Monday, January 30, 2006

Teaching Without A Net
Managing web materials

At its best, the World Wide Web is a wonderful resource for students in and out of the classroom. It's familiar, it's free (mostly), it's vast enough to contain some real gems, and anyone with a computer and a working internet connection can get access to it at home or in a community space such as a school or library.

But the web is so much a part of our culture in and out of the classroom, it's easy to forget that just because you got it from the web doesn't mean that's the best way to expose your students to that particular material.

Like many of us, my own teaching was stymied somewhat by our recent loss of internet connectivity here at WMS. In response, now that the 'net is up, I had originally intended to write this week about how to archive and store internet material -- everything from how to use easy tools and built-in components of your own computer to save web pages on our local network or on a disk so that they can be used as if you were on the Internet even when it goes down, to how to take "pictures" (called screen captures) of web pages so I could use web pages in the classroom as if they were live without having to worry about whether the Internet was on, or fast enough, on a given day.

It's an important lesson, and one which I'd be happy to teach anyone who might be interested.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the biggest mistake I make when teaching with the Internet is allowing the way in which the web is packaged to drive the way I present those materials to my students. And, pedagogically speaking, that may not always be the best approach to using web-based materials.

The best material on the web is packaged for the web -- a resource which is generally thought of as designed for a single user, in front of a single machine. Great curricular content put together by an especially astute designer may look good on the web, and work for a general audience, but as we all know, classrooms are unique spaces, and the web is no classroom.

Although there are some limitations, in most cases fair use laws allow us to strip down content for the web and rebuild it in and for our classrooms to suit the needs of our particular students. Your ability to use material to teach is strengthened by your ownership of that material.

In the last few weeks, both Jen Jyringi and Tammy Desreuisseau have had great success in repackaging web materials into stellar PowerPoint presentations, for example. Each used a combination of techniques, including screen captures (so students could see how the website organized its information), restatement of information, and pictures from the original web pages. Each borrowed a projector and computer in order to maximize the potential for students to see and understand the material. And each followed up their activity by encouraging (or requiring) students to go to the original websites to review and explore further on their own time.

Turning a web page into a PowerPoint presentation for your own classroom instruction (or a word document for handout, or a newsletter for easier information-handling, or even a new and more class-specific webpage for use on the school network) generally takes a couple of hours or less, and, once you've made it, you can use it year after year, adapting it over time as needed.

If you're interested in some support in making web materials your own -- or if you'd just like to know how to archive and store webpages so they can be used or accesed regardless of whether the Internet is working -- as always, email or just stop by the computer lab to set up an appointment!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Random Resources, Part 1:
Music as Mnemonic

Part one in a series of blog posts bringing you the newest and best in cross-curricular resources available from the world of the web!

Wired magazine reports on the growing phenomenon of teachers not just using songs to help their students learn and remember basic class concepts, from glycolosis to the law of averages...but recording and sharing these songs online so that all teachers can use them.

The article, which cites Science Songwriters Association president Lynda Jones' assertion that "song is a very effective way to teach," also reminds us that humor has long been a staple of our daily attempts to help students become engaged with material. (Having learned the quadratic equation to the tune of "We All Live In A Yellow Submarine", I can attest personally to the efficacy of song as a method for material retention.)

Although the article focuses on science and technology songs, such as the more than 2000 songs posted at MASSIVE, a developing database of science-themed songs, a quick browse of Google reveals both free and pay-per-song online resources for every curricular subject imaginable.

For example, Songs For Teaching references and organizes songs in every curricular category, from grammar to geography...and, for US History teachers, has free sheet music and lyrics for state songs from all 50 states!

If you'd like assistance finding free or fee-based music or lyrics for your particular curricular area, email Joshua Farber for a targeted tour of Google's advanced search functions -- if it's out there, we'll find it!

You're welcome to sing to your students, of course -- many of the freely-downloadable songs on the abovementioned sites have been released into the public domain, so performing them on your own can be perfectly legitimate according to fair use and copyright restrictions. (This is not always true, however, and different restrictions apply to songs available for purchase; see Joshua Farber or Mary Ellen Bergeron if you have questions about performance rights for a given song or site.)

In addition, why not consider taking advantage of the growing phenomenon of student iPods by making pre-recorded materials available as they dovetail with classroom curriculum?

To send freely downloadable songs along to students, merely surf to the relevant site, right click on a link to a song, select "copy shortcut", and then paste that link in any public webspace, such as SchoolNotes. From there, just direct students to that site, and they'll be able to listen at home, for homework...or even load the songs onto their personal music devices for the long busride into school each morning!