Friday, December 30, 2011

A "Smart" way to get started with your Smartboard.

In my workshops I have referenced a number of places to find pre-made smart notebook lesson templates.  I also publish a lot of resources including lesson templates, interactive sites and tutorials on my wiki 

When first starting out with a new smartboard I recommend viewing some of the introductory webinars. These online tutorials will help you learn the basic functionality and navigation of the Smart software. Once you have established a comfort level with the navigation of the software it is time to start playing!

I recommend that you visit the  Smart Exchange website.  The Smart Exchange is a social network for Smartboard users. Users from around the world publish and share lesson that they made for the Smart Notebook Software.  You can search for notebook lessons by subject, grade and topic or curriculum standard. You can also upload lessons that you made to share with others. Although you now must register with the site to download lessons the registration is free.

Tips and Tricks

  • After you discover a lesson that is of interest to you, click on the name of the creator. Most likely an educator that created one lesson that fits your curriculum will have others. By clicking on their name you can see all of the lessons that this person shared.

  • Once you download a lesson it is yours. You can edit the lesson to ensure it fits your curriculum or needs.

  • Download a lesson and dissect it. This is the best way to learn how the lesson was developed.  By dissecting already made lessons you will build your own knowledge of the software and be on your way to creating your own lessons.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Flip the Classroom - Screencasting Resources

Are you considering the implementation of the flipped classroom? The process of flipping the classroom involves a paradigm shift in what constitutes class work and homework. When a classroom is flipped the students receive direct instruction at home typically through the use of multimedia. When students return to class the next day they are able to apply what they have learned by working on questions, problems, or tasks that would typically be assigned for homework.

There are a number of instructional benefits to this process. You can read an earlier blog posting I have written on the topic here or take a look at my wiki page on the topic. My observations have been very positive.  I would like to share some of the tools that are available to create multimedia files that can be used to provide direct instruction online.

Probably the most popular resource is the Khan Academy which I have written about here. In order to produce instructional videos such as the ones used in the Khan Academy, an instructor must utilize software that allows for the capture of audio as well as your computer screen. This is called screencasting.

There are a number of free screencasting software  resources available. Let's take a look at some of them:

Cam Studio

Cam Studio is a free open source download. It allows its users to screen record  video tutorials and share them via a web link. It is also very easy to use.




Jing is another free download offered by TechSmith. With Jing you will also create a free online account with  When you record a screencast tutorial with Jing or capture an image you can save the file to your computer and upload it to your online account. Each user is granted two gigabytes of storage space on the site. The site will provide a link and embed code for your video to share.

Jing offers a free and paid pro version. With the free version you are only able to create screencasts that are 5 minutes in length. While that may seem too short i believe there is a benefit to chunking your tutorials into 5 minute increments.




Screencast-O-Matic is a very easy to use screencast site. It is completely web-based. It does not require a software download. Just visit the site and click start recording. There is a free and paid version. The paid version is $12 a year. With the free version you can create a screencast that can be used by students. If you export the screencast to upload to Youtube it will include a watermark on the free version.This site also allows the use to capture his or her video from a webcam.




Wink is a tutorial and presentation creation software that lets its users. It allows users to capture screen shots, add explanations, add text boxes, and add titles. You can create very detailed and highly effective tutorials with this free software. It is free and easy to use.



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Remember what timelines used to be?

We all know the typical method of timeline creation in schools. "Draw a line, add some dates and document events in chronological order".  Students will typically use poster boards, markers and possibly cut out images. The students in Mr. Papa's grade 8 social studies class in our district are putting a new spin on the age old practice of timeline creation! They are utilizing a website called Capzles( . Capzles is a web 2.0 site built around a social networking framework. Users are provided with the ability to tell a story using pictures, video clips, audio tracks and text. Capzles refers to these items as "moments". The 'moments" are able to be placed together chronologically to develop an interactive timeline. The end result is what is referred to as a "Capzle".  

Capzles can be viewed online using a computer or on an Apple mobile device such as an Iphone or Ipad using their free app. Capzles replaces the age old practice of organizing timeline's on paper. It provides an interactive and engaging opportunity for students to organize content. Each multimedia file supplies an area for students to provide descriptions and further information. Information can be organized in a manner which delivers a truly interactive story.

Classroom Implementation

The ability to add audio provides an opportunity for students to put a voice to their presentation. This may be a useful feature in classrooms. By having students record their narration it eliminates the need to use valuable class time having students orally present their Capzles to the  entire class.

A teacher may want to provide an opportunity for peer review. Small groups of students may be supplied a rubric or questions to answer. They may be charged with reviewing a specific student made Capzle and then scoring the rubric or answering the questions. This type of peer review opportunity may spark a rich dialogue in your classrooms. It also does not require every student to have a computer to take part in this. Students may use their cell phone or ipod touch to view the capzles in the group using the free web app.

World Language classes may use Capzles to develop an intersciplinary project. Students may design a "moment" that represents a particular topic in science, social studies, current events or even mathematics. The audio narration my be recorded in the language the students are studying.

In language arts, students may design a Capzle that offers a review or insight into a novel, specific chapter or short story. The Capzle may also show the development of a character, events or story plot. Capzles may also be used to make a connection between a particular reading and events whether personal or current events in the world.

Although Capzles is free, it does require an email address to create an account. In Mr. Papa's class the students designed Capzles in groups. One member of each group used their email address to create the account.  The students were provided a rubric and a document that outlined the components that must be included in their Capzle.

Below are some links to some of our student work.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Skype with an Author

On November 8, 2011 two of our grade 5 classes hosted a Skype session with Jeanne DuPrau.  Mrs. DuPrau is known for the series of books that she has authored called "The Books of Ember". Within that series are The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet and Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold.

The City of Ember was made into a major motion picture. You can read more about that here. This is the novel that our classes read and thoroughly enjoyed.

Mrs. DuPrau lives in California. The logistics of having her visit were not within our budget and time constraints. However, Skype was able to fill this need. We organized a Skype session with Mr. DuPrau and the students in Mr. Argondizzo's and Miss Daly's grade 5 classes.

We used our classroom smartboard, a logitech webcam and a free download of Skype for the event. Each of our students in the session had a job/role. We followed the framework that I have made available on my wiki of resources.  Some sample jobs included:  recorder, time keeper, videographer, photographer, greeter, closing and of course question asking.

The event was a success. Mrs. Duprau shared her writing process as well as details about her novels. The students made an authentic connection to their classroom learning.  Mrs. DuPrau mentioned that our students provided some of the best questions she has had asked of her!

The students are working on a reflection assignment. The assignment consists of a two paragraph essay in which they will reflect upon what they have learned. Our teachers provided a guiding questions for this assignment.  We are looking forward to planning our next Skype session.  If  you are reading this posting and would like to connect with us, please respond int he comment section. We have many classes in grades k-12 that are interested.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Oral Assessments With Phones

A majority of technology infused lessons involve students consuming or creating content. Typically content creation with technology is text or image based. In world language courses we need students to speak. Writing is less of an instructional concern.  Exploring technologies that allow for speaking and listening are a priority for teachers of world language.

Our world language department has been experimenting with alternative tools to assess student oral proficiency. One tool that has stood out is Google Voice. Google Voice is a free phone service. Google allows for two options.

Option one allows you to keep your existing cell phone number. All calls to this number are forwarded to  your Google Voice mailbox. Google voice provides an online voice mailbox. Your voice mails are available online in the form of emails. Google uses its voice recognition technology to transcribe the message into text. From the online screen you can view the transcript of the message or listen to the message by clicking play. Google Voice also provides a mobile phone application that can access your account.

Option number two will provide you with your own personal Google phone number. This phone number can be set to forward to any other phone number that you have. A phone call to your Google number can be forwarded to your home, work or cell phone. Calls that go to voice mail are available in the same way as option one.

Our world language teachers are using option number 2. The teachers have established their own Google phone number. The teachers turn off the call forwarding features so that the calls do not ring on their cell phones. Students dial the number and provide their oral assignments/assessments on the Google Voice voice mail of the teacher. The teacher can then open up the Google Voice website and listen to each child's recording.

The use of Google Voice has simplified the process of oral assessment. It is no longer necessary to spend class time assessing individual students. Students do not require access to computers to take part in this activity. All of our students have access to telephones at home or personal cell phones.  The use of Google Voice has had a positive impact in our world language courses.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Grade 5 Author Visit

We are fortunate to have access to interactive white boards, projectors and video cameras in most of our elementary classrooms. This is a resource that we take full advantage of. One of our favorite events is to use Skype to connect with authors, subject area experts and classrooms around the world. These videoconferencing sessions are not only engaging for our students, but they provide authentic learning experiences.

All of our video conference sessions are very well structured. There are pre and post activities that provide each student with an opportunity to interact with the event. More information regarding our structure for these events can be found on this wiki page.

On October 11, 2011 we held a Skype video conferencing session with children's author Mrs. Pat Brisson. It was an amazing experience for our students. Mrs. Brisson was successful in connecting her own writing process to that which is covered in our curriculum. Our students got a first-hand account of the professional life of an accomplished author.

About Mrs. Brisson

Pat Brisson has been writing children's picture books and easy-to-read chapter books for twenty years.  Prior to writing, she was an elementary school teacher, school librarian, and reference librarian in a public library.  Pat lives in Phillipsburg, NJ with her husband.  She has four grown sons.

Books and Publications

The following list of books are written by Pat Brisson.  The titles with a star (*) after them are our class's favorites.

Sometimes We Were Brave

I Remember Miss Perry

Melissa Parkington's Beautiful, Beautiful Hair *

Tap-Dance Fever

Mama Loves Me From Away

Beach is to Fun *

Star Blanket

Hobbledy-Clop *

Bertie's Picture Day

Sky Memories

Little Sister, Big Sister

Hot Fudge Hero

The Summer My Father Was Ten *

Wanda's Roses *

Benny's Pennies

Magic Carpet

Your Best Friend, Kate

Kate Heads West

Kate on the Coast

Pat Brisson has also written one young adult (YA) book entitled The Best and Hardest Thing.  Currently, she is writing a collection of poems.

Video Clip From the Conference


Monday, October 24, 2011

No Technology Until High School?

This weekend there was an article in the NYTimes that spoke about the Waldorf School located in northern California. Below is a quote from the article:

"This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans."

The school does not believe that technology is necessary or a valuable tool in education. They perceive it as a distraction. Their philosophy is to focus on the basics of reading and writing with traditional instructional methods.

This is a topic that may bring about a lot of debate. I would be interested to hear your comments? I believe that it is important to focus our curriculum. We sometimes get caught up in the fads and new gadgets. However, if used "as a tool" i believe that technology has an impact on student achievement. It is my belief that we should not be teaching technology. It is not about the technology itself. That will always be changing. The students will adapt to those changes on their own. It should be about the content. How can we use technology as a tool to suppport the essentials within our curriculum?

I support the universal design for learning framework. In order to address the various needs in our classroom we need to differentiate content, process and product. We can use technology to represent content in a multitude of ways.  When used appropriately it engages students and allows for alternative methods of evaluation and assessment. Our public schools have students with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and needs. As educators we must do our best to individualize the learning experiences for our students to be sure they are successful. Technology is a tool to aid in this process.

I also believe it is iresponsible for educators to ignore the footprint of information and breadth of knowledge available through the web. How do we not teach students to manage and vet the information that is available to them on the internet? The web and mobile technologies allows students to collaborate with others. It allows students to make connections, write for an audience and compare perspectives of others. Ignoring this opportunity and limiting a child's education to what is available within the four walls of a classroom is not an effective education in the 21st century.


What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reflecting on our own school experiences.

I recently attended a conference in which Charlotte Danielson was the afternoon keynote. Charlotte discussed the details of her framework for teaching. She also discussed her views on the overall evaluation process. While the session had a number of key points that were shared there was one topic that I believe is worth sharing. 

The Danielson framework for teaching is made up of 4 domains.

Domain 1 - Planning and Preparation
Domain 2 - The Classroom Environment
Domain 3 -  Instruction
Domain 4 - Professional Responsibilities

Charlotte presented the following question to groups of teachers during professional development sessions. " If you were to walk into a classroom, what would you see or hear from students or the teacher that would make you say, this is good stuff. I would want my child in this class? "  When presenting teachers with this question almost all of them would provide examples from Domain 3, instruction. They would site things like engaged learning, discussion, collaboration and assessment.

She would then ask a group of teachers, "Think back to when you were in school.  Remember a teacher or class that had a positive impact on your. What is it about this teacher or class that had an impact on you? Why was it so great?". When presented with this question almost all of the teachers listed attributes that would fall under domain 2, classroom environment. They would list experiences such as respect and rapport, a positive learning environment, a teacher who cared and the overall relationship of the teacher with the students.

This simple exercise in reflection reveals a lot. In our pursuit of increasing student achievement we tend to focus on instructional strategies, interventions, curriculum, formative and summative assessments, and the lesson framework. While these are all important and essential, is it possible that we are not placing enough emphasis on the classroom environment? Should we be working with teachers and supporting teachers to be more supportive and caring. Should we be working to build better rapport with students? Does the rapport we have with staff and the culture we establish in our buildings have a direct impact on the classroom environment? Can a school or district wide initiative to improve the relationship between administration and faculty and faculty and students impact student achievement and move us to the level of success we are striving for?

My thoughts in this posting are general observations related to teaching and learning. While this is an excellent topic for reflection it is not necessarily specific to my current district. I believe this is an area that all schools can benefit from exploring.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Daily News Site for Teens and Tweens

Tween Tribune and Teen Tribune are bringing the worlds news and events to the classroom.  Every day they post the most compelling, relevant and interesting news for teens and tweens.  The stories are selected by teens and tweens working closely with professional journalists. Students are provided with the opportunity to comment on these stories. They can also submit their own stories and photos.  Teachers have the ability to create a class account. Once the class account is created the students can register with the site and join the class.

Safety Concerns

The site is fully compliant with COPPA. See Below

"TweenTribune and TeenTribune are in full compliance with COPPA - the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – as outlined by the Federal Trade Commission. This means that:

  • Students may not use their last names.

  • Students may not use their email address anywhere on the site.

  • We do not gather or store student email addresses.

  • Teachers can moderate students' comments before they’re published.

  • We only uses news stories from reputable news organizations, such as the Associated Press, and local newspapers and TV stations.

  • Teachers' identities are independently verified before they are granted administrative privileges."

Teacher Pages - What does a class page provide

Teachers who create a class page that provides the teacher with the following access:

  • View the stories your class has commented on.

  • View individual comments by each student, on his or her own page

  • View all comments by your students, in one report that can be sorted by students’ names, comments, or dates

  • You can moderate, edit, or delete your students’ comments before they’re published.


Classroom Integration - Philosophy

Tween and Teen Tribune provides access to relevant and age appropriate news stories. Students are provided with the opportunity to read current news articles and comment on them. This type of activity provides  an authentic experience that can engage our students and promote the advantages of being aware of world and local news. This student-centered approach to current events and article review provides students with a forum to engage with a publication and engage in a meaningful task by reflecting or questioning through comments. The published comments are shared on each article which provides students with a global perspective and an audience for their own writing.

Classroom Integration - Ideas

Activities on Tween/Teen tribune meet class requirements for Reading, Writing and Computer Technology.

Students may be asked to pick a controversial story and post a comment that expresses their views on the topic. They may also be asked to select a comment that offers a view they disagree with. They can then be charged with writing a comment that refutes the comment with specific facts.

Assign topics based on the subject you teach. If you teach art have students read articles pertaining to art. If you teach science have them select science articles. The articles and responses can be conversation starters in the classroom. They may also be used to activate prior knowledge before a new lesson is introduced.

Students may publish their own stories, book reviews, newscasts, opinions or class news for the world to view and comment on. Remember, all comments are moderated by the teacher before going live.

Teen Tribune -

Tween Tribune -

Create your class page here -

Monday, September 12, 2011

Formative Assessments with Cell Phones

Those of you that read my blog or have attended my workshops you have heard me talk about or use Poll Everywhere. Poll Everywhere is a free service that allows you to collect responses from an audience via text messaging. Teachers can publish a question and students respond by texting their answers. The results are immediately available for viewing online.

This is a great tool for assessing student understanding without having to signal out who does not understand a topic in a class by asking students to raise their hands or respond out loud to  your question. As a teacher you receive immediate information regarding student comprehension and can adjust your instruction at that moment. In our district we will be allowing student owned devices in our classrooms this year. The use of these devices will be 100% at the teachers discretion. We will also have wireless internet in all of our schools. The barriers to entry for this type of technology use have greatly improved!

There is a feature in Poll Everywhere that was just brought to my attention in Richard Byrne's recent blog posting. If you collect open ended responses you can view those responses in one of the three most popular word cloud services. This is a really great feature that has a lot of benefits. Word clouds are a collection of words found in any text based document, site etc.. The words are organized in a variety of designs. The words that are used the most are largest in size.

Wordle: Wordle Lessons

This type of visualization offers a quick summary of results, a single visual of responses and a number of conversation starters. To learn more about ways to use word clouds in the classroom please visit my wiki page on the topic.




Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Web Based Inquiry Science Resource

The Technology Enhanced Learning in Science Foundation (TELS) is a funded consortium of seven universities, a non profit educational organization and several public schools around the country.  They have released a web-based tool for science instruction called WISE (Web-Based Inquiry Science Environment.

Here is a snippet directly from their site:

"WISE is a free online learning environment supported by the National Science Foundation.  In WISE modules, students work on exciting inquiry projects on topics such as global climate change, population genetics, hybrid cars and recycling.  Students learn about and respond to contemporary scientific controversies through designing, debating, and critiquing solutions, all on the WISE system.

Students do most WISE activities on the computer, using a web browser. The WISE software guides students through evidence and information pages that provide content, films, and discussion tools that encourage students to reflect and collaborate, and other tools for data visualization, casual modeling, simulations and assessment."

Students typically work in pairs on WISE Projects. The site allows teachers to create a teacher account. From the teacher dashboard you can assign projects and generate an access code for your students. The students then access the site, provide the project code and create their own account. From the teacher dashboard a teacher can monitor and view student progress and results. WISE is web-based. Projects range from 3-8 days. The software is web-based which means students can work on the projects in school or at home.

Why use an inquiry approach to science instruction

Research has proven that inquiry based learning is an effective approach to science instruction.  This type of learning involves the students taking on the role of a scientist.  "When students are active participants in asking questions, designing procedures, carrying out investigations, and analyzing data, they take responsibility for their own learning, and begin to think like scientists." (Glencoe)


WISE  has released a new version called 4.0. It can be accessed here - The site is still in BETA. They are in the process of adding resources and cleaning it up.  I would recommend registering your account with the new site. To view a short flash presentation on the features of WISE you can visit their original site by following this link:



Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Technology Integration Matrix - Developing our K-12 Neo's

The University of South Florida has published a technology integration matrix that is quite impressive. The matrix is to be used as a guide to initiate a paradigm shift with regards to how we infuse technology in the classroom. The matrix is an excellent resource for all k-12 teachers to not only assess where their level of technology infusion stands, but it also provides inspiration and a road map as we look to expand our use of it in our classrooms.  The matrix provides examples for each level for each of the core subject areas. 

Here is an excerpt directly from their site:

"The Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) illustrates how teachers can use technology to enhance learning for K-12 students. The TIM incorporates five interdependent characteristics of meaningful learning environments: active, constructive, goal directed (i.e., reflective), authentic, and collaborative (Jonassen, Howland, Moore, & Marra, 2003). The TIM associates five levels of technology integration (i.e., entry, adoption, adaptation, infusion, and transformation) with each of the five characteristics of meaningful learning environments. Together, the five levels of technology integration and the five characteristics of meaningful learning environments create a matrix of 25 cells".

This matrix is a valuable resource for all educators. In our district we are working to develop rubrics for classroom walk-throughs. This matrix will be useful as we develop the look-fors.  It is also a great point of reference to share with teachers as we assess and discuss technology use in our district.

Thank you University of South Florida and the department of instructional technology for developing and sharing such a wonderful resource.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

First Annual Academy Awards

Our middle school hosted our first every digital story academy awards ceremony this month. This event was developed as a way to showcase and promote the wonderful digital stories and multimedia projects our students are creating in their classes.

I first introduced digital storytelling in the district two years ago. Teachers attended professional development courses that focused not only on the technology, but the pedagogy and planning that are necessary to implement this form of assessment in classrooms. Since then we have students in grades k-12 developing digital stories individually, in groups and as whole class projects.

For our academy awards ceremony we focused on the work of our middle school students. We had wonderful examples of stories developed in many of our core subject areas. We assembled a team of teachers who reviewed the work that had been developed. From that we created categories. (next year we plan on providing the teachers and students with the categories at the beginning of the year so they can develop projects that fit the categories and their curriculum). The categories we came up with are:

1. Best Personal Narrative

2. Best Adapted Screenplay

3. Best Historical Children's Story

4. Best Educational Video

5. Best Foreign Film

6. Best Public Service Announcement

7. Best Cinematography

8. Best Stop Motion Animation

For the event we ordered small academy awards for the winners, key chains for the nominees, a red carpet and a large blog up Oscar. We had a popcorn maker and juice for the students. The event was a huge success. It was very powerful to see the reaction of the students as we recognized their work. Next year we plan on offering this at a district level. Stay tuned for more information!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Celebrity Chef in the Classroom

I recently helped organize a video conference session for one of our grade 4 classes. The students were learning about the restaurant business.

The students in Mr. Rowe and Ms. Hollack's class in White Rock Elementary School had a special visit with Chef Jeffrey Steelman. Chef Steelman is the corporate chef for Todd English. Todd English is a celebrity chef who currently owns 26 restaurantsaround the world. Chef Steelman is in charge of the oversight and opening of all of these restaurants.

This was an interdisciplinary project in which the students learned about the restaurant business. They researched what is involved in the process of starting and opening a restaurant. Students were given the task of developing their own restaurant. They developed a theme, a menu and a slogan.  The next step was to write a descriptive essay about their restaurant. This included details about the foods they serve. The students used Microsoft Publisher to create menus for their restaurants during their time in the computer lab. They were also charged with the task of creating 'pizzas' as advertisements.  The students had to develop equivalent fractions for each slice. They then decorated their pizzas with toppings according to those fractions.

The final activities of the project included a video conference with Chef Steelman. The students prepared and asked the chef a number of questions about the restaurant business, cooking and the life of a chef. Following the video conference the students hosted a tasting in their classroom in which they all provided samples of foods from their restaurants.

A short video clip of the video conference can be found below.



Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Documentary Resource for the Classroom

Snag Films is website that provides free access to thousands of documentaries and independent films. Some of the films are published by well-known documentary makers and others are first timers. Snag allows for free viewing and sharing of all of their published videos. The videos can be saved to a widget that can be published on your blog, website or wiki.

Snag recently released an additional site called Snag Learning. Here is a snippet from their site:

"SnagLearning features carefully selected films from SnagFilms’ award-winning library of over 1,600 documentaries that are appropriate for students from middle school and up. Our titles cover nearly every classroom subject and many are produced by well-known educational sources, including PBS and National Geographic. The goal of this site is to highlight documentaries that make for engaging educational tools. We will also feature guest teacher bloggers as well as special programming stunts like Q&As with the filmmakers.

Teachers can submit and share their own lesson plans, quizzes and homework ideas with fellow educators. The commenting area on each film page functions as public forum to share and discuss."
Snag Films and Snag Learning are both excellent resources for the classroom. They are great conversation starters. They can also be used to spark a writing assignment or any online discussion forum.  Snag Learning provides a list of guiding discussion questions for each film. As we introduce digital storytelling in the classroom, we can use these documentaries and examples and topic starters.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Inspiring Young Writers With A Skype Author Visit

The students in Mrs. Carline's grade 1 class at Cozy Lake School recently completed an author study of Doreen Cronin. Ms. Cronin wrote the Farmer Brown books Click Clack Moo, Giggle Giggle Quack and Dooby Dooby Moo. She also wrote The Diary of a Spider, The Diary of a Worm and The Diary of a Fly.

During the author study the lass discussed character point of view and personification. After reading many of Ms. Cronins books, they wrote letters to Farmer Brown as well as diaries of their favorite animals. The culminating activity was a SKYPE video conference with Ms. Cronin.  She read the class Click Clack Moo. After reading the story Ms. Cronin answered questions that the students had developed.

The students asked her about how she works with the illustrator,  where she gets her ideas for writing, where she writes her books, what is the process she follows when writing a book, and other questions about her character choices. It was an amazing and educational experience for the students. I have shared to videos of the event in this posting below.

By providing access to authors using video conferencing we can engage students in the writing process. An authentic learning experience like this allows students to make connections between the process an author follows and the writing process they are learning in the classroom.

Below are Part 1 and Part 2 of our Video Conference. Enjoy!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guided Reading Groups Cross State Lines

The students in Ms. Reichel's grade 2 class at Briggs Elementary School have opened their classroom by partnering with another grade 2 class located in Tennessee. Ms. Reichel had previously hosted whole class video conferences with her class in which all of the students engaged in a series of questions, answers and discussions. Although these events have been successful, she wanted to be able to use this technology in a more intimate setting. By providing an intimate setting we allow small groups of students to engage in a more fluid dialogue. This provides a manageable audience as well as opportunities for students to make connections and share perspectives on a topic.

I worked with Ms. Reichel to setup small group video conferencing in her classroom. We used the guided reading table in her room, a laptop with Oovoo installed and a webcam. The students in each class were divided into four groups. Each group read a book that was at their guided reading level. The students took note of connections, inferences and wonder questions as they read the book. They also noted their favorite part of the book and any questions that they had regarding the book.

Armed with their knowledge and questions we connected the groups with a 20 minute video conference session. The groups in NJ and Tennessee discussed their connections, inferences and wonder questions. They read parts of the story to each other. They exchanged questions as well as perspectives that brought insight to their geographical differences and class curriculum. The book talk extended beyond the actually books by making connections to their current studies in science.

This was an amazing learning opportunity for the students. This personalized approach to collaboration is an  example of the development of 21st century skills. Technology allowed us to collaborate beyond our classroom. We provided students with authentic connections that brought various perspectives, opinions and knowledge. We provided an audience for our students that was beyond their typical day. We experienced an excitement for reading, sharing of what good readers do, and collaborating with others.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Awaken Your Curriculum With Skype Interviews

Financial responsibility, goal setting, savings options and of course technology,  are just a few topics covered in a White Rock elementary school  fourth grade classes. Students in Mrs. McLeod and Mrs. Brzostowski’s collaborative classroom enjoyed learning about financial decision making using a program called “Feed the Pig”. Students worked in groups to create financial plans for piglets. They discussed their own goals and how to accomplish them. Students even created digital posters and digital stories for their peers as a campaign for proper financial decision making.

Students used technology almost every day in the White Rock classrooms. This  included digital posters using Glogster, interactive storybooks using Story Jumper and interactive simulations that reinforced what they are learning in class.  These activities not only developed 21st century skills, but students were provided with a authentic learning opportunities. They were provided with multiple avenues for assessment.  The technology options allowed them to display their creativity. It also  provided an opportunity alternative assessments and increased student engagement. This is the recipe for a successful project.

The finale of the project was held Wednesday May 18th when Mr. Ray DePalma a Certified Public Accountant Skyped with the class and discussed how to save money. Students asked Mr. DePalma what taxes were, how to become a CPA and of course, how to be the most efficient with money. Below is a clip from the event.

By using Skype to connect with subject area experts we are able to make authentic connections to the curriculum. Students can receive information, ideas and opinions from experts in a field. By combining access to individuals as well as the world wide web we move away from a classroom environment where the teacher is the only purveyor of knowledge. This new model has the teacher facilitating the learning in the classroom and providing multiple means of representing content and assessing content.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Using Skype for Grade Two Book Talk

The students in Ms. Johansson's grade two class at our Cozy Lake Elementary School are taking their book talks around the country. Today the students in Ms. Johansson's class hosted their first online book talk with a grade two class in Dillwyn Primary School located in Buckingham County Virginia. The project was organized by myself, Ms. Johansson, Mrs. Stephanie Cotsifas (Coordinator of Staff Development/ITRS, Buckingham County Schools)  and Ms. Gillispie (Grade two teacher Dillwyn Primary School).

The students in each class read the Magic Tree House Book: Mummies in the Morning. Each class developed a set of questions and conversation topics to share during the online book talk. We used Skype to connect the two classes. Below is a short clip of the event.

The book talk was a great opportunity for our students to engage in an authentic exchange of opinions, ideas and perspectives. By connecting our students to classrooms around the country and our world we expose students to collaboration and the opportunities that exist by connecting with technology. It is really interesting to hear the perspectives and exchange of information from schools around the country. We are looking forward to more connections in the future.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Authentic Learning With Skype - Sea Turtles

I recently worked with a grade 4 class in one of my elementary schools. Mrs. McLeod and her students were very interested in sea turtles. Her students were conducting research on the various types of turtles. Mrs. McLeod attended a workshop that I presented on video conferencing in the classroom. Upon completion of this workshop she gained access to a webcam and a microphone that can attach directly to her interactive whiteboard. This is where the fun began!

Project Planning

Mrs. McLeod contacted me expressing interest in connecting her students with someone who could teach them more about Sea Turtles. Although i do consider myself resourceful, I did not have a contact that could fulfill this need. However, a simple Google search on "sea turtle experts" returned websites that pointed to Dr. Spotila, a professor with Drexel University. Dr. Spotila is one of the worlds leading experts on sea turtles. A quick email to Dr. Spotila requesting an opportunity to video conference with him via Skype was all it took! Dr. Spotila agreed and on May 5 our students connected with Dr. Spotila to discuss Sea Turtles!

The Result

The experience was one to remember. Our students conducted research on  specific sea turtles in advance. They also created digital posters using Glogster about the sea turtle they were researching. Mrs. McLeod had the students develop questions in advance for Dr. Spotila. We also organized roles for the video conference. We had question groups,  a videographer, photographers and note takers.

The students presented Dr. Spotila with a number of excellent questions. After the last prepared question was asked, what ensued was what every classroom teacher seeks. The students continued to engage Dr. Spotila in conversation by asking additional questions. Each question was well thought out, relative and sparked additional questions. The students remained engaged and enthusiastic for 30 minutes of conversation.

At the end of the session Mrs. McLeod presented the students with a closure activity in which they discussed what they had learned. Later that day the students published reflective essays on what they learned form Dr. Spotila. All of these materials as well as a video of the conference is published on our Google Site.


This was a terrific experience for our students. By providing such an authentic learning experience using technology we engaged students in the learning process. The excitement over the activity still continues and the students continue to reflect. The best part of the entire story is that Dr. Spotila did not have access to video that day! For this entire event the students could only hear him, yet their focus was astounding!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Primary Source Documents in Social Studies

Primary sources are the building blocks of history. They are not limited to printed documents. They may also be artifacts, places, sounds and images. When primary source documents are used in instruction they expose students to various perspectives on issues from the past. They promote inquiry. Students engage in question asking, critical thinking, inferencing and interpretation. In many instances classes that utilize primary source documents create an environment where students engage in debates about interpretations. They will challenge each others conclusions and engage in a rich dialogue.

Instructional Value

Students who analyze and discuss primary source documents will soon realize that almost all recorded events are subjective. They will be empowered to research and defend or disprove their findings. Primary source documents are supportive of the first framework of universal design for learning as well as differentiation. By providing multiple representations of content we can individualize the learning experience of our students.

A quote from Docs Teach

Primary sources encourage higher order thinking. As historians, students can link documents to see cause and effect relationships, fit historical pieces together to understand a whole story, understand historical events in context by relating primary sources to mathematical data or geographic locations, and assess primary sources as evidence to formulate interpretations about the past.

Providing Help for Students

Reading and analyzing primary source documents may be difficult for some students. Here is a guide that will help students learn how to annotate such documents in order to understand the documents and to become active readers. Here is a guide with some strategies for reading these types of documents.

Implementation and Extension with Web Tools

Primary source documents may be provided to students in electronic form. By using Moodle, blogs or wikis students may engage in discussions about the sources in forums, collaborate on analysis, and develop presentations regarding them. By building a library or collection of primary source documents we can not only differentiate for our students but we can move to an instructional model that is not dependent upon a textbook and allows for self-directed learning.

Docs Teach -

While there are many sources for such documents, Docs Teach is one worth exploring. It was developed by the National Archives. With Docs Teach we can setup classes and assign activities to classes. Activities consist of a collection of primary source documents and a related activity.  The activities are interactive. They encourage students to apply the levels of blooms taxonomy as they work to build  and support their interpretations within each activity.  Below is a screenshot of the available activities. Click the image to enlarge.

You will also find a library of activities that have been created by other educators and shared on the site.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Enaged Students - Authentic Tasks - Disguised Learning

I had the opportunity this week to work with a middle school French class. The current curriculum was addressing occupations. The students were being introduced to the vocabulary associated with this topic. Students in the class were assigned the task of researching and presenting a final project that documents what they learned about their occupation. Of course, the entire projected needed to be written and presented in French.

I worked with the teacher, Mrs. Neuschatz,  to develop a project that the students would relate to. We wanted to move away from a traditional research based presentation where students develop PowerPoint slides of texts and images. These types of projects typically do not involve a high level of motivation nor do they result in significant learning or knowledge exchange in a classroom. We can be honest and refer to them as "death by PowerPoint". I think everyone can relate to this.

What we decided to assign is a "Fakebook" profile. Our district is a member of Google Apps for Education. A quick search of the templates in Google Docs returned a number of "Facebook Profile Templates". I selected one that utilizes Google Presentation. It is a four page presentation template that mirrors a typical Facebook profile.
We assigned the students the task of developing a Facebook Profile for a person who practices the occupation that they select. They must include daily events (postings to the wall), who would this person be friendly with (friends), education and other information (info), events that this person might take part in (videos). Although we assigned a rubric, the students have some flexibility as to the content they could provide.

We expect to have some finished projects in a couple of weeks. However, my initial observations in the classroom were very interesting. The students were motivated and excited about the project. They applied creativity and a level of higher order thinking to make connections between the research they uncovered and the sections of the profile that they must complete. It was not sufficient to mere list responsibilities of "A Doctor". They instead had to apply that knowledge by listing activities and events that a doctor might experience and post them on "the wall".  Rather than supply a listing of facts in a typical slide, they are applying what they learned to a task. Students were not only making connections and applying knowledge, but they were learning French through an authentic and engaging task!

The template for our PowerPoint "Fakebook Project" can be found here.

I will share some of our final products when they are ready.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flip and Manage the Classroom with Khan Academy

I have written about the Khan Academy many times in my blog postings. It is a tremendous resource and  one that I believe can greatly impact student achievement.  The "flip the classroom" model of instruction involves having students review teacher or student made tutorials at home for homework. They then work on applying problems in the classroom. The benefits of this method of instruction are discussed in one of my previous posting "Are you ready to flip the classroom".

If you are planning on testing this method of instruction, the Khan Academy is a great place to start.  Here is a brief overview of the site from the publisher:

"Our library of videos covers K-12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and even reaches into the humanities with playlists on finance and history. Each video is a digestible chunk, approximately 10 minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.


"I teach the way that I wish I was taught. The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him." —Sal"

The site now offers new features as well as integration with our Google Apps for Education Accounts. After students watch the tutorials they can also work on practice problems in a virtual environment.  Each problems can be broken down into individual steps with a the click of a button.  Students are able to track their progress as they progress through an interactive map of knowledge.

Managing this progress has now gotten even easier. They have added an entire new Student/Class manager. Teachers can monitor and report on student progress. Information regarding these features can be found here. ( You will be prompted to login with your Google Apps account.

Students and Faculty who have access to Google Apps for Education accounts can sign directly into Khan Academy with their accounts.  The site is well organized and easy to navigate.

Here is a video from TED that discusses Khan Academy


Friday, April 1, 2011

Can Webcams Improve Reading Fluency?

Webcams have been a part of many classrooms for a number of years. The most common use is for video conferencing. Webcams open up the classroom to the world by allowing classes to communicate and collaborate with authors, subject area experts and other classrooms around the world. I have a wiki page with more information on this topic that can be found here.

Webcams have other uses in the classroom that have a direct impact on student achievement in all subject areas. They can be used to create digital stories, tutorials, interviews and a variety of other student-centered projects. In this posting I would like to discuss how they can be used to increase reading fluency.

The combination of a webcam, microphone (Many webcams include a microphone) and a free program such as Windows Movie Maker allow students to record themselves. These recordings can be stored, played back and even published.  Timothy J Frey, Abby Houlton, and Elizabeth Gruis  recently published a study on using webcams to increase reading fluency. In their article they spoke about a process called "I can see me".  The process looks something like this:

  1. Teacher selects an appropriate text and makes two copies for the student.

  2. Students record themselves reading the story using a webcam and windows movie maker (or any other video capture program.

  3. Students play back the recording of their reading and make note of errors that they made. They assess their rate, volume and accuracy.

  4. The student and teacher then conference to discuss their reading.

  5. The student then re-reads and records the video. He or she will re-watch the video and observe any improvement or mistakes.

It is in the last stage of the process, when students are rereading and playing back, that they see their improvement. They see themselves improving. This provides encouragement and a feeling of success. It is the observable, incremental successes that result in better fluency. "We were really interested in interventions that students can do themselves or that build metacognitive skills," Frey said. "Having the students build skills and learn to detect their own errors rather than teachers trying to fix them over and over again is really important for students."(Frey)

If the storage space is available the student may save their recordings. This portfolio will be available to show how the student has progressed over time. It can also be shared at the end of the school year with the child's next teacher to serve as a benchmark.


I Can See Me -

Monday, March 28, 2011

Student Made Tutorials Using Paper Slides

What do you do when workbooks, handouts, and class problem sets are not connecting with your students? What do you do for those students who have a solid understanding of a topic before you begin the lesson? How are you differentiating for them? Can you address the needs of your advanced students as well as your struggling students with one activity?

Student made tutorials should be a welcome addition to any classroom. Students may be assigned to work independently or in small groups. Their task is to develop a video tutorial that explains a topic, problem or concept discussed in class. The completed video will be published online for all students in the class to reference as a study guide. By providing such an activity you are allowing your more advanced students the opportunity to apply their knowledge of the topic and better grasp the material by developing a lesson to teach the topic. Your struggling students will then have access to this tutorial online. They can pause, stop, rewind and replay the videos at home while working on homework or studying for an assessment.

There are a number of  options for creating tutorials. Paper Slide  Tutorials is a simple, cost effective method. It is no intrusive in the classroom and can be easily integrated in all subjects. The process is simple. Students plan a storyboard for the lesson. They prepare paper slides that will be used to present the topic. Once they are organized they will begin recording their tutorial. A Flip Video Camera or any Web Cam can be used to record the tutorial. Once completed the video can be published on the teachers website, Blog, School Tube, YouTube or any other video sharing site.

Here is a video made by a teacher for his students, introducing the process of Paper Slide Videos:

Here is a a sample project made by a student:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Add a Back Channel to Your Classroom

journalism students using macs apple

There is a new phenomenon occurring in classrooms, workshops and meetings. It is called back channeling. This refers to participants in a event communicating and collaborating with technology to take notes, ask questions and reflect in real-time.

A great tool to accomplish this is the website Today’s Meet. In order to get started you visit the site, create a room and send the link to the room to the other participants. The link to the meeting room can be posted on the board, linked to a teacher website or emailed to a group. The participants can immediately start a live chat. The results of the chat stay online  for the period of time specified. They can also be copied to a Google Doc and shared with the rest of the class.

This technology could be very useful as a way for a class to take collaborative notes and pose questions  while viewing a media clip, a speaker or a class lecture. Instead of having students sit and watch a media clip or longer video they can be engaged and interact with it. The teacher may post a couple of thought provoking questions for the students. While watching the video the students may use Today's Meet or a Google Doc to document their answers to the questions. By adding Q1 or Q2 to the start of the response, the teacher and students will be able to identify what they are responding to. Students may also comment on what they are viewing and add questions and reaction that they have.

Typically it is difficult to get students to take notes. When using this technology and asking them to multitask the students actually respond. As a result, the online documentation of the collaborative conversation allows the teacher to see what the students understand, what they do not understand and what topics require further discussion.

Today's meet could  also be used during video conferencing sessions with other schools or subject area experts. Students from both classes may take detailed notes regarding the event. These notes are then viewable online for everyone to review.  They may also post questions that the speaker may access and address during the presentation.

Many schools have utilized student owned electronic devices to maximize student access to back channeling. In some classrooms , that have only a couple computers, a few students are assigned the role of "class scribe" for the day. They are responsible for collaborative note-taking. These notes are then available online for the class to share and discuss.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are you ready to FLIP the classroom?

There is a new paradigm shift occurring in classrooms.  Many of the most innovative teachers are turning the traditional K-12 classrooms upside down in an effort to individualize the learning experience for students. They are "Flipping" the classroom in order to make classroom instructional time more valuable to students.

"Flipping" the classroom refers to a new approach to teaching in which the students view videos, podcasts or vodcasts of classroom lectures at home for homework. In the classroom, students apply what is learned by completing what is typically identified as "homework" in the classroom. 

This innovative approach to instruction offers many instructional advantages. By viewing video lectures in Math and Science, students may pause, stop, rewind at their own will. They may also engage in the lesson at a time that is right for them in their own environment.  In the classroom students are provided the opportunity to apply what was learned in the lesson. Students work through the problems during class time. The teacher acts as a facilitator by circulating the room and providing assistance where necessary. Students also work with peers  or in small groups to collaborate on problems. This model allows the teacher to be available when the students need him or her most. It creates a student centered personalized learning environment.

In a typical classroom students would sit through a lecture in order to learn the content. They would then be assigned homework for that evening. Many students who did not grasp the lecture would struggle with the homework. When this happens they would just quit or not do it.  They would return to class the next day having to learn something new. By flipping the classroom, teachers can see who is struggling and provide immediate help for those students. The application of this new teaching style has presented fantastic results in student achievement and engagement.

Where do you start?

There are a number of free video screencasts available for math and science online. One example is The Khan Academy. This site, created by Salman Khan houses thousands or screencast lectures from basic math to advanced calculus. It also includes interactive practice sessions for students to apply what they have learned.   In the video below, Salman Khan explains how he created Khan Academy and how it is being used by educators.

In our district we have access to MOODLE. MOODLE is an online course management software. Teachers can post links to videos and other online tutorials that students may access from any computer with internet access.  We also use Google Sites or Wordpress Blogs. Each of these allow teachers to embed or link to videos that students may access over the web. There are also a number of free tools that allow  teachers to record screencasts of their lectures. and the Smart Notebook Software all offers these features.

My recommendation is to start small. One or two a month is a great way to get students exposed to the process and to measure its impact.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pyramid of Intervention

I have recently been involved in a initiative in Jefferson Township Schools to design and develop an interactive Pyramid of Intervention. The pyramid is used to supplement our district work on PLC's. The goal of the pyramid is to provide an interactive resource that teachers can access to uncover instructional strategies and specific interventions for students. It was designed by Eileen Daggett, Supervisor of Special Education K-12 and myself.

The pyramid has three tiers. Each tier has an acoompanying form that teachers will use to document their progress with individual students.  The requirement is that all teachers must utilize the resources in the pyramid and document the results of strategies and interventions. A student may not be referred to our I&RS committee without this documentation.

I utilized Google Sites to design the pyramid. You will notice that all of the content in the pyramid is interactive. The information is organized in an intuitive design. Teachers may located the information that they need with just a click. Tier one of the pyramid contains instructional strategies that should be used for all students and documented in lesson plans. Mrs. Daggett organized these strategies in a number of ways. Most notably you will see a Lesson Framework that has links to strategies for each component of  a lesson.  Tier 2 is designed for students who are not finding success in the classroom even with the strategies that are implemented. In Tier 2 you will find specific interventions that may be utilized for each student.

The pyramid of intervention is a very powerful tool for teachers. The availability of various publishing resources on the web as well as the access to the web that is ubiquitous makes such an initiative possible. We are very proud of this project. It is still a work in progress. We will be adding content frequently.
If you have any comments about this project or would like to share some resources please leave us a comment.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Facebook in the Classroom

Have you been to the Google Docs template gallery lately. If you have, you will notice that the available templates are continuing to grow. I recently searched for a template that could be  used to create a fictitious Facebook Profile. The first returned result ended up being exactly what I was looking for.

 Take a look at this Google Presentation template below.

Creating a Facebook profile is a great project idea for all grades and subjects. Students may create a profile for a historical figure, a scientist, philosopher, mathematician, or any other person of interest. You can start creating a Facebook profile using this template by accessing the Google Docs template gallery or by clicking here.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Interactive Letter Writing Resource

The website Read Write Think has a fantastic tool available to help teach letter writing. They have provided an interactive letter writer.

Here is a description taken directly from their website:

"The Letter Generator tool is designed to help students learn to identify all the essential parts of a business or friendly letter, and then generate letters by typing information into letter templates. A sample letter is included, and students can learn about the parts of a letter by reading descriptions of each part.

Once students have become familiar with letter formats, they are prompted to write their own letter. Students follow the steps and fill in specific fields in the template (for example, heading, salutation, closing, signature, and so on). They may even add a decorative border and postscript to the friendly letter. The finished letter can be saved, e-mailed, or printed.

This useful tool provides step-by-step instructions for familiarizing users with the necessary elements of written correspondence, and can serve as an excellent practice method for composing and proofreading both formal and informal letters."

They also provide a number of lessons that utilize the letter writer. They can be found here. Many of our teachers are starting to connect with schools around the world via Epals. This interactive letter writer would be a great resource to assist in the development of our Pen-Pal letters.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writing to Reflect, Engage, Learn, Publish and Connect

Writing in the 21st century has gone digital.  We are keyboarding instead of applying penmanship. We post to message boards, blogs, emails, twitter accounts, corporate intranets, Facebook and various other web-based sites and services. Writing has also become 3 dimensional. You don't need the latest pair of 3D glasses to experience three dimensional writing. Just open up any webpage and you will find text that contains hyper-links to additional content, embedded videos, embedded documents and audio streams.

Students, teachers, and our 21st century workforce must posses the skills to navigate, consume, analyze, organize and apply information that is written in this format. In order to be successful in the 21st century we also need to learn how to write three dimensionally.  For our students, this requires opportunities to write for an audience by utilizing a web-based publishing platform.  

The recent edition of Educational Leadership, published by ASCD, focussed on the topic "Teaching Screenagers".  One particular article written by Will Richardson discussed the importance of student publishing their work online. The article quoted a recent study by the Pew Research Center's Internet  and American Life Project.  This study showed that 75% of teens regularly use social-networking sites and the vast majority publish updates,  photos, videos, and more (Lenhart 2010). Analysis of this activity identified that these posting are primarily "friendship-based" (MacArthur Foundation, 200*)

While it is an important skill for students to learn to navigate and find success in the "social web" it is equally important that they are provided with opportunities to apply the foundations of "what good writers do" to web-based publishing. Writing is a process. It is also a significant contributor to student learning and achievement. Reflection is an example of a writing process that can be applied to any subject area. In the past students maintained reflective journals on paper. These journals were written for one audience, the teacher. While there is value in the process of reflection and writing, our students are missing out on the opportunity to share their thoughts with an audience, collaborate with individuals who share similar interests, and learn from others who read and respond to their thoughts, opinions and summaries.

Journaling in the 21st century has shifted from the notebook to blog postings. Students  who are provided with the opportunity to publish their thoughts, ideas, and opinions in a blog are writing for a global audience. This forum differs from writing in the "social web"  They are now writing for an audience that they do not know.

As teachers we must  not only provide our students with opportunities to publish, we should also model it. Each year, a growing number of educators are  maintaining their own blogs. Teachers share their thoughts, instructional strategies, successes in the classroom, student work examples and new resources. Many teachers allow students the opportunity to guest post on a their blog. A student my write about a topic they are covering in class. Teachers may invite subject area exports to comment on student blog postings or to guest write a posting that students  may comment on.

When students maintain their own blog they open themselves up to new opportunities to learn from others. They create a digital presence for themselves. This presence is the first step in developing their online presence. As Will Richardson states " They are now Googleable".  The future for the job seeker is going to be less about the 2 page resume that is printed as a word document. It will be about the interactive portfolio of work, writings and just "how Googleable" you are.