Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Edmodo Apps

The Edomdo App Store
In a recent blog post I wrote about Edmodo being used to improve student writing skills. Although my focus with Edmodo is on the writing and the collaboration, there are other ways Edmodo can be used to enrich the learning experience.

Edmodo also has an app store where teachers can download third party apps that are embedded into the Edmodo platform. These apps are provided by third party developers and offer a great way to supplement regular classroom instruction. They can be used to review and reinforce concepts as well as learn new material. Apps are convenient too. They can be installed into a class for easy student access.

The app store can be accessed through the Store icon found on the upper right corner of the Edmodo screen. Once in the store you'll notice a variety of categories along the left side. There are free and paid apps within the store. Licensing for each app is determined by the publisher. The Edmodo help files explains the difference between the two types of licenses:
Publishers can license apps in the Edmodo Store in one of two ways.
  1. Unlimited: This is a 12 month license that does not include a limit on member seats.
  1. Group-based: This is the most common type of app license. The Group-based license includes 30 seats* and is valid for 365 days from the date of purchase. If the number of Group members exceeds the number of seats you have available, you will receive a notification prompting you to purchase add-on seats for those Group members. Additional seats may be purchased at any time before the license ends.
Once the teacher buys and installs the app, students can access them from their account. There are apps to teach fractions, geometry, and pattern blocks in math. Others include figurative language and persuasive writing in language arts. There are even apps for classroom management.

Getting Smart recently posted Edmodo - Making It Personal with 40+ Apps listing a variety of ways you can use Edmodo apps in your classroom and the top 40 apps in the app store. Although I have never used apps within Edmodo, these sound like a great way to enrich student learning.

If you have used any Edmodo apps with your students I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
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Monday, December 9, 2013

In Defense of Wikipedia

I recently got this email from a coworker:
Can we visit about wikipedia?  I hear it's peer reviewed and not able to be edited by just anyone.  What's the truth?  Many teachers won't allow it as a solid reference in research.  What do you think?
This is a sentiment I've heard all too frequently. It's true that Wikipedia is peer reviewed, can be edited by anyone, and has contained erroneous information at times. But I think it's a great resources for finding accurate information on a variety of subjects. I decided to do a little digging to see how trustworthy it can be. All of my information came directly from Wikipedia's own FAQ pages, so I guess that should be taken with a grain of salt.

One of the concerns, as raised in the email above, is that anybody can edit a wiki article. Wikipedia is entirely free - anybody can create an account and edit information on any page. However, I believe that helps ensure the accuracy of wiki pages instead of making them unreliable. Most wiki pages are monitored by many, possibly hundreds, of other contributors. If someone with bad intentions were to add inaccurate or misleading information, the chances are great that someone else would catch the change and be able to edit it for more accuracy. Behind the scenes of each page are discussions and debates between all the contributors that the end user may not be seeing. Every change on a page is also logged in a page history, so anyone can see those changes and who made them. From the FAQ Is Wikipedia accurate and reliable? (emphasis mine):
It is possible for a given Wikipedia article to be biased, outdated, or factually incorrect. This is true of any resource. One should always double-check the accuracy of important facts, regardless of the source. In general, popular Wikipedia articles are more accurate than ones that receive little traffic, because they are read more often and therefore any errors are corrected in a more timely fashion.
The accuracy of any wiki article is dependent on the accuracy of the sources on which it relies. Information within any given Wikipedia article should be derived from authoritative sources. As you read wiki articles you'll notice footnotes that lead to the References section at the bottom of each page. If someone added factual information to an article without citing a source, you may see a "Citation needed" note.
Wikipedia reference section
Are the external sources reliable?
If the external sources cited are authoritative, then the overall wiki article should be accurate and reliable. This is also a great place for students to go for more information or additional sources.

Any source students use - newspaper, encyclopedia, book, or media - can have wrong or outdated information. Students need to be taught to look at any source critically and check it for accuracy. I read the local newspaper every day and I know that not everything I read is going to be accurate or contain all of the information I need. If I feel I'm missing something then I'll go online and check other news outlets as well. This fills in any information gaps and gives me a better picture.

We need to teach students the same thing with Wikipedia. It shouldn't be avoided or not allowed to be cited as a source. Instead it should be viewed as a clearinghouse of information, a compilation of many sources into one article. It shouldn't be the only source, but it can be a great starting point for research!

What do you think about Wikipedia? Let me know in the comments below.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Edmodo is not Facebook!

I have been thinking a lot lately about Edmodo and how it can be used in education. Edmodo has commonly been thought of as Facebook for education. But to me Edmodo is not Facebook! It's a learning platform that happens to look like a social platform. It has so much potential in the classroom! I hope that more teachers at my school will begin to use it in a variety of ways with their students.

The 5th grade classes have been working on opinion pieces (W.5.1). I have decided to write my own opinion piece to explain why Edmodo is not Facebook. 5th graders, leave feedback below if I've not written my essay correctly!

Edmodo is not Facebook!

Edmodo is a social learning platform for schools. It allows teachers and students to connect and collaborate on learning. CCSD has been recognized as one of the stand out districts in the nation for the number of teachers and students who are connecting, sharing resources, and learning. Although Edmodo's look and feel is similar to Facebook, in my opinion there is much more to it. I believe that Edmodo is more than just a communication tool.

Edmodo provides a way for students to improve their writing skills. Two of the writing standards in the CCSS are W.x.5 With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach and W.x.6 With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others. These standards can be met by using Edmodo. Students can post a writing sample as simple as a sentence or as long as an essay. Other students can then post comments to ask questions, clarify meaning, and offer suggestions for improvement. Even second graders are supposed to "use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers." What better way to do this than by using a safe environment like Edmodo? It is so flexible it can be used in a variety of subjects and grade levels and is widely used in schools throughout the country.

Since Edmodo can be used so easily, many teachers in middle and high school use it for their whole class. They can post quizzes, polls, assignments, and even keep a grade book on it. Teachers in any subject can use it to extend learning. Students in the upper elementary grades need to be exposed to Edmodo so that when they enter middle school they are already familiar with it, regardless of the classes in which they enroll. They will be able to use it to collaborate with other students and to complete work assigned by their teachers. If they don't learn how to use it in elementary school, it will be one more thing they have to learn before they can get to the actual classwork. Teachers love to use Edmodo not just for the ease of use and flexibility, but also because they can control who has access to their content.

Edmodo is the perfect social learning platform for schools because it's a safe environment. When using Facebook you have to be careful of your settings so that everything you post cannot be read by just anyone. Posts that students publish on Edmodo can only be read by other members of their class. Not even other members of the school can read them. Strangers or other individuals outside of the class cannot communicate with the students directly or indirectly. Teachers also have the option of moderating posts. This makes is safe for students. They don't have to worry about strangers reading their posts or interacting with them. Parents can also have Edmodo accounts that let them view direct posts from their kids.

Edmodo is not Facebook because there is so much more that it can do. It is a way for students to collaborate with each other, to prepare students for work in middle school, and is a safe way for students to communicate with each other.
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Monday, November 25, 2013

Cool and useful website: Symbaloo

I've been seeing and hearing a lot about a cool and useful website called Symbaloo. From their About page:
Symbaloo is a personal startpage that allows you to easily navigate the web and compile your favorite site all in to one visual interface. Save your bookmarks in the cloud and access them from anywhere with any device.
Basically you create a collection or "mix" of favorite websites on one page. These bookmarks are visually represented by tiles. These Symbaloo mixes can be embedded on a class webpage or set as the home page for your classroom computers. This makes it extremely easy for your students to access the websites they need to complete your activities. This introductory video does a good job of describing what the website does.

How can this site be used in the classroom? If you have your students do any kind of work on the web you can create a mix to make it easy for them. Here are links to a variety of Symabloos to help you start thinking about how you can incorporate this great tool.

Virtual Field Trips
National Geographic Books
eBook Read To Me
Biomes for 2nd Grade
Art in the Classroom

Check out the Symbaloo Gallery for even more ideas. How will you use Symbaloo in your class?
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cool and useful website: Wonderopolis

I first heard about Wonderopolis from a blog post I read last summer. Ever since, I've been thinking about how it could be used in the classroom.

Wonderopoolis is a site that inspires creativity, thinking, exploration, and, of course, wonder. Each day the site posts a new wonder that kids can explore. Some examples of wonders are: How Many Hot Dogs Can I Eat In 10 minutes? How Rare Is The Rhino? What Is Infinity? Each wonder is accompanied by a short video. Here is the video for the wonder How Do Pets Find Homes?


There is also a detailed discussion of the topic which includes vocabulary words. An interactive Wonder Words section helps students extend their understanding of the highlighted vocabulary words in the article.

Other sections of the website allow learners to explore previous wonders, submit ideas for new wonders, and vote on wonders others are thinking about.

How can this site be used in the classroom? The possibilities are endless! Here are just a few quick ideas:

  • watch the video and discuss what was learned
  • students write in their journal, blog, or on Edmodo about what they learned
  • draw and label pictures about the wonder
  • have students further research the wonder
  • take the Wonder Word Challenge and use the vocabulary words in a story or article about the wonder
  • have students select a previous wonder and write, blog, or post on Edmodo about it
  • assign the wonder as part of the homework for students to share with their family

What other ideas do you have for using this website in your classroom?

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The nuts and bolts of a student run broadcast

I talked about our school's morning announcements in a previous post. You can view previous broadcasts here. The broadcasts are going extremely well. I love working with these students and am very proud of how quickly they learn and take over. Several people have asked about the equipment I use, so in this post I will list the equipment and describe how the studio is set up.


I am lucky enough to have an office that is big enough to hold my work space as well as fit the entire TBN studio nice and neat. The studio is set up in the back of my office as shown in the bottom picture. Here is a list of most of the equipment used in the studio.

  • Video Furnace - this device (#7 in the picture) was provided by the district. It captures the video and audio feeds, sending them down to the district run PBS station where they are encoded and sent back to the school through the Cable in the Classroom program.
  • Sima SFX-11 Digital Video Mixer (#1)- I picked this mainly for the price. It's one of the cheapest video mixers out there at less than $500 and does an excellent job for my purposes. It has 4 inputs (two RCA and two S-Video). All of my video sources (two cameras and one laptop) are connected to it. It has several outputs so I can connect a monitor to it to see what I'm capturing. The main video out connects directly to the Video Furnace device. My crew is able to select the different video sources at the push of a button.
  • Behringer XENYX X1204USB 12-Channel Mixer (#8)- The video mixer can handle basic audio mixing, but I decided to go with this audio mixer because it can handle more inputs and different types of inputs. I have two microphones for the anchors, one microphone for the weatherperson/interviews, a laptop playing videos, and another laptop providing background music. The main audio out on this goes directly to the Video Furnace device.
  • Teleprompter software - I currently use a free program called Microscript Pro. It's got a few quirks to it. I'm interested in trying out something different like AquaPrompt or PromptDog. I have it installed on two computers, one for the anchors and another for the weather/interview person.
  • Computers - I use three laptops in our studio. One runs the teleprompter software for the anchors (#2), another runs videos (opening sequence, closing credits, and any other special videos) (#3), and the third (#11) runs the teleprompter software for the weather/interview person as well as playing background music (Radio Disney).
  • Video cameras - I have one camera setup on the anchors (#4). A second camera (#10) is setup for the weather and is moved for interviews since they take place in the same space.
  • Lighting kit - the first year I set up the studio the Student Council was all excited about it so they donated funds for more equipment. I decided to purchase a light kit similar to this one. It helps brighten up the whole studio so it appears better on screen.
  • Monitors - in order for my crew to see everything that is going on I have several computer monitors. One is to display the teleprompter script for the anchors (#5), another displays the teleprompter script for the weather/interview person (#9), and the third is hooked up to the video mixer so we can monitor what is actually viewed in the classrooms (#6).
  • Cables and dongles - of course there are all kinds of cables running all around and dongles connecting the computers to the monitors and mixers. I included headphones for all of the crew so they can hear the broadcast just like the school would hear it.
In the picture below you can see how the studio is set up. The anchor desk for two anchors is set up to the left, and the weather wall is set up to the right. I have a primary grade weather kit hanging on the wall. The chairs in that area are setup for any interviews we do.
The TBN studio


The whole broadcast is run entirely by 4th and 5th grade students. I have a crew of 9 that arrives each morning at 8:40. They turn on the equipment, load up the scripts, and practice the day's script. During the practice we have a static image (the school logo) displayed on the screen and Radio Disney playing. This gives teachers the chance to turn on their classroom equipment and make sure they are receiving the broadcast.

A few minutes before the broadcast begins the audio mixer shouts "Going live!" and turns on all the microphones. At that point everyone becomes completely silent. At the first bell the broadcast begins with an opening segment and from that point forward the broadcast is live - bloopers and all!

The person running the video mixer is pretty much in charge. They queue the anchors and weather person for their parts and switch between the cameras and video. The audio mixer brings the microphones in and out and monitors the audio level for the videos and background music.

The crew were selected from students who filled out an application expressing interest in being part of the crew. The students rotate through the jobs every two weeks so that everyone gets a chance to try each job. Everybody wants to be the anchors and be on air, but they also enjoy the behind the scenes job as well. Some jobs are very complex and hard to do (video mixer), while others are simple and don't require a lot of effort (camera person).

The best part about this? I stand back and do nothing. The students run all the equipment and I just stay out of the way!

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Saving YouTube Videos

It seems like everyone has a lesson, how-to, demonstration, or other exciting video that they've posted on YouTube. These come in handy when you are teaching a concept and need a little additional information to enhance that lesson. Unfortunately in my district YouTube is blocked. But with the help of the Internet you can download that cool video at home and still show it during your lesson.

Ideally, to get through the district filter the YouTube video should be tagged for educational use. You can usually contact the author of the video and ask them to add that tag. You can also submit the video through YouTube EDU's submission form.

If you are unable to do that, or need it quicker than the email back and forth, you can use a site like to convert and download the video. Best of all-the site is free! You will need to follow these steps at home, since you still need to access the YouTube video.

To start you need to navigate to the YouTube video you want. Copy the URL for that video from the address bar.

Go to and paste in that URL in their search bar. It should look something like this.

Then click the Download button to the right of the search bar. Don't click any Download buttons below the search bar - those are ads and you'll end up downloading some junky software.

After click Download you may need to accept a security warning about Java. It's okay to Trust it - I've done this hundreds of times without any problems.

After the Java applet runs you'll be presented with a choice of file formats. Always go with the mp4 file format. The 480p is in the 4:3 aspect ratio and a smaller file size. This is usually good enough for my needs. 720p is in the 16:9 aspect ration and a much higher quality (and file size).

Click the link for the file format you want and it will download the video to your computer. Transfer that video to a flash drive and take it to school!

Keep in mind that the video is not yours to keep. I only offer this tip as a way of getting around the district filter for content you know is acceptable and useful in your class. Once you've shown the video be sure to delete it and also give proper credit to the author!

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Picture Book Month

November is Picture Book Month! This celebration of good books was started by authors Dianne de Las Casas and Katie Davis. From their FAQ they describe the need for a Picture Book Month:
In this digital age where people are predicting the coming death of print books, picture books (the print kind) need love. And the world needs picture books. There’s nothing like the physical page turn of a beautifully crafted picture book.
Even though I am a a digital cheerleader and spend an inordinate amount of time in front of a screen, I have to agree with that statement. I find it difficult to enjoy a book on my iPad. When I read a book I want to hold it in my hands and enjoy the feel and smell of the pages. I cannot read my newspaper online - I have to sit in my recliner and hold it in my hands. As an avid reader, the thought of an entire month dedicated to celebrating and loving picture books appeals to me!

I have been reading to my children every night before bed for a very long time. I've tried reading novels (and we've loved some really good ones), but I keep coming back to picture books. There's something special about the joy of good pictures and the story that goes along with them. My kids and I learn so much from these books: how to laugh, how to get along, why Mr. Tiger prefers to be wild, why Z stands for moose, how a good bowl of soup tastes so yummy after a night of adventures, and a whole lot more!

One year I made it a goal to read every Caldecott winner with my kids and talk about the pictures. We talked about page layout, use of medium, color, and technique. We talked about how the pictures matched the words on the page or how the illustrator would use perspective to emphasize a part of the text. I'm proud to say that we made it through all of the Caldecott winners at that time!

This past summer is when I learned about Picture Book Month. I immediately decided it was something we had to celebrate at my school. Our morning announcements are done through a video broadcast, so I decided to have picture book commercials.

I enlisted the help of a first grade teacher on this project. She is working with a group of students to create 30 second book commercials. Students will interview teachers, record them talking about their favorite picture book , and edit these commercials down to 30 second clips. The commercials will air each day in November during our morning broadcast. Here is the first commercial we will air on November 1.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Keeping My PLN Organized

During a training recently I was talking about the blogs I follow and the people I follow on Twitter. The question was asked, "How do you find time to read all that?" The answer is I don't!

Currently I have 80 blogs across a variety of topics that I am following. I am also following 69 people on Twitter. Neither of these numbers are outlandish. I would even guess that they are anemic compared to many other connected educators. But that's still a lot of information to keep an eye on. In this post I'll share two apps that I use - one for blogs and one for Twitter.


Rather than go out to all 80 blogs each day to see if something has been posted, I use Feedly. Feedly is a RSS aggregator. It does the heavy lifting for me by going out to all my blogs and showing my headlines and summaries of the posts that I haven't yet read.

You can see from the screen shot to the right how I have my blogs organized into sections. Each section shows the blogs I'm following and the number of unread blog posts. I can choose to view all blogs in a particular section or on a particular blog. At a glance I can see the topics. If it sounds interesting to me then I'll read it. Otherwise I'll mark it as read and it will disappear from the list.

I don't spend hours and hours pouring through blog posts. I scan through them in the morning while I'm waiting for my ride to work and in the evening just before bed. Feedly is also available for smart phones and tablets. So if I have some down time during the day, I'm waiting at the doctor's office, etc. I can scan through my feeds and keep up with what interests me.


Twitter is a constant stream of information. To help me stay on top of it I use TweetDeck on my laptop and Tweetbot on my iPhone.  One of the first things I keep in mind about Twitter is that I don't have to read everything - if I miss something it will usually come around again because everybody is retweeting and favoriting. So I don't stress about having to read every single tweet.

Tweetbot is nice because I can see where I stopped reading. When I'm ready to pick up where I left off I just have to refresh the screen. Again I don't worry about reading every tweet, I just scan through and if something catches my eye or I start to see a trend I'll stop and read.

I like using TweetDeck because I can have multiple timelines open at the same time. Timelines are like conversations on Twitter. If everyone is using the hashtag #gra13, for example, I can have that saved as a timeline and view that conversation in real time, without the clutter of the rest of my Twitter stream.

With these two apps I can still keep track of all the information flowing to me without feeling overwhelmed or feeling like I'm spending too much time online and not enough face to face.

What do you use to keep organized while being connected?
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

PLN - Blogs

My journey to become a Connected Educator began when I started at a new school and was tasked with getting their new set of iPads up and running. I hadn't used iPads in the classroom before so I had no idea where to begin to help teachers integrate them. So I did what I always do - I Googled it! 


I came across a very inspiring blog, Teaching Like It's 2999 by Jennie Magiera, a 4th-5th grade teacher in Chicago that used iPads extensively in her class. I soon thought that if a kindergarten class could use iPads, then surely other grades could too! So I Googled it and started reading My Hullabaloo by Matt Gomez, a kindergarten teacher in Texas. The more I looked, the more awesome educators I found blogging about their classrooms and all the wonderful things they do as educators and the fun activities their students were doing every day.

My list of blogs to follow grew in both number and topics - iPads, educational technology, reading, and education reform. Here is a partial list of blogs that I follow. Some I've come across through Google searches, others from the Twitterverse, and still others are followed by blogs that I follow. They all contribute to who I am, my knowledge base, and they inspire me with fresh ideas and perspectives.

I follow these blogs because of their ideas with iPads in the classroom.

I follow these blogs because of their ideas about integrating technology.

I follow these blogs because of my interest in reading.

Of course any one with an interest in education should follow Diane Ravitch's blog on the state of educational reform today.

I like to keep up with what's new and upcoming with the software I use, so I follow the official blogs for several software companies.

As you can see, I have a variety of blogs that I follow, mostly for professional reasons. You can find a blog about pretty much any interest you may have. It doesn't just have to be in the field of teaching!

What blogs do you follow?
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Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Librarian Told Me to Get Tissues

My school librarian told me I would need tissues also. When I checked out the book, she said I should make sure to have a box of tissues with me too. I chuckled and said sure. I'm not the crying type, but I am an emotional guy. Still, I knew I wouldn't need tissues.

I had been wanting to read Sharon Draper's Out Of My Mind for a long time. I heard wonderful things about it from my Twitter feed. It was going to be part of the 2013 Global Read Aloud, but unfortunately none of my 4th and 5th grade classes were participating so I wouldn't have that opportunity to read it. I had several books on my to read list and didn't know when I would get around to it. But it kept showing up.

One day I wandered into the school library and saw the book on the counter. I picked it up and read a few pages while waiting for the librarian. I was hooked! It was just as good as everyone was saying! So I checked it out and that's when the librarian said I should have tissues too.

I took it home to enjoy as my bedtime reading, expecting to have it for a couple of weeks. I might even have to renew it because I knew I wouldn't find much time at home to read. But I found myself making any kind of excuse to hang out in my room so I could sneak in a chapter or two. Last night I stayed up late for several hours so I could finish it, and I'm glad I did!

I never did cry. But wow! What an emotional roller coaster! I was humbled by Melody's back story and how she felt about her disability and inability to express herself. I was ticked off at the doctors and teachers who treated her like an illiterate baby with no IQ. How dare they not see beyond the physical disability and see inside her for the potential! I almost felt ashamed of my profession!

I was excited when she got teachers and an aide who truly understood her and her potential. I was thrilled that she had a fantastic neighbor like Mrs. V to help foster her love for learning. My heart pounded during her tryout for the quiz team and, of course, during the entire competition. I was angry for the way the team treated her and almost shouted out when she confronted them.

I wonder why I connected so much with this book? Is it because I am an educator too and I believe in the potential of every child? Last year my office was right across the hall from the autistic class made up of 4th and 5th graders. I was always in and out of their room and they always greeted me like a long lost friend. Did that experience give me a certain level of hope, understanding, and compassion for Melody?

It doesn't matter. All that matters is that I really, really, really enjoyed that book! I'm grateful for Twitter for bringing it to my attention, and I'm grateful for a librarian who made sure I was ready to read it!
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Sunday, October 6, 2013

PLN - Twitter

Sometime during the summer of 2013 I realized that reading blogs was not enough. I had always dismissed Twitter as trivial and wasteful. I didn't care what someone had for lunch or what the last drama was out of Hollywood. But as I read more blogs I discovered I was missing out on a lot of the conversation. These same educators were communicating via Twitter and sharing even more thoughts and ideas.

So I bit the bullet, created a Twitter account, and started following those same educators. Some people have described Twitter as a firehose of thoughts and information. I don't think that does it justice! I was overwhelmed, but thrilled to see all of the new thoughts and ideas about those same subjects I was reading about in blogs.

I found out who my network was following and started following those educators. My list of ideas to try and people to follow grew exponentially! A lot of the ideas I'm trying to implement this year came from tweets in my Twitter stream.

Here is a partial list of educators that I follow and why. Most of them I can't remember how I came across, but I'm grateful for everyone because their thoughts and ideas are shaping who I am as an educator.

The first few educators I started following were the same ones whose blogs I followed. @pernilleripp@mattBgomez@jackiegerstein, and @KristiMeeuwse are educators that have fantastic ideas on using technology in their classrooms. Their creativity and expertise in the classroom are inspiring and continually make me think about what I am doing.

You should always follow your boss, so I started following the superintendent @PatatCCSD. Other technology gurus within my district are @dixiels, @ccsdchris, @jhoneebert, and @GrannieTech.

Since I have an interest in technology I also started following software companies such as @edmodo and @ScratchEdTeam.

No list would be complete without following @RL_Stine. I'm glad I did because he's hilarious! I love seeing an author's personality come out in their tweets!

I have many others that I follow on Twitter for personal as well as professional reasons. If you are on Twitter, who do you follow that makes you a better educator? If you're not on Twitter, who do you wish you could follow?
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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What's On Your iPad?

I have been busy getting iPads ready for teachers these last few days. I had many decisions to make about what apps to intall. Over the summer I followed several blogs that suggested this app or that app. I made careful notes, recording the name of the app and why. I thoroughly reviewed each app: what was the price, was it engaging, were there in app purchases, how do students get their work off the iPad and to the teacher? Did it teach only one concept or many? When I got back to school this year I looked hard at that list and threw it all away.

I realized that the "best math app" or the "best phonics app" was too limiting. I would never be able to find an app for every standard in every subject. Just because I thought the app might be great doesn't mean other teachers might think so as well. And besides, even if I did find the perfect app to teach states facts, for example, it would be useful for only that unit. In other words, most of the apps would have a one time use.

Through my PLN I realized that the best apps for the iPad are those that can be used across mulitple subjects. The apps where students can create something are the ones that will be most engaging and will get the most bang for the buck.

So here are a list of what I call "Creation Apps". These are apps that I feel can be used by almost any grade level, for almost any subject. Their uses are endless.

Educreations and ShowMe
These are free recordable interactive whiteboards that your voice and handwriting to produce video lessons. Teachers can create lessons to share with students. Students can create their own videos to teach a concept or demonstrate what they know.

  • Students solve math problems and narrate their thinking
  • Students create math problems and narrate their thinking
  • Students write stories and narrate them
  • Students create video lessons similar to Khan Academy in any subject
  • Students practice fluency by reading a story while a partner illustrates the mind movie that is created (thus practicing listening comprehension / visualization skills)

Toontastic and PuppetPals
These fantastic apps are one of the few I am willing to pay for. Students create cartoons using puppets that can be moved around the screen. They can create multiple scenes, recording their voice while telling their story. The paid versions include all the characters and backgrounds that are available. Each app has it's unique features that make them very engaging and great creative tools.

Book Creator
This simple app lets students in all grades create their own books and publish them. Students can work alone or collaboratively on books. They can add pictures, links, and audio. All books are published in the standard ePub format, which is completely portable between devices. The types of books students can make are only limited by your imagination.

  • Children’s picture books
  • How-to books
  • Textbooks
  • Story books
  • Reports

These are just a few of the apps I've installed on our iPads. There are many others such as Edmodo and Whiteboard Lite (iTunes link), that aren't creation apps in and of themselves, but can still be used across subjects and grade levels. I would much rather have an iPad with only a few of these kinds of apps than one filed with one time use apps.

What apps have you found that can be used for a variety of purposes?

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Student Blogging

Getting students to write can be a very difficult task. Getting students to want to write can be equally as difficult. I've seen many writing programs come and go through the years. Most seem to rely on writing prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

The problem I see with all these programs is that  it forces the students to write about something they may or may not have an interest in and publish for an audience they don't really care about (the grade book). I believe that students will produce more authentic writing if they can write about topics that interest them. Getting authentic and meaningful feedback (aka a real conversation) makes the publishing part of the writing process more desirable.

This is where student generated blogs come in. Blog writing is informal, which takes the pressure off of writing and gives your students a voice in a safe environment.

Blog is short for web log. It's like an online diary or journal, except that it's not private. Instead it's intended for an audience. Blogs can be written about almost any topic. Other students or readers can leave comments which can lead to great discussions.

There are many reasons why your students can benefit from blogging. You can read some of these reasons here and here.

In our school district Edublogs and Kidblogs are two blogging platforms that are allowed. Both have free versions as well as more advanced features for a fee.

Here are some helpful resources for getting your students started with blogging.

I would love to help you try blogging with your students. Reach out and lets inspire your students together!
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Family of Readers

I've been writing this post in my mind for several days now. As I finally sit down tonight to actually write it, my 9 year-old son is laying in his bed reading a book. It's after his bed time and he's supposed to have the light off and be falling asleep. But it's a specific book that he asked me to check out from the library because he likes the author, and he can't put it down. A book that he has been picking up to read during every spare moment of the day. A book that I haven't had to nag him about reading.

Earlier tonight my 13 year-old daughter started reading Twilight. On her own. Without me forcing her to. She complained to me that the house was too noisy and she couldn't concentrate on her book. This is the same daughter that got me interested in at least 3 different series of books last school year. She read them for school and loved them so much I had to read them for myself.

My 6 year-old has to memorize a small part for a church program. Her part is typed out on a piece of paper. Tonight I was going to help her memorize it, but she insisted on reading all of the words by herself. There's a few unfamiliar words there, but she asked me what they were and is reading the part over and over to practice. I don't know how she does it, but she always picks the most fun books from the school library. She introduced me to Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy-two of the best book characters for a first grade girl!

My oldest daughter (now 21) was and is a voracious reader. She would stay up almost to midnight most nights reading books. Quite often I would have to take her books away and make her turn off her light and go to sleep. This during her high school years. I'll never forget her reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. She was at the dramatic ending and it was dinner time. She was in the living room trying to finish the last few chapters. I forced her to stop reading and come to the table. After reading the book myself several days later I realized what a mistake that was!

My now 19 year old son wasn't as earnest about reading growing up. Recently he went on a trip with some friends and during their conversations they talked about several favorite books. As soon as he came home he got copies of all those books and that was all he did for the next several days.

When my two oldest children were young I wanted them to experience Caldecott books. So I checked them out from the library two or three at a time. We read them at bed time and talked about the pictures and why they are so awesome. It was such a wonderful tradition that she insisted I read them with my younger children as well. I started doing that, but because I'd already read them I was kind of bored.

I decided I would read chapter books instead. I picked The BFG because I had never read it before. I am currently reading it with my 4, 6, and 9 year old children. As I read it I will occasionally stop and ask questions or get predictions. And guess who can always tell me what's going on? My four year old! She's becoming a reader too!

I'm so proud of my family of readers! I love it when they ask me to sit down with them and read. Not me read to them, but with them. We all sit on the couch and they read their chosen book and I read my chosen book, and we just enjoy the peace and quiet and the thrill of a good book!
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Monday, September 23, 2013

Why I'm a Connected Educator

The U. S. Department of Education has declared October to be Connected Educator Month. Being a connected educator has changed me so much that I have decided to share my enthusiasm and encourage my co-workers to become connected as well. Through this post I hope to describe why I am a connected educator.

My life as a connected educator is relatively short. I first started following blogs last spring. Over the summer I took the plunge and created a Twitter account. In that short time frame, my whole outlook on education and my path as an educator has completely changed! I feel more empowered, more enthusiastic about what I can do. I feel like I'm a part of something much bigger. I feel connected!

I am the least creative or inventive educator. I can take an idea and tweak it to make it mine, but I cannot come up with the original thought. When I come up with an idea of something I want to do, I always reach out to find out if someone is already doing it. More often than not, they are doing it in a much better way than I could ever think of!

My journey to become a Connected Educator and developing a Personal Learning Network began when I started at a new school and was tasked with getting their new set of iPads into classrooms and in the hands of teachers and students. I hadn't used iPads in the classroom before so I had no idea where to begin to help teachers integrate them. So I did what I always do - I Googled it! 

I discovered many blogs by very creative teachers. They blogged about all the wonderful activities their students (even kindergarteners!) were doing with iPads and other educational technology. As I followed those blogs I realized I was missing out on the rest of the conversation. Those same educators were communicating with each other via Twitter as well.

I never had a favorable opinion of Twitter, viewing it as a waste of time. But I bit the bullet, created an account, and joined in the conversation. I've heard Twitter described as a firehose of information. I think that's an understatement! All the tweeting and retweeting has really provided me with a ton of practical information. Through blogs and Twitter, my PLN has changed my outlook on pretty much every aspect of my career.

So in the spirit of being connected and sharing, here is a list of why I'm glad to be a Connected Educator:

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Goals for the New School Year

Our district is rolling out a new evaluation system for teachers this year. This new system requires principals and teachers to sit down at a one-on-one meeting to discuss professional goals for the teachers, including action steps to achieve those goals. Throughout the year the principal and teacher will meet periodically to discuss progress towards those goals. My one-on-one meeting is this week.

Prior to the meeting I am supposed to self-reflect and come up with a few goals. Since I am not in the classroom, I'm sure my goals will  look different than a general ed teacher's. While their's will be focused more towards improving their ability to increase student test scores, mine are geared towards helping teachers integrate technology more in their classrooms.

As I did the self-reflection of past years and thought about this year, I came up with these goals.

  • PLN - This past summer I discovered how powerful a PLN can be. Blogs and Twitter are my new best friend! My goal is to utilize and expand my PLN, but I also want to share my excitement with the staff in my school and inspire them to create their own PLN.
  • Global Connections - Through my PLN I discovered some great projects that I would like to do with classes this year. The Global Read Aloud, Mystery Skypes, Mock Caldecott, and student blogging are a few. I would like to help teachers make global connections through these projects or any others we come across.
  • NETS-S and CCSS - The NETS-S are the national technology standards for students and the CCSS has technology embedded into them. Since I am a technology cheerleader I need to use those standards as the justification for whatever projects I encourage teachers to do.
I think these goals are very doable for me. I hope my principal sees my vision for myself and the technology at my school and supports me in achieving these goals. I will be checking back on this blog to report my progress and see if I'm successful!
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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Student generated morning broadcasts

One of the exciting projects I'm looking forward to this year is our morning broadcasts run by our 4th and 5th grade students. Rather than just do announcements over the school intercom, I've setup our own little TV studio and we stream the announcements live each morning. Our production is called Triggs Broadcasting Network or TBN.

The studio is ready for the new year, I just need to get a crew of students together. Since it was new last year not many students applied to be on the crew. This year, however, students were familiar with the opportunities to be live on air and the response was overwhelming - over 40 students applied to be anchors and run the equipment!

The TBN studio setup - just add students!

After a little bit of training from me the entire production is run by students. They are the anchors, weather person, and interviewer. They run all of the equipment and create most of the content. We air live every morning with the daily school announcements and a few extra learning segments. The students absolutely love it!

I'm always amazed at how well they do. Every morning I just stand back and watch as the professionally run the whole show. It is a sight to behold! You can check out some of last year's broadcasts to see what I mean. The broadcasts are archived at the CCSDTV website.
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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Summer Reading List

This summer a number of blogs I followed mentioned lists from bloggers about what they had read during the summer, or the reading challenges they were participating in, or the 10 best books to make you laugh, etc. And all these books weren't the adult literature that I was focusing on (see my previous post), they were picture books (like I read to my little girls each night), children's books, and chapter books. Since I work at the elementary (K-5) level I began to feel like I was missing out on something. I should be modeling reading with the students around me - sharing books appropriate for them.

As I thought about how to do this I came across a post by the fabulous Pernille Ripp. Since I am not in the classroom, her first idea about showcasing her reading was the perfect way for me to share with the classes around me. So this week my fabulous wife helped me set up a display on my office door showcasing the books I have read this summer plus the books on my to-read list. Hopefully this will bring up some discussion with the students around my office and we can share some enthusiasm for the world of reading.

In the spirit of list making (and making myself accountable for actually getting the display done), here are the books I have read and the books I hope to read in the near future.

Summer Reading
Books I am currently reading
Want to read
How was your summer reading? What did you read?
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Joys of Reading Again

Ever since I was a young student I have been a voracious reader. I remember my mother taking me to the public library and I would bring home a stack of books taller than my head. I would finish those books well before the due date. My mother often teased me about walking around the house with my nose in a book, pouring myself a glass of milk to drink without ever lifting my eyes from the book. I don't remember every book I read, although Judy Blume was a favorite author for awhile. For a few years my all time favorite book was The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. I remember finishing Ivanhoe one year and feeling especially proud of myself.

I still have a tremendous love of books, although the number of books I've read has dropped precipitously since work, six kids, and life have taken over my time. For many years my reading consisted mostly of the daily newspaper and trade magazines - with very small doses of novels every now and then (Harry Potter and Twilight)

A few years ago, after I got my first iPod, I discovered audiobooks. At my previous school I had a 30 minute drive each way. So I started checking out audiobooks from my public library and ripping them to my iPod, listening to them in the car during that hour drive each day. I was able to enjoy books again! I listened to books that I never would have had the time to read: Moby Dick, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Miserables, and Dune. I tried authors that I hadn't even heard of before: Phillip Dick, Robert Jordan (still need to listen to the last volume in the Wheel of Time!), John Grisham, Orson Scott Card, H. G. Wells, and Marion Zimmer.

Then I got an iPad. I discovered iBooks and all the free classic books I could ever want! Now I have a to-read list from Henry Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Since my iPad is with me wherever I go, I now have a good book to read at any moment!

But I still feel guilty for not having a stack of books (real, honest-to-goodness, physical books), sitting on my nightstand ready for me to devour. Are audiobooks and iBooks real books? Somehow I need to make the time again to just enjoy reading while doing nothing else. How have you kept up your reading?

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Connecting Readers with Global Read Aloud

Are you looking for ways to engage your students in reading? Maybe help them discover that books and reading are popular anywhere in the world? Would you like your students to become a part of something bigger? Become a part of the Global Read Aloud 2013!

The Global Read Aloud is a project started in 2010 by 5th grade teacher Pernille Ripp because she wanted to expand her global collaboration. Since that time more than 30,000 connections have been made. Students and teachers have joined in this successful project to prove that the world can be joined together by a common thread - a love of reading!

Participation in this project is completely free - you only need to purchase the book to read to your class. This year the books to read are:
  • Eric Carle Author Study - ideal for kindergarten
  • Marty McGuire by Kate Messner - ideal for 1st through 3rd
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper - ideal for 4th and up (can go as high as you want)
  • Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach - Middle School and High School (although some will be reading it with their 5th graders)
Dates for the Global Read Aloud this year are September 30th through November 8th. Classes will read specific pages/chapters each week and then connect with other classrooms around the world to discuss and reflect on their reading. How you connect is up to you - Edmodo groups, Skype, email, snail mail, Twitter - the possibilities are endless. More details can be found here.

You will want to sign up so you get all the latest information.

Become a part of the Global Read Aloud and connect your students with the world!
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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Empowering My Daughter and Saving My Sanity

About mid-July my family was at Toys R Us shopping for a birthday present. We came across some great deals on backpacks and decided to take advantage of them. Angry Birds for Adam, my soon to be 4th grade son, Doc McStuffins for Abby, my daughter just entering 1st grade, and Disney princesses for Maddy, my preschooler.

The very next day is when it started. "Is it school yet?" "Can I see my backpack?" "I wish it was school time!" School doesn't start until the last week of August! For the next few days it was cute to see their excitement for school and the chance to use their new backpacks. But the incessant questioning soon began to wear on me. My preschooler would fall down on the floor crying because she wanted to go to school and I wouldn't let her! My first grader pouted because she really really wanted to try out that backpack! School couldn't start soon enough for them! Or me!

I realized that to save my sanity I would need to find a way to help my daughters understand how many days were left before the first glorious day of school. I printed out a calendar for July and August. I showed them how the calendar worked with the days of the week and a number for each day. Together we marked the first day of school with an apple and the words "School starts". I showed them how to draw a big X across each day, indicating it wasn't a school day. We then hung the calendar on the fridge and Abby said she would mark the X each day. 

It's been a week now, and she has faithfully marked an X each morning when she wakes up. By the time I come home from my morning jog, the X is there showing we are one day closer to school and backpacks!

Since we started that calendar I have not been questioned once about the backpacks and school! Now she can look and see how many days there are.

That is my philosophy on my role as a technology integrator. Rather than have teachers always coming to me to do technology rich lessons for them, or believing that I am the only source of techno knowledge, I need to empower the them. I believe that showing teachers how to use technology, how to use it as part of their everyday instruction, and the value it adds to their instruction empowers them. I can't be the only one using Edmodo with their students, or finding great apps for the iPads, or helping students tell their next great story with Toontastic. The teachers have to be just as engaged as the students. When they are they own it and extend the learning and integration far beyond what I initially did. Kind of like the proverb about teaching a man to fish.

Now if I could just figure out a way to teach my first grader how to read a clock so that she knows not to wake up at 5 o'clock each morning, then I'll have it made!
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Life Imitates Art: Getting into books

Life As We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
A good book to me is one that grabs me emotionally and makes me feel like I am part of the story. If I can't relate in some way then I usually have a hard time staying focused on the book.

Last year in 7th grade my daughter had to read the apocalyptic novel Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Much to my dismay, my daughter is not a voracious ready. She's not even a casual reader! But she really got into this novel. That peaked my curiosity, so I checked out the audio book from the library, ripped it to my iPod, and listened to the story during my morning jog.

Without giving away too many details from the story (you really need to read it for yourself!), there were descriptions of the family barely surviving on what little food they had. They shared a single can of vegetables between the four of them, went without one or two meals each day in order to stretch their supplies, and became really creative and resourceful in order to survive.

During the time I was listening to the story, my family's budget became very tight. The only place we could cut expenses was in the food budget. At the same time that I listened to Miranda describe her family's meager meals, my wife cut by half or more the amount of groceries she normally buys. My family was scrounging around the pantry for meal ideas with the last few remaining items. My teenagers were complaining, "There's nothing in this house to eat!" My wife was getting more and more creative with what she could make for dinner, given there weren't many options left in the cupboards.

Life imitating art? I felt like I was going through the same experiences as Miranda! Of course the moon was still in it's place. There were no weather related catastrophes to deal with. But Miranda and her family were desperate. I  was getting desperate. I felt like I was living the book!

I mentioned these feelings to my wife. We both laughed about it. And then she listened to the audio book as well. And at the next shopping period the food budget was tight again. My wife described the same feelings I had. During her jog, listening to the story, all she could think about was coming home and looking through the pantry and trying to figure out what to make for dinner. There would not be much grocery shopping and supplies were getting low. But if Miranda and her family could survive, so could we!

We still laugh about how we felt like the story was real for us. It was us living that desperate time - forced to share every scrap of food, wondering where the next one would come from. Using every last little bit of what we had, knowing that we might not be able to go out and buy more.

And that is why I love a good book!
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