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Brenda's Blog


Northern Lights:
Teachers Making Learning Connections
With Web 2.0 Tools

Please, let's remember: it's not about how we use the tools. It's (mostly) about how we use the tools."
~ Dr Judi Harris

After returning from two days of working with K-12 teachers in Northern Alberta, Canada, I was struck once again with how, when given the time to think and experiment with Web 2.0 tools, many experienced classroom teachers are able to make the cognitive jump from using the tool to using the tool to promote inquiry and deep thinking. To do that, all they need is an introduction to the tools potential to support 21st century learning, an example of its use, and then, most importantly, time away from the classroom to play with it and think about possible applications to their own classrooms.

You could have heard a pin drop as I presented each new Web 2.0 tool or mashup, along with a few examples of how educators are using it. And then, like ripples in a pool of water, Id watch the cognitive lights go on across the room as teachers started to make sense of it. It was usually at that point that Id hear murmurings of Oh! I could use that to" or I know exactly how I could use that in language arts (or socials studies, or science)." Soon there would be a conversation buzz going on around the room with teachers sharing their application ideas with the people near them.


More Resources

Thinking About Thinking Using Technology

A Dozen Back to School Uses for Big Huge Labs Trading Card Generator

Ideas from a Library Media Specialist

Magazine Covers- ala Historical Heroes
The more content is manipulated, the more likely it is understood and remembered."
~ Janet Allen, from Reading History: A Practical Guide to Improving Literacy

One series of Web 2.0 mashups really caught the attention of the Northern Alberta teachers. They were especially drawn to the" target="_blank">Big Huge Labs portal, containing more than 40 free online tools that provide an abundance of exciting ways to make use of flickr (and other) images for the good of learning. Touted as fun photo toys," those tools, when used within an inquiry-based teaching environment, have the potential to move students past just having fun to supporting deep thinking and opportunities to sharpen students visual literacy skills. Included are tools that create jigsaw puzzles, badge makers, mosaics, magazine covers, movie posters and trading cards.

The first time I looked over those tools, I have to admit that all I saw was the fun aspect of the applications, but just like the teachers in Northern Alberta, it didnt take me long to see the possibilities those online tools offer for developing critical thinking skills and creativity.

Using the Magazine Cover application from Big Huge Labs as a context, I created an assessment activity for the university pre-service teachers I teach. For the assignment, they were required to create a magazine cover demonstrating their understanding of key components of Albertas new Social Studies Program of Studies. Everything included on the magazine cover (main title, subtitles, background image, article titles) had to reflect what students understood about the key contents of that important curriculum document.

More than just a fun thing to do, the use of Big Huge Labs magazine cover tool necessitated my students merging the left and right sides of the brain by converting what they knew about the Program of Studies into a graphic representation (a magazine cover). It also required them to think symbolically and to make use of their ability to communicate information in a visual format.

Once created, I asked the students to copy/paste the magazine cover into a Word document, and then, using the Autoshape feature, add callouts that justified their use of symbols, images, color, image, and text. The assignment results the students handed in convinced me that the mashup tools found on the Big Huge Labs web site could serve as the jumping-off point for some very meaty thinking opportunities!
Example Link
The Magazine Cover tool also could be used to house an assignment description for a student assignment.
Example Link


The teachers in Northern Alberta identified a number of other ways those tools could be used as a technology mindtool to support learning. Below are a few of their suggestions (and a few examples).

Trading Cards

In Grade 6 science, students study Trees and Forests. To help students apply what they are learning about the characteristics that distinguish deciduous from coniferous trees, each student could use the Trading Card application to create four trading cards that represent different types of trees and then trade with one another until they each have two coniferous trees and two deciduous trees in their decks.

Lee Brentnell, a high school teacher from Grande Prairie, Alberta, created a Grade 11 social studies assignment based on key people, battles, and events from World War I. Exploring the question Was WWI a gamble?," groups of students would use the Trading Cards application to create a deck of playing cards that ranked thirteen items (ex: assassination at Sarajevo, Armenian Genocide, Vimy Ridge, Battle of Passchendale, and so on) in order of importance from high (Ace) to low (2). Students would include on each playing card, a relevant image and a short explanation about the event, person, or battle. As a culminating activity, students might use the decks to play five rounds of poker and then choose one of the winning hands to write a written response explaining how the cards in the winning hand were related.
Lesson Link

Motivator Poster

One Division One teacher saw great potential in the Motivational Poster application. She proposed using that tool to have lower elementary students identify powerful verbs. The tool also would be an excellent way to have foreign-language and English-language students explore new vocabulary.

Teaching students to create their own verbs from other words can be an interesting way to explore language. In Grace Flemings article about powerful verbs, one of Flemings new verb examples caught my attention and gave me a nudge to illustrate it with the Motivator Poster tool. Instead of using the more conventional My mother was able to carry the giant laundry pile until she reached the bedroom," I used Motivator to profile Flemings newly created verb, octopus: My mother was able to octopus the clumsy pile of laundry until she reached the bedroom."

Movie Poster

Another teacher worked on a language arts project to accompany a book talk project. Students would use the movie poster application from Big Huge Labs to create a movie poster based on the novel theyd used for their book talk assignment. The tool also could be used in conjunction with a creative writing assignment, in which students would use the Movie Poster application to create a poster that supported their narrative writing assignment.

Note: When using Big Huge Lab, be sure to save your projects to your computer; the site will store projects for only a limited time.

About the Author

Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda is the moderator of MiddleTalk, a listserve sponsored by the National Middle School Association (NMSA). Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.

Author: Brenda Dyck
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