Saturday, September 20, 2014

Growing Academic Vocabulary with Storylines Comix

For the past couple of weeks my students and I have been playing around with Storylines Comix, another app by the responsive and creative developers at +Edmodo. Storylines Comix is an iPad only app available directly from iTunes. With this app students are able to collaborate to build and use an illustrated dictionary, the Lex-o-com.

Students have been actively engaged in discovering the meanings of words, including roots and derivations.  They also are exploring ways to tell the story of a word, using antonyms, synonyms and hyperbole.  They also are learning how not to define a word using the same word.

Beyond the vocabulary development, students are developing other 21st century skills including collaboration, critical thinking, communication, problem solving and teamwork.   Here is what we did:

Initially, I paired up my fifth graders and allowed them to explore the Storylines Comix app.  I had thought I would start with my own list of words from our latest science unit, but decided to start with easier words.  I let them self select words and then decide with their partner how to use pictures to explain the meaning of the word. Students logged into the app using their Edmodo credentials and were able to see the words I assigned, as well as search the general word list (there are over 150,000 defined words pre-populated in the app)  The kids loved the filters that enabled them to add a variety of effects to their images.  They also really liked the stickers and have asked for more.  Honestly, their first attempts at defining the words were not so good.  For example. to define lazy, they used a picture of a student lying in the grass with the speech bubble, "I am so lazy."  However, this was a teachable moment and we had a great discussion about how best to, and not to, define words.  They realized that a lot more work went into making a dictionary than they originally thoughts.  Fortunately or unfortunately, due to some district firewall issues, it turned out that students could not save these first attempts.

After consulting with the app developer, +Doug Banks and our IT department, the problem was resolved.  So I planned another day of word work. Students were allowed to bring small "character" toys from home to star in their comics.  We had everything from lego people to Gumby.  Students put more thought into how they would demonstrate their understanding of a word and which parts of speech were easier to 'illustrate'; I think they liked verbs best.

After students saved their Comix, they would see a yellow "stop light" which informs them their work is under review.  I can then go in and approve their comics for our class view only or to be added to the public Lex-o-com, giving them the ;green light'.  We talked about the criteria I would use to evaluate their work and when I did not approve comics, the dreaded 'red light', I was able to add a comment explaining why it was 'rejected'.  Students are then able to go in and make any adjustments to then resubmit their definition

My most frequent comments were.  "I don't see how your cartoon demonstrates the meaning of the word" and, "Try not to use the word as part of the definition of that word." ,,, to the point that I found myself wishing for a drop down menu of recently used 'rejections' (I'd also like a less harsh word for the kiddos).  Nonetheless, when I showed them the comics I had rejected, they understood why and were more determined than ever to improve them. The motivation of having their work published was incredibly strong.

After definitions and comics were green-lighted, my students could go into our Room 7 dictionary to view just our approved work, and to the Lex-o-com to see which of our words I had approved for the whole world to see.  Students could give a thumbs up to "like" each others' comics and go home and share their work with their parents.

Friday my kids were super excited to have our classroom visited by Doug Banks.  He talked a little bit about the idea behind developing his app (to give students a creative way to express their knowledge) and how he came up with the funny pseudonyms the app assigns students to protect their identity. He then observed them as they worked on their comics, making suggestions and praising ideas as he went.  After each team had finished a comic, they sat down and gave feedback to Doug.  My kids felt so empowered that their voices were being heard!  Doug talked about what hard work it is coding and encouraged them to learn all they could about math and writing and art and teamwork! (No, I did NOT prep him to say that before hand.)  He left with some great firsthand feedback from real users and my kids were left with a sense of accomplishment and pride.  I don't think they ever realized they were learning!

Exit tickets from Friday.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

End/Beginning of Year iPad Updates

The following instructions are for Cambrian iPad Academy teachers who are using the backup/restore method of re-initializing iPads.  Please let me know if further clarification is needed. Times indicated are based on a cart of 30 iPads.

I usually wait until the end of summer, since every year there has been an iOs update over the summer, so I figure I might as well do everything at once. But it could be done anytime.

There had been a software change so this year I needed to start by allowing my Macbook to access or be “trusted by” each student iPad.  To do this, you will need to direct connect each iPad, once at a time, to the Mac using your charging cable.  You will be prompted by the iPad to trust the computer.  Tell it to trust.  Wait until the Mac sees the iPad then unplug and return to the cart.  You should not need to do this again this year.  Entire cart took no more than 45 minutes.

Next you should complete all software updates on the MAC.  I also go into iTunes and update all of the apps.  Depending on how many updates you have will determine the time this step takes.

Now it’s time to start on your student iPads.  You’ll want to take a look at your “master” iPad and make sure it is set up how you want.  Delete any unneeded apps, either through settings ->General -> Usage (wait a few seconds and a list of all apps and the space they take up will be listed.)  Click on the app you want to delete. At the same time you should delete the apps from your iTunes Library on the Mac itself. Otherwise, the apps you delete from your iPad master will just get added back in (believe me, I learned this the hard way :( ). I try to make sure I have between 4-5 GB available.  You should also go into the camera roll and delete any pictures that you don’t want on every student iPad.  Remember, too, to remove (delete) any movies currently in iMovie and any other app which stores student work.  On the master make sure your folders are set up the way you want and the wallpaper and screensaver are appropriate for all students.  Finally, I rename the master to something like Bag07Master. Go to Settings->general_>about to rename the iPad.

This year I had to update each iPad to iOs 7.1.2  This has to be done manually, meaning you go into settings -> General - > Software update.  If there is an update, it will tell you and you agree to whatever it wants you too.  You can run several updates at a time though it does take awhile. I usually do 5-6 at once.  This took me about 90 minutes.

Here I am going to turn it over to Sandra Horn and +Lorena Karayannis  who came up with  much simpler method to restore iPads.  Below that is the slow way I did it ;)

To delete everything  (apps, pictures, movies) from your iPad

While in Setting app, select General
Scroll to the bottom of the page and select Reset
Select Erase All Content and Setting
Erase Ipad Prompt (This will delete all media and data, and reset all settings) = select Erase
Erase Ipad Prompt Second confirmation (Are you sure you want to continue?  All media, data and setting will be erased.  This cannot be undone. = select erase
Choose a Wifi Network = select Cambrian and type in the password = CamB2012 (it is cap sensitive)
Location Services = depends whether you want this on.  At the beginning of the year you probably don’t want this on = select Disable Location Services 
Disable Location Services Prompt?  Select OK
Select Set Up as New iPad
Select Agree for the Terms and Conditions
Terms and Conditions Prompt – This is second confirmation prompt.  Select agree
Create a Passcode – select Don’t Add Passcode (Unless you want to use them)
Don’t Add Passcode? Prompt- This is a second confirmation prompt. Select continue
Diagnostics – select don’t send
Welcome to iPad – select Get Started

Now the iPad is ready 

Here is my old way of doing it:
Finally you can start your backup of the student Master.  Go into iTunes on the Mac, select the master iPad and click on “backup now” (on the Summary page for that iPad).  This will take 10 minutes or so.  Once the backup is complete, you will use that backup to restore each and every student iPad.

Personally I recommend doing only one iPad at a time. Since the restore renames each device to the name of the master, it gets confusing and last year I made quite a mess of things.

  1. Unplug the master from the Mac/cart
  2. Select the iPad you want to restore (I do it in order, 1-30).  
  3. Click on “Restore Backup” on that same Summary screen.
  4. Instead of backing up to the default, which is the device you are on, select the master from the drop down menu.  Click on Restore. This process will take at least 10 minutes per iPad, so have something else you can do, while checking on the progress every 5-10 minutes.  
  5. You will know the device is backed up because it will have the name of the master.  You will see this on the left hand side of the iTunes window.
  6. Unplug that device and remove it from the cart.
  7. Start to back up the next device.
  8. Open the recently backed up iPad, it will ask you to set up a wireless network. Select Cambrian and type in the password.
  9. Then go click on Get Started.
  10. Go to Settings ->general ->about and rename the iPad to its proper number, ex. Bag0702.
  11. Either now or before step 9 the device will prompt you to enter your student iTunes password.
  12. Exit out of settings and return iPad to cart.
  13. At this point I do NOT plug it back in, because if you do, a backup and sync will take place. I don’t want to put additional load on iTunes + Mac so I leave all updated iPads unplugged until I am done.

Somewhere along the way my Master had some of the apps I deleted re-installed, because I hadn't deleted them from the Mac, so be careful to maintain the integrity of your master until all your backups are done.

Congratulations, in about 6-7 hours you’ll have a fully updated cart!  Have a great year!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Using Edmodo with Younger Students: part 4 - App-a-looza

Using Edmodo with 4th and 5th graders has opened my mind to a variety of creative possibilities. After attending my second #edmodocon in person at +Edmodo headquarters, I  was challenged to begin using apps.  Having 1:1 iPads in my classroom made this endeavor easier, but there is a lot you can do with 5-10 devices, whether mobile, laptops or desktops.  Due to an incredibly difficult year, I was not as successful as I would have liked in trying new apps, but at least I dipped my toe in and am looking to dive in next month when I get my new class. Trying a variety of apps became easier when in the fall of 2013 I won the Power of One contest and was awarded a substantial amount of Edmodo app store credit to share throughout my district. At this point I was blessed with an overabundance of apps and set my students on a quest to explore and review new apps.Here are some highlights.

Some apps were great for students who had finished their work early and could work independently. My students liked Manga High's PEMDAS for math. They also liked Animal Cell, Thirteen Colonies and Slim the Ogre apps for ELA.  With a nod to gamification, they really liked when they were awarded badges automatically.  I used +Common Sense Educators Digital Passport app as a refresher whenever a student violated our classroom agreements.

Demonstrating understanding and Storytelling with Cartoons

My  students loved using +PowToon , +go animate and +Pixton Comics  We used these somewhat interchangeably, and students decided which tool they wanted to use to suit their purpose.  With GoAnimate, they realized they needed to so a lot more planning than they'd anticipated.  They realized the benefit of storyboarding, for which they used Storyboard That,  as well as editing their work.

Learnstreet - Hour of Code

Last winter we participated in the CSEDWeek/ Hour of Code. We used the LearnStreet app which had a special 'course' where students could code their own holiday card.

StoryLines Pages

Inspired by the story All Good Things by Sister Helen Mrosla, StoryLines Pages asks each student to express (in one sentence) something unique that he appreciates about his classmate. In my blogpost about this project I explained how this project worked well for all abilities, and helped me identify some grammar, spelling and punctuation trends in my students.  I think this app would work well with much younger students as well.

I started using Snapshot after I returned to the classroom in late April.  Snapshot is a Edmodo app that helps you see  what your students know (and what they don’t). With real-time feedback and multiple ways to view results by student and standard, Snapshot helps you take the guessing out of assessing common core standards.  It was really helpful for me to get a handle on what they had learned while I was gone. I also used it to help double check meeting of standards for our report card.  This coming year I am looking forward to using Snapshot for pre- and post assessments, both on a lesson-by-lesson basis (exit tickets, etc) but also for broader concepts.

Apps I want to try

There are many apps in the Edmodo app store that I want to dive deeper into including Educlipper and instaGrok.  I also plan to use Curriculet and Subtext for reading comprehension and literature circles.

Using Edmodo with younger students has proven invaluable in helping me manage my time, increasing student engagement and providing my students with real and authentic ways to become good digital citizens.  We've participated in groups with classrooms across the country and we have an alumni group to keep connected with our past students. Edmodo is a game changer! And I feel like I have barely scratched the surface!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Using Edmodo with Younger Students: Part 3 - Assignments

In my second year of Edmodo+students I was challenged by our +Edmodo rep to make more use of assignments.  Always up for a challenge, I tackled this one.  

First I started with just short answer assignments that they could answer in one sitting. For example, as part of California Social Studies in 4th grade, I asked "Why did your family (ancestors or current) move to California?"  I also used it to track grades they had submitted on paper, so that their parents could see assignment status.  Then I moved on to assignments that students would create in +Google Drive, which links up elegantly with the Edmodo student backpack.  For example, as part of our participation in Global Read Aloud, started by +Pernille Ripp, students wrote a 'deleted scene' from the book we were reading.

Finally, I used Edmodo assignments when I had detailed instructions for completion. That way I could include a word or google doc in the assignment or in an Edmodo folder for them to refer back to. For example, we did a Road Trip project that took about two months to complete. The initial project sheet with milestones was handed out on paper and via the Edmodo assignment.  Each milestone had a corresponding assignment, so students and parents could see due dates and progress.  I also made sure that rubrics for each milestone and final product were in the folder in our shared library.  Some of the assignments could be "turned in" via Edmodo using Google docs or attaching a Word.doc.  Students also used an app to make a comic about one stop on their road trip using +Pixton Comics via Edmodo (more on apps later). 

However some milestones were not digital, such as a poster advertising a product of the state they visited.  For these I collected their assignments by hand, graded them and then input the grades into Edmodo. This is a very quick and easy process. Again, I found a benefit in parents and students being able to see in a glance whether an assignment has been submitted.

Later students learned how to submit movies to Edmodo so they could submit video projects as well, such as 6-word weekend, water and rock cycles (using +Educreations) and book reviews.

Students without access have the option to come in before or after school, or at lunch to complete the assignment in Edmodo, or to do it on paper and then I just manually grade and enter into the Edmodo grade book. At the end of each quarter I export the grades to my grade book.  The only problem is that the Edmodo grade book combines all grades, regardless of subject, unless you were to create a unique group for each subject. I just export the whole thing into excel and sort, then move columns around, then export sections from excel into my PowerSchool grade book. It sounds more cumbersome than it is.

Completed assignments get sent only to the teacher. Parents can see them as well. Parents can see the assignment, their child's submission, assignment comments and the grade of their child's work from their Parent account

I always have at least two kids that do not submit assignments properly and post their answers to the group (parents cannot see this). I do make them go back and "Turn In' the assignment properly so that they hopefully will do it correctly going forward.  If I want the kids to see each others' work, I give the prompt as a post and ask students to reply to my post. So far no one blatantly has "borrowed" answers from these assignment posts.  I am waiting for it as a teachable moment about citing sources and plagiarism.

It hasn't always been easy to get others on board.  We have an RtI model for our reading classes when students leave their homeroom and go to another classroom for reading.  I planned to use Edmodo with my reading group for response to literature and other check-ins.  One of our teachers was not willing to have her students sign up their parents, and she asked me to print out each assignment that students submitted.  I obliged for the first grading period, however I also included links and instructions for reviewing assignments online. After that first trimester, she saw the benefit and uses and "allowed" me to discontinue printing. (Actually, I just told her I wasn't going to do it anymore.)

A few other tidbits came up in my second year.  When it came time to choose avatars, I realized I needed to set an example so I changed mine from a photo of me to a cartoon avatar (I used bitstrips but there are many options out there). As noted in an earlier blog post, I do allow my students to socialize after hours on Edmodo as long as it kind, true and responsible. If they do it during class, and they will, they get a warning. I've never had it go past that. 

I am so grateful to +Jill Florant for challenging me to try the assignments feature. I love digital grading with Edmodo! No more stacks of paper to carry home. I can sit on the deck with my iPad and grade student work.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Using Edmodo with Younger Students: Part 2 - 5th graders @work

I have been using +Edmodo for professional development for 4 years and with my students for the past 3 years; 4th, a 4/5 combo and then 5th grade.  (Yes, that's how I roll, something different every year.)  For the past two years I was lucky enough to loop some of my students, so I had a built in set of 'experts' when it came time to introduce Edmodo to my class.

First, let me just say the students are super excited and engaged when they get to use Edmodo. It helps them feel more responsible and accountable for their work and they really do feel more 'grown up' (soon enough, little ones, please don't rush).  As I mentioned in my earlier post, Getting Started with Edmodo, I usually start my kids with a scavenger hunt.  Not only does it help them learn how to navigate around Edmodo but while they are doing that, I get great insight into how well students can work independently, collaborate and problem solve. If I am lucky, I can also have a few minutes to insert parent codes into letters to go home that day.

My first year of working with students and Edmodo, I did not really make use of assignments or Edmodo apps. I focused solely on posting prompts to students and having them reply. I was just learning how to use Edmodo as a teacher and I wasn't really aware of its capabilities. I also wanted to gain better understanding of promises and pitfalls of using the social media platform with 8-10 year olds. The biggest thing I learned during year 1 was to do more upfront work about keeping posts RAME= Relevant, Appropriate, Meaningful, and Edited.  Because I was hyper vigilant, I was getting notifications at all hours from students typing random messages just because they could...seriously random, one kid, I swear, had his cat walk on the keyboard and he posted that at about 10:00 pm!  So I learned that I really needed to get control of their posting etiquette. I wanted to be sure, and still do, that my students had the freedom to express themselves.  But they also needed a better understanding of the fact that everyone (in our group) was reading what they were posting.  We did a lot of practice on paper and many times I reminded them, "I get an email EVERY time you post anything!"

One of my class jobs quickly became homework poster.  Since I rarely teach the same thing two years in a row, it is not always easy for me to predict homework enough to be able to post it on a webpage a week in advance.  Daily, while we are filling out our paper planners, one student posts the homework to our class group on Edmodo.  That afternoon, I will copy and share that post again to the group as well as to their parents.  Often a student will forget a homework page or be absent, and Edmodo comes to the rescue.  My students have taken pictures of a math page and posted it to Edmodo so that another student could complete her own homework.  They will also ask for help or clarification. More often than not, they clear up any confusion before I even have a chance to respond.  And if they can't, then I have pretty good feedback that a certain assignment was confusing or difficult.

I did start using the assignment feature simply to manually record who did and didn't finish certain assignments, just to give students and parents an idea of progress and where intervention might be needed.

For classroom use that first year, I often used Edmodo posts for response to literature and to gauge understanding of a concept or prompt discussions in science, social studies or math.  Students also quickly learned how to share their work including +Google  docs, videos made with +Educreations and more. About a third of the way through the year, we received our iPads, as part of an initial rollout of the Cambrian iPad Academy.  This was a game changer in many ways.  As it relates to Edmodo, it meant that students had instant access to their accounts, rather than having to wait for the C.O.W. (computer on wheels) to roll in, or for our old, slow desktop PCs to boot.I played around a little bit more with assignments, quizzes and polls and my students were incredibly patient and forgiving.

Edmodo has incredible and vast capabilities and potential, however my advice for year one implementation is to start small. Stick with just a few key areas and learn what works for you and what doesn't.  The summer after my first year of Edmodo+students, I virtually attended #edmodocon... who doesn't love PD that starts in my jammies and ends with a glass of wine! This year, Edmodocon2014 is being held August 6th and I strongly recommend you reserve your spot today!  My head about exploded with all of the ideas and I couldn't wait to get back to school to try them out.

Coming up soon - Using Edmodo: Year Two and Beyond!

Using Edmodo with Younger Students - part 1: Getting Started

I suppose I am what you'd call an +Edmodo  power user in our district.  I am an Edmodo Certified Teacher and an Edmodo Support Ambassador, I have the t-shirts to prove it. I am often asked how I use Edmodo with my fifth grade students and how I would use it in even younger classrooms. So here are some ideas and what I have found to be best practices.

In my first day letter to parents, I include information about digital citizenship, technology use in general and how we will be using Edmodo in the classroom. I always start out the year with two weeks of #digicit lessons from +Common Sense Educators .  Students earn their passports by completing all of the lessons with me.  I then introduce them to Edmodo.   I do compare it to Facebook to give them a frame of reference and we discuss the differences: Edmodo is first and foremost is a safe and secure learning community.  We talk about what it means to be safe and secure. Then we focus on the fact that it is a learning community.  Not all teachers choose to allow their students to post 'personal' or non school related comments and it is something you should decide on before you introduce Edmodo.  While I do allow my students to post non-academic content from home, they know that they will lose privileges if they are socializing via Edmodo during school hours. And even though all notes (posts) are time stamped, some kids still seem surprised when I know that have posted, "'s'up" during class.

Next we have an extensive discussion on how/what to post and comment.  We use the acronym RAME - is is relevant, appropriate, meaningful, and edited.  We discuss Socrates three sieves - is it true, good and necessary.  We then use the expanded, child friendly acrostic THINK - is it true? helpful? interesting or inspiring? necessary? kind?  We do some role playing and I remind them that if they wouldn't say it to someones face, with me in earshot, then they shouldn't write it in Edmodo.

After all this talking, they are anxious to get started.  At this point, I have already created a group for my class, usually called something like '14-15 Room 7' Each group has a unique join code that new student users will need to sign up for Edmodo and existing users will need to join the class.  Generally, my students are new to Edmodo so they will need to create a student account. Even if they have an email, I do not have them enter it, since they are under 13 years old and technically not allowed to have email accounts.  I also do not allow them to use their last names.  I used to but then one of my previous students pointed out that she was at the public library using Edmodo and her name was all the screen for any passerby to see.  So now I have them use an alias. One year I used our school name for all of their last names.  Last year we had faux twitter handles, so they could use that for their name. Another teacher I know uses her last name for the kids' names, and then when they go on to another grade they change their last name (which avoids too many Jennifer School-name instances).  It is fairly easy to change a name after creating an account.

I initially start out my students as "read only", not contributors, that way they can see what I post but they cannot yet post.  It is easy to change this later, when you are ready, via the group members page. Their first activity after logging in, is an Edmodo scavenger hunt to familiarize them with basic features.  In the past I have used +Melissa Butler 's Livebinder Scavenger Hunt. If you use it, you will need to change students to contributor when they reach step 4. Be aware that Edmodo has redesigned some of their pages so although the activity will be the same, they look of the page might not match. That said, Melissa's +LiveBinders is a great resource!

That night's homework assignment is to tell their parent's about Edmodo and help them sign up as parents. I generate parent letters that include an overview of Edmodo, how we will be using it in class, and instructions for creating parent accounts, including their unique Parent code (associated with their child).  You cannot finalize the letter until the child has created their own account.  If  families do not have access at home, I invite parents to come early to Back to School Night and I will help them get started. I usually give a prize to the child whose parents are first to sign up and I award a badge to all students who have their parent or guardian sign up. It is easy to tell because that child's profile will have a parent icon by their name, on the same member's page where you can assign badges!

Some primary grade teachers have skipped having pre-writing students sign up and just had parents sign up as students to facilitate parent communication.  This causes slight problems in later years when that parent wants to associate their own email ID with a parent account.  This can be fixed but a better solution would be to avoid creating the problem.  Have a parent or an aide help you create student accounts for your class. This will generate the parent code for each child. Then the parents will sign up and you can now communicate with them as a group. The difference is that as "students" they can post to you and as "parents" they cannot.

Earlier in July I co-hosted an #edmodochat about using Edmodo with younger students.  The transcript of that chat was +Storify 'd - see below.  Coming up next: Edmodo With Younger Students - Part 2 year one 5th graders at work

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bon Voyage to a Great Leader

I am taking time out from my usual #edchat to recognize the incredible contribution superintendent Dr. Debbie Blow has made to our district and to me personally. Dr. Blow is moving to a new district where she can be closer to her family. I will miss her inspirationinfluence and energy.  For each of the three years since I was laid off from my tenured position in my previous district, I have been invited back to an open position. Once again this year I explained to them that until they could offer me the environment and opportunities that Cambrian has offered me, ....thanks but no thanks, I'm staying in Cambrian, even without tenure. Cambrian is that special of a place.
As a "founding" member of the iPad academy, I am part of a team of 6 passionate and courageous teachers, all of us learning as we went along side by side with +Kirby Fell and Dr. Blow.  She showed extraordinary vision, leadership and enthusiasm as she gave us the tools we needed to proceed and then took her seat along side us while we flew the plane while building it.  As a great leader does, she trusted her team, and gave us the freedom to discover and develop best practices. We created a successful iPad Academy model that now includes 41 classroom teachers with 1:1 iPads. Our Home and School Clubs have purchased an additional 300 or so devices for teacher and classroom use.  For the upcoming 5th iPad academy cohort, there were 23 applications for an available 12 slots.

Having the iPads has truly revolutionized and reenergized my practice and my classroom. After 2.5 years I cannot imagine teaching without them now. Using this tool, our students are reading, writing, explaining their thinking in math and science, going on virtual field trips and even coding in meaningful, authentic and thus engaging ways.  Yes, they could have done much of it without the iPad, but the iPad is more captivating, genuine and helps prepare our students for their futures.  Our first cohort of "iPaddians" paved the way, researching, documenting and sharing best practices. We created a wiki to share what we've learned with our colleagues.  This was all under Dr. Blow's leadership.

+Tanya Prive writes in Forbes that there are top 10 qualities that make a good leader
  • Honesty
  • Ability to delegate
  • Communication
  • Sense of humor     
  • Confidence               
  • Commitment
  • Positive attitude    
  • Creativity               
  • Intuition 
  • The ability to inspire 

Having a background in executive management, I can tell you how critical Dr. Blow's leadership has been in the successful implementation of our 21st century strategies.  As our board moves forward with their selection of a new superintendent, I hope they will seek someone with at least some of her leadership qualities, so that we don't lose the momentum we have all worked so hard to gain. Developing global citizens with 21st century skills is one of the pillars of our strategic plan and it is my hope that the school board and new superintendent will continue support of our academies and professional development in Educational technology to help sustain this effort.

Dr. Debbie Blow possesses all of the Forbes 10 qualities and although she is one of a kind and amazing, the board would do well to find someone who can continue to provide the kind of leadership, vision and commitment that Dr. Blow seems to provide so effortlessly.  I hope they do not lose sight of her vision. She has been, and even in her decision to leave, continues to be, an inspiration to me.  

Dr. Blow, You will be missed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kindness Matters - Writing with the ipad and Edmodo

(This was originally posted on my teacher blog, )

I partner teach 36 fifth graders with +sheila monger , our inclusive education teacher (some would call her an SDC teacher, she would not). We encompass rooms 7 & 8 so we call ourselves Team Seight. If you were to come in when we are all in the same room, you would not know who was officially assigned to each teacher.  +Edmodo has been a great tool for connecting our students in authentic ways, and preparing them for the world of social media in a safe and controlled environment. This year a theme at our school has been kindness, so using StoryLines Pages, an app in Edmodo, we created a Kindness Matters Book for each student.  

StoryLines Pages is a collaborative classroom activity where students learn the power of compliments and encouragement. Inspired by the story "All Good Things", by Sister Helen Mrosla, StoryLines Pages has each student in your class creating a page for each other student, expressing something he appreciates about his classmate.With this app, each student writes a “page” (one sentence) about every other student in our class. We read the short, true (verified by Snopes) story by Sister Helen and then the kids got to work. Some of my findings as we worked on this project:

  • Students were able to use their 1:1 iPads, but sometimes had trouble with the app so generally used Edmodo via Safari.

  • All students participated, and I had a quick snapshot of who was or wasn’t working on their pages, using the overall status page

  • As I went through and reviewed students’ pages, I was able to see common mistakes, trends and areas of need. For example, this student consistently used capital letters incorrectly. Many of my students are still misusing the contraction of you are, spelling it Y-O-U-R.  Several of my students had difficulty writing in the first person, present tense.

SL comment page.PNG

  • It was extremely rewarding for me to read the comments that my students made about all of their classmates. Never once was a comment checked “It is not nice” because it was mean. Some of our ED kids did have challenges differentiating between a statement (You play with me at recess. vs I like when you play with me at recess.) However, overwhelmingly, the students really had surprisingly nice things to say about each other.

  • One of my students on a 504 has significant challenges starting work.  He will sit and stare into space. I was very worried about what other students would say about him, there just doesn't seem to be much 'there-there' from a 10 year old’s perspective, or so I thought.  I was delighted to see pages such as “You respect others, You are smart and funny (he is, when he speaks), You are a good listener, You are good at sitting still when others are talking. You are polite, respectful to others and very quiet in class.”  None of these things are untrue and I just loved seeing how they took a behavior that can be difficult and saw the positive in it! I learned a lesson myself from these kids (well,honestly they teach me something every day)

  • The app was incredibly easy for me to use, and even easier for the kids.  Because often the same child would make the same errors repeatedly, I could cut and paste my review comment, and they got practice correcting these problem areas.

  • I did have a few students think they could just cut and paste and make the same comment to multiple classmates. Because I would review all of the pages by a given student at one time, it was pretty easy to catch this and comment back to them to be original and be specific.

  • Once most of the Storylines Pages ages are done, we will go ahead and publish the book. Students will receive a link that they can choose to share outside of Edmodo.


The students were so excited to read their books and using Edmodo, thanked each other for the kind words. The students then shared books at Open House.  As a teacher of students with a wide range of abilities, it was great to find an activity that all students could participate in equally. This activity also served as a great formative assessment and gave me insights into student needs. Finally, it was just sweet and this time of year, in fifth grade, we can all use a little sweet!

Friday, February 7, 2014

21st Century Learners: Retiring the Book Report

Fellow blogger  +Kathy Kimpel  writes in her latest post, 21st Century Learners: Retiring the Book Report: "We need to retire the "Book Report" Common Core will ask student to "Analyze" not summarize."

Growing up in the 60's, my sisters and I wrote book reports every year, year after year, on the same book, The Pink Motel.  So much so that in our house, 'pink motel' became a euphemism for being a slacker.   We certainly did little more than DOK1.  

Kathy provides some great ideas for moving beyond the book report into more critical thinking with depth and complexity.  She addresses both digital and non-digital ideas for our students to demonstrate a meaningful interpretation of their reading.  With an iPad students can create podcasts, make trailers with iMovie, and use a variety of "show me" apps to create models of real comprehension, analysis and synthesis.