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??


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.

Essential Physical Features in an Elementary Classroom

July 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Posted in Collaboration, culture, Literacy, Planning, Project-based Learning | 1 Comment

The last 2 months have been full of supporting teachers with end of the year projects and tasks, arranging a move from Madrid to Prague, and wrapping up my time as a tech integrator at my previous school.

As I write, I’ve been home in the US for 2 days and sinking into vacation mode as jet lag wears away. I’m also planning for my next position as a grade 3 teacher at the International School of Prague.

As an elementary classroom teacher in the past I always enjoyed (mostly) re-imagining what my classroom should contain and how it should be arranged.  For example, there needed to be a gathering area with a rug, some sort of collaboratively friendly arrangement of the desks, and classroom computers for communication, information and expression in a pod or dispersed through the room. Then after school started and we all got to know each other, more changes would be made.

After 3 years out of the classroom, I have new ideas for classroom features and I would love more ideas and input.  What are physical features or objects that you have or have seen in an elementary classroom that made the classroom special?

The iPad as Teacher’s Clipboard

March 10, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Apple, Conference, Literacy, Planning, Student-led conf, Tech Integration | Leave a comment

I recently attended a Writer’s Workshop presentation and the same week viewed the video, Up Close: Teaching English Language Learners in Reading and Writing Workshops, prompting me to think more about organizing reading and writing samples and reflections for a student’s portfolio. This coincided with the unveiling of Apple’s iPad and I also began to think about the value of the iPad to a teacher in an elementary classroom.  The name “iPad” brings to mind a pad of paper- a simple, versatile tool. The iPad would be a brilliant replacement for the clipboard that a teacher carries around all day- an electronic clipboard full of documents containing student information, schedules, plans, calendars, anecdotal matrix sheets for reading/writing/math continuums, articles, personal reflection note sheets, and content reference materials. I haven’t spent much time imagining how useful an iPad can be to a student in the classroom, however once I have one I will find endless uses for learners. It is because I see the iPad as a mobile tool that I have been imagining how the iPad can be used in the classroom (and outside) mainly by the teacher.

My first thought for the iPad in my classroom was a place to compile notes and audio recordings during our Writer’s Workshop. When meeting with a student, I would touch the class icon to open a tile mosaic of my students’ faces. I would then select the face of the  student I’m conferencing with and open his portfolio containing individualized writing continuums and other writing skills documents and anecdotal text notes. Access to the student’s own portfolio containing written material and audio recordings stored on the school’s network would also be available if needed. As the student read his written piece and we discussed his progress it could be audio-recorded on the iPad, allowing me to pay full attention to the student and record text notes later, although an application or document for recording quick notes could be used as well. This process would be implemented in a similar fashion for Reader’s Workshop where we would be able to record students reading a text displayed on the iPad as well.

During math-based activities I would have notes and group/project information open. When conferring with groups or individual students I would touch the student or group’s face/icon and open anecdotal notes, continuums, progress charts, etc related to that student/group. Further, I would be able to check a student’s understanding of a concept or skill by asking her to solve a related problem or task and record her audio description of how she approached and resolved the problem.

During science experiments or exploration students could be recorded describing an experiment while others in their group took still and video images. The advantage of recording with the iPad would be the ability to save an audio file right to that student’s “folder” on the iPad.

Outside the classroom on field trips or on the school campus the iPad would be used to record student observations, comments and reflections. It would also hold appropriate documents and maps that support the trip or activity as well as a document showing student questions that were posed before that trip or activity to refer to during the activity. Paramount would be having access to Google Earth and other web resources right there on the iPad display.

Lastly, the ability to sync my iPad with my laptop and store information on the school network would be incredible. I don’t know if this is possible right now, but I imagine each student’s “folder” on the iPad would be like a playlist in iTunes. New information added or documents modified in each student folder during the day would transfer to my laptop/school network drive when I connected my iPad to my laptop at the end of the day.

In this time where we are striving more than ever to develop more relevant and authentic means for students to learn, we are less and less able to fill in a roster book to document student learning. There is an ever greater need for portfolios that display student achievement and progress. The iPad’s long battery life, 3G and limitless applications add power for its use as a classroom tool (although I would need a protective frame with reinforced rubber corners to protect it.)

I believe the ways the iPad can be an incredibly powerful tool for a teacher and his or her students are limitless- what are your ideas?

Time in the Sandbox is needed

October 24, 2009 at 9:53 am | Posted in Learning is Messy, Literacy, Primary, Shift, Tech Integration | 3 Comments
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I first heard the term “sandbox” mode from Vicki Davis on one of her podcasts or read on her blog. The idea is to allow students the time to explore and discover for themselves how to accomplish tasks on a new software program or technology tool. This can be easily framed within a curricular task but the idea (as I understand it) is to allow free exploration or propose a task for students to attempt individually without any assistance. This allows students time to explore a program and develop their ability to find answers on their own. I highly value collaboration, but if one is to contribute you need to bring something to the table and not always rely on others.

I worked with grade four students this week on a project where they were asked to assume a group task involving exploring and planning a dream trip to a particular country. Some students and groups seized the opportunity and needed no guidance and others were frozen, plus there were students in between. I found myself asking those who wanted help, guiding questions that they should be asking themselves. Some searched in Google and then asked which one they should click, missing the idea that they would need to read and make choices.

My immediate thought was that we needed to integrate sandbox sessions for students. When using Math Their Way as a first grade teacher, we spent time at the start of the year allowing students guided play time with the math manipulatives.  If that step was not experienced, the students would need to play with the manipulatives all year rather than use them as tools. Many students still need to learn to explore and “think on their feet.” Sandbox time is needed to allow the independent-thinkers time to flourish and those who need to flex those muscles time to discover they can rely on themselves more often.

First Quest into a Virtual World

October 12, 2009 at 9:50 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, culture, Games-based learning, Global Collaboration, Literacy, Professional Development, Project-based Learning | Leave a comment
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I’m new to virtual worlds. I’ve been curious about Second Life but never ventured in, even though there are many educator-based groups I could benefit from participating in. I recently listened to a Seedlings podcast featuring Bronwyn Stuckey, the teacher trainer for Quest Atlantis. QA is a virtual world for students where they can collaborate, learn and solve reality-based world problems together. (Thank you again Bob, Cheryl and Alice!) QA also incorporates literacy, mathematics and content area studies. I see it as a possible school of the future. I have just missed the European teacher training, but was accepted to participate in the US/Canada 4 week training- which means middle of the night sessions for 4 weeks.meqa

I’ve completed the first training and have progressed enough on my own to allow my avatar to change from the all-white newbie outfit to my individually chosen clothes and physical characteristics. I know it sounds as if that’s been the highlight for me, but I have actually accomplished much more. For example I have learned to navigate and move my avatar, to understand my pod and how to reenter and continue my current mission. I have yet to engage with another participant socially but I know that will come with continued training sessions.

Most impressive is the QA framework and how easy the training is for someone on her first trek into a virtual world. We began with the basics where I had to travel from place to place to learn the back story of QA and also meet some of the main characters. I submitted my first Quest- choosing a writing task over science or mathematics tasks. It was the first poem I’ve written in many years and very poor I’m sure!  I then learned the 7 Social Commitments that are the foundation of QA and am currently learning how to review a quest. Reviewing student quests is based on a balance of feedback in 4 areas: content focus + narrative quality + supportive comments + informative comments. Today when I logon I will complete my first quest review.

Quest Atlantis has all the qualities that relevant, engaging learning requires: an engaging, challenging and supportive environment, quality assessment and feedback, plus integrated content and life-skills at the core of all learning opportunities. One of my colleagues is willing to learn QA and we plan to implement it with her 5th grade students. Our after-school activities have started this semester, but I plan to hold a QA group for the second semester. I know I have just stepped onto the tip of the QA iceberg and am excited to continue and discover what I’ll learn as a teacher and an individual.

Student-led IEP Meeting: The story behind a student asking to participate in her year-end IEP meeting

July 22, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Posted in Collaboration, Literacy, SmartBoard, Student-led conf | Leave a comment
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The next time someone asks you for a good reason to learn new technologies to use in the classroom you can share this story. Last week I was visiting many good friends in New Hampshire, two of whom I taught with in a rural NH town where they are currently both Special Ed teachers. Last September Linda and Robin attended a 3 day certified SmartBoard training in Montreal and during separate social visits they shared that experience, how they used the boards and Notebook software last year and how transformational it was for all their students. When talking about it, they were almost bursting with excitement over how it enabled their students to learn easily and happily and become the tech experts in the eyes of their classmates and teachers. Robin is a new teacher and Linda a veteran- Linda shared the new enthusiasm she felt for her work and they were equally enthusiastic and excited about their work as teachers and learners.

The most poignant example of student success was the story of Rachel (name changed to protect identity.) Rachel is a fifth grade student who wanted to read The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo. She had not read a book that lengthy or complex before. Her teacher, Robin, said that will be fine if they use it as part of their work with reading comprehension and fluency and that she keep a record of the story and reflections on it. Because Rachel had learned often that year through use of lessons and activities on the SmartBoard, she asked if she could create her Desperaux portfolio on the SmartBoard as her own book file. As Robin showed me Rachel’s portfolio, I had goosebumps. It began with information and a photo of the author, many graphic organizers showing characters and other story elements, challenge words with practice activities to review them, character descriptions with images, chapter summaries with supporting slides showing event highlights- it is engaging, shows what she learned as well as how much she enjoyed the book. She also shared it with her class, after which her class applauded.

When it came time for her year-end IEP meeting, Rachel asked Robin if she could join the meeting and share what she had learned. Rachel also stated she can speak publicly better when she is prepared so she voluntarily wrote up the points she wanted to share at her meeting. Robin said that Rachel independently wrote a statement containing her suggestions and requests for classroom accommodations, which included removing some she felt she did not need.  The statement was a way for her to express to her upcoming teachers her strengths and weaknesses as she saw them as well as strategies that help her to be successful in the classroom. The amount of self-awareness regarding her strengths, challenges and learning that Rachel demonstrated as Robin told me about their discussions, Rachel’s planning and the actual meeting were breath-taking.

Both Robin and Linda shared their excitement and student stories about how engaging, fun and exciting the previous year had been for them and the springboard was the SmartBoard, but more importantly how they used the Notebook software and use of other media tools combined with that. Together, they recently presented a 2-day workshop for interested colleagues at the end of the school year, as many teachers are receiving Smartboards for their classrooms. The attending colleagues were beyond appreciative at the end of the training, one teacher shared, “I haven’t been this excited about teaching in a long time.”

So, I return to my opening statement regarding why we should be learners as well as teachers. Here are new technology tools and software combined with life-long learners who are also gifted teachers and the result is students who are succeeding inside the resource room, their regular classroom and in their personal growth and esteem.

Learning Through the 80 Schools Collaboration

May 3, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Posted in Collaboration, Global Collaboration, Literacy, Podcasts, Resources, Web2.0 | 1 Comment
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I’ve collaborated with other schools recently as a tech-facilitator and before now for over 15 or more years as an elementary classroom teacher through email, wikis, blogs, Voicethread and Skype. However, Silvia Tolisano’s Around the World with 80 Schools collaboration I’m participating in now is different in that a template for participation and participant network was already established when I began. Also important is it’s ideal for the teachers I work with who are new to global/online collaboration because the community and template were established and the time commitment allows for easy integration into the established classroom environment. The framework is flexible enough to allow many conversations or a few a year and classroom-based participation or school-wide as we are doing. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to expand my PLN through the contacts I am making while setting up conversations for classrooms. Most of all, the students are excited, engaged and they raise questions for further learning that wouldn’t have occurred to me.


So, why participate? Why make the minimal effort to have a short conversation with students in a class on another continent? For me, the answer is that the students and I feel lifted up, engaged, and want to know more about what our new friends know and think about our world. The social interaction and connection is stimulating. But not all educators are on the same path- what is passionately clear to me is not for everyone, so I feel the responsibility to ask Why? to be able to effectively express my point of view to those who aren’t “in the choir.”

I can start by again sharing the ISTE NETs standards, but these are a bit broad for a starting point.

I wanted to refer to conversations and research so I started with Silvia’s post where she shares the project and links to other related posts she’s written.

I then decided to re-listen to SOS Podcast 2: How does making connections affect learning? With David Carpenter, Jeff Utecht, and guests Justin Medved and Julie Lindsay. Here are a few of the thoughts I came away with:
-Students know how to use tech for entertainment and communication but not as well to communicate and collaborate for learning.
-How well do we value and allow process, sharing and reflection of learning?
-Collaborations create an authentic audience that engages kids in the learning process
-Students can learn how to collaborate globally (as they will no doubt be doing in their future) by doing it.
-Start with the end in mind and if we believe in these 21st Century outcomes we need to redesign what we are doing with our curriculum.

I also found a Wes Fryer post from 2 years ago(!)
Wes shared quotes from Google CEO Eric Schmidt when asked in a WIRED interview, “Google’s revenue and employee head count have tripled in the last two years. How do you keep from becoming too bureaucratic or too chaotic?
His response:  It’s a constant problem. We analyze this every day, and our conclusion is that the best model remains small teams running as fast as they can and tolerating a certain lack of cohesion. The attempt to provide order drives out the creativity. And so it’s a balance.
To this Wes reflected, “The lesson here is that the business world does not merely want to hire listeners and fact regurgitators, but rather thinkers who can collaborate, “run fast” and create innovative ideas which reflect both higher level thinking as well as creativity.”

The SOS podcast was recorded a little over a year ago and Wes’s post was written 2 years ago. While progress is being made and I am inspired every day from contact with those in my PLC, I am also impatient because it seems we’re still just discussing these issues and stalled in this regard in most schools.

As a classroom teacher I would use 80 Schools from the first week of school. First begin to explore the talents and interests of each person in the room but also introduce the classrooms we have access to and the possibilities of interaction with the individuals in those rooms. An 80 Schools Ning and Twitter group would be a great way to share what classes are studying and experiencing that would be beneficial topics for other classrooms. I can see it as a living, thriving collaboration for the entire year.

Finally, just as I have a PLNetwork or PLCommunity, students in a classroom should be growing their own as well- the network within and outside the classroom walls. We need CLNs- Classroom Learning Networks and our 80 Schools collaboration is the first example of a CLN that I have participated in.

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