August 2009


GPS receivers are a useful tool to enhance learning in the classroom.  I’ve written all about geocaching in the classroom, but I wanted to share more uses for the GPS which I am exploring this year.

P10006111) Travel Bugs – Travel Bugs, or trackables are objects or coins which move from geocache to geocache.  They are logged on the geocaching website and you can see all of the places they have been.  It is a great way to calculate distance, learn about geography in other places, and connect with other cachers.  I have sent out two with my class.  Flip, the prairie dolphin, has a goal of getting to the ocean.  He’s been all through British Columbia and up into Alaska.  Flop, Flip’s brother, is headed to Virgina.  I’ve connected with two fellow GPS enthusiasts (@elemitrt @mswecker) who have sent The Big Lick Travel Bug to Lethbridge to visit my class.  We’ll see which one gets there first.  Click on the names of the travel bugs to see where they’ve been.  The travel bug in the photo has a goal of getting to the Prime Meridan, I’m going to use it to teach my students about longitude.  Another interesting trackable is the Canadian Geocoin, which I picked up in Lethbridge and moved 5988km to Dominica, my students will watch where it goes next.

2) Tracks – When you move your GPS can record your path and produce a diagram of your movement.  There have been some neat large scale projects of creating images on a global scale – this video shows an amazing example. In the classroom, sending the students out into the school yard to create tracks for an art project or to create a given shape, such as an isosceles triangle in a geometry unit, gives a kinesthetic, hands on approach to teaching a concept.

3) Geotagging – Use your GPS to mark the location of local sounds, specific to your area. Freesound.org has an interactive Geotagging Map that you can explore to find sounds from all over the world and add your own local touch to.

4) Podcaching/GPS storytelling – This is like a guided tour at a tourist site.  There is more information at this site.  Students can listen to particular tracks at a marked location to learn content, get instructions to their next locations, or the guided tour can give them clues to move along a set path.  I would recommend making one yourself first, then having the students create them.  They could be wet up around a given theme, such as exploring a local pond, or they could be a story telling exercise, such as a choose your own adventure by having choices of tracks to take people various ways depending on their choice.  This can be integrated with the GPS easily as your GPS can mark locations to listen to specific tracks.

5) Seek and Spell – A neat Iphone app.  Using GPS users have to move around a field and collect letters to spell words.  It is designed to challenge other users and see who can spell the most words or longest words.  I don’t have an Iphone, and I haven’t tried this app, but I already envision adapting it to handheld GPS receivers.  If you mark 26 locations around the school yard and have a stamp or stickers of each letter at a location student can spell their own words, or given words by visiting the marked locations.

6) QR Codes – QR codes are black and white squares, similar to UPC codes that can be scanned to gain information.  The GPS can mark the location of a code, they find the code, scan it and answer the question.  You can even have audio set up for each location with an Ipod to give clues to the question.  This site has a great example of how they can be used.  This site can create QR codes.  You can decode QR codes with almost any camera phone, both Iphones can blackberries have an app.   This site has a free download which works with most camera phones.  In a high school where most students have phones – use them!  Not so much for me in an elementary school (although there are some). I’m hoping the new Itouch, which is supposed to have a built in camera will do the trick for me.

Great GPS/Geocaching Resources:

Geocaching.com – the main site for geocaching

Geocaching Wiki Glog – a great collection of ideas, resources, and links.  Join and add to it!

GPS Presentation – by @thekyleguy – a GPS enthusiast

Tina Coffey’s Blog – she uses GPS and has great integration ideas – be sure to check out pirate caching!

Dr. Alice Christie’s Geocaching/GPS guide for Educators

Unique Geocaching Containers

Geocacher University – a great resource site

One of my goals for next year is building my individual Smart Notebook files into complete units, providing some flow, cohesiveness, and I will have all of my resources in one place, easily accessible.  Over the summer I hope to get my units done and ready to go for neat year.  I’m starting with science, grade 5, electricity and magnetism.

Here is the process I am going through to build a Smart Notebook based unit – as I try to maximize the use of my Smart Board and engage students to deepen their understanding of the concepts being taught.

1) Theme, background, and visuals – I always start with a background colour, a title, and a few visuals to create consistency.  After the title page I create a theme from the first page so that it is easy to have the same colour and title on each page following.
smartunit1
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2) Outcomes for the unit – I build the outcomes of the unit into simple, “I Can” statements for students and link lessons to those outcomes.  I reference the actual outcomes at the end of the unit – to keep them in an easy to refer to location.
unit - I can
unit-outcomes
3) What do I already have – I dig through my old files to see what I already have made, and what I can incorporate and reuse.  What I don’t use I delete, I’m never one to keep old files – they just collect and I never use them, so I clean them out as I go.
unit - already have
4) Linking – The key to developing a unit – linking smart notebook files, pdf files, student handouts on word, assessments, and helpful external websites.
unit - linking
5) Visuals, Media, Videos, Flash – I love using the Smart Board for Flash activities we can do together and discuss.  I think the hands on nature of them is great reinforcement of concepts for students.  Visuals are key for visual learners, and short video clips to introduce or reinforce concepts are very engaging for students.  For a complete list of the flash activities in the Lesson Activity Toolkit 2.0, with examples – Click Here
unit - Flash
6) Bringing it all together – pull together individual lesson elements, attach files and stand alone Smart Notebook lessons. Using the attachment tab you can bring in pdf, smart files, word documents, and collect all unit documents in one place. This collection makes all of your files easy to access, and easy to link so all of your lesson and unit materials are in one place.
unit - together

Over the past two weeks I’ve had the tremendous privilege to teach and learn in Dominica. I think it went amazingly well.  Walking into a new lab was certainly a surprise.  They are installing new computers and labs with mounted projectors in a number of locations.  A few places are even getting smartboards.  I worked for the two weeks on convincing our ministry contact Luguay that they should be mounted low. so that the students can use them.  They didn’t envision student using the boards, but after I demonstrated how they work and had a few of the children teachers brought with them up there using it, he was convinced ( I hope!).

IT for Dominica Trip Blog – http://deyenberg5.edublogs.org

Everyone in the course seemed to enjoy and work with the Web 2.0 materials we covered, but they didn’t see the value right away, and some never did.  Many of the older teachers only wanted to learn Microsoft Word and Excel and were only worried about using the computers themselves, not how they would use them with the kids.  I kept hearing – the IT teacher uses computers, I don’t need to, I only want to learn this so I can type and keep marks.  It was frustrating for me to see the teachers not realize how important it is to use and integrate computers into teaching.  Even with one machine, there is so much they can do.  A focus next year would be how to use one or two machines effectively.  They should look at how to use technology in all subjects, not just in IT class.  The teachers were always focused on the entire class in a lab, instead of using the computer as a station, working together on a project, or having the students use the “teacher” machine at all.  Perhaps it is the traditional nature of education on the island, but I know I convinced a few of the value of collaborating and connecting with the world, so hopefully it will spread. (my personal biases don’t show up at all!)

I did take time to show excel and help them set up mark spreadsheets, as this is a definite need.  We also showed typing tutors, and more traditional researching on the internet, which are important uses of technology.

The best part of the two weeks was on Monday of the second week.  I set up a Skype session with Rocky back in Canada to show the power of video conferencing to connect with classes and experts around the world.  I used Skype to show a free medium that is commonly used.  After Rocky told us about some of the ways he has seen video conferencing used, I connected with Zoe Branigan-Pipe.  She’s a teacher in Hamilton who I skype with on a regular basis.  We use skype as teachers to share ideas and resources, but our classes also skype together once a week to learn about other parts of Canada, collaborate on a wiki about Ancient Rome, reflect and video comment on blog posts we left each other, and judge crazy hair day styles.  When Zoe and I talked about the things we had done, and shared just how easy it was, the teachers in Dominica were very excited. I’ve already got Dominica teachers on my Skype contact list – so I’m excited to have some Canada/Dominica connections this year.

Another huge hit was Google Earth when I showed how to navigate, create pinpoint tours, and record right within google earth.  The teachers loved it and played with it whenever they got a chance.  After we VC’d with Canada and I used Google Earth to show where in the world we connected with, and how far apart Lethbridge and Hamilton were they loved to see the two tools used together to learn more about the world.

With most of the time spent on Web 2.0, we covered many tools, especially in my higher class.  To my class I showed, and gave time to use:

Blogs – Edublogs

Wikis – Wetpaint

Interactive Posters – Glogster

Talking Avatars – Voki

Movie, Poster, Painting – Kerpoof

Jigsaw Puzzles – National Geographic Map Puzzles Make Your Own Jigsaw

Art Websites – 8 Great Sites

Interactive Sticky Note Bulletin Board – Wallwisher

Word Cloud – Wordle

Math – The Math Worksheet Site

Typing Tutors – Bruce’s Typing Tutor BBC Dance Mat

Search/Crossword Puzzles – Puzzle Maker

Problem Solving Game – Factory Balls

Problem Solving Game – Factory Balls 2

Make Your Own Game – ClassTools

Language Arts – Grammar Ninja

Interactive Math – Math 5 Live

Language Arts and Reading – Read Write Think

Thinking Games – Brain Games

Photo Storage – Flickr

Photo Editing – Picnik

Photo Search – Tag Galaxy

Micro Blogging/Status Updating – Twitter

Math Manipulatives – Interactives

Turning Images into a Video – Animoto

Turning Text Into a Movie – XtraNormal

Online Comic Generator – Make Beliefs Comics Strip Generator

Mind Map – Bubble Us Mind Meister

3D Planet, Moon, Mars, Ocean, and Sky – Google Earth