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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