Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Place-Based Learning at MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has set up a new place-based learning system for their exhibits. Anyone with an iPhone or iPod Touch can access audio programs for selected art works and various places around the museum. There's even a section for kids! Visitors to the museum use the free wireless Internet to access the site and the audio. I was able to connect to the site using my wireless at home and pretend I was touring the museum. Although I'm sure the experience would be richer if I were standing in front of the actual exhibit as I listened, I found the audio clips - especially the ones recorded for kids - to be interesting and engaging even without the visuals.
If you want to check it out for yourself, visit Since the site was designed for iPhones it may look a little weird but you'll get the idea.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Can't Buy Me Love

Today’s Limerick Challenge
(Inspired by NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”)

Our kids’ spending habits aren’t funny,
And their financial future ain’t sunny.
If they spend more than they get,
They’ll be buried in debt.
We must teach them to manage their _______.
Record numbers of home foreclosures. Over $4.00 for a gallon of gas. Food prices skyrocketing. Listen to the news and you wonder how much worse it’ll get before it starts to get better. When your money doesn’t go as far as it used to, you really need to learn to use it wisely. Think about the decisions you make when you spend money. Not just for big ticket items like a car and a house, either. Stop and think how much you spend every month at Starbucks too. Now stop and think what kind of example we are setting for our kids.

One of the problems we have when it comes to spending is that technology has made it so much easier to separate us from our cash. In fact, cash seems to be less and less visible in favor of electronic and plastic currency. Why fumble with cash when you can just swipe a card? You’ve seen those Visa Check Card commercials where everything comes to a stop when some poor unenlightened soul tries to pay with cash? But do we really pay as much attention to our spending habits when our real money is reduced to plastic cards and numbers on a computer screen? According to author Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational), this degree of separation from actual money can actually have an effect on our behavior - and our honesty. Listen to his comments on the recent Bear Stearns debacle.

At school we use manipulatives and computer software to teach kids how to recognize and count coins and bills, and how to make change. But I wonder if we are preparing them deal with a real world of debit/credit cards, online banking, and one-click shopping. Do they truly understand that those numbers on the screen are a real and just as important as cash in their pocket? How do we get them to think about good money management and sound financial decision making.

One great media resource I like to use is BizKid$. This PBS series, made by the same team that produced Bill Nye-The Science Guy, is packed full of great lessons and positive examples of kids who understand proper money management. It’s fast paced and funny - I particularly like the Star Trek parodies - but it also teaches some simple and not-so-simple money management concepts in a way that connects with kids. The series is aimed at grades 4-7 and covers a variety of topics from “What is Money?” (Episode 2) to the “Global Economy” (Episode 20).

Their web site has video clips and a synopsis of each episode. Complete a free registration process and you’ll have access to teacher guides and classroom lessons developed by Junior Achievement. Check with your local PBS station to see about recording rights for your classroom.

Other sites/resources for money education:
  • Hands On Banking - an interactive web site sponsored by Wells Fargo.
  • Elementary Video Adventures: Money: Kids & Cash - Available to those of you with Discovery Streaming. (Log in and search for “Kids and Cash”.) It is a collection of 23 video segments for kids in grades 3-5.
If you have any great tools that you use for money education please leave a comment and link. Thanks.

Oh, and if the Dan Ariely clip caught your attention, check out his web site and his book, Predictably Irrational. I was fascinated by his thoughts on how we make decisions and the tricks our mind plays on us. Some of this will definitely come in handy dealing with kids in the classroom.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Adventures in Google Apps

Over the past several weeks we've been exploring Google Apps for Education here at St. John's. I really like the way Google Docs allows for collaborating on projects, but the biggest hurdle that prevented us from using it in our middle school was a registration process that requires users to sign-up with an e-mail address. We can't require our students to have internet e-mail accounts. This is why we decided to try Google Apps for Education.

The process began with signing up our school, registering our domain, and setting up our site. Our reward came this week we when we actually started using it with 6th Grade.

Signing Up/Registering Our Domain
Signing up for Google Apps for Education begins at their site. This is where the process got a little confusing for me. Thankfully our school network administrator was there to help me through the process. The first thing they ask for is your domain name. We had a couple of domain names registered to our school that we were not using so we chose one of those.
Next we had to prove to Google that we actually owned our domain. This involved either uploading a unique HTML file they supplied to our site, or by changing something called the CNAME to redirect our site to Google. Since the name we selected to use was registered to us but not an active web site, we could not upload anything to it, so we had to change the CNAME. If this part sounds confusing to you, rest assured it was confusing to me too. Thankfully our network guy knew what to do. He had to go to the site where we registered our domain and make these changes.

It took almost a week for Google to verify that we had ownership of the domain, but once it was done we could go to our site and a custom Google start page (think - iGoogle) would appear. The page included links to Google Docs, GMail, GoogleTalk, Google Calendar, and any other modules I chose to add.

NOTE: Going to would take you to your custom start page. You can go straight to Google Docs by typing

Set-Up & Adding Users
The default settings in Google Apps for Education automatically creates GMail accounts for each of your users (Think: Since we did not want our students to have GMail accounts, we chose to disable the GMail feature, along with GoogleTalk (Chat is blocked by our firewall anyway) and Calendar (our school site already has a calendar). This basically left Google Docs.

To get our students into the system I was able to export their usernames from our learning system into an Excel CSV file, tweak the spreadsheet a little so it looks like the one below, and upload them to our Google site. For student passwords I just assigned them a generic password and checked a box that requires them to change it the first time they login.

Our First Project
Our 6th grade history teacher wanted his students to collaborate on their class notes for his lesson on the Age of Pericles. He created a Google Presentation with a single question on each slide. We decided it would be easier for a first project to have students each working on their own slide as opposed to editing over each other on the same text document. That presentation was copied multiple times - one for each group of 4 or 5 students. Students were were then invited to collaborate on their copy of the presentation.

For the introductory lesson we just showed students how to login and access the presentation. Even though their usernames had already been imported to our Google system, for their first login they still had to do two levels of "type the squiggly word" and click on the "agree to terms" button to verify their account. We showed them the Common Craft Google Docs video to give the kids an idea how Google Docs work. Then we showed them how to open & edit their copy of the presentation. Student groups had to decide who was going to work on which slide. Their assignment was to go home and work on their questions so their answers could be shared in class the next day.

What was the first thing they all started doing? Changing the themes and watching the screen change on each of the PC's in their group. I've to to admit, that is kind of empowering - and fun. The next day, out of three class periods, all but 2 or 3 students had completed their assignment.

NOTE: The ones that didn't finish had copied the web site incorrectly in their assignment book.