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.

Fully Initiated and Back in Business

December 18, 2010 at 10:35 am | Posted in Blogging, Collaboration, Conference, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Planning, Professional Development, Scratch, Tech Integration, Voicethread | 2 Comments

I’ve only blogged once in the last 6 months due to location and occupation changes. I spent 6 weeks on vacation doing virtually nothing online and then began my new position and life in Prague as a grade 3 teacher at the International School of Prague. I’m still pretty much still in the honeymoon Cultural Shock phase due to my fantastic students, wonderful apartment and new friends and, I am in Prague.

But I am tired. After 3 years as a tech integration specialist, it feels great to be a classroom teacher again with my tribe of willing learners. However, classroom teaching can be exhausting even if you’ve been in the same school for years and I haven’t had the time or mental capacity to write or read blogs, completely missed the K12 Online Conference and the Global Education Conference as well as many Classroom2.0 sessions (thankfully all 3 are archived). I haven’t been tweeting or following tweets. I haven’t seen much of Prague either since the weather became too cold for long walks. But that’s about to change as I’ve been through the first trimester, report cards, parent conferences, portfolio collection and assembly, I think I have a grasp of the curriculum and have 3 weeks of vacation stretching before me.

In addition to the regular curriculum, my students have posted two written pieces and a word cloud on their individual pages on our class website and they regularly extend learning and skill practice (in school and at home) using various webgames and subscription sites. They individually recorded in Garageband, an oral reading of an originally written piece for a Voicethread related to an author visit. Most exciting is our participation in “A Week in the Life”, a pilot elementary-level Flat Classroom Project.

A Week in the Life team adding information to the project wiki

So, after catching my breath I am looking forward to reading, writing and listening to online conference presentations! In the five months of school remaining I am looking forward to integrating into my classroom:

They will all seamlessly integrate with and enrich our units of inquiry on Sound and our Host County/City as well as maths, reading and writing. I’m also looking forward to again reading (even after vacation) professional texts and favorite blogs. Why do I care about sharing with and learning from others? Dean Shareski sums it up for me in his K12Online Keynote. It’s so nice to have reached a point where I again feel a sense of familiarity combined with excitement about the possibilities ahead!

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?

End of School Year Idea

May 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Posted in Collaboration, games, Global Collaboration, Planning | Leave a comment

I’m sure you are experiencing the same thing I’m hearing around our school, end of year stress and social conflicts, inability to focus… and the students are showing the same feelings and conflicts! 🙂

I thought I’d share an idea/email (shown below) I want to send to colleagues tonight to help us get through the last 3 1/2 weeks. If you have ideas to contribute, please do! Want to collaborate?


That’s not a typo in the greeting but is “hello” in Afrikaans, one of South Africa’s 11 official languages.  I know very little about either South Africa or soccer, but I do know that students are as restless and tired as we are at the end of the year. Four years ago, as a third grade teacher in New Hampshire, I had several rabid soccer fans and we embraced the World Cup as a class to stay afloat until the last day of school. We incorporated it into math, reading, writing, podcasting, geography, arts and sportsmanship and had one desktop dedicated to the FIFA site for news reports and updates. We all learned a great deal from each other and it was one of my best Junes as a teacher! I’ve been thinking about resurrecting that idea this year.

I’ve listed a few random ideas below, but I’d also like to propose after-school open meetings in the villa from 4-5 this week on Monday through Thursday to brainstorm ideas- they don’t have to involve use of technology. I’d love to do some research for websites and resources for you as well.

I searched Google, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/ and Wikipedia and came up with some ideas:

  • Fine Arts- FIFA anthem, S African music and artists, team colors and jerseys, how does a nation’s flag represent that country?
  • Geography- FIFA altitude ban, 6 confederations
  • Language Arts: Write, revise and record podcasts sharing background information on the World Cup, teams, players, about South Africa … We can create a Moodle course where students can share what is created and learned with other classes.
  • History of World Cup, past outstanding events during World Cup events
  • Regulations and rules, how to play futbol, how rules vary between countries, how do teams qualify?
  • Math- bet on games/probability (just kidding), statistics
  • Learn about South Africa
  • Around the world with 80 Schools – Easy global collaboration we’ve participated in here at ASM. Involves brief, pre-arranged Skype video or audio conference with another class somewhere else in the world. Meghan’s class recently skyped with a class in S Africa.
  • World Cup for Kids website with suggested activities and game links
  • There are many many other World Cup events such as FIFA Women’s and FIFA Youth
  • Advertising- persuasive writing, images, evaluate advertising, make own advertisements
  • Sportsmanship- with our international community we would need to talk about this with students cheering for different teams. Great opportunity for tolerance discussions.
  • 2006 World Cup–  Reflect, compare, contrast
  • FIFA2010 World Cup main page–  As I write this there are 11 days 12 hours and 29 minutes until the first game according to the countdown on the home page.

Do you have ideas to share? Want to collaborate?

The Challenge of Information Overload

May 29, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Planning | Leave a comment

As a tech integration specialist the last three years, I have greatly benefited from the inspiration and support from my PLN. I went from focusing on a group of students to a focus on co-creating relevant tech-related classroom activities in all subject areas for students aged 3 to 11 and providing teacher professional development and support. Because of this broad focus, I have learned a great deal and discovered many educators and other professionals online who inspire me and who I learn from. However, now that I am returning to the classroom I need to focus again foremost on curriculum and learning that may or may not include technology. This has prompted me to review my Netvibes feed page and not drop feeds but revise my home page to those blogs that are written by teachers and from educators I collaborate with.


My problem is that I can get so side-tracked just by browsing and following tweets appearing among the 20 most recent tweets when I open Twitter. Then there are all the blogs I want to read regularly and podcasts to listen to. And books to read. I want to contribute as well so I need time to write. This summer I look forward to reading and learning more about writing and reading continuums and increasing my Mac application skills in preparation for August, as those are areas I have less experience with as a classroom teacher. I want to become more adept as a user of Myst and Scratch and other game-based learning tools to use in my classroom. I want to contribute to my personal blog again and reflect on life overseas. There are only 24 hours in a day and if I add areas to focus on, something has to take a back seat.

One idea I have is to integrate by reflecting on what I’m reading and learning by podcasting using Garageband (rather than the familiar Audacity) or creating a digital story sample in iMovie or Keynote for use as a classroom model/sample to use next year. I can reflect in a journal on my experiences in the Myst or Quest Atlantis worlds and create a Scratch animation reflecting on one of my summer reading books.

How do you handle the information overload? How do you focus but also stay in touch with the broad views and innovation in education and technology?

Passion and Wants vs. Needs

May 23, 2010 at 11:12 am | Posted in Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Links, Planning, Professional Development, Shift | 5 Comments

Here’s a scenario you may be able to relate to: you read an article or book or just observe a daily event and then you get a great idea that addresses something in your life or work you want to change or resolve. Well I sit with the idea for a little bit and then I want to share it! Sometimes I share and the person gets it right away and wants to join me to develop the idea further. More often, the reaction is not negative but there are questions, What do you mean about this aspect? How does it look in action? and so on. Here is where the generator of the passionate idea can do one of two things. She can be discouraged because she feels the recipient didn’t understand or they don’t like the idea, if they had they would be equally excited. Or, she can take those questions and continue to work on the idea so it can become more fully developed and realistic and also better communicated.

As an elementary teacher, I have “taught” Wants vs. Needs as part of the social studies curriculum (although there are informal lessons on that every day.) As a technology integration specialist the last 3 years, I have needed to develop my adult communication and presentation skills because I currently work with teachers more than students. My apologies in advance, but children are more fun, flexible-minded and enthusiastic than adults. As a result of this experience, I’m going to be a stronger teacher next year, but I will also be a better colleague.

Teachers tend to do their own thing and each teacher becomes known according to her/his own passions and strengths, but this is unfair to the student population because it creates an environment of inequality. Ideally, teachers share their talents, strengths and special views to strengthen the whole school so all children benefit. I’m not faulting teachers, there is usually no time for sharing and there are other built-in school practices that discourage collaboration.

Strafford School Foreign Language committee (most of us)

Many of my proudest contributions as a teacher in realizing initiatives that benefited all students and that are still in effect at the school, have resulted from working with a group of like-minded teachers, administrators and parents. But that group is not often easily or naturally created. If you don’t have a group form naturally around an idea, you are left to drop the idea or keep it to yourself within the four walls of your classroom. But there’s a third alternative, it’s not easy and involves risk and possibly putting yourself out on a ledge.

Last week I read a post by Peggy George on her blog My Web2.0 Adventures.  It was a tipping point for me. Peggy lays out steps to develop an idea before pushing it out. (If it’a been a snake, it’a bit me.) How many times could I have been more effective if only I had sat with my ideas a bit longer, worked longer with the pros and cons to further develop and then communicate an idea better? Marco Torres says that we need to “stay with the questions” and that also means stay with the solutions to get it right.

Also, while I haven’t read it yet, I have listened to Seth Godin share ideas from his new book, Linchpin. From listening to Godin, I began to explore the idea of going above and beyond the initial ideas (what I want to do) to ask what is needed- and to push into those initial ideas to develop them into ideas and practices that can be clearly communicated.

What we want is unconditional acceptance and excitement about our ideas and initiatives but what we need is to question, incubate and develop those ideas further. When met with resistance, stay with the idea (if it still looks like a good one) and develop it so you can communicate why it’s a good path to follow and build a group that will allow the ideas to become a reality.

Other links that inspired this post:
Shelly Terrell’s blog Teacher Reboot Camp post How do we nurture passion?
Another video of Seth Godin speaking about Linchpin
Video: Seth Godin speaking about Education
Daniel Pink’s 2 questions that can change your life
Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (And if you try sometime you find you get what you need)


April 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Games-based learning, Links, Planning, Professional Development, Resources, Shift | 1 Comment

It’s been my feeling and thought for a long time that we need to change the way we do schooling. Back in the early 90s while visiting friends in West Hollywood and driving with these friends and my daughter in a convertible through the hills, I was day-dreaming about moving there and establishing my own school for the children of wealthy Hollywood artists (they have money and are progressive thinkers, right?) Regardless, Hollywood is a ripe place for encouraging daydreams. My school would have many elements of a Montessori school and also contain the most current technology, which was relatively limited compared to what I use and imagine these days. Yesterday I was reminded of that daydream  after two of the best days in recent years at work. I thought about and discussed with colleagues why the past two days were so inspiring and fulfilling and we concluded that it was because we had time to discuss and imagine how our already good school could grow and improve.

The problem is that it was an isolated event, and not just at this school, but rare in every school I have taught and worked in. It was successful because:

  • The “workshops” were led by our consultant from Rubicon Atlas, Stephane Keller. Stephane didn’t run through a planned presentation lock-step. He had a plan but was responsive to going off in directions that the group needed and did it with grace and style. Like a good teacher, he helped us see what we are doing well and where we want to go next, where our challenges are and how begin to meet those challenges.
  • The 2 days were set up to allow teams of teachers to come in during regular school days for hour blocks. It would have been better to have more time, but I also think that sometimes those days in school without students present are great for idea generation, but those ideas often stayed locked away in that day. Having these sessions occurring during our school day promoted keeping the students and reality of our school days present in mind.
  • The core curriculum team met each morning before the hour sessions began and at the end of the day. Being part of this team allowed me to have discussions with colleagues that I often don’t get time to talk with. It seems we need to plan the time and topics to allow these discussions to begin. As a tech facilitation specialist many people get caught on the word “technology” and can’t see my position as that of a learning specialist who can facilitate use of technology tools for student and professional learning and creativity.

The key to continue generating sparks and get a fire glowing will be preventing the ideas and conversations to stay locked in the past and to continue to facilitate those conversations, keep them alive.

Here are my favorite visions of the direction we need to go to recreate schools from:
Bob Sprankle and his BLC09 Presentation

Kim Cofino and ISB’s 21st Century Learning Wiki

Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis Flat Classroom Conference

Scotland’s exploration of games-based learning and Ollie Bray and Ewan McIntosh

Stephen Heppell

Apple’s Challenge Based Learning

Heidi Hayes Jacob’s Curriculum21

Silvia Tolisano’s blog Langwitches

In conclusion, one key element of my dream school is to build in time and place for the educators in a school to meet and share ideas and, most importantly, develop and realize those ideas.

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?

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.

Finding the right keys

August 8, 2009 at 10:23 am | Posted in Language Learning, Planning, Primary | 4 Comments
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I need ideas and advice for working with a 6-year-old student who is an English Language Learner. He started in our school last February and didn’t start speaking to anyone at school until June. Turns out that he’s very bright, knows English very well and reads fluently- as his family knew all along. We met 3 times in June and he read aloud for me and answered my questions as we were participating in online activities. He’s one of those people who sits back watching and listening until he feels the water is safe to jump in.
image from Kris Hoet
I start working with him again this Monday for 3 weeks until school begins. We will only meet for 2-one hour sessions each week so I want to make the best of our face to face time. Here is what I’m planning so far and I’d love feedback on my ideas and suggestions as well.

  • Set up a google doc and google presentation shared between myself, the student and his family. The Doc will hold any links or text he wants to write. The Presentation will serve as a portfolio where we can embed images and audio we create.
  • SmartBoard- I spent hours while in the US picking the brains of two friends who are Special Ed teachers and had the SmartBoard training a year ago. They shared what they did with their students and the progress these students made. It was so inspiring to hear of the progress and pride the students had for their learning. While they were sharing, I was thinking of this student and how great a tool this would be for him. It’s hands on and away from the “sitting down together” dynamic that is typical and maybe a bit too close for this student. So I’m compiling relevant activitiesthat we can use on the Smartboard.
  • Audio recording. I’m not sure this is a good idea given this student’s reluctance to speak, but I also feel it would be a powerful tool for him. While in a digital storytelling workshop at BLC09 over a week ago, I was thinking about this student as well. if I compile compelling images for him to choose from, put them in a Voicethread and ask him to write comments and maybe speak about the images it may be a safe place to start. It’s risky, but I’ve had 3rd grade students who were reluctant to do almost anything involving literacy and when we began podcasting they were writing and recording eagerly.
  • We’ll meet 6 times before our school begins this year, I’d love to create something with him that he can take to share with his class during those first few days. I’d like to see him to start the year contributing in all ways- not the shy, reluctant boy they saw last year but the bold guy underneath. Again, it may be too risky but is worth a shot.

So, what do you think of the above? Any additional ideas or thoughts to add that may help when I start on Monday??

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