Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cool and useful website: Biblionasium

In an earlier post I wrote about using Goodreads to track books students (and teachers) have read and keep lists of want to read. Biblionaisum is a similar site, but is geared specifically towards classrooms. It has many useful features to help teachers track what students are reading and what books they are interested in. Teachers can set up reading challenges, reading lists, or suggest books to groups of students based on their interest and reading level. Students can use it to find book recommendations and to keep a record of their independent reading.


Registering and setting up your class is easy to do. Once you've registered for your free account click on the Settings link. You'll see a tab to add groups. You can create classes or groups within your class.  You designate a grade level, a reading system (Lexile, DRA, Reading Recovery), and a few other preferences.

Adding students is just as easy. You can have up to 10 groups and 200 students in each group. Students can be manually entered or use the Bulk Upload Students feature to upload using a prepared Excel or CSV file. I liked this feature because I could download student info from our district SIS and use student ID numbers for username and passwords.

Once students begin to use Biblionasium, going to My Groups allows you to select specific students and see what books they have added to their shelves, reading logs, challenges, and more.


Click on My Books lets you see your book shelves. Besides the All Books shelf, where every book you select are listed, there are four other pre-defined shelves: Favorites, Recommended, Required, Classroom Wish List. As you find books you can choose which shelf they should appear on and can add them to multiple shelves. Hovering over book covers shows you basic book information and reviews.

My only gripe with the program is the inability to customize these book shelves. I wish I could create whatever shelf I want - picture books for example, or perhaps shelves based on genre. Students have a Want to Read It shelf and, as a teacher,  I would love to have one too.

Finding books to add to the shelf is extremely easy. Simple click the Search for Books link, type in the book title or author and click Go. You can also search for books by reading level or category. Once you see a list of possible matches you can click on the book to see a summary and student reviews (more on that later). From here you can add it to a book shelf or to the Class Wish List (which parents can use for suggested books to buy for you class.

Reports and Resources

The Reports section allows you to view class or student information. These reports can be viewed on screen or emailed to you.

There is also a sample letter to parents that can be copied and pasted into a word processor to customize.

Student View

When students log in they see a similar layout. From their navigation they can

  • add books to their shelves
  • see what classmates are reading and their shelves,
  • view teacher reading challenges and awards earned
  • log their reading
  • review books they've added to their shelves

When students review books, those reviews show up when another student in the class or the teacher searches for that book. This is an excellent way for students to share reading interests and to also practice their writing skills.

@Biblionasium is a great website for teachers to use to encourage independent reading.  I love that students can see what classmates are reading and read their reviews and recommendations. Recording their reading log is an additional tool teachers can use to make sure students are practicing their reading. My only gripe is the inability to customize shelves, but that's a minor complaint in light of all that teachers and students can do with the site.

Check out the Biblionasium website yourself and let me know what you think in the comments.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mystery Skyping with Second Graders

I've blogged before about doing Mystery Skypes/Hangouts. I am hooked! It is one of the most engaging and exciting activities I've done with a class. So far, however, I've only done it with 5th grade classes.

Recently I was contacted by a second grade class wanting to #MysterySkype. Because I was hooked I eagerly said yes, but then began to doubt how well a second grade class could understand geography and making the logical guesses needed for this type of activity.

I approached one of our tech savvy second grade teachers, and luckily for me, she agreed! I made the necessary arrangements and a few days ago we Skyped with another class from North Carolina. This was a wonderful, experienced class. The teacher was able to give us some great tips for Mystery Skyping with younger students.

Here's what Ms. Rutledge, the classroom teacher, had to say about the experience.
I must admit, I was a little nervous going into this Mystery Skype. My kids had only a vague mapping understanding, because when in the day do we have time to get in depth with mapping? I had a colleague who helped me get them ready and I felt a little better, but since we had never done anything like this, I was still scared of the possible outcomes. My class rose to the occasion and surpassed all of my expectations. They were intrigued, excited and engaged in this activity, which is contagious! I thought I would be hovering over them like a mother hen, but they were so in control I was not needed for anything but support for materials. The class we partnered with was amazing and I would love to participate in this activity again. 
I completely agree with her. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the second graders did with their first Mystery Skype. They came up with some excellent questions to help narrow down the choices. Not only did they learn about geography, they also practiced critical thinking skills, and got to know a little bit about a class in another part of the country (they have some fun class pets!).

Skyping with another 2nd grade class.

Look at all those states they eliminated!

The students came up with a lot of great questions!
I'm glad Ms. Rutledge's class did this Mystery Skype. It goes to show that students in almost every grade level can learn basic geography and practice critical thinking skills. I'd love to hear about your experiences with Mystery Skype!

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Try something new!

At the beginning of 2014 ago I read a post by Tom Whitby and a subsequent post by Pernille Ripp about setting New Year's Resolutions. Finding something relevant and attainable, finding one thing to focus on rather than several things that might spread you too thin.

Its too far in the year to make a New Year's Resolution (or is it?), but how about making a goal for the next school year? Perhaps a goal to try something new and exciting with your class? Something that can engage them and provide meaningful learning?

Here is a short list of ideas that should be fairly easy to implement. Why not pick one of these and give it a whirl?

Use Edmodo - in our school district Edmodo is available to all classrooms. Enroll your class in Edmodo and use it as a blogging platform for students to collaborate on projects. It can be used in a variety of ways, including assignments, writing, and collaborating. Students can even use it to further their learning outside of school.

Start blogging - students love to write and comment. Give them the opportunity! There are many popular and easy to use platforms for blogging, such as  Pick one, create a classroom blog or sign up all your students. Let them write what they are passionate about or give it more structure and assign them thoughtful questions.

Share your reading life - I was inspired to post my personal reading on my office door this year. The result? I had so many book recommendations by students that my to-read list for the summer is over 80 books long! Let your students know what you are currently reading and see where those conversations go.

Global Read Aloud - what if you combined the above idea and connected your students with other classrooms around the world? The Global Read Aloud picks a book to be read aloud to students across the world during a 6 week period and then asks students to connect using technology to discuss the book.

Mystery Skype - it's no secret that I'm a big fan of Mystery Skypes. Give them a try! You won't be sorry!

Evaluate your educational philosophy - it has been a few years since I've been in the classroom, but as I've observed teachers in action, read about different philosophies on blogs, and worked with amazing teachers, I've started to rethink my views on teaching and learning. Make a goal to rethink what you do in the classroom, or how you teach. Reach out to other educators and discuss what really helps students to become lifelong learners.

Try one of these out or share what new thing you are going to try next year.
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Monday, May 12, 2014

Connect authors and students through Skype

Today the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders had the exciting privilege to Skype with Fablehaven author Brandon Mull. It was an AMAZING experience! Students have been reading his books all school year and we have several devoted fans. Many students have even purchased a signed copy of his latest book, Five Kingdoms: Skyraiders. Students have been waiting for months for this opportunity to meet a real author.

It's hard to see Mr. Mull on the screen in these pictures, but he was really there - right from his own home in Utah!

The students gathered in the school's MPR where I had set up my laptop and a projector. When I placed the Skype call they giggled at the sound of the phone dialing, and when he answered and his picture appeared in the video feed a cheer went up! They were excited to finally meet the author we have been talking about for weeks!

We had a 3rd grade student, who described himself as Mr. Mull's biggest fan, introduce Mr. Mull to the school. Mr. Mull then talked about some of his books and the inspiration behind them. He described the process he goes through for writing and he gave some hints about current and future writing projects.

He selected 3 students from the audience and played a (virtual) game with them to demonstrate how students can use their own imagination to create their own make believe world for a story. The kids loved that activity.

Prior to the Skype we had students submit questions they had for Mr. Mull. Several students were then selected to ask their question. One of the students, who was obviously a huge fan, practically swooned at the computer as she asked her question. The questions were excellent questions: Which of your novels is your favorite? What is your favorite non-Brandon Mull book? What do you read to your kids?

This was a fantastic experience for all the students. They were engaged, focused, and really excited to meet one of their favorite authors.

Skyping is an excellent way to bring authors right into your classroom to inspire budding readers and writers. If you are interested in Skyping with an author, Kate Messner has created a fantastic resource to connect with other authors who Skype: Authors Who Skype with Classes & Book Clubs (for free!)

Skyping is not limited to just authors. You can bring almost any expert into the classroom. Skype in the Classroom offers resources to help classrooms connect with experts in a variety of fields. Check out their resources on their Guest Speakers website.

What has been your experience with Skyping with authors? If you could Skype with an author, who would it be?
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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cool and useful website: Goodreads

In a post at the beginning of this school year I mentioned that I have discovered a renewed passion for reading. I'll post later about the results of sharing my passion with students in my school. The purpose of this post is to share the Goodreads website as a way of recording my reading and possibly use it with students in my school.

One of the things I've tried to do the last several years is to record all the books I have read. This was mostly so that I wouldn't accidentally check out the same book. I kept my reading list in an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop. This wasn't always convenient because the spreadsheet was on my computer and not always available when I wanted to add a book I had finished. Or I was at the library browsing shelves and couldn't remember if I had read a particular book. I kept me Want to Read list in my list making app on my iPhone - meaning those two lists were completely separate.

I've seen many people mention Goodreads, and, in fact, used it to get book cover images, summaries, and read reviews. But I didn't bother to create an account. I finally decided to create and account and start exploring so that I could see how to use it in a classroom and compare it with Biblionasium, which I'll review in another post.

Account Creation

Creating an account was extremely easy. I could have used a Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Amazon account, but I chose to create a new account from scratch. It does require an email, which becomes a problem for elementary classroom use as I'll explain later. Once the account was created I could start adding my books.


Goodreads includes three shelves by default: read, currently-reading, and to-read. You can add as many custom themed shelves as you would like by clicking the Edit button next to the My Bookshelves section. For example, I read chapter books to my children at night, so I created a shelf named read-to-kids. I also read a lot of picture books to them, so I also made a shelf named picture-books-read. I came across a Twitter conversation about the power in wordless picture books and somehow managed to generate a lost of 20+ wordless picture books that I've started to read to them.

Recording Books

It's extremely easy to add books to any bookshelf. You can search for the book title, click the books icon next to Want to Read, and choose the shelf you want. The green Want to Read icon appears next to any book title at any time, making it very convenient if I'm exploring suggested titles or looking at what others are reading.

I widget appears on my main page listing the books on my Currently Reading list. From there I can update my progress with that book or mark it as read. Selecting the list for all of my books also shows a column where I can easily change books from one shelf to another.


There is also an iPad/iPhone app with complete functionality. You can add books to your shelves, scan barcodes, make reviews, get recommendations, etc. There are even widgets that can be added to your blog or website so you can show off your reading lists and goals.

Problems with using in classroom

This website has a few problems that might make it difficult to use in an elementary classroom. Sites like this have a 13 year old age restriction. Requiring an email address at account creation is one way of verifying this. In my district students can have district provided email addresses, so they could use that to create their account. A Google for Education might also have email addresses available for student use. This is also a very open site - and there is nothing to prevent students from exploring other areas. Reviews are not moderated and can contain inappropriate language. There is danger from any social media site.

Create a Class group

One way to get around these problems is to create a private group for your class. That group can then be used to host book discussions, share recommendations, and explore different titles. Searching Google or even the Goodreads groups can show you many classrooms, even elementary ones, that successfully use groups. Regardless of what you do, make sure you get parent/guardian permission for your students.

My Goals

My goal with this site is to use it 100% for tracking my reading lists. To do that I will need to transfer all my "have read" and "want to read" lists from my current spreadsheets and apps. I've already got the apps on my iPad and iPhone so now it will be very easy to add my books to my various shelves. I've added my currently-reading shelf to my blog so I can share what I'm reading. I need to figure out a reading goal for this year and set that as well.

Do you have a suggestion for another website that can be used to track and share reading, especially for elementary students? How do you use Goodreads in your classroom?
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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Cool and useful website: GeoGuessr

image from
How well do you know the world? Think you’re a geography expert? Test your knowledge with the cool and useful website GeoGuessr.

GeoGuessr is a web-based geographic discovery game designed by Anton Wallén and first released in May 2013. The game utilizes random Google Street View locations and requires players to guess their location in the world using only the clues visible in Street View.

The game is very easy to play. The game starts by showing you a random Google Street View. You can move around the picture, zooming in and out on landmarks, and changing compass directions. Once you've made a guess "pin" the location on the map in the upper right corner and click Make guess.

 You will be awarded points based on how close you were to the actual location. You are presented a total of five locations to guess. Once you've mastered the basics, you can set a time limit for yourself.

A beta version is also available. The beta version has a more modern interface and also allows you to select only certain countries in which to test your geographic skills. Currently only the United States, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Japan are available.

Other features of the beta version are:
  • modern interface
  • ability to post your results on social media like Twitter and Facebook
  • challenge a friend
  • go full-screen
  • see your progress and current score
This would be a great website to use as a challenge with another classroom across the globe. Classes or students could post results on class blogs and compare results. Students could discuss how they used visual clues, landmarks, and maps to help refine their guesses.

How else can you use this website with your class?

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Global projects for your students

The ISTE Standards for Students include many opportunities for students to work collaboratively to support and contribute to learning.
Communication and collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
  1. Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
  2. Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats
  3. Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures
  4. Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems
I love involving students in global projects where they have opportunities to collaborate with other other students to contribute to a common cause. Many of these global projects require teachers to sign up early in order to make those connections. It may be the end of this school year, but it's time to start thinking about these projects for next year. Take some time to check them out and sign up your class!

Global Read Aloud

I worked with several classes this year on the Global Read Aloud. It was a great experience communicating with other students to hear their thoughts on a common book. It was neat to know that other classes shared a love for reading and found commonality in a great book. This year's Global Read Aloud is structured a little different, but it still promises to be a great opportunity for anyone involved. Choose a book to read, connect with a class, and discover a common love for great books! Sign up as soon as you can - the official project start date is Oct. 6, 2014.

Save Our Rhinos

This project was started by a teacher in Capetown, South Africa after watching some rhinos during a vacation in 2012. Realizing the enormity of the problem of poaching, she launched this project to bring awareness to the plight of rhinos - calling it the Save Our Rhinos project. Classes can sign up to host a traveling rhino (much like a Flat Stanley project) and complete a few other activities to promote awareness of the endangered rhinos. The project is scheduled to be completed by December 2014, so be sure to sign up before space runs out!

The Global Classroom Project

Started in 2011 by two teachers on opposite sides of the globe, The Global Classroom Project is a rich resource for finding new ways to connect, share, learn and collaborate globally. You can find all kinds of projects to collaborate on with classrooms in over 35 countries. You can check out a variety of projects from the current year and start making connections.

Mystery Skype

Mystery Skyping is probably me new favorite activity. I tried it for the first time this year and was blown away by how engaged the students were. I've scheduled several more Mystery Skypes before the end of this school year. I've heard about classes Skyping with all 50 states and many countries around the world. That's a goal I want to have for next year: Skyping with all 50 states!

Adventure '14

This a global cultural project scheduled to take place in November 2014. For one day this year you can take your class on a worldwide adventure with 275+ Schools from 30 Nations without leaving your classroom! Thousands of children across the globe would like your class to join them on possibly the world's biggest virtual cultural exchange!  Using a webcam and projector you'll meet children from across the world, get to know a little about where they are from, and work with them on a global project! More information and sign up can be found at the Adventure '14 webpage.

There are many other ways to collaborate globally. What have you tried in your classroom? What other projects can students get involved with? Let me know in the comments below!

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