Friday, May 20, 2011

Tech Integration in the Classroom - A Balanced Approach

After a lot of hard work, today our five year old kindergarten classes invited family, friends and other classrooms to visit their rooms as they showcased their Wisconsin Habitat projects. I am so proud of all the work the students, teachers, families, and buddy classes did on their projects. As I walked into the classroom, I was immediately drawn to the habitats they created, full of all the animals they studied, and I walked from room to room admiring the student's work. Additionally, in one room, a student eagerly read me their animal report, while in another, parents and students were busy watching the digital stories we put together of the student's work. In yet another room, parent's were taking pictures of their child's part in the digital story along with pictures of the animals and habitats.

My point is that this was a perfect example of the balance of technology in the classroom. It was so worthwhile for the students to create their habitats and animals in 3D out of tactile materials, while it was also valuable to everyone to watch a video compilation of each child's animal report. We are tactile people who enjoy employing our five senses. We love to fill our homes with objects that mean something to us and make us feel comfortable and loved. We enjoy picking out the variety of clothes we wear to express our personalities, while the smells and tastes of good food is a sure draw. At the same time, we enjoy the connectivity, information potential and visual/audio aspects of technology. The balance between all of it is what makes us a whole person and the same is true for education.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Descriptive Writing - Word Choice

Our school uses the 6+1 Writing Framework to teach our students writing strategies. Recently, I focused on word choice, or descriptive writing, with my second grade students. The goal was to paint a picture in our minds as we write. I began the lesson with an introductory video on word choice. Afterward, I went through the video frame by frame to discuss how descriptive words were used.

The students had a good grasp of some descriptive words, but I wanted to show how to use them in sentences, so we read the book "A House for Hermit Crab" by Eric Carle. This wonderfully illustrated book uses many different adjectives and a variety of verbs to say similar things; there is almost a pattern to the writing. After each page, I would set the book down and ask the students to share the descriptive words used by the author.

Finally we were ready to try writing descriptive sentences on our own. While I used a software program that had pictures, you could also do this on paper. I modeled picking a picture of a dog and writing a very simple sentence: "I saw a dog." I then wrote a second, more descriptive sentence underneath: "A fierce-looking dog growled at me as I scurried by." The students were instructed to do the same, find a picture, write a simple sentence and then a more descriptive one. Depending on the time remaining in class, some students wrote a third sentence, some picked another picture and others edited their classmate's sentences to make them even more descriptive. We ended the class with an oral sharing of each student's sentences.

Additional class periods were spent writing a story using the descriptive words found in the book, and any other words the students thought of. The word list is here. Since we have Microsoft Word in our classroom, the students used the highlighting feature to identify their descriptive words. This was a wonderful self-editing tool as some of them saw that they did not have many descriptive words. They also had to evaluate all their words to decide if they were descriptive or not. We ended this unit with our collaborative stories that I have previously written about.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Observation Checklist

I spend a lot of my classtime walking around the room helping and observing students, a great way to do formative assessment in the moment. In the past, I used a checklist to keep track of different things, like who has finished what and were the students on task. During my Assessment and Differentiation class, I decided that my project would be to improve this form so that it could be used during project based learning activities to assess many different areas.

My internet search provided me with a lot of individual checklists; and while they listed excellent skills to assess, I wanted a whole-class form. In the end, I am back to the same format I used to use, however I now have a more specific purpose for the form. Each day I will decide what I want to assess such as specific content skills, on-task behavior, who finishes when (for differentiation purposes), who works independently without a lot of support, who answers others questions, and who asks a lot of questions. My main means of documentation will be a 1,2,3 rating system, though I could also use codes to help me distinguish if the off-task behavior was for talking (T), or paying too much attention to others (B), or maybe they didn't understand what to do (U). For the 1.2,3 rating system, 1 is the learning stage, 2 is the practicing stage and 3 is automatic stage. In the short class periods I have, I was given the advice to mark the 1's and 3's first, and everyone else is a 2.
21st Century skills can more easily be assessed if I list them on my checklist. Ultimately, as I learn more specifics about my classes, I can provide for differentiated assignments based on what data I am collecting with this checklist. Even though I am a specials teacher and see 20 classes a week, this checklist can easily be adapted for use in the classroom to assess all the skills mentioned above, plus many more. If you would like to try this checklist, you may download it here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Engaged Learning & 21st Century Skills

For me, the 21st Century Skills of Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Communication go hand in hand with engaged learning. I am lucky enough to be a part of our school's project based learning team, a team of very dedicated teachers who are working together to provide meaningful, engaged learning experiences for our students. We presented a video of our journey this year to our school board last night, which you can view below.

As you can see, engaged learning and the 4 C's go hand in hand, and often overlap. No where in the video did you see students sitting in rows, listening to a lecture or completing a worksheet. One of my goals for next year is to continue to structure lessons that do not center around whole group lecture, and model this for other teachers. I plan to accomplish this through better lesson design, small group instruction, providing a variety of resources such as what Kathie Nunley does in her classroom, and finally, by referencing the list I started on what to do instead of a worksheet or lecture. I would love it if you could add your thoughts to this list as well!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Collaborative Story

Currently, I am working with the technology teacher at Van Meter Elementary school in Van Meter, Iowa to have our second grade students create a collaborative story using Each week our classes add a page to the story and we have just finished our first one.

This has been a wonderful experience on many levels. First, the students were very excited to be able to create a story with this website. Second, they were even more interested in seeing what the other class wrote each week! They are also proud of what we accomplished. We had just finished a descriptive writing unit and tried to apply those same guidelines to our pages of the book. We can now share it with our parents and school. has many applications in the classroom in addition to working with another school. You can use it in a reading center, having different students add pages to the story. The students can also do one with their parents. I even have two classes in our school doing one together. Storybird lets you set up a class and even create assignments for your students if you would want to use it on an indivdual basis. Whatever way you use it, your students will really enjoy the colorful, expressive pictures and story possibilities!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Digital Story Book Report

Last week I found a great website via Twitter that lists 150 Book Report Alternatives and today we started one in my class using Photo Story. Since we don't have recording capabilities in our lab, we are only using pictures, words and music to tell our "story". Today was Day One and it was a fantastic class! The students came in with a graphic organizer of their story already completed. We reviewed my example Photo Story to discuss the mistakes I had made and suggestions for how to fix them. We also reviewed how to spread a sentence out over more than one picture as I don't want this to be text heavy. After a final quick review of some PhotoStory particulars, the students were off.

It was a pleasure to watch the student engagement for the rest of class! They had a choice of finding and saving clip art pictures or using (a safe, copyright-free image website). Even though they had all read the same story, they are picking such vastly different pictures that each digital story will be unique. They were collaborating with each other as they evaluated whether a picture would "work" and they gave each other suggestions for finding pictures. Next week we will finish finding pictures and start adding words. I am eager to see the continued critical thinking that will happen as they try to limit their words, yet get their point across.

Pair Share

I am always tring to find ways to engage most if not all of my students during the short "teaching time" I begin all my classes with. One suggestion from my principal was to try "Pair Share". I prefer to let the students tell me what they already know about what we are doing, especially since we meet only once a week and need to start with a review of what we learned last week. When I ask them, I usually get a few hands up and often the same ones. With pair share, the students turn to their designated partner (we have established this beforehand) and discuss whatever it is I ask.

After they discuss together, I then ask the entire class the question. Below you can see the response I now get! By having all students participate in a discussion with another student, they are all engaged and they also feel more confident in raising their hand to answer my question.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Create Your Own Avatar with My Avatar Editor

This is a cross post from my guest post on

Working in the primary grades, I am always on the look-out for creative, no-account-required, Web 2.0 websites that are also kid-friendly. One that I have found to be very successful for all grades is My Avatar Editor. This website allows you to create a customized avatar based on the Mii characters of the Wii game system, and that in itself brings excitement for the students! It is very easy to use and after a quick demonstration, the students are ready to go. After customizing your avatar, it can be exported as a .jpeg file, or a .png which allows you to remove the background – very helpful when layering objects, and is then saved as a picture in your files for future use.

What have we used My Avatar Editor for? Younger students have created themselves and posted it in their blogs (since we don’t allow their picture and name to appear together on the internet). Older students have created a cast of characters to use in stories, projects and animations. My 1-8 students have used this independently and I am sure kindergarteners could also with some assistance saving it. In this day and age when it is so easy to copy a picture off the internet, I like to encourage students to create their own components to a project and this website makes it really easy to do so!