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