StarTeaching Newsletter Past Articles

Creating an In-Class Cable TV Network -

By Frank Holes Jr., Middle School Teacher

Ever wonder if you and your students could create your own TV news show? Would you like to have announcements and school/class information available to students all class long? Would you like to avoid those students who were absent constantly asking you, "What did we do in class yesterday?" It isn't only possible to do, but with a few pieces of equipment, it's easy to set up and run.

You, of course will need several pieces of hardware, including a TV or (digital projector) and a computer. You will also need the proper cables to connect the two. We've discovered that sometimes the resolution on some computers needs to be adjusted or changed, so check your monitors setting. You might even need a scan-converter if all else fails. Such a TV network can also be simply set up on a computer monitor which is turned to face the students.

Your computer will also need PowerPoint (or an equivalent presentation software). We've used such programs effectively on Macs, as well as Linux and Windows machines, and they all work well for this application.

PowerPoint has the feature of progressing through information or slides by either clicking your mouse, or by setting up timings between every action. Thus, you can have each word, line, paragraph, or even graphic animated automatically. You can change up the settings for different bits of info you have. Check the top menu for 'slide show', and follow down the menu to 'custom animation' (or look for a similar command). Once there, you can select each element to animate, the type of transition to occur, any sound you want associated with it, and also the timing (automatic, not on a mouse click). You will want to practice a few times until your timing is good, and there are enough seconds to see or read each element before the next animation or transition. Even your slides can be changed automatically. Go to the 'slide show' menu and select 'slide transition' or 'set up show'. From there, you can choose the type of transition, and even its speed of animation.

You may wish to check your computer's settings so the machine doesn't go to sleep on you, or change to a screen saver. That would definitely defeat your purpose!

Now that you know how to set up a show, you have to decide what material or information to put out on display. I put up basic information such as the lunch menu, school or class announcements, and homework assignments. I will also post a class schedule and switch times if the daily schedule is altered. For the students who were absent, we also display class notes from previous classes. Now there is no excuse for students missing assignments or class information!  And this saves you from having to deal with every returning student asking what was missed and where to find it.

If you are brave and want to create a great class project, have your students run your daily announcements. You could partner them up and have your first class of the day create the announcements. Another project is to have your students create storyboards, where a short story is broken up among a number of slides, each slide including pictures, clip art, or graphics to illustrate the story. You can find many good images online or in the clip art of your program. If you have access to a digital camera, you can even have students take their own pictures and insert them.

Yet another project we've done is to create a PowerPoint to summarize one class or a week's worth of class info. This becomes an animated newsletter or magazine. Again, assign a student to take photos on a digital camera during the class and combine these with articles on the various activities you've done. You might want to include students' work as examples.

There are also advanced techniques you can experiment with as you get better with the program. Sound can be added, such as background music, songs, or voice recordings. There are also ways to include video.  Become an expert with the basics, and you'll be ready for these advanced techniques.

Video Streaming: The Latest in Educational Technology

By Frank Holes Jr., Middle School Teacher

The changes in technology are hitting the educational community faster than many can keep up. But they will have a tremendous impact on our schools and classrooms. And the technology is here to stay - its not going away! Video Streaming brings individualized, searchable video clips right to your room.

Video streaming is one of the latest technological advances to hit schools. It is basically an on-line video source, downloadable to your computer. The term 'streaming' refers to the stream of video information that is downloading to your computer. In many cases, you can even begin watching the video as it continues to stream.  Depending on the speed and configuration of your computer, your stream may be moving at the speed it plays, or even faster. Thus, may times you can download and watch simultaneously.

Downloaded video can be saved onto computer hard drives, or embedded into documents such as web pages and PowerPoint presentations.  Imagine you and your students adding these impressive multi-media video clips to their work!

There are many sites on-line to find video streams. Local and state governments, and colleges and universities are offering video of all sorts. Also many local REMC videos are being put on the web for schools to access. And of course there are any commercial sites out there too.

The Discovery School website, has a huge collection of instructional videos that are all available online. You can download the entire video, and many of the programs are further broken up into segments you can download separately. Thus, you don't have to devote an entire class period to a video if you just want to show and discuss only part of it. Or you could download a video's segments individually and show one each day for a week.

Check out the streaming at the link below:

The United Streaming website even has a 30 day free trial. You can create a password to access the hundreds of videos and show them in class. The trial offer does not, however, allow you to save the downloaded streams. Your school will need to purchase the rights to use the website after the 30 days, or to permanently save your streams on your computer, PowerPoint, or web page.

Before you try to stream in a video or portion of one you need to make sure your computer has the application "Quicktime". This program can be downloaded free from and is available for PC or Mac.  Once you have done this make sure you go into preferences {media controls} at and choose Quicktime as your choice.  Also, make sure you choose "stand alone" if you are going to watch it in the classroom. Now you are ready to begin streaming. Other great features are the lesson plans and blackline masters that are available.

Video streaming is still in its infancy. There will continue to be more advancements in this technology. However, it's easy to see it will definitely impact teaching and learning well into the future.

Handheld Integration 

(A Look at the Future in the Present - 3rd Article in the Series)

By Mark Benn, 
Middle School Teacher and Technical Consultant

This is the third in a series of articles dealing with the importance of changing the way we teach while integrating technology into the curriculum. In the first two articles I discussed the importance of involving the students into the learning process and teaching the students to become self directed learners. In this article I will present one way to achieve this goal that is exciting to the students and captures their interest.

Integrating handheld computers, formerly called palm pilots, into the curriculum can be exciting to the students and unsettling to the teacher, but as you will see very rewarding. I introduced handhelds into my fifth grade classroom one and a half years ago. It has certainly been a learning experience.

From the beginning the students have been willing to do things on the handheld that they fight against doing with pencil and paper. They study harder for tests, take more notes, organize themselves more, and have the ability to learn through ways that canít be accomplished in a classroom without them. I could go on and on, but here is a sample of what the students say about them:

I think handhelds are great! They really help you organize and they are WAY better than just paper and pencil. - Brooke
Handhelds have helped me out a lot this year. With handhelds we can study a lot easier with quizzler. Also we can stay a lot more organized with the programs tasks and calendar. We often take our handhelds home to use quizzler to study for our tests. We can practice our typing with the wireless keyboards and a typing program called Words Per Minute.   - Josh
Handhelds are very cool and make school very fun. They make it easy to write assignments so you donít lose them. They make it easier to study for tests and keep track of homework. Having handhelds in school is a big responsibility and it teaches us to respect expensive items. Without handhelds school would be boring and slow. If we didnít have handhelds many of us would lose our writing assignments. Without handhelds our grades would be lower and we wouldnít do well in school.   - Noah
Handhelds have helped me in school a lot compared to a classroom without them. Handhelds keep many kids organized knowing that their work is always there and cannot get lost. They are faster and a more improved way to check your work or spelling. There have been tests showing that kids get better grades and improve their schoolwork. When tests do come up, handhelds are a better study program when you practice on them. They do have gamesÖ. But, the games are also put into practice typing or spelling programs. The handheld can also be used for enjoyment. Such as, non-educational games or reading. A classroom without handhelds would be at a bit of a disadvantage. I am glad that I am in a classroom that has them.   - Emily
Handhelds have helped me work faster and easier.  - Jack
Handhelds have helped me this year by being able to do my work faster and more fun. Also, I do not go through as much paper because I can store information in my handheld. On the handheld there is a program called quizzler. This program helps me to study by the teachers beaming us the quiz. It has the practice quiz on it so I can study as much as I want at home. It makes studying a lot more fun and easier. This year would have been extremely different without handhelds because learning wouldn't be as exciting and tests wouldn't be as easy to study for.   - Austin

I think having handhelds is a privilege for several reasons. One because it keeps me organized. Another reason is that if you do an assignment on paper you could lose it, but if you do it on a handheld it will not get lost. Another is that with memos you can write anything at anytime. Also there is a palm reader that you can read books on it for reading or free time. Another reason is that there is a dictionary so you can look up words you donít know how to spell or for their definitions. Also there are education games and games for free time or after a test if your teacher says. Those are some of the reasons why I like to have handhelds.   - Katelynn

Iíve had two years of students using handhelds and the sampling of students above duplicates what they said last year, also. As I said in the beginning, using handhelds in the classroom is exciting to the students. Now how about the teacher?

One thing Iíve come to realize is that as in any technology integration I canít begin to understand it all. The students learn it far faster and easier than us older folk. My job is to be the coach. I introduce the lesson, provide the tools, the parameters, and then let the students take charge of their learning. My job is to be the coach, available to guide at all times. This means I canít sit on the sidelines (at my desk), but I must circulate among the students working with them.

This is certainly a different way of teaching, and can be unsettling if you are the type of teacher that stands up front and talks to the students. In the end you will find it rewarding and the students will learn and retain far more when provided the tools (handhelds) and teaching style (self directed learning) that makes learning exciting and rewarding to them. We may have learned the other way, but today's students arenít us. The world is changing and we have a chance to be a part of the change. 

In the next article I will discuss the setup and running of a classroom with handhelds.

For more information, Mark Benn can be reached online at his blog site, He welcomes comments and shared discourse on the subject of educational technology.

Building PowerPoint Presentations -

By Frank Holes, Jr., Middle School Teacher

PowerPoint is a fantastic program that can make your classroom presentations come alive. It is at a basic level an interactive slide show. For advanced users, it can include timed transitions, video clips, and audio elements. A digital projector and a computer can enliven your presentations and make note taking easier. The use of technology also captures and keeps the students (or your audience's) attention.

PowerPoint (or a comparable software product) allows information to be displayed in a fun, interactive manner. It ties text, graphics, and animation seamlessly in an easy to use format. You have total control, from choosing text sizes, fonts, and colors, to creating graphics of all shapes and colors, and even to adding pictures, clip art, sounds, and animations. You also determine the page layout by simply moving any item wherever you want on the slide.

You begin with a blank slide on which you will arrange your data, whether it be text or graphical elements.

Having used PowerPoint for many years, I have some suggestions for you.

1. Use at least size 16 font, and think seriously about size 20 or 24 font. This is so youw words and letters are large enough to see from everywhere in your room.
2. Be careful with color schemes. A creative slide may actually be hard to see when projected. Use light colored (white/yellow) text and graphics on a dark background, and use dark text and graphics on a light background. Avoid red/blue combinations, and others like these that tend to blend into each other. Always test your presentation before giving it so you can ensure it will be seen properly.
3. Don't bother using sound unless you have a good set of speakers. The audio will use up valuable memory and is useless unless you have speakers. And many times the novelty wears off and your audience will tire of the repetitive sounds.
4. When your students are using graphics and photos, check that the sizes are appropriate. Expanding (enlarging) a photo can reduce its resolution, making it grainy and hard to see clearly.
5. Animations and slide transitions are neat and fun, but don't overdo them. Choose one slide transition to use throughout the presentation so your audience knows the next slide is here. The same goes with animations: keep them simple and appropriate. You want to impress the audience with your information, not the 'gadgets' you use to soup up the PowerPoint.

The program also includes several templates where you can just click and insert the text or graphics you want. The best way of gaining proficiency is to play with the program. That's right, pretend you're a kid and try everything out. There's no way you can break it. Check out all of the menus and buttons. If you do become confused, find a third grader who can help you out (at that age, many kids are already proficient and still love to show you how to do it). There are many tricks, shortcuts, options, and neat ideas you can try. You'll find ones you like and that fit your personality or your presentation.

Most of the 'equivalent' programs for various platforms (Mac/Windows/Linux) are close enough for you or your students to be proficient on any machine. At our school, we regularly switch between Macs and Linux computers, and our students have quickly mastered both the basics and more advanced techniques. Remember, you as the teacher don't need to know exactly every detail of the program. You can rely on (or challenge) your students to find the little intricacies of the program. The big thing is for you to have your students use the program, and you'll learn alongside the kids.

PowerPoint is very easy to use. With just a little bit of computer familiarity, you can be creating professional and creative presentations.

Creating Student Web Pages -

By Frank Holes, Jr., Middle School Teacher

Web pages can become a great means of displaying and publishing student work. There are millions of people online every moment of every day. Our students are fully accustomed to using the web for everything from research to communication to shopping. Web pages are the language in which they are both comfortable and competent.

Creating student web pages provides a great in-road for teachers to reach students on their terms.

There are several concerns to think about before beginning such a project.

One concern to be aware of is your school or district's internet use policy. You may need parental permission to allow students to put their work, name, or pictures on the net. I would always caution you about including a student's full name on a web site that is available to the general public. There are also cautions about putting personal photographs online. Usually whole class, group, or team photos are ok. Always check first. If your school is not exactly at the forefront of technology, don't be afraid of blazing a trail for your colleagues to follow. Your work may become the basis for others in your school to make positive change.

Remember to also create an etiquette policy about creative license (or use one already developed by your school) . Obviously you want students to be creative, but you also don't want them to be outlandish or off of the topic of your assignment. Students are funny in that way. If they are just writing a paper, its the same old same old. However, once they realize they are going public, many become stringent about what they want to show the general public. Many will try to make their own 'statement' or 'presence' and disregard the rules of etiquette you've set up. Hold your ground. You do have the right to control what the students can put onto a school site.

Where to host your sites is another concern you'll have to deal with right away. At the present, we have our students' sites on our own server at school. It is great if your school can accommodate your class. You will need a web editor such as Microsoft FrontPage or one of the many free down-loadable editors from the net. But what if your school is unable (or unwilling) to fully accommodate you? There are many free sites online that can help you out. In the past, we used the commercial site GeoCities. This is a nice, free site that even includes a free web/html editor and basic tutorials to guide students through the steps of design. It is very easy to use and students ca access it from any computer in the world that has an internet connection.

We started out simply, having students type in their name and school as headers. Then we split up the page into sections for math, social studies, science, and English. At this point, the page can hold assignments from any class, so any teacher in the grade can give web page assignments.

We practiced creating links to our school homepage and our 7th grade page. We also added links to our homework assignment calendar, our pages of vocabulary, and to Google for net searches.

We also talked at length about page layout. Unlike programs like PowerPoint where you can place anything wherever you want it on the page, html requires codes called tables to set up items horizontally. We teach the students about tables and cells so they can divide up the page in whatever fashion they wish.

Students' personal preferences and creativity are also taken into consideration. We show them the basics of formatting text, changing fonts, sizes, colors, and styles. Students are also allowed to change page attributes such as the colors of the background and links. We even show them how to add different background pictures from files.

The first assignment to be placed on the students' websites was our biography project. Our English curriculum includes reading a biography and writing a report on that person. We adapted this to publish the report online, with the information, pictures, and clip art placed on the web page. Look for more details on the biography-web page project in an upcoming issue.

There are many options your class can do with the websites. You can teach the students to code in html, or work with the structures of a web page (such as tables, formats, links, and additional pages). You might have students explore new technologies to embed in the pages, such as PowerPoints, blogs, videos (streaming) or audio (podcasting). You may wish to connect with other students around the world (e-pals). You and fellow teachers may want to collaborate on projects.

There are many directions these projects can take your class. The key is for you as the teacher to be open to using new technologies and ready to go out and learn about them. You can learn a lot from the students; you don't have to know it all. But you must be ready to provide support to them when needed.


Computer Literacy Terms (part 1)-
Free Printables for your Classroom

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

Computer Literacy 1     Match these words to their definition or explanation located below:
desktop mouse curser hard drive
ram browser bookmark refresh
cache file application copy
paste PC Mac system

1.       The storage area of a computer where it keeps all the files.  ______________

2.       A program used to see the internet.        ______________

3.       Something you use to get back to a specific place on the internet at a later time period.    ______________

4.       Another name for a program used on the computer.    ______________

5.       A folder that all programs are put into.     ______________

6.       A device used to navigate around the screen of a computer.______________

7.       The workspace on the screen of a computer.     ______________

8.       The amount of memory a computer has to work with. The smaller the memory the less things you can have open on the screen.       ______________

9.       A blinking line that shows where you will type next.       ______________

10.   An overall program that runs the computer. An example would be Tiger, windows XP,  windows 2000.      ______________

11.   Something you do first to duplicate writing that you want to use elsewhere.     _______________ 

12.   A type of computer made by Apple corp.      _______________

13.   A type of computer made by many companies such as Dell, Gateway, Sony.         _______________

14.     A temporary file that holds the memory of a page you looked at on the internet so that it will load faster when you bring it up again.           _______________

15.   The way you place writing from one document to another.           _______________

        16.  The way to update a page from the internet.                                    _______________                                          


Computer Literacy Terms (part 2)-
Free Printables for your Classroom

By Mark Benn, Middle School Teacher

Computer Literacy 2     Match these words to their definition or explanation located below:
search engine directory plug in player
URL domain page file image file
sound file video file chat room instant messaging
internet security popup cookie virus

1.       This is the address you type into your internet browser. It is called the Universal Resource Locator.    _______________

2.       This is the ending of an address that tells what category the address is located such as .com, .gov, .edu, .net, .org    _______________

3.       A list of things on the internet.     _______________

4.       A way of finding things on the internet.     _______________

5.       A file that ends with .GIF, .JPG, or .PNG     _______________

6.       A file that ends with .WAV, or MP3    _______________

7.       A file that ends with .MOV, .QT, or .MPG    _______________

8.       A file that ends with .HTML, or .HTM      _______________

9.       A small program added to the browser to make multimedia programs function.  _____________

10.   Free programs that help multimedia work. Examples would be Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat, or HyperStudio     _______________

11.   Something that causes problems on a computer.   _______________

12.   Something that shows up on top of another page.  _______________

13.   A program that protects a computer from attacks that come from the internet.         _______________

14.   The way a Web site owner tracks who uses their web site. This file identifies the particular computer.      _______________

15.       A site where people can talk through typing on the internet. This spot is open to anyone to join in.          _______________

16.       This is a private chatroom where only people that are invited can chat.       _______________


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