We have MacJournal (the old free 2.6 version located at http://homepage.mac.com/dschimpf/; the newer, commercial 3.1 version is available at http://www.marinersoftware.com/) and Microsoft's Word Notebook (part of the Office 2004 for Mac suite) installed on our laptops. Most 7th graders are given an introduction to MacJournal by their teachers. It is easy to set up different "journals" within MacJournal for taking notes in each class. In my English class, my students have separate journals for writing warm-ups, vocabulary / literary devices, and literature responses. In my social studies class, students are free to set up one journal for notes for the whole year, or they may create a different journal for each unit. Within MacJournal, students can spell-check, add color / graphics, and add hyperlinks. Journals can be printed or emailed with one click. This year I plan to have my students email their writing warm-ups and literature responses to me every once in a while so that I can read and respond. When a student is out sick in social studies, I will ask one student from class to email their notes from that day to the missing student.
The way the students respond and communicate with me outside of the school day is via email. We use FirstClass (http://www.firstclass.com). Each student has a school email account that is primarily for school work, but we don't crack down on other uses as long as it's appropriate and not a burden to the system. Students will use email to contact each other about assignments, collaborate on projects, and seek clarification on assignments. When they are out sick, they will often check on our internet site for the homework first, and then email their teachers if they need additional information or handouts that aren't posted online. FirstClass? also has a flexible bulletin board system. English teachers in both the 7th and 8th grades have used this feature for literature discussion rooms. Sometimes we are also discussing the book in question in class, and the bulletin board is a place to have preliminary discussions before class (in the evening while the chapters are being read) and sometimes to continue discussions after class. Sometimes the discussion board takes the place of in-class discussions, and I'll have a more structured approach with requirements about how often students must post a "thoughtful" comment. Our students only have health class once every 8 days in the cycle, so our health teacher is considering using the discussion boards as a way to keep discussions alive in between classes.
An application that our students use without much instruction from us is iFlash (http://loopware.com/iflash/) which is a full-featured flash card program. The benefits of iFlash over the old paper version of flash cards is that you can create cards with more than two sides. You can also add images and sounds (great for foreign languages). The cards can be teacher-created or student-created and are easy to share. The application even offers links to cards that have been made and posted by others. This application offers school pricing, but I have no idea what we paid for it.
I use a collaborative text editing program in English and social studies called SubEthaEdit (http://www.codingmonkeys.de/subethaedit/). It's a funny name, but fans of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy should recognize the term. I have had up to 20 students all logged into one document and typing at the same time. Everything happens and shows up in real-time. Everyone can save at their own local level. You can either allow anyone into the document or restrict entry. Admittedly, 20 students all trying to create a group poem at once was a bit difficult to control (13 year olds love erasing each other's work more than anything else). I have found that this application works best when a small group is brainstorming for a project or working on a script. It can be used over a local area network and also via the internet, so I have had students working with each other in SubEthaEdit from their homes. This application is free to non-commercial users.
Our science classes have used Inspiration (http://www.inspiration.com/) to have their students create a visual representation for a rock cycle project. Obviously we use it as well in English for brainstorming as part of the writing process. I have even had students use it to create visual charts for use in websites they were building. You can output your finished product to a printer or to various image formats. Again, this is an application that needs very little instruction on the part of the teachers. Once the students know the basics, they begin to teach each other the more intricate parts of the program. This is a commercial application.
Web Page Authoring
Just about any subject area can have students create websites. We have used several applications to allow our students to build web pages over the last five years or so. Currently, we have Dreamweaver (http://www.macromedia.com/software/dreamweaver), but in the past we have used Netscape Composer, which was part of the Netscape web browser and was free. I am currently looking at a freeware open-source application called Nvu (http://www.nvu.com/) which is based on the Mozilla (Netscape) Composer browser. To be honest, I hope this application works well, as Dreamweaver is really too powerful and complicated for the kinds of websites middle school students are creating for class projects. Students can create websites about a time period of history, to showcase their poetry, to demonstrate the results of an experiment in science... the possibilities are endless.
Movie Making We also use iMovie quite a bit in both 7th and 8th grades. I primarily use it in English and have my students write, film, and edit a two minute movie as part of our study of effective storytelling. In addition, at the end of our unit on Romeo and Juliet, all 7th graders take a scene from the play and create their own interpretation (as long as they stay true to the themes of the play). They then film and edit the scene. We end that unit with a film festival in the school's theater. I have also seen movie projects done in science (excellent high school example here: http://www.peerlessproductions.com/movies/Projectile_Project.mov), foreign language (example here: http://education.apple.com/education/ilife/project_template.php?project_id=19&subject_id=5), social studies (2 examples here: http://www.kyejuproductions.com/trojanwarweb_320.mov and http://www.peerlessproductions.com/movies/GovMovie.mov), and a movie-making class (http://initial-productions.com/movies/Camerashots.mov). None of those examples are from my school, but if anyone wants to see sample movies from my kids, let me know off-list (colin_bridgewater at asl dot org) and I'll arrange some way to show you some. Apple's website also offers some great ideas and examples for all subject areas and age groups. The projects are all Apple-based, but can be done with Windows-based movie making applications. Each example project includes a sample movie, lesson plan, and corresponding standards met by the project. You can look at those projects here: http://www.apple.com/education/ilife/ (look at the right-hand side for the menu titled "iLife lesson plans").
An application that I haven't had time to try out but seems promising is Hot Potatoes (http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/halfbaked/). In the words of the website: "The Hot Potatoes suite includes six applications, enabling you to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises for the World Wide Web. Hot Potatoes is not freeware, but it is free of charge for those working for publicly-funded non-profit-making educational institutions, who make their pages available on the web."
Another way to use the laptops is to integrate webquests into your program. Here is a great introduction to what webquests are and why they are so great: http://www.ozline.com/webquests/intro.html Here are some webquest websites to get you started: http://webquest.sdsu.edu/ http://webquest.org/ http://sesd.sk.ca/teacherresource/webquest/webquest.htm http://school.discovery.com/schrockguide/webquest/webquest.html
Finally, one of my favorite examples doesn't involve any specific computer application at all. I have never been in the middle of a lesson and seen a student jump up from his desk to grab a dictionary off of the shelf to look up a word I had just used that he hadn't understood. However, this is a regular occurrence now that my students have laptops. Just having that dictionary built-in to their laptops (or via dictionary.com) encourages them to be more curious. I am amazed at how many times I have "caught" students looking up new words, not because I assigned them a vocabulary list, but just because they were interested.
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