Friday, 28 May 2010

Which netbook OS will it be?

We planned to add 45 netbooks to the arsenal at BISS. After some deliberation and counting pennies, we settled on the ASUS 1005PE. I have teh first one now and am running it through its paces. In the next week, I will test out a few Linux distros aimed at netbooks to see which one is the best as a backup os and intro to Linux for the kids. I am currently downloading Expressgate from ASUS, the new MeeGo 1.0 from Intel/Nokia and Jolicloud which is a slightly tweaked version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix. I will also give Lubuntu a spin. It is fast as anything on the old P3's in our classroom. The grade 5's prefer it to Windows.
I will report back in a few days.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Handhelds in the Classroom

I just attended a workshop for educators that are interested in implementing handheld devices in the classroom. Unfortunately, I came away with the same feeling that I went in with. I did not see any applications what weren't just a crippled version of something that would work much better on a larger device. These were tech nerds with a deep, personal interest in education and looking for ways to meld their two loves together. And I really came away with nothing. If anything, it was a reminder of how much of my own time I waste screwing around with my phone. If my productivity has increased, it has been balanced out with dumb stuff. For the classroom, give me a class of netbooks any day.
That being said, Apple will be giving us a class set of iPod Touch devices for the Flat Classroom conference that we are hosting next year. Apparently, we get them for a whole year, so I am hoping something will change my mind. I don't want to turn my nose up at a good thing. Any thoughts?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure lives!

I was back home a few summers ago and went on a second hand book binge. (China has all sorts of restrictions on importing books, so it is not easy to find good books here...) I was teaching grade 2 at the time and went hunting for picture books. I came across some old Choose Your Own Adventure books and started trying to figure out how I could integrate them into my program. Even the easy ones were too tough for my kids to read themselves. I lent them to a friend teaching grade 4 and together, we came up with a series of lessons for some gifted kids in his class. They wrote their own stories in the same style. We decided that PowerPoint would lend itself very well to this. The stories came out great.

So when I moved up to grade 5, I wanted to expand on this. We have a unit about Conflict Resolution that was perfect. Throughout the unit, we talked to the students about how conflicts can occur and how our choices can cause a conflict to escalate or de-escalate.

We had them write a series of situations where conflicts were likely to occur--where there were differences of opinion, an imbalance of power or resources, some sort of misunderstanding etc...

Then, we put them together in groups based on similar conflicts.  They tried to amalgamate their ideas into one scenario.  Each group then constructed a concept map/flowchart/tree diagram to look at various choices for the protagonist and how each one would turn out.  These were developed into poster-sized storyboard.  (We used a variety of software tools for this.  Because they were working in groups, sometimes from home, the best tools tended to be cloud-based.  Most groups chose Webspiration to map out their stories.

In the next stage, they wrote scripts for each 'bubble' in their story.  By this time, our class was using Google Docs pretty regularly and it turned out to be very helpful.  Students could be on different machines and collaborate on the same script.

So, at this point, a group might have a story that begins as a short 30 second to 1 minute scene.  The moment of conflict arrives.  Then, the main character is presented with 2 or 3 choices.  Each choice leads to a continuation of the story.  Each of those might be a minute or two.  Then, in each of those, there may be a couple of choices that will lead to a conclusion to the story.  So, all together, there may be 10-12 scenes.

Groups rehearsed their scenes, then, usually with the help of a 'camera person' from another group, they filmed their stories.  We edited the clips down and plugged them into PowerPoint presentations.

So, in the PowerPoint, we click through the title, watch the first scene, then are presented with a couple of hyperlinks that lead to the next part of the story and so on to the various possible endings.

I think much of the success of this project lies in the fact that it allowed us to integrate language arts, drama, art and math.  The math part had to do with some of the logistics using the time scale with the clips and PowerPoint.

I will try to post links to a couple of these videos shortly.

Better late than never! Here is one of the videos.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Crayon Physics

We just finished a unit about 'Discoveries, Inventions and Innovations' that was also the theme for our PYP Exhibition.  On the last day, we I introduced a video game that I thought was appropriate and it was such fun that we are setting up a tournament.  It is called 'Crayon Physics Deluxe'.


Here's a description from their own site:

Crayon Physics Deluxe is a 2D physics puzzle / sandbox game, in which you get to experience what it would be like if your drawings would be magically transformed into real physical objects. Solve puzzles with your artistic vision and creative use of physics.

Since it came out a lot of copies of the game have popped up.  I have one called 'Space Physics' for Android on my phone and one called 'Numpty Physics' running on the Lubuntu Linux machines in our classroom.  But the original one is by far the best.  You can play with a mouse but it is better with a writing tablet or tablet/touchscreen computer.

There is a circle/ball somewhere on the screen and a star someplace else.  The object is to guide the ball to touch the star.  You do this by drawing ramps, levers and other shapes on the screen.  Almost everything in the game moves as though it were affected by gravity.  You really have to try it to see.  The demo that is available on their site is unlimited (I think) except that it does not allow you to play online.  No big deal.  I do encourage people to but it though.  It was not developed by some huge game studio--it was developed by one guy independently.

We have been learning the 'Design Cycle' that is used in the MYP.  As we go through the different levels, students discuss the boards in groups and then draw out potential solutions on scrap paper.  They test their solutions and if they don't work, they go back to their groups and discuss how they can improve their plan.  They may also just scrap it and try another one.  I thought they would want to race through the different levels and see the whole game but this hasn't been the case.  They want to try to find lots of different solutions to each problem--as the game itself suggests, "It's not about finding just any solution.  It's about finding the awesomest one."


In a previous unit, The Economics of Food, I started the kids on a stock market simulation game.  We spent a couple of weeks on it in math class and since then, it has taken on a life of its own.  Most of the students have kept up with it on their own and before class begins, they often log in and share.

After scouring the Internet for a good one, I settled on StocksQuest (  It is very easy to set up a private or public game for others to join and it is free.


There are also free lesson for teachers.  Each player in our game started with one million dollars.  For each stock they purchase, there is a place to leave a note explaining why you chose it.  We have used Google Finance and Yahoo Finance to check the performance of various stocks and read relevant stories that may explain why they have gone up or down.  For the most part, my kids choose companies they are familiar with and their reasons are typically personal.  Nevertheless, our class has beaten the market average.  Since we started a couple of months ago, I have almost a third of my students up at least 10 percent.  Not bad!

On Slideshare, I just found a rubric (more like a checklist) that a teacher made to keep students on track and assess their portfolios.  Check it out:

When I started looking around for materials at this grade level about financial literacy, I was stunned at how much is out there.  If you read 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad', you may know that the author, Robert Kiyosaki created a board game called 'Cashflow' to teach financial literacy to kids.  They later made it into a computer game and it has recently been made available online for free: This is another one that my students are crazy about.  When you start the game, you are given a character.  It isn't always fair.  You may be a lawyer with no kids or you could be a custodian with several kids and heavy mortgage payments.  In any case, you have your monthly income and expenses laid out on balance sheets.  Your goal is to have your passive income (from property, investments etc...) to be greater than your expenses.  Then, you can get out of the 'Rat Race' and onto the 'Fast Track'.  There is a lot here  to support your Math program and probably Social Studies too.


Back to Blogging

Our PYP Exhibition is now over and I have a bit of time available.  And I see that my article about our Amazing Race has been published in The International Educator--on the front page!  (  So I am inspired to return to my blogging and try to share some of the things that we have been working on in our classroom (currently grade 5) at BISS.