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Pets for Your Classroom (Real & Virtual)

Students definitely benefit from having pets in the classroom.  It provides the students with a sense of pride and the ability to be a care taker.  Caring for a pet encourages shared responsibility.  Studies have shown that it doesn’t matter if the pet is live or virtual, the same teaching outcomes can be achieved.

For special needs students, pets can provide an outlet for students to reduce tension, take responsibility, and learn how to care for the animal.  These skills can then be transferred through teacher-based lessons that make the connections between caring for the animal to caring for oneself including health and hygiene.

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Live Pets in the Classroom

When I did my student teaching in a fourth grade classroom, I donated a fish tank full of colorful inexpensive, fish with the approval (and excitement) of my preceptor and supervisor.  I had a tank in my home for many years and was comfortable with the care and could coach the teacher.   This was a great teaching tool that was easy to take care of in a classroom setting.  Students would offer to come in early to help with the tasks associated with the care including feeding, water changes, water testing, and even tank cleanings. Parents also volunteered supplies for the care of the fish and one parent even helped to buy additional fish.  The local aquarium store owner and staff are always willing to help teachers with their tanks and are a valuable community resource.

The learning connections included teaching the students about the various types of fish in the tank, their diet, where the fish could be found in the wild, and their water needs (appropriate pH, ammonia, and nitrate levels).  When we first got the tank, each student was assigned one of the fish in the tank to research.  They then made PowerPoint presentations to share with the class about what they learned about their new pet.

One of the most exciting moments for the class was when the guppy had babies.  The babies must be separated immediately from the mother for them to survive.  Make sure you are prepared with a separation device that can be purchased from the fish store so the mother will not eat the babies.  This can be a teachable moment, but will need to be handled with sensitivity if you want to share this fact with your students.

One other tool that is definitely handy to have for break times or long weekends is an automated feeder.  This doses out a daily serving of fish food automatically.

Other pets that are classroom friendly, but require a bit more care, include rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and turtles.  When choosing a pet, you should definitely research the temperament, care, and allergy concerns of that animal.  Then, you can determine if it will meet the needs of your classroom.  A plan should definitely be in place for the care of the animal including daily care and preparations for care over long weekends and breaks.

Here are some great online resources to help you plan to have a live animal in your classroom:

1.        KinderArt:  Pets in the Classroom

2.       Teacher Classroom Web:  Classroom Animals and Pets

3.       Suite 101:  Selecting the Right Classroom Pet

Virtual Pets

A great alternative to live pets in the classroom is a virtual classroom pet.  I know many think of the Tamagotchi or Neopets when they think of a virtual pet. The Tamagotchi is a keychain virtual pet that has to be fed, cleaned, played with, and overall cared for like a live pet.  The keychain makes noises to indicate needed care.  Neopets is an online virtual pet store where students create an account, care for their pet, and play games to “pay” for the care and fun items for their pet.  This site is run by Nickelodeon and has a very large child following.

Another similar virtual pet website is called Adopt Me.  The classroom (or individual students) can create an account and adopt a virtual pet like a virtual cat, horse, dog, or fish.  Students get to name their pet.  They can then travel around town, provide care, and play with their pet.   Students can see their friends pets online through their login information.  The pets can also have jobs to earn money to help pay for the care and fun times with the pet.  Another great classroom connection is that the students can blog about their pet through this website.

There is also an alternative to the traditional virtual pet where students can “adopt” wild animals and follow them via GPS tracking devices.  Last year, my 7th grade class “adopted” a loggerhead sea turtle named FeeBee.  She is a GPS tagged turtle that was released by an environmental complex and nature center called Gumbo Limbo in Boca Raton, Florida.  The students were able track Fee Bee daily to see her movements in the ocean via a website called SeaTurtle.org.  Many animals can be adopted online via this website for the students to follow via GPS tracking devices including sea turtles, sharks, birds, and sea lions.  This website also provides teacher materials to help you to plan how to implement this type of activity in the classroom.  I planned the adoption of Fee Bee in the summer and developed many academic lessons and classroom activities around this “pet” for the entire semester.  The project was evaluated as highly successful by administrators, parents, and students. Unfortunately, GPS systems may cease transmission and this must be considered carefully when choosing this type of adoption for a classroom project.  Feelings of loss occur just as with the death of classroom pet.

Whether real or virtual, pets can definitely add a fun and interactive way for students to be excited about learning.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By missbakersflickr

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Back to School Technology Mashup

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, almost all of the schools around the country are open for learning!  Enjoy these technology sites and ideas for incorporation into all levels of classrooms this fall.

computers

Blabberize

Blabberize is a free web 2.0 tool where students, or the teacher, can upload  a person or animal photo, add audio, and animate the mouth so that the person or animal is speaking the audio you uploaded.   Implementing a project using this site would be a great activity for students to complete when learning about the history of famous individuals, or when learning facts about animals. Teachers can also search for already created blabberized photographs to share in class as a fun activity or opening activity for a chapter or lesson.

Thinkfinity

Thinkfinity is a website that provides a wide variety of free online resources that are frequently updated by various organizations including Verizon Foundation.  They have lesson plans for grades K-12 for many different subject areas including the core subjects along with economics, literature, geography, and art.  They also have an interactive games and tools section where students can go on the computer and develop creative projects including interactive dictionaries, post cards, maps, and graphs.  These activities provide great guidelines on how to implement them into your classroom along with the information for appropriate grade levels.  Another great feature on this site is the “Today in History” section.  This would be great to start off a history lesson in class every day with the fact and a critical question relating to the fact of the day.  Teachers of all subjects, grade levels, and ability levels should definitely check this site out.

Exploreatree

Exploreatree is another free web 2.0 resource.  On this site, students can create, save, and print, a wide selection of graphic organizers.  This site has very simple and very complex graphic organizers appropriate for many different classes and levels including math, science, and language arts for all grade levels.  Students, or teachers, can even start with a blank template and create their own graphic organizer for a specific lesson.  After creating a graphic organizer, you can even upload it to their database of graphic organizers and share it with other users.

PSB Kids Design Squad – Designit Buildit Fidgit

Design Squad is a science, math, technology, and engineering television show where teens compete in making machines to try to win a college scholarship on PBS Kids.   They have a companion website for the television show.  Designit Buildit Fidgit is an online logic game that student can play on a computer during technology centers or as an activity for when they complete assignments early.  The goal of the game is for the students to solve various puzzles including shapes that can be rotated for flipped to save the ‘fidgits’ by getting them back into their box.   Students can play levels that other students have created and once familiar with the game, they can actually create their own level to challenge other students.  There are also several other games related to the Design Squad show that can also be accessed via the Fidgit site.

These are great free online resources for creative projects and lessons in your classroom for the beginning of the school year.  If you have any ideas of other great free sites, please feel free to leave a comment!

– Article By Laura Ketcham

– Picture By San Jose Library

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A Step in the Right Direction – Special Needs Program

For many students with special needs, traditional classroom settings are not always the best option for the ideal learning experience, especially as some of these children need time and room to move about if they get restless.

steps

The Southern Oregon Education Service District will be opening a program, STEPS Plus, at the old South Medford High School for about 20 K-12 students with severe special needs.

Based on the STEPS program, serving students 5-21 with severe or multiple disabilities, the “Plus” program will provide more intense assistance. Because these students need more one-on-one support and different environments, they will be more ready and willing to learn because the environment will be set up exactly for their needs.

Along with the Medford district, the Education Service District will renovate 6,500 square feet of the former South Medford High School and customize it to meet the needs of students with high sensory needs and other behavioral and cognitive disabilities.

With an office and three classrooms full of special equipment and mirrors for observation, the students will have room to flourish. One room, the sensory-motor room will have both a trampoline and sleeping bags for students, depending on their needs in terms of space and area.

Two groups of 10 children will attend the program for 3 hours a day and will also visit with a special education teacher and aide, speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, autism specialists and a psychologist one day a week.

For parents who have struggled to find a place specifically for their child, STEPS Plus is certainly a step in the right direction.

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Shoot for the Stars – Special Needs Sports

Being a part of a team is something most children look forward to during their childhood years. Disabilities should not limit the chances a child has to participate on a team. Gerry Herman and his wife, Gwena, have been working as co-directors for the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Physically Challenged Sports and Recreation Program. They have helped build some great athletes, including a wheelchair basketball team.

Gerry and Gwena started with just four children and have now built a program with about 100 participants that include sports like wheelchair basketball, football, sitting volleyball and a recreational ice skating program with Olympic champion Dorothy Hamill.

The participants have become national champions at the National Junior Disability Championships for the past 10 years. By teaching with the idea that kids can do anything, the Hermans may be helping eliminate an uncertainty in the minds of students about what they can and cannot do.

The program uses sports to challenge the students to be active, independent and goal-oriented. With special chairs and wheels, handicapped children can easily move about to perform the drills that simulate real moves from a game of basketball.

The program has attracted students from all over the country. There are even popular alumni like Tatyana McFadden, who is a Paralympian. She went on to become a world-class athlete who won silver and bronze medals in the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004.

Programs like this are great because it shows such a range in the possibilities that students can achieve. They also allow the students to do more things for themselves and grow just like any other child does.

Photo By WhyOhGee

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