Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Summing It Up: Copy of post from the iPad Blog

Instead of using Popplet, for the past month my 8th grade Social Studies classes have been using Prezi. Prezi is a (mostly) free presentation program that students are beginning to use across the country. You can find it at: My 16 year old sister is using it at her high school in Connecticut. Given our new technology I decided to try it in my classroom. It really streamlines and provides more opportunities for presentations.

Here, at Bronx Green, students must complete an exit project. An exit project assess their abilities to complete research over a period of time, generate questions, answer the questions, read and write nonfiction and to speak and listen as they will be giving and participating in presentations. We started with content at the end of February for about 2 weeks. Then, students wrote a proposal, generated questions, researched, answered the questions, drafted a research paper, edited and revised the paper, reflected, created citations and generated a Prezi.

Students were given packets that organized all of these steps based on their readiness levels. They were also allowed to research any WWII topic that interested them. For example of the packets, please visit:

While Prezi is not available for editing on the iPad it will be soon (hopefully). One can still view and host presentations via iPad. The iPad was monumental in the conduction of research. Its way of organizing sites made it easier and faster for kids to pull different sources at once. Kids were excited to read these articles. They were excited to do the research, even though I put a ban on Wikipedia and

Prezi is free for the basic option but I wanted my students to have more options. So, we made them student emails. Having a Computer Lab & teacher that specialized in technology was monumental. Thanks, Mr. Little! It was also a great life skill to learn how to use email and access different websites.

We used a rotating schedule to get the Prezi’s done. The reality is, that not all of our kids have laptops or computers. I gave up lunch periods, after school, made Saturday appointment and communicated via email after hours to address all of their needs. So many kids were invested that it made it hard to pull myself away. Teachers were also very supportive. Everyone was on board and it made and 8th grade wide project well received by families, as well. Parents were calling and emailing to check on their students and ask questions. For some, this was the first time all year.

Prezi was definitely a success. However, there were plenty of lessons to be learned. Some kids are just more tech savvy than others. I had to differentiate for technology which is an incredible study in itself. Kids that normally do not function well in class, were invested. They are these computer/ mechanical thinkers whose needs were no being addressed. They held their own workshops on how to use the program. On another note, kids who excel in linguistic settings were incredibly challenged. It wasn’t just the writing they had to do but present, create visual support, audio or video support and design. It was painful but nice to see them step outside their comfort zone. Next year I would have an informational for parents to get familiar with the process. Also, now that I’ve been through this I will have the necessary documents ready such as policy use papers etc. I did a lot of last minute collecting of papers!

We start presentations this Thursday. Right now we are publishing our reflections and doing final touches.

Here are some Prezi presentations for your viewing pleasure:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Wikipedia Ban

I have enacted a ban in my classroom: no wikipedia and no During conferences with individual students to look at their sources and sites I became irritated with the number of listings to wikipedia and Sorry, that's not real research. Sure, it's acceptable for quick answers and information. It is not acceptable for a research paper. We use the iPads for research. They are fast and interactive. There is no need to click the first page you see: wikipedia. Sorry, kids. Ban is in effect.

I got so much push back. I got whiners. I got pouters. It was like I was banning facebook from their lives. There was severe separation anxiety.

It has not been easy but for the first time, I am hearing students read actual articles. Yes, they are struggling with words and asking me what things mean. I don't care. They are challenged. They are using dictionary apps to look up words. It's bringing a new air of challenge to this classroom.

I need to expose them to different writing and different kinds of non-fiction at that. So far, I have seen articles from news prints, speeches, interviews, encyclopedias and other reference sites. I was most impressed by a student who, through his research on Patton came across a poetry site that included Patton's poetry. It is a great connection as a Humanities teacher to see how an initial search into a biography lead to a mini exploration of poetry. It's really making my head spin with possibilities. What other research projects can I do? What different investigative techniques are out there? Now that I've banned wikipedia, how else can I challenge them before they go to high school??

If You Make It Big, It's Big.

At the moment, we have 5 iPads and 4 laptops in the classroom. Prezi cannot be used for editing on the iPad yet. So, I had to create a rotating schedule of when students could work on their Prezi presentations. Luckily, our Technology Specialist is letting us use the lab which should expedite the process. We also made school emails through so that every student has a school email. That way, we can use the Prezi for educators and students which allows for more features and space.

We have new challenges. Some kids got locked out of their emails, some lost their passwords. It is demanding a lot of accountability and independence on part of the kids, which is nice. For me, it is a little bit of a headache.

The coolest thing I have seen so far, aside from children teaching themselves, is students teaching other students. I have one student who is considered unamanagable, by most. He has a lot of issues at home and really does not respond well to authority. He is in detention/ suspension all the time. Another teacher, saw him teaching 2 other boys how to use Prezi. This project is giving students who don't necessarily excel in a traditional classroom setting a time to shine. This kid is not unintellectual by any means. Still, he is often over looked as a great thinker because of his behavior. This project is differentiated to his interest and level so it's keeping him engaged. Furthermore, it's demanding his attention because of all the possibilities to use cool graphics, videos and presentation techniques. He's very good at it. His writing needs a lot of attention but his design is one of the best I've seen.

On the flip side, many students who excel in a traditional classroom on a regular basis are struggling with this project. Some are not as technologically or visually adept. Others, are not adapting to so much independent work. While it is painstaking for some, I think it is valuable. After all, the state test is not group work, neither are many theses. I think learning to learn collaboratively is just as important as learning to work independently. I think one can find out a lot about oneself and it's really focusing on some life skills for some of my students like time management, organization, prioritizing etc. Some students do not have a computer or internet at home. It is telling to see who is sacrificing lunch, recess, after school to use the technology here. I myself, am in my classroom from about 8:00-5:00 assisting students. Some are taking it so seriously that they are making every available moment an opportunity. Of course there are a number of procrastinators but those numbers dwindle when they see how seriously other students are taking the project.

This really hones in on one of my theories: if you make it big it will become big. I made it sound like this project was the most important thing in the universe. It has become the most important thing. It may be overly ambitious for some and it certainly has demanded SO much of my time. Still, it's been worth it to see so many student hustling.

The project is due on April 1st and presentations are to follow. I really hope they can stick to the deadline to get this done.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Self Teaching

One of the great features of Prezi is that there are tutorials. In class, the students and I took the basic tutorials. It is so easy! There is a canvas and students embed videos, images and text. The transitions are taken care of.

I am not the most technologically advanced. I appreciate technology but do not have that mechanical, technological, hands on talent or thinking. I was nervous that I would not be able to teach the various applications of Prezi. Thank God Prezi offers tutorials. The children can develop the skills at their own rate and readiness level. This allows more time for small group conferencing, technological differentiation and time for me to teach other things. There are skills that are needed for a research project such as questioning, citations, time management and organization. I was not demanded to teach more than I had to regarding technology so I was able to focus on those things.

It really has become the students teaching themselves when it comes to Prezi.
I had one student go home and create a Prezi without my help. I name dropped the program and she just made one. The writing was error filled because she skipped over lessons on non-fiction writing but the basics of presentation were fulfilled. I didn't teach her. She taught herself. I was thrilled. I was able to find something my students were excited enough about that I did not need to hype it up to no avail. She was so interested in her topic that I didn't need to spend a week on it. She did it on her own.

Montessori once said: "The greatest sign of success for a to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist.'"

For some educators this might seem like a nightmare but I love it. Things aren't perfect but they are working and there is progress. There are still childish fights and bickering. There is still arguments over technology. However, if I had written this blog in the beginning of the year it would attest to how much these kids have grown. To see a class of thirty working, perhaps with busy noise, but working nonetheless is awesome. It's even more exciting because they are working at their own pace, according to their own interest and at their own level. It takes a lot of work on my part in the beginning but teaching them self reliance is probably one of the best things I can teach them before high school. I really can't wait to post their Prezi's when the time is up. e educators, this may seem like a nightmare. I love it. If I have taught my class enough skills to work independently and maturely...well as mature as 14 year old boys get. Just sayin'.


The exit project is well underway. I have posted the guidebooks and lessons on my new website:

For more info on things I've done, resources and what's happening in my class, check there.

I have the guidebooks out. The proposal piece is finished and students are researching. We have more iPads coming soon so that should help expedite the process.

We have reviewed and started experimenting with Prezi as well. The students love it. They were literally taken aback at the transitions and accessibility of the program. They can't wait to make the project. This exit project has not been a dentist situation where I am pulling teeth. Rather, they are eager to use Prezi and really interested in WWII...well most of them are, at least.

This week students are writing their proposals, creating research questions, researching and answering the questions using the ELA technique of RATS (restate, answer, textual evidence, significance).

It's interesting that I can use ELA strategies for my Social Studies projects. It's really like I'm teaching ELA through a Social Studies context.

Students are learning very independently right now. They have different topics and different guide books depending on level. While, they are used to this it took some practice and training to get them so confident in working independently. They are so used to group work and collaborative activities that working alone was nerve racking for some. Still, I am pleased with their eagerness for individual success.

My biggest challenge is keeping track of every student. In a dream world, I would love if each student had a laptop. They could check off what they accomplished and I would be notified. I teach 5 classes a day and see 160 faces. I am pretty good at keeping track on a usual base but with so much variety it's been hard to remember who is doing what and what step they are on. Whoever says that too much technology would render a teacher useless is silly. If anything, technology is demanding more of me and holding all of us to higher standards. In the meantime, I'm hoping they have developed enough self reliance to proceed without so much hand holding. Some still need me a lot, others are teaching themselves.

That brings me to my next step: Self Teaching.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Operation Exit Project & Mission Prezi

Now that Prezi is my medium I need to revise and restrategize. We lost some days because of the field trip (which was a success and fabulous time). All my students were in their rooms by curfew, mostly because the Jersey Shore was on. Thanks, Snooki.

This is my proposed pacing calender. I will flesh it out when I have more time.

March 8 - Content on America's involvement and end in WWII.
9- Wrap up Content on America's involvement and end in WWII.
10- How to Use Prezi
11- What makes a good Prezi

March 14-18 - Research Week

March 21-25 - Draft/Planning Week

March 28-1st - Prezi Week

It's ambitious but I think if we go in steps we can make these large strides.
My next steps include: creating a new guide for Prezi for my students and handing out their groupings.

Meet the New Presentation: Prezi

Remember that statement about flexibility? Well, time to be ever more flexible. I've decided to try a new program for the exit project. Thus, I've had to rewrite my pacing calender in order to take time in figuring out how to use it.

The new program is: Prezi. Check it out at!
Apparently, schools all over have been using this. It's like Power Point with fluidity and fireworks. It streamlines things. It's essentially a slideshow but allows for more graphics, videos, is more aesthetically pleasing and uses eye catching transitions. It's online so kids can work on it anyway. Also, there's a search engine so that many can learn from presentations other kids from around the world have made. I want to use it.

I was concerned that with using one program it would either be too easy or too hard for some kids, technologically. Then, I saw their tutorials. They have a basic, advanced and expert. Kids develop their prezis to be as elaborate and advanced as they want.

The best part of Prezi is there is an iPad app. While I only have 5 laptops, I do have 2 iPads (so far). This means that the kids can use the iPads to not only research but to develop their prezis as well.

I'm pretty excited to use this program. I found out about it from my 16 year old sister. She is a Sophmore in a parochial school in Connecticut. I figure, if high schools are using this then I need to show my students what's new and in their future, regarding technology. They have done Power Point. Some have made websites. If I am going to incorporate iPads then I need to make the iPad a tool for product not just research. Let's see what happens!