Writing, Mysteries and Consulting Experts

June 20, 2015 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On my 10th day after repatriating to the US in Massachusetts I had settled in some and aside from my job search, I was checking the daily local paper for events happening in the area that day. This morning I found that the local library was hosting a speaker, Susan Santangelo, the author of the Baby Boomer Mystery series. I left with 2 books in hand and contact information for a local event organizer, an excellent contact.

While Susan was sharing her writing process, I was surprised to hear that she does not map out a story but the story evolves as she writes. Susan begins with the title, the focus for the story. As she writes the story there are a few characters who may be the murder victim and it is while writing the story the that character who is the victim is revealed during the first draft process. She also mentioned that sleep can help solve a dilemma in the writing process. I have heard other authors share this, but Susan also explained well the occurrence where the characters can lead the writer through the story. We were all sitting around a large table and I think that hearing an author describe this (apologies) mysterious dynamic personally was very revealing.

It reminded me, as a teacher, that a published author offers so much more to teach writing strategies to my writers. Even an author who does not write children’s books. It was the way Susan explained her process and sources for inspiration in an intimate setting that left me feeling inspired. I have used author interviews before as part of our nonfiction writing unit while teaching in Prague. We Skyped with author Tami Lewis Brown, and she spoke about research and writing nonfiction. My young writers were hanging on her every word and applied her strategies in the following weeks of independent nonfiction writing.

We learn from experts and as lifelong learners it’s so important to take advantage of experts both near and far. Now I’m off to read the first in Susan’s series, Retirement Can Be Murder. (I really wanted to first read the second in the series, Moving Can Be Murder, due to my personal circumstances but order prevailed!)

Genius Hour: How’s it going?

April 19, 2015 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey

I’m not really a reluctant writer, but I am often reluctant to publish my views. I started this blog years ago as part of a blog challenge created by Kim Cofino to connect educators and build conversations by sharing our ideas, experiences and views together. I encourage my writers to take risks, write, share, revise and publish their work. However, knowing that a piece of writing is never really ‘done’ combined with that inner voice always judging the content, I’m reluctant to publish my reflections. Realistically, there are massive numbers of blogs out there and I rarely publish posts, so why worry that anyone will read what I write anyway? With that in mind, I’m going to write a series of posts reflecting on this year of learning around implementing “Genius Hour” in my third grade classroom. Because I ask my young creative geniuses each week to reflect at the start and end of each Genius Hour, I will post reflections here as well.

I last wrote about our Genius Hour launch in September. This hour each Friday has helped me learn and grow along with my students. One benefit of this shared creative time is that it has allowed me to get to know my learners in ways I would have otherwise missed or taken longer to learn about them. In general, the majority are very social. They learn easier while talking through ideas and understanding. They build off of each other’s ideas by sharing what is working and offering suggestions. Even the independent individuals engage in a form of ‘parallel play’ while working on individual projects by consulting with others. I learned quickly who is comfortable with choice, and those who struggle without a specific assignment. Two students who weren’t easily successful as conventional students found coding with Scratch natural and they quickly became the coding experts. They shine and are frequently consulted by others, plus I’ve seen that success build their confidence in all areas of the school day.

My friend and colleague, Kate, recently shared some final videos from her grade 7 students who had just finished their inquiry-based Passion Projects. In the videos they shared the inquiry task, their process and finally what they learned. One student began by sharing, “Passion is something you do when you’re bored. So I did something that interested me.” I have discovered some personal interests and talents of my learners more deeply than from an interest survey that is completed at the start of the year. For example, Sarah who wants to make a movie in spite of learning how complex a task that is. Rayan who loves to research, learn and teach about science topics. My group of tactile artists collaborating to create a “snow village.” Gabby, the gifted writer who loses interest without an audience. Kaden the historian, building a model battlefield as he learns about the Hundred Years’ War. And my group of coders who are telling stories in animations and creating their own games. While building their coding skills as they work on sustained projects each week, they are discovering how to think, plan, the process of trial and error and how to work collaboratively.

As I reread the above, it looks like it could be enough, but I will continue to write and share my ideas and thinking on how to improve this weekly inquiry and discovery time.

Great Ted Talk on our most important task in schools today: The Myth of Average

September 27, 2014 at 1:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Year of Genius Hours: Launch

September 20, 2014 at 8:35 am | Posted in Genius Hour, Learning is Messy, Planning, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Wonder WallWe started with a Wonder Wall. I learned a lot about my students from this alone. For example, what excites them and the individual interests they have. Also, that they are hungry for a voice and choice. After posting one ‘wonder’ several learners asked, Can I write more than one? After learning ‘more than one’ was permitted, I had to end the questioning at a point due to space on the board and our schedule.

Yesterday everyone made a word web in Popplet on his or her iPad. The popplet web should show things they are interested in or want to learn. I introduced the task by creating one of my own showing interests based on things I did in my free time when I was a third grader. See a student example below.

Aiden's Web

Our next step was to Diamond Rank all interests and ideas that were possible on our school campus. I wanted to try the Diamond Rank because it allows the user to bunch ideas rather than create a rank order, which can slow one down when having to make distinct decisions so early in the process. Ideas from the interest web were selected and ranked.


The learners then cut and glued their interest web and diamond rank into their Genius Journals. I chose to use paper journals over an iPad journal for this first project as the iPads are new to many of the students. The semester 2 project documents and images will likely be kept in a digital journal, perhaps in Penultimate or in a shared Google folder.

During our next Genius Hour we’ll take this planning into Tuning In, from Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle. I’ve used Kath’s cycle in the past for complete units of inquiry. Here I am using it as a planning guide for our overall Genius Hour process:

  • Tuning In- What do I already know about this topic, skill or idea?
  • Finding Out- What do I need to find out to begin?
  • Sorting Out- What do I know so far that will help me with my Genius Hour project? What can I use from Tuning in and Finding out?
  • Taking Action- What is my beginning plan? (This is only a starting place because as I learn and reflect I will adjust my plans and my thinking.)
  • Making Conclusions: What did you learn? Tell what you learned about your project, your learning process, your strengths, about the world.

I found a video that reveals one way to implement Genius Hour, and it closely matches the process I outlined above. I plan to share this with my class at our next session to provide an introduction to the process that we are embarking on. Another resource that I’ve found very useful is from a class that I found on the Global Genius Hour Project wiki.

What can this app do for you?

April 6, 2013 at 9:20 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

While attending the recent CEESA Conference here in Prague, I was inspired by several presentations and during discussions about using iPads as book logs and for reading reflections. My class has access to 12 iPads once or twice a week with use of my own iPad throughout the day. I decided to introduce 3 iPad apps to my readers that they can use to reflect on books read and for a prewriting activity.

Morfo was used to take a photo of a character and then record your voice speaking as that character telling others about him/herself. When using books without a useful illustration, the reader can draw their own portrait of the character to use. Other applications would be for the reader to share that character’s point of view regarding an event or another character.

We used PicCollage to insert book images and text telling about the book. Like with Morfo, if illustrations are not available original drawings or images could be used. Here is a sample by Philip: PicCollage

Finally, my writers used Popplet to create a story web before beginning their original realistic fiction stories. These web files were emailed to me when completed and I saved and dropped them into their Google folders so they could refer to them when writing their first drafts. Below is one example:

Disaster Strikes Denis


  • Ongoing sharing and reflecting on the quality of book and character reflections to improve communication and thoughtful reflection
  • Where to post reflections so the readers and writers have an audience for sharing their ideas and original work?
  • Create a class  list of ideas to apply these apps to other areas of learning and sharing

Short Refletion, Digital Book Logs- help needed!

March 17, 2013 at 9:37 am | Posted in Learning is Messy, Literacy | Leave a comment

So my learners log each book they read, and we reflect on the genres and levels of their book choices in conference. I can also select a book from the list and ask what they thought of the book and we can discuss opinions, what they found surprising, etc about that story or nonfiction text. I like the book logs, but not all children like keeping them (grade 3) and some still aren’t doing it independently.

A friend in my school who visited a 1:1 iPad primary school recently told me how they used an app that allowed the readers to photo the recently read book cover, record an audio reflection of the book and post it to a class site holding all these books reviews. There was not only a record of their reading and comprehension/views but it served as a place for other readers to listen to reviews to see it they would enjoy reading it. These grade one readers did this easily and independently. Not remembering the app(s) used, this friend said that StoryKit would work nicely for the photo/recording, but how to create a place to share the reviews that is accessible by all?

I like this idea because it’s quicker and less boring than a written list. More importantly, I believe it would prompt the readers to think more deeply during and after reading because they will share with a wider audience than the teacher, their classroom community.  If I want to tell a friend about a book, I think about how to communicate my thoughts and feelings about it. I am prepared to explain or elaborate on my opinions.

So here’s what I want:

– an app that allows students to photo and audio record their thinking and questions about a book

– the place to store all the reflections so other readers can go there and scroll through the photos of book covers

– each photo tagged with the reader’s name so I can search that tag and see their digital book log

Any suggestions??

First Skype collaboration this year

November 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Collaboration, Global Collaboration | Leave a comment

On Wednesday we connected with Mr. Carpenter’s class from the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, Florida. This was our first class-to-class global connection and we shared a bit about Prague and our school and learned about our friends’ school and Jacksonville. Aside from learning about another place in the world, we learned how to:

  • organize a “meeting” by choosing and assigning jobs
  • how to research and share information and data about Prague and ISP
  • organize and record information on a GoogleDoc
  • how to speak clearly, listen to others and respond to their comments; how to converse
  • how to name 7-digit and larger numbers
  • responsibly carry out our individual parts of the group conference
  • realize that these calls are conversations and don’t always cover everything we plan

To improve future calls we will:

  • Allow students who were not able to participate enough this time to assume more active jobs on the next call
  • Allow the researchers to follow their own interests sparked from the conversation, not just as the group requests
  • Change 1 of the 2 photographer jobs to a videographer
  • Have more than one GoogleDoc recorder- it’s a big job!

We still need to create and add placemarks to our Skype call map and continue to share information with Mr Carpenter’s class on our Google Doc.

Coming in a few weeks, our first Mystery Skype call!

Literacy and Math Learning through Skype Connections

November 11, 2012 at 10:40 am | Posted in Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Literacy | Leave a comment

Last year my students compared their thinking about various cultures with students around the world while participating in a project, Read Across the Globe. Part of the project was sharing with other students how our lives in Prague compared with others through Skype video chats.

Skype call during Read Across The Globe collaboration

This week we will connect with a class in the US to compare and contrast our communities. We have been preparing for this connection by practicing listening and speaking skills while reading aloud and commenting on original stories. My students also practiced and then audio recorded their descriptions of a family tradition following a group discussion of ways to make an oral presentation engaging and interesting. This week we will practice proper etiquette when meeting and sharing with a new friend.

Within our current math curriculum we are practicing adding and subtracting multi-digit numbers, and measuring area and perimeter. This has prepared us to understand and compare the land areas and populations of our two cities.

I am grateful to Linda Yollis for sharing her recent experience during a call between her class and Mr Carpenter’s class in Florida, the students we will meet with this week. Also, talking with Silvia and reading her related blog posts is helping me add greater depth to our upcoming conversation. Based on what I’m learning from Linda, Silvia and Seth, I am establishing student Skype jobs. One job will be to record the data from our two schools on a Google Doc so we can compare and contrast the information after the call. Looking ahead, this experience will allow us to communicate and learn more effectively during our Mystery Skype call in December and calls we make throughout the school year.

Why I’m so excited about QuadBlogging

January 22, 2012 at 11:40 am | Posted in Blogging, Collaboration, Global Collaboration, Literacy | 3 Comments

QuadBlogging is a 4-week experience with 3 other classes around the world. During each of the four weeks, one class blog is designated for viewing and feedback. I used this video to introduce QuadBloging to my students,

First, the audience for the students’ work that is provided is motivating. We occasionally open our blog and read\view and comment on each other’s work. My students have always put a little more effort into something they are creating if they know it will appear on our blog, but it still remains an exchange within our classroom population. We are now writing and creating for other students in Singapore, Japan and Switzerland. Communicating effectively in writing to friends far away is of greater importance when you can’t clarify your thinking face to face. I believe this motivation will linger after our QuadBlogging exchange.

Second, reading the work of others with a purpose of offering constructive feedback later demands that the students read more thoroughly and thoughtfully. We were lucky to be the first class viewed because, from the beginning, students experienced how it felt to receive a great comment. In preparation, we viewed Linda Yollis’s video made by her students showing how to write a quality comment. We made a list on chart paper of things to keep in mind when writing comments and we now review this poster before beginning to write comments. During the second week my students were re-reading their comments to check for the basics of punctuation, spelling and clarity and I no longer have to ask, “Did you proofread?”

Third, making connections and participating with other students adds greater depth to the collaboration. My students read and enjoyed the feedback they received but they also responded to questions posed in the comments to them. I look forward to seeing this unfold through the four weeks and I wonder if friendships between students with common interests will evolve with the continued communication. I knew we were on to something when one student asked during the second week, “Can we check our comments to the kids in Japan to see if they had questions back to us?” Here are a few sample comments to and from my students:

“I have a dog to! HE is named George! He bites a lot! He likes to nibble on my ear!”

“I also like riding horses. I actually fell off a horse and it was scary.”

“When I saw your dot I thought how bright and colorful it is. Your dot makes me feel Cheerful! What colors would you use if you were to make another dot?”

“I liked your story because I have been to Italy but have not been to the Colosseum. It made me laugh when you said that the horses smell. I love to eat spaghetti too but I don’t like cheese.”

“I think your story is great I like the way you describe things in your story. I also like the noises leafs make on the trees. How big was the snake?”

Fourth, You do need to have a class blog to begin, but QuadBlogging is uncomplicated, lasts just 4 weeks and is highly effective. There is little planning and class time needed in relation to the quality and depth of learning for the students.

Fifth, collaboration with the participating teachers is invaluable. This collaboration began with my contact to the Technology Director from one school and I joined as the fourth teacher. In viewing the other class blogs and during our planning to develop this project, I am inspired and gaining new ideas. I have plans to participate in a second QuadBlogging experience beginning in late February with classes in Switzerland, Bangkok and Florida. This collaboration will also be an Action Research led by Silvia Tolisano, focused on increasing student learning and quality of reading/writing in our blogs and collaboration.

I am looking forward to continuing with QuadBlogging for many other reasons, some I have yet to discover. It is a broad and relevant learning opportunity for myself and my students that offers us a view of and voice in the world.

Communicating and Commenting

September 25, 2011 at 7:00 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Literacy, Shift | Leave a comment

By definition, comment can be defined as “A statement of fact or opinion, especially a remark that expresses a personal reaction or attitude.”

The ability to comment well, whether face to face or in writing is a basic, daily communication skill we can always reflect on and improve. During our literacy practice we work to communicate well through explicit lessons and modeling and in student-to-student reading and writing conferences. As in any classroom, there is a need for ongoing discussion to resolve hurt feelings and slights and to stop and talk about what led up to an incident and how each party contributed to events. In the words of Cool Hand Luke, the problem is usually “failure to communicate.”

During our upcoming global collaboration, Read Across the Globe, we will go outside our classroom and campus to strengthen our literacy and communication skills. Using Edmodo to communicate, students from the US, China, Canada and Prague will work in groups to discuss a self-selected topic and share what they learn about how our geography, climate, religion and customs shape our daily lives. I plan to open the discussion of online, collaborative commenting with an awesome video made by Linda Yollis’ students in California on how to compose quality comments. Actually, the tips in Mrs Yollis’ video are applicable to any written or oral communication.

In two weeks we will greet our new friends using Edmodo and students will be ready to do this based on their experiences in literacy, through interaction during the school day, and from commenting on each other’s writing on our class blog. As I’ve seen in past global class collaborations, sharing with others outside our classroom increases my students’ motivation and efforts to listen and comment more clearly. This experience is an important piece of our literacy and interpersonal daily practice as well as providing an added, relevant opportunity to explore topics related to content area study.

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