Saturday, April 12, 2014

Let's Talk About It!

I was an intermediate teacher (mostly at sixth grade) for twenty-two years before becoming a K-5 Technology Specialist. In my third year, I still struggle with instructional design for my Kindergarteners.

One strategy I have been using more frequently is to work on oral skills. As students play games or work on a digital task, I stroll by them, observing and making comments or asking questions. When I take the time to carefully watch their activity, I can easily find "teachable moments."

Here are some recent examples.

"Let's count together, 1,2,3,4,5...what comes after 5?"

"Where do these animals live?"

"What animal is this?"

"Which animal do you like most?"

"What happens when you click on the curved arrows?"

"Please point to the square."

"How does this game work?"

"Can you tell me how you do this?"

"What are you making?"

"Do you have a favorite drawing tool?"

Through these short interactions, I can communicate with each child individually. We can make connections, share an idea and develop oral language skills. I can also observe skills a student is using, find a teaching point or correct a misconception.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pass the Story Please!

My fourth graders are working on writing fiction. We added two twists using Google docs. Each student created a document in which they started writing a story with two characters. They are creating rebus stories, in which some words are omitted and are replaced by images.

Using Google documents makes this task seamless. Using the research tools, students can conduct searches in the same window in which they are writing. Research is opened under "Tools."

Students select "images" (signified by the camera icon) in the pull down menu of the search window. I help them narrow the type of images they find by asking them to use "clip art ______." When they find an image they wish to use in their story, they simply drag it into the sentence and resize it. If they want to use the same image later in their story, it is easy to copy and paste it.

Students wrote the beginning of their story only. They then shared their document with a classmate designated by me. Each student went to their "Shared with me" folder to find their classmate's story beginning. After reading the story beginning and selecting a different font, they continued the story. My instructions gave them freedom to change anything about the story except the characters. After writing the middle of the story, they share it with a third student who changes the font again and writes the story ending.

Students enjoyed writing these collaborative rebus stories.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Need to gather information easily? Try Google forms!

Our district now has Google Apps For Education (GAFE).  I have a difficult time answering the question, "Which App is the most useful?" I am really enjoying docs, presentations and drawings. When I need to assess students or gather information from students or staff, I use forms.

I am able to write my items in a variety of formats. Here are check boxes, a text field and multiple choice options. The red asterisk indicates the item is required. I find it really handy because students are unable to submit their responses if they leave a question unanswered. In this way, they never inadvertently miss giving a response.

A recent improvement to forms is the ability to drag images onto the items. It greatly expands the kinds of information you can share with your audience. I used Skitch to label a photograph to help students practice their search skills. Think of the possibilities in using images for math, geography, science and art.

While it is easy to write and edit the items in a form, the ability to automatically collect all responses in a Google spreadsheet is a huge time saver! Instead of looking at a stack of quizzes, surveys or assignments, you can view all responses on one screen. I love being able to compare all responses to the same item at a glance.

We collect teacher feedback after all school-wide professional development sessions. I used a Google form for our most recent session as a way to introduce the use of forms to our staff. 

When done creating your form, choose where you want the responses to go. I usually select a new spreadsheet, which will be named as the form is. Double check to make sure "Accepting responses" is showing.

How have you used forms in your classroom? How might you?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Solar System Animation

One of my latest discoveries is Animate on Using this great tool, my third grade students are creating animations to illustrate concepts as we study the solar system. A friendly tutorial shows students how to use the available tools to build their animations.

Our first step was taking time to experiment. Students selected a scene and at least one object to move through it. Most students really were motivated to go beyond the requirement and create a full story with many moving characters and props. They were very excited to show their work. Fortunately, the finished products can be saved and run in any browser.

As we studied the sun, planets and moons, students created animations which illustrated a planet revolving around the sun. They were also able to show the rotation of the Earth with a person or animal being pulled by gravity. Some showed the phases of the moon as it orbits Earth. 

By using this tool along with simulations, artwork and videos, the students were able to create a product that helps them understand some sophisticated concepts.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Combine Content & Creativity

I continue to focus on social emotional learning. My third graders are creating projects which help them explore and internalize the Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers. Kuyper has developed curriculum that classifies and explains emotions for children.

I introduced the framework by playing the game (available as an APP) on our interactive whiteboard. Our first task was to create a drawing or a picture on that illustrated a character in the Green Zone. Students enjoyed using the art tools to draw their own images or creating a picture by selection scenes and stickers. Dialogue is typed into speech bubbles.

As we focus on each zone, we spend time defining each emotion, giving synonyms and brainstorming scenarios in which people exhibit each emotion. I do not assume my students have prior understanding of the vocabulary. The activities allow them time to explore an emotion of choice and use their ideas to show their understanding.

Students created movie scenes to show characters displaying yellow zone emotions. The Make A Movie feature allows students to program characters and objects along a timeline. Characters can move and display many special effects.

Students are currently writing stories with a character in the Red Zone. Red Zone emotions include angry, elated, out of control and terrified. Kerpoof's Tell A Story feature gives many choices for each character, making it fun to match face and body language with the plot. Students are having fun combining content and skill learning with the chance to use their creativity.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Social Emotional Learning Projects

I am embedding social emotional learning into many of my technology projects this year, beginning with third and fourth graders. I am using Michelle Garcia Winner's work ( on problem solving with my fourth grade students. This screenshot comes from Jill Kuzma ( and is an example of the resources I am using.

Students began by brainstorming problems on a wall I created with They were very excited to use a shared digital space. After writing many ideas, I presented the idea of a continuum of problems. We categorized our problems into "small", "medium" and "big." 

Focusing on the small problems, students selected one to use in a comic strip. The students' task was to have two characters interacting to solve a small problem. We used Google APPs presentations, with each slide being a frame of the comic. The idea of using presentations for comics came from Eric Curts. Students used PNG formatted images from Students were able to show their creativity with graphic design and idea generation.

Our next steps in this project will include peer review/commenting, group editing and design improvement. Each of these process will be accomplished by easily sharing documents.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

To Tweet or Not To Tweet?

This post is my attempt to clarify some misconceptions about Twitter for teachers. I have had great conversations with several colleagues this past week and would like to share my insights.

First, we need to travel back in time. Stop in the year 2010. As a graduate student in a Technology licensure program, I was given the assignment to create a twitter account. I was angry. I felt that it was beyond the realm of my instructors' rights to tell me to create a social media account. When instructor Carl Anderson tried convincing us of the benefits of using Twitter with personal examples, I rudely commented that it seemed like a waste of time. (I later apologized.) He and Scott Schwister suggested educators to follow. I completed my obligatory assignments, including tweeting (which I considered ridiculous as I had my instructors and classmates as my only followers!) For the next 11 months, I never used my account.

Fast forward one year. I began some Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds challenges with teacher, author and blogger, Vicki Davis, aka Cool Cat Teacher. With her guidance, I began following teachers who shared resources and ideas. I lurked on twitter conversations much the same as I eavesdropped in restaurants. It felt a little "shadowy."

My breakthrough came when I discovered chats. People hold open conversations on Twitter by using a hashtag (# followed by letters). A user can read all the comments in a chat by searching the hashtag and viewing ALL. A moderator asks questions of the group and others answer. During this "free for all", we can also address individuals by replying to their tweets. It is a great way to get more information about a topic that is of interest. After lurking on a chat or two, I took the risk of jumping in with my own answers. I was pleasantly surprised to find others retweeting my responses and commenting on my ideas. I frequently follow many new "tweeps" after interacting with them during a chat such as #edtechchat or #tlap, both on Monday evenings (in my time zone).

As an elementary technology specialist, I have no one in my building with the same job as me. It is very different from the 22 years in which I had grade level colleagues with whom to share ideas. Now I have colleagues in my PLN (personal learning network) from many countries to learn with and from. If I have an idea or question for Vicki Davis or Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, I tweet them and they tweet back! It energizes me professionally. Because of my PLN, I have even created a second Twitter account as techteachtiger to use with parents. I plan to tweet with my students about our learning so parents can be informed.

Now, FINALLY, back to the present, September 2013. Many educators are being asked to join Twitter. Some are ready to jump right in and travel the fast path. But others may have some of the same frustration, hesitation and even fear that I did regarding Twitter. We have heard the news reports of individuals making extremely poor decisions that lead to their political downfalls and it is popular to denigrate celebrities and their fans for their use of this communication medium.

I am trying to balance my enthusiasm for Twitter as an excellent source of professional development with respect for those who are reluctant to use social media in their profession. If you, like me, join Twitter because you have to, please know that you will find great information if you follow other teachers and that you never even need to tweet unless you want to. On Twitter, even lurking can lead to learning!