Teaching/Tech...uh...Wednesday--Google Geo Teachers Institute 2011

After a ninety minute train ride, a four hour bus ride (courtesy of BoltBus...only $14 one way!), and a ten minute Circulator ride, I made it to the Google Geo Teachers Institute in Washington, D.C.  

It was so much fun.  

From top left in clockwise direction:  Capitol building, Washington Monument, Nat Geo bulding, Amy Chua (Tiger Mom!  Roar!) speaking at the National Book Festival, and the sign that greeted all of the participants on the first day of the institute.

The main reason I wanted to go was because a friend of mine had introduced me to Google Lit Trips a couple of years ago (post here) and I had heard that the founder, Jerome Burg, had presented at the last Google Geo conference.  I really loved that a fellow English teacher created such an effective and powerful resource using Google Earth.  The second I walked into the National Geographic building for the first day of the conference, I met Jerome Burg!  I got a chance to chat with him, as well as with other fantastic presenters the whole entire weekend.   It was very cool. 

Note:  If you want to check out everything I learned at the conference, you can look at Rebekka's Livebinder (really nice compilation of all the resources we used over the weekend).  You can also take a look at my notes for Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google SketchUp.  

Besides all of the wonderful tools we were learning about, the best part of the institute was meeting enthusiastic and amazingly creative educators and individuals who were really passionate about putting their best tech foot forward for their kids.  I loved it.  Everyone was so nice and knowledgeable.  It was great to sit at any random table and have a conversation that ranged from talk about cables for your multimedia projector to the state of the budget in a particular school district.  As a teacher, any kind of support is more than welcome, so this past weekend was a gift.  

At the end of the first day, we took a bus over to the Library of Congress. The staff of the Geography and Map Division were great about showing us some of their most interesting maps.  They were so quietly knowledgeable about all of the maps and globes in their division.  It was a rare opportunity to see how powerful maps could be to a nation's identity (see Waldseemuller Map).

Good times.

Once I got back home, I started playing around with Google Earth and created a path depicting the pilgrims' journey to the cathedral in The Canterbury Tales.  I just showed it to my kids yesterday and they were impressed (thank you, Mr. Google).  I've come to the conclusion that this school year, I'm going to have a "no fear" attitude and just try to integrate different tech tools whenever I see an opportunity for my students to go deeper into a text or get a visual of a difficult idea or concept.  My laptop, school multimedia projector, and extra long VGA cable are ready for this year!  


NY -> DC

So...I skipped a post yesterday, but I'm not feeling too bad about it, because I was on my way (by train, BoltBus, and Circulator Bus) to D.C. for the Google Geo Teachers Institute!  This is my first "long" solo trip away from my husband and kids, so I'm a bit nervous, but also well-rested.  I got eight blissful hours of sleep last night in my hostel room, ate a delicious chocolate cone (thank you, Koryodang Bakery!), and am now sitting in Starbucks, sipping my ever-ubiquitous iced soy chai latte.  

This conference should be amazing.  The founder of Google Lit Trips (post here) will be the very first speaker today.  I am so geeking out over this that I can't believe it.  I will have a pretty comprehensive post about my experience early next week, so stay tuned!  

I won't be able to check out the sights because the conference is from 8-6 today and tomorrow and I'm heading back to NY right after it ends on Saturday; however,  I am planning to have a relaxing dinner and shopping evening (Anthropologie, anyone?) later tonight.  It should be lovely.  


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--Easy File Conversion (Zamzar)

Let's say your school blocks YouTube videos, but you found this amazing clip of someone reenacting a scene from Twelve Angry Men that you just have to show your students.  You've looked on TeacherTube and other resources, but the video just isn't available anywhere else.  What do you do?


I found out about this great website from one of the teachers at my school.  I just went to Step 1, clicked on the URL link, entered the YouTube website, converted it into a wmv file, and had Zamzar email it to my school account.  So simple.  


In Appreciation

"These are your golden years," the balloon artist said to me after I left his little kiosk at the county fair.  I'm not really sure why he said that.  Maybe he saw something in my eyes before I turned to push the double stroller down the path.  Maybe he caught a glimpse of my exhaustion--a stark contrast to my thrilled twins who were squealing with delight as they played with their new Elmo and horse creations.  I trudged along, deep in thought, as DN skipped alongside me, making her inflated dinosaur roar at the top of its lungs.  

I thought of that man's words again today as I sat in Starbucks filling out my gradebook.  It's been a hectic two weeks, with names to memorize, plays to read, assignments to grade, and lessons to teach.  Now that time is precious, I take the opportunity to relish the giggles, the hugs, and the craziness at home.  Of course, there are times when I want to curl up in bed and sleep for eight hours (that would be SO sweet), but it's been a pretty decent transition.  

It might just be me, but I feel like my kids are growing up so quickly.  RT stops me when I sing her a lullaby, insisting that she's the only one who knows the right words.  DN is currently on a Food Network kick.  She asked me over dinner tonight which task on Cupcake Challenge was the hardest (1000 cupcakes in two hours, of course) and proceeded to share her theories on baking.  LT is proudly opening every single darn door in the entire house and going where he pleases. 

I don't want this Golden Age to end, but I guess I'll just have to appreciate every joyful moment right now.  Cupcake, please.  

I’ve told you a hundred tall stories,
I’ve sung you a thousand sweet songs,
I’ve wrote you a million ridiculous rhymes
(Though sometimes the grammar was wrong).
I’ve drawn you a zillion pictures,
So being as fair as can be,
After all that I’ve writtensungtolddrawn for you,
Won’t you writesingtelldraw one for me?
"WRITESINGTELLDRAW" by Shel Silverstein


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--Wikispaces

I really like using Wikispaces with my students, especially if we need to go over a large amount of material in a few days.  I thought it would be perfect for our study of The Oedipus Cycle.  My seniors had to read this trilogy over the summer, but we still needed to review them pretty thoroughly.  Three plays in six days...here we go:

I signed up for Wikispaces a few years ago and used them to great success with both my seniors and sophomores.  Anyone can sign up for an account. 

Of course, it's always nice to have educator accounts for the free upgrades.  

 Create your Wikispace.  You can specify whether you want the site to be private, protected, or public.  The settings are pretty easy to control and you can change them for each of your wikis at anytime.

Wikispaces.com is really user-friendly.  You can edit your Home page and then create new pages.  You can add images, videos, links, etc.  You can also embed various widgets.  

You can also click on the discussion tab and create questions for your students to answer.

For The Oedipus Cycle, I included everything we covered in class.  I embedded the Prezi on Greek playwrights and Greek theatre I created last week for easy access.  If you click on the Oedipus Rex link (see lower left below), the kids worked on groups on various motifs and themes that are found in that particular play.  They typed in their findings onto a Notepad document and then I cut and paste them onto the Oedipus Rex Wikispace page.  

For the Oedipus at Colonus page, I collected their responses to a sixteen question study guide and typed the questions and answers out.  

My students are currently working on their Antigone page.  I created linked pages where they will discuss the various conflicts found in the play.  Each of my two classes were divided up into six groups.  My second period class is going to analyze the first four conflicts on the bulleted list and my eighth period class is looking at the last four conflicts.  The four groups left over are each answering three discussion questions (click pic to see details).    

The four groups left over are each answering three discussion questions (click pic to see details).  I didn't post a screenshot of my questions because some of my kids created user IDs with their full names.  Tomorrow, they're going to finish up their assignments and then spend some time responding to the rest of the discussion questions.  Friday we will have our unit review and then they'll be ready for their exam on Monday.  

Wikispaces really helped my sophomores during our To Kill a Mockingbird unit.  They were responsible for creating pages for each major character...no more "What do you mean Scout's a girl?" moments!  The discussions were also really valuable.  The quieter students tend to be more comfortable sharing their thoughts online as opposed to speaking in front of a large group.  I've also had students create their own pages about books they enjoyed in my class.  

Before I forget, I did want to include one quick hint.  Leave your Wikispace public when you have your students join it.  They can edit the pages immediately instead of waiting for you to approve each request.  You still have to approve their membership, but now you don't have 25+ kids milling around waiting for everyone else to join.  Once all the kids are in, change the Wikispace Permissions setting to either "protected" or "private."  

Good luck!