Once the presentation is on the board, no matter how many times you advised against it, there is always the group that insist on reading every word on their slides. Not to mention the time wasted while the students stand in front of the room arguing about who is going to speak.

OK, well hopefully this isn’t the norm, but I am sure we have all been their at one time or another. I picked up a great tip a couple weeks ago from the TIEnet Collaboration Day Training held for Classroom For the Future teachers in York County, Pennsylvania. Hopefully someone will read this and be willing to give the presenter the proper credit in the comment section. Basically the idea is to have students record their presentation using a screencasting program.

The Lesson:

Taking on my role as a CFF coach, I worked on this lesson with my student teacher. The lesson took place in her/my ninth grade general biology classes and was used to review the characteristics of vertebrates. We assigned each group a different class (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) and had them work collaboratively to create a slide show about the characteristics for their topic. The students used Google Docs to collaboratively create the slideshow and were not allow to incorporate anything but pictures. The only text in the show was to be on the title page. The students then prepared what they would say over each slide, making sure that everyone in the group would have the opportunity to speak. After that they used Cam Studio (very simple to use) to record a screencast of their presentation and uploaded their final product into a Moodle forum.

You can see the instruction sheet here: Vertebrate Characteristics Presentation

The Results:


I thought I would include a list of the reasons I really like this project.
  1. Once students share their presentation to the Moodle forum I had quick and easy access to them. It is very easy to scroll through the forum, click on a presentation file, and play it for the class. No time wasted changing groups and finding presentations. That time can be replaced with meaningful conversation about the presentation itself. Due to the nature of this project the presentations themselves are very short. Making things go quickly.
  2. The presenter (wish I could remember her name), from which I got this idea, said that she set up stations and had the students rotate through with a set of headphones. She also placed questions at each station that the students had to answer. This is also a great idea, but I did not use it this time around.
  3. When students give a live presentation it ends when they finish. This method allows their complete presentation to be stored in Moodle. Students can access each others presentations on their own time and easily use them as a study tool. I even suggested that they watch them with the volume off and see if they can guess which characteristic each slide is trying to portray. They can then go back, turn the sound on, and see if they were correct.
  4. All members of the group had a role to play. During the creation of the slides students were working collaboratively using Google Docs. Once the slide show was created students had to prepare what they each were going to say during the recording. Since we can look at the revision history in Google Docs and hear there voices on the recording, it is pretty easy to confirm all the students level of participation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Setting up Student PLN's

This year I am experimenting with setting up student PLN’s in my environmental science classes. We are using them to follow people via Twitter and Google Reader that post information about environmental issues. Students will browse their PLN over a two week period to come up with a topic that relates to class, in which they will write about using blogger. We are going to set aside every other Friday to read each other's blogs and use them to have a class discussion.

Our first blog was due last week and I have to say it was quite the success. I was very pleased with their posts and how they related them to class. The wonderful thing is that they will only get better! Already students are incorporating different forms of media into their posts, as well as linking them to relevant websites. In the beginning I had a few students question if they could just google “environmental issues” to come up with their topic. The way I explained it to them was that their PLN will be a group of experts in the field that are locating and filtering the best information on the web and then sending it right to them. By incorporating these tools they are essentially eliminating the need to search for articles and rather are focusing more on finding the ones in which they are interested. After the first blog was due I had a few students tell me that they are really starting to understand the benefits of using the PLN and are loving the project.

I thought I would dedicate this post to how I accomplished aiding the students in setting up their PLN and the tools I used to make following each other a bit easier. To start off I put together a page on our class website about setting up their PLN. Directions, how-to videos, and other sources are included on the page. I also included a Google Form for them to fill out to turn in their screen names, url’s, and other information. Right off the bat I will admit that following directions has been the biggest hurdle in the project. Apparently a little knowledge can be dangerous, and most students figure they can set up a Twitter account without reading the directions. Unfortunately, since I was requiring them to use specific screen names this created problems. The other major obstacle I have run into is students entering information (such as a password) and immediately forgetting it. Frustrating! It was quite the headache to get every student set up and running with a Twitter, Blogger, and Reader account. It can be done, but I spent many hours working with individual students to do it! You can find my directions here:

After getting everyone up and running I wanted to find an easy way to have them share their information with each other. To do this I entered all of their blogs into my Google Reader account. From there I sorted them into folders by periods. I then used the period folders and created a subscription bundle for each class. Links to each bundle were posted on the website. With a single click students could subscribe to everyone's blogs. I had my students subscribe to all periods. 
I was able to accomplish the same goal for Twitter using TweepML. With TweepML it is easy to create a list of twitter users that can be shared with others via a link. They can then follow the entire list by clicking the link you provide.  Links for each class were posted to the same section on my website. I named this section of the site Follow and Join the Discussion. Not only can my environmental students use the links provided, but I encourage others to follow and joint the discussion as well. Hopefully we will start to see some comments from parents show up on the student blogs. You can find this page here:

Due to my wordy introduction to this project I started to get the feeling the students were having trouble deciding exactly what I wanted in their blogs. To aid the students I added the following page to the website in which I tried to briefly outline the blog requirements.

There is a lot of thought going into this project on my part and I am honestly really excited about it. I will try and post more about this project as the year progresses.  I think by incorporating these technologies into the classroom I will find more wonderful uses for them. I already suspect that Google Reader will open some new doors due to its sharing abilities.

I would love some feedback from anyone doing a similar project. One of the big questions I am researching right now has to do with comments. I would love to read all the comments students are leaving on each others blogs but have yet to find a good way to do this. It is too bad that this is not an option in reader. It would be really nice to be able to view and leave comments right from Google Reader. Although any web app that will allow me to follow and read comments would work! Any ideas?

Below are two examples from the first round of blogs:

Disney saves Bahamian coral reefs!!!!

Old Shows are still around and Fighting the Environmental Issues

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Student PLN's

Copied from my blog: Suter's ED620 Class Blog

In my previous post I discussed the possibility of having my students create their own personal learning networks for environmental science class. After pondering this for a while longer I have decided to start the year by having them take some initial steps in doing this. The first thing I am going to have them do is to create a wordpress blog (If blogger becomes part of the Google Apps for Education I will use it) like we are using for class. In fact, I have “stolen” much of the directions for this assignment from this course. I set up the blog assignment on an environmental website I have been working on for class. Students will be required to blog a minimum of once every two weeks. Students will receive class time every other Friday to read each others blogs and comment on them. I envision using the last part of these periods to have a group discussion about what the class has blogged about. I modified the rubric from class a bit and plan on using it to grade blog entries.

One of the big issues for me was determining how I was going to keep up with reading three classes worth of blog entries and also give the students access to each others blogs. I believe I have solved these issues. As for keeping up with the students blogs, I plan on subscribing to them in Google Reader. By making a folder for each class following their blogs via their RSS feeds will be relatively easy. When setting up the website I posted a google form with two questions. Students will fill out the form adding both their period number and blog address. Right below the form I inserted a google spreadsheet. Once the students add their information to the form it will show up in the spreadsheet. Until Google Apps starts to include Google Reader (which the tech guy at school believes will happen soon), I will have the students access each others blogs from this part of the page. Once Google Reader becomes part of Google Apps I will be able to aid the students in setting up feeds. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I could set them up and share them with the students.

In addition to blogging I am also going to have the students set up twitter accounts. We are going to start by just following all the students in the environmental classes. Twitter will be used for various class activities at first. When Google Reader is added, I might have students start following some environmental bloggers and tweeters to aid them in finding topics to blog about.

Why do all this?
  1. The first answer that comes to mind is that it will aid at bringing current events and expert opinions into the classroom. 
  2. There are a few major issues that act as an umbrella over almost every topic we discuss in class. Some students might find that they have a passion for one of those issues (recycling, global warming, etc.) and start to develop a voice and a love of learning for a specific topic as the year progresses. This is really the reason that excites me the most. I hope to find a few students that really become passionate about a topic in environmental science and start to apply themselves well above and beyond my expectations. 
  3. Even if a student doesn’t become an avid self-directed learner of environmental science, helping them to see the value of these tools, and the application of a personal learning network, might prove an invaluable skill they later apply to another field of study. 
Feel free to visit my environmental page’s blogging section and offer any suggestions about any of this. I am entering uncharted territory here and value the opinion of other educators.

PLN's and Students

Copied from my blog: Suter's ED620 Class Blog

I have been toying with the idea of having my junior and senior environmental science students create their own personal learning network next year. I have put a lot of thought into this but am still at a loss for a way to make this happen. Keep in mind that I am talking about trying this with approximately 60 students. I also want to point out that I do not want to do this because I want to use the tools mentioned below in the classroom. They are just a means to an end. I think the “big idea” here is to find a way to connect students to people working and writing about environmental issues outside the classroom. How do we tear down the walls and connect our students to a world that is already globally connected and discussing the same issues? Below are a few of the ideas I am working with right now:
  1. Have the students create Twitter accounts and follow me and each other. This way not only would they have an account to receive my class updates, but would be able to connect with each other and others outside of school. It would be cool to require them to make relevant tweets each week. My main concern with this would be grading them. They could post links to relevant articles and websites but the reality is that it could be very difficult for me to grade this effectively. I love the idea of using Twitter at the end of a class period to have the students post about what they learned that day. I also used Twitter last year effectively on a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay in which the students used their cell phones to tweet what they were learning about to a Twitter hashtag. At the end of this post I embedded a great video on using Twitter in a college classroom.
  2. It would be interesting to have students create a blog just like we are doing for this class. They could blog about websites or current events that relate to what is being discussed in class or blog about the many green initiatives that they discover in their area. Again, as I go to the blog address page on D2L and click through 13 other blogs I wonder if it would be possible to grade student blogging on such a large scale. Today, I went through all the class blogs and added them to my Google Reader. I then filed them in a folder called ED620 Class Blogs. This makes seeing updates so much easier and leads me to believe managing numerous student blogs might actually be possible.
  3. I am hoping Google Apps for Educators adds Google Reader to the education suite soon. If they do I think it would be cool to have students find and follow a handful of blogs dealing with environmental issues. If this requirement was done in conjunction with a requirement to follow similar people on Twitter it could be even better. By following some blogs and twitter users the students would undoubtably hit on great references to items that deal with class discussions. In turn, giving them an abundance of material to blog about on a weekly or biweekly basis. Not to mention Google Reader could be used to follow their classmates blogs and aid them in posting comments.
I see some real benefits to having students set up personal learning networks. First of all, the potential for bringing in real world current events that relate to class is enormous. There is also the possibility that some of the students will hit on ideas and topics that really interest them and encourage them to take part in some serious self-directed learning. I love that by publishing their writing to a blog rather than handing it in, we move away from an audience of 1 (the teacher) to an audience of many (peers).

There has been a lot of conversation lately in the education world about how wonderful, necessary, and beneficial PLN’s are to educators. I wonder why I haven’t seen more discussion on how to have our students create their own. Would love to hear some comments and ideas on this!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Demonstrating Mitosis Using Digital Flip Books


Students normally do not have trouble understanding that mitosis is the process of cell division.  They can even memorize what happens in each phase and identify representative pictures.  I wanted to come up with an activity that would help them to see that this was a fluid process and would allow them to demonstrate their understanding.  Last year, during our mitosis unit, I was speeding through a bunch of pictures I took of a clay figure with my iphone when I was hit with the idea behind this lesson. 


This lesson was done with two general biology classes.  70% of the student population in the first class are ESL students and 42% of the student population in the second class are learning support.  Both classes have learning support and ESL students.  The students did an awesome job with this project and I really felt it ended up being the best unit I taught all year.

Technology Requirements:

Digital Cameras - I gathered cameras from around the school and many students brought personal cameras to class as well.

Tripods - This lesson is much easier if they have tripods to mount the cameras.  Ring stands from the chemistry room might be a suitable substitute as well.  I found a quick email to the faculty provided me with all the loaner stands I needed.

Microsoft Movie Maker - This program worked well for this project.  Just make sure to change the default time for still pictures before adding them to the movie.  Otherwise you have to do each by hand.  Many of my students had over 80 pictures. 


Pre-activity Graphic Organizer
Digital Flip Book Handout
Digital Flip Book Rubric

Student Samples:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Using Twitter to Document a Class Field Trip

I haven't had much time to write here in the last couple months and hope to have more in the near future. Until then I thought I would compose a quick post about our recent field trip to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We had a great day! This was the second year I have taken students on this trip and I knew it was going to be a great educational experience for them. The students spent the day checking out the CBF headquarters, which one the first buildings to win a platinum award for green construction. They also canoed in Black Water Creek and dredged for oysters on the bay.

This year I tried something new. I had the students set up twitter accounts before we left and sync them to their mobile phones. We then gave them a few questions to keep in mind on the trip. During the trip we set aside a few minutes after activities for them to post tweets about what they were learning. We used the hashtag #cbfft to post the tweets. This allowed them to be searched by teachers and students at the school so they could follow what we were doing on the trip. It worked pretty well too. However, something must have happened with Twitter's ability to receive text messages because nothing the students posted from about 10:00 (When they got off the bus) until lunch time posted. Luckily tweets showed up for the rest of the day.

This was a really easy way to document the field trip and many of the students really seemed to enjoy it. I am going to include a few links below, feel free to explore them to see how I set this up and the results. As always thoughts and suggestions are welcome!

Twitter Setup Instructions
Field Trip Questions 
#CBFFT Search
Trip Video

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cell Phones in the Classroom - Lesson 1

In addition to my high school courses, I am currently teaching half a day at our middle school.  I had the pleasure of working with Lisa Smith, our afternoon science teacher, in developing the following lesson. 

In our eighth grade science course we have been preparing for the upcoming PSSA tests by exposing students to current events that relate to material from past science courses.  We normally do this by having the students blog outside of class about various current event articles.  However, this particular lesson took place in the classroom.  We decided to have our students take a closer look at President Obama's decision to build new nuclear power plants in the United States.  This lesson would easily be adapted to any current event issue that has a pro and con side. 

We began the lesson by creating an online poll using  This poll asked students whether or not they believed it was a good idea to build new power plants in the United States.  The students had the option of voting with their cell phones or logging into moodle and following the available link to vote with a lap top.  Due to the students willingness to share cell phones, all students voted in the poll long before the first lap top was logged in. 

After the students took the poll they were given two articles.  The first dealt with President Obama's plans and the second discussed the pros and cons of nuclear power.  The students read the articles in groups of two or three and were told to write three to five main points from each article.  After the students finished reading and writing their main points they were instructed to come to a group consensus on the topic.  They then had to write their opinion in 1 to 2 sentences and post it using their cell phones to a Wiffiti board (Below).

Once all the groups comments had been posted, read, and discussed the students watched a two minute video found on that served as a great summary of the discussion.  The lesson came to an end with the students once again taking the same poll they took in the beginning of class.  It was very interesting to see that many of them changed their opinion after the lesson.

Of course this lesson could have been completed without the use of cell phones.  Below is just a few of the benefits I found due to their incorporation:
  1. Students love using their cell phones!  I think this is sometimes an understated reason for doing things in education.  How can you go wrong if the students are excited for class before you even tell them what they will be doing?
  2. We handed out two articles consisting of four pages of text to eighth graders.  There was not one groan, whine, or complaint!  I think the student's eagerness to read the articles so they could send another text message speaks volumes.
  3. Every eye in the class was glued to the Wiffiti board to read the next posted comment. 
  4. Every student had the opportunity to voice their opinion in the pre and post discussion polls. 
  5. The students left the classroom and raved about class and using their cell phones during the periods that followed.
Resources Used:

Poll Everywhere -

This resource allows you to set up a poll where students can submit responses with their cell phones.  The poll can be reset making it available to be used with multiple classes. 

Wiffiti -

Wiffiti allows students to submit a text message an online bulletin board.  Messages can also be submitted to Poll Everywhere, but the Wiffiti board is large and animated.  Not to mention the students love the fake names it assigns to their posts.  

Poll Everywhere and Wiffiti are easy to set up.  I do think it is necessary to do some preplanning before the first time cell phones are used in the classroom.  Prior to this lesson we used Google Docs to survey our students to learn more about their cell phones.  We also had them use (an online bulletin board) to post possible rules for using cell phones in the classroom.  Additionally we sent a letter home with the students to explain our intentions to parents.  You will find these resources below:

Cell Phone Survey

Letter to Parents

Student's Wallwisher Board

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who says class has to stop for a snow day?

Recently I created a facebook page using my school email address and opened it up to friend requests from my current students.  I will not go into detail about my facebook page and its rules now, you can find more information about it under the communication link on my website.  This page has been up for about a week and I currently have 29 students and 3 parents as friends.  Earlier tonight I got the idea to post the following update on my page:

"Let's experiment with the power of social networking. I am going to create a moodle chat room. If we get 50 students to join I will give each chat participant bonus points! Let's go..."

In a very short period of time I had my first couple chat participants.  Over the course of the next hour or so the chat grew and hovered around 15 students.  That is about 50% of my facebook "friends", but a far cry from 50 students.  These were my 8th grade physical science students, and since I only teach for half a day at the middle school, I invited the other physical science teacher to join as well.  

Of course the students still wanted their bonus points.  It was my initial intention to wait until I had 50 students and then offer to double the five bonus points I intended to give them if they could answer some questions.  With the realization that the chat was not going to get 50 students, the other science teacher and I offered to give them one point per correctly answered question.  They jumped on it!  We initially asked six questions, but how can you refuse when they ask for more.  We ended up asking them ten questions, of which they got nine correct.  Five of the questions came straight from current class material.  The other five came from past science courses and where about topics they might see on their upcoming PSSA exams.

This was a blast!  I have one question for those teachers and administrators out there that do not think social networking applications and course management software like moodle have a place in education...  What were you doing on your snow day?  I was having class, and my students loved it!  


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Web 2.0 & Moodle Technologies Training

This Friday, February 12th, another teacher and I will be running a technology training at our middle school.  Below you will find links for the schedule and the slide show that I will be using to run the web 2.0 session.  I tried to incorporate some web 2.0 applications like xtranormal, animoto, and wifitti into the presentation.  Of course, I am going to focus mostly on Google Docs and Moodle for this introductory training.  We are hoping to help teachers with the initial setup of Moodle and expose them to some of the other web 2.0 applications available to them.  I am also trying to provide them with a host of reference materials.  Many of these can be found on my website under the Ed/Tech Resources link.  Feel free to look through these materials and comment.  Your thoughts are appreciated!

Schedule -

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The 1 to 1 Computer Initiative does not Produce Measurable Results!

Looking for some help from my new personal learning network.  The following is two snippets from an email exchange I had with one of my district's board members.  I don't think he would mind me posting this, especially if it produces the results I hope it will.  

"Just wondering if there has been any more talk about going to a 1 to 1 (student/computer) setup in the near future. With having moodle, google docs, and other free software at our disposal, this really would be such an easy and beneficial transition! I know this has been discussed in past board meetings and thought you would definitely be the person to ask for an update. " - me

"Yes. The topic just came up in a discussion with Al. I am still convinced it is the future, but I am not getting the evidence from other schools that it actually produces measurable improvement." - Board Member

So, I am hoping that some of you have bookmarked sites that I can forward on that will shed some light on this matter. I personally do not see the any evidence that pencils, papers, or blackboards produce any measurable results either, but I do not think the philosophical argument is going to put laptops in our students hands. Help with this one is greatly appreciated!