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.


Reflections from Prague

February 23, 2011 at 11:47 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Project-based Learning | Leave a comment

I would like to reflect on my experience contributing to A Week in the Life, the Flat Classroom elementary pilot project. My students and I found the experience engaging and rewarding as seen in their comments on a previous post. My conclusions about our experience are mainly based on my students’ comments, but I have also reflected on my role as educator related to organization and implementation. Comments below in quotations are from my students.

We don’t often take time for self-reflection regarding the day-to-day aspects of our lives and there were many discussions that arose during guided reading and our Personal Cultures unit of inquiry in order to define and share the daily characteristics of our lives and school day. There was a good deal of brainstorming and organizing thoughts before sharing to prepare for the final project. “We had to choose what to share about what we have in Prague…”

The value of group work, within class and with global partners, was greater due to the need to communicate in order to collaborate on a final project. For example, students learned to attentively read and appropriately respond to team members’ comments and inquiries in the Edmodo chats. Learning that online communication is a productive means to work with others and share ideas, not just for daily chit-chat, was valuable as well.

Through Skype video chats with 2 classes in the US, students learned firsthand about our similarities and differences and time zones. It was also valuable to see the face of a team member who lives across the world. “That I can know how another country is like and I can picture it in my mind (is valuable).”

A relevant need to focus on the history of our host country arose, “We have different holidays, like in the USA you get a day off for Thanksgiving, not in Prague.” When discussing why this was true, students became aware of the differing histories of various countries and they then became more interested in the history of the Czech Republic.

Clearly, students learned valuable online tools to use to communicate by experience. “We could Skype, Edmodo, email, things like that. Oh yeah, and write of course, send pictures, videos.” Communicating in Edmodo was a great opportunity for my students to communicate with others through chat. Many are eager to engage in online social networking and it was a great chance for them to develop positive digital citizenship behaviors.

Personally, I enjoyed connecting with other educators as well as the strategies and tools I learned to use. One of the most valuable lessons was a reminder that learning is messy, particularly when trying new ways of learning for students and teachers alike. As one student wrote, “We are all still learning” and I can only conclude that she is including me in that comment. It was messy at times, but well worth rolling up my sleeves to participate in!

As a pilot project, we were very open-minded, shared ideas and experiences and adjusted the project as we proceeded. In following projects, a stricter adherence to and definition of steps in the process and final project would help me with planning and organization within my regular curriculum. I don’t mean that students should be restricted, but that each final project will contain certain characteristics in order to be successful. I realize it is restrictive to choose one tool for communication and one for presentation and one for file storage, but on the other hand it can become confusing and over-whelming when many tools are shared and examined and considered.

Keep it simple is always a good rule. Adopting tools that are allowed in all countries and perhaps holding a week of “sandbox” exploration for teachers and students to play with and learn how to use the tools before the project begins will be beneficial.

I will also, within groups, assign roles to team members with leadership jobs given to the most experienced students on the team. For example, assigning the roles of taskmaster, recorder, researcher and so on. Roles would be dependent on the nature of the final project and if there were a taskmaster, recorder and researcher from each school within the team it may allow students to bond better across the globe. The organizers would communicate regularly to keep their in-school team members on task and recorders would share and record events from each city/country.

In retrospect, I would have integrated and implemented more IT tool sandbox activities with my students before starting. This will be easier if the project is later in the year and if tools are selected early on in the project. Allowing students to plan and capture images from the start next time will provide more time at the end for creating the final project on their own. I also predict that collecting images earlier will give shape and deeper discussion of the message they hope to communicate throughout the process.

At the start of the project, providing a team get-to-know-you activity for students to participate in, such as a scavenger hunt or experience-sharing grid on a team wiki-page may allow students to connect sooner. Team discussions in Edmodo would also benefit from a clear purpose each week- perhaps set by the team member in the lead role.

If selected to participate the next project this spring, it will be easier to integrate as we will be engaged in our Prague unit of inquiry during that time. One unit focus question is, ‘How do you get to know a place and why bother doing this?’ As we learn about our city and country, participation in the A Week in the Life project will enhance this unit because students will have greater motivation to take note of and share the unique and similar characteristics of Prague. While on field trips, students would keep their team subject and essential questions in mind and capture images that relate to their topic. As well, the team topics would become embedded into unit thinking and reflection throughout the unit.

A Week in the Life

October 30, 2010 at 8:05 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Shift, Web2.0 | 2 Comments
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This post was first contributed to a collaborative blog for the pilot elementary Flat Classroom Project, A Week in the Life at

The first official week is finished and I’m beginning to feel that I can manage this project, and I am still excited about the possibilities and opportunities that are ahead. Granted, I have told myself that this is a pilot and I’m in my first year at my new school and I will do the best I can. But that’s not an excuse; it allows me stay focused on the project’s purpose, the present and not evaluate myself daily against the “big picture” or enormous possibilities in my mind. Reflection occurs, not judgment.

This week we established student user accounts and began writing and reading to share about ourselves and begin conversing with other students. Students learned how to use Edmodo, comment thoughtfully and many students began using proper punctuation and attempted correct spelling more than in daily classroom writing.

I also introduced the project and what they would be doing in groups with students around the world. I think some students grasped the idea, but most will have to understand what the project is about as we go along. (My students are 8 and 9 years old.) We also have a collaboration going with classes in Japan and Canada, and because it’s a year-long project we will also collaborate with them over the next 7 weeks to maintain and nurture that friendship. It is one more challenge for my students though, to sort out who we are working with and when- but I believe they will be able to manage that. I’m planning to set up bulletin boards for each collaboration this weekend to hopefully provide visual anchors.

This coming week I plan to introduce the students to the wiki, have them gain individual access to the wiki and establish the groups with discussion of each group’s focus. I decided to provide a group notebook for each group with essential questions, project timeline and empty pages for notes and diagrams during group work discussions. I realize this is low-tech, but I think it’s a scaffold that will allow them to focus on the group task and communication more. It may also provide a tangible bridge to a digital collaboration. Baby steps.

In reflecting on our first week, I’ve observed students eager to connect with other students in Edmodo by reading and commenting. In group reading, we had great discussions about similarities and differences between the book characters, settings and events and our lives. As mentioned above, I saw students beginning to attend more to the mechanics and message of their writing in comments. We also discussed and practiced digital citizenship.

One of the biggest benefits during these first weeks is connecting with other teachers in the project by sharing ideas and answering each other’s questions. I loved the GoogleEarth tour created by and shared from a teacher in India. It travels to all the schools in the project and being able to use it has saved me time creating my own.

I remain enthused about participating in this project and awed with the implications of what we are trying and all we can learn from this. If I can remain focused on the core and purpose of the project and stay patient with my skill-level and learning my students and I will benefit immensely!

My last 4 weeks as an Education Technology Specialist

September 19, 2009 at 10:35 am | Posted in Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, Moodle, Planning, Professional Development, Tech Integration | Leave a comment
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I have read several posts in the last month discussing the question of what an education-based technology support person does. Here is a rundown of the highlights of my last 4 weeks at work:partsj

  • Update and preparation of training for new teachers during orientation
  • A Moodle course template for all Elementary, Specials and Spanish classes was created to ensure that all teachers had a course presence online. The course template is basic, provides important links and is easy to begin use by uploading and inserting newsletters and parent information. Staff were trained how to access their course, upload and attach documents and set the enrollment key. PE and Spanish courses had to be revised to allow teachers to share pages according to their teaching assignments and every teacher is now uploading  newsletters and general class information. Parents were also shown how to log on and enroll in their child’s courses to check for information each week. Students are using their course for resources during the school day in fifth grade as well.
  • Update of our class rosters for the digital component of our math program.
  • 5 new Smartboards were installed and adjustments were made to the projectors and the connection between the laptop and the SmartBoards. They are now ready for ongoing training to make the best use of this versatile teaching and learning tool.
  • Outlook parent email distribution lists were created with teachers
  • Various HelpDesk requests related to Moodle, school database, curriculum mapping.
  • As planned and ordered last spring, Media Kits were assembled, distributed and introduced to all grade levels. Each kit is shared by a grade level and contains a digital audio recorder, digital still camera, a Flip cam, microphones, a digital microscope and rechargeable batteries with charger. (Digital Storytelling, here we come!)
  • User accounts and student rosters were established with an online math practice program for 2 grade levels.
  • Because my position is teacher-support based and I am not a scheduled lab teacher, I planned and am co-teaching with the classroom teachers 3-4 Computer Lab bootcamp sessions for each grade level and class.
    • For grades 4 and 5 this has involved walking students through the first logons to the school network, school Moodle and class course, our keyboarding program and the digital component to our math program. I used the Build a Pyramid game within a Moodle blog to allow students to sample use of a Moodle tool within their course. Another important component was a digital safety and citizenship discussion focused on protecting yourself from friends who may want to post your personal information and images online.
    • Digital safety and citizenship is also addressed in grades K to 3 as well as the parts of the computer and how to turn on/off the CPU, monitor and adjust volume for monitor speakers and headphones.
    • In grades 2-3, students learned how to log on and practice keyboarding, start a Powerpoint portfolio or project and save it to their own folder in their class network folder.
    • Kindergarten and first grade students went online to Starfall through our school LS Links portal. They also created a KidPix image and first grade students saved it to their student folder in the Class network drive.
    • With pre-school students we introduced the names of the parts of the computer followed by guided practice using the mouse while exploring letters in Starfall or creating a picture in KidPix.

These bootcamp sessions have set the tone for the year by establishing common routines, vocabulary and tasks that will be reviewed and built on as the year progresses. These sessions, built on top of the incredible background work of our tech support team, has allowed students and teachers to use our available technology tools from the first week with greater ease.

Beginning Year Tech Boot Camp

April 29, 2009 at 5:25 am | Posted in Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, Planning, UbD | Leave a comment
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Recently, students and teachers have been unable to find files that are accidentally moved. I don’t know how this happens- seems to occur from grade 1 up and I believe it is accidental in most cases- although I’m not sure with the older grades. Another problem is inability to remember or correctly enter an account password. Whether it’s mistakes, learned helplessness or boredom with the tech pace in class, I see a need for creating a beginning of the year boot camp for this fall. As the elementary tech facilitator I provide teacher and student support without being the lab teacher (lab classes are planned and led by the classroom teacher) so my contact with students is based on opportunities to co-plan and co-teach lessons in the classroom and lab.

This idea is a seed just planted and my initial thought is several weeks of classes in the lab at the beginning of the year. Each grade level class will be focused on different skills and ideally incorporate current class content and skills. I’ve informally used Understanding by Design for several years but have no formal training- planning this K-5 unit and grade level units will be a great opportunity to learn more and apply the UbD format to planning. I’d also like to frame each lab session to end with keyboarding, “sandbox” and group reflective discussion (10-10-5 minutes). Also essential will be requiring teachers to participate in each session and their own and student learning.

My beginning list of skills needed:

  • Internet safety, Digital citizenship
  • How to access, organize and use folders within Class drive
  • MS Office basics
  • How to find programs from the start menu
  • How to logon, logoff, shut down, control volume on monitor and desktop
  • How to choose and remember/record passwords- how to enter passwords correctly

I have already sent an email to my tech team for feedback and future meetings to plan. Do you have a similar program anytime throughout the year? What do you incorporate and how do you structure the sessions?

Growing Digital Citizens

April 19, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Internet Safety, Links, Literacy, Planning, Resources, Web2.0 | Leave a comment
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During the last two weeks of school I’ve led digital safety lessons for all classes K-5 in the lab. This was a follow up to lessons at the beginning of the year and last winter for the 5th grade when they started blogging. I was reminded of the need for ongoing digital safety and citizenship lessons and daily teachable moments while in a Digital Citizenship workshop led by John Mikton at the recent ECIS IT conference. This is certainly an area that needs planned lessons (ideally embedded into a relevant project)- not just for our students, but our colleagues and parents. There are several free, online resources for support materials, curriculum lessons, informational letters, and other valuable materials and ideas that can take out a good deal of the footwork when planning. My favorites are listed below, but I also use delicious to bookmark sites, blog posts, and articles as I come across them- not to mention searching within delicious, edublogs or twitter.g5sample1

There are 3 groups to provide ongoing digital education- ourselves, our children and our parent community.

Ourselves: At a recent on-campus professional  development day, my savvy colleague Andrew held a workshop on privacy settings for Facebook. It was well attended and a perfect way to awaken awareness for protecting our digital footprint. I also believe that all educators need further training on the overall issues in this area, in order to seize those teachable moments in the classroom, and prepare for issues that may arise when exploring Web2.0 activities and tools with students.

Our children: The safety lesson for the kindergarten classes (age 6) centered around the CBBC Dongle Rabbit video was followed by a discussion of the messages in the video. With children this young, I focused on one main message: There are many interesting things and opportunities on the Internet, but always take an adult you trust when you explore cyberspace. I did have to take time to explain what “cyberspace” meant, but they very much enjoyed the video and discussion and afterwards drew a KidPix picture showing themselves and an adult viewing something on the web. This time around I’m looking to create some great captioned images from the students to enlarge for posters to display in the lab and around the building. I’m using a variety of topics for the grade levels, but found that the grade 4 students were as excited about creating a captioned image in KidPix as the kinderkids were. During these lessons I’m also mulling over possible lessons for the fall that will be more relevant and tied to their beginning year curriculum. Also, we don’t need to be in the lab or in front of a computer to explore these issues, for example we used role-play and skits during Mikton’s workshop.
With grade 5 we viewed and discussed this video. This was the third discussion in this area as we viewed and discussed this video when we began blogging last winter. I also recently participated in the Sounding Board with a group of about 20 students for the Net GenEd project. This was such a valuable hands-on experience for the students to learn about IT communication issues and how to present oneself online.


Parent community: Every school and organization can reach out more to their community and this is a way to raise parental awareness and build our school community as well. I attended some of these PTA evenings as a teacher and parent in the US and the meetings were usually led by a town Police-tech officer who presented horror stories followed by ways to lock down tech in your home. More effective and positive is holding evenings for parents that educate and inform parents of the wealth of opportunities that tech provides, while also sharing age-appropriate guidance and resources that allow safe use. I have seen evidence of this approach on Kim Cofino’s blog, Always Learning, describing the plan for their parent coffee mornings. When visiting a school’s blog I always look for ways the school reaches out to the community in this regard for positive ideas and approaches. Providing hands-on workshops for setting search parameters in Google or other search engines, etc will be appreciated by parents and a great way to build relationships within the parent community.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to have a school-wide plan for digital safety and citizenship. By this I mean an active curriculum of topics to introduce at certain grades and times of the year. Due to rapid growth in communication technology, this should be reviewed and revised at least once a year, or as needed. One great place to start is with the curriculum established by CyberSmart. Orientation for new staff, ongoing workshops or in-school newsletters and quarterly PTA meetings will be beneficial. Adopting a mascot figure for the school, such as the BBC’s Dongle rabbit, will also provide a focus for everyone and a common vocabulary that encourages awareness daily throughout the school.


Two of my grade 3 gardeners in New Hampshire

I suppose I’ve always viewed digital awareness as a separate, but related, subject. The more we see tech as something that provides tools and opportunities for many kinds of learners, the easier these topics will be to embed into a lesson or teachable moment. It’s like learning to garden and learning which tools are best for different tasks, how to care for the tools and use them safely, as well as the many other skills and concepts we need to grasp in order to sustain and enjoy an abundant garden.

CyberSmart free online K-12 curriculum
CBBC Dongle the Rabbit Be Smart video and rules
Netsmartz Videos and lessons for kids aged 6+
NetNanny Inexpensive, effective Internet Protection software
ISB Parent Technology Coffee Mornings
Beyond Digital Workshops from John Mikton- great resources

Global Collaborations 102

March 29, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Literacy, Professional Development, Resources | 3 Comments
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This is about my latest ideas and reflections as a student in my virtual PD course, Global Collaboration102. I am not taking this course alone, but with my PLN and my “professors” are those I wrote about recently as my inspiration. On our campus, we’ve launched and successfully completed/continued two global collaborations so far, Digiteen, which was led by our pioneer tech teacher Melissa in the Middle School (I had nothing to do with it aside from making the introduction), and a continuing collaboration by ELL teacher Kris with Global e-Learners Connect!.

Stating that there are just 2 “successful” collaborations is not intended as a negative critical comment towards anyone, including myself. I consider these two successful because they are established, ongoing learning activities or completely implemented projects, they motivate students and reflect classroom concepts, skills and student learning. We also have other whole class continuing collaborations we established since the fall. These collaborations are successful to a degree but I feel the need to reflect on how I can help these become a regular, authentic part of the classroom and more meaningful for the students. Perhaps my job title next year should be Global Collaborations Conductor as these projects all can fit easily into the current curriculum and learning 21st Century skills. I would choose “Conductor” over “Coordinator” as I would create long-term plans to make the collaboration more meaningful and also be present each time a related activity was implemented with the class. This would be a better planned and organized co-teaching, co-planning, modeling and support project and I imagine I would eventually see myself happily demoted to the Coordinator.

I plan a continuation of support for the other ongoing collaborations for the remainder of this school year, however this week I will implement 3 new collaborations differently from the others. The idea began when I read invitations on Twitter and blog posts for the Sounding Board which is part of Net Generation Education Project. Students in grades 5-8 were needed and I have a willing team of grade 5 teachers so I ran the idea by them to introduce the project to their students and ask for volunteers to give it a try. After all, it’s a 2-4 hour time commitment and I pointed out to students that when they are in Middle School next year, they can seek out Melissa to participate in one of her collaborations. I ended up with one whole class and a bit more than a handful each in the other 2 classes. I then arranged the times with the teachers and we’ll start and complete the project next week!

So then I thought, why not apply this experience to other elementary collaborations?  Here is what I started last week that can continue through the remainder of this school year:

1001Tales with 4th grade volunteers from 3 classes. I have the plans made for the length of the project and Monday morning will introduce it to the students and get volunteers to meet at recess (the weather forecast is not good this week and should work in my favor 🙂 ) for an overview and to start.

Around the World With 80 Schools: For this I plan to introduce the collaboration at a staff meeting and outline what is involved in participating in each video-conference “school visit.” I will seek out teachers each week by visiting personally and posting in the Monday staff newsletter. With the focus on the collaboration as a Lower School project planned and implemented by me, I hope to get more teachers on board to try out the waters. These visits will be celebrated through posting on a bulletin board display with a world map and shown on a slideshow containing audio and video of visits via the LCD monitor in the LS foyer.

Progress is a cycle of reflection, planning and implementation and relies heavily on building trust and positive relationships. How are collaborations (local and global) working in your school?

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