Sunday, April 10, 2016

Getting to know students with Wordle

Do you Wordle? I know this has become a popular web 2.0 tool in classrooms over the past two years. I have used it many times when looking to integrate technology into Social Studies and Science. This year I have decided to use it to help get to know my students. I thought it would be a great way for them to reflect who they are as people and learners to their classmates.

We started by making our own word bubbles of our name on paper and then discussed descriptive words to add. This could be a great point to stop and discuss adjectives, character traits, etc. I also go over that two word phrases need to have a hyphen so that they do not get separated in the word cloud.

Students will brainstorm their list, then partner share to delve deeper and come up with some more words. I am going to keep it between 10-15 words/phrases. It can describe you, be a sport or instrument you play, something you like to do, etc.

The great part about Wordle is that it is a Web 2.0 tool online that is FREE and you do not need a user name/password or email address for. You just start typing and go. If you want to save it I suggest bookmarking it, it is hard to find once you exit out.

They will look great hanging on curriculum night for parents to view OR I was thinking maybe as part of their writer's notebook? The options are endless...... Have fun with it, I know your students will!

Apps Field Guide

As an EdTech enthusiast one of the most exciting parts about getting ready to go back to school is #1 getting a "do-over" with all of the apps and websites I neglected to discover and use. It is always an adrenaline rush to find that perfect app or website for a unit you are teaching or one that will make your job easier and more organized.

I think to myself "How did I teach without this?" I often can't wait to share it out with other teachers. There was often a teacher or team of educators behind an amazing new site or app that connects to a tedious task teachers had completed in the past and they had found a way to productively streamline it for us. I'm sure those diamonds are out there right now waiting for me to discover them as I write this. Problem is, I feel like Alice in Wonderland.

The EdTech industry is growing exponentially and is a hot market right now. Whether necessary or not the apps, extensions, and sites for teachers that are being created seem to be growing exponentially. Now a simple search turns into scrolling through page after page. Between Chrome and iTunes apps, whatever you use, the choices seem endless. Website searches take that much longer clicking through pages of search results only to find sites with fees or limited information.

To me, less is more. Where is the quality and content that teachers yearn for? It feels overwhelming this school year as compared to last. We have hit a point where we need some type of annual guide that flushes out the mediocre and gives teachers valuable information of the latest apps, sites, and extensions that are superstars in their category. It becomes "one more job" for a teacher and they need help. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a guide to refer to all year when faced with a need to refer to?

MassCue 2013

Thanks to all who attended our Google Apps and the Common Core presentation at the MassCUE Conference at Gillette Stadium on October 23rd and 24th. Below is the presentation. Some of the links will take you to project examples and some are blocked due to student privacy policies. Please feel free to email me with any questions.

Virtual Visit Motivates Students

Recently, I’ve discovered that one of the most effective student motivators is not myself the classroom teacher, or technology integration as I may have thought, but in fact a complete stranger. It helps when that stranger is an established children’s book author who according to fifth graders writes about the “coolest stuff ever!”

This year my fifth grade class worked with author Carole Vogel as our “author-in-residence” to guide us through a non-fiction writing unit. Carole made the trip to our classroom virtually through Skype every other week to check in on us and how student writing was going. She shared valuable insight with students around developing a topic and the importance of diligent research. She used examples from her own books as to how she acquired some of the information she did through endless trips to the library and first hand account interviews. We had been reading excerpts from her books in class so students felt connected and interested in the process it took to complete her books. The questions they asked were directed to how she was able to gather such detailed information.

One particularly inspiring lesson involved Carole talking to students about Internet research. It was a sigh of relief for students to hear that the Internet can be an overwhelming source for anyone, even an author. We discussed types of sites to trust, formulas for searching, and different avenues of databases and online library research centers to access. Today our students are digital natives, this is all they know, but they still need to be taught how to navigate the overwhelming digital landscape of the Internet. Students have the problem today of too much information to access, rather than a lack of as they may have struggled with years ago.

Through the use of Google Slides and the commenting feature Carole was able to login and see their books and give them some advice. Students slowed down and took the time to revise and edit based on suggestions given. Hearing from Carole that one of her manuscripts can go through upwards of 14 revisions was a realization for them that this is just as an important step in the writing process as any other. Students slowed down and spent another two weeks on reading their writing aloud, conferencing, and peer reviewing.

Being able to bring Carole into to the classroom throughout this unit served as a series of great “Virtual Trips.” They provided students a window into the world and expertise of a published author. They felt connected as they were having similar experiences when going through the book writing process. Students looked like mini-executives taking notes sitting around the interactive whiteboard asking her questions and furiously recording her answers. When they logged into their Google account and saw her comments they were exhilarated that she had reviewed their book and took suggestions for improvement seriously.

This experience is an example of how technology can connect classrooms in ways that allow students to feel that their work has a sense of purpose. Knowing that a professional would be viewing it and it would be posted to their blog evoked passion and meaning to their work. These are the types of real world experiences that we as educators need to give students, we are teaching in a time where information and experts are just a click away.

If you are a teacher interested in having an author Skype into your classroom check out the links below:

Note: This blog post also appeared on's Community board. You can view it here:

What makes a great teacher website?

As the new school year is right around the corner my virtual school year has already begun. Once teacher letters go out to students I naturally see a spike in visitors to my classroom website. This is expected each year, students are curious to find out anything they can about myself and how my classroom runs. What does the room look like? What will we be learning this year? They investigate like scientists looking for pictures of former students. Do they look like they are having fun? Does it look hard? Parents may scan for an insight to ease their nerves of a new year ahead and the demands a new grade may make on their child.

My class site has gone through drastic changes over the years, it is like looking back at a bad wardrobe choice. Gone of the days of html coding with a free site through Family Education Network. With so many platform choices and embedding options we as teachers have endless options of what we want our sites to be. The question is: Do we really have the time? and Where is the balance? I would rather spend my time focusing on evaluating students and their needs rather than on my website.

So I ask: Is a classroom webpage for parents, students, school or a teacher's image?

Years ago it may have been for the parents to see how progressive schools and teachers were with technology and "keeping up with the times" by having a somewhat static webpage that got updated with info and pictures similar to a newsletter each week. Now it is not about having an address on the web, but about what you do with it. Heck, many students animals have their own blog! What are you going to do with your web presence to make it an integral and effective tool in your teaching toolbox? I've been evaluating this, examining what other teachers are doing online and come to some conclusions:

-Use your site for a significant purpose for students first and foremost. We all know the challenges the web provides to students with its vast information. Streamline that for students by creating a portal of useful information and links for them. Make it similar to an internal intranet that is filled with essential information for them to be successful in your classroom.

-Offer parents a peek into your world. I would like my students and daily interactions to speak to my teaching but we all know that the web can be the next best thing. Not all parents have time to volunteer and not all students are going to share. Upload some pictures and project samples from time to time to give parents an idea of what is going on in your classroom.

-Don't make it about you, go ahead and start a teacher blog if you want to do that, please don't confuse the two. You will just confuse parents. There are plant of Educator PLN sites, Twitter, pinterest, teaching blog sites to connect with other educators online.

Photobooks in the Classroom

Shutterfly launched some exciting news this summer offering an education app for students to create photobooks in the classroom. Now that we are in the swing of things in the classroom I am finding endless possibilities to connect this to CCSS curriculum and projects.
The app is free and books are just $10 per student with volume discounts available. This is a great option to have as an app because in years past these were web 2.0 tools online that seemed to get quite pricey. Whether they started charging for membership onto their site or charging for the book they seemed to price themselves out of the market.When students completed their book the printing fees were ranging in the $20-30 range per book. This is just too much to ask parents in addition to supplies and field trip fees in one year. Many teachers continued to use the online sites but when completed it became only a digital product. I'm glad that Shutterfly saw an opportunity that will enable teachers to integrate their book making products with meaningful learning. The first application that sticks out for me would be to use this as a culminating portfolio for students taking pictures and screenshots of projects throughout the year. For $10 at the end of the year parents could have an attractive portfolio of their child's work that was painless to assemble! To read more from eSchoolNews click here How could you integrate Shutterfly books into your classroom this year? Would love to hear comments and thoughts.
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