Sunday, March 25, 2012

K-5 Learning Review Invitation for Bloggers

K5 Learning has an online reading and math program for kindergarten to grade 5 students.  I've been given a 6 week free trial to test and write a review of their program.  If you are a blogger, you may want to check out their  open invitation to write an online learning review of their program. I'm going to start using it tomorrow with a couple of my students and I'll let you know what I think!

Monday, March 19, 2012

I Turned My Projector into a Smartboard Today!

I moved to a new district this school year. I've been going through painful withdrawal pains without a Smartboard. Ouch. One day I saw an article about a "Wiimote hack" that could turn a projector into a Smartboard. Johnny Chung Lee of Carnegie Mellon University came up with this brilliant idea. I watched the video below...but I thought it sounded difficult. (Don't worry though, I found the perfect solution.) Here is Johnny Chung Lee's video so you can get the basic idea:

Again, I thought it sounded a bit above my head. I wanted something prepackaged...and I found it!!! I went to I was able to order the software (Smoothboard), bluetooth, premade infrared pens, AND Wiimotes. I was so excited to hook it up this morning. My students were thrilled!

The Hookup
It was relatively easy. I followed the directions on BoonJin. First, I downloaded the Smoothboard software, and plugged in the bluetooth to my USB drive. Once my computer recognized the bluetooth, I was ready to move on. Next, I opened the Smoothboard software and waited for the software to recognize the Wiimotes. This is where I got my only glitch. My glitch was getting the Smoothboard software to recognize the Wiimotes. It turns out I hadn't read the directions one of my second graders helped me. Thank you Keaton! It turns out you don't just press the power button on the hold down buttons 1 and 2 until the software recognizes it. *Sigh* Details.

Wii Remote
Wii Remote (Photo credit: Kyota)
Next, I arranged the Wiimotes so they could pick up the input from the infrared pens as the pens touch the screen. I placed one Wiimote on top of the projector, and another on top of of a very tall cabinet. It worked! Finally, I ran the calibration that the Smoothboard software uses to make sure your infrared pens are accurate. Done.

Off and Running
My only problem is that my projector screen is too high for students to reach, and the screen moves a little bit. I've asked the technology department to direct my projector display to my whiteboard instead.  That will solve both the stability and location issues. If they won't, I'll have to figure out how to secure my screen.  

My kids LOVE it! They are so excited to have an interactive whiteboard. It engages their interest and gives them a new tool for learning. We were even able to play Math Lines on Primary Games today!

The Difference
The difference between this solution and a Smartboard is that you have to use the infrared pens to interact. A Smartboard allows you to use just your finger OR a pen. The pen is also not as accurate as on a Smartboard from what I've seen so far. That may change once I'm projecting straight onto my whiteboard.

This is a VERY affordable alternative to spending thousands of dollars on a Smartboard. If I can do can you. If not, maybe Keaton can come to your class too!

Again, the website is
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Our Brain Awareness Week Activities

Participating in Brain Awareness Week is important because kids who understand their brain are more likely to take care of it and GROW it. I learned in BrainSMART that our brains are exciting and changeable...the more we know, the more we can learn!

Our Brain Awareness Week
My class enjoyed Brain Awareness Week! I downloaded the free Mindboggling Workbook from The Dana Foundation as the springboard for our daily activities. The first day I read How Does Your Brain Work? (Rookie Read-About Health) to go along with the introduction in the workbook.

To highlight and give lessons a hands-on feel, I shared this wonderful brain
I found on Amazon: Learning Resources Cross Section Human Brain Model It feels a bit like a nerf football! (The picture is a bit misleading because the outside of the brain is grey instead of the yellow pictured.
The next day students learned about the two brain hemispheres and how they are different. One resource we used on this day (and for the rest of the week) was an engaging book called Young Genius: Brains. I highly recommend this! I read a few pages each day that went along with what we were doing in the Mindboggling Workbook.

Our Senses
We read about Helen Keller. The kids were amazed by her accomplishments! They learned how the brain can sharpen other senses (like sound) when another sense is damaged (like sight). We went outside, closed our eyes, and focused on just listening.
Students Listening

Students also listened to how the sound of their voice changed the closer they got to a wall. This was to understand how a blind person can use sound to know where things are around them.

We tasted jelly beans without our sense of sight and smell, and then again WITH our senses of sight and smell. That was a yummy experiment!

Brain Hats!
The Brain Trust wearing their hats
Students created brain hats. I found this activity on Ellen McHenry's website.  These hats are fantastic because they show the two hemispheres and four lobes of the brain, as well as the different functions that take place in each area.

You can download your own patterns on Ellen's website! Thankfully I tried making one myself first, because I quickly realized I would need some helpers. My helpers consisted of a group of students who had decided to stay in the classroom to play during recess one day. They made their own brain hats in a small group with me, which left them available to help other students during the whole-class activity. They quickly became known as the "Brain Trust".

A student coloring his brain hat pattern
I was very thankful for my helpers. The students LOVED LOVED LOVED these hats!

The Plasticity of the Brain
Students learned that the brain can be trained. It is changeable. Everyone can learn, and we can all become better at whatever we want. New learning creates new pathways in the brain, and practice reinforces those pathways. It's a fact! We can make ourselves smarter! This can be a life changing revelation for students who don't think they are smart.

Confusing the Brain
Coloring in the Mindboggling Workbook
The Mindboggling Workbook had some fun optical illusions that fascinated the kids. They were surprised to learn that the brain can be fooled!

Brain Health
Throughout the week we talked about taking care of our body brain system. The kids learned that what we put in our body, and how we treat our body, also impacts our's all connected. We talked about the importance of healthy eating and exercise, wearing safety helmets, learning, and minimizing our television and video game input. Students were surprised to learn that too much time in front of video games and television can shorten their attentions span! I challenged them to budget their electronic time wisely.
Big brains ready for Open House!

Final Activity
Over Spring Break, students are creating egg helmets! This is to demonstrate the importance of wearing a helmet for protection. When we come back from our vacation, we will have an egg-drop to see how many eggs survive the 10 to 15 foot drop. We will be imagining our brains as the eggs!
At Last
The school was fabulous about letting students share a brain fact every morning on announcements. On the third day, a student from another grade level came in to share a brain fact of her own! It was exciting to see that other grade levels were becoming aware of their brains as well.
Here is a thinking stem one of my second graders wrote that highlights some of the things he learned (the items he lists 1-10 are from the BrainSMART 10-peg memory system for brain facts):

We are learning about brains. I learned about all of the senses in your brain. The right side of your brain is the creative side and the left is your logical side. The right side of your brain controls the left side of your body. The left side controls the right side of your body. I wonder how big your brain can get. Your brain begins with over 100 billion neurons. It has two hemispheres, weighs 3 pounds, has 4 lobes, there are five senses to help your brain, six eye positions, seven chunks of thought, an eight minute attention span, nine intelligences, and a 10 million book capacity. I am glad I have a brain. Brains are cool.                ~Daniel

I think that sums it all up rather nicely, don't you?!

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