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???