Monday, November 18, 2013

Diorama to Minecraft: A Shift in Audience

Last week, my 4th grader came home with another science project to do at home. The final product was to be a shoebox diorama of a temperate forest biome.  My initial reaction was annoyance, as at home science projects become parent projects in my opinion. My second reaction was disappointment because a diorama is a decidedly low tech option to learning product. Also, we have made a diorama each and every year for different reasons, and we are not crafty people. Plus, I had not saved a shoebox in preparation!

Last winter break, Dylan came home with a Solar System project that I know my neighbors spent beaucoup bucks at JoAnne Fabrics and Hobby Lobby getting supplies and then hours and hours cutting, folding, painting, etc. We encouraged our son to create his on his own from supplies we had at home. The Solar System he created was not a thing of beauty, but he did learn about scale and how to transfer that to a replica of the solar system, and the order of the planets. String, balls of colored paper and a bend coat hanger did the job.

This 4th grade science project was to create a shoebox diorama of a temperate forest. We had to have a balance of living and non living elements, to site the sources for research, use copyright free images and to write 5 interesting facts. He started by going to find images to print out. Scale is important in this project also, because the mushrooms couldn't be bigger than the rabbits or foxes in the representation of the biome. That's when he got frustrated! He is not a PhotoShop expert, so he struggled to get the sizes right. After several sizing failures, Dylan got an idea!

My son is a HUGE Minecraft fan, and spends a lot of time creating hotels, farms and buildings with the neighbors in all kinds of worlds. He asked if he could create the biome in Minecraft. He wanted to create the world, record himself doing an explanation of the biome (like he sees on YouTube all the time) and then add in his interesting facts at the end. I took a chance and emailed his teacher. She thought it would be a great idea!

I am so proud of my son for taking his learning into his own hands and asking his teacher to change the project. I am so pleased with his 4th grade teacher Ms. Lardo, for taking a chance and allowing student choice to modify her lesson plans. I hope that other teachers will see this project, and perhaps allow student choice to transform their projects from a very low tech diorama to a more 21st century project, with an authentic audience and that embraces creativity.

When I checked before writing this post, he already had 2 comments and 54 views of his video, and I have only shared it on Facebook! Talk about an audience larger than his teacher or class! Dylan saw the comments people left for him earlier today, (thanks @jepke and @JMGubbins for taking the time) and was so pleased to have feedback from viewers. He eyes lit up. I had tears in my eyes.

Oh...and I know he knows a lot about the characteristics of a temperate forest as well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are You A Professional?

This last week, I had the amazing opportunity to be on a curriculum review committee in my school district! To me, this is an opportunity to read about best practice, look for great resources or lesson plans, and best of all, to plan with peers, who are teaching the same topics. Planning collaboratively is when the best ideas come about! Sharing tips, tricks and lessons that worked are the best part of teaching! We have autonomy to change our plans, the structure, or the lesson standards to best meet student needs. Talk about creative freedom!

Curriculum reviews are very touchy subjects when it comes to teachers though, because it means that they might, or more likely, will,  have to change their lesson plans, their projects and maybe topics within their curriculum.

It comes as no surprise to us teacher that teachers don't love change! We all know colleagues who ask, "Why are we changing this? I have been teaching this for a long time, and it is still working just fine." Or "Why do I have to change? What is wrong with these kids that they aren't grasping the material?".  During our first couple of meetings, those very ideas surfaced.

The truth is, like most other professions, there are professional responsibilities that we need to embrace if we are going to be professionals. For me, that is being connected to best practice research based learning strategies. Learning about reading strategies, or technology integration strategies, or honing my skills in teaching digital citizenship, or research tools.

The best way to stay informed in our profession is to become a Connected Educator. I can't tell you how many more articles, ideas and posts I have been reading since I have become connected. Being connected means that you are reaching out to other educators and listening to and sharing ideas, through Twitter, Edmodo, Facebook, RSS feeders or reading blogs by respected members of our profession.

Some educators are the kind that always have professional reading on their desks, and are interested in honing their craft, changing their management style, embracing technology to allow students to connect outside the classroom walls, looking at the newest best practices based on new research. Then, there are the others who are simply not reading about best practice in their profession at all.

What if your doctor never read about new discoveries in disease control, or drug interactions? What if your mechanic didn't stay abreast of the newest technologies in your car? What if the architects didn't change plans or ideas based on new research and materials on earthquakes or hurricanes?

If you are not reading about how our students's learning styles are changing, the Common Core Standards or the personalizing of education movement, or how to embrace the power of technology in your classroom, then you are not fulfilling your responsibilities as a professional.

Get connected. Read. Grow. Change. Be a professional.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

To Google or not to Google?

Our inquiry project (see previous post for details) is has been going on for several days. The students have been looking at images, political cartoons, and paintings of the Reconstruction Era.
Some are making connections and asking good questions about Reconstruction.

So, now we are at the point where students need to research their questions. Do we send them to the databases or to google?

I know that the databases offer articles that are more middle school oriented, with built in lexile levels, images and engaging videos. My favorite database is Student Resources in Context by Gale at the moment. But, students don't like using the databases! They want to Google everything.

In the past, the librarian would set up "Path finders" for students, and bookmark reliable sources, great videos or organizations that had good resources. The librarian did a lot of work vetting the sources for the students. The students went to the resources and found the answers to their essential questions without worrying about knowing about transliteracy or how to evaluate sources. Does this serve the students well in the long run? Isn't part of learning knowing how to find the answers?

This is where I struggle. I know that databases offer the best articles for kids, but what if they can't access the databases? Shouldn't they know how to evaluate the sources? How to use the advanced tools to search more effectively? Shouldn't the students learn how to look at images, videos and other media to gain information?

We are going to give them a tour of Student Resources in Context, and World Book Online today. We will encourage them to use these databases today, but tomorrow we will give them some tips and tricks on evaluating good websites and how to search effectively on Google. We will see which method yields more results.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Reconstruction, an Inquiry Project? Is that even possible?

Over the last week, I have been planning with an 8th grade teacher to do inquiry project. This is a HUGE moment for me and my role as Creative Innovative Specialist. Not because this is the first time I have planned for instruction with a teacher, but because this is the first time this teacher is going to try and let student interest guide  the project! The tough part has been how to structure the project for Greg. He picked a topic that is probably too limited for real inquiry learning, and is very fact heavy.  The topic is American History, specifically Reconstruction.  I am not even sure that a try inquiry topic can have such a narrow focus, but we are going to give it a shot!

So, how do you create a student directed project on a topic that they don't really think about or wonder about. That's where it got difficult! So, we decided to go with images the time period as the jumping off point, instead of articles or textbook writings.

The images are stunning, engaging and will hopefully trigger the students to wonder about the time enough to come up with a plan of action!

There is some debate on creating the essential question for the students or letting them come up with their own. Ewan McIntosh (@ewanmcintosh) would say that it is essential that the students come up with the questions to investigate, but Greg felt that a guiding essential question is the only way to ensure that the students learn about Reconstruction, which is part of his curriculum guide.

Day 1: Our essential question is "Does racial equality depend on government action?" The plan is to give the students some background knowledge before showing them the images by doing the "K" in a KWL chart with the students, then presenting them some facts or ideas in a video that Greg created. 

Day 2: Show the student the images, in an art gallery type setting, ask them to come up with some questions that the people in the images might be asking, and do some wondering about the actual locations, time period and intent of the images. Then, ask the students what they are wondering about after working with the images. They will share their wonderings with their group, then do a some research on one of the questions that they came up with in their groups.

Day 3-7: After a little bit of research, we are going to ask the students to come up with a question that they are going research further. (We will be there to guide them away from Google-able ones, of course!) The students research their questions and look for present day connections and then find a way to share their learning with their peers.

So, is this really an inquiry based project? Not in the purest sense for sure...but, I was so happy to work with Greg to change his normally very structured question asking, fact finding projects into something that might ignite more motivation, understanding and interest in the roots of racism in our students.

I will write more posts as the unit progresses. If you have any tips or ideas, please let me know! We need all the help we can get!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Want to become a Connected Educator? It will change your life.

"Connected Educators" are defined as teachers who are actively involved in connecting with their peers, their students and the world through blogging, social media and chat rooms and bring back what they learn to their classroom, school and district.

The old days of isolation and closed classroom doors are a distant memory. Connected Educators are honing their teaching practice and sharing about learning by talking to experts, colleagues and reading about best practice online. The discussions between teachers are shifting from complaints in the staff rooms to creative problem solving and shifting pedagogy.

For me, the journey to become a connected educator has been eye opening, uplifting and has shaped who I am as a person. It has changed my ideas about education, teaching and learning. I feel like I get filled up by being connected to educators around the world. I love learning, reading about what others are doing, seeing student work, hearing about what does not work and where teachers are going on their own journeys.

It's like working with a creative, helpful, positive friend who is always in the classroom next door! I have not felt so inspired and supported since I was so lucky to have Lori Feeney as a teaching partner. Lori and I planned together, shared ideas, reflected, laughed and were there for each other every time we tweaked our lesson plans. Now, my "Lori Feeney" are all the teachers on Twitter. Since I became connected, I spend time reflecting on my own teaching, tweaking it with each lesson, blogging, and sharing on Twitter. Instead of complaining about how hard my job is, I talk to my Personal Learning Network (PLN) about what they are doing, and together, we shift the focus from what is not going well to what we can do to fix it.

I have three favorite ways to connect with my PLN. Twitter, Edmodo and Pinterest.

I spend the lion's share of my time on Twitter, sorting by hashtag (a total must), and clicking on links for blogs, web tools or online documents shared. Often, I store (because we teachers are gatherers aren't we?) and then incorporate them into my practice. I can't tell you how many times I have gone into another teacher's room and said, "Hey, I saw this on Twitter..." when we co-plan.
My next favorite is Edmodo. Edmodo is like the perfect balance between Twitter and Facebook. Teachers signed up either through their district or on their own, originally to connect students. But, as time went by, teachers formed groups and then began sharing tips and ideas on Edmodo. It is a great place to start for those who aren't ready for the rapid fire noise of Twitter.
Pinterest is awesome for people who aren't really exactly sure what they are looking for. It is very visual, amazingly easy to find great infographs, teaching rubrics, lesson ideas, images, and all things crafty. Recently, they added a comment section, allowing a little bit more back and forth in terms of communication too.

Becoming a connected educator is not just about gathering information though! It is about building relationships, sharing and reflecting on your teaching.

Are you looking to learn how to speak The Twitter? Recently, my great friends Carrie Baughcum (@carriebaughcum) and Jenna Hacker (@jennahacker) and I presented to teachers in our school district. Carrie ( created a really helpful Thinglink to help people get all the resources they need to begin getting connected. P.S. She also designed the graphics for my blog! She rocks.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Marketing Your Classroom: For Teachers

I have a new mission! I have recently become passionate about sharing the amazing things that are happening inside classrooms in my school, in my children's classrooms, and in the school I work in. The media does not see education in a positive light right now. We, as teachers, have the power to change the way teachers and education are being discussed! Simple tools like, Youtube and can really help you market your classroom to the community.

Recently, my littlest cheeky monkey (4) started daycare. Each day, I get a picture (or three), a
little description of the lessons she participated in, what they ate for lunch, and where she played, read and whether or not she napped! I can't help but feel that I know what is going on in the classroom academically, but also, I get a feel for her experiences too. I also have direct knowledge of what happened, so at dinner time, I can initiate a conversation about her day and get more than "Nothing Mum" when I ask, "What did you do today in school?"
Because we have pictures of happy kids sent home every day, I have very positive feelings about my child's school.

I am not so naive as to think that teachers could spend that kind of time daily sharing about each student with their parents! That would be not time well spent! But, what about taking a picture of the students as they gather around the rug? Or working in the library? Or, using the iPads for research? Or working in groups? Spending time discussing a recent novel? Debating a news issue? Then, adding a simple tag line or short description of what is happening! A picture is worth a thousand words right?
Why not send home those images each week through email to parents?
Why not assign a new classroom job or two to students? Maybe a reporter? Or photographer can help you create the images to market your room?

I don't think a newsletter has the same power as a video. And, we teachers have all spent a lot of time creating those, haven't we?

Last year, in my school, I started a student club that was in charge of communicating with the students and community all the amazing things that are going in school. Students take the pictures, shoot the video, interview the students and teachers, then compile them into a 2-4 minute broadcast.
Sample SMSNews Broadcast
We sometimes edit the movies, or simply add the images into This tool is so slick and easy to use. People will think you are a tech wizard, and it takes minutes to upload and share a ridiculously amazing video. (SMSNews)
The parent response to this email has been phenomenal, and the students love creating it and watching it each week in homeroom. What a great way to share the AMAZING things that happen each day in a school, right?

Or, what about sending a Thinglink interactive image. allows you to add hot spots on any image like text, links or even other images. This could be a great two or three minute way to market your classroom too!

The tools don't really matter. The images you send home do!
Of course, be sure to ask for parent permission to use student images online. I don't recommend putting student names under images either! Also, put your group emails addresses into the blind copy box so that the parents' emails remain private from one another, and remember to keep the descriptions or text upbeat, and positive!

You have the power to change the style of communication in your classroom.  An animated dinner conversation about a great day at school goes a long way to changing the way parents feel about their child's education too!

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"10 Years Ago, I Created a CD..." said a teacher.

I have been mulling over something that a teacher said to me last week as we began a project, and I just can't get it out of my head! This great teacher (I am not being sarcastic...he is a wonderful teacher) said, "Jen, can you find the civil war music we put on CDs ten years ago so the kids can put them into their iMovie projects?"
I, of course went digging around in our computer lab cabinets and found the pile of CDs, but as I was digging for the music, I thought about what that means for this teachers' curriculum and how he integrates technology. What it means to the students experiences and engagement in my school and how technology is used in the curriculum.
I have been working with teachers to think about their curriculum, the tools we have available to us and the way that they design the learning in their classrooms. There are some, like this great teacher, who use technology for specific parts of the curriculum and do the same project year after year. 
The idea that in May, we make a Civil Rights movie with music of the time, images taken from a Google image search and then put into iMovie with full sentence descriptors scrolling over the images, prevails, even today! 
I have been assisting with this teacher on this project, and don't get me wrong, the students are engaged. They are collecting facts, searching for images on google and then going to YouTube and selecting background music for their projects. 

I am struggling with this type of technology use in the classroom for a number of reasons.
1.  The teacher comes up with the essential questions.
2.  The students collect facts and retell the facts without creating anything new from the facts they have learned.
3. The production of the movie takes 10 days for 30-40 minutes a day!
4. The students are grabbing audio and images from the web without any regard for copyright.
5. The students are checking off each item on the rubric as they create.
6. The students don't have a choice of product. Everyone makes a movie.
7. The students watch 6-8 final projects in class, on the same subject, often with the same facts explained.

I love that the students are engaged, and they are collaborating, but oh my! there is a lot of room for improvement in this instructional design!
My job as the technology facilitator is to work with the teachers to change, evolve and look at their curriculum as a changing, fluid program.

This great teacher and I are going to be working very closely next year, as I implement my, "Adopt a Teacher" program (described on my blog last week). We will look at the design of the lesson, and hopefully, shift the question generating to the students. Then, I will recommend that the students are offered choices of final products. While the curriculum unit is going on, we will look at copyright laws, and certainly, the students will be encouraged to use EasyBib (which can easily be saved into GoogleDrive with one click sign in)

to create a bibliography. In addition, the National Library of Congress has an amazing selection of primary sourced images, music, interviews, etc. available. The resources are so much richer than using Google Image searches. I use any opportunity to showcase this great resource to kids! Finally, the students will be given the learning standards instead of a rubric, and then encouraged to grade themselves based on the learning standards. Each group will generate 3-5 higher level questions that can be answered by others as they review their learning product. The end products will be shared on a social media site like Edmodo, and then the students will be asked to review the final projects outside of class.
Students will post their comments and reviews on Edmodo. 

 When I think about my teaching style, I find it amazing, that each May for 10 years, that someone would be teaching the same topic in the same way.
I guess, I am looking for other ways to encourage this great teacher to look at his "May Civil Right Movie Project" and transform it into a more student focused blended learning lesson.
Reach out to me @jmaclaurin on Twitter with your ideas.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Reflections on TechForum 2013

On Friday, I was fortunate to be able to attend Tech Forum, a one day conference put on my Tech & Learning Magazine.
It was a day filled with meet ups with friends and colleagues who work in technology in education. It is always so great to chat with people who do what I do. Often, I feel alone in my school as no one else does the job I do. This year, as most years, I look back on the school year and wish that I had more of an impact in changing the way students learn in our school.

TechForum and the people I heard speak have reignited me. Andy Kohl, Elizabeth Greene and Dan Rezak's presentation about how to approach technology integration holistically really helped me to take stock of our progress in my school. After sitting, talking and listening to their presentation, I have decided to change some of my strategies to get teacher by in.

Each week, I do a Thursday Tech Three email (also shared in their blog)to the staff with links to videos, great apps, nice resources students, motivating blog posts, really, a spattering of different resources. The staff tell me they love it, and I have cotaught with many teachers around the tools I have shared in that email each week.  But in reality, upon reflection at Tech Forum, I realized that it probably is helpful for the teachers who are open to changing their delivery methods, but those teachers who are still "covering the curriculum" and "getting through the material" with their students are really the ones who need the resources more are not even opening it.

Adopt A Teacher
To reach the reluctant teachers, I am going to change my co teaching style. I am going to "adopt a teacher", and work with one teacher over a longer period of time. That is, we will set some big goals together, and then I will be in their classroom with them each day, each period if need be, to support them as they teach. I will be there as an extra hand, a sounding board for their ideas, bring tech creativity tools, help the teacher let the students uncover the curriculum, work in more creativity, choices, collaboration and freedom. I have worked often with some of my teachers, and  the more time I spend with them in their rooms, not even teaching, but supporting, the more risks they take, the more tech they integrate and the more creative their students become.

Tech Avengers/ Tech Deputies
Students are the ones who are the most comfortable with the tech, so I am going to give them the lisence to be the experts in the classrooms. I will start a club, which I had done in a previous school with much success, and train students on web tools, simple trouble shooting, how to care for the computer carts, etc. I will get to the teachers through the students. The kids will create screencasts of how to use apps, or tools that would be great resources to use for sharing student learning. The kids will be Tech Avengers, and they will help (or push) the teachers to let them try new tools in the classroom. They will have a form to complete if they need more help, and one to submit each time they do help in the class. That way, we will have data around the good they are doing in moving our building forward!

Gather the Cool Ideas
I am going to start a document gathering all the great tools, student samples and what successes the students are having in different rooms with different teachers. It will be a simple spot where I can track, store and celebrate what is going on each day in our school. I want to gather the successes! Track the change, see who is doing that there is evidence of the change our school is accomplishing.

Get a Seat at the Table
I am going to approach my Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction and ask for a seat on the Social Studies curriculum review committee. I am going to ask if I can be present during the meetings to listen, to share ideas, to ask good questions and to be a part of the change from the moment that it starts. One of the problems I see in my school and in education generally is that we adopt a new curriculum, ask the teachers to change habits, tools, resources etc. then ask them to layer technology on top of all that change. Then, the teachers have the out of using tech because they are "so busy learning the new curriculum". If I am at the table, then the tech can be integrated and seen as a value from the beginning. To help the teachers move beyond substitution and automation in the SAMR model.

Okay, that was really 4 ideas I am going to implement going forward...I can't wait to get change going!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Minecraft in School? Too much Drama?

For several weeks, studens have been asking if we could host a Minecraft Club after school in our middle school. I am not a Minecraft expert, so before we agreed to host a club, my colleague and I decided to do some recognizance. We read articles, scoured the blogs, watched videos, talked to my 9 year old son who loves to play, and to other tech people in our district schools.

Minecraft is a hugely popular game that can offer students amazing collaborative, problem solving learning experiences. But, it can also expose students to bullying, hurt feelings and frustration too. We want our club to be successful and a real asset to our school. So, we plan on taking baby steps!
This week, a peer and I, hosted our first Minecraft Club meeting. We knew it was going to be a popular club, but, we had no idea how popular! The classroom was filled to the gills with Minecraft t-shirt wearing middle schoolers, most of whom were boys.
We didn't actually play any Minecraft that day. We simply gathered the students' ideas about what they would like happen during the club meetings and what kinds of activities they were interested in engaging in inside Minecraft. There were lots of games that they wanted to play that I had never heard of! I was so glad that the students were open with us about playing "Hunger Games" (playing to the death, just like the movie), "Capture the Flag" (just like outdoor game), "PVP" (player versus player until you are the last player still alive), "Mob Survival" (still working on figuring that one out), "Team Faction PVP" (play until your team has killed all the other teams), and some others.
Both my colleague and I were very concerned about keeping the students feelings safe and to make our club a fun, positive and great place for kids to come build and hang out.
I was surprised at how open the kids were with us about what they do in Minecraft at home. Four kids even raised their hand and admitted to 'griefing" (MC speak for destroying other players' creations).
We now have a game plan!
1.The students will play in Creative Mode (no killing, only building) in the LMC next week.
2. We are going to have groups of 3-4 students log into their already created Minecraft accounts and work together to collaboratively build a Wonder of the World, or a Chicago landmark.
3. We will not allow:
a) the chat function
b) no TNT (they can use it to blow each other's structures up)
c) any one caught "griefing" will be asked to log off

We are hoping eventually to get a server for our club that we can control, but we are going to take a chance with online servers until we can get the funds to create our own.
We are cautiously optimistic that our club will foster community, and then we can open up more options to the students as we learn how we are going to operate as a group.

We have also roped our building support technician, Paul, to help us with the kids. He has played a lot of Minecraft and knows who to set up a server, and all the games that the kids play we don't know about! He is going to be an amazing asset!

Stay tuned for next's week's episode of Minecraft Drama!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Creating Images to Capture Research

In the coming weeks, our school will be going on an outdoor Lorado Taft in Illinois. The students have all been assigned to a camp group with a name of a Native American tribe.
education trip to
Our Social Studies teacher wanted the students to do research on their tribe. That's where the librarian and I came in. Instead of just "fact finding", we encouraged the teacher to focus the students' research around an essential question. Then, look for evidence of character traits in the articles and then choose an image to represent the tribe based on the characteristics they found. Essentially, to do a short research project (a la Common Core) from one or two sources, and come up with an image to represent their tribe at Taft.
In this case, the essential question was "How did characteristics of Native American tribes vary depending on their geographical area? How does one tribe differ from another?"

The students used Google Drive to capture their research so that they could collaborate with their tribe members. Also, when we went to create the Tagxedo (Wordle like Web2.0 tool), they could paste their analysis and evidence of the characteristics of each tribe into the word box to generate for their image.

The students researched using World Book Online and Cengage Learning, both databases we have paid for a subscription.

Then, once the students read the articles, they came up with three characteristics that would best describe their tribe. Then they wrote an analysis of the evidence.

The evidence from their research and the analysis was copied and pasted into Tagxedo. (Silverlight 5 might need to be downloaded for the application to load.)

The image that the students wanted to represent their tribe was loaded into Tagxedo, they played with the colors and voila! a beautiful image to represent their tribe!

Each student in the tribe created an image that we saved to the shared student server. Then in their tribes, the students voted on the best image, and that image was printed and then will be taken to TAFT to represent the whole tribe during the outdoor education experience.

We were pleased with the outcome because:
1. The students used 1-2 well chosen sources to look answer their essential questions.
2. The usual "fact finding" was transformed into a valuable short research project.
3. The students needed to think about their tribe and chose an image carefully.
4. I loved that the images were not ALL printed, and the students could vote on the image that represented their tribe best. There were some heated discussions about the choice of images...indicating that the students chose their images with purpose.

If I was to change the project, I would allow the students more time for research and to discuss with the students how they were chosing their images. They went to Google Images and uploaded images. I would have liked to discuss in more depth where they could go to select images that were in the public domain.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Student Presentations: Oh my!

Every day in my school, students use Google Presentations to share their knowledge and to "tell facts" to their class. It is torturous for both students and teachers.

The teachers and I really wanted to challenge the students to give engaging presentations, where the audience is engaged and learning. Then, I remembered the keynote speeches I saw last summer.

I was fortunate enough to attend Building Learning Communities (#BLC13) Conference that Alan November puts on each year in Boston, last July. What struck me about the keynote speakers was that they taught us all kinds of things without the traditional presentation slides. In fact, they displayed amazingly engaging images and few words.

When I saw the educational visionairies present, I thought, this is exactly what I have been trying to describe to my students! So, it has been my mission this year to challenge the students at my school to transform their presentations. I won't lie, it has been an uphill battle!
When I explained the new process to the students, I showed them TED talks, Eli Pariser's on online filtering, partly because it was an engaging topic for 8th graders, but also because his talk was a great example of the style of presentation I was proposing.

The students discussed what they noticed about the slides, then the candance of Eli's talk, but also about the stage. Once I pointed it out, the students noticed the teleprompter in the floor.
From there, we came up with a plan to create two presentations in Google Drive.
One presentation was the "teleprompter" with all the words the students were going to share. The other one was the presentation that the audience would see, with engaging images and little to no text. Then, on presentation day, the students had the projector hooked up to one computer, then another laptop for their teleprompter.
The teachers and the students loved the process because it allowed to students to give their presentation confidently because they had their notes in front of them to refer to, and then the audience loved it because they were engaged in the visually stunning images.

We are working on moving from telling of facts to creating something new with their new found steps.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mission: Communication

I have been on a mission, this past year, to improve communication with our parent community. This mission arose from my own frustration with my children's school, where the communication about my kids is sparse at best. As a parent, I struggle because I don't really have any idea what my kids' day consists of, or what they are actually doing in school.
So, this year, I have been thinking about how to improve communication to our parents and to give them a glimpse into their own children's school life.
One of the tools that we use each week to share images is It is such a visually stunning tool that is so simple and quick to use. In fact, for the first two months that I was creating videos for the school, people thought I spent hours editing. There is also an app for Animoto, and it makes creating and sharing even easier!
I shared the tool with some of the multi-age special education teachers, so that they could create videos from their field trips, or special events. The parents of those children have been so thrilled that they can see their students doing things at school that they have never seen them do at home...imagine the power in that! Amazing!
The other tool I use is kid power! I have a club afterschool where the students go out and interview teachers or students, and take pictures of the events going on at school. Then, the students meet with me and we develop a YouTube video to share with the community on our own SMSNews25 Channel.
The videos are shared on our school website and through a listserv that the parents sign up to receive.
In the coming months, I plan to get a Twitter account for our school and share and tweet some of the school projects we are doing and invite the world to comment and collaborate with our students. Our teachers are just now getting ready to have a two way conversation with the steps!
I believe that improving communication with the community can only help teachers and schools. Parents want to know what their students' days look like, to participate in their learning, and lots of packets of papers coming home misses the mark! As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Other tools to explore:
1. an online portfolio spot
2. Classroom blogs like Kidblog, Blogger, etc
3. to create beautiful newsletters so easily
4. Inviting parents into your Edmodo groups.

Communication from your classroom or school should be more like PR. Market yourself and the great things you are doing with your students...I know I would be so happy if my kids' school did it for us!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Conflicted: Amplify by Rupert Murdoch

Can change in educational practices be fuelled by Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp? His company released the Amplify tablet a couple of days ago that might well change education in America. It might force schools to use technology as a tool for learning, rather than a fun tool or neat project. The tablet allows students and teachers to be connected minute to minute, to differentiate curriulum and to engage students all at the same time. It seems to be different from iPads because, all the machines are all connected, all the time to the teacher. The teachers can monitor, assign items and students can collaborate, create and analyze problems on their own tablet. It sounds like it might be a great way to get reluctant teachers to change their teaching style. To move away from reading textbooks, directing and choosing what the students will learn to a more student centered approach. It might help those teachers who don't like that students "can be on that Youtube" when they are supposed to be at the Library of Congress to meet students' interests and way of learning half way. Kids need to connect, collaborate, create to learn. Kids need to ask the questions not give the can create that kind of environment, if the teachers would only let go of the power.

As a teacher and woman, I find it hard to think about anything that Rupert Murdoch says as anything but greedy, self serving and a little gross frankly! But, the change agent in me feels like anyone who participates in the the ed reform (#edreform on Twitter) movement in the United States might be asking the right questions, pushing teachers to change and look at the whole system as fostering and maintaining inequality. I spend time reading on Twitter the posts from both educators (doing amazing things with kids #eduwin), and reading what the reform movement wants for our system. I believe that most teachers are changing, trying to meet the needs of our tech savvy students, growing and learning as professionals. But, some are not.
Maybe, I have to look at the tools that Rupert Murdoch's company is producing, and what it might do for education, rather than his personal failings and Fox News affiliations!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Teachers Need to be Accessible.

This week, I shared with my staff three tools or tips, plus Edmodo again. We currently use Edline as our Classroom Management System, and it is clunky, hard to post to and to personalize. It is really not a social networking tool. More of a directionally one way tool to share information. Students in our world crave and rely on a two way form of communication with each other, and with their parents. They FaceTime their friends as they do homework. They call their parents when they change locations. Parents text their kids to find out if they are staying after school.

Are you ready to be accessible to your students beyond the school day? In every other profession, companies and colleagues can be reached way beyond the work day. Why do educators think that that is an unreasonable request?
Our students are learners that want instant feedback and to be connected to each other. Why do we teachers think that is not how education works?
I think Edmodo is a tool that would allow students to have access and be connected to each other, and for teachers to maintain their home life. Teachers can post links, videos, homework and answer questions from the website or the app, for multiple students and classes all at once. Why not use it? We all are on Facebook aren't we?

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Today, I went to the first ever PLAYDATE13 conference. PLAYDATE13 was conceived by teachers because they wanted time to learn, practice and discover new technology to use in school, without all the sitting and just listening part of conferences. Imagine, time to play with the tool as you are introduced to it! It was invigorating!

We gathered at National Teacher's Academy in Chicago. Registrants were told to register for certain sessions based on interest, then asked to explore and download all the tools before the conference. Then today, we gathered in sessions, were briefly introduced to the tools, then we played with the tools. We talked about the application of the tools and where and when it could be used. It was great to have the time to play with the tech right then as you heard about it.

Top Take Aways

 1.  A digital portfolio for teachers. A place to showcase student work and what is going on in your classroom. Blog like, with a vertical feel, with spaces for comments. It could handle images, files, audio, everything but links. So, pretty cool. Plus it was lighting fast, and the  app for the iPhone and iPad was great too!

2.    Pronounced "School- ogy". Edmodo like, but so much more powerful in the way it deals with student work that is turned into teachers. Teachers can scroll through student work, with the whole class in one window and comment on it on the right hand side of the screen. It is just a more advanced classroom management system.

3. Paperport Notes App   First, its free! Bring in documents of any kind into the notebook, students can annotated it with text, audio or post it notes. It can be drawn on, highlighted and then emailed. Like GoodReader but better!

4. Subtext App  Also free! Bring anything into subtext, especially webpages, online articles or whatever text, and it strips down the graphics and images, and makes the text into a digital book. It reads like an ebook. I need to play with this one more, but it seems like it would be very powerful for close reading of articles that are online.

5. Doctopus   A script that is run inside Google Apps for Education that allows teachers to assign documents to small groups, large groups, individuals all without going through the tedium of sharing with each student. A super time saver...but complicated! I have NOT mastered this one, but I am determined to figure it out. I am sure it will be a super time saver for sharing documents in our middle school.

Here is the link to the PLAYDATE13 resource page. It has all the tools that were explored today in Chicago and Portland, Oregon and will also include Boston after their conference on March 16th.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse was the historical fiction novel that the 7th graders were reading. The LA teachers came to the LMC Director, Kay, and I to develop a unit for the students.  The goal was to enhance the students' understanding of the setting and the plight of the characters in the novel through studying the period in history.

We chose to use for the student's final artifact because the teachers are very familiar with it and thought it best to use something they know well. But, we could have chosen anything really! Students were divided into groups and charged with researching The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of 1929-1939. Each group was provided with an esssential question that guided their research and used EasyBib to collect their research and sources. Each group will view all of the voicethreads (jigsaw style) and answer student generated questions about all the other projects so they familiarize themselves will all the topics studied. 

Students went to The Library of Congress and used the primary sources of the photography and music archives to set the scene for their research. The music and voices of the time really motivated the students to learn more about the topic. 

Too often, students use to retell the facts on a topic. They read verbatim information they copied from their sources. Voicethread is full of these types of projects. We were interested in creating something new from the research. Students were encouraged to find a point of view to share their learning on the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. To take ownership of their own learning, and create an engaging projects to teach the rest of their class about their topic. 

The final projects ranged from news broadcasts, radio shows, radio plays and hard hitting interviews with FDR.  The presentations were creative, engaging and the students really internalized the period in history for them. 

I had an Aha! moment. I saw that creating something new from the research was what changed the engagement of the students. They got into character, walked in the shoes of the migrant workers and the heard the pain of the time. The students owned the learning! Their Voicethreads are the best we have ever made. 

For the next time:
We would ask the students to come up with their own essential questions. 
We would use something that allows images to flow more smoothly in the background of the audio, while maintaining the global audience that Voicethread provides.
We would allow the students to use background sounds to enhance the mood.

Causes and Effects of the Dust Bowl

Innovations From the Dust Bowl

Monday, January 28, 2013

Embarrassing Moments

Today, as I was being observed (of course) by my principal, I made a total rookie mistake! I was teaching the students about how to find and navigate the primary sources in the Library Of Congress digital photographs archive, when to my horror, an inappropriate image came up on the BIG screen. I was stunned to find the image of a woman nursing when I put in the keyword "Drought" and "Dust Bowl", but there it was! Right there in front of 60 students and my principal. Luckily, I have the fastest hands in the MidWest, so I was able to gently move the image out of sight. I kept moving, demonstrating how to adjust keywords to change the search results. I don't think the students really saw anything...but it got me to thinking.

Why am I sharing this story? Well, it is a perfect way to start my first blog. 

I have been teaching for 10 years, and still, I get nervous when I am being observed. Still, no matter how much I plan the lesson, practice the delivery, try to create the best possible, most engaging lesson, I can not plan for all student responses. Meaning, when you pose a question to a group of students, you need to validate their answers by following through on their idea. Especially if their ideas are right on target. I did today, and instead of following a pre-planned, and safe link to a beautiful primary sourced image, I put in their keyword, and BAM! 

I guess I panicked because I was being formally observed by my principal. If I had been teaching on my own with the students, I would have moved the image out of direct sight, but I would have taken that moment as a teachable moment. I would have shared my surprise with my students, and I would have asked them what I should do now that I have found an inappropriate image in my search.

I feel strongly that students need to be taught about what to do in those situations. But, instead of going with my gutt, I chose to ignore it and move the lesson forward because I was being observed. Students don't always operated inside the filtered, uber safe school sanctioned internet. They explore. They search for answers. They use Youtube to solve problems. All of those quests to learn put them in danger of finding inappropriate images and content. So, we need to help them navigate those situations without judgement or punishment. 

Why do I change my teaching when I am being observed? Why can't I be my authentic self in the face of evaluation?