Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

Archive for November, 2011

Math Chimp

There are a lot great educational websites out there for math. Then there are “educational” websites that throw a few math problems in there but at the end of the day are just unimaginative flash games designed to get children to click on banner ads. Creating a good list of educational websites is time consuming because so much of it involves first finding good sites that are relevant to your math content then organizing them. Every teacher who makes technology a priority keeps a list of links to their favorite websites for their students, because Google can’t tell the difference between good math sites and exploitative sites that just happen to have some math.

Richard Byrne’s fantastic blog, www.freetech4teachers.com, pointed me to a great little site with a fun name: MathChimp.com. MathChimp is a collection of math games from various sites, categorized and reviewed by other users. While it does have a few banner ads here and there, they are not the variety designed to separate parents from their credit cards or collect information. All of the games are broken drown by grade and by subject.

If you have a great site that you know of that helps teach math, please feel free to post it in a comment!

Things I Am Thankful For

In the spirit of the season I have been reflecting on the good fortune that I have had in the last year.  And since I tend to think in lists, here are a few things I am thankful for:

  1. I am thankful for professional colleagues who are supportive of my ideas no matter how crazy they seem at first. I feel failure is just succeeding in finding things that don’t work, and they are patient with me as I wade through the mess of technology that is out there and attempt to bring them the best of what I try.
  2. I am thankful for a district that feels that technology is important. I know this because every year new teachers receive SMARTboards, laptops or tablets. They feel compelled to try new things because they know that I will help them with the transition. Their faith in my ability to help them is both terrifying to me and incredibly precious to me.
  3. I am thankful that I have a crew of students who come to school each day wanting to learn more. They come to class with an innate sense of wonder about the world around them and they feel my classroom is a both a great place to learn and a place where they can safely learn from failure.
  4. I am thankful for a supportive community. It takes quite a town to look at a classroom full of half-dismantled computers, telescopes, shovels, comic books, rockets, and a growing collection of ukuleles as a nurturing environment for their children. This town doesn’t judge a book by its cover or a teacher by the state of his room. They understand that classroom may be messy, but so is learning.
  5. I am thankful for the ability to work with a great publication like Weekly Reader, and the droves of teachers who read my blog (I hope) and put up with my ramblings. I know that even through you might not understand all the nutty things I promote or talk about, you at least appreciate the enthusiasm that everyone who works with children shares.
  6. I am thankful that the Pack is 10-0 and all is well in the world.

Thank you, good luck, go Packers, and have a great Turkey Day.

Google Gobble

Thanksgiving looms on the horizon and my students are nuts about deer again. The hunt for their antlered quarry is on and my students are old enough now to take part. Each of them seems to have a story this year, from my student who missed a prize buck when nature called to one young girl pumped up about her new bright-pink 20-gauge shotgun.

Having worked the search-trivia game agoogleaday.com into my class’s routine, I decided that as a special activity prior to Thanksgiving break, I would tear them away from their obsession with this year’s deer hunting season. I brainstormed every trivia question I could think of regarding Thanksgiving and sent my kids on a search for quality answers.

Attached is the worksheet and a somewhat complete answer key. If you have any you would like added please include them in a comment below! Happy Turkey Day!


Last Thursday I had the option of getting up at 4:30 to take the 5:30 bus to Madison and watch the Greenwood-Granton Indians take on the Seneca Indians. The school day had been called off as a ‘field-trip’ day; the mayor of Greenwood had declared it “G2 Nation Day” and the town was completely deserted on account of the game.

I was at the school that day. I was going down to Madison in a few days anyway and decided that it was important for me to use that work day to sort through a pile of order forms for my after-school group’s fundraiser with one of the other teachers. We ran into trouble though, because unknown to us the WIAA had made an exclusive deal with one cable company and not another. Guess which cable company our school had? I spent the next few hours in the Kindergarten room, the only room with good radio reception, glued to the game while tallying up pizzas and counting checks.

The game was not even close: 40-0 in our favor, bringing the first state championship to our town since 1990.

G2 are the champions!

This might not seem a big deal to a lot of people outside our community. We are a division 7 school. My wife once asked me, “There’s a division 7?” Central Wisconsin is full of little towns like Greenwood, isolated by distance and size, and for a lot of these little towns the school, post office, and library are the heart of the town. High school sports, especially football, are the best shows in town. A whole generation of students in our little town will remember this game. And if we should forget, we have a giant golden football to remind us.

Edmodo: Like Facebook for the Classroom

Let me start by saying that I love Moodle. Moodle is great. It is simply a great platform for building an online classroom. Moodle lets a teacher share information with his or her students, engage in conversations, and collect homework from students, and is full of all kinds of features and settings.

Seriously, it’s so full of settings that it nearly feels overwhelming, as though it is trying to do everything when most of my online interactions consist of handing in assignments and forums. In Moodle, getting a page made and customized can take a long time; setting up different groups and user accounts takes even longer; creating nifty tables, embedding assignments…

Earlier this month I got to sit in a meeting and a product was mentioned called Edmodo. Edmodo looks and feels just like Facebook. It looks so much like Facebook that I am convinced they will either be sued soon or that it’s one of Mark Zuckerburg’s tax shelters. Within a few minutes of getting to the site, I was able to create a profile and a classroom page. Instead of a long, drawn-out page creation process and account setup, I was merely given a six-digit key code. I then gave that code to my test group of students, who in turn used it to access my class page. Their own profiles took less than 5 minutes to set up. The whole process was so easy for them that my interaction in the setup was minimal. Within a few minutes, my students were posting and commenting on each other’s work and handing in writing assignments.

The end result is a website where all the interactions that I once had to set up long in advance now form themselves into one continuous feed. I can create or delete whole classes within a few clicks and my students can join them easily using key codes. I can easily view everything going on in my classes by scrolling through my feed.

Our Edmodo page

The ability for this to get out of hand—with students chatting with one another—is there; but students cannot privately interact with one another. They can only post publicly or reply publicly. The only person they can directly contact is their teacher.

Speaking of their teacher, they can have several teachers attached to the same feed, allowing easy collaboration.

I don’t want to give up on Moodle yet. But Moodle, with its complicated interface and setup, can be hard to get started on. If you want to get your students interacting online with the full force of social media, Edmodo can be a great place to start with very little time and absolutely no cost.

Fun With Hyperlinking

I am running into a problem with my technology classes. The problem is that I have had my current sixth grade students for three years straight now. Three years where technology has been a priority in their education. In those three years I have managed to teach them quite a bit about the Big Four: Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and the internet. Finding ways to keep things fresh has been a challenge for these kids.

One way I am overcoming this is to try and boost the creativity that I am asking of my students. Instead of my old lessons that focused on teaching a skill objectively and out of context, I am instead teaching them a skill and letting them run with it.

Take PowerPoint, for example. I hate PowerPoint because it tends to suck the creativity right out of a presentation, especially if all the presenter does is read what is on the slide. Instead, I had my students use hyperlinking in PowerPoint to link one slide to another, basically making a boring presentation into an interactive game. This hopefully teaches my students how to make a more interesting presentation, teach them what a hyperlink does and provides groundwork for computer programming, something I hope to introduce them to later this year.

Here are a few examples of ‘games’ created using PowerPoint.

Could You Be a Zombie? (PDF)

How Well Do You Know Mr. Briggs? (PDF)

G2 Country

Wisconsin lives and breathes football. Anyone who has seen the Green Bay Packers play—or seen droves of fans sitting in sub-zero cold to cheer on their champions—knows that no mere dome can contain our dedication to this noble sport.

So it is with Greenwood. We may be so small that even combined with our neighbor, Granton, we are only Division 7, but through the fall and into the looming winter we are now 12-1 and we’ll be sending our champions to Madison for a shot at becoming State Champion. Driving into our town you would think that we have gone a little crazy; every road for miles is strewn with homemade billboards declaring this “G2” country.

We had a pep rally in the elementary school. The team was cheered on by our elementary students who had worked together to develop an choreographed cheer that included every grade. The players spoke to our students about good sportsmanship, healthy eating, and exercise. They even rode the buses with our little ones—a big deal particularly for our kindergarten students, who don’t seem to see any difference between this and the Super Bowl. After all, they are playing in Camp Randall, home of the Wisconsin Badgers, legends in their own right.

School has been called off on Thursday and declared a “field trip day” so that our students can ride the bus down to Madison. The 4-hour ride back will either be a caravan of victory or the longest, quietest 4-hour bus ride our students will ever have.

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