Middle School

Peer Tutoring Like Never Before

Posted on October 6, 2010. Filed under: Mathematics, Middle School |

by Tim Cushman

There is a large body of educational research on the value of peer tutoring.  See The Access Center’s research on peer tutoring for math and other research on best practices here.  Why don’t teachers us the approach more often?  There are many answers to that question but I think that both sides would agree that one of the challenges is getting the right pairing of students for effective peer tutoring on a consistent basis.  One teacher in California looked beyond his classroom walls and to the Internet to address this issue.

Mathtrain.tv is the work of Eric Marcos and the students of Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California.  The students use screen capture software to create tutorials about what they are learning.  The videos are then reviewed, and if needed, edited by a math teacher.  Since the videos are social by design, their is an incentive for the student instructor to do their best since they are creating for and receiving comments from an audience of fellow middle schoolers worldwide.

Your students can create their own tutorials and submit them to Mathtrain.  Need screencasting software?  Jing from Techsmith, CamStudio (open source software), and the screen recording tools native to both Promethean and SMART software are all no cost options.

Mr. Marcos is to be applauded for this venture.  He has created a means for getting his students to reflect on their learning in a way that a math journal never can.  He is also making a contribution to the greater educational community in the process that we all benefit from. 

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You Say Potatoe…

Posted on September 23, 2009. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, Foreign Language, General, High School, Mathematics, Middle School, Science, Social Studies/History |

by Tim Van Heule
Distance Learning Coordinator

Education always has some great buzzwords… developmentally appropriate, instructional time, differentiated instruction, etc. But what about virtual field trip?

As the economy continues its downward spiral, virtual field trip is a buzzword that continues to gain popularity. If you can’t take your students to a location, take them via a virtual field trip! But are all virtual field trips created equal? Are there different versions of the virtual field trip, maybe an e-field trip? Are they the same thing, or if there are differences, what are they?

The difference between the two is more a difference in the language. Both allow teachers to take there students to destinations outside of the classroom; however, one is highly interactive while the other is not. What I term as the virtual field trip involves the use of videoconference, incorporating live audio and video communication. This type of virtual field trip is highly engaging, allowing students to speak and interact with content experts (content providers). Does this mean that what I term is the e-field trip is a lesser activity? Absolutely not, both of these activities provide students with valuable  opportunities that enhance the curriculum.

This link (please note this video plays best in Internet Explorer) is an example of a virtual field trip that one of our schools participated in during the 2008-2009 school year. WYFF, our local NBC affiliate, produced this video as they highlighted how teachers are becoming more creative to provide opportunities in the classroom in light of a poor economy. The students connected with the Discovery Center of Springfield as they learned more about magnets during a program titled, Magnet Mania! While I agree that teachers are finding ways to be more creative in light of the current economic situation, I don’t agree that the use of a virtual field trip such as this is only due to economics. Through virtual field trips such as these, our students are able to connect with an expert in the field who reinforces the standards being taught in the classroom.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to this equipment that allows these connections to occur. You have to ask yourself, “What can I do with my students if we do not have videoconferencing equipment in my school and/or district?” This is where the e-field trip comes in. I’ve always been impressed with eFieldTrips. I think they do a great job of producing interactive web-based content. There programs contain great visuals, appropriate use of audio clips, and the content is appropriate in length. While doing a little research for this post, I also found the Utah Education Network and their Virtual Field Trips.  One thing I really like about this site is that you can tour anything in any of the content areas, and if the content you are searching for is not available, there are links and tutorials for you to create your own virtual field trip that you can share with others. This is a great project that students would find meaningful.

Again, this is just a difference in the meaning of the terminology. I don’t consider one to be more correct than the other. The important thing is that they both provide opportunities to enhance the curriculum while providing engaging opportunities for the students.

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How do I get students to read? Look no further, this is a great new site!

Posted on September 13, 2009. Filed under: English/Language Arts, General, High School, Middle School, Teachers |

by Cathy Arnold

Any of you that know me knows that I hate to read!  I know, I know…I’m an educator and I need to foster that desire to read and to learn in students.  We need to encourage students to read the great classics!  I agree, but for me this never came easy!  Ugh…I’m a math geek and I could never figure out why some people could sit for days and read those hundreds and thousands of pages of text called literature.  Reading is hard for me and frankly when I was young my parents had to practically bribe me to read (…or threaten …whichever way one looks at it!  🙂  )   Being mathematically inclined, everything is literal to me.  I absolutely cannot read between the lines.  Why then should I read something I do not understand?

Well, here comes Miss Havisham!   I came across this article in the USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-09-07-jenny-sawyer-60-second-recap-classics_N.htm which explains that a young, very tech-savvy and very smart woman is opening doors for those students like myself to actually understand the reasons behind those long, long novels.   This is a huge task to accomplish, but from the samples on her site that I’ve seen so far, this idea is a winner!   Hey…she even has tempted someone like me to want to read!

For almost all of the books listed, she has 60 second clips of the overview, plot, cast, theme(s), symbols, motifs and conclusion.  Unlike SparkNotes or CliffNotes, these clips do not seem to give enough information for a student to attempt to take a test without reading the book.  However, it does explain enough to entice students to read or clarify information.   It seems to direct students to the correct train of thought.  Of course, don’t listen to this non-reader, watch and listen to Gabby, a student, responding to Great Expectations on this 60second club recap –  ( http://www.60secondrecap.com/club/thread/50/  ).

Keep in mind, I’m not an English major and not a huge reader, so I would love to hear thoughts from those of you that are English teachers and/or avid readers.   Has Jenny Sawyer (Miss Havisham) created something that can be used in your classroom to entice young readers?  Is her information about the books on target?  Do you think this is something needed today?  Let me know. 

Visit the 60 Second Recap at http://www.60secondrecap.com/ .  


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Posted on April 13, 2009. Filed under: Elementary School, General, High School, Middle School |

by Tim Van Heule
Coordinator of Distance Learning

Image from Twitter.com

Do you Twitter? Better yet, do you know what Twitter is? Twitter has been a seemingly hot topic as of late – everyone seems to be “twittering,” even Miley Cyrus for those of you who are Hannah Montana fans.

Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to connect with their Personal Learning Network (PLN) – a PLN is a network of people you chose to be involved with. What’s most interesting about Twitter is that it is a “micro-blog,” meaning you are limited to text-based posts of 140 characters. These posts, or “tweets,” are displayed on your profile page, but are also delivered to the profile pages of your “followers” – those people who have subscribed to follow your posts. You can “follow” others who share your common interests.

Tweets are delivered free through the Twitter website on the Internet, or can be delivered through Short Message Service (SMS) on your mobile phone. Please note that if you choose to utilize the SMS service on your mobile phone all standard text-messaging charges apply – be sure to check with your mobile phone providers before choosing this delivery option.

‘Twitter has become a powerful tool for community organizers, marketers, and others who want to share and receive information in a fast, friendly environment. It’s no wonder, then, that teachers have also found success on Twitter, using the tool to connect with students, share information with parents, and find useful resources” . This blog post lists “100 tools that can help twittering teachers make the most out of this helpful microblogging tool” (BestCollegesOnline.com, April 2009).

Twitter is being used in classrooms worldwide already. “TeachJeffCorwin” is a classroom of sixth graders in  Columbia, SC who want to teach Spanish to TV personality, Jeff Corwin. This classroom provides links and updates about their projects.

Tweets can be sent out to parents, students, and other educators. You, your students, and your parents really have to be clear and concise to get the message out in 140 characters or less! Basically, the importance of the message is delivered, while some of the “fluff” that often fills our communication is left out. One of the challenges with Twitter is sharing URLs in such a limited space. “TinyURLl” is a free site that condenses your URLs into a smaller version. For example, the website for the Upstate Technology Conference is http://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/utc, but with TinyURL the web address is condenced down to http://tinyurl.com/dj5pgn.

Maybe you want to join Twitter, maybe you don’t. However, you may be surprised to find out who is already Twittering… CNN Breaking News, journalists like Thomas Friedman, and even sporting events like The Masters. All of these have their own followers… these followers have chosen to subscribe to tweets in an effort to make learning more personal – choosing to learn about what interests them most.


Top 100 tools for the twittering teacher. (2009, April 2). Message posted to http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/blog/

Twitter. (n.d.) Retrieved April 13, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter

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Free is Always Good

Posted on February 9, 2009. Filed under: EdTech, Elementary School, General, High School, Media Specialists, Middle School, Teachers |

by Tim Van Heule
Coordinator of Distance Learning

It is February, and the economy is still looking really rough. Budget cuts, job losses, etc. are common place across the nation. I am not an economist, but I know how the economic downturn has taken its toll on education.

Every summer for the past three years, the Greenville County Schools Instructional Technology Staff in South Carolina has hosted the Upstate Technology Conference. I have attended every conference, one as a participant, and two as a member of the staff. It is great to see how this conference continues to grow each year. I am hoping that this year is no exception.

“You get what you pay for” is a common cliche, often leading you to believe that if it is free, the quality probably reflects the price. Our conference is free, there are no registration fees at all, participants are only responsible for any meals and lodging; lunch is available on site at a competitive price.

This year’s conference will be Wednesday, June 24 and Thursday, June 25. We will also have a pre-conference on Tuesday, June 23. Currently, we are accepting proposals for presentations; this year’s presentations will no doubt be as superb as those in the past. General participant registration is open as well.

In the past we have had some of the best keynote speakers available worldwide, Annette Lamb, Ewan McIntosh, and David Jakes. This year is no exception, we are proud to have Chris Craft as our sole keynote speaker for UTC09. I have known Chris Craft since 2007 when Tim Cushman and I attended his sessions at the SC ETV Technology Workshop for Educators. Both of us were so impressed that we have asked, begged, and pleaded for him to present at UTC each year – we have been fortunate that he has always agreed when available. To have Chris as our Keynote Speaker this year really means a lot to all of us in Greenville County.

We look forward to seeing you at UTC09! Please continue to read our blog or check the UTC website for updates. Questions can be directed to our office, techconf@greenville.k12.sc.us.

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We’re going on a field trip…

Posted on November 14, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, High School, Instructional Coaches, Middle School, Science, Teachers | Tags: , |

by Tim Van Heule
Coordinator of Distance Learning

Who doesn’t love a good field trip?

Field trips are vital to education, providing opportunities to see how the curriculum applies to the real world.

For example, in first grade, students learn about apples and pumpkins – how they grow, their uses, etc. Of course, it’s only logical for the students to visit an apple orchard at the end of the unit. This example makes it really easy to see the real world application, but what about geometry, or advanced biology? How can we show real world application for these subjects, while being practical and realistic?

The cost of travel makes it difficult, often impossible, to visit the museums, centers, etc. that reinforce the curriculum. Local venues are easier to attend, but the addition of meals, accommodations, and admission fees to venues at a distance cause the costs to increase dramatically. The cost of fuel is dropping rapidly while I write this post, but we have seen fuel prices soar in the past few years, a trend that is likely to continue as global demand increases.

This is where the Virtual Field Trip comes in. While it would be ideal to visit the museum, cultural center, etc. the Virtual Field Trip allows us the opportunity to experience the next best thing – an interactive visit to the venue while saving money and valuable instructional time.

In the past few weeks Greenville County Students have been to science centers in Ohio (CoSI) and Missouri (Discovery Center of Springfield), cultural centers in Georgia (Center for Puppetry Arts), as well as museums (National Baseball Hall of Fame). We are utilizing higher-end videoconferencing equipment from Tandberg to make these opportunities a reality. Some readers would probably wonder why we aren’t using Skype, but many content providers at museums and centers connect through dedicated ISDN lines or through IP, providing a higher quality call with superb audio and video.

WYFF, one of our local media outlets, featured Virtual Field Trips in a recent story, highlighting the reasons for the increase of these opportunities. Some of the reasons cited in the WYFF piece have already been discussed at length in this post, including the rising cost of fuel, and opportunities to reinforce the learning in the classroom.

There are great free Virtual Field Trips available, but there are costs associated with many others. However, these associated costs are minimal in comparison to actually attending the museum or center. For example, content providers may charge between $50-$250 per program. Additional fees may include the use of the ISDN lines and/or bridge that connects the school and the content provider. Overall, these associated costs are outweighed by the benefits of utilizing Virtual Field Trips within the curriculum as we provide our students opportunities that reinforce learning.

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Professional Development in a Flash

Posted on August 19, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, General, High School, Instructional Coaches, Middle School, Teachers |

by Tim Cushman

The primary challenge in the successful implementation of technology in the classroom is the buy-in from the individual teacher.  Many districts elect to channel all of their technology funds into the purchase of hardware and software at the expense of end-user training.  This short-sighted approach leaves many teachers floundering to learn the new technology on their own time, often with limited access to self-study materials.  This frustration is enough of a roadblock for many teachers to ignore technology tools all together or to use them only at a very basic level.

I do have to wonder, at one point do we as professional educators include the pursuit of learning technology under the umbrella of personal growth?  I am not referring to simply staying current with a variety of new products in order to continually “wow” a group of students as a means of crowd control (listen to Wesley Fryer’s “Strive to Engage, Not Enthrall”).

Single Image Set
Image details: Single Image Set by picapp.com

Technology is a tool that serves as a powerful conduit to learning in the hands of the master teacher.  A colleague of mine, Tim Van Heule, often quips that, “the effective use of technology makes a good teacher better, but the misuse of technology makes a good teacher poor.”  Like a master craftsman building a house, it is about using the right tool in the right way.

I recommend the following method for staying current: read blogs, listen to podcasts, watch video tutorials.

Start Here
David Jakes provides an excellent resource on his wiki for teachers interesting in deepening their understanding of an array of technologies.  The tasks are straightforward and can easily be completed in fifteen minutes.  David’s site is full of great resources and is worth a thorough examination.  Do this if nothing else.

Click here for a clear explanation of blogs and here to learn how to get blogs automatically delivered to your computer.

A few of my favorite blogs are dy/dan, edu.blogs, Ian Jukes, Steve Hargadon, The Strength of Weak Ties, and 2 Cents.

Click here for a clear explanation of podcasts.  iTunes is a great way to manage your podcasts.  Click here for a video tutorial on how to subscribe to podcasts through iTunes.

Video Tutorials
More video tutorials on the use of hardware and software packages are being posted online thanks in large part to the YouTube revolution.  Atomic Learning is well worth the money if you can afford it because of the volume of tutorials and the speed at which they load.  You can find some decent user content on sites like YouTube or TeacherTube if you don’t mind putting in extra time searching.

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Interactive Whiteboard Lessons – Best Practices

Posted on August 10, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, High School, Instructional Coaches, Interactive Whiteboards, Middle School, Teachers |

by Tim Van Heule

Freshly waxed floors, sharpened pencils, and back-to-school packets… it’s that time of year, again.

It’s also time to start thinking about elements, basic or advanced, that can be present in your interactive whiteboard lessons – Promethean, SMART, etc.

There are some misnomers regarding interactive whiteboard lessons; I hear them often. “Oh, those colorful lessons may work well in the elementary classroom, but I don’t think they will work with my secondary students.” Or, “This works really well in my secondary classroom, but I’m not sure that the elementary students would be able to handle it.”

I’m not one for trick questions, but I do like to ask one question when I work with people on interactive whiteboards – “What elements of an elementary or secondary lesson are proprietary to their respective levels?” In my opinion, elements in an elementary lesson should also be present in the secondary lesson, and vice-versa.

Sharing written information, objectives or notes, with the students on the interactive whiteboard is the best way to get started, but the goal should be not to use the interactive whiteboard as a glorified overhead projector. Again displayed information is an easy way to get started using the board in the classroom, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. Filling the board up with notes and information can overload the students, and takes a great interactive classroom tool and turns it into nothing more than a static board.

Lessons on interactive whiteboards need to be “interactive.” Lessons can contain teacher made activities, or activities that are part of the software. Both Promethean and SMART have vast resources available, therefore, there is no reason to “reinvent the wheel.” Matching and sorting activities can be easily created, and information can be hidden and revealed using shapes or flash-based content, all of which can be found in either Promethean or SMART’s resources. Both companies have their own tricks that can also increase the interactivity of the lessons.

I’m not claiming to the be the expert on the presentation of information on interactive whiteboards, I just know what worked well in my classroom. I took a varied approach, beginning with brief displays of information, guided practice and independent activities, and finished with some form of assessment. Students should be up at the board, working independently, in groups, as a class, etc. The teacher should never be in full control of the board throughout the lesson. It’s important to ask yourself,”how have I engaged my student’s today?”

Example lessons are available upon request for those who are interested.

Here’s to a great 2008-2009 school year…

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SMART’s Notebook Software Version 10

Posted on July 13, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, General, High School, Instructional Coaches, Interactive Whiteboards, Middle School, Science, Teachers | Tags: , , , |

by Tim Van Heule

I recently downloaded Notebook Software Version 10 from SMART Technologies. As a SMART Exemplary Educator, and a former Peer Educator, I like to make sure that the training and support I provide on SMART products is current and knowledgeable.

There are many great features that have been added or improved upon. The “Alignment Tool” is one that many teachers have been most excited about – aligning objects on the page is easy now. And the “Properties Tab” has combined all of the object options in one place, including new object action additions. Of course there are new pens – the “Magic Pen” and the “Shape Recognition Pen.” The “Table Tool” is also a welcome addition, including features for text and screen shades in each cell.

The only concern I have relates to the inital installation of the software. You have to enter in the serial number from the board in order to receive the product key needed to activate the software. Finding the serial number is not difficult; depending on the model of the board, the serial number is either on the bottom of the pen tray or on the back of the board. The serial number also always starts with “SB” for SMART Board. The product key is emailed to the user. My concern arose because I imagined teachers across the county struggling at they tried to locate their serial number, getting the email and then entering in the product key. I have since learned that the product key can be used multiple times, even throughout the entire school. So, if the product key can be used throughout the school, why do you need it anyway?

Any previous versions of SMART Notebook also need to be removed, along with the driver, but do not remove the gallery.

I’ve been using SMART products for the past five years, and I think that this release is one of the more exciting software upgrades from SMART. Have your serial number available and download Version 10 at this link today.

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Musopen! Copyright Free Music

Posted on May 2, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, General, High School, Instructional Coaches, Middle School, Teachers | Tags: |

by Tim Cushman

MusOpen! (www.musopen.com) is a growing collection of online music, completely free of all copyright restrictions. MusOpen! is maintained by a non-profit organization with the express goal of “setting music free” by making recordings of sheet music in the public domain. In short, MusOpen! works with artists that are interested in making copyright-free music available to everyone. You can read more on the legal stuff here if you are the curious type.

The quality of the songs is surprisingly good (320kbps bit rate) and is available for streaming or download. Sheet music is also available for download and may be of interest to music teachers and students alike.

MusOpen! is “setting music free” as claimed, but it is hardly a large scale jailbreak. The collection is currently limited to roughly one hundred, classical performances. The sparse library is a bit disappointing, but the idea is innovative and has potential.

I am pleased to see sites like MusOpen popping up on the Internet. It is difficult to find no-cost, legal audio sources to direct students to as they create technology-based projects. You can read more about sources for multimedia in the classroom in a previous posting.

You may also have occasion to use a copyrighted work for instruction or in some way to promote your school. Copyright law still applies, regardless of your intentions. There are several good sources on the web for educating yourself on your legal limits of fair use. I found one good site here.

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