Friday, December 7, 2012

Assessing Mental Math

In latest issue of Educational Leadership Marilyn Burns (founder of Math Solutions, ( wrote an article that highlights an assessment strategy in Mathematics that departs from our more recent assessment strategies. She discussed how the Common Core State Standards for mathematics will require teacher to strengthen students' numerical reasoning and mental math skills.  

After reading this article and reflecting on my observations in classrooms I started to make a connection to the significance of assessing mental computation.  Knowledge of how a student mentally computes math problems would provide a wealth of information for teachers. This formative assessment strategy would not only provide insight into the strategies utilized by your students but it would also assess their development of this important life skill.

"Solving math problems mentally too often receives limited attention in classrooms compared with paper and pencil computation. Although developing written computation skills is important, mental computation helps develop facility with many of the practice standards - for example, reasoning quantitatively, constructing a viable argument, and looking for and making use of structure." (Burns, 2012)

Ms Burns has developed a free online tool to assess math reasoning. This tool requires short 10 minute interviews as well as independent paper based computation by the student. At the completion of the assessment the teacher is provided with an analysis of the students math reasoning skill. The entire program includes video tutorials, assessment rubrics and explanations of reports.

This individualized, verbal assessment strategy appears to be a great resource for teachers in grades 5-8.

Burns, Marilyn. "Educational Leadership." Educational Leadership. 70.4 (2012): 42-46. Print.

Image -


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Virtual Author Visits

What do good writer's do? Why not listen to them tell you. NBC Learn  has curated a number of video taped interviews with well-known children book authors. These short interviews provide an insight into their creative writing process. Current authors interviews available include:

Moe Willems, Doreen Cronin, Peter Brown and many more.  Full transcripts of each interview are also available.  It might be interesting to paste the text from each interview into Wordle to identify the common language and ideas shared by these authors?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Flipping The Instructional Design In Core Subject Areas

One of the highlighted additions to the Common Core Standards is the focus on informational text. Students are required to demonstrate comprehension of such text as well as the ability to produce written text  grounded in research, analysis and argumentation.  In order to develop these skills and to prepare students for college and career readiness a paradigm shift must occur in many of our content areas. In many schools the approach to addressing this shift has been the integration of literacy instruction and application into core subjects such as social studies and science.

The design process looks something like:

What do we want our students to learn?

What content must we cover?

How can we integrate literacy into this process?

With the help of the Literacy Design Collaboraive teachers can now Flip this process in order to have a more focused approach to literacy instruction without minimizing the content. In  fact, teachers who have implemented the "template tasks" developed by the LDC have discovered students develop greater and deeper content knowledge.

This model involves:

Select a Literacy Based Template Task

Select a topic from your curriculum

Fill in the blanks in the task from the topic

Select the content/ text students will read

Select the text the students will write.

The task templates are available for download on the LDC website. The tasks are designed to be integrated into LA, Science or Social Studies.

An example task is:


[Insert question] After reading _____ (literature or informational texts), write _________ (essay or substitute) that addresses the question and support your position with evidence from the text(s). L2 Be sure to acknowledge competing views.

Sara Ballute and Timothy Lent in New York City used that template to create a teaching task for high school world history:

Were the achievements and growth of the Industrial Revolution Era worth the cost to society? After reading secondary and primary sources pertaining to the British Industrial Revolution, write an argumentation essay that addresses the question and support your position with evidence from the texts. Be sure to acknowledge competing views.

Monica Cressman, Sean Houseknecht, and Alex Shubert of the Elizabethtown (Pennsylvania) School District used the same template for middle school science:

Should animals be kept in zoos? After reading the information texts provided, write an essay that addresses the question and support your position with evidence from the texts. Be sure to acknowledge competing views.

The integration of the template tasks provided by the LDC represent a paradigm shift in core content instruction. While this model has proven to be effective it requires significant PD for all. This is a great opportunity in high schools for interdisciplinary PD. Having English teachers host PD on writing instruction for content area teachers, developing common writing rubrics and developing PLC's with a focus on this topic are some ideas worth exploring.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Students Use Social Media to Analyze Rhetorical Strategies in AP English Course

Social media has found a place in the classrooms of Chatham High School.  With the growth of social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google +, schools have been seeking out best-practice approaches to utilizing these platforms with students. Mrs. Heather Rocco, Supervisor of Language Arts, recognized the value social media can have in the classroom. She introduced Today’s Meet, a private micro-blogging platform, to her department. Ms. Falkner, a member of the English Department, was first to jump on board and integrate this tool in her classes. Recognizing the powerful impact that such tools have on instruction and the need to integrate them in a safe and effective way, Ms. Falkner worked with Mrs. Rocco to introduce this private micro-blogging tool in her classes.

The students in Ms. Falkner’s AP English Language class have been utilizing Today’s Meet to integrate Back Channeling in their classroom.  Back Channeling is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time, online,conversation alongside live spoken remarks. Today’s Meet is a free tool for developing  such a Back Channel. It allows teachers the opportunity to develop a private online forum for real-time discussions. Think of it as a private Twitter feed that is available to you and your students.  The service is free and does not require students to sign up or register to join the conversation.

Today’s Meet can be used in a variety of settings including presentations, workshops, movie viewing and class discussions. It encourages the room to use the live stream to make comments and ask questions . The feedback gathered can be used as a method to check for understanding, tailor your presentation, sharpen your points, and address audience needs. Ms. Falkner has been utilizing this tool to develop an active learning environment in her classroom. She is using Today’s Meet as a tool to teach the skill of analyzing rhetorical strategies.

Ms. Falkner discusses how she uses Today’s Meet below:


“My AP language students are very strong at identifying rhetorical strategies in a text, but they struggle to be able to articulate how a particular strategy functions or what effect it has in the text. In short, they struggle to analyze rhetorical strategies, but they can identify them with ease. In using Today's Meet while viewing a documentary, I'm attempting to separate out the two skills: students identify the strategies as they watch and note them in 140 characters, and then they work in small groups, after the film ends, to select a few of the strategies noted in the conversation and analyze how the strategies function and for what purpose(s)/to what effect(s). This division of "tasks" enables students to differentiate between what it means to identify and what it means to analyze.

The "backchannel" conversation also provides students a lens through which to view the film - they are watching each scene with the intention of identifying a strategy to "tweet" out to the class, so there's active viewing vs. passive viewing of the film text. The students are motivated to write thoughtful comments because they have an authentic audience of their peers (whose opinions are often far more valuable to them than that of their teacher!).

The activity requires that we teachers "let go" of our control of the lesson and turn the reigns over to the students to dictate the direction of the discussion following the film. With that said, I could always interject a "tweet" of my own if I felt that the students were missing a key rhetorical strategy in the film”

How have you used micro-blogging in your classroom? Please share your experiences by commenting on this posting.

Image Source:
Social Media Band Wagon:

Today's Meet:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Common Core Writing - The NY Times Can Help!

The NY Times blog Room For Debate is a great resource that can be used to instruct students in the process of writing logical arguments which is identified in the Common Core Standards.

Room for Debate is full of posts that take an issue or event in the news and curates opinions about it from four to six knowledgeable sources. The responses are limited to four or five paragraphs. This allows for the integration of this resources to fit within the constraints of standard class periods.

Here are some ideas offered by the NY Times to utilize this resource to support the common core standards.

  • Analyze one of the debates and judge how the authors compiled their arguments agains the CC writing standards for making logical arguments.

  • Start your own Room For Debate using Blogger or Google Docs. Post a link or details regarding and article and then invite 4 or 5 students to present logical arguments for or against the topic.

  • Create a fantasy version of room for debate

    • Have characters in a novel debate an important issue or topic in the work

    • What about scientists debating a belief or argument?

  • In the student opinion feature a question so posed for students to respond to. Students may publish their written arguments for a global audience of their peers.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

High Achiever or Creative Thinker...Developing Deep Thinking?

A couple of recent publications that arrived in my Google Reader prompted my thinking regarding "defining student achievement" .With such a high focus on standardized testing and data driven evaluations these articles present a fresh perspective as to "how should we define achievement?" What type of outcome are we looking for in our classrooms? Who will find more success in our global landscape, a high achiever or a creative thinker?

Grant Wiggins recent posting on "thoughtlessness" discusses our focus on "covering content" vs. developing depth of thought. He discusses a system in which achievement is obtained by working hard, completing assignments and testing well on materials that were taught. This is a system that does not dive deep into content. The below quote summarizes this thought process.

" But teaching is not about what you will do; I am interested in what the student will be able to do of value as a result of your teaching, because that is all that matters. Thoughtful teachers don’t design backward from the content (the inputs); they design backward from worthy performance in using content (the outputs)." - Wiggins.

In many of our classrooms we focus our attention on how to address students who do not know content. The reaction to this results in differentiation, specific interventions and formative assessments. What about the student's who do know the content? What do we do to develop these students depth of knowledge? Are we providing a classroom environment that offers growth for these students?

I believe it is important to spend some time reflecting on our instruction. Can we spend less time developing pacing guides and more time discussing methods to develop high order thinking within our units of study? How can we challenge our "high achiever", "content masters" to become creative thinkers? Are we providing opportunities to solve and discuss problems, ideas and questions?

This chart published on a blog posting by Bertie Kingore, Ph.D. discusses the differences between a high achiever, gifted learner and creative thinker. As we review the descriptors we should reflect on how we are creating classroom environments that support each.

A High Achiever...

A Gifted Learner...
A Creative Thinker...

Remembers the answers.

Poses unforeseen questions.
Sees exceptions.

Is interested.

Is curious.

Is attentive.

Is selectively mentally engaged.
Daydreams; may seem off task.

Generates advanced ideas.

Generates complex, abstract ideas.
Overflows with ideas, many of which will never be developed.

Works hard to achieve.

Knows without working hard.
Plays with ideas and concepts.

Answer the questions in detail.

Ponders with depth and multiple perspectives.
Injects new possibilities.

Performs at the top of the group.

Is beyond the group.
Is in own group.

Responds with interest and opinions.

Exhibits feelings and opinions from multiple perspectives.
Shares bizarre, sometimes conflicting opinions.

Learns with ease.

Already knows.
Questions: What if...

Needs 6 to 8 repetitions to master.

Needs 1 to 3 repetitions to master.
Questions the need for mastery.

Comprehends at a high level.

Comprehends in-depth, complex ideas.
Overflows with ideas--many of which will never be developed.

Enjoys the company of age peers.

Prefers the company of intellectual peers.
Prefers the company of creative peers but often works alone.

Understands complex, abstract humor.

Creates complex, abstract humor.
Relishes wild, off-the-wall humor.

Grasps the meaning.

Infers and connects concepts.
Makes mental leaps: Aha!

Completes assignments on time.

Initiates projects and extensions of assignments.
Initiates more projects that will ever be completed.

Is receptive.

Is intense.
Is independent and unconventional.

Is accurate and complete.

Is original and continually developing.
Is original and continually developing.

Enjoys school often.

Enjoys self-directed learning.
Enjoys creating.

Absorbs information.

Manipulates information.

Is a technician with expertise in a field.

Is an expert who abstracts beyond the field.
Is an inventor and idea generator.

Memorizes well.

Guesses and infers well.
Creates and brainstorms well.

Is highly alert and observant.

Anticipates and relates observations.
Is intuitive.

Is pleased with own learning.

Is self-critical.
Is never finished with possibilities.

Gets A's.

May not be motivated by grades.
May not be motivated by grades.

Is able.

Is intellectual.
Is idiosyncratic.




Szabos, J. (1989). Bright child, gifted learner. Challenge, 34. Good Apple.

Granted -

Friday, September 7, 2012

Google Docs Features Every Teacher Should Know

Google docs is my favorite collaborative authoring tool for the classroom. Over the years they have enriched the product with a number of enhancements that are valuable in the classroom.

Peer Review and Commenting

Peer editing and review are simplified with Google Docs. Students can share documents with each other or their teacher. Teachers gain the ability to review student writing in real-time. They can add comments or notes where appropriate to guide student progress.  Long gone are the days of collecting a rough draft - conducting an autopsy on it and then waiting for the final copy. Now you can intervene immediately as well as review how students construct their writing by reviewing the history.

When reviewing a written work you can insert comments which will appear on the right side of the screen. Just highlight the text that you want to add a comment near and click INSERT - COMMENT. The comment feature allows for discussion which can represent a small conference between the reviewer and the author about their work.

Research Tool

Another great feature is the RESEARCH TOOL. When activated the author can search for text, images, maps or any other relevant content without leaving the document. Click on TOOLS - RESEARCH to utilize this feature.

Auto Save, Revision History, and Spelling/Grammar checks are long-time features that are useful for students and teachers. Collaborative projects are simplified by reviewing revision history to get a snapshot of who the contributors to a document are.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

There's an App For That

Zite is a personalized magazine for the IPAD. You can select your favorite news sources or topics. Zite will build a magazine full of articles relevant to your interests. This app has a number of uses in schools. Teachers can use the app professional development. Their education topic and technology top-cs have excellent articles that are applicable to the classroom. Students may use Zite to catch up on current events, read non-fiction text, and explore articles related to health, social studies, mathematics, science and literature. Articles can be saved and shared easily.

Evernote is one of the first APPs that I have used on the IPAD as well as on my Android Phone.   Evernote is a great tool for teachers and students to capture notes, save research, collaborate on projects, snap photos of white-boards, record audio and more. Eve-rything you add to your account is automatically synced and made available on all of your devices.

Friday, June 15, 2012

District Academy Awards 2012

On Monday June 11, 2012 we hosted our second annual academy awards ceremony. This was the first time that it has been a district-wide event. Previously it was limited to only the Middle School.   I developed this event with our middle school gifted and talented teacher, Dr. Nancy Harris.  The purpose is to recognize and celebrate the fabulous multimedia projects that our students have created throughout the year in grades K-12. 

Digital storytelling, podcasting, stop motion animation and digital authoring  are all integrated into all of our instructional areas. In each content area students and teachers are creating and accessing such content to  instruct and assess.

Multimedia creation develops information literacy skills such as research, evaluation and organization of digital content.  The process develops visual literacy, critical thinking, and collaboration.  Students who take part in these projects are provided an authentic task and an audience for their writing beyond the classroom teacher. In many cases students discover the power of their own voice and an overall excitement about learning.

The categories that we recognized included:  Non-Fiction, Personal Narrative, Historical, Stop Motion Animation, Podcast/Radio Show, Environment, Character Counts, Public Service Announcement, Current Events, Foreign Film, Tutorial and Digital Book.

We had 21 productions in which 53 awards were given. For this event we setup a red carpet for students to enter. Each winner received a mini oscar award. This year we had 250 parents, family and students in the audience. Our students did an fantastic job on their productions. We are proud of the work they created and the teachers who supported them.

We look forward to this event next year. To begin planning class/student projects for this event please visit the resources below:

Mr. Walker's Digital Writing Wiki: 

Digital Storytelling 


SAM Animation


Monday, June 11, 2012

Kindergarten Class Visits Chile

The students in Mrs. Curry's Kindergarten class have been learning about similarities and differences between ourselves and others and how to celebrate differences. They are also learning  about communities and maps.  They decided to take what they know about their community and share it with others.


Recently they hosted a Skype video conference with  Tia Eres' Kindergarten class from Arica, Chile! Below is their video conference session ( filmed sideways by mistake, oops! )



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Grade 5 Class Winners of Digital Earth Day Contest

The student's in Mrs. Halsall's grade 5 class in White Rock School were recognized as winners of the Glogster Edu Earth Day Contest. The contest required students/classes to develop digital posters that explore methods to go green in your community. The Glog they created contains text, images, video and audio.  Mrs. Halsall used a Flip Digital Video Camera to record her students. She worked with Mr. Walker to edit the videos and publish them on the Glog.The students were awarded a copy of the DVD Freedom by Sundance Film Festival Award Winners Josh & Rebecca Tickell.

Glogster EDU is a web 2.0 site that our district subscribes to. It provides our students with the opportunity to create digital posters. These digital posters allow for the addition of text, images, audio, video, drawings and file attachments. Students design and develop these posters and then present the content to their classmates. You can read more of my postings about the benefits of digital posters here.


Congratulations to Mrs. Halsall's class! You can view their Glog here. 



Monday, May 21, 2012

A Personal Interview With A Forensic Psychologist

On May 17, Miss Zegas's AP Psychology classes engaged in a Skype conference with Dr. Shari Berkowitz at Roosevelt University,  The conference was sparked by an overwhelming interest in memory and attention by the AP Psychology students.

Dr. Berkowitz is a forensic psychologist who specializes in memory, the creation of false memories, and was a former research assistant of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a world-renowned expert in eyewitness testimony.  Dr. Berkowitz shared information about her background as well as research on planting false memories and investigations of the criminal justice system with the AP Psychology students and then began a Q&A session.

At the end of the session, Dr. Berkowitz shared more about her job as a forensic psychologist outside of teaching and gave the class some tips to prepare for college.  After the conference ended, a thank you e-mail was sent to Dr. Berkowitz who replied "Your students asked great questions, and I was impressed with their ability to think creatively and critically about the research." On May 18, all AP Psychology students wrote Dr. Berkowitz personalized thank you notes for her willingness to Skype with them and teach them more about rich false memories.



Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Middle School Spanish Class Takes a Virtual Field Trip to Mexico

The student's in Ms. Febres's 7'th grade Spanish classes video conferenced with students from a K-12 school located in Mexico City called Nuevo Continente. Ms. Febres coordinated the video conference session with 4 of her classes.  During each video conference session the students exchanged questions. The students from Mexico spoke in English and our students spoke in Spanish.

This was a very engaging and rewarding experience for all of the students involved. It provided an authentic experience for students to apply their knowledge of their target language. It also proved to be enlightening as the students learned about their similarities and differences. Ms. Febres is planning to continue with this connection moving forward. We are discussing plans for small group exchanges using or mobile devices.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Google Earth.. Not your typical classroom map!

Google Earth has been available as a free download for computers and mobile devices since 2005. The core feature set is a mapping of the earth using satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS 3D Globe technology.

Google earth can be downloaded and installed for free. Click here to download.  Once opened you can start navigating the world.  Users can zoom in on a particular continent, country, state, city, landmark or house! You can fly around a location to view pertinent information foryour lesson. If you are discussing Mount Rushmore, why not fly to it on Google Earth and show it to your students. You can also pan the area as well as put the location of it compared to other locations in perspective for students.  

I would like to highlight some of the features available in Google Earth that would be valuable additions to the classroom.

Street Views

When you zoom into a city or landmark Google provides access to street level views. When in street view you can fly through the streets of a city or walk right up to a famous landmark. Do you want to show your students what the streets of Rome are like? Fly there on Google Earth and enter street view? Do you want a close-up of the Eiffel Tower? Street views are easy to use. This tutorial will help you get started. (Youtube access required to view the tutorial)



Once you navigate to a desired location there are numerous layers that can be activated. These include images, video clips, Wikipedia entries, roads, 3d buildings, geographic features, real-time weather and traffic, historical map overlays, roads, borders, water bodies and even U.S. Senators and Congressional Districts. The layers are accessed on the lower left side. Click the boxes to turn them on and off. You can learn more about the layers here.


Historical Imagery

Within the Google Earth Gallery and Layers are options to turn on and overlay historical maps onto Google Earth. The Rumsey Historical Maps collection is a great example of historical maps available in the layers that can be over-layed on Google Earth. There are also a number of historical maps available in the Google Earth Gallery. If you click on View—Historical Maps from the top toolbar you will be presented with a slider bar that allows you to view a particular area at a historical point in time. This is useful when viewing damage from a natural disaster or the effects of global warming.


Earth, Moon, Mars and Sky

Did you know that you can also view the Moon, Mars and the Solar System in the same way you fly around earth?  Open up Google Earth and click on VIEW—Explore and select the location you would like to visit .


Google Earth Tours

Google Earth allows users to place bookmarks at particular locations. When you apply a bookmark you are also provided with a bubble where you can add information about that location. That bubble may contain text, images, videos, hyperlinks or audio narration. A user may create an automated tour that will fly from bookmark to bookmark. When each location is reached the bubble will appear and the content may be viewed.

There are thousands of pre-made tours available in the Google Earth Gallery or online by simply searching for Google Earth Tours. Some sample student projects may include a tour of the battles of the civil war or the a guided tour of a novel. Google Lit Trips has some great literacy based tours available.

There are tours of states, countries, historical events, climbs of Mount Everest and much more. These can be engaging and informative classroom lessons. Students may create tours or teachers may create and share them.


Ruler, GPS and Flight Simulator

Under the tools menu in Google Earth you will find a ruler that can be used to measure exact distance between two location in miles or kilometers. There is also a full blown flight simulator!


Google Earth offers a variety of resources to make lessons interactive, engaging, informative and relevant. Why not take your students on a guided tour of the locations your are discussing. How about replacing a PowerPoint project with an option to create a Google Earth Tour. You can learn more about creating Google Earth Tours here. Visit my wiki page for more resources here.



Thursday, April 26, 2012

News Stories for Grades 1-3

In the past I have written about Tween and Teen Tribune. You can read more about them here. These sites provide news stories for students. Teachers may setup student accounts that allow them to leave comments that are moderated by the teacher.

Tween Tribune just released Tween Tribune Junior for grades 1-3.  It includes all of the same features as the other versions! This is a great resource for integrating primary source documents, current events, collaboration and student publishing into your classroom.



Thursday, April 19, 2012

Celebrity Video Conference - It's just good business!

Our high school business department had a special guest visit them today.  We hosted a Skype video conference with Barbara Corcoran. Barbara is an extremely successful entrepreneur in the real estate industry. During her impressive career she took a $1000 loan to start The Corcoran Group. She parlayed the loan into a five-billion-dollar real estate business and sold it in 2001 for $66 million.

Barbara is the real estate contributor for NBC’s TODAY Show where she comments weekly on trends in the real estate market.  She’s also a Star on ABC’s reality hit Shark Tank. As a speaker, Barbara brings her front-line experience and infectious energy to every group she addresses.  Motivational, inspirational, and sometimes outrageous, Barbara Corcoran’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude is a refreshing approach to success.

Thanks to the efforts of Mrs. DeGraw we were able to provide our students with a 45 minute question and answer session with Ms. Corcoran.  It turned out to be a huge success. Ms. Corcoran provided a thorough and entertaining perspective into entrepreneurship, business development, and the important factors that contribute to a successful business. Our students questioned Ms. Corcoran regarding branding, success rates, expectations, investment decisions, and the general factors that contribute to a successful start-up. Ms. Corcoran answered each question with specific examples and entertaining stories.

This was a wonderful experience for our students. Video Conferencing allows authentic connections that isn't possible with only a textbook and a teacher. We are able to vet the resources available world wide at no cost and practically on-demand. Instead of reading about what successful entrepreneurs have done  we can ask one live! First hand questioning, conversation, and collaboration will always have the greatest impact on student learning. This makes learning fun, authentic, and engaging.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

National Poetry Month - Listen to Poems Read by Poets

April is National Poetry Month. While there are a number of online resources with activities to celebrate and explore poetry I really like the Listening Booth .  The listening booth contains audio recordings of poet's reading poems. You can search by poet name or poem name. 

There are a number of benefits to having students listen to poems read by their actual poet.  This website lists an number of strategies and ideas to share with students when listening to poetry.  You may want to have your students first read the poem themselves and then listen to it read by the actual poet. That should prove to be a beneficial and enlightening exercise for all students.


Poet's Listening Booth

Listening to Poetry - Ideas for Teachers



Monday, April 2, 2012

Student's Illustrate, Record and Publish

Little Bird Tales is a free site that allows teachers and students to create and publish their own digital tales.  Here is what i like about it.

Class Management

  • The has a simple to use teacher interface in which you can setup classes and control access.

  • Teachers manage student accounts.

  •  The teacher assigns usernames and passwords to the students without the requirement of student emails.

  • The teacher controls the privacy and publishing settings


Student Access and Story Creation

  • Students can use the drawing tools to create characters, backgrounds and objects.

  • You can add typed text or record your own narration with the click of a button.

  • Students may import their own pictures. After importing they may use the drawing tools to add to them or annotate them.

  • The site is easy to use and offers a number of options for classroom integration.


The options are limitless with Little Bird Tales. Students may publish a story of all original illustrations and narration or they may develop a presentation about an event, person or curriculum topic. Students may develop bird tales as an enrichment activity. An example would be the assignment to create a tale that describes how to add fractions.

For more student publishing resources please see my digital writing wiki:




Friday, March 30, 2012

Student Book Reviews Using Google Sites

Our district is a member of Google Apps for Education. We have started to use Google Sites for a number of initiatives. We started to use Sites for teacher websites in some of our schools. We also  used Sites to build instructional resources. Our interactive Pyramid of Intervention and  Collaborative Group Work Resource are two great examples. 

Recently two of our grade 2 teachers were looking for an online solution to publish their student's book reviews. We decided to use Google Sites as the tool. Each student illustrated a picture of themselves and a picture of the book. I created pages on the site to publish their profile pictures with links to their book reviews (that the students typed in MS word).  The result is a fabulous site that publishes their book reviews. Please take a look at our student's work here. 

By providing an opportunity to publish their book reviews we established an authentic task that proved to be engaging for the students. They were writing for a global audience and were very connected to the assignment. It was positive experience for everyone!




Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Bring Celebrities into Your Classroom for Reading Instruction?

Storyline ( is a website published by the Screen Actors Guild. The site features videos of  famous actors and actresses reading children’s books.  There is an index of books to select from.

The videos display well on an interactive white board. They can also be used in a listening center. With most stories there are activity guides and extension activities.

Storyline may be used during whole group instruction as part of interactive read aloud. It may also be used in centers. Storyline may be used to model inflection, fluency, and to engage students in the process of reading.  They are able to apply the strategies that we teach them while having fun listening.  You can pause, stop and rewind. You can also display captions in order to discuss word use throughout.

Storyline is fun and interactive resource that is a great tool for any balanced literacy initiative. There a re a number of uses in an elementary classroom. I would love to hear how you use this with students. Please leave a comment below to share how you use Storlyline Online with your students.




Friday, March 16, 2012

Insert Your Own Flash Content in Smart Notebook Software

The smart notebook software is a powerful and feature rich addition to any classroom. The gallery is loaded with images, backgrounds, interactive content and flash-based lesson activities. Did you know that you can add most flash activities from the web directly into a smart notebook page? Here is how it works.

First, using Google Chrome, conduct a search for the topic you are looking to explore with students and add that to the search bar. Add the phrase  "filetype:swf" at the end of the search. This will limit the search to flash based activities that fit that search criteria.

Example: Search for   fractions filetype:swf

The search will return a list of sites with flash based activities for working with fractions. Select one of the sites and open it.

After you have the site  open click on the wrench on the top right side of the Chrome toolbar. In that menu select "save page as". Save the file as a  "Flash Movie".

Open up smart notebook and navigate to a page in the file that you want to insert the flash activity. On the top toolbar click on INSERT - FLASH FILE... and browse to the flash file you saved.

Viola... You now have an interactive flash file embedded into your smart notebook presentation!


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Create Your Own STEM Textbook for Free!

The CK-12 foundation has introduced a new resource called the flexbook. CK-12 provides free access to textbooks for science, technology engineering, math and SAT review. They are now offering the ability to design your own "flexbook". You can read more about this initiative here. 

The web interface allows the user to select chapters from a text and then add them to your personalized flexbook. The editor allows the user to edit content in the chapter, insert text, insert images and insert videos. There are a series of easy to follow video tutorials that demonstrate how to add your own content.   Besides utilizing or editing existing chapters you can author your own chapter. The editor is very intuitive and offers a breadth of functionality.

Once you have finished curating the resources in your book you have options for sharing.

  1. Share or Print as a PDF

  2. Share as an online electronic book

  3. Share as an HTML website.

  4. Some of the books can be downloaded directly to the IPAD, Kindle, Nook Color, or Android Tablet.

You can share the book with your students by adding a link to it on your website or Moodle course.  There are a number of relevant books in the library. In many cases these books are best used to supplement the existing text and instructional materials already in place. The online textbooks utilize a number of primary source documents. They are designed to develop critical thinking skills.  You can search for textbooks that are aligned to the New Jersey standards and the common core standards.

The use of web-based, online textbooks that allow for the addition of personalized content offers a simple solution for educators to incorporate the resources of the web in one organized place.  Students, teachers and curriculum coordinators may author chapters or complete textbooks. Special education teachers may work collaboratively with general education teachers to provide flexible and differentiated content to meet the needs of their students. The possibilities are endless.




Friday, February 24, 2012

A Creative Approach to Representing Content Receives Recognition

Congratulations to Mr. Levine, a social studies teaching in our high school. Mr. Levine has been using Glogster EDU as his primary method of delivering instructional content to his students.  His recent Glog on FDR and The Great Depression has been published as a top 5 Glog on the Glogster Edu website. You can view all of Mr. Levine's Glogs here.

Mr. Levine designs Glogs that contain images, links, videos, audio and any other relevant content for his lessons. He uses a projector in his classroom to display the Glog and discuss/review its content. Because the Glogs are available online students have access to it for further review at home, as a study guide, to make-up work when absent, and to participate in small group projects and discussions.

This unique approach to organizing, disseminating, and presenting content is proving to be effective with students. The web has provided opportunities for us as educators to change the way we present.This creative approach is both engaging and effective.


Glogster is a tool that allows for the creation of digital posters. I really like the way it curates information. It is most effective as an assessment for students when presenting the Glog is a requirement. Because of the small amount of real estate available on the Glog students are limited with regards to the amount of text that can be displayed. What that equates to is a lot less reading and more summarizing and discussion regarding the visual content on the Glog. You can read my previous postings on Glogster here:

Glogster as a teaching tool

Digital posters develop higher order thinking skills

Create portfolios in Glogster.



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Common Core Writing - Web-Based Instructional Resources

Consider the following standard taken from the Language Arts Common Core

Standard: Writing

     “The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the writing standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades. “       

While there are a number of resources and strategies that may be used to address this standard I would like to share some online resources that are available.

Let’s first take a look at the available options in the NY Times. We are all aware that the Opinions Section for any newspaper, not just the Times, offers an opportunity to read various viewpoints on a topic. Students may reflect, conduct further research and form their own opinions based on what they read in these sections. The New York Times Editorial page, Op-Ed columnists, Letters to the Editor or even the collection of Opinion videos are great resources for this type of activity.  There is also the Student Opinion section from the NY Times Learning Blog which targets stories relevant to our students.  Students 13 years old and above may register to post comments on the stories posted.

The New York Times offers another great resource called “ Room For Debate”  (  Room for Debate looks at an issue or event in the news and organizes four to five opinion pieces for each. The contributors are limited to a four or five paragraph response. This makes the reality of implementing this in a classroom or as a homework assignment more practical. The site is very user friendly for teachers and students.

There are a number of uses for such a source. Instructional strategies such as think-pair-share or jigsaw may be used in the classroom to discuss the various views. Culminating activities may involve contributing to an online discussion using Moodle, Edmodo, Ning, or a blog posting or any other online discussion forum.

After reading and researching varying viewpoints on a topic students may be charged with crafting their own written opinion piece that will be reflective of the various opinions as well as their knowledge of context gained.

Teen and Tween Tribune are another great resource for students to read current event articles as well as the responses and comments published by other students. Each day they post the most compelling, relevant, and interesting stories for teens and tweens. Students are provided with an opportunity to comment on these stories. Teachers may setup a class page and accounts to manage and monitor the activity on the site.


There are a number of websites that offer articles or conversation starters that can be used to formulate persuasive or argumentive writing. Opposing Views, Procon, Middle School Debate and the Wikipedia list of controversial issues are a few.

When looking at current news, politics and other notable events PolitiFact takes an interesting spin in its approach.  Each day they analyze statements and comments made by notable politicians and then rate the accuracy of these statements.

The RAFT writing strategy is a popular strategy for both teachers and students. You can view my wiki of resources regarding this topic here. When constructing a writing task in social studies this topic generator may come in handy.

When developing expository writing assignments in any subject area technology may be a valuable asset. The development of a digital story or tutorial requires a written document that is then narrated.

Students may develop a mathematics or science tutorial using Jing. This tutorial may demonstrate the steps of solving a word problem, the process of photosynthesis, or how to compute the area of a room. In each of these scenarios the students must develop a written piece that identifies the steps of the process. The fact that they will be speaking and recording their writing for a global online audience offers a level of authenticity and engagement that is difficult to replicate with traditional writing tasks.

By taking students on virtual field trips to  locations throughout the world using Google Earth, or the museums of the world through the Google Art Project we present opportunities to build context and activate prior knowledge. We also provide an engaging and interactive experience that acts as a catalyst for writing.

A simple webquest created using Google Sites may ask students to compare the sequence of events that led to the New Deal and contrast them with the events that led to the current economic stimulus package. A webquest template contains links to resources, tasks and guidance for students to take part in this inquiry driven assignment. Writing may be published and shared online using Google Docs. Google Docs will allow for peer review and editing. It also allows for the teacher to monitor the writing progress in real-time


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Connecting Literacy, Technology, Science & Penguins?

We have been successful with implementing various author Skype sessions in all of our schools. These experience are always positive.  The authors that we have connected with have done a fantastic job inspiring our students. Most notably they have  allowed students to make an authentic connection to the writing process. They connect the strategies taught in the classroom with what real authors actually do. Sometimes it is just better when they hear it from someone other than their teacher. Each time we connect we also have a lot of fun.
This particular Skype session was different. The student's in Ms. Reichel's grade 1 class in Ellen T.  Briggs School connected with author Jean Marzollo. Mrs. Marzollo is the author of the well-known I-Spy book series. Ms. Reichel's class chose to focus on her non-fiction story Pierre the Penguin.  The students had been studying about penguins. They recently skyped with a penguin expert.

Here is a excerpt from Ms. Reichel's blog posting regarding the connection:

"We first read this book as part of our unit on penguins and instantly fell in love with the adorable Pierre who wears a tiny wet suit so he will stay warm in the water even though he does not have feathers.  Our interest in Pierre brought us to his home site  There we were able to watch live footage of Pierre and his friends and read about how he is doing on the Penguin Blog.    

After that we were hooked!  We wanted to know more and were lucky enough to Skype with Mrs. Marzollo.  Not only did she read us the book but she also took the time to answer questions. "

What really differentiated this experience from other author Skype sessions is what unfolded during the exchange of questions with Mrs. Marzollo. The students shared that they discovered Pierre's birthday was the next week. He was going to be 29 years old. They had learned this and other interesting facts about Pierre while reading a blog published about him. This was new information for Mrs. Marzollo. She was so impressed with the knowledge she had uncovered from our students that she wrote a posting on her personal blog to highlight the experience. You can read it here.

The student's in Ms. Reichel's class are very excited to be mentioned on the blog of an international author. They believe that they are now famous! What is underlying here is what this has accomplished. The student's have seen a true purpose for their research. They were able to curate and communicate what they learned and share it with a global audience. This opportunity opened up a level of engagement that each of us strive for. If we could create opportunities for students to share what they have learned or created with the world, we can expect a level of  engagement and excitement about learning that is difficult to develop using traditional instructional methods.




Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Collaborative Project to Build Bullying Awareness

The students in Mrs. Bock's reading class at White Rock Elementary school wanted to work together to apply what they have learned about bullying, character counts, and the writing process to publish a book about bullying. The students and Mrs. Bock had recently been introduced to Storyjumper  through one of my training sessions. Storyjumper is a free web-based application that allows students to create and publish page turning online storybooks. The books are viewable online and can be purchased as a hard cover children's book. 

Mrs. Bock recognized that while writing in isolation on a topic that is of interest to students may be engaging, she knew that connecting with another school to collaborate on a publication would spark student interest.   Mrs. Bock successfully connected with a class from the Califon school in NJ. Together both groups of students co-authored a book that addresses bullying. This wonderful publication identifies the characteristics of a bully, integrates the six pillars of character and offers solutions for addressing the problem.

The overall project was a success. The students enjoyed applying what they have learned about bullying and character counts. They were provided with an opportunity to collaborate with another class, apply problem solving skills, and publish for a public audience. These are key skills for the 21st century. Please follow the link below to read a copy of their book.

Click Here To Read Their Book

Congratulations to Mrs. Bock's Class! Great Job!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Vote for our Middle School Students!

I  have had the pleasure to work with Dr. Nancy Harris and the students in  her middle school gifted and talented program. We worked on submitting an application to the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow Contest. The contest required participants to develop a solution for an environmental concern in their area that uses STEM. We were asked to create a two minute video that documents our solution.

Out of 15oo applicants we were selected as a top 12 finalist. While the 12 finalists will each receive $70,000 worth of technology for their school, 5 of the 12 will be selected as grand prize winners. Public voting is now open to select one of the top 5 winners. Please follow the link below and vote for Jefferson Township Middle School!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Smart Notebook 11 release planned for this Spring with new features

Smart has issued information regarding the release of Notebook 11. The new version will offer some new features that will be useful for students. Most notable is the ability to embed web content into a lesson page. This may include youtube videos or any website. You will be able to annotate over the embedded content.

They will also be adding a development tool which will allow for individuals to create downloadable widgets that can be used in the software. This is similar to running apps on a mobile device. These widgets will add functionality to the software.


An overview of the new features are listed below:

Embedded web browser
Insert web browsers directly onto a SMART Notebook software page and use tools to draw and write over web pages and drag and drop images into your lesson. You can also open the live page directly from within the lesson.

Activity builder
Create activities where objects react to actions by accepting or rejecting other objects or by triggering animations or sound. The activity builder is great for arranging, sorting and labeling and for creating VENN diagrams.

Enhanced contextual toolbar
Choose an object and the toolbar changes, so all the tools you need are right in front of you.

Create authentic crayon drawings on a SMART Board interactive whiteboard.

Customized creative pen
Build your own creative pen using any image you choose.

Audio recording
Record sounds directly into your SMART Notebook lesson.

Shape image fill
Adjust the size of an image to fit into a shape.

Reset page
Use this feature to return your page to its last saved state.

New gestures
Shake objects to group and ungroup them.

Updated tables
Scale, move and interact with tables more easily.

New text engine
Provides improved text formatting and consistency within SMART Notebook.

Fade ink
Fade any regular ink.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Authentic Connections With Skype

The student's in Mrs. Reichel's grade 1 class in Ellen Briggs School in my district connected with Penguin experts to discuss what they have learned about Penguins. The students had a number of great questions. The event was a great experience for all. See the posting below from Mrs. Reichel's blog.


Re-Posted from Ms. Reichel's Blog

On Friday, January 20, 2012 our class celebrated Penguin Awareness Day. For weeks we have been learning about different types of penguins and what makes them so interesting. We have learned a lot of penguin facts but we were still left with some questions.

Thanks to Rebecca and Laura at the Penguin Project we were able to get answers. Click the video below to watch our Skype session with these two penguin experts. They made it to their offices at the University of Washington in Seattle despite a major snowstorm. We are so grateful for their time and knowledge!

Before our Skype session, we took the time to check out where they study penguins and learned they are working with Magellanic Penguins located in Punta Tombo, Argentina. Unlike penguins from the South Pole, these penguins experience a change in seasons. Right now, it is summer in Argentina.

We especially loved reading about Turbo the Penguin and his amazing story of survival.

[caption id="attachment_731" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Thank you Penguin Project! You have inspired us!"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_729" align="aligncenter" width="160" caption="Turbo the Penguin"][/caption]


Did you learn something about penguins? Leave us a comment to share your new information.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Collaborative Writing In Elementary Classrooms

The development of Web 2.0, or the Read/Write Web, has produced a number of free resources that allow students and teachers to publish and collaborate online. One of my favorite sites to use with students is Wikispaces.  Wikispaces is a web service that allows teachers to create a wiki in which students may contribute content. The service is free for teachers and students. After a teacher creates an account they can create as many wikis as they wish. There is a very simple to use management tool that allows the teacher o create student usernames and passwords.

Once a student is granted access to the wiki he or she can add content, respond to discussions regarding the content and even leave comments when reviewing materials developed by the teacher or their peers. The availability of a resource like Wikispaces offers a number of opportunities in the classroom.

A wiki is a forum in which students can collaborate, share and contribute content, and peer review each others work. For example, the students in Mrs. Daly’s (White Rock), Mrs. Young’s, (Stanlick) and Mrs. McLoughlin’s (Stanlick) grade 5 classes have been working with grade 5 classes in Buckingham County, Virginia on a shared wiki. Each student was paired with a student in Virginia who is at or near their writing level. We created a wiki for the project and a page within that wiki for each student.

The goal of this collaborative project was to provide an authentic opportunity for students to develop their writing skills. Each student was responsible for authoring a writing piece based on a common writing prompt. After the students added their written work to their page they were responsible for peer editing the work of their partner. The students followed a common template for peer review that was shared with all six teachers involved. The students provided the feedback
to their partners in Virginia through the discussion feature that is available on each of their pages.

This project has been a success. The students were provided with the opportunity to write for an audience. They enjoyed learning about their partners in Virginia. It was a great opportunity to experience writing from their peers in other states. The opportunity to send and receive feedback provided an opportunity for reflection regarding their writing. The student’s in Mrs. Young’s class and their partner class in Virginia will be continuing this project. They are in the process of organizing a wiki in which each pairing of students will co-author a single story.

While a wiki is a very simple and powerful tool for school to school collaboration, it can also be used effectively within a single class. For example, student’s in a U.S. History class may collaborate on a single wiki site focused on the 1920’s. Each student may be responsible for contributing a page of content about that era. The end result of such a project is an online textbook that may be shared and used year after year.

A Language Arts teacher may provide a single page on a wiki to each student to write an essay. The fact that the wiki is online allows the teacher to monitor and review student writing in real-time. The “add a comment” feature allows the teacher to provide comments that are highlighted and noted ion the sidebar of the page.

This method of writing replaces the process of collecting and reviewing first drafts. Instead, the teacher can guide a student and comment on their writing while it is happening. The feedback is immediate and will impact the quality and focus of student writing.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Flipping Instruction Using Video Tutorials K-12

How can we provide individualized instruction, independent learning opportunities, targeted review and supports?

These are the questions and the demands of today's classrooms. How can we differentiate, facilitate learning and utilize technology to simplify the process.  The Flipped Classroom Model of instruction is one example.

Student and teacher made tutorials or recorded lectures can be used to provide the supports needed in today's classrooms. The Khan Academy is the model example of how web-based recorded tutorial/lectures can meet the needs of many of our learners.  The Khan Academy provides concise video screencast tutorials for topics in math, science, and humanities. Many of the videos also link to independent practice exercise that students may progress through.

There is a feature called "coach" in which a teacher registers themselves as a coach. The students may then login to Khan academy with their Google Apps user name and password and link themselves to a coach. This allows the teacher to monitor their progress. This provides an opportunity for enrichment were students may progress beyond the current topic to more advanced topics that they are ready for. I have written about the Khan Academy in previous blog posts.  I would like to provide some examples of how this can be used immediately with students.

1. Flip the classroom - Students watch the instructional video for homework on their computer, ipad, ipod touch, or any other web enabled device. When they return to school the students apply what was in the video to class problems and projects. The teacher acts as the facilitator in the room to assist students who need help. Students may work in groups to apply and discuss what was learned.

2. Extra- Help and Support - Teachers may provide links to a tutorial on their class website or Moodle course. Students may access this tutorial at home or during class time from a class computer, personal cell phone or any other web-enabled device. Students may pause, rewind and fast forward depending upon their needs.

3. Test review - Teachers may link to a tutorial on their website to provide a review opportunities for students.

4. Enrichment - Teachers may assign students who have a strong grasp of the content the opportunity to create their own screencast tutorial using free recording services such as Jing.

In our district teachers have been successful utilizing our Moodle course management software. On Moodle, teachers can create topics within a course. In those topics they provide links to tutorials, discussions, work submissions and quizzes.

By utilizing these resources we not only provide the type of individualized learning necessary, we also incorporate technology which results in increased student engagement and college career readiness.

Below is a screencast tutorial the introduces the Khan Academy.

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