Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Last Holiday Concert

We recently read The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements in my fifth grade language arts. I did this one as a read aloud which limited the activities we could do in conjunction with the book. Here's what we did.

Week One

·         Read Chapters 1-3
·         You will be given one character web to complete while I read to you.  I want you to give me four details about Hart.  You will need to give me two sentences for each detail supporting that point. This is classwork, but if you need to finish it overnight you may.  Due Tuesday.
·         Homework:  Go to and read the author’s biography.  Then, hop on over to  Create a new wiki page and tell me three interesting facts about the author’s life.  Remember to use your fake name.  Due Wednesday before you go to bed.

·         Chapters 4-6
·         You will be given another character web just like yesterday. This one will be done on Mr. Meinert.  While I would like this to be done in class, you have till Wednesday to finish it.
·         Reading Response Journal:  What makes a kid popular?  Is this a good thing or a bad thing? (1/2 page, please)
·         Don’t forget yesterday’s web assignment.

·         Plot Hill Quiz
·         Remember that your web assignment is due before you go to bed tonight.

·         Read Chapters 7-9
·         You are going to get a Sequence Chain in class today after I am done reading the chapters.  Your job is to give me the 6 most important events of the first nine chapters in order.  You must write two sentences in each box.  I will try to give you time to work with your group.  I would love to have this before you leave class but will happily take it before class starts on Friday.

·         Station Day!
·         One station will be a Reading Response Journal: Will Hart ask Mr. Meinert to take over? (1/2 page, please)

Week 2

• Read Chapters 10-12.
• You know I can’t resist a good plot hill. Taking your sequence chain from last week and the new events we read so far, can you put 8 events on plot hill in the right spot? On a piece of notebook paper, draw your plot hill so far. I’ll take this tomorrow, but if you finish it today you can put it in Basket 2 before you leave.
• Go back to Click on books, then novels. Which of Mr. Clements’ books would you like to read next? Why? (Note: You HAVE to give me at least one book that you might like to read.) Your answer should be in complete sentences (2-5 should be sufficient) and put on your wiki page. You can just add to the page you created last week. This is due before bed time on Wednesday.

• Read Chapters 13-14.
• Reading Response Journal: Poor Hart! Things didn’t go his way at the end of today’s reading. Tell me what went wrong and how you would have handled it differently if you were Hart.

• Read Chapters 15-16.
• Reading Response Journal: Did we just see a new side of Mr. Meinert? Tell me how he’s starting to change. I love in this book how both main characters see the other side of school life. How is Hart changing?

• Read Chapters 17-19.
• Reading Response Journal: On page 126, there is a conversation between Allie, James, and Jenna about including all beliefs, mentioning fearing being too Christian and offending Jewish people. Jenna pipes up that she doesn’t mind but maybe they should include Kwanzaa and something about Islam. How does this differ from holiday concerts here at MVCA?

• Read Chapters 20-21.
Be sure you take the AR Test before you leave for Christmas Break

Week 3

• Mr. Meinert and Hart both changed quite a bit as this story unfolded. Literary people would say that they were dynamic characters because they changed. (Static characters don’t change during the story… like the kid who dressed up as the Elvis Santa.) In a paragraph (yes, a world famous 3-pt paragraph) you need to pick one of the two characters and tell me HOW he changed. You are only required a rough draft, but you should be careful to fit the format given in the Paragraph Notes. This is a classwork grade due Wednesday. You may turn it in anytime before then.
• I will be collecting your journals tomorrow, so I hope you’ve completed all 5 entries.
• Don’t forget to take your AR Test before Christmas Break. I will not accept late tests.

• You and your group will be given a length of bulletin board paper. Imagine you had the chance to develop Thursday night’s Christmas concert. How would you design the auditorium? Draw and color it on the paper. Use the whole paper. Post your picture on the wall in this classroom. You will have two days to work on this. If it is not done by the end of class Wednesday, you will have to find time to finish it on your own. It is due the beginning of class Thursday at the latest.
• Paragraph due Wednesday.
• Don’t forget to take your AR Test before Christmas Break. I will not accept late tests.

• You will have all class period to work on your picture with your group. I’d love for it to be done and hanging today. Make sure your names are on the front.
• Don’t forget to take your AR Test before Christmas Break. I will not accept late tests.

Thursday and Friday:
• Due to our own concert and the party, we will not have time for Reading class these days. We may have time for Language Arts, but I’ll fill that time with something else.
• Don’t forget to take your AR Test before Christmas Break. I will not accept late tests.

HAVE A GREAT CHRISTMAS AND A MERRY BREAK! We all have worked hard this first half of the year and could use a break! I’m proud of how far you’ve come in such a short time. See you in January!

So, tell me.  How have you used The Last Holiday Concert in your class? What ideas have you found that worked well for you?  How can I improved on this for next year?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Catching Up

I have a lot to catch up on. Here's a cool feature of the iPad.  I typed up the bulk of this post on the plane flying from Philly back home.  I typed it in Notes and transferred it to Blogger when I got home and could use the Internet again.  Sure, you can do this on a laptop too, but using an iPad in public just feels cool.

On to the post...

I recently posted about WebQuests, and I wasn't impressed.  I found another quest on pioneer colonial life which was a ton better.  It was quick and easy and informative...but not exhaustive.  One problem.  In order to advance to the next level you had to answer yes or no.  That meant that in theory very little reading had to be done.  Make a guess. If you're wrong, no big deal, pick the other choice. So, I'd like to think that my students read every bit of the quest, but let's be realistic.  I didn't. Maybe for next year I can find something in the middle.  Till then, my faith in WebQuests is not entirely dashed forever.  Here's the link I used.  It even worked well on the iPads.

My kids love QR codes.  I use them in lessons now, and you would think I just gave them ponies for Christmas.  Attached below is one QR code I used to introduce an activity.  It will take you to a video of me introducing the activity.  My wife refused to watch since I didn't look happy.  Oops! I'll plaster on the smile next time.

You'll notice I used Vimeo not YouTube.  Why?  Ease of access in school.  Our school doesn't block YouTube, but it is quirky.  Vimeo was easier for me.

I'm struggling for a math app on a sixth grade level.  I find apps on blogs and download them.  However, they either seem to drill and practice facts below them or hit topics above their heads.  Do you have ideas?  I think I'm going to download a massive amount of math apps and give the kids a solid hour to explore and find their favorites.  From there I can come up with a plan for the future.  I welcome your input if you have something good for me.

My fifth graders tried Toomtastic for the first time a little while ago.  The response was overwhelmingly  good. they only had 8 minutes so they didn't produce anything to get giddy over, but I plan to have a Toontastic week soon. What I figure is that I'll give them time to plan, then to draw, then to animate.  One complaint kids had was that they had a hard time recording their voices in a loud room.  We'll have to have a "recording studio" room set aside for making that aspect of the production. More when that happens.

Thanks for reading.  If there is a topic you want me to hit, let me know.  I'll see what I can do.

Tech Integrators - December 8, 2011

I am sitting in the Philadelphia International Airport awaiting a flight home after a funeral, so I have some time for blogging.

My first thought is about my iPad, my music, and the Internet here in the airport. Every time I bring up Safari, my iTunes cuts out. So I turned on Pandora. Same thing. Now I'm listening to Muzak. Ugh!

Here is an article about what to do before you unleash a 1:1 program on your middle schoolers. The #1 thing? Email training. Interesting. I think my students are being trained on Office right now, so we're a bit off the radar here. I know that in one of my wiki projects I had to put the kabash on goofball emails as teachers and parents had to read them. Craziness. Here's the link.

This article is about 10 months old. Ancient for this discussion, but it has good questions to comsider before you get into a program. A lot of it is for administrators and the IT department not the teachers, but there are some good thoughts for classroom teachers as well. Are you teaching in project-based environment or are you still the lecture-style teacher. If you are putting machines in there hands, you have to be prepared to give up some control.

Do you use Twitter as a teaching tool? I have a hard time allowing my 10- to 12-year old students get ahold of Twitter. I must still be a bit old fashioned. However, this article gives reasons to ponder it.

I'm a gmail guy. I really think a third of my life is run by Google, and another third is run by Apple. This article helps us guide the way to meld the two together. I need to do this.

If you're not following the Nerdy Teacher, then start now. Here is his list of 5 most needed apps in school. What would you put on your list?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One of those weeks...

So, I thought I had one of those weeks last week.  It turns out that it's becoming an epidemic.  I'm frantically trying to keep on top of my regular workload and can't get ahead of the tech game.  I'm sure there's a post in that statement there, but who has the time to write it?

What I am doing is updating my tweeting good articles when I read them.  You can read those on the sidebar of this blog or follow me @cncdky.

One of these days I'll get back to actually writing on this blog.  Sorry for the delay!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a great Thanksgiving!  I'm not sure about you, but I've got things brewing in my head to blog about, but it's going to have to wait.  It's been a busy week.  Stay tuned.  In the next few days I'll blog about...

  • QR Codes
  • A good web quest
  • Alice in NY
  • Brain Pop
  • and more...
Have a great long weekend!  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Web Quests

The year was 2001, and I was in the beginning stages of my Master's thesis on professional development in technology integration.  A undergrad classmate of mine was a few years ahead of me on the curve and was part of a groundbreaking team of educators in Maine, working with the state department of education on a 1:1 laptop program, where (I believe) every 8th grader in Maine would get a laptop to use.  Good stuff!

My friend and I talked for a couple hours one Sunday afternoon as I picked his brain on any and every topic I could dream up.  Among other things, that conversation got me excited to try out something called Web Quests. Excited doesn't quite sum it up well.  Giddy?  I think that's better.

Never heard of a Web Quest?  They were originally created at San Diego State University as an all-inclusive, multi-disciplinary learning unit using the Internet as the main source of information.  Students follow a series of links to answer questions which bring about some great learning.  You can read more at  

I don't know how many Web Quests I've done with my students over the years.  My original giddiness gave way to being overwhelmed.  When another teacher develops a unit, he or she is interested in his or her learning goals.  So, I found it difficult to find a Web Quest that would work with what I wanted to do.  So, I made my own.  That worked wonders till my Geocities site decided that I had overused my hits and wouldn't allow access for an hour. Of course, an hour later we wouldn't be in the computer lab and I wouldn't have those kids again till the next day.  It wasn't long till I dropped the idea of Web Quests and looked to the next big thing. 

Enter 2011. New school.  New subject matter. New curriculum.  I start every Social Studies unit by asking myself how I can use technology to help me.  Our current chapter is on the American colonies.  I found a nice Web Quest about the Plymouth Colony and got that old excitement back.  Plymouth... Thanksgiving... Web Quests!  Yes!  A new wrinkle came unexpectedly... Our iPads became ready to roll for this week.  Sweet!  

I dedicated this entire week to this Web Quest on Plymouth. (I won't post the address here, but if you're dying to know, feel free to ask.) The kids have been diligently working on answering questions regarding the journey across the sea and the buildings in the colony and the climate of Massachusetts.  They wrap it up tomorrow by writing letters to their family and friends back in England telling them about life in the New World.  It's pretty good, but...
  • The links don't all work.  I caught one major link glitch before we went live with this.  The new site I found has videos (a virtual tour of Plymouth Colony).  However, those videos don't play on the iPads. We had to nix three other questions today because the links didn't work and I didn't know where to find a new site on the fly to help with the questions.  (It doesn't help to have multiple 5th graders telling me simultaneously that they can't find the chicken roasting on the fire, which led me to singing "Chickens roasting on an open fire."  We started listening to Christmas music at home early this year.)
  • The quest asks a LOT of questions.  Among other things, they have students describing 5 different buildings in detail and writing 5 separate letters home.  I was able to tweak a lot of it.  They only had to describe 3 buildings and write one letter for me.  I also got rid of a handful of questions.  In the end, with my chopping, it wound up being a 3 page worksheet they had to answer.
  • Because of these changes, they had to go back and forth between multiple web sites and a worksheet, and they got confused.  They wasted a lot of time in this confusion.
I liked the concept of seeing the pictures, watching the videos, and doing some higher level thinking.  I just got the realization around Wednesday that what they were doing wasn't much different than looking in a textbook to find answers to questions.  Granted, my other 43 students think they are lucky since they got to play with iPads all week. Still I am left to wonder if I am using the technology to do new things in new ways.

In the end I think the Web Quest was a good learning tool, and I may use it again next year.  This is a serious (and not rhetorical) question.  Is it ethical to take the Web Quest in question, paste it into my classroom site, tweak it to fit my needs, and cite them as the original authors?  

Have you ever used a Web Quest?  What did you like?  What didn't you like?  Will you use one again? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Whole Nother Story

My fifth graders read A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup this year.  When I searched online for resources, I found nothing.  Well, maybe not NOTHING, but very little.  I think I may be the second teacher in American history to teach this in class.  So, I wanted to share my lessons with you online. Maybe you can take my ideas and make them better.

What you are about to see is adapted from worksheets I sent home and put on my class web site.  Every Monday I presented the kids with these handouts so there would be no question of the assignments due each week.  One mom commented that her son (who happens to have ADHD) really liked knowing ahead of time what the journal assignments were.  That gave him time to think through his entries before it was actually assigned.  One downfall is that some kids liked to read or work ahead, if that bothers you.

Feel free to use, misuse, or adapt what I have below.  In the meantime, please also make comments or email me if you have other great ideas to make this unit better.

Week 1 Assignments

The purpose of this page is not for you to work ahead, but to keep the paper usage to a minimum.  We’ll use this paper as a calendar to help us work through this week of school.  Please stay with us and don’t get ahead.  Thank you!

Monday: Read chapters 1 and 2 in class.  For homework, you need to go to  Watch the trailer and the Dr. Soup video.  Email me at when you are done.  Tell me your favorite part of each video.  You have till bedtime on Tuesday to send me the email.  I will send you a response when I get your email so you’ll know.

Tuesday:  Reading Response Journal.  Pick one Cheeseman children.  You will be writing from his/her point of view.  Tell the story from chapters 1 and 2 from his/her perspective. (At least a half page)  For homework, read chapters 3 and 4.  Yes, you may start in class when you are done the journal.

Wednesday: In class you will read chapter 5.  For homework you will need to go back to the book’s website.  Click on Fun Stuff (the plane flying across the top).  Under Brain Games, take the quizzes on Maggie’s Shampoo and the Fake Names.   You also should participate in the NIC.  Email me (see the address above) with how you did on the quizzes and your new name.  Your quiz results will not be reflected in your grade.  I just want to see that you did it.  You have till bedtime on Sunday to email me with this information.

Thursday:  Reading Response Journal.  Look through the advice given by Dr. Soup in the first five chapters.  What additional advice would you give to the readers and/or characters?  (At least a half page)  Your homework is to read chapters 6-8.  This is due Monday as you won’t be here on Friday.

Friday:  No school.  Don’t forget to email me about the web site and to read the chapters.  Enjoy your long weekend!

Week 2 Assignments

The purpose of this page is not for you to work ahead, but to keep the paper usage to a minimum.  We’ll use this paper as a calendar to help us work through this week of school.  Please stay with us and don’t get ahead.  Thank you!

Monday –
·         We will be in the computer lab today.  You will do a Flow Map of Chapter 6. You will be required to have 3 main “stages” and 2 “sub-stages” below each. Print your map, making sure your name and date are on there, and give it to me. I want this before you leave the computer lab, but I will gladly take it first thing in class tomorrow. 
·         Your homework (which you may tackle if you have time after the Flow Map) is to read Chapters 9 and 10.

Tuesday –
·         Reading Response Journal.  Write as if you are one of the Cheeseman Kids.  Tell the story of meeting Jibby and his crew from the child’s point of view. (at least a ½ page)
·         Read chapters 11-12 for homework.

Wednesday –
·         Read chapter 13.
·         You have till bedtime Sunday night to do the following on
o   Take the Villain Quiz (Brain Games).
o   Read the entire Slide Show Widget and Readers’ Unsolicited Advice.
o   Email me ( to tell me your score on the quiz and your top two favorite pieces of advice.

Thursday –
·         Reading Response Journal. If you were to email Dr. Soup with your own unsolicited advice, what would it be and why. (at least a ½ page)  With your parents’ permission you may actually do this.
·         Read chapters 14-16 for homework.

Friday – Station Day!  Use the weekend to get caught up on your work! J  Enjoy!

 Week 3 Assignments

The purpose of this page is not for you to work ahead, but to keep the paper usage to a minimum.  We’ll use this paper as a calendar to help us work through this week of school.  Please stay with us and don’t get ahead.  Thank you!

Week 3:
·         We will go to the computer lab today.  You are to create a tree map about the villains in the story.  Break the villains into their categories (corporate hoodlums, international superspies, and hypersecret government agents) and then give the individual names of each villain.  You may work with a friend on this, but you each need to turn in your own map.  We have one day in the lab, so I want it turned in Monday.  However, if you don’t finish it in class I’ll gladly take it Tuesday without penalty.
·         Read chapters 17-18 for homework.

·         Reading Response Journal – Each of the Cheeseman kids made friends in their new home.  Tell the friend-making story from that child’s point of view.  (At least a ½ page)
·         Read chapters 19-20 for homework.

·         Read chapter 21
·         Wiki assignment. This will be a quiz grade.  Mr. Little will work with you in computer class tomorrow to get you started.  He will expect that you bring the following items to class: your favorite journal entry from AWNS and a picture drawn and colored by you that goes with the entry. It will be due the end of the school day November 10.

·         Reading Response Journal – The kids move frequently and get to change their names and personalities each time.  What would your new persona be if you could have a clean change?  Would you like to move as much as they do?  (At least a half page.)
·         Read chapters 22-23.

·         Finish the Book!
·         Your AR Test is due by next Friday.

Week 4

·         A Whole Nother Unsolicited Advice Assignment:  Find your favorite piece of unsolicited advice.  It can be from the book, the web site, or your brain.  (Hint:  Make sure it’s appropriate for school use.  If you’re not sure, ask me.) Making sure it’s spelled correctly, decorate a piece of computer paper with the advice.  Make it colorful.  Make it beautiful.  Make it decorative.  It will hang in the hallway when you are done.  Due Tuesday.
·         Don’t forget that your wiki is due on Thursday.
·         Don’t forget to take your AR Test due Friday.

·         A Whole Nother Acting Assignment:  As a group, pick your favorite chapter.  Do the following…
o   Make a Flow Map of the 5 most important events of the chapter.  Since I don’t have Thinking Map software in my room, you’re not required to put it on the official software.  Use Word or a whole nother software… or use paper and pencil.
o   Write a script.  Make sure there is a copy for me to read as you act.
o   Practice, practice, practice. 
o   This is due Friday.  It is a quiz grade.  See the bottom of this page for what I’m grading on.
·         Don’t forget that your wiki is due on Thursday.
·         Don’t forget to take your AR Test due Friday.

·         Continue working on A Whole Nother Acting Assignment.
·         Don’t forget that your wiki is due on Thursday.
·         Don’t forget to take your AR Test due Friday.

·         Continue working on A Whole Nother Acting Assignment.
·         Your wiki must be done by 2:40 today to get full credit.
·         Don’t forget to take your AR Test due Friday.

·         You’ll be acting out your chapter today.  You won’t have prep time. Come to me prepared!
·         AR Tests must be done by 2:40 today to get full credit.
·         Something to think about… “My favorite villain was _____________, because ____________.”

Grading A Whole Nother Acting Assignment:
I will be looking for…

·         Accurate summary of the chapter.
·         A script handed to me before you start with a Flow Map stapled to the back.
·         3-5 minutes
·         Everyone involved.
·         Group cooperation.
·         Creativity (including props and costumes)

Weeks 5 and 6

·         Now that your wiki is done, I want your journals to make sure you did all six entries.  You have till tomorrow to give them to me.
·         You are going to write a paragraph about your favorite villain in the story.  Remember to use the 3-point paragraph structure that we’ve been working on all year long.  Refer to your paragraph notes.  Your final copy will be due on Thursday.  Staple in this order: final, rough draft with 3 proofreaders, Bubble Map (not required to be on Thinking Map software).   By now, you are familiar with my expectations on paragraphs, but if you have a question, please ask.  This is a test grade.

·         If you didn’t give me your journal yesterday, then you need to turn it in today.
·         We’ll spend most of our time talking about roller coasters.
·         Villain Paragraph due on Thursday.

·         Now, we’ll talk about plot hills.  See the handout I’ll give in class.
·         Don’t forget about the paragraph due tomorrow.  Yes, I’ll take it today if it’s complete.

·         I’m collecting paragraphs first thing.
·         Today, I’m going to read you a story, and we’re going to put the major events on a plot hill.
·         Your homework due Monday… “In my opinion, the 5 most important events of AWNS are…” Put it on notebook paper.

Station Day!

·         We will put the major events of AWNS on a plot hill.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do.  Maybe we’ll use this as an overflow day.  Maybe I’ll come up with another assignment.  One thing is certain.  You will no longer need your copy of AWNS in class after Thanksgiving.

You will have a Plot Hill Quiz on Friday, December 2.

You can find our wiki site at
You can email me at

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Last week, I had my kids act out their favorite scene in a book we just finished.  It took a few days of planning, script writing, and practicing, but in the end their final product was very well done.  I was proud of them.

One of my boys was sick for half the planning phase.  His mom and I agreed to give him an alternate assignment.  I just came across Toontastic in my reading and gave him the option of using it to create a comic.

I loved it!  He drew pictures and included some stock clip art.  The items in his comic could move around a bit, and he recorded his voice to tell the story.  Since he was the first one to do it, he also had the joy of shining for a few moments as his classmates watched him.  I can't wait to get other kids involved in Toontastic!

The app is free, but some features of it are not.  For instance, his stock clip art cost money.  I think Mom said it was a dollar for three characters.  You can draw your own background or buy one if you're so inclined.  The money is a bit of a drawback to me.  So far, I like to play with free (and completely free) apps.  I won't even download a full version of Angry Birds!

Another feature I liked was the plot hill.  When you create your own cartoon, you are automatically put into a plot hill to help with your planning. Of course, if a kid doesn't understand plot hills, it means nothing.  Since today's reading lesson is about plot, this fits perfectly with what I do in class.

The app comes with an option to post your comic to the rest of the Toontastic community, but -- and I love this -- you need Mom and Dad's permission to do this.

In the end, based on this one experience, I suggest putting Toontastic to work in your classroom.

Technology Integrators (#3)

Here we go... Week 3!

Who has time to read books these days?  Papers to grade, lessons to plan, a family to be with, a house to tend to, constant reading on the web about new technology, and the occasional Hanging With Friends, books take a back seat these days.  Turns out that Cool Cat Teacher has time to read a book once in a while, which amazes me.  From what I've read, she's one busy woman!  Anyhow, below is a link to her review of The End of Molasses by Ron Clark.  Sounds interesting.  I wonder if I had the energy to pull some of this stuff off.  One ding against me is that I'm too monotone in my presentation.  That's just me, folks. I'm not an animated kinda guy (unless I'm talking about my Eagles).  Anyhow, stand on a chair, wear your suit, and read this book.  (Hint: My birthday is coming up soon.)

So, apparently, there's a sixth grade kid out there who's developing iPad and iPhone apps.  Did I read that correctly?  This is a link to an article which is primarily a video.  Here is a one-of-a-kind kid.  In my 18 years of teaching elementary kids, I haven't seen too many of them with this kind of presence.  How cool would it be to see our students creating apps that could be used in real life?  Are your students at the place where they can do this?  Mine aren't.  I'm not.

Do you use Skype in your classroom?  How do you use it?  I like how this teacher fought to get Skype installed on his computer is using it frequently.  Notice that he has his children think of good questions to ask before the session so they don't just stare at the screen.  My only experience with Skype in the classroom was from the other side of the webcam.  My wife and I were in Seoul, South Korea, to adopt our daughter.  We Skyped both our classes when our daughter was in our arms.  What a cool way to bring the joy of adoption into the eyes and minds of the students.  However, I have yet to use Skype to align with the curriculum as this teacher has.  Tell me your experiences!

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Here's a graphic that is best left looked at rather than explained... except to say that it proves that education as we know it is changing.  My two-year old daughter is going to learn totally differently than I did.  Am I ready for it? Is her school ready for it?

Ever heard of the Khan Academy? If not, you probably didn't click the link above.  While the previous link praised the Khan Academy and similar new tools in education, this article scoffs at it.  What?!? The premise of the article is that schools require kids to learn knowledge that does not connect to their real life with the only goal is extrinsic awards. With Khan, we're merely flipping when things get done, but the nature of school never changes.  What will constitute real change is getting kids learning about topics they want to learn about and get excited to learn about.

I'm on the fence with this one.  Yes, extrinsic awards to learn things that no one is interested in is a bummer of a way to learn.  Yes, it would be great if everyone was excitedly interested in everything we did in class.  There is a middle ground here where the educators know what the kids need to learn, even if they don't want to learn it.  Sometimes we learn through enduring the boring lessons of prepositions.

I just put this web site in my bookmarks.  It gives apps based on your teaching goal.  Simply find the goal that aligns with your objective, click it, and see what apps are available.  Splendid!

I just added this one to my bookmarks as well.  This breaks down the apps into themes, multiple intelligences (haven't heard that one since grad school), and Bloom.  With 1300 apps on there, you're sure to find something.

Here is an interesting blog entry.  Basically, they are pitting one app versus another in various categories.  I haven't explored these, but they must be good to make it to the blog.  With only one response, this guy would probably feel good getting a few comments.  Give it a whirl.

I sent this link to my science teaching partner.  He loved it and pointed out that they cover a multitude of subjects.  I'll have to bookmark it and look at it when I need a new app.

Here is a professional development course you can take to hone your iPad skills.

Well, that's all I have time for today.  I need to get my room ready for tomorrow and brave the elements for carpool duty.  Have a great day!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Technology Integrators (#2)

As I research and read articles, my goal is to type up a short summary of the articles I read and post them here.  There's a lot to wade through, but maybe this weekly post can be a way to keep you from spending a lot of research time too.  So, sit back and enjoy.

This article has been sitting in my email inbox for a few weeks.  The wonderful folks down under in Victoria, Australia, compiled a list of lesson ideas using apps that foster higher level thinking.  Rather than me give you a summary of each idea, just go on the link and see for yourself.  There are ideas for just about any discipline.

I'm catching up on my reading.  When I see an article that I think will be beneficial to my research, I email it to my inbox so I can read it at a more convenient time.  I figure that I'll eventually read it and put it in this section of my blog, forever enshrining it in my research.  I find that a lot of these articles are merely summarizing the wonders of the iPad and how it will transform education.  They offer very little in terms of HOW it will or specific IDEAS of how I can use it in my room.  Ho hum!  I almost linked one to this blog, but why waste your time?

Here is another great piece of writing coming from Victoria, Australia, this one talking about planning what your 1:1 classroom and school will look at.  I like this quote. "We should not be mapping the use of new technologies onto old curricula, rather, we need to rethink our curricula and pedagogies in the light of the impact that we know technologies can have on learning and meaning-making in contemporary times."

It turns out that someone adjusts Bloom's Taxonomy. Did you know that? How did it escape me? Anyhow this article is #5 in a six part series about the New Bloom's Taxonomy. Specifically this article looks at the creating (see synthesis) level. They split creativity into three levels (generating, planning, and producing). Schools do a disservice by sticking to the textbook instead of teaching them to create. What do you think of this quote?

"We are depriving ourselves of untapped resources of human ability and robbing children of their right to full development." (Quoting Bloom himself)
It deeply sickens me to think that in 2011, this still holds true. In a desperate attempt to deliver a mass consumption of content, too many of our nation's schools are requiring teachers to do little more than parrot published materials. Occasionally, these resources do provide opportunities for students to critique ideas, but rarely do they intend to foster creative thought.

This article continues by giving a handful of iPad apps that can be used to evaluate students' creative level on the taxonomy.  It even gives 10 criteria to look for in an creating app.  I plan to use this list extensively.

I have been using Wikispaces in my class for years.  It started with a country wiki project for my sixth graders.  They each studied a separate country, and we built a wiki site dedicated to the countries they studied.  As the years progressed, the wiki grew and was modified to address changes in the countries.  Now, I'm at a new school, and I'm using Wikispaces again.  This time, my fifth graders posted Native American facts on the wiki and are also using it to post journal entries for a book they read in Language Arts class.  Eventually, I would like to use this area to build something similar to the country wiki I had at my previous school.  We'll just see where our curriculum goes.  You access my current wiki here, but I no longer have access to my old account.

The fine people at Wikispaces wrote up an article about Project-Based Learning.  In it, they mention Edutopia, which I'm finding is a pretty good site for educators to hop onto every once in a while.

Speaking of wikis, here's a wiki site from the Palm Beach School District, listing all sorts of apps that they use in their schools.  I LOVE this quote... "Technology has been completely transparent to the Net Gen. 'It doesn't exist. It's like the air,' said Coco Conn, cofounder of the Web-based Cityspace project. MIT's Dr. Idit Harel, a professor of epistemology, agreed: 'For the kids, it's like using a pencil. Parents don't talk about pencils, they talk about writing. And kids don't talk about technology—they talk about playing, building a Web site, writing a friend, about the rain forest. . .To them, technology is like the air,'" (Don Tapscott, Grown Up Digital)
This page is for the elementary apps, but there are apps for middle school and high school too.  I'll bookmark this page for future use.  

I think that's enough for one week.  I'll keep reading and sharing with you.  In the meantime, tell me what good stuff you're finding out there.

Monday, November 7, 2011

iPads and Parenting

I'm a father of a toddler.

I have an iPad.

This article made me stop and think.

Let's back up about a decade.  I was nearing the end of my Master's courses and it was time to think about a thesis topic.  They said to pick something that interested me, because I would spend a lot of time learning about it over the next year.  This was the time in education when schools would plop computers in the classroom and tell teachers to use them... with little guidance after that.  So, to me it was a natural fit.  How can I effectively integrate technology in the way I teach?  If you've been a student of mine since then or have had a student go through my class, you'll know that I attempt to use technology in many ways in the classroom.  Some attempts are a success, and some are failures.

Anyhow, one aspect of my research that stuck with me showed that technology for little kids (1st grade and younger) can be bad.  Young children think concretely, and they can't quite comprehend what's going on when images pop up on the screen and disappear and such.  Another concept was the idea of "screen time."  Parents are wise to limit the amount of "screen time" a child has per day, whether it be on the computer, playing video games, or watching TV.

I'm not telling you how to parent your children.  I'm just giving you some nuggets that I've learned.

Enter my new job and the iPad they handed me this summer.  Soon we'll be rolling out the iPads with the kids and using them in our instruction.  I've had an iPad since July, and Ava (that's my daughter) loves it.  When she sees the iPad, I can guarantee two things.  One, I'll hear the words Daddy, iPad, couch, and Elmo repeatedly.  Two, she will go lay on the couch as she's yelling them.  I've downloaded a few Ava-friendly apps (including an Elmo alphabet app) that she loves!  I set the timer for 10-15 minutes, and we snuggle on the couch as she plays with the iPad, going from Elmo to talking animated animals, to drawing apps, to Brain Pop, to the occasional Angry Birds.  She has become very good at navigating on that machine, knowing the function of the home button and how to adjust the volume.

Does this make me a bad dad?  Am I ruining my daughter's ability to think and reason?

This all started because of physical therapy.  For some exercises she needed to be "engaged" in an activity, and her PT handed her his smart phone.  She loved it, so we started using the iPad as a motivation for some harder exercises.  Imagine a two-year old being forced to do the wheel barrow walk down the hall and into the living room.  It's a bit more palatable having some angry birds at the other end to walk to.  Somehow, we morphed it into couch time. 

In the end, I'm feeling pretty good about things.  She never uses the iPad alone.  In fact, I use it as a chance for some snuggle time, something that can be rare with an active toddler. Finally, her time is limited.  With almost no TV/video time in her life (except NFL games) 10-15 minutes a few times a week isn't going to be detrimental. 

How about you?  How do you handle technology at home with your kids?  

Friday, November 4, 2011

How Can I Use Technology To Do This Better?

I teach 5th grade social studies.  Our school has a gifted program which pulls kids out of social studies class.  The cutoff for that program is an IQ of 120 rather than the normal cutoff of 130.  I have ten kids in my class, but all of the top, bright, leader students are in the other class.  Having a class discussion is like pulling teeth because no one wants to talk.  We reviewed for a test today, and what should have taken 10 minutes took 30 with bored looks and noises all over the place.

Today we went over the study guide.  It's a necessary evil.  They have to have correct answers so they study the correct information.  However, it's a boring procedure.

How do I use technology to spruce it up?  Ideas?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Technology Integrators (#1)

I plan on creating a post once a week talking about the world of technology integration.  As I spend time researching and learning new things, I'll post summaries and links in my post and put it out there for everyone to learn.  Of course, in today's world, what I learn today could be old news next week, but we'll give it a go.

While I was reading about this I discovered, a site that automatically creates a newspaper based on what you are following on Twitter.  I filtered out the stuff about my favorite musicians and athletes and landed with this.  Tell me what you think?  It changes each day.  So, bookmark, subscribe to it, and check back often.

Cool Cat Teacher is an amazing teacher/integrator.  Read her Daily Paper at

How can you stop lecturing and start students doing projects that promote learning instead?

Here is an article on why you should join Twitter too. Let's face it.  With today's Internet, we're all networking more and more.  Twitter is a place where today's educational technology integrators are meeting.  Read more at

Speaking of networking, here is an article talking gathering together teachers, administrators, and students to work together to create a technology plan that can work.  It also mentions the need for using such social networks as Facebook and Twitter in the regular classroom.

How are you using technology in your classroom?  There are three models you can choose from: doing old things in old ways, doing old things in new ways, or doing new things in new ways.  Guess how the author thinks you should be doing things.

Technology integration in elementary school?  Can we use blogging, video penpalling, and podcasts to help the kids learn.  I mean.... the kids doing these things, not necessarily the teacher.  See how one school district in South Carolina is doing this effectively.

Let's end with a question.  What are your thoughts on this tweet I just read?
"Kids are not only consuming information, they are producing it. And our classrooms need to reflect that. (ClaudiaCostin)

Thanks for reading.  Let me know what you want me to cover, and I'll try to find it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Geocaching in Education

I'm writing this post as a favor to another educator who asked me about using geocaching as a teacher.  Let me start this post by being flat out honest.  I've never used geocaching in the regular classroom.  A few years ago, I did a geocaching week as an enrichment course in the summer.  This post is bringing together some research I found and my experiences as a cacher.

First, for the caching newbie, here is a quick video to show you what I'm talking about.

Now that you know what geocaching is, let's think about the lessons we can teach using geocaching.

The most obvious lesson learned is about latitude and longitude, but this may actually be a hard concept to teach through caching.  When out in the field, I don't think about my position on the earth.  I follow an arrow to the spot.  Latitude and longitude don't play out in how I cache, per se.
We can also learn about satellite technology and triangulation through geocaching. This would be a great way to explore HOW GPS receivers work.
There are plenty of other areas to explore through caching:

  • Ecology: You learn to appreciate the surroundings you're in.
  • Creativity:  See the video below for creative caches.  Even if you don't get that crazy with the creativity, good cachers will find ways to camouflage their containers.
  • Physical Fitness: You can cache in such ways that you never have to stray far from your car, or you can stretch yourself.  There are caches that require miles of hiking, climbing, caving, swimming, and more.  Some of my favorite cache finds involved some serious physical exertion, but you feel a sense of accomplishment when you're done.
  • World Geography:  Using geocoins, you can track items as they travel around the country and the world.  We dropped a coin off in Seoul, South Korea, and watched it as it traveled back to us in the States. 

Geocaching is an incredible way to teach problem solving.  Puzzle caches are chock full of logic questions ending with the reward of a cache at the end of the puzzle.  I love creating puzzle caches, so look me up here.  You'll see some cool puzzles that I've created.  Then, look up my friend Sled Dog. He's my puzzle cache mentor.

There are some hindrances to geocaching as a normal "classroom" activity.

  • By rule, caches are not allowed to be on school campuses.  So, even though a lot of schools have plenty of great hiding places, cachers may not hide caches there.  That means traveling off campus.
  • While I've never had a serious injury caching, there are plenty of safety concerns: travel, hiking, falling, bee stings, poison ivy.  
  • Time is another issue.  You can't fit a caching run into an hour long period.  You need more time to get the full fun of the activity.
How can you make it happen? 
  • There is nothing stopping you from placing your own caches on your school campus and not post them online.  You can even have the students hide them in groups one day and have the rest of the class find them another day.
  • I once did an intro to caching talk and hid caches in the conference room where we met.
  • Why not start a caching club that meets after school one day a week?
Want more info?  Read up on these links.

Friday, October 28, 2011

iPad Discipline

I just sent my first iDiscipline email.  Boy #1 emailed me an assignment from his iPad.  Just as the email rolled in, I saw him leaning over and tapping another kids iPad.  I shot back an email, "Stopping messing with Boy #2's iPad."  Fun!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tech committee meeting 10/26/11

We had our first Tech Team meeting yesterday to discuss the future of the technology program at our school.  Here are some questions and concerns that popped up during our talk. 

Apparently, some of our high school students are using their iPads for non-educational use during class.  You know... goofing off.  Of course, like passing notes in class, it's not exactly easy to monitor such things while doing everything that a teacher needs to do in class.  Right now the mindset with the teachers is that students will learn to sink or swim with the technology: learn to use it as a toy or a tool, but learn the hard way.  However this all begs a question.  Is there a way to monitor these things?  What techniques are there to "catch students red-handed"?  

More and more teachers at our school are building their own web sites, using whatever platform they want to build it from.  Personally, I use Google Sites, which I find incredibly easy to use.  Some of my colleagues use Weebly, which they claim is incredibly easy to use.  The problem is that parents find themselves having to check multiple web sites for various things.  We are starting the search for a program/web site/app that will handle as much as possible of the following things -- administrative tasks, lesson plans, grade, classroom web sites, parent notices, teacher emails, etc.  What's out there that's good?  What does your school use?

What is the best method for turning work in paperlessly?  If we created a school-wide consistent method what would it be?  Have you played with iCloud enough to know if it works well?  Would you use Dropbox?  My colleague likes SugarSync.  Are you familiar with that?

We're also looking at creating a three year technology plan.  Where does one start with that?  It seems hard to make a plan when we don't know what technology we'll be looking at in three years or what teachers and students will be able to do in three years.  Of course, creating a plan is a whole lot better than letting each teacher decide what cool project they are going to do with the kids.  This isn't entertainment.  It's training our students to be lifelong learners and technology users.  

How do we convince teachers who are overworked and undertrained to use their iPads to the fullest so the students use their iPads?  

Finally, what is one site that needs to be unblocked at school so I can be the best technology collaborator possible?  I'm thinking it's Twitter, but believe it or not, there are some Blogger pages I can't open.  I'm going to fight battles one at a time.  What should be my first one? 

I'm sending out my questions, hoping that some collaboration can happen with tech leaders outside these walls.  Maybe you can't answer them all, but I'd love to hear anything you have on the topics.

Thanks for your help.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Fun Use of Wikis

This was my fifth graders' first use of wiki technology as writers.  I'm quite proud of them.  Check it out!

Friday, October 7, 2011


This may seem to be a simple use of the iPad, but you gotta start somewhere.  Behold!  My kids drew pictures of their favorite scenes from Hatchet.  Then, they took my iPad2 and took pictures of their pictures.  Fun stuff!