May 2009

Moodle has become a powerful learning and teaching tool in my technology arsenal.  I’m attempting a paperless unit in Language Arts and a big part of my attempt to unchain myself from the photocopier revolves around using Moodle.  I’m teaching a historical fiction novel study all about Ancient Rome and Mt. Vesuvius.  Moodle is providing me with a platform to deepen understanding of the story and the non fiction elements of the book.

moodlemain2I started designing my moodle course with visual icon based set to link to the different areas of the course, instead of a long thread of topics.  I discovered the HTML block and inserted it as a left column to have some static general resources that I wanted to highlight for my students.  These resources including a page of flash interactive files and movie clips, and two OU wikis to build the non-fiction novel elements in.

I organized by work into a database of vocabulary(books icon), Quiz Questions for each chapter(question marks icon), and all sorts of activities (globe icon) linked together under one icon generically labeled activities.


To house and create all of the activities I used a topics format and created everything under one topic.  I don’t show this block.  In the settings window, I change my settings so it only shows 1 block, which I have hidden (eye closed!) so just the main icon set shows, and it is clear and uncluttered for the students.  It doesn’t look like there are quizzes, assignments, hot potatoes crosswords and matching, embedded flash games, feedback and choice modules, and custom pages, but they are all there through the use of hyperlinks.

I had fun creating all sorts of interactive activities.  I created quizzes for each chapter.  I love the embedded close quiz question because they are very versatile and you can create all sorts of multi-stage questions with pictures through out and mix the type of questions with drop down menus, multiple choice, and short answer.  Don’t be scared by the lack of a WYSIWYG editor, just use the help question mark buttons to get the proper question syntax and you are well on your way.  I’m going to write a post  just on embedded cloze question soon, so watch for more detailed information.

The students started on the course today, submitting their first assignment and exploring the wikis they are going to build together about Ancient Rome and volcanoes.  No paper, but lots of learning, hopefully!

I love the customizable flash activities that are a part of the Lesson Activity Toolkit.  I thought I would give a brief overview of each one and an example of how I might use it. Each activity comes in a variety of colours to suit your mood or theme.

1) Vortex – The vortex is a fancy sorting tool – the answers will only go into the correct vortex, and spin out of the incorrect choice. There are both text and image options.
2) Image Match – match the picture with the correct labels.
3) Pairs – just like classic memory – works with both text and images, just drag and drop images on to the tiles in the setup. You can change and modify the number of tile pairs.
4) Category Sort – Drag and drop the words or images into the correct category. Self checking!
5) Tiles – This application reveals what is behind it, one square at a time. You can select how many squares you want. You can put text, an image, or multiple images behind the tiles. I like it to interrogate a historical picture, breaking down a photo or painting into pieces, then looking at is as a whole.
6) Word Guess – Very fun! It’s just like hangman, with the choices of soccer, basketball, or my favorite the tomato splat. Choose the letters to try to guess the missing word. Fun vocabulary practice.
7) Anagram – Rearrange the letters to unscramble the words. It allows for hints, and even hints with a picture to help.
8 ) Multiple Choice – a simple multiple choice question option. You can add up to 10 questions to the same set.
9) Image Arrange – put the pictures in order. This one is great for sorting, ordering, or patterns.
10) Image Select – allows you to import up to 18 images. The images appear in a large box and the students have to select or write in the correct label.
11) Hot Spot – You place dots in a background based on the instructions in the top red bar. The background can be a grid, human body, map, or other custom image.
12) Word Biz – Spell out the answer to the question in the box.
13) Sentence Arrange – drag and drop the sentences (or single words) to put them in order.
14) Timeline reveal – click on a labelled dot to reveal information. Great for dates on a timeline, but the interval between dots is fixed. With some creativity it can be used for more than just time.
timeline reveal002

I went back home to Saskatchewan for Christmas this year and discovered my mom was moodling.  I grew up with two parents as teachers and I’ve always be inspired by them and strived to model myself after them.  In the area of technology I didn’t think I had a lot to draw from them, with my dad being retired for ten years, and my mom just retiring this week (Congrats Mom!).  Then I took a look at what my Mom has been doing.  She was teaching adult ed, partially in a distance ed environment.  She had students in other towns in Saskatchewan connecting to her classroom through video conferencing.  She was using moodle to post links and assignments.  This is a simple way to use moodle, but it was more than I was doing.   Nothing like seeing your Mom, months away from retirement was using technology you weren’t, especially when you consider yourself a tech dork.  It was all a bit humbling (which I need now and then).

I had heard of moodle and was seeing it as something the high school teachers could use, or one more thing I had to learn.  I had signed up for a day of moodle training last year and ended up sick, so it hit the back burner.  Now I’m one of the converted.  Once I dug into it I found it was fantastic.  Here are five reasons I use moodle with my students (grade 5):

1) Organize the links, flash activities, and other online tools – You can easily order, reorder, create folders, and link through visual icons, to create a path of learning activities to guide your students through.  Moodle allows you to put everything in one place and allows students to respond to those activities through submitting assignments, online quizzes, and discussion forums.

2) Create online quizzes with all sorts of questions – multiple choice, true false, matching, short answer, even essay.  Moodle will mark the right/wrong types of questions and allows you to mark the longer answer questions, enter the grade and then it compiles the marks together.

3) Incorporate interactive flash activities, widgets, and videos –  You can add all types of files.  You can upload any type of file you want students to see or use(pdf, powerpoint, notebook, images – anything!).  You can also embed anything that has embed html code.  There are special options to upload swf and flv flash files.

4) Modify and Tweak the HTML – Moodle is very adaptable.  You can use the WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editors and build activities, questions, insert images, insert links in a simple to use editing window to create very effective engaging content.  You can also dig into the HTML code, add Java or CSS, to change and adapt things to make them more customized.

5) Collaborating and Discussions – Moodle is great for students to be able to build on each others activities and ideas.  I love the OU Wiki module for students to build a collective set of facts and information about a topic.  Moodle is great to use with a wiki because you can link in all sorts of links, interactive flash files, videos, and other research resources all in one place.  The discussion forums give every student a chance to share their ideas and respond to the ideas of others.  In a class discussion a quiet or shy student may not participate, but on moodle they can discuss, share ideas , and build on the ideas of others.

In five short months I’ve created moodle activites based around extreme weather, photostories, a novel study, and a resource collection.  I met some great people at the national Moodlemoot conference and I think that moodle is a fantastic educational tool – at all grade levels.

My last post was a hit – it seems that sometimes a reminder of some of the neat features of a program is helpful.  PD seminars can be overwhelming and packed full of information (if they are good ones) so a few reminders or highlighting a fuzzy feature can go a long way.  In that spirit here are 5 more features that I use to help design engaging learning activities for my students using Smart Notebook 10.

1) Change the Default Font Settings – This drove me a bit crazy for a while – I could change the text settings easily once I opened a text box and started typing, but I didn’t know how to change the default settings.  I asked for help on Twitter and had my answer from TeqSmart via TechyTurner in about 5 minutes – so here is it for everyone else that it is driving a little bonkers.
text prop1
Click on the Text Tool (Big “A”) on the toolbar and select one of the six text settings that you want to change.  On the properties tab change the settings as you require (colour, size, font) and choose Save Tool Properties – and your settings are changed.
text prop002
2)magic003 The Magic Pen – The Pen Icon with stars around it is a very neat tool. If you draw a circle it will put a spotlight on the circular spot and greys out the rest of the screen. If you draw a rectangle it will zoom in on the rectangular spot. If you just use it as a normal pen the notes will fade in 10 seconds – the kids will think you are a superhero (mine do – I should get a cape!)
3)shape 1Shape Recognition Pen – This is a handy tool to draw free hand shapes. When you draw something reasonably close to a given shape, it will automatically transform into that shape.
shape 002
4) shadeScreen Shade – and a Cell Shade too! Use this tool to hide or cover a slide from the top, bottom, or either side. A similar tool can be used with a table to hide a cell. In a multi-cell table you can shade one, any, or all of the cells. If you right click on a cell, one of the options is cell shade.
5) Create a Theme – if you make a great background and header for a page and want it to be fixed without endless locking, you can choose Format – Themes – Create Theme From Page. This will save your custom theme in the theme folder in the gallery.

I’m presenting to my staff a quick tech corner at the regular staff meeting, my topic this week is 5 cool tricks on the Smartboard.

There are many cool tools, techniques, and resources.  I’m selecting 5 tools which I use all the time to highlight.

dual page
1) Dual Page Display and Pinning – you can easily toggle between dual and single page display with the dual page button on the toolbar. When in Dual Page mode you can pin one page. The pinned page will stay and you can change the other page with the arrows or slide sorter.
2) Customizable Interactive Flash Files – The Lesson Activity Toolkit is full of interactive flash files that you can easily edit and modify to create custom activities.
3) Linking – Linking to files, websites, other sides.  Use the attachment tabe to link to audio, video, Ms Office, or other Smart notebook files.
Use the insert link function to link to the files in the attachments tab, to webpages, or to other slides in the same notebook file.
4) Customize Your Toolbar  – By right clicking on the toolbar in Smart, it opens up a window that allows you to drag icons on and off the toolbar to customize it to your own wishes.
5) Using and Updating the Gallery -The gallery tab allows you to search for content to insert into notebook files.
wrenchYou can keep the gallery up to date using the wrench tool.  Click on the wrench and choose Check for updates to download the new Lesson Activity Toolkit 2.0 and other recent updates.

On a bit of a whim this week, after listening to a podcast made by Zoe Branigan- Pipe’s class that was dedicated to our class, I thought I should try my hand at creating a podcast.

Luckily I attended a PD day on how to create a podcast with our tech dude, Todd.  He had great advice about putting in time at the front end in preparation, and about how to format a podcast.   I hope I followed his advice closely enough to have done alright at my first attempts.

I used the open source program audacity to record and edit the podcasts.  The program is very easy to use, I had no problem importing audio, making things quieter, editing out the ums and ahhs, as well as some of the kids silliness.  I left in some of the more inspired silliness to give it some personality.  I have a very fun, very bright, but very energetic bunch of students this year and recording podcasts was the perfect Friday afternoon activity.

The music was fun, quite a family affair.  An original composition was created and recorded on the electric guitar, using the program riffworks.  I imported the music as a wav file and did some editing to make it work.

The title of the podcast – Are You Smarter Than Ms. Deyenberg’s 5th Graders was all the kids – I can take no credit in that title!

Episode 1 is dedicated to Mrs. Dansdill’s Class from Lake St. Louis.  Episode 2 is dedicated to Mrs. Branigan-Pipe’s class from Hamilton.  We met both classes using video conferencing technology as part of our Canadian Identity Unit.  We are trying to learn more about what it means to be Canadian by talking to other Canadians, and people from other countries to discover what is the same, and what is different.

You can check out the Podcasts by visiting the Dorothy Dalgliesh School Website.

The next step is getting the students to start using Audacity to import audio and play around with ordering tracks, trimming, and varying sound levels.  Then I am going to get them to write three minute speeches in Language Arts class and we are going to record and edit them using Audacity.  Watch for the results!

I started with a wiki last year.  It was very simple – each student had a wetland plant or animal they had to add information on.  I uploaded some photos and the students added a few more after a field trip to a wetland and viola – we had a wiki.  It wasn’t bad – it wasn’t great, but this year I want to do better.

I’ve connected, through the help of the tech department, with two wonderfully creative and innovative teachers.  We are creating a wiki for our students to collaborate and write stories together.  It based on ideas from the book Fortunately by Remy Charlip.  Ned goes through an adventure following a format of one page being an unfortunately, the next being a fortunately.  Our students’ stories are going to follow the same format, in groups of three, each student in a different school.  We’ve got most of the story starters written, and we are creating an example story Teacher, Teacher, collaborating with each other.  We’ve added Vokis, photos, and even Xtranormal animations.  The students start writing on Monday,  watch for updates on how it goes.

You can follow the progress of our collaborative story writing wiki – Fortunately, Unfortunately.  Again I’m inspired but those around me, and by the amazing things teachers are doing in their classrooms – thank-you to Darlene, Shelley, and Todd for letting me be part of the project and sharing all of your ideas with me.

As for the wetlands wiki from last year, I’m planning on using Glogster to have each student create an interactive poster for their assigned plant or animal.  I’m hoping this will make the students more engaged in their learning and I’m hoping they will build greater understanding by building a glog on the wiki site and by exploring the glogs of others created in the class.

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