Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Rediscovering the Joy of Learning

Here in Minnesota we are desperately looking ahead to spring. The dream of being able to walk outside without a coat seems like it is close to becoming a reality, and with daylight savings this past weekend we can drive home from work without turning on the headlights! However, when you work in a school, you know that with spring comes standardized testing. While I look forward to the warmer weather, I always dread the months of April and May because of the high stress feeling in the building. Earlier this winter I saw this post on Twitter and it has really stuck with me:

It is so easy to get caught up in the daily grind of checking off a list of concepts that students have mastered, then planning their next steps, AND catching kids who didn’t master the concept, planning appropriate interventions, while simultaneously juggling 20+ personalities in the classroom, their families, and professional obligations.  It shouldn’t be surprising that we end up with students who are good at school, but lack the skills to do well when they leave here. I think part of the problem is that we have slowly squished the joy of learning out of our school day.

If asked, “Why do you teach?” I’m sure that many educators would respond with something like, “I teach because I love watching a kid’s smile when that light bulb goes off, and they finally understand it (whatever it is).”  Most educators love learning and want to share that love with others. It is the joy of learning, not test scores, that inspires us to come back day after day, year after year.

Given the demands of this job, it is easy to forget or let that feeling of joy get buried in all the other “stuff”.  Finding a way to recover that joy can be challenging, so I wanted to offer a few resources to reignite the joy of learning for you and your students.  


This website is great for students to explore topics they are interested in or find explore topics they had never even considered.  The site features a Wonder of the Day question accompanied by a short article, video, and photos/graphics to help explain the answer.  I love that the website was designed to be accessible to lots of learners. The graphics make it easy to navigate, and the best part is you can have the articles read aloud while the words light up.  There is an option to create an account, however, it does require parent permission. And since an account is not necessary to use the site I would avoid going this route with students.

Mystery Doug

This site offers a little less flexibility, but has some really great resources.  Doug used to be a teacher, but now he answers questions he receives from students.  If you sign up for a teacher account you will get a new video emailed to you each Monday, and the videos often correspond with current events (recently he answered questions about the Olympics, and this week with St. Patrick’s day it is about rainbows).  A cool built in feature is that at the end of each video your class can vote on the topic for the next week, you can also submit a topic for Doug to answer. This is a great resource to have on hand for a brain break, snack time, indoor recess, or when you have a guest teacher.


This is an oldie, but goodie. Did you know that BrainPOP is almost 20 years old?!?!  Not only can you access great educational content, but the featured video can be accessed without any login.  The videos always start with a question and include humor and engaging graphics. BrainPOP has also expanded to be more than just a video and quiz platform.  By signing up for a My BrainPOP account teachers can assign different activities for students and give them the opportunity to create as well as consume information.  (More info to come in my next post!)

In discovering these resources, I kept coming back to the idea of Genius Hour.  Genius Hour is great, but I know from experience that facilitating a full blown Genius Hour can be overwhelming, particularly with younger students who need more assistance.

So my thought is this: instead of working through a huge project, try to find some time even if it just a few minutes a week to give students time to explore these resources. Perhaps if they finish their work early, they can have some time to look up something that interests them. Or one day during their read to self time they get the opportunity to explore something they have been wondering about.

As far as keeping kids accountable for their research, there are lots of quick easy ways to do this:
1. Post on Seesaw
2. Post on Padlet
3. Post on Flipgrid
4. Respond to a question on Google Classroom
5. Post on a bulletin board in the classroom (yes, low tech is great too!)
The best part about having students share is that they can learn from each other, and be inspired by their peers to learn about other topics.

Spring is the time of year when everything feels renewed, refreshed, and happy. I hope that you can find some time to renew the joy of learning for your students, refresh your passion for teaching, and lastly, I hope that in the next few months your classroom is a happy place with smiles and lightbulbs!

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Creating and Connecting

Humans are social beings. We naturally want to talk, share, and connect with others. I believe this is part of the reason that social media has become such a huge part of our society. It appears that social media isn’t going to be going away anytime soon, so love it or hate it, using social media is a skill that our students will likely need in their futures. If you teach high school or middle school, your students probably have accounts on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. so teaching them responsible ways to use these platforms doesn’t seem outlandish.

But what if you teach in an elementary school? These students cannot lawfully have a social media account since they are under the age of 13. Eventually these students will need to have the skills to successfully navigate social media, so how can we start preparing them at a young age? Fortunately in the last few years platforms have emerged to help teachers tackle this task. Tools like Seesaw, Flipgrid, and Padlet have designed safe, kid friendly platforms where students can safely share their ideas and their work while practicing their online communication skills that will be essential in their futures. (Note: just because the legal terms of a product say they cannot use it, some adolescents with or without the consent of their parents choose to create and use an account anyway.)

Image result for seesaw Image result for flipgrid Image result for padlet

This begs the question, is it the responsibility of our schools to teach children this skill? In my opinion, YES! Just like we teach character education, I believe that teaching these skills will not only positively impact our students long after they have left our buildings, but it fits with what we know about best practices. It is a well known fact that students learning by doing. If they can explain a concept in their own words and in their own way, then we know they have truly learned it. I love this quote from Janelle Bence:

Authentic learning is not demonstrated by a worksheet that’s turned into a teacher. That may be more appropriate to indicate progress in a particular more isolated skill. Real learning, however, is manifested in learner creations that are published for consumption by a wider audience.

Bence, J. (2016, May 17). The benefits of sharing student work in online spaces. In KQED Education. Retrieved February 7, 2018, from https://ww2.kqed.org/education/2016/05/17/the-benefits-of-sharing-student-work-in-online-spaces/

So with the idea that using social media is a life skill, and true learning requires more than just worksheet completion, where do we begin? Lucky for us, some very talented and creative educators have come up with ideas on how to combine the content and skills they are already teaching with the posting, sharing and connecting that students want and need to practice.

Book Talk

A book talk proves you read the book and encourages others to read it. Think about it like a commercial for the book, you want to entice others to read it without giving away the ending or any surprises.

What tools can students use?

Seesaw-record a selfie video

Book Review

A book review is very similar to a book talk, but your ideas are communicated in writing rather than speaking. Short and simple is the key! You want to summarize the book and get others excited to read it without spoiling the ending.

What tools can student use?

Google Classroom-Question

Book Trailer-Tony Vincent (@tonyvincent)

A book trailer is a commercial for a book, just like a movie trailer it creates excitement around the story using images, music, and purposefully selected words and phrases. Book trailers are intended to be short and exciting for the viewer.

What tools can students use?

iMovie-share on Seesaw or Flipgrid
WeVideo-share on Seesaw or Flipgrid
Planning Sheet

Book Snaps-Tara Martin (@TaraMartinEDU)

A book snap is a picture of a page in a book that a student found interesting, insightful, or stuck out to them for any reason. Students use a digital tool to annotate and share their thinking about what they read and share it with others.

What tools can students use?

Seesaw-activity option 1, activity option 2, activity option 3, activity option 4
Pic Collage EDU-Share on Seesaw or Padlet
Google Drawings-Share on Seesaw or Padlet
Google Slides-Share on Seesaw or Padlet

How can you get your students creating, connecting, and socializing in a positive way?

Feel free to comment below or reach out with any questions or suggestions.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Online Read Alouds

As you are well aware, during February we celebrate I Love to Read Month.  As I step back and reflect on reading instruction in our classrooms, and all of the preparation that goes into teaching a child to read, and think, and understand, and comprehend, and analyze, and synthesize.....(the list goes on and on), I realize that teaching a child to read is truly an artform!  In the middle of all of this high level academic work, it's also important to note how much children of all ages love to listen to someone else read a story.  Not reading with an instructional goal in mind, but just reading. Reading for fun!

Study after study confirms that reading aloud to children is so beneficial in so many ways.  The older our students get the less of a priority reading aloud becomes both in school and at home.  My first year teaching fifth grade it took almost the entire year to get through one read aloud chapter book because we just never had enough time.  Or, if I'm being honest, it was because I never made it a priority.

The reality of our education system is that there is too much to teach and not enough time, and this is where I feel that we can leverage our technology resources to offset SOME of this imbalance.  You may not have time to do a whole class read aloud as much as you would like, but there are so many recorded read alouds that students can access.

Just to be clear, I am not by any means equating a recorded read aloud with an in person one.  Everything is always far more engaging and authentic in person than on video, but if you are looking for a way to give your students exposure to more books, more words, more ideas, more cultures, and increase their love of reading then I recommend you check out these resources.  These can easily be shared with students through Seesaw or Google Classroom, or posted on your classroom website for easy access.


These should all work on desktop, chromebook or iPad.
Storyline Online: Videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations.

Just Read Books Aloud: Books read aloud by normal people and kids.  Typically the reader is not shown, just the pages in the book. *Site does contain ads.

Kids Read 2 Kids: Abridged version of classics read by kids.  The reader is shown instead of the pages in the book.

Also don't forget Tumblebooks and Bookflix have "read alongs" and in EPIC! students can choose to listen to audiobooks or "read to me" books. 

YouTube Channels

Wait, don't be scared off!  I know that lots of teachers shy away from using youtube with students because it is easy for them to become distracted with all of the related videos and ads.  But YouTube is an unbelievable resource!  To minimize the distractions, I suggest using viewpure.com prior to sending your students a video.  All you have to do is copy the link from YouTube, paste it into viewpure, and click "purify."  This will pull up a simple screen with JUST the video.
There are TONS of YouTube channels with great children's books read aloud.  Here are just a few.  

Books Read Aloud for Children (YouTube Channel): Books read aloud by a narrator.  The reader is not shown, just the pages in the book.

Storybook Nanny (YouTube channel): Books read aloud by a narrator.  The reader is not shown, just the pages in the book. Includes soft background music.

Katie's Bookshelf Classroom (YouTube Channel): Books read aloud by a narrator.  The reader is not shown, just the pages in the book.

Are there any other great read aloud resources you use?  Comment below or send me an email.

Happy reading....and listening! 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Toontastic

I am often asked "What is a good app for ______." Fill in the blank with virtually any concept, and the process is usually the same.  I research a variety of apps, look on social media, check out app store rankings only to find a great app that either costs way too much or cannot be used by students under the age of 13.  So imagine my surprise when I learned about Toontastic. It is FREE, and as far as I can tell there are no in-app purchases. It is also engaging, intuitive, and the final product looks great!

What is it exactly?

Toontastic is a creation app that allows students to easily produce their own cartoons while guiding them through the parts of a story or project.  Students can choose a short story consisting of 3 scenes, a classic story with 5 scenes, or a science report.

Pros and Cons?

There are no logins to manage, and the projects are easily exported to the camera roll for easy sharing via Seesaw. I love that the app allows for a lot of student creativity, but also has some structure to help keep kids on track.  Students can draw their own backgrounds and characters or they can use the premade ones.  The app is definitely engaging, but it could easily become a distraction for some students.  I think that making sure students have a plan for their story before they start using the app is crucial, otherwise they can easily get lost in all of the customization options. 

Overall, I think this could be a very powerful tool for students to show their learning in a really creative way.

Check out the short tutorial below to see some of the features.

How can you use Toontastic in your classroom?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tech Tuesday-SMART Notebook SMART LAB

SMART Notebook has undergone some changes in the last year, one of the most notable changes is that the program no longer supports flash.  While this has been a struggle for a lot of teachers who depend on flash based interactives from the gallery, the good news is the SMART LAB has been expanded and improved.  SMART Technologies realizes that teachers don't have lots of extra time so they have tried to streamline the process of making customizable, flexible, and engaging games and activities for your students.

What is SMART LAB?

The Lesson Activity Builder (or LAB) was introduced in SMART Notebook a few years ago, but version 17 includes many more options to engage students than previous versions.  There are 11 different activities to choose from including a games, assessments, and brainstorming activities.

How do I build an activity?

Click on the SMART LAB icon and select the type of activity you want to create.  It will then walk you through the creation of your activity and the different settings available.

Where can I download pre-made activities?

You can find activities created by other teachers by searching on SMART Exchange.  Search for the content you want and narrow your search results by LAB Activities.

Can I change pre-made activities?

If you find an activity from SMART Exchange that is good, but not exactly what you are looking for you can change it by clicking on the pencil icon in the top right corner.

How do students engage in the activities?

Some activities require students to have their own device, and others have the flexibility to be played on the SMART board as a center (or whole class) or can be accessed on individual student devices.  To use their own devices, students will need to go to classlab.com. The website will prompt them to put in your class code.  The code is an 8 digit number, but students should only have to type it in once.  After that their device will remember the class, so all they need to do is select their name.

Can I see some examples of SMART LAB activities?

Yes!  Here is a SMART doc that you can download to see some of the activities in action.  Below you can also find a video where I demo some of the features.

Please let me know (via comment or email) if you would like some help getting set up or planning for a SMART LAB activity or if you have any questions!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

#TIES17 K-2 IDEA Lab

My wonderful colleague Donna and I are proud to be presenting at the TIES conference this year!  Our IDEA (Imagine, Design, Explore, Ask) Lab is in its first full year of implementation, and we are excited to share what we have learned so far.  We are also looking to engage in conversations with others about this work!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hour of Code 2017

Computer Science Education Week starts on Monday, December 4, and with that comes the Hour of Code! I am excited that our schools will once again be participating in this world wide event.

What is the Hour of Code?

“The 'Hour of Code™' is a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week [csedweek.org] and Code.org [code.org] to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming.” The Hour of Code Challenge started in 2013 and since then millions of people have participated.

Why is Coding Important?

Our world is increasingly influenced by computers and technology.  In almost any career, using technology is an essential skill.  Beyond that, the ability to create something new or improve upon existing technology, is a skill that employers are looking for. Coding skills are valuable in almost any profession, not just in technology fields.  Learning to code is really learning to problem solve.  We all want our students to be problem solvers, so why not give them a little extra practice?

What will Teachers Do?

The most challenging thing for teachers will be to carve time out of their already busy day to include some time for kids to code.  The goal is to have kids spend an hour TOTAL throughout the week, NOT an hour per day!  This works out to about 12 minutes per day, so coding could be morning work or part of morning meeting.  It could also be part of choice time or a center for the week.  Teachers will need to choose which program they want their students to use there are several great options.  There are many great options for every grade level. In the presentation below, I have linked several resources to help guide you through the week.

What will Students Do?

Students will work through the different levels of whatever program you decide to have them use. They will work with each other to problem solve, share their strategies and most importantly they will get the opportunity to learn some coding!

What will your students create using their coding skills?