Saturday, April 28, 2012

Literally, in the nest.

Just found these amazing live videos of a Red-tailed Hawk and Great Blue Heron nest from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I'm a bit of a "bird nerd" so I could sit and watch this for hours (don't judge me). I can't wait to show my kids this on Monday, especially the RTH nest. It might be a little graphic (lots of small dead things in the nest) for some younger kids, but I really believe that if you prepare your kids for what they may or may not see, then they will not be shocked or horrified by the image on the screen. I wish I had known about this site earlier. I would have had my kids keep track of the  progress in both nests from Day 1. There is also a running chat on the right side of the page. I find it to be super distracting, so I usually switch to full screen mode.

I'd like my kids to listen carefully to what they hear. This is clearly in an urban/suburban (Ithica, NY I believe) area. So, how does that affect what is available for food? How are the chicks interacting with each other? Can you identify some of the things in the nest besides the three little chicks? What are some different ways that you could incorporate these live streams into your curriculum? Oh, gotta go, it's feeding time!

cornellhawks on Broadcast Live Free

Friday, April 20, 2012

Finding and Creating Angles with Skitch

I'm a huge fan of the Skitch IPad app. I use it all the time in school, and find it very easy for my students to use. In fact, there have been times when they have been able to show me some features that I was unaware of.

My most recent experience with the app was while we were learning about the different types of angles. To assess their new vocabulary and understanding of the different angles, I sent them out of the room in small groups to search for real examples of acute, right, obtuse and reflex angles. Each student was responsible for a different angle.

First, they would take a picture of an angle within the app. Skitch then allows the photographer to chose whether or not they want to use the photo. This is a great feature because it avoids a huge confusing stockpile of blurry images with an errant thumb halfway covering the lens. Next, the students will draw the angle using the arrow tool, tracing over the part of the image that represents their angle. It is important that the student starts drawing from the vertex of the angle, otherwise the arrows will appear to be pointing towards the vertex. Next, using the text tool, they would name the angle. Finally, I printed each photo to display on our hallway bulletin board.

My students thoroughly enjoyed this activity, and were very creative with what they chose to represent their respective angles. Here are just a few examples of what they were able to produce.


Sunday, March 11, 2012


     We are about to embark on what I hope will be a wonderful excursion into the world of artistic pictorial writing prompts. As always, my students and I are going to experiment with a new (for us) Web 2.0 tool. This one has been around for a little bit. Storybird is an excellent site that provides amazing artwork with the intention to inspire creative writing. As writing teachers, we've been using writing prompts for ages, but usually it's just a simple sentence or maybe a single picture. Last year I provided my students with comic strips that had blank speech bubbles. Storybird takes this type of prompt to a whole new level with an extensive collection of artwork by many different artists. They've done a great job of catering to teachers by providing them with the ability to create classes, assignments, embed in websites and blogs, and the ability to collaborate and critique the stories of students in the class.

My Plan

    We start tomorrow with an introduction to the site. I always find it best to let the kids "play" a bit with sites like this. So, at first I will let them choose some artwork and create a story of their own. It will be interesting to see what they do with this freedom. I predict that they will spend most of their time combing through the immense catalog of artwork on Storybird.
      Once they select an artist, they will choose just five pictures to create a story with. Then, they will complete a five panel storyboard. After that, it's time to write the story.

I have a great deal of trepidation about this project. My eventual goal is to create books with our Kindergarten Reading Buddies. My greatest fear at the moment has to do with the artwork. Once you choose a particular artist, you are given a blank canvas to work with. The only problem is that there are about 50 different illustrations to choose from. This seems like it might be a little overwhelming for my students. I worry that 75% of the time will be spent sifting through pictures. We shall see.

     Anyone have any experience with Storybird? How do you use it? Any suggestions for how I should implement the site?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

App Shopper

     The Tech Gods have blessed me with a glorious new device. It's an Ipad. I know, some of you have had them for awhile now, I just got mine a couple weeks ago. It's amazing! I have just begun to scratch the surface of what it can do for my students. So, expect some app posts coming in the near future, but for now I'd like to introduce you to an app that is not necessarily educational.
     We can all agree that free is good, right? Well, with the app store, as with all stores, typically you get what you pay for. Yes, I know there are a million exceptions that are popping into your brain at the moment, but generally this addage is true. I have spent some of my own money on apps, and I don't regret it one bit. With that said, I also like a good bargain. That's where the AppShopper comes in.
     When I find an app that I really want, but the price is a little high, I open AppShopper, search for the app, and then add it to my wish list. If the price of that app ever drops, AppShopper sends me an email notification. If the price is right, I make it happen.

Screenshot of my current Wish List
     You'd be surprised at how much the price of different apps fluctuates over time. Sometimes they even become FREE. Just the other day I scored an app that turned free, but just for one day. I never would have picked it up without my AppShopper notification. Also, check out the App Shopper Website. They have some great RSS feeds that have very precise filters depending on what types of apps you are looking for.
     Do you have any sneaky tricks for getting the best prices for apps? Do you even pay for apps, or are you a "free app only" teacher?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Graphic Organizers

     Prewriting is such an important part of my current Writer's Workshop. In fact, I'm sure if you ask my students, they would say we spend way too much time preparing to write instead of actually writing. I appreciate their "gusto," but their final prodcut following a strong prewriting session is noticeably different than if I just let them go to it with paper and pencil (computer and Google Docs). Elementary school writers need that guidance. Adults need that guidance. I don't write anything without first jotting down some sort of outline or note about my topic. So here are some sites I use to find great Graphic Organizers. I'd say that 50% of the time I make my own though, but they are typically based on ones I have seen published.


     Hit this jackpot the other day. Tons of resources here for a number of grades. This site does a great job of tweaking standard GOs to fit your needs, no matter how specific they may be.

Graphic Organizers by John Rickey

     Good collection of basic GOs. Many of them would be great for primary grades because of the way the paper is lined.

Instant Poetry Forms

     This is sort of like Mad Libs meets poetry. Basically, you choose the type of poem you'd like to create, and then fill in the form based on the very clear parameters and directions. This site would be a great way to provide some "hurdle help" for those struggling poets who do not have the gift of free flowing verse.


     This site is a little heavy on the ads, and I can't seem to tell if the GOs are organized in any way. The quality of the GOs might be the best out of all of these sites though. When you have some time, scroll through the different pages to find what works for you. Most of these GOs are in a pdf format, but I did find some that are Word documents that you can edit to suit your needs.

Tools 4 Students-IPad

Itunes description: "25 graphic organizers for students to use to organize their thinking while reading or preparing to write. Covers all common comprehension skills: cause /effect, main idea/detail, sequence events, pro/con, story elements, characterization, word meaning, plot, KWL and much more. Save to your device and/or email. Use again and again. Project on board and collaborate with team members. Use to organize notes while reading or use them as a prewrite to school papers. Great tool for instructors as well."

     There are right ways and wrong ways to use Graphic Organizers, just as there are good times and bad times to use them as well. When you do decide to use them though, try digging around on some of these sites for some good ideas. Do you use Graphic Organizers in your classroom? If so, which ones do you use?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some new blogs to check out...

     Danny Nicholson, author of the wonderful Whiteboard Blog is hosting an "Ed Tech Blog Carnival." There are some great links to blogs that you may have never seen before. I particularly like Janet Abercrombie's idea of having her kids create news videos as an alternative to the often mundane monthly newsletter.
     Using video with kids is so much fun. At the moment, my kids are using IMovie to create Book Recommendation videos in the style of Reading Rainbow. First, I give them a very simple script to guide their recommendations via Google Docs.BookRec Template When they finish writing the script, they are required to read their script out loud at least three times. Always have kids read their writing out loud before activities such as this. Often they read write through mistakes when they are reading to themselves. When they read out loud they are forced to hear all of their little mistakes. Once they feel confident with their script, they sign up to be filmed.
     I have three pre-assigned "directors" who have been trained to be "experts" in using IMovie. Training experts for technology implementation is key to the management of this activity. In fact, whenever I introduce kids to a new tech tool, I always try to pull a couple kids aside, and train them to be "experts" with that tool. That way, when it comes time to start using our new tool, I have three kids that can bounce around the room and help others who have fallen behind or are struggling with a direction.
     My "directors" for this project take turns setting up a single laptop to film. They also create a split screen where the student being filmed can see themselves as well as their script on Google Docs. Then, the director shouts, "Quiet on the set please," the room goes silent, and the filming begins. Each book recommendation is only about one minute long, so we can usually film quite a few in a short amount of time. The last bit of editing is done by myself. I overlay an image of the book cover, upload it to YouTube, and add it to our catalog of book recommendations on our classroom website. Here's an example (Yes, we're working on trying to get Brian to slow down. You should have seen Take One. He also has one of the greatest Maine accents of all time.):

     The kids enjoy this part of our Reading Workshop and we are all trying to get better using the tools that we have to create the short videos, and their summarizing skills have increased greatly since the beginning of this project. The eventual goal will be to have a searchable database of videos that will be linked directly to our school library. So, a child could search for a book, and watch the recommendation that comes with it. What are you doing with video in your classroom? Do you use IMovie? How involved are your students in the process i.e. filming, editing, publishing?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Classroom Window

I've been looking forward to getting an email from the folks at ClassroomWindow for sometime now. Today I received an email from them announcing that they will be launching their website at the end of this week. If you haven't heard of ClassroomWindow, they are a startup out of Needham, MA that has created a website that allows users to rate and review different Ed. Tech. resources. Here's an excerpt from their website:

No one knows better than teachers what works – or doesn’t work – in the classroom. But until now there hasn’t been a way for teachers to share their expert opinions about the books, curricula, and tools they use every day.
At ClassroomWindow we want teachers to have a seat at the table. We want their voices to be heard by publishers, product developers, and district decision makers.
After all, with today's focus on student performance, shouldn't we know if teachers are being given the best tools?

Works for me! I couldn't resist the temptation to review a few "Web Tools" right away. It was very easy. You are given the space to write about what you like, a space for what you don't like, and an "overall" section for any other comments you may have. I chose to write something about Diigo and Evernote. There are not a ton of resources at the moment, but as a registered member of their site you are also able to submit resources of your own liking. I submitted a review about XtraMath, and it was up and running very quickly. I think they review your submission before it goes live.

There are character limits on everything a user writes, so you have to get used to being concise, which for me was a bit of a challenge. It should be fun to watch this site grow. ClassroomWindow is basically doing what Ed. Tech. bloggers have been doing for a while now, but they are organizing the information in a much more accessible way, and accepting reveiws by people who are actually using these resources. It's one thing to have a blogger tell you all about a "great" website, but unless they are actually using that product in their classroom, it's hard to tell how truly effective that site may be. Like I said, the site should be fully up and running by the end of the week. Check it out when it's available.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Screencasting: A Pillar of the Flipped Classroom

     This morning I presented during a technology workshop at our school about "screencasting." Over the past year, I've become a bit of a "screencast" junkie. I've made them for students, teachers and parents. I've made web page log in tutorials, math manipulative explanations, concept introductions and Holdiay Craft instructions (that last one is cinematic gold). Here's a little screencast mash-up that I made with Dragontape (the volume is a little weird in some spots because I've used different types of microphones over time). It also includes some professionals: Sal Khan and Vi Hart who have recently joined forces at the Khan Academy.

     Below is the slideshow that  accompanied my presentation, complete with helpful links and other fabulous information.

     Thank you to all of my patient participants, and I hope that you were able to take away some valuable information and tools from my presentation.

     Have you "flipped" your classroom yet? Do you want to "flip" your classroom? If so, what's your screencasting application of choice? Personally, I use Screencast-o-Matic. I don't know if it's the best, but it's the one I am most comfortable with. I even sprung for the PRO edition ($12). Their customer support is excellent as well.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Xtra Math

It never fails...every year my students come to school suffering from the "summer drip." The "drip" is especially apparent when it comes to their basic math facts. Conceptually, they understand that 5+7=12, and 3 * 9 is three 9s or nine 3s. But when it's time to sit down, get serious, and rattle off those facts like a machine gun, more often than not they can be seen sheepishly working their little "finger calculators" under the desk.
     If you have any experience with the Everyday Math curriculum, you know that time is extremely valuable, and, although there is some Math Fact practice built into the program, it's really not enough to help those students who need that daily practice that has proven to be the best way to learn math facts: daily short bursts. That's where XtraMath comes in. I can't remember where I first heard of the program (perhaps Richard Byrne, Larry Ferlazzo, or Ilearn Technology), but I started the program mid-September.
     Here's how it works. You assign the kids to a specific program. The default program is Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division. Next, they take a pre-test in their program. After that, they just log in (at home or at school) and solve the given facts as quickly as possible. The program adjusts what problems the student sees based on need. Each session takes about 5-10 minutes. The students are able to see their progress on Math Fact grid after each session. Green squares are mastered facts, yellow are facts they need to work on, and white squares mean they will get to those facts later. There's also a substantial amount of progress data for the teacher as well (the two images on the right).
     Check this program out when you get a chance. The data that this program has collected for me proves that it works. It might not be right for every student though. For example, the program qualifies mastery as getting the answer correct in less than 3 seconds. I agree with the level of proficiency, but there are some students who get very anxious when you put a timer in front of them. I would like the option to increase the mastery timing. Other than that, I have been very pleased with XtraMath. Set up is easy, so get started today.
     What do you use in your classroom for math fact practice? Flash cards? Rocket Math?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


     There seem to be more and more online mind mapping tools popping up everyday. How could you possibly have time to try them all out, and then decide which one is best for you? Sometimes it's frustrating when you just get comfortable with a particular web tool, and then you read some amazing review about the "best of the best" thing that your classroom cannot live without. Well, I strarted using Wise Mapping last year, and it really works for me. The true test will be when I have my students start using it during our Biomes Unit in Science this year.
     The video below does a good job of explaining the usefulness of this very handy Web 2.0 tool.

     For my class Read Aloud, we are reading Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby. It's a fantastic book, but the progression of events can be very confusing. There are basically three main characters: Hannah, Frederick and Giuseppe. In the beginning of the story, the chapters go back and forth, focusing on each character individually, completely separate from the other characters. As the book moves along, the characters' paths slowly converge until they are, all three, sharing the same story. The beginning can be confusing for students though. You've got three characters, each with their own collection of supporting characters. So, together we created the mind map below to help us keep everyone straight. You can zoom in and out (buttons in the bottom left-hand corner) to see different parts of the map.

     As always, I am by no means a master of this tool, but its intuitive design had me up and running in just a few minutes. The maps are easy to share and publish, and they also have a pretty sleek design. I'll let you know how things go when my students construct their own Biome maps. Like I said, that will be the true test. Until then, try this one out, or let me know what mind mapping tools you prefer.