Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blogging about Blogging

It's been awhile (6 months - yikes!) since I've posted.  I have several drafts saved, but nothing published yet. Where did all the time go? I need to figure out how to maintain my blog entries while teaching at the same time.  Here's to a summer filled with time to complete a few reflective entries!

This school year was my first adventure with personal blogging, but also blogging with kids.  The whole experience has been wonderful and I highly encourage other educators to dip their toes into the blogosphere.  I have learned a whole lot and am excited about doing a second year in the fall with my students.

Working with our Idea Lab Coordinator, I set up a class account on KidBlog.
 I like KidBlog for many reasons:
1) They have a great app for the iPad which is wonderful in a 1-1 iPad setting
2) The kids don't have to have an email address to use this site or provide any personal information
3) Teachers have administrative control over all the student blogs allowing them to invite parents and others if and when needed.
4) The blogs are private, unless the teacher makes them public.
5) The site allows students to create video or text entries - LOVE!

Check it out:

Prior to launching into writing entries we had discussions about our digital footprints.  These discussions were powerful and I intend to "beef" them up next school year.  We talked a lot about the lasting impression of our words online.  I wanted the kids to be thoughtful about what they wrote and how they presented themselves to their classmates and any others that might see their blog. We talked about how the presentation of their content was important and would leave readers with a lasting impression on who they were as a learner.  What lasting impression did they want to leave?

Stealing an idea from my colleagues, we started our blogs - on paper. Yep. Paper.  Baby Steps!
The beauty of the paper blog is that everyone could see all the blogs around the room at one time.  It was also a wonderful way to discuss commenting.    What was a productive comment?  What would be considered helpful or hurtful?

Our paper blogs had a border around the outside that the students decorated at home as an expression of themselves.  Then, the students wrote an entry about a small moment in their lives.  We brainstormed suggestions about what to draft and since we did this right around Halloween, many of the entries were about favorite costumes or trick-or-treating.  Once all the entries were complete it was time to read each other's work and comment.  We used post its to write our comments and off we went.

The kids loved this process but the best part was the reflection at the end. All of the students took the time to read their classmates' comments and then we came together.  I asked them, "What did you think about the comments?" We ended up with this chart:
This lesson is a keeper! When we went on to online blogging, the kids were aware of how their comments would impact the author.  One suggestion for myself for next year is to do this lesson again after they have had experience posting and commenting. I think that would elevate the comments even farther.

Getting up and running with KidBlog was super easy and the kids took to blogging like champs!  I invited the parents to join our blogging community by creating an Explain Everything movie with step by step instructions about how to sign in and comment.  To be honest, very few parents checked the blog, but when they did  leave comments, the kids were ecstatic!

When we first started blogging I had a lot of controls up. For instance, I made it so that I read every comment before it was posted.  I told the students that putting on those controls was similar to training wheels. I just wanted to make sure we were all in the same mindset.  One of my more witty students wrote the following comment:  "This is very fun but I hope you let go of the bike later and let us make decisions on our own."  

Hmmm.  Good point - thanks Nan.  So, I took off the controls and off they went.  I spot checked all the comments, but there was never a problem.  Sometimes a student would leave an inadequate comment, but the kids would call each other out and state that the comment needed more development.  Parents were even chiming in to their own child's blogs - which the kids LOVED.

The Aha! Moment 
What I quickly realized is that KidBlog wasn't for me to assess work or to see how well they were writing. Kidblog was about the kids.  It became an online extension of our classroom community where the students could share ideas, comment on work - have a conversation.  It is a beautiful thing.

Some of the posts we all did:
Reading Fluency
The kids used the video capture to record themselves reading their current read aloud.  After listening to their reading, the wrote a reflection on what they noticed and set a goal for the next trimester.  We did this twice in the year.  I would definitely do it more often.

Book Sharing and Reflections
After finishing each independent reading book, they posted a summary/book intro and a short reflection about the story.  It was a great way to track their independent reading but also a huge resource for the class to discover new selections.

Digital Portfolio
I'm still messing around with the best way to collect and share student work so we used KidBlog as part of this process creating a digital record of some of their work.  We posted pictures and/or videos of the projects kids shared with their classmates.  So, during the presentations the kids took notes and wrote down questions for their classmates. I made sure to take a picture of them and then airdropped it to their iPads.  Afterwards they uploaded their picture (and sometimes their presentation if it was a video) creating a new post.  Then the whole class added their comments for each of their classmates.  This kept their presentations alive long after the actual presentation.

Blog Mentors
One of our favorite blogging activities was helping a 1st grade class get acquainted with KidBlog.  The 4th grade students mentored a first grader and helped them log in for the first time.  The mentors helped the 1st graders create a video post as well as add their picture and change the background to personalize their blog.  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!  We definitely plan to do it again next year!

So, there is my year of blogging with kids.  I'm super pumped about the next year and know that we will continue to explore KidBlog and how it can enhance our 4Z learning community! One idea I'm working on is connecting with another classroom and allowing online buddies to share blogs.  I have a friend that teaches in Hong Kong so this would also create a global aspect that is intriguing.

The sky is the limit!

Carrie Strine
Twitter: @carreenstrine

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Baby Steps with Thinglink

ThingLink hit my radar at the EdTech Conference in Boston (11/2013).  The whole conference was quite an educational experience.  EVERY session I attended made my mind spin - in the best possible way.  Since the conference I have made a huge effort to try out some of the iPad uses shared at the presentations.  Exploring, however, takes time.  Time is not a teacher's friend. Worry not - I have been exploring and working and failing.....and succeeding!

Before I get started with my experience - I must give credit where it is due.  Lisa Johnson, also known as TechChef, was the presenter for Thinglink.  She was VERY enthusiastic. I sat at the edge of my seat, trying to keep up with all the information she threw out to the audience. THANKFULLY she left us with her contact information and links to her presentation. This proved extremely useful as I started in on my own adventure.

I thought long and hard about how I could use Thinglink in my classroom. I decided my first effort would be to use it to jazz up our classroom weekly newsletter.

Here is my process:
Step 1: Create an image
I do not consider myself creative, so this part was quite challenging for me.  I used shapes and banners in Microsoft Word.  In each of the shapes, I designated one part of our weekly activities: Independent Book Project, Endangered Animals, Holiday Concert, Math and Service Learning. Once I had the image composed, I used the "snipping tool" to cut and save the image to my desktop.  It was then quite easy to upload that image to Thinglink.

Step 2: Create Content for icons
Here is a picture of my image with the icons:
Don't judge the image - it was a first effort!!  The icons were easy to add - just click on edit then touch the picture where you want to add the icon.  Once the icon is placed you can add text or even a video.  Being able to add video was something that really appealed to me.  So, for two of the icons I used text, but for the other 4 I used videos of my students sharing what had happened that week.

I asked several students to help me out with this project.  Each of them took a few notes, practiced with a partner and then when they were ready I filmed them using the camera on my iPad.  This process - for all four students took only about 10 minutes!

Step 3: Get videos from iPad into Thinglink.
I used our school Youtube account to upload the videos.  Once in Youtube I copied the link and attached to an icon on the image.

Step 4: Publish to our school webpage (Haiku Learning).
On the left side of your image, there is a small share icon:

Once you click on the share option you are given both a link and an embed code. Thankfully Haiku Learning works really well with embed codes so that is what I used.

Blogger is not as kind with Embed Code. But I did a quick search on how to do that.  When you are in the  I did have to figure out how to put the embed code into Blogger though.  In Thinglink make sure to check the box "iframe embed".  Alter the size by clicking on the down arrows. I had to change the size to about half the original in order to fit it nicely onto Blogger.  Click "copy code to clipboard".  Then go back to Blogger and click on the HTML button on the left.  Put the cursor where you want the image and do a paste.  Make sure to save before going back to "Compose".  Voila!

Here is the final ThingLink:

There you have it! My first Thinglink!  I'm a little embarrassed by juvenile image, but it works. Since we had a snow day today I decided to fool around and create more sophisticated image.  I used Canva, another recommendation from TechChef.  MAN - I LOVE Canva.  It's easy and FUN!
Here's the image I settled on:

Much better, right?  None of the links are active yet - as I have to finish out the week and film the kids. But I'm excited about the direction in which I'm heading!

Now I have to come up with some ideas for how to use Thinglink to support the curriculum.  Have any ideas? Please share!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 23, 2013


It’s been two weeks since I’ve returned from the EdTech iPad Summit in Boston.  The two professional days were extremely intense - but in the best possible way.  Weeks later, and I still find myself processing all that I saw and heard.  I’m amazed and in awe of what some teachers are doing in their classrooms. It’s all so exciting and stimulating - it’s hard to even know where to begin.

My biggest takeaway from the conference though can be summed up in one word - Choice. 

The iPad is an amazing tool with so many possibilities - so many choices.  But here’s the thing - the choice isn’t all mine.  The kids have choice as well.  I don’t have to decide ahead of time what app the kids will use. They can do that all on their own - and often in a WAY more effective way than I could have imagined.

My goal for the next few weeks is to explore:
  • Subtext  - Super excited about using this for small group work in our research unit.
  • App Smashing- Okay, I’ll admit, this session was mind-blowing! But I got home and tried to do it and was totally unsuccessful. I love this idea and I think the kids will take this and run with it.
  • ThingLink - LOVED this - but need more time to explore and make something.  I’m not sure this is super useful for our kids, because the app isn’t as smooth as the online interface.
  • Flipped Classroom - I need to get on this.  I love this idea, but once again, need time to make it all work.
My exploration needs to include my students, because let’s face it. They are WAY more adept at picking up how to use the apps on the iPad.  AND - they love being able to help their classmates (and their teacher).  Tech Tuesdays, something I’ve been doing for several weeks, will feature these apps.  I know the kids will get it sorted out.

Here is example of how choice can work - 
Two girls in my class are reading partners and both have been drafting a literature reflection in Google Drive.  One of them noticed the comment button and figured that since they can share their documents with me, they could also share their documents with each other.  So, as part of the revising process, they started commenting on different sections of each other’s papers.  I just so happened to discover this while I was at the iPad conference. Between sessions I “looked in” on the literature reflections that they were working on in school while I was at the conference.  

Check out this comment:  
I almost cried when I saw it.  When I got back from the conference I asked them if they could share how they were revising each other’s papers.  They were excited and enthused, but alas, time kept getting in the way.  So, then they asked if instead of just presenting in front of the class, they could use Explain Everything to show their process. They thought it would be easy to document their comments on the camera, and then talk through the process on that app.  What? How do they know about App Smashing? They mentioned that I could put it on the class website so their classmates could watch it at home.  What?  How do they know about a flipped classroom??  

Choice.  It works.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


The school where I am working this year is a Quaker school.  According to The Quaker Information Center,  "Quakers are members of the Religious Society of Friends, a faith that emerged as a new Christian denomination in England during a period of religious turmoil in the mid-1600's and is practiced today in a variety of forms around the world."

Slowly, I'm learning about Quakers and their faith.  Quakers have a weekly meeting for worship, but is unlike any other meeting for worship I have been a part of because Friends gather in silence.  Every Tuesday, we have a meeting for worship.  It just so happens that our first day of school was on a Tuesday, so very quickly I had to figure out how to manage the silence.  Thankfully I have a co-teacher who attended Quaker schools as a child and is in her second year at the school, so she took the lead.  Turns out - I was the only one who was anxious about the silence - 20 MINUTES of silence I might add.  The students were comfortable in silence - after all, for most of them, they have been doing this since PK.  Me? I glanced at my watch almost every 2 minutes until it ended.  

Now 2 1/2 months into school, I'm much more comfortable with silence. In fact, I can now sit in silence, without glancing at my watch, for almost 11 minutes.  Progress!  

My thoughts on silence have evolved based on my experiences at this Friends school.  For 19 years of teaching I previously imposed silence on my students in moments of complete frustration.  You can imagine the scene - students are milling about, chatting about everything and anything.  They are off task, too loud and the room feels chaotic.  "All right! That's it!  Go back to your desks, put your heads down and NO TALKING!"  Silence as punishment for the kids. I think this is pretty common in classrooms; it certainly was in mine.

However, now, I don't see silence as a punishment, but more of a privilege.  We start each morning with a moment of silence.  It lasts for about a minute, but the energy in the morning is altered because of that silence.  It's a signal that we are starting our day and that serious learning is about to take place.  Actually, in the beginning of the school year, our silence only took place in the morning and once a week at our meeting for worship.  Recently, however, I realized that we can have a moment of silence at any time - DOH!  I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but it's made a huge difference in my teaching practice.  Now, we have a moment of silence as part of transition from one task to the next. For instance, if we moving from math to read aloud, when the students gather on the carpet, I might ask for a moment of silence.  The students quiet, become still, and at the end are more ready for what's to come.  

In the book, A Quaker Book of Wisdom, Robert Lawrence Smith states: "For Quakers, wisdom begins in silence. Quakers believe that only when we have silenced our voices and our souls can we hear the 'still small voice', that dwells within each of us - the voice of God that speaks to us and that we express to others through our deeds. Only by listening in stillness for that voice and letting it guide our actions can we truly let our lives speak." 

I may not be listening for an inner voice just yet, but I'm certainly centering myself and making my mind ready for the next task.  And - it works.  It turns out that the silence is calming.  Not only am I forever changed by silence, but so is my teaching practice.    

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sharing Personal Narratives through iMovie


My class is so lucky to have 1-1 iPads.  Too bad the students aren't in the hands of a teacher who is proficient at integrating them into our daily classroom life!  It's true - I have a lot to learn.  BUT I am motivated and I'm always looking for ways to improve.

I'm committed to trying to find new ways to use the iPads.  My first strategy was to implement Tech Tuesdays.  Students are invited to come in during lunch recess on Tuesday for app discovery.  Together we explore and learn about the apps already loaded on their iPads.  We can explore and learn together.  The best part, however,  is that they become digital leaders in the class! It's a win-win!

On our first Tech Tuesday I asked the small handful of students who arrived to explore iMovie.  We were just about to finish publishing our personal narratives using Google Docs. The kids really wanted to share their stories with each other using QR Codes. I decided to add in the  iMovie presentation.  Using iMovie allows the students to show the documentation of all their work that went into the final draft of their narrative.  

Here's how I went about the project.

Step 1: Document their work 
The students took pictures of the work they did in their reading journal, their drafts, etc. to share their process.

Step 2: Record voice
Thankfully the noise canceling headphones made this a much easier task.  This was harder than it was supposed to be for some kids.  I had to work with them on not feeling the need to hold the iPad and their narrative in their hands as they read aloud.  Once they felt comfortable leaving the iPad on a flat surface and not looking at while they read, the process got a lot easier.

Step 3: Edit photos
One thing we had to manage was the "Ken Burns Effect". It is possible to turn this effect off on a laptop/desktop computer, but on the iPad you can't turn it off. So, you have to manage it for each picture.   It took us some time to figure this out. The apple website was incredibly helpful.  

Step 4: Insert titles on photos
This is was a cool step. The students were able to put a title on each picture noting what part of the process was being shown.  So, they labeled pictures with "pre-writing" or "draft" or "revising".  

Step 5: Upload to school's YouTube site
This was new to me and took many trips to the school tech team. Now that I have done it once, the next time will be a LOT easier.

Sample iMovie Narrative

Step 6: Share URL's on class webpage
For this I just copied and pasted the YouTube Url onto our class webpage. This allows all the students and parents to each other's iMovie presentations.

Step 7: Print QR codes for students to display on bulletin board.
Athough I think the kids could do this on the iPads, I ran out of time for completing this, so I just did this task myself. I used the website Super easy but it did take a little time.

The kids did an amazing job and took the task seriously.  The number one blessing for this project was the delivery of noise-cancelling headphones for each child.  The headphones have a microphone which really helps manage the noise level with all the kids working at the same time.  

Things I have learned for next time:
1) After the students take pictures, go back into "Photos" and edit BEFORE inserting them into iMovie.  This was particularly important when a picture needed to be rotated.
2) It was easier for the students to record their whole paper in one sitting.  Some students broke up their recording into parts but most found that challenging.
3) Make sure the students don't have their last names anywhere in the story to protect privacy when published on YouTube.

Next steps:
1) organize their photos into albums so that they don't' have to spend so much time scrolling to find what they need.
This is a pretty easy process on the iPad and so necessary if they kids are taking lots of pictures. I think it will save considerable amounts of time when they are trying to sort through all the pictures they have taken with their iPad.

Although I found this project valuable, I am now thinking of different ways to make their thinking and writing process visible. I'm reading a book called Making Thinking Visible (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison) as part of Professional Learning Community at my new school.   On page 39, the authors state, "Documentation of students' thinking serves another important purpose in that it provides a stage from which both teachers and students may observe the learning process, make note of the strategies being used, and comment on the developing understanding.   ….documentation demystifies the learning process both for the individual as well as the group, building great metacognitive awareness in the process."  

Documenting their writing process is a good step. But truly, to make the thinking visible, the students need to share what they did and how it helped them move through the writing process.  If we did this process again, I would have the students record what they were doing and why for each piece of documentation.  After sharing their process, they could add on a reading of their narrative.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween Curmudgeon

Yep. It's true.  I'm a Halloween curmudgeon.  Thanks Lucy Calkins for introducing me to this word because it suits me perfectly every October 31st AND November 1st.  

As a child I remember loving Halloween.  My favorite costume was a homemade  roller skating waitress get up. The best part of the costume was the Coca-Cola tray that had two glasses glued to the bottom. A real do-it-yourself special.  During the parade I wore my roller skates (not roller blades - man, I'm old) and just loved holding my tray and swishing around the parade circle.  The only other distinct Halloween memory I have was when I was much younger and my parents would not let us go trick or treating until we all finished a bowl of split pea soup.  Gross.  It was a torturous meal that eventually led to candy, but I am forever scarred.  Never serve me split pea soup - it's too traumatizing.

If I loved Halloween as a child, how did I become a Halloween curmudgeon?  It's really quite simple.  I became a teacher.  Every Halloween students flock to school carrying their costumes, anxious to share their creations bursting out of their skin.  Of course, we try to run the school day as usual - math, reading, recess.  "Let's settle down class.  I know you are excited, but we have work to do!"  How many times is that said across the world on October 31st?  Nothing is usual about Halloween day at school.   The kids are amped up to levels that would be profitable if only the energy could be bottled.  Some years I have also had the pleasure of  contending with well intended parents who share the same enthusiasm as their students and insist on decorating the room, providing cupcakes and goody bags and even craft making.  Calgon - take me away!!

At some point in the day - it's time.  "You may now change into your costumes."  The flood gates open and that last little bit of self-control flies out the window as sheets, masks, wands and boots are pulled out of bags and put on. Don't forget the tears for the child that left their mask at home, or the anger of a child at their parent because they aren't in the classroom on time to help put the glasses on just right.  

Once the kids are dressed we get to go to the parade.  I have to admit, it's very sweet to see the kids so proud of their ensembles.  I especially love seeing the Pre-K and Kinder students.  Students wave at their friends and parents as they travel from one end of the blacktop to the other.  The parade is a kid friendly red carpet affair!  Papparazzi parents snap photo after photo and wave frantically at their child hoping to make eye contact.   We all feel good on the inside, even me.

But then the parade ends and the kids file back into the classroom.  They are mentally and physically ready to trick or treat. But alas, they must suffer through a class party.  Mostly it's me suffering through - the kids thoroughly enjoy themselves.  By the time the students are dismissed, I'm done. Exhausted.  The energy I have to use throughout the day is tremendous and by the end of the day, I'm fried.   I don't know how teachers who have their own kids manage this day.  At least I just get to go home and relax and unwind with some "juice".  But teachers then get to take their own kids trick or treating.    It's almost cruel and unusual punishment.  (Do you hear the curmudgeon in my voice yet?)

I was so fried this year, that I went home and sat in a dark house so I wouldn't have to answer the door and hand out candy.  Terrible.  But, admitting that I'm a curmudgeon is the first step in overcoming my cranky attitude, right?

I think I would like Halloween a lot better if it was on a Friday. It is CRUEL to have school the day after Halloween. The students come in zombie like, full of sugar, tired from late night adventures and so not ready to be productive.  

Halloween should just be celebrated the last Friday of October - no need to keep it on the 31st.  This might be the answer to curmudgeon behaviors.  Who's with me???

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Meeting Baby Mouse!


I'm a little stumped as to how to even start this post, because the chain of events that led to meeting Jenni and Matt Holm were years in the making.

I read Jenni Holm's book, Our Only May Amelia, when it was first published in 2000. I loved the book, and it was my first introduction to Jenni.  My 4th grade students in California often chose this book as their independent reading book selection.

Fast forward 10 years which included 2 country moves and my marriage to David.  While working at Hong Kong International School, I was reintroduced to Jenni Holm by the most awesome librarian EVAH, Amy Robinson.  She often came into my 3/4 combination classroom to do book talks.  One series she shared was Baby Mouse.  The kids LOVED them because they were clever and fun graphic-novels.  They were all pretty obsessed with graphic-novels.  

Now we are up to 2012.  David had reconnected with many of his buddies from college.  Through Facebook they were having some active conversations.  Sometime in this time period, David mentioned Jenni's name.  It blew my mind, that after all these years of loving Jenni Holm's books, that my husband actually knows her - went to college with her and is friends with her on Facebook.  Small World!  I was so sad that we hadn't made that connection while I was in Hong Kong. It would have been so fun to connect Jenni with my students, who were so in love with Baby Mouse.

Fast Forward to September of this year, 2013.  One Sunday, while reading the newspaper I came across an advertisement for the National Book Festival in DC.  (Side note - we went to this fabulous event in 2012 and it was amazing. I had the chance to hear Patricia Polacco speak, which brought me to tears. She is so inspiring!)  Lo and behold - who should be coming to the Book Festival this year?  Jenni and Matt Holm!  AWESOME!  I went to put this event in our calendar and was dismayed to see that we were going to be out of town.  Boo!

I shared my disappointment with David and casually asked if he could help arrange for her to drop by to talk to my students.  Remarkably Jenni had time in her schedule AND was more than happy to come by and do a presentation!  I was beyond elated, excited and grateful!

Both Jenni and her brother Matt, who illustrates the graphic-novels, came by the Friday before the book festival and did a presentation for 3 of our classes, including mine.  The presentation was interactive and so entertaining.  They called up several students to read and draw with them - what an amazing opportunity. One of my students was especially excited to meet them because he LOVED their new series, Squish.  I made sure to get him up there with the author, and he was over the moon walking away with a picture with the authors and a signed drawing that he created with Matt.  Super Hero status was achieved.

David was able to step away from the office to join us for the presentation allowing the college buddies to reunite after 20+ years.  Jenni and Matt are so kind and nice - and extremely talented.  Baby Mouse and Squish are wonderful books that reach students at all reading levels.  My only regret about this day is that we didn't have time to sit down outside of school to chat.  Now that we have met, I am determined to connect with them again and get to know them not just as author and illustrator, but as college buddies and friends of my husband.  

The story will continue….

Check out their websites: