Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Awesome iPad App: ChatterPix Kids

ChatterPix Kids is an awesome free app that students can use to make any anything talk - animals, rocks, friends, and more. Simply take any photo, draw a line to make a mouth, and record your voice.  Then share your Pix with friends and family as silly greetings, playful messages, creative cards, or even fancy book reports.

The free ChatterPix app is designed for adults and includes options to share via email, Facebook and Youtube. ChatterPix Kids is still free and is designed for kids with no sharing features.

Check out this video to see how easy it is to use the app.

Integration Ideas

  • Create book reports using the characters from the cover of the book.
  • Create animal reports with the animals telling their own story.
  • Create a map of the country and give each state it’s own voice.
  • Create bios of famous historical figures.
  • Give examples of good and bad fairy tale characters.
  • Make pet rocks talk to give examples of living and non-living things.

I'd love to hear what other creative ways you think of to use ChatterPix. Let me know in the comments below.

Read More »

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's a Small World After All: Connecting Classrooms Globally

Today's world is becoming smaller and smaller. It's so easy now to connect with a teacher or class on the other side of the globe. At the same time, students don't always have the opportunity to travel or have experiences outside of their own state or region. With some simple Web 2.0 tools and a little effort, you can connect your class with others and help develop 21st century skills that all students need.

Recently I presented at the Clark County School District 21st Century Skills Mini Conference held at Sawyer MS. I shared various websites that teachers can easily use to connect their classroom with others. Click the link to see the presenter notes.

It's a Small World - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

I'd love to hear other ideas or resources you use to connect your class to the world!

Read More »

Where in the world IS Carmen Sandiego: A Mystery Skype Presentation

Saturday I presented at the Clark County School District's 21st Century Skills Mini Conference at Sawyer MS. My session was on Mystery Skype, which has easily become one of my favorite learning activities. I have worked with several classrooms this year to connect them with other classes across the U.S.

In addition to this presentation, I created a series of posts with Mystery Skype resources. My presentation is embedded below, but fortunately/unfortunately I wasn't able to give it!

Instead, I decided that during our session it would be fun to have the teachers experience a real #MysterySkype to see how they are actually done. I reached out on Twitter and the totally awesome Yau-Jau Ku, who teaches in Venezuela, responded.

After the teachers arrived for my session I explained the idea of Mystery Skype in 2 minutes or less, assigned jobs to everyone, and got them all in to position. We then jumped right in with Mr. Ku and started asking questions.

After doing Mystery Skypes with 5th grade classes this year, it was hilarious to watch these teachers get just as excited! I have never seen a group cheer so loud when we finally were able to guess that Mr. Ku lives in Venezuela.

Unfortunately for us, he guessed our city before we could guess his. We actually ran out of time, because I still had some of my presentation to give! So we had to stop and let him tell us his city. I think we have some new Mystery Skypers now!

Read More »

Why have students blog?

Student blogging is one of my favorite activities to get students writing. When I had the opportunity to present at the Clark County School District's 21st Century Skills Mini Conference held at Sawyer MS I jumped at the chance to show teachers about blogging. I used the presentation to share my reasons for having students blog and helped teachers get started with the Kidblog platform.

My Haiku Deck presentation for the session is embedded below. Click the link to see presenter notes. The tutorial for Kidblog can be found here in PDF format.

Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

This year I have been working with a teacher in 2nd grade to help her students write more. We decided to introduce blogging to the students. I am constantly amazed at the voice students are given through this opportunity.

If you have not tried blogging with your students, I highly recommend looking through the presentation and checking out these posts.

Read More »

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pay it forward: The Book Whisperer

I recently finished reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. This is a phenomenal book for anyone who wants to better understand how to help students become life long readers. The book is chock full of practical advice that can be used in any classroom. Many of her philosophies on teaching reading resonated with me. As I work in schools I see many teaching practices that I believe discourage reading instead of encouraging it. I wish more teachers and administrators would read this book.

The message of the book is that in order to create passionate, life-long readers, teachers must create a learning environment that encourages independent reading. This means restructuring literacy instruction so that students have more time to read, not just having students read during D.E.A.R. time. Students should also be allowed to read books that interest them, not just randomly assign books that the teacher feels they need to read.

She also calls out practices that teachers have traditionally done, but that, in reality, discourage reading. Some of these practices are the traditional reading log or whole class novels. She offers some great alternatives to each of these activities that will build strong readers.

One of the favorite points she makes is that the teacher his/herself must be a voracious reader. It's pointless to tell students that they must read when the teacher themselves doesn't read! Plus, it makes it a whole lot easier to have conversations with students when know about the books they are reading. During online classes that I teach, I often ask teachers to share the last book the read for pleasure. I'm always surprised by the number who said they haven't read recently or only name the book they are reading with their class.

Pay It Forward

This book was given to me by a librarian from one of my schools. I loved the book so much that I decided to follow her example and pass the book on to someone else. I wrote a shore message in the front of the book and asked whoever gets the book next to do a few things:

  • After reading it, pass this copy on to someone else.
  • Support good books and purchase your own copy for reference or to mark up.
  • Send me an email or tweet letting me know your thoughts on the content.

I then left the book in the teacher's lounge at one of my schools. The title will catch someone's eye and hopefully they'll pick it up and read it.

Read More »

Friday, April 24, 2015

Student Centered Coaching: My Takeaways

This week I participated in a 2 day Student Centered Coaching conference by Diane Sweeney hosted by CCSD. The Digital Learning Coaches joined the instructional coaches from the district to learn about coaching practices that help impact student learning.

Unfortunately, a lot of the content of the conference didn't seemed geared towards my role as a technology coach. There were a few good nuggets of information that helped me to refine my coaching role. But the models presented won't work with my job, mostly because I work with eight different schools so my times on campus are not frequent enough.

Here are my big takeaways from the conference.

Coaching is not about "fixing" people.

My role as a coach is not to do "deficit coaching" where I approach the teacher as if they had problems or faults that I need to fix. I shouldn't come in with my pre-defined agenda and try to shoehorn the teacher into that. Instead, I need to listen more to what the teacher is asking help for and guide the discussion towards the student goals associated with that (see below). My role is not to fix anything, but instead to meet teachers where ever they are at and help them improve their craft.

Student Goals

My coaching efforts need to be centered more on specific goals for student learning, rather than on trying to "fix" a teacher. I find that many times I am asked to model a specific iPad app or teach the students how to use a certain program. Often teachers say they want to learn more about using their interactive whiteboards, not realizing what the boards can actually do to change their pedagogy.

My biggest takeaway is that I need to focus my coaching with that teacher on student goals instead. In other words I should ask the teacher what their goals are for learning that app, what do they want the students to accomplish? I love this focus and believe it will help refine and give purpose to my coaching visits.

Redefine the Coaching Cycle

There was a fair amount of discussion about the coaching cycle. With traditional instructional coaches who are at 1 or 2 schools, they can meet with teachers on a regular and frequent basis. At the conference they participated in an activity to define how they would use a 4-6 week coaching cycle.

As a DLC I work at 8 different schools, secondary and elementary, and see teachers only once every 2 weeks. Obviously that kind of coaching cycle would not work. I decided that rather than having a time-based coaching cycle, I should have a skills based coaching cycle. The beginning of the coaching cycle might be where I teach a tool to a teacher. As we meet, we look at how that can be used to enhance or change their lessons, slowly working it into the teacher's pedagogy.

Another approach might be to look at what standards or student outcomes the teacher wants and work backwards from there. For example, if a teacher wants to increase student writing I can introduce blogging as a way to do that. Our meetings can then be focused on how to accomplish that, perhaps introducing the tools and concepts first, then modeling it, and then turning it over to the teacher as part of her regular instruction.

I would love to hear from other technology coaches to understand how the coaching model works for them. Our situation in this district seems unique in that we have so many schools to cover. If anyone has experience coaching at so many schools, I would love to hear how you do it!

Read More »

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Rights of the Reader

I'm currently reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. This is an awesome book that makes me want to be a reading teacher or librarian! I already love books and everything she talks about resonates with me.

In chapter 4 she mentions The Rights of the Reader by Daneil Pennac. I had not seen this before, but now I think every teacher and librarian (adult!) should have this poster somewhere in their room.

What I love about this book is that Ms. Miller preaches independent reading and allowing students choice in what books they read. Many times my children have come home with assigned reading. Usually the books are of no interest to them or are on a level they don't understand. I think that teachers too often dictate when, where, and what books students can read. And I think that discourages reading instead. This poster reestablishes the rights readers have to choose their own reading material for whatever reason they want.

The version in her book is slightly different. Perhaps it was an earlier draft from Daniel Pennac. I like it better than the one on the poster, so I'm reproducing it here.

by Daniel Pennac (2006)

  1. The right to not read.
  2. The right to skip pages.
  3. The right to not finish.
  4. The right to reread.
  5. The right to read anything.
  6. The right to escapism.
  7. The right to read anywhere.
  8. The right to browse.
  9. The right to read out loud.
  10. The right not to defend your tastes.

Read More »

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

#MysterySkype reflections

One of the hidden benefits of #mysteryskypes is having students work collaboratively to solve a problem. Students are researching, listening, and synthesizing information to try and reach the common goal of guessing the other class. An important part of working as a group is for each member to reflect on his/her contributions to the group.

In her blog post Assessment of Learning via Skype, Silvia Tolisanio points out that the experience is not about the tool (Skype), it's about the student learning. Because of the nature of a Mystery Skype call (the location is unknown), it's difficult to do pre-activities such as a KWL chart. But you can still prepare students be building geography skills and vocabulary, using Google Maps or Google Earth, and working with atlases and other maps.

Learning can also continue after the call by having students reflect on what they learned and how they performed as part of the group.  

Here are a few forms that can be used to reflect on the experience and their job. 

Self-Reflection: Taking Part in a Group - this one was created by the folks at Read, Write, Think.

Mystery Skype Reflection Form - this was created by a teacher and shared with me last year. I've forgotten who the original author was.

Assessment of Learning via Skype - Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano created this series of forms from her blog cited above that can be used by students before and after the Skype call.

Of course using blogs with your students is another great way to have them reflect on their whole Mystery Skype experience. It's great to have a class blog to share what happened, but also give students their voice and ask them to share individually about the whole experience.

How else do you gather feedback from students?

Read More »

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Questions to ask during a #MysterySkype

Probably the hardest part about a Mystery Skype is having the students become critical thinkers. They have to think logically and have to know whether a question is a good one or not. The conversation can be fast and furious and if students aren't paying attention or thinking logically and critically, they might repeat questions or ask ones that aren't helpful at all.

If you are doing your first #mysteryskype, it's helpful to practice with your students prior to the actual call, especially if you are working with younger students. A good way to practice is to simply pick a state in your mind and have your students ask questions to guess which one.

Pernille Ripp, a fantastic teacher that first got me interested in Mystery Skyping, has a great list of questions to help you get started. I'm reproducing her list here.

For the USA
  • Are you in North America?
  • Are you in the United States?
  • Are you east of the Mississippi?
Depending on the answer to that, you can go in different directions:
If east of Mississippi:
  • Are you one of the original 13 colonies?
  • Do you border a Great Lake?
  • Do you border an ocean?
  • Do the Appalachians run through your state?
  • Do you border Canada?
  • Are you Northeast/Midwest/Southeast region?
  • Do you border the Gulf of Mexico?
If west of the Mississippi:
  • Are you in the West/Southwest region?
  • Do you border the Pacific?
  • Do the Rocky Mountains run through your state?
  • Do you border Canada?
  • Is your state landlocked?
  • Are you one of the contiguous states?
For Canada:
  • Are you in North America?
  • Are you in Canada?
  • Do you border a ocean?
  • Do you border Alaska?
  • Do you border the Hudson Bay?
  • Are you landlocked?
  • Does your province have a NHL team?
  • Do you border the United States?
  • Do the Rocky Mountains touch your province?
  • Are you north of British Columbia?

Remember that these are only suggestions to help the students get ideas. Your questions will totally depend on where the other class is and what kinds of clues you have. I would avoid vague questions such as Does it snow where you live? or Do you live in the north? Don't let the students start guessing state names too quickly. It is probably easier to ask more questions to narrow down the choices to only two or three states.

Read More »

Monday, April 13, 2015

#MysterySkype jobs

In order to make your #mysteryskype successful, it's important to have everyone involved. This means that each of your students needs a job to do. If you've ever watched a #mysteryskype in action, you'll actually see a lot of work going on in the room. And that's because there's a lot that needs to be done, from researching locations, to asking questions, to recording information.

What jobs you have your students do depends on your grade level and how many students are in your class. There's lots of variations on #mysteryskype and many teachers do things slightly different. You need to look at your class and decide what's right for you. Here is a suggested list of jobs.

  • Greeters: Introduce your class to the guest class and goes over the rules. Once done greeting, they help where needed during Skype call. They could also be the ones to close the Skype call.
  • Questioners: They are the ones to ask the yes or no questions and are the voice of the class. They could also be the ones that answer the questions from the other class.
  • Answerers: If you have a lot of students you can designate a few to take turns answering the questions from the other class. They should know their state facts pretty well.
  • Mappers: Using clues that are given, this group will narrow down the location of the other class.  This group could be broken down into even smaller groups if needed. For example, some could be working with atlases, while others are using Google maps.
  • Logical ReasonersWork closely with mappers.  This group will come up with questions to ask other class based on questions that have been answered.
  • Runners: Run from group to group relaying information, primarily taking questions to the Questioners to ask the guest class.
  • Question keepers: Record questions and answers from both classes. This can be done on butcher paper mounted on the wall or through a Google Doc.
  • Blogger: Takes notes and writes about the experience on the class blog.
  • Photographer: Takes pictures during the event to post on the class blog.

After doing a few #mysteryskypes with your class, it might be helpful to ask them what jobs they think they should have. They probably like to try different jobs, as well as have suggestions for job.

Some teachers like to switch jobs on a regular basis. Others like to have students apply for and keep the same job. Here is a job application developed by another teacher.

Read More »

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Finding #MysterySkype Connections

Now that you are interested in #MysterySkype, you might be wondering: Where do you find the classes to connect with? There are three simple ways that will get you a ton of connections to work with.

Skype in the Classroom Website

The official Skype in the Classroom website is a great place to start making connections. To start you'll need to login with your Skype ID or Microsoft ID. Next click on the Mystery Skype link at the top of the page.

On the next page you'll see two ways to find teachers who want to Mystery Skype. On the left side are some menus where you can filter by subject, age, or region. You can also see the contact information for those classroom teachers. If you choose United States as the country you will also be able to choose a specific state. Many teachers try to do a Mystery Skype with all 50 states and use this option to find classrooms in the states they still need.

Once you find a teacher you want to work with, click on their name and you'll be taken to their profile page. You can see a short bio, Skype lessons they are involved in, and contact information.

The other option is to use the interactive map. Click the blue Search the Map button, just above the first section. With the interactive map you can zoom in and out on any region/country/state. The closer you zoom in on a location the more teachers you'll find in that area that use Skype. Click on any teacher to be taken to their profile page.

While you are on the website be sure to check out the other awesome resources. Click on the Find a Lesson link and you'll see lessons from authors, scientists, and other experts. Your class can participate in and connect with any one of these global classroom projects. These are great resources to help your students have amazing learning experiences.


If you are a Twitter user (and you should be) there is a vibrant and active community of teachers using the #mysteryskype hashtag. Tweet out your connection requests including this hashtag and be sure to include vital information such as the age/grade level of your students. You can even request connections from specific states or countries.

I have a column for the #mysteryskype hashtag in TweetDeck that I use to keep up on all things #mysteryskype. Teachers and classes use the hashtag not only for requests, but to share successes and ideas. Following the hashtag will introduce you to a lot of other teachers doing the same thing as you!


Several teachers maintain lists of teachers and classes that do Mystery Skypes. I've bookmarked these lists and no longer remember where they originated. If you are the owner of these lists, please let me know so I can give you proper credit!

Mystery Skype List - this one has almost 300 teachers listed from all over the US and Canada.

Mystery Location Sign Up - this list has names of classes from all around the world, sorted by time zone to make it easy for you.

Mystery State/Country - this list of over 500 names goes back to 2011! It was started and is maintained by Caren MacConnell.

Don't forget the Time Zone!

I always get excited when I make a connection with another state that we haven't Skyped with. The farther away the better, because I don't know if students will ever be able to visit those states. But I kept forgetting about the time zone! Sometimes it works out, other times we can't connect because we're not in school yet, or they get out too soon, etc. Plus with Daylight Saving Time I'm never sure what the time difference is.

A valuable resource that I've found is the Time Zone Converter. To use this simple tool, you select your city and the other state. You can search for them if you need to. Then click the green Convert time button and you'll see what time it is for you and what time it is for them. This is a great visual for me to make sure we can connect!

Just do it!

It may be kind of intimidating to connect with another teacher and invite them into your classroom. How will your students behave? What will the other teacher think? Will your students ask the right questions? Are they (or you) fully prepared?

Don't worry about it! The other teachers involved in #mysteryskypes are a great group of people and totally understanding. Mention that you are just starting and they'll be happy to guide you through the process.

Don't forget to read my Mystery Skype page for other tips about making your Mystery Skype session successful!

Read More »