Sunday, February 11, 2007

Open Office Presentation

My students and I were studying the genre of "How-To" Books. Usually, as part of a similar study, I would have the class create a big book that summarized their knowledge of the genre. This time I decided to have them create a Presentation in Open Office. The end result was very cool!

As with any genre study, we immersed ourselves in "How-To" Books. We read them aloud, we read them in small groups, we read them by ourselves. Next, we brainstormed characteristics or features or attributes (I used all three words to increase vocabulary and to make connections with other academic subjects, particularly Math and Science.) and listed them in small groups. Then we compiled one giant list of features of "How-To" Books. I put the list up in an accessible place in the classroom so that the children could add additional features as they discovered them.

Each child made a list of topics of things that they knew how to do. From that list, each one chose a topic to create their own "How-To" Book. While this writing and revising and conferencing was going on, I had 2 children come to the Linux workstations to learn how to use the template I had created. Earlier I had created a template in Open Office Presentation.

This was saved into "Mrs. W's To-Do" folder that appears on each student's desktop. I walked the first 2 children through the process of using the template and saving it and dragging it to the "Mrs. W's Pass-In" folder. Then these 2 children taught the next 2 children who taught the next 2 until everyone had created their page. The original 2 children were on call as Experts during the process.

The next step had my MAT intern reading everyone's page and then finding 2 - 3 appropriate images for each page and downloading them to a folder. He then worked with each child, walking them through the process of choosing and placing an image.

During snack time one day, I called each child up to choose a background color for their presentation slide. I put all the slides together and showed it to the class. Then I showed them the options for transitions and together they each chose a transition for their slide.

It was a great demonstration of their knowledge of "How-To" Books, it taught them some basic use of Powerpoint-type presentations, and provided a spiffy way to show off during Parent/Teacher Conferences.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Spelling correctly is an essential skill for students. Many student assessments require them to demonstrate knowledge and skills via paper and pencil tasks. Just like penmanship and keyboarding, spelling needs to be fluent so the student can concentrate on the content of the writing.

One way to give your students another tool to master the skills in spelling correctly is to use Spelling Time at This website is free and allows the teacher or the parent to customize the spelling lists that the student works on in grades 1-5. The site uses a combination of interactive technology and the repetition of drill and practice work.

I recently signed up as a teacher and added all of the students in my class. I used the usernames and passwords that the kids have already to sign on to their K12LTSP desktops. They already have those memorized and there isn't a good reason to assign them multiple passwords to remember (or for me to keep track of).

A particularly nice feature of this site is that it allows teachers or parents to create spelling lists or graded lists can be used. Our school system uses Sitton Spelling so I am able to customize the lists to that program. The lessons can also be printed out as well as accessed online. Individual reports are also generated which helps the teacher and the parent measure student achievement.

There are extra features like a weekly 100% list for those who score 100% on their Weekly Spelling Test and a Word of the Day to enhance vocabulary skills. This site provides useful tools for the classroom teacher and the student.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Web Browser Home Page

At our school we decided that we wanted the web browser to open up to our school's homepage. Several of us have Portaportals (check out to set up your own free web-based bookmarks organized the way you want it) that link off of the school's homepage. Mine can be seen at

Here are the directions to set each of your students' accounts to set the default page when they open up FireFox on the Linux workstations.

Log into each account and open Firefox from the Applications menu, under the "Internet" heading. When the Firefox window opens, select the "Edit" menu. From the Edit menu choose "Preferences"(at the bottom). A dialog box will open and the "General" tab should be highlighted. In the "Home Page" section type the url of the page that you want to be the home page. Close the dialog box and your home
page is set. Click the home key in the browser window to be sure
it worked.
Good Luck!

I'd like to thank my UMAINE MAT student for figuring out the process and then writing the instructions.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Schedules and Limited Resources

Teachers lives are governed by schedules. There are lunch schedules, recess duty schedules, and bus duty schedules. There are schedules for each subject including library, art, music, and phys. ed. Then there are schedules for staff meetings, parent meetings, and professional development meetings. Consequently, many of us organize our classrooms with schedules. Schedules help us ensure that our students complete a variety of school work and have equitable access to classroom resources.

There are many ways to create classroom schedules for computer use. I'm not going to tell you how to set up a schedule for your classroom because the specifics of your classroom life are different from my classroom life. However, I do want to tell you a few things about the use of computer schedules.

Computer schedules should be equitable in time for ALL students. You wouldn't deny a student the use of a schoolbook (unless vandalism was involved) because they hadn't finished their work or because they were too smart. Computer use should not be just for the ones who have finished their work or only for those who need extra drill work.

Computer schedules should provide a balance of specific assignments and free exploration. Both experiences are valuable educational activities. Assignments should also be an integration of teaching new technology skills as well as demonstrating content area knowledge.

Computers schedules should be flexible. Students are absent, move in, move out, and have different needs. The schedule needs to allow for variables in students and in days filled with fire drills, inside recesses due to weather, and surprise classroom visits by the principal. The schedules also need to be flexible enough to deal with non-functioning workstations. This is a big issue for classroom teachers because so few of us have the technical skills to do much trouble shooting for ourselves. We have to wait for the TechGuru
to come and fix things for us. This is frustrating! Some teachers opt for the "I won't use it unless I have enough for everyone and everything is 100% reliable." This is not the solution. Every classroom has limited reources of every kind. We don't stop teaching because we have only 12 rulers. We have the students share. We need to apply the same mindset to using computers in our classrooms.