Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why I Love Webkinz

Now I know why this seemingly juvenile and simple concept has taken over the lives of so many children (and some adults along the way). As a Second Life, Facebook or MySpace equivalent for as young as three year olds, this site is the perfect introduction to social networking. After creating an account (no email necessary-only the purchase of a Webkin stuffed animal, complete with a log in code), the user is given a room for their animal. There are opportunities to do a job to earn Kinzcash, complete educational questions to earn Kinzcash, or can sell items to buy food, furniture, and additional rooms for the house. Some of my favorite purchases are my air hockey table, flat screen tv, and my garden that grows real fruits and vegetables (provided that I water and harvest the food)--all things impossible to have in "real" life!

So, the first challenge came along when students started finding out I had a user name. I had to set up a blog post for 2nd-4th graders to add their user name. Some were alittle surprised when I denied their friend requests because I didn't know who they were--their user names had to be posted to the blog before I would accept their friend request. This was the perfect conversation starter about adding unknown "friends." Now, Webkinz is pretty secure in chat rooms--the only words that can be said are pre-determined phrases given as choices. However, I can invite any of my friends to my "house" or to compete in some friendly contests in Webkinz World. Love it--it's really fun to see the kids' houses and the same intensity they share with owners of property in Second Life.

Even though I can't use it as a whole group activity (which would require all students to have an account and pay the $15 for the access code), I think it would be beneficial to have book parties, Quizzy contests, and/or story problems with money while shopping for "real" items at the W Shop. Maybe I sense a grant in the works...hmm...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Thanks to the workings of Dennis Grice, a DEN friend and Twitter buddy, Voice Thread is one of my new favorite toys and an easy-to-use digital storytelling tool. While PhotoStory is fun, this can involve participants from all over the world. Anyone can upload a photo and narrate what is happening. More than one person can comment on each photo. All you need is a microphone and a computer.

According to Dennis, K-12 educators can sign up for a special pro account for free. "First you need to register for a free account and login. Next you find and click where it says "Go Pro". At the bottom of the page will be a link that says "K-12 Educators Click Here". That will take you to the educator application form." I signed up this morning and finally got around to adding a slide or two.

The projects Dennis began are embedded below. My random brainstorms (from right now) as to how this could be incorporated into the classroom are as follows:
*I would love to have the 4th graders upload photos from the state they are researching and add commentary.
*Have the second grade show monuments around the world.
*Scan kindergarten drawings and have them narrate a story to go along with it
*A virtual tour of our school that can be sent to new families
*5th grade took a team-building field trip to Lutherlyn-students could upload photos from the trip and tell why the experience was so meaningful...

Oooo....Can't wait to get started! : )

Monday, October 8, 2007

Geocaching: The Ultimate Treasure Hunt

Geocaching is my new favorite sport. Armed with my Garmin GPS and the proper coordinates, I can find any of the 700,000 caches around the world. While caching through the North Hills with my dad and brother this weekend, I couldn't help but think of the many ways to incorporate these tools into the classroom.

According to Wikipedia, Geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called "geocaches" or "caches") anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook and "treasure," usually toys or trinkets of little value. Geocaches are currently placed in 222 countries around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica.

Wouldn't it be cool to set up a scavenger for students who have to figure out math problems to find the coordinates? Students would then need to know how to read latitude and longitude to find the cache. Each cache could contain a comprehension question, a discussion question, a letter of a spelling word, part of a test, a vocabulary word, or a small part of a whole project.

Not only is this sport addictive to adults, it is catching on with students, too. Twin third graders were so excited to bring a Travel Bug to school because they needed to have their pictures taken with it at a library. It's so rewarding to hunt, bushwack, hike, swat bugs, etc. and then find the cache.

A photo of Justin and Dad at a cache in North Park:

Sunday, October 7, 2007

K12 Online Conference: Coming Soon

Coming Soon to a website near you (What could be closer than your fingertips?): A free and flexible conference--and you don't have to worry about parking. K12 Online Conference The Keynote begins tomorrow (October 8th) but the rest of the conference doesn't begin until the 15th. (I'll send out a reminder when it gets closer!) Check it out!
Here's the schedule. Most sessions are 8am EST, but will be archived... (I think!)

The K-12 Online Conference
invites participation from educators around the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. This FREE conference run by volunteers and open to everyone. The 2007 conference theme is “Playing with Boundaries”. This year’s conference begins with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 8, 2007. The following two weeks, October 15-19 and October 22-26, forty presentations will be posted online to the conference blog (this website) for participants to download and view. Live Events in the form of three “Fireside Chats” and a culminating “When Night Falls” event will be announced. Everyone is encouraged to participate in both live events during the conference as well as asynchronous conversations.

From Will Richardson:

"The entire conference will be delivered as downloadable digital media via the Internet with over 40 sessions presented in four strands: Classroom 2.0, New Tools, Professional Learning Networks, and Obstacles to Opportunities. The conference launches with a keynote address on October 8th from respected blogger and author David Warlick and concludes with a global 24 hour live event, As Night Falls."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Night with the STARS

Attending the DEN webinar series is a new addition to my professional development opportunities this year. Because I only have class one evening a week and because I'm home from tutoring and the gym by 8:00, my schedule has allowed me to join in on some of these dynamic online discussions and resources. Last week, Jannita Damian hosted a "Night With the STARS" (think Dancing With the Stars and American Idol combo). 15 STAR DEN members presented resources we also presented at the National Institute (see photo on left--the "judges" on the cruise were a little harsh--although I did win the "STARfish" award. See Hall Davidson as MC below!). There were so many great ideas, here are MOST of them: (I didn't get everyone's name, but I'll try and find Jannita's transcript of the session!)...

1. The Flip Video camera-entire camera (takes stills and video) plugs into USB ports for easy uploading.

2. resource and can use quizzes for student assessment

3. Audacity-to record and download recordings as mp3 files--Can record study guides, reading fluency, homework, for Audacity handouts

4. Power Point: Can use the Photo Album feature to show photos and decrease file size!!
Insert-Pix-Photo Album Choose file, click pix, insert SO COOL!

5. Create an assignment in United Streaming Assignment Builder and add the link to web page for easy student access. Copy quiz URL and link to your class web page.

6. files--even Flash video --Animal sounds/info/maps/photos database

8. Makes Flash movies

9. Soundsnap-- to download sounds

10. Image Chef-- A tattoo generator, mug shot creator, etc.)

11. Mr. Picasso Head --Gotta see it!

12. Dumpr--Changes pictures into work of life

13. Animoto

14. Free music