Math Students Collaborating Nationwide, Even Worldwide!

There are middle school projects that gain impact through collaboration with students outside your own classroom, such as estimating the average amount of water used per person per day. This problem takes on deeper relevance when averages are compared to those of classrooms around the country and the world. Other projects, such as finding the circumference of the Earth, require data input by geographically distant schools. 

To connect with and collaborate with classrooms interested in the same project, you can make use of online sites, even though you work in an offline classroom. You need Internet access to register for the project (free registration!), to find suggested teaching procedures, and to submit and retrieve data from other schools. But you can be offline while teaching the lessons, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting results. 

The Internet-based projects below are excellent samples of what’s available online for the offline classroom. If you know of similar projects, please share via this blog! 

Down the Drain: How Much Water Do You Use?  

In this project, students share information about water usage with other students from around the country and the world. Based on data collected by their household members and their classmates, students determine the average amount of water used by one person in a day. Students must develop a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, and present their results.

RoadKill 

If your school is located among rural roads, you and your students can collect roadkill data in your community for analysis and compare your data to other areas participating in the project. The site provides a detailed protocol for monitoring and reporting roadkill, a method of reporting data through the web, and access to data collected by all participants. The project crosses many disciplines, including environmental science education and data analysis.

The International Boiling Point Project

Students around the world boil water to discover what influences its boiling point. Is it room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or the heating device used? All you have to do is boil a bit of water, record a bit of information, and send it along to the site for inclusion in the database of results.

The Noon Day Project: Measuring the Circumference of the Earth 

 In the course of the project, students learn about Eratosthenes and his experiment, and then do a similar experiment themselves by collaborating with other schools. They learn the “why” of the measurements they’re taking, collect the data as precisely as possible, and submit their findings to the central site. By collaborating with a classroom in another state or even another country, they actually determine a good estimate of the Earth’s circumference. The site provides detailed instructions, activities, and reference materials.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/07/2012.

Integrating Technology: The Power of Diigo

This article was written by David Hayward and originally published in the April 2009 Integrating Technology column of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online magazine for elementary teachers. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

A social bookmarking web site could change the way you do your job! Bookmarking services store your saved web pages (bookmarks) on a site that you can access from any computer. These services can free you from being tied to the one computer that holds your bookmarks, or favorites, on the browser. No longer will you have to scribble web addresses on notepads or email yourself URLs to remember an interesting site from school to home. Sharing web sites and your thoughts about the sites with colleagues can be accomplished with the click of a button.

WHAT IS SOCIAL BOOKMARKING?

Social bookmarking sites were started a little over a decade ago as simple online tools where users could store their personal bookmarks. The concept has now developed into a tool to manage bookmarks and foster collaboration among people with common interests. Social bookmarking sites allow you to organize your bookmarks by keywords or tags. The tag you create becomes the management tool to retrieve, organize, and access your bookmarks. Social bookmarking sites foster locating people with similar profiles, allowing relationships to be formed through groups, web feeds and links. This video from Common Craft explains the basics of social bookmarking.

Many social bookmarking sites exist including Del.icio.us, Digg, Technorati, and Diigo. In this article we’ve chosen to focus on Diigo because it allows users to do much more than simply bookmark web sites.

WHAT IS DIIGO AND WHY SHOULD YOU USE IT?

Diigo (pronounced dee’go) is one of the more powerful social bookmarking sites available on the web. From searching to retrieving to organizing to sharing, Diigo is packed with features that will help you use the Internet. This video may be helpful as you start to learn about the site’s many functions.

AN ONLINE BOOKMARKING TOOL

Most simply, Diigo is an online bookmarking site. By downloading a toolbar on your browser, you’ll be able to add web addresses, titles, descriptions, and tags by clicking on a single bookmark button. These bookmarks can be accessed from any computer, meaning that your saved information is always within reach.

You can also add a web site to a list and share it with friends or a group. If you have a Twitter account, you have the option of sharing the web site with your followers. The bookmark button alone is an easy way to manage and share web sites and offers a variety of options to communicate with other users.

A PERSONAL RESEARCH TOOL

Diigo may also be used as a personal research tool. Using tags, you can search your own bookmarked sites, group sites, or Diigo lists. This gives you a large community of users who are locating information.

Diigo provides tools for highlighting and annotating text within a web site. This comes in handy when you want to write a note to yourself, a colleague, or students about something that appears on the web page. You can search for a resource, annotate it, easily locate and quickly find the relevant information on the web page entirely through the Diigo site.

With the highlighting tool, you can select a word or phrase and search the web immediately. When you highlight text, a drop-down menu gives the option to search using a search engine, other social bookmarking sites, blogs or a variety of specialized searches. Diigo gives you the tools to search in a number of different locations without having to open multiple pages.

A COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH TOOL

Once you begin using Diigo you may join groups or create groups linking you to other people with common interests. This allows you to save web sites to specific groups as well as communicate within those groups privately. You will also have the option to follow a feed or email generated from the group notifying you when there is activity.

Another collaborative feature within Diigo is the ability to create a watchlist of tags or users. Simply add a tag word to your watchlist and every web site saved in Diigo and tagged with that keyword will populate your page. You will have a running list of web sites coming to you daily with links to the site and the people who tagged the site. You may want to contact the people who saved the tag and begin a conversation about the topic.

Diigo has many more features that add to its value as a research tool. Overall, Diigo provides a place to save web resources, organize content through tagging, highlight and annotate important information, share with friends and groups, communicate, collaborate and search the vast resources within its community.

HOW TO GET STARTED

Start by visiting www.diigo.com to register for a free account. You’ll be asked to provide some information, including an email address. Diigo will send you a confirmation email that you will then use to verify your account.

Once you verify your account, you’ll be able to install the Diigo toolbar, which will allow you to easily save and tag web sites. You’ll also be able to find out if any of your email contacts are on Diigo so you can begin sharing sites and information with them.

That’s all it takes to use Diigo! Enjoy saving bookmarks and connecting with people!


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

Integrating Technology: Interactive Whiteboards

This article was written by middle school science teacher Todd Williamson and originally published in the December 2008 Integrating Technology column of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online magazine for elementary teachers. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Over the past several years, many schools have purchased interactive whiteboards (IWBs). This technology can have a great impact on teaching and learning in math and science classes. IWBs can become a portal that allows all of the students in a class to be immersed in technology even if there is limited computer availability in the room. Interactive whiteboards are produced by several companies: Smart Technologies, Promethean, Polyvision, and Interwrite Learning tend to be the most common.

HOW DOES AN IWB WORK?
The basic IWB is a large, touch-sensitive screen that is attached to a computer, through either a USB cable or a wireless connection, and an LCD projector. The projector displays images from the computer’s desktop to the whiteboard. Any touch on the IWB sends a signal to the computer, allowing you to control your computer from the IWB.

A selection of colored “pens” makes it possible to write notes on the surface of the board. It is also possible to save anything written or drawn on the board to the computer. For example, rather than drawing an image several times for different class sessions throughout the day, or through a weeklong unit, you can save the drawing to the computer and bring it back to the board whenever needed. Most IWBs also work with Microsoft’s Office suite to allow you to insert your drawings into PowerPoint presentations or Word documents.

Using A SmartBoard with Microsoft PowerPoint
This link takes you to a video clip showing this process using Smart Technologies’s SmartBoard.

Using Smart Notebook 10 Software
The software packages that come with IWBs from different makers will vary, but, in general, each company gives you access to a number of features, lesson plans, and images. This short video shows some of the features of Smart Notebook software. Similar features are available through Promethean’s Activstudio.

LESSON IDEAS
Smart and Promethean offer lesson plan-sharing web sites for ideas on using their IWBs in the classroom. In addition to these lesson plans, there are hundreds of ways to use IWBs with teaching resources you already use for your everyday classroom needs.

Internet Browsing/Online Activities for Class Demonstrations
Google’s free program called Google Earth shows satellite imagery of the entire world. With an IWB your class can view the local community around your school, virtually visit regions in different climate zones, and see cloud cover/weather patterns across the planet.

Many web sites offer Flash- or Java-based games that are educational in nature. When you don’t want to take the entire class to the computer lab for a game, you may find that the IWB works perfectly. Additionally, the touch screen of the IWB makes computer activities even more “hands-on.” Examples of these types of activities are available at EdHeads, Nobel Prize, and Electricity.

Document Editing
A difficult task for many teachers is teaching the editing process. This is not just a language arts issue; it is also important that students can edit and revise research in other classes and lab write-ups in science classes. Student writing samples can be displayed on the IWB, marked up using “digital ink,” saved, and digitally transferred back to the student. This helps teach the writing process, as well as making writing a more collaborative process for students.

HOW TO GET THE MOST FROM YOUR IWB
Due to the cost of IWBs, many schools are able to purchase only a single board for their building. Since IWBs are a piece of instructional technology, the lone board often winds up in the computer lab. To get the most from an IWB, it should be housed in a regular classroom. Most IWBs can be either mounted to the wall or on legs that allow it to be moved from classroom to classroom. With only one IWB in the building, the moveable option is optimal.

The best staff development on IWBs comes from using them daily in the classroom. Teachers quickly become proficient at the basic functions of the IWB with minimal training. However, the broad range of functions available on IWBs makes using only the most basic functions a waste of the power of the board. If several teachers in the building are interested in learning to use the IWB, the school should consider rotating it through classrooms on a weekly basis. This gives teachers the opportunity to try multiple lessons and advanced techniques with the board.

USEFUL LINKS
Smart Technologies
[From the makers of Smart Boards] From this site you can view Smart’s array of products and access the Smart Learning Marketplace, where there are lots of lessons available in Smart Notebook files.

Promethean
[From the makers of Activboards] Here you can view Promethean’s products and visit Promethean Planet for lesson ideas.

PDtoGo SmartBoard Podcast
Weekly podcast of links and activities for Smart Boards, but could be used for any IWB.

Smart Board Revolution
This is a social network created by users of Smart Board interactive whiteboards. It offers networking with over 400 educators, videos, blog posts, a forum, and file uploads related to using Smart Boards in the classroom.

Google Earth
Google Earth lets you view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3-D buildings, and galaxies. There are many ways to use Google Earth in conjunction with an IWB as part of science or social studies units.

EdHeads
Edheads features educational games and activities designed to meet state and national standards. Current topics include simple machines, weather, forces and motion, and virtual surgery.

Nobel Prize
Educational games based on Nobel Prize-awarded achievements.

Electrocity Simulation
Electrocity is a turn-based simulation that explores energy resources and economic factors in developing a thriving city. Players take on the role of mayor and make economic and energy decisions for their city. At the end of 150 turns they are graded on their performance. This is a great way to introduce games with the Smart Board.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/21/2011.

Connecting Classrooms, Sharing Real Data

This article first appeared in Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears online magazine April 1, 2008. The article has been modified to include middle school math and science examples. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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Collaborative and real-time data projects engage students in collecting and sharing local data; communicating with other students around the world; using and analyzing “pooled” data from web-based databases; and accessing unique, primary source information. Even though there is no substitute for direct experiences and active investigation, extending the realm of inquiry through electronic communications can greatly enrich and extend an inquiry approach to science and math teaching.

These kinds of projects are highly motivating to students because they bring classrooms together from across the country and globe in shared learning experiences. Students are required to go beyond their own experience, to share with others, and to consider alternative points of view. Not only do students share data, they share perspectives and cultures. What could be more exciting?

Some wonderful collaborative and real-time data projects have been available online for years. To get a feel for the breadth of available projects, try a few searches in the Internet Projects Registry from the Global School Network (GSN) and in the KIDPROJ index of projects. You will find lists of projects from around the world that cover many disciplines. You can search for projects specific to your curriculum and students’ age levels and even design, post, and moderate a project that your class and others can join. You can also subscribe to both web sites’ listservs to get e-mail updates on new projects when they are listed.

Featured Projects

K-12: Track Spring’s Journey North
Teachers and students in K-12 classrooms are invited to participate in Journey North’s annual global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. A free Internet-based citizen science project, Journey North enables students in 11,000 schools to watch the wave of spring as it unfolds. Students monitor migration patterns of monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, whooping cranes, and other animals; the blooming of plants; and changing sunlight, temperatures, and other signs of spring. Students share their local observations with classmates across North America and beyond, and look for patterns on real-time maps. As they put local observations into a global context – and connect with field scientists – participants are better prepared to explore how climate and other factors affect living things.

Each Journey North study features many entry points and resources that address learning standards: Journey North for Kids reading booklets and lessons, stunning photos and video clips, weekly migration updates, interactive maps, instructional units, and compelling migration stories.

Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education: Collaborative Projects

Noon Day Project
The goal of the Noon Day Project is to have students measure the circumference of the earth using a method that was first used by Eratosthenes over 2000 years ago. Students at various sites around the world will measure shadows cast by a meter stick and compare their results. From this data students will be able to calculate the circumference of the earth.

International Boiling Point Project
The purpose of this project is to discover which factor in the experiment (room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or heating device) has the greatest influence on boiling point.

Down the Drain
How much water is used in homes everyday? Would you be surprised to learn that according to the USGS the average American uses between 80-100 gallons (approx. 300 – 375 liters) of water per day? Do people in other parts of the world use more or less water than Americans? This collaborative project helps students find out the answers to these questions. By collecting data on water usage from people around the world students will be able to see how their water use compares to others and determine what they might do to use less water.

Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education: Real Time Data Projects

Wonderful World of Weather
By using hands-on activities and real-time data investigations, students can develop a basic understanding of how weather can be described in measurable quantities, such as temperature, wind, and precipitation. The real-time data lessons also address topics such as climate, cloud classification, and severe storms. Students use the Weather Underground web site to collect and analyze weather from around the world. Three sets of activities are included: Introductory Activities, Real-Time Data Activities, and Language Arts Activities. A Literature Connection page with selected prose and poetry with a weather or season theme is a part of the site.

Musical Plates
Earthquakes, a scientific and physical phenomenon, affect our lives in many ways. In this project, students use Real-Time earthquake and volcano data from the Internet to explore the relationship between earthquakes, plate tectonics, and volcanoes.

The Stowaway Adventure
This multidisciplinary Internet-based learning experience has been designed to expose students to real world problem solving through unique uses of instructional technologies. In particular, students will use real time data from the Internet to track a real ship at sea, determine its destination and predict when it will arrive. In addition, they will have the opportunity to monitor the weather conditions at sea and predict when rough weather might impact on the ship’s arrival time. The focus is on math concepts and navigation.

The GLOBE Program
The GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Program brings together students, teachers, and scientists from around the world to learn more about the environment. Students use established protocols to collect environmental data locally. The data are shared using a global database to further the understanding of Earth as a system. For a school or classroom to submit data for any of the projects, at least one teacher must be trained in the GLOBE science measurement protocols and education activities by attending a GLOBE Teacher Workshop.

However, data from around the world has been archived since 1995 and can be accessed and downloaded by country, state, or region, or specific school by anyone. The Teacher’s Guide, which contains hundreds of lessons, protocols, and field guides, is searchable by grade band and concept.

ePals
ePals offers K-12 students and teachers around the world a free and safe environment for building and exchanging knowledge based on protected connectivity tools, evidence-based curricula and authentic, collaborative learning experiences. The ePals Global Learning Community is the largest online community of K-12 learners, enabling more than half a million educators and millions of students across 200 countries and territories to safely connect, exchange ideas, and work together. ePals projects cover the topics of global warming, habitats, maps and others.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/14/2012.