Category Archives: Lessons

Middle School Business Project

For the past couple years I’ve been having my 6th and 7th graders complete a business project in which they write a script for an audio commercial, record the audio, edit it and add music, create a logo, and post it all to a wiki. The students are always excited about this project and I think this is the case for a few different reasons. I give them a lot of latitude when choosing the type of business they’d like to base the project on. This year I have one student selling cow bells. They also get to use a variety of tools including Garage Band and Aviary.

I’ve been trying to think about other reasons the students seem to really get into this assignment so much. Whether they know it or not, or rather whether they can articulate it, one of the draws is that it has a real world connection to something they experience. Unfortunately, we’re all accustomed to being the subject of marketing.

But I’ve become a little uneasy about this assignment in as much as it’s definitely not my goal to promote consumerism. Perhaps next time my students will be required to “sell” a free service that, in some way, helps others.

Here is a link to my rubric. Feel free to use it, remix it, or print it out only so that you can tear it up.

Business Project Rubric

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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Lessons, Thinking Out Loud


An idea

Just had an idea to teach students new computer skills or tasks. I’m sure others do this kind of thing but I think it would work well with my students.

There is always at least one student in my classes who already knows what I’m teaching. I think I will have that student lead a “Follow the Leader” game. The object is for the “leader” to demonstrate a task, in a somewhat quick manner, and have the class try to keep up.

I did this recently with some students where I was the leader and they had to draw exactly what I was drawing in TuxPaint. My aim was to show them new tools without just using a boring demonstration. I tried to move quickly to keep them on their toes. They seemed to enjoy the challenge.

I think I will try having the students pick the program/site they want to learn about.


Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Lessons


It’s how you present it…

This was interesting. I have two groups of 7th grade students. This week, we started learning Scratch programming. The first group I taught, I quickly introduced the software, gave them a simple task (figure out how to move their sprite up, down, left, and right with the appropriate keys). Almost immediately, some students were saying that it was boring and that it’s not like video games they know. I tried to explain that Scratch is pretty basic programming and that all video game makers start somewhere easy.

Contrast that situation with the next group. I showed them the video, How Video Games Are Made and gave them essentially the same task. They were a lot more enthusiastic about playing around with Scratch and learning to move their sprite. I think that seeing all the behind the scenes footage and all the work that goes into game making gave them a different perspective.

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Posted by on January 14, 2011 in Insights, Lessons


Comic Lesson

Here’s a quick description of my current 5th Grade project.

First class
After reviewing watching a video from Discovery Education that featured a traditional Indian folk tale, the class discussed the common elements to fables. We talked about how many stories, not just fables, have a problem that needs solving. In solving this problem a lesson is often taught.

After the video and discussion I quickly introduced the students to ToonDoo is a great tool for creating comics that allows users a very wide range of options including creating custom characters. It has a very user-friendly interface that my students immediately grasped.

Side note: I always try to limit my introduction of new tools to 5 minutes or less. My feeling is that as soon as students see a new web site or program on the board they’re just waiting to be set loose. I try to explain just enough to let get them started and then allow time to explore. I think that learning something through their own investigation is probably more permanent.

The class was given the rest of the period to explore ToonDoo. At the end of the period I took a few minutes to explain to the students that the following class they would be creating comics, in pairs, that had a problem and a solution being shown.


Second Class

I quickly paired the students off and gave each a simple worksheet to start planning their comics. The worksheet requires the pairs to come up with a title, characters, a problem, and how the problem is solved. Bonus points are given for a lesson or moral to the story.

Pairs will take screen shots (CMD+Shift+4 for the Mac) and put their comics into a word processing file for easy printing.

Voila! Student collaboration, elements of literature, Web 2.0 tools? Check!


Posted by on December 1, 2010 in Lessons


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Digital Footprint Lesson

If you teach Digital Citizenship to middle school students please do yourself a favor and check out Common Sense Media. I’ll do a more in-depth post later, but Common Sense Media is a great organization for students, parents, and teachers with a focus on media literacy and safety.

As part of their Digital Citizensip curriculum, Common Sense has a great lesson on digital footprints. I recently started my lesson with 7th grade students. Here is the general sequence.

  1. Class discussion on footprints. Where do we leave footprints? What would this mean in terms of the Internet? As a side note, one of my students very aptly asked if it was similar to our carbon footprint. I had not made this connection and was quite pleased to hear it.
  2. Common Sense Media video on Digital Footprints. When I show videos in my class I usually show them twice. After the first time we discuss first impressions, etc. During the second, we stop it and point out important segments.
  3. Students research my digital footprint. My students loved this part! For about 20 minutes, my students looked me up on the Internet and created a collaborative list on the IWB to outline my footprint. Every piece of information they could find out about me was added to list. Some of the students tried to add information that they already knew (that I’m married, for example). I disallowed this information because they could not find it on the Internet. Probably the most interesting part of this exercise washow surprised the students were to find my picture on Google Images. It made me wonder from where they think those photos come.
  4. Student create digital collages of their future digital footprints. This is a variation on Common Sense Media’s lesson that has students draw on a footprint image. My change is to have the students use to create a visual representation of what their digital footprint will look like when they graduate from high school. Obviously, the point is to get them to think about their footprints as they are creating them. My goal is to also give them the opportunity to think about goals for high school, both academic and nonacademic.
  5. Students write or record audio to explain their projects.
  6. Students post to a class wiki.

Right now, we’re about to start step 4. I’m looking forward to seeing how this project progresses.


Posted by on November 8, 2010 in Lessons



Teaching Searching Skills

Every year I try to cover at least a few weeks with my middle school students on using search engines effectively. Primarily, we use Google because, well, it’s Google. Lately, we’ve been focusing on using Google’s Advanced Search features through the special operators that are available (quotations for phrases, ellipses for date ranges, dashes for omitting terms, etc.). You can see their Tips and Tricks sheet here.

But as I’m teaching this with my students I get the impression they don’t realize how incredibly useful it is to narrow your search results. I try to demonstrate the utility of these techniques. We look at using the “site:edu” operator, for example, to return only site that end in “.edu”. And we check out what Justin Bieber was doing between a set of specific years (“Justin Bieber” 2006…2009).

I guess my question is, how do we make this more interesting? The Internet is a gigantic mess. These skills are necessary and incredibly useful. I want to make this interesting. Is this one of the skills that we introduce in middle school only to revisit in high school when it’s more applicable?

I’d love to hear how others teach searching skills, especially if you make it fun.



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Posted by on October 13, 2010 in Lessons

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