Thursday, December 24, 2009

See the Front Page of Newspapers from Around the World

Here's a quick one that student's will find fun and interesting:

View the front page of newspapers from all around the country and all around the world at Newseum an interactive museum in Washington DC that chronicles five centuries of news with hands-on exhibits and multimedia displays. The museum emphasizes the role of media in reporting and in creating the news.

Parents may want to look at free lesson plans under the education tab. On the left side menu, click on Resources for Teachers and then Lesson Plans.

Older students may enjoy exploring this website on their own.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Web 2.0 Applications for the Musically Inclined

Recently, a reader commented that her daughter is very interested in music and technology. There are a number of online applications for music creation that students will enjoy. Piano and music teachers will find these programs innovative and useful, too!

NoteFlight is an online music notation system which enables users to compose, create, view, and hear music notation, collaborate with others, and share their music. The application is free for individual users and does not require you to download anything. Music teachers may be interested in Noteflight Learning Edition which works with the Haiku Learning Management System. With this fully web-based system, music teachers can post assignments, assess student work, lead class discussions, engage in online music composition and more. Noteflight Learning Edition does have a fee schedule based on number of classes and students, but does not require any downloads. I am definitely not a musician (as you will be able to tell from this demo I made):

Thounds is an online music platform and social network where you can record your original music just by using a microphone or plugging your instrument into your computer. Once you post your sample, other users from all around the world can add to or contribute to your basic recording. The idea is to share musical ideas and inspiration and to collaborate with others to create original music. Again, it's free and there's no downloading! Watch this demo from the Thounds web site.

Kisstunes enables users to create and record tunes online using their qwerty keyboard. Easy-Peasy! You can store your work online and share with family and friends. Again, it's free, free, free, and no downloads!

JamStudio The Online Music Studio allows you to create and mix your own music, add instrumentation,and experiment with different styles and sounds. Accounts are free; however, with an inexpensive 6 month all access pass*, you own the rights to the songs you create and can have MP3 mixes mailed to you for unlimited use. Educational grants are available for classroom use. I have emailed JamStudio about grants for homebschoolers, and will post an update when I receive a reply.

* Always, always, always read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, and Policies and Procedures for Copyright violation (all may be included in one statement or they may be in separate statements). Some of these sites retain the right to use your creation on their web site or in their network of services. Before you share or allow others to edit, add to, or change your music, make sure you understand your rights to the content you create and how it may be used by others.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Here is another exciting use of Web 2.o technology for educational purposes. After researching the Baroque Period, my daughter created this Animoto to demonstrate her new knowledge.

Animoto enables users to create short videos or trailers from images or video clips uploaded from their own cameras or from web sites. Then, they can add text and musical accompaniment, either from their own collections or from Animoto's collection, and Animoto creates a professional, animated mix.The process is incredibly quick and easy, and very easy to learn. My daughter grumbled and complained when I first gave her this assignment, thinking it would be really difficult, but her resentment quickly turned to excitement when she realized how easy Animoto is. In order to create a full-length video like this, you have to buy an account ($30 for one year of unlimited videos); however, you can make short, 30 second videos for free!

I have posted the instructions for the Baroque Art Animoto Assignment to my wiki: whitneyswikiways, along with the grading rubric, the written portion of the assignment, and my daughter's references. The written portion is my daughter's analysis and reflection. In the first part, she had to answer specific questions about the Baroque period. Just telling her to find images of Baroque art and architecture would be pointless. She would do a Google search for images and never bother to learn anything. Requiring her to write an analysis forced her to do some research, take some notes, and actually learn something. The reflection gave her an opportunity to think about what she had learned, the research process, and her use of technology.

Requiring a reference page is incredibly important: We need to teach our children respect for for others' intellectual property. We should not allow them to write a report or use images without providing information about their sources. Whenever a student uses a quote, someone else's ideas, or someone's artistic work, they need to provide a citation. I am teaching my daughter APA style. MLA is also an option. Even young children can provide basic information like the author's name and the title of the work.

I encourage you to experiment with Animoto and the other Web 2.0 applications I've highlighted in my blog.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hanukkah Books

Visit my wiki for reviews of my favorite Hanukkah books. Every year, we read a Hanukkah book on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. I always try to find new ones to add to our collection; however, some, like Eric Kimmel's Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, we greet like old friends when they come to celebrate the holiday with us. Our latka recipe comes straight out of Granma's Latkes, and one year, The Ugly Menorah inspired my children to make their own hanukkiahs.

For each book on my list, I have provided a link to the author's or illustrator's web site (when available), publisher information, and an age or grade recommendation. Remember to check back, because I will update the list as I find new favorites.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More Skills Students Need to Succeed

In my last post, I talked about the importance of giving our home schooled children tests. Being successful on tests requires the development of important skills which will serve our children well in college and beyond.

What are some other skills they need?

This question can be explored from two perspectives: 1) what skills will they need in college, and 2) what skills will they need to succeed in the work place? These questions are deceptively simple. The first focuses on academic skills such as being able to listen to a lecture, take notes, read a textbook or other written material, and engage in self-directed study. The second draws attention to important vocational skills like punctuality, following directions, and getting along with co-workers. When we consider the work environment of the 21st century and the explosion of information, the questions become more complex.

The amount of information in the world is growing at an exponential rate. According to How Much Information? 2003, a study by two scientists at Berkeley, new stored information grew by 30% between 1999 and 2002 and 92% of new information is stored magnetically (primarily on hard discs). This study is now 6 years old, and you know information continues to expand. According to information management industry experts, the amount of information produced annually between 2006 and 2010 was expected to increase more than six times, and the amount of digital information doubles every 18 months.

Our children are growing up in a world in which information is proliferating and more and more communication is digital (through computers, cell phones, laptops, palm pilots, etc). In this world, the goal of education can no longer be knowledge mastery-- there is just too much information, and that information constantly is changing. Consequently, our goal should be to teach our children how to learn rather than what to know.

Our children need to learn:
  • how to ask questions
  • how to find high-quality, relevant information, in both print and digital formats
  • how to evaluate and interpret information
  • how to analyze and synthesize information to produce new understanding (or knowledge)
  • how to use technology to find information and to create information products
  • how to collaborate both in-person and on the Web
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identify 3 sets of skills students need: Life and Career Skills

1. Learning and Innovation Skills
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication and Collaboration
2. Information, Media and Technology Skills
  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Information, Communications, and Technology Literacy
3. Life and Career Skills
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility
The International Society for Technology in Education identifies six separate skill sets necessary to succeed in the 21st century including: Creativity and Innovation; Communication and Collaboration; Research and Information Fluency; Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making; Digital Citizenship; and Technology Operations and Concepts.

So what should we be teaching our children? Skills! Of course children do need to learn content. They need a base of knowledge against which to evaluate new information and learning, but more importantly, they need to learn how to learn! Our job as home schooling parents is not just to teach them history, science and math. Our job is to use these core subject areas as jumping off points for directed inquiry, guiding our children through the process of raising a question, finding relevant information, evaluating the quality of that information, and analyzing and synthesizing that information to create new knowledge. By preparing our children for the 21st century, we will be creating independent thinkers and problem solvers who are ready to participate in our democracy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Test taking and home schooling

More than a month has gone by since I last posted. Sometimes, life gets busy, especially when you're home schooling, attending school yourself, caring for a friend's child, and making sure everyone gets to their activities and sports. Somehow, pursuing my extracurricular activities always comes last (and every once in a while, I need to get some sleep). I'm sure home schooling parents everywhere know what I'm talking about. The first home schooling conference I attended offered multiple workshops on time management. I should have known then that life was about to change!

Something that has been on my mind lately is the role of testing in the home schooling curriculum. So many parents have told me that they do not test their children. Many of them have good reasons (or perhaps they have good rationalizations). Some use the Socratic method and believe conversation provides them with an adequate measure of student learning. Others are unschooling. Still others say that their child does not respond well to testing for a variety of reasons: learning problems or disabilities, the stress of testing, tests' inability to measure actual learning, or memory problems. Some of these reasons may be valid, and home schooled students who are not given tests may learn just as well as home schooled students who are. Nevertheless, I can't help wondering if we are doing our children a disservice by not testing.

When developing my child's curriculum, I always think about our educational goals for her. Most simply, we want her to attend the college of her choice and to have a career that is financially, intellectually, and socially rewarding. (Of course, we have other goals for her as well, which I may share in a future post about life-long learning. Keep an eye out for it.)

Given these goals, what are the skills she needs in order to attain them? More specifically, what are the academic skills? Like it or not, she has to know how to take tests (among other things). In order to get into college, she will have to take the PSAT, SAT, and possibly the ACT. Once in college, she will have to take mid-term exams and final exams. If she opts for graduate schools, she may have comprehensive exams and orals.

Taking tests requires skills. Why do you think public schools are so busy teaching children how to fill in the little circles? Multiple choice tests require students a) be able to read, b) evaluate possible answers based on their knowledge and memory, and c) rule out unlikely answers, and d) choose the best answer. Fill-in the blank tests require recall. Short answer tests require knowledge and application. Essay tests often require the analysis and synthesis of information in order to produce a logical, well-organized response. Preparation for midterm and final exams require the student to master large amounts of information, have it available for recall, and be able to produce it when needed.

If I never test my child, how is she to develop these skills? How will she learn the necessary study skills? By giving her tests (and this year, I introduced mid-term exams), I am helping her to acquire organizational and study skills. She is learning to take notes as she reads materials; to create outlines; to review material and quiz herself; to use flashcards, charts and other graphic organizers; to develop hypothetical questions and answer them. She is learning to keep an organized notebook in which she can quickly and easily locate important information. By sometimes setting a time limit on a test, I am teaching her how to pace herself, to prioritize, and to use her time well. In response to short answer questions, she must identify the most relevant information and produce it. When responding to essay questions, she must synthesize her new knowledge to produce a coherent, well-organized argument supported by examples. She must learn how to "think on her feet".

Most importantly, she is learning self-discipline because studying for tests requires a great deal of self-discipline. Sure, she would rather be playing a computer game or reading a book in her spare time, but she is learning to postpone that short-term gratification in order to achieve her goals.

Home schooling provides parents the opportunity to do things differently from the traditional public school. We can tailor the curriculum and teaching methods to meet the needs of our individual children, but we must also provide them with the skills they will need to succeed outside of our homes. If your child is college-bound, test-taking is an important set of skills.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blogs, The FTC, and Disclosure

Controversy has been swirling since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its revised "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" which applies regulations regarding endorsements and testimonials to online publications including blogs and social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter. The FTC maintains that people writing online should disclose any material relation with the sellers of a product or service. For instance, someone posting a book review should reveal whether they received the book, other goods, or compensation from that book's publisher. The goal is to apply truth in advertising to bloggers and other online publishers.

An opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal (October 19, 2009) "Bloggers Mugged by Regulators"by Information Age columnist L. Gordon Crovitz raises serious questions about the effect of these guidelines on the First Amendment Right to Free Speech. Should people writing on the Internet have less freedom than those writing in other media? The Wall Street Journal daily publishes a book review; the authors of these reviews do not reveal their relationship to the publisher or author of the book or whether they received a copy of the book for free. Should writers on the web be required to make a disclosure?

On the other hand, bloggers who receive payment for product endorsements are advertising, and shouldn't they come under the same regulations as other advertisers? See Is that blogger review really a paid ad? The FTC wants to know on for a discussion on this topic.

A full analyis of the FTC Guides and their implication for bloggers can be found at Andy Sernovitz blog. Sernovitz, the author of Word of Mouth Marketing, is an expert on interactive marketing.

For the record, I do not receive compensation, payment, or free samples from the publishers or manufacturers of any of the products I discuss in my blog. All book reviews and demonstrations of Web 2.0 applications are based solely on my experience with these products, and are in no way, shape, or form paid advertising.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Philadelphia Photo Story and Copyright Law

At last, my daughter's Photo Story about visiting The Brandywine Battlefield, Valley Forge and historic Philadelphia!

Song credit: Fennell, F. & The Eastern Wind Ensemble. "Yankee Doodle - Field Music of the US Army ". God Bless America--The Ultimate Patriotic Album. 2002. MP3

This Photo Story took a little longer because I had to learn how to a) download a song from iTunes, b) burn that song to a disc, and c) rip it from my disc to save to my computer. Why? Because even though I purchased the song, iTunes uses Digital Rights Management technology to impose limits on the use of digital content. This prevents the user from playing an iTune on a non-Apple player. It also prevents the user from copying the song directly to Windows Media Player. Fortunately, there is a way to do it. Then, its an easy matter to upload the music from the computer to Photo Story 3.

Copyright Law and Fair Use
Is all of this legal? Ethical? Well, the whole point of copyright protection is to protect the intellectual and creative property rights of an author, composer, artist, or creator. According to, copyright is "the legal right granted to an author, a composer, a playwright, a publisher, or a distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work". So, technically, even though I purchased this piece of music and provided attribution (a citation), I may be violating copyright law by distributing it on the Internet as a part of my daughter's Photo Story.

But what if I'm using the copyrighted material for education purposes? This is where things get a little tricky. Many educators believe that they can use copyrighted materials under the Fair Use doctrine as long as that use is restricted to instruction. This is not quite true. There are four factors one must consider when determining Fair Use:

1. the purpose or character of the use (i.e., is it for non-profit educational use?),
2. the nature of the copyrighted work (i.e., was it published, out of print, or factual?),
3. how much of the original work was used, and
4. the potential impact on the market for the original work.

In this case, the answers are:

1. the purpose of the use is educational (both for my daughter learning how to use the technology and in this blog which is written for educational purposes),
2. the nature of the work is a creative, published work; however, the song "Yankee Doodle" could be argued to be in the public domain,
3. The entire work was used (twice; typically, the 10% rule should be followed: only 10% or less of the cited work should be used), and
4. the potential impact on the market for the song is negligible.

Based on this analysis, the use of "Yankee Doodle" in this case would most likely be considered legal, but you never know.

Home schoolers using music or other creative works for the purpose of educating their own children probably do not need to worry about copyright law; however, Education World has a wonderful series of articles explaining copyright law and Fair Use.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Our trip to Philadelphia

Recently, we went on an extended field trip to Philadelphia. My husband had a conference to attend, and the kids and I tagged along to go sightseeing. It was the perfect opportunity to see Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Betsy Ross house. We have not reached this period in history yet, but we had the opportunity and took advantage of it.

On the first day of our trip, we drove out to Kennett Square in the historic Brandywine Valley, about 45 outside of Philly. Kennett is the home of Longwood Gardens. Pierre duPont, of the duPont chemical company, purchased the land in 1906 from Quaker farmers to preserve an arboretum. He added classical gardens, water fountains, a conservatory, an outdoor theater meadows, and ponds to create the foremost horticultural showplace and educational center in the United States.

When I first told my children we would be visiting Longwood Gardens, they rolled their eyes and groaned, but boy, were they in for a surprise! With its tree houses, fountain show, indoor childrens' garden, model train garden, giant lily pads, banana trees, topiary garden, and carillon tower, Longwood Gardens won them over. We visited for over four hours, and left only because my children could walk no farther. Below is a photo story, created by my daughter, of our day in the gardens. Unfortunately, the batteries in her camera died, and she was unable to get pictures of the tree houses which were spectacular.

Photo Story 3 is a free microsoft product which you can download to your computer. Upload and alter your photos, add text, narration, and sound, and ta da!!! You have a video. Its very easy to use and a great way to record a field trip, the steps in a science project, or tell a story.

My daughter is currently working on a photo story of Valley Forge and Philadelphia. When it is complete, I will upload it so you all can see the wonderful places we visited in Philadephia.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Report on Captain John Smith

My daughter just completed a biography of Captain John Smith on Glogster! Be sure to click on the blue play button to listen to her narrative.

To view a copy of the assignment, including the grading rubric, visit whitneyswikiways. is a Web 2.0 application that enables you and your students to create posters that include images, graphics, text, sound recordings, and videos (either your own or something uploaded from schooltube). Students can create posters to illustrate their stories, poetry, book reports, biographies, geographical studies... the possibilities are limited by only their imaginations.

The service is free, and you can enroll up to 200 students in one classroom. As the teacher, you control the account and privacy settings, determine what gets published, flag anything that's inappropriate, moderate comments, etc. Here is a tutorial that will help you get started.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Internet Safety

Having posted about some online tools (Voicethread, Voki) and discussed the important role of technology in education, I thought it was about time to discuss Internet Safety for children. In some ways, the Internet is the like the wild, wild west--there's a lot going on out there, few rules, and the U.S. Marshall is no where in sight!

Several online protection tools are available. Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide parent control options. Your anti-virus and spyware software may also enable you to set some limits on what can be accessed and sent on your computer. Inexpensive filtering software is available. These filters can block sites, prevent personal information from being sent, and monitor and track online activity. Warning: None of these methods are perfect!!! Some inappropriate content may still get through, and many valuable, educational sites may be inadvertantly blocked. If you think you want to go this route, take a look at TopTenReviews for more information.

I'm sure you have seen these before, but they are all worth repeating:
  • Become computer literate: the more you know, the better position you will be in to guide your children's online experience and monitor their online behavior.
  • Keep the computer in a common room (we keep ours in the kitchen, the place I'm most likely to be).
  • Set-up your child's e-mailbox through your account, so you can monitor email if necessary.
  • Spend time online with your children teaching them appropriate behavior.
  • Bookmark the children's favorite websites or your approved websites so your children don't have to search the web. For a list of great websites for kids, see below!
  • Set rules and enforce them (Ours are: No more than 30 minutes computer time/day; Permission must be obtained before going online).
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or threatened.
  • Report any obscene, threatening, or pornographic content to your ISP, the police, and the FBI.
Teach Your Children
  • Never provide personal information online. OK, this seems obvious to us, but believe me, its not to children. Teach them that personal information includes: the name of the school, the neighborhood, town and state in which they live, the names of their teams and other activities (e.g, " I go to Westside Ballet"), the names of family members, the names of friends, where they go to summer camp....
  • Personal information includes pictures of themselves and their friends! Many children, especially teenagers do not realize this!
  • Create an online identity and use it in chatrooms and social networking sites. For instance, I might call myself "booklover" instead of my real name.
  • Never agree to meet in person someone you meet in a chat room or a social networking site. Aslo, if they give you a phone number, don't call!
  • Never respond to a threatening, scary, inappropriate, or pornagraphic message or email.
  • Always talk to your parent about anything online that frightens them or makes them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.
Especially for Teens
  • Do not share anything online that you do not want everyone to know or which you might regret. Once something is on the Internet, you no longer have any control of it or how it is used or to whom it sent. You can't take it back.
  • Remember: college admissions committees and employers are now doing online searches on applicants, which includes looking at Facebook and MySpace accounts!
Warning Signs
If you notice any of the following changes in behavior, check it out. Your child may be having online difficulty.
  • Reluctance to talk about online activities.
  • Your child turns off the computer or closes a window whenever you enter the room or walk behind them. Find out why.
  • Your child withdraws from the family or becomes uncommunicative.
  • Your child spends long hours online, especially at night.
  • Your child starts receiving phone calls from people you don't know.
For more information about onlnine safety, go to ConnectSafely.

Social Networking
Social networking is a big part of being a teenager. If your child expresses and interest, check out,
a site created by a mother of five children. The site goes to extraordinary lengths to protect children. Also see yoursphere for parents for more information about internet and social networking safety.

Terrific Websites for Kids

KNOWITALL.ORG- ETV’s site provides links to many interactive websites for children K-12, as well as sites for teachers and parents.
Awesome Library - kids can find information and activities by grade level or subject. Includes down-loadable worksheets and lessons. Teachers and parents can find lesson plans as well.

International Children's Digital Library - the world's biggest online multicultural repository of children's literature.
ALA's Great Websites for Kids - provides websites chosen by librarians specifically for children. Can be searched by topic; however, a reference desk is also provided.
FirstGov for Kids - Provides links to government websites (e.g., Smithsonian, Library of Congress) by topic and grade level.
KidsClick - Owned by the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State, this site is a huge database of websites selected by librarians.
Federal Resources for Education Excellence provides more than 1,500 free learning tools and websites for kids and teachers from federal agencies.

Factmonster - a product of Pearson Education, this site provides access to a dictionary, encyclopedia, and almanac, as well as facts about any topic imaginable.

ask for kids - Similar to the site for adults, kids can search on a subject in which they are interested and find information.

yahoo for kids - Similar to for adults, kids can search information here.

Primary search - Contains more than 70 popular full text magazines for kids. Also has a children's encyclopedia and a dictionary.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Squire's Tales

Those of you studying the medieval period may enjoy reading The Squire's Tales Series by Gerald Morris, eight books based on the Arthurian legends. I stumbled on to this series by accident last year when my daughter was struggling with Tolkien's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (recommended by Wise Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind). Tolkien's version is in verse, includes some old English, and is very difficult reading. Morris's retelling, The Squire's Tale, stays true to the original tale, but is so much more fun! Morris creates Terrence, Gawain's squire (and Nimue's nephew), from whose perspective the story is told. Terrence has his own adventures and, like all Arthurian heroes, must go a on a quest, but Gawain's story remains the center of focus. My daughter loved it!

I read the entire series to my children who begged for storytime every night (which made it very easy to get their night-time chores done). I can't tell you how many quests my children went on as we read this book, and my son created endless games involving the characters(King Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot, Sir Dinadan, Sir Galahad) and mythical beings (the Lady of the Lake, Puck). All of the books are based on an ancient tale: Queste del Saint Graal (Quest for the Holy Grail), Tristam and Iseult, Le Morte de Arthur, etc. At the end of each book, Morris includes a note about the story's provenance and some information about the medieval writers, the time period, or the genre. The American Library Association has included several of the books in their Best Books for Young Adults.

The series includes:

The Squire's Tale
The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady
The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf
(my favorite)
Parsifal's Page
The Ballad of Sir Dinadan
The Princess, The Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight
(my daughter's favorite: Lancelot is the star of the show)
The Lioness and her Knight
The Quest for the Fair Unknown
(starring Sir Galahad)
The Squire's Quest (due out in September)

More information about Morris and his books can be found at the Children's Literature Network

All images were retrieved August 27, 2009, from the Children' Literature Network at

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Okay, here is some information about Voicethread, one of the American Association of School Librarians' Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.

Voicethread is an online network which allows teachers and students to create multimedia slideshows using images, documents, video, and comments (voice, text, audio file, and video via webcam). You can even "doodle" on a slide to make a point or clarify a comment. Take a look at this voicethread I created as a demonstration for a unit on the solar system. It's a little hokey, but you'll get an idea about the potential of this online technology for creating lectures or lessons, collaborative projects, and student demonstrations of learning. Other examples of educational voicethreads can be found at their library.

Home schoolers will really enjoy the opportunities for collaboration. Because Voicethread is an online network, students around the world can work on a project together, each adding and editing content and comments. Here is a voicethread created by students in Utah (2nd grade), Colorado (9th grade) and Texas (5th and sixth grade) using art, creative writing, and music.

Most of the images in my voicethread were obtained from other websites, which was a little laborious, especially when I created the citations page where I provided the web address for each picture. Now, Voicethread has direct access to 700,000 images from the New York Public Library (NYPL), including primary source materials, maps, photos, drawings, and paintings. They also have access to the Flickr Creative Commons Search where you can find images which are not limited by copyright restrictions. Voicethread enables you to search and import images from NYPL and Flickr, and the links are automatically inserted to make citations and attributions.

Voicethread is a social network; however, you, the parent/teacher, control who has access to your account, and how and with whom your voicethreads are shared. You can moderate all comments, and even have the option to disallow comments.

Here's the best part: You can make unlimited voicethreads for free!!! Who believes it? For $10, you can create groups and have access to the controlled K-12 network. And Voicethread provides wonderful support with tutorials, a help manual, blog, and online help. They are very responsive to email requests for help.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Techonolgy and Learning

One of the things I'd like to do with this blog is to highlight some of the wonderful online utilities and applications that can be used for educational purposes. Our world is becoming increasingly technology and media-driven, and our computers play a more centralized role. I know that I do more online with each passing day: keep up with my friends and family through e-mails and social networking sites; manage our finances; pay my bills; attend classes at the University of South Carolina; research areas of interests; read and write papers; research consumer information prior to big purchases; shop; find recipes; play games; store and organize photos... the list goes on and on. And the fact is that our children are growing up in a world where technology is ubiquitous. We have cellphones, iphones, ipods, mp3 players, wii, and whole virtual worlds.

We often think that our children take to technology naturally. We ask them to program the TiVo or DVR (whereas we used to rely on them to figure out the VCR). They seem to know how to use all the functions on our cellphones way before we do. They search the Internet without fear and download games and applications. Despite this seeming expertise, they still need us to teach them Internet safety, the responsible use of information, and how to use Internet applications to create, collaborate, and communicate. More than likely, they will need this knowledge when they enter the work world, regardless of the field they enter. Doctors, bank presidents, politicians, plumbers, mechanics, seamstresses, chefs, whatever--they are all using ever-changing technology.

Educators around the world are recognizing the importance of incorporating technology into their lesson plans. Take a look at the National Education Standards promoted by the International Society for Technology in Education. The American Association of School Librarians (of which I am a proud member) has also published information literacy standards which address the use of technology in education.

Online technologies, also known as Web 2.0, provide numerous ways for home schoolers to learn, collaborate, create, and share. Web 2.0 applications include, but are not limited to, social networking sites, blogs, wikis, podcasts, video blogs, content creation applications, photo sharing, virtual worlds, and games. Using technology, homeschoolers can hold live, real-time classes online; video conference; collaborate on projects or assignments; deliver information in a variety of formats; create posters, mosaics, photo albums, stories, videos, etc; publish... the list goes on and on. And the best part it: KIDS LOVE THIS!!! Using online technologies engage kids in learning in ways that traditional methods never will. Ask a kid to write a report and you'll hear a lot of grumbling and complaining. Ask that same child to create a voicethread, wiki, or webquest on that same topic, and they can't wait to start.

Some of you may have noticed the Voicethread project included in the multicultural study of the year 1492. If you didn't look at it in the last post, take a look at it now . My daughter created this all by herself! I gave her the assignment, taught her how to use the technology, and just let her go! She loved this assignment, worked independently with enthusiasm and gusto, and was incredibly proud of the product. She didn't even mind doing all of the necessary reading and research. And boy, did she learn and remember the content. This is just one example of what home schoolers can do with the Internet and Web 2.0. Next time, some more information about Voicethread.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

6th Grade Curriculum for Real

Okay, this week I really will post the curriculum materials we used last year for sixth grade. In future blogs, I will comment on some of things we did, books we used, and the special projects my daughter completed, as well as explore other topics.

  1. Science: Exploring Creation with General Science, 2nd ed. by Dr. Jay L. Wile, Apologia
  2. Math: Saxon Home School 7/6
  3. Grammar: Voyages in English, Volume 6, Loyola Press Rex Barks: Diagramming Sentences Made Easy, Davenport
  4. Spelling: Spelling Workout Level G, Modern Curriculum Press
  5. Writing: Writing Strands Level 3, National Writing Institute
  6. Logic: Critical Thinking, Books 1 and 2, Harnadek, Critical Thinking Company
  7. Social Studies: The Story of the World, Vol 2, Wise Bauer, Peace Hill Press The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia
  8. Geography: The Geography Coloring Book, 3rd ed., Kappit, Prentice Hall
  9. Jewish History: The Atlas of Great Jewish Communities, Leiman, UAHC Press
  10. Hebrew: Rosetta Stone Homeschool ed.

Assigned Readings

Assigned reading roughly followed the topics we were studying in history (The Medieval Period)


The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliffe

The Shadow of Ghadames by Joelle Stoeltz

The Horn of Roland by Jay Williams

The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow by Allen French

Tales from India

The One Thousand and One Nights

Gods and Heroes from Viking Mythology

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Magna Charta by Jame Daugherty

A Door in the Wall by Maurgarite De Angeli

When Plague Strikes by James Giblin

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

Akbar Birbal

Shylock’s Daughter by Mirjam Pressler

Othello: A Novel by Julius Lester

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Button de Trevino

Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Merchant of Venice Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds

Merchant of Venice DVD

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Kate Brown

A Midsummer Night’s Dream DVD

Much Ado About Nothing by Williams Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing DVD

Multicultural Study of 1492

The World in 1492 by Jean Fritz, Katherine Paterson, and Pat McKissack

Encounter by Jane Yolen

The Other 1492: Jewish Settlement in the New World by Norman Finklestein

First Voyage to America: From the Log of the Santa Maria by Christopher Columbus

My daughter's Multicultural Voicethread: 1492

Evolution Unit

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (skimmed)

Evolution by Joanna Cole

Evolution by Andre Llamas Ruiz

Charles Darwin by Don Nardo

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

6th Grade Curriculum

Oh my gosh! Where did the time go? I intend to publish by-weekly, but already I'm having trouble meeting my goal. I overdid my time on the computer in June, and ended up with tendonitis in my wrist, elbow, and shoulder. As a result, I avoided computer use and reorganized my workspace for better ergonomics.

I thought I'd start out with the curriculum materials I used last year, when my daughter was in the 6th grade. It was our first year home schooling, so I stayed pretty close to Wise Bauer's suggestions in The Well-Trained Mind (TWTM).

One exception was science; I think TWTM is pretty weak when it comes to science. We used Apologia's
Exploring Creation with General Science by Dr. Jay Wile. For those secularists or non-Christians out there, I know this probably would not be your first choice, but the science is excellent. Furthermore, my daughter went from saying, "I hate science. I always do bad in science. I can't do science" to absolutely loving science and saying it is her favorite subject. The experiments are particularly good, and most can be done with materials you already have in your kitchen.

As for the Christian slant... We're Jewish and believe that God created the world, so I didn't really have a problem with Dr. Wile's occasional comments about "God's awesome creation". However, I did pre-read each chapter, and had my daughter skip sections which were more like proofs for Jesus, the Savior. These section occurred rarely and, if I'm remembering correctly, were limited to one early chapter. Dr. Wile is very honest about his Christian bias and strives to present both sides of important debates like evolution v. creationism. When we studied the chapters on this very important topic, I supplemented my daughter's readings with the following texts:

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (skimmed)
Evolution by Joanna Cole
Evolution by Andre Llamas Ruiz
Charles Darwin by Don Nardo

We also read Evolutionism and Creationism by Ben Sonder which provides a good history of this debate. This book is published by Franklin Watts. They also have an excellent biography series that I will discuss later in this blog.

Our unit on evolution was very intensive. My daughter emerged from it able to fully explain the opposing views, discuss the history of the debate and the goals of each side, and to state succinctly her opinion and back it up with facts. We also had some great dinner table conversations with the family.

I've gone off on a tangent... the full curriculum will have to be my next post.