Pumpkin Patrol - Technology October 19 2009

[caption id="attachment_2732" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Photo By Wade"]Photo By Wade[/caption]The idea of taking my kids to the computer lab used to make me break out into a cold sweat. Anything but that, I would think. The mice wouldn't work, or the keys on the keyboards would stick, or the server would go down, or...you get the idea.

However, there's no getting around it - technology moves fast, and as educators we have to at least keep a finger on the pulse of how it's changing and how we can use it with our students. Not that every single minute of every day has to be devoted in some way to tying in technology, but I think it's important to include it in the overall scheme of our units. Otherwise, the year will go by and you'll discover that your students haven't had enough time interacting with the technological tools available to them.

But, if using technology with your students is intimidating, I have a few  easy tips to get started, along with some fun activities to use with your Pumpkin explorations!

It's All in the Preparation

Few things are worse than a delayed lesson. Students start to fidget, talk and play. The rhythm of the lesson is messed up, virtually irretrievable. And it has a better chance of happening when you use technology than if you don't. I try to avoid this "dead air" at all costs.

A Run Through
Whatever lesson you're teaching using technology, run through it really quickly to make sure you don't get stuck. For example, while preparing this post, I discovered that BrainPop now requires a free trial sign-up, and they confirm by email...which took 30 minutes to arrive in my inbox! That's the kind of complication you don't need. Make sure the equipment, software and web materials are where you want them and set up how you need to use them.

Test It
Whatever equipment you plan on using that day, make sure that first, it's available and second, it's in working condition. If it's a projector you need, drag it down to your room and make sure it lights up in all the right ways. If it's a document camera, make sure you know how to use it, and that its placement in your classroom benefits your students. If you're using web addresses, make sure they link to the appropriate website (this is especially important when you're using only one web address for a lesson).

 Using Technology With Your Students

Whole Class Instruction
Some days, I just couldn't handle the idea of 25+ students, each at his or her own computer. At my school, we have a computer lab, and in the center of the room is a computer hooked up to a projector. If my patience level couldn't handle the possiblities of technological delays, I would use the projector to first demonstrate a skill or use a website to teach a whole group lesson.

Many schools have portable projectors and laptops. If you have this set-up, using technology in your classroom is easy in that you don't have to go anywhere!

Individual Computers
Use technology with a purpose, leaving kids no reason or time to get into trouble on the computer. Make sure you know where you want them to go, then type up the address on a sheet of chart paper, chalkboard or white board, depending upon your circumstances. It's good practice for them to have to type in the web address. If you can, provide a set of headphones for each computer for students to use, allowing them to turn up the volume without distracting others.

I also usually provide some kind of worksheet, quiz or other activity that students must complete along with whatever they're using on the computer. This helps keep everyone focused and on-task during your computer time.

Pumpkin Places

"Fresh from the World" is a program by the University of Illinois extension that explores different aspects of food in our lives. There are a series of slideshow videos that can be used with your students - this one is "Pumpkins...The Scary Squash!"

Whether you choose to view this as a whole group or individually, the program makes it easy to follow. There are "Back" and "Next" buttons, which are helpful to review information. For the sake of comprehension, I'd have students view this once just to get familiar with it, a second time to make a note of vocabulary (especially words they don't know), and then a third time to answer the questions.

What questions, you ask? These questions! I made up a Pumpkins...The Scary Squash! worksheet for you to use with your kids!  

Brainpop also has a video, only this one focuses on Halloween. Brainpop videos are short and fast! They are also a lot of fun. In order to view it, you have to sign up for a free trial. When you sign up, confirmation is sent to your email address, which can take awhile. It might be the most beneficial to view this one as a whole group, each person gleaning and then sharing one fact they learned from the video.

Want to carve a pumpkin, but with no mess? Here is a way your students can do just that!

And finally, here's a great way for your students to write a scary story while practicing parts of speech. Go to Spooky Night ad-lib  or this page where students fill in the blanks with the correct parts of speech and make some silly - er, scary - stories! Print them off and put togther a Class Book of these, illustrated by your students!

Using technology can be fun, despite the headaches. Hopefully these activities not only round out (pun intended) your pumpkin unit, but help you have some fun with your kids as well!