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 - www.docsteach.org

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.