Archive for September, 2011

So, I’ve been thinking about student blogging and what to do differently this year. Last year I used Edublogs and each student had his or her own blog on a topic of his or her choosing. The students liked the “Blogger’s Cafe” idea and wrote some good posts. But, we never really got much in the swing of commenting or getting a wider audience for our writing, which was the point.

This year I again showed some blogs and talked about how a blog is different from a read-only web page. Students made webs of writing ideas using iThoughts on the iPads. Then, I opened the foodless cafe again.

Some students got really into the whole thing. They set themselves up with their web plans and then a laptop to write. A little over the top in the tech department, but it made people feel cool, no one else was using the iPads at the time, and people got a lot done. Works for me.

Here are a few photos.


This year though, we are starting our blogs on paper in the hallway. Everyone has a bright piece of paper as a background and will put up posts there. I have set out paper, pencils, and tape for students and teachers to leave comments. I have emailed all the teachers to encourage them to come by with their classes or independently to read and comment. The plan is to have students try out writing in public at school and then earn a digital blog as they write and comment consistently.

One student already has 2 posts up.

(Once again, I can’t seem to get the text and photos to go exactly where I want. But, enough time has been spent. Moving on.)

So, I’m thinking some more about Edmodo and the Global Read Aloud project with Tuck Everlasting. I know I just wrote about it yesterday, but I’m on a roll here.

1. Today we used Edmodo in a new way. While I read aloud, the students did some “live-blogging” on Edmodo. I made a separate group (within our just our class group) for this. In the past I have used Twiducate for this type of small commenting. Twiducate is like Twitter, but again for schools and a closed group that is created by the teacher. The main difference is that with Edmodo it is easier to reply to a comment and to see a conversation developing. Anyway, as I read aloud, students posted their reactions and thoughts.

I made sure to pause, add some thoughts myself, and reply to what the students had already posted.

Although I have done similar activities in the past it was more successful today in terms of the quality of the comments. I think this is because I have been talking with very deliberate language about “what good readers do” and sticking with a few key habits. So, for example, I have been repeating that good readers: 1. connect the book with their own experiences 2. have a conversation with the book and 3. notice details. Of course good readers do a lot of other things too, but we are focusing on these for now. I have been talking about this, but in a class discussion I can’t have everyone contribute enough for me to see all that going on. Using Edmodo and live-blogging, everyone can practice these habits simultaneously. I can look over the conversation somewhat at the time, but then can go over the entire thing later to check for quantity and quality of contributions.

2. We had another skype conversation with the school outside Atlanta. We resisted the urge, just barely, to gloat about the Phillies ruining the Braves’ playoff hopes. I think it was another good conversation. Here’s why. First, I was not involved much at all. Second, the students were agreeing and finding common understanding (while having a good time) about academic ideas with people from another school. And, finally they left school bragging about what we did today.

3. I’m thinking now about a unit that I introduced last year might be a great option for a Global Read Aloud type thing. I already checked with Pernille Ripp who organized the GLA about suggesting my idea in the teacher group. She’s totally fine with it, by the way. I’m going to get myself organized a little more and then put my plan out there.

I think the horse is out of the barn now.

So, I’ve been wanting to get my students participating in learning with other students outside our school walls. Last year students had individual blogs and we worked on a little this and that. This year I am once again committing myself, and my class by extension, to more outside-our-walls experiences.

One of the first things we are doing is participating in the Global Read Aloud project (the Tuck Everlasting version). I have to say I was hesitant to participate because we already have Tuck in our curriculum at the end of the year where it is connected to some projects that I can’t really move. However, I decided to go ahead and read it out loud now and then have the students read it independently later. It is such a well-crafted and intricate book that I think we will be able to talk about all the hints and foreshadowing when we read it a second time, since we will know the plot already. At least that’s what I’m saying now.

Anyway, we have joined the Edmodo group for the project (I will really have to write about Edmodo too. I am loving it.) and just finished the first week of reading and commenting. A few of the kids are really enthusiastic contributors, others are lurkers. There are so many people in the group it’s a little overwhelming sometimes. One of the things we have done is made glogs on glogster (also a great too) and put them into the Edmodo group. This is now super easy to do as there is an “edmodo this” button on glogster.

One student came in and announced that she had a great conversation with someone about Tuck online the night before, “she’s my new best online friend! We’re going to watch the same move on the weekend.” Another student volunteered that she had been having a conversation with one person and then someone else joined in. Then on Friday we skyped with a class outside Atlanta, Georgia who is also participating. The kids had a great time talking about the book with other students.

I will be the first to admit the conversation is not very high level at the moment. It is a first taste of participating in an academic community that is beyond our walls. It is purposeful, age-appropriate, engaging, safe, and global.

We’re on our way.

So, I’ve been thinking about what kind of teacher I am. There are lots of option here. Some folks go for the grandmother or avuncular role. Others do the absent-minded professor thing. There are the mean/scary teachers and the cool teachers.

The thing is, what if the way you see yourself is different from the way others see you or at least the way you are used to seeing yourself? Because, really, who isn’t a little of all of those things, depending on the day?

I’m not old enough, yet, to do the grandmotherly thing. And even though I’m getting more white hair all the time, I’m keeping it covered in purple for now. My personal kids are too young for me to go that route yet. It’s just not me. Next. I’m too convinced that organization and structure are important for learning to commit to the absent-minded professor deal. Well, that and I think teaching 10 and 11 year olds is best done when not absent-minded. The mean option is not really for me either, although there are those rumors out there that suggest otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I can get mad, but I just have no desire to be that way all the time, nor do I think it is necessary. Even when I taught in the Chicago Public School system at a school that had a hard time getting substitutes to come there, I didn’t find it effective to attempt to be mean all the time.

Sunglasses That leaves me with cool. The problem is I have never, ever been cool. As soon as there was cool and uncool, I was uncool. When I was in school I was sure I was the most uncool. Upon further reflection, I think there was one person were a few people who were even less cool than I was. Even so, I certainly was not in the cool crowd. Yet I have heard from more than a few parents that their students think I am cool. (I guess if you stay in the grade long enough you get to be cool?) Sometimes it’s the shoes that get me the votes. I have a problem, ok I admit it. Sometimes it’s that I know what happened in the Phillies (or whoever) game last night. (I do like baseball, can keep up with the major football highlights, used to really like hockey, can be convinced to watch a little soccer, and have no interest whatsoever in basketball.) The fact that I really like to use technology and try new things on the computers goes over well with others. It might be the book suggestion or shared favorite, maybe even a comment about a very fluffy TV show. For some it’s that I use examples from my life as a kid, student, parent, and person to help illustrate my points. Ant then there are those for whom I’m just not their cup of tea. I have been teaching too long to think everyone will like me.

What all of this means, I think, is not that I am cool. That’s just a catch-all word. What it means, I hope, is that my students feel that I have interests that might intersect with theirs. (I’m a decent faker about a lot of interests. All those trivia facts that are cluttering my head come in handy sometimes. I am not at all above pretending to have more interest in a topic than I actually have.) It means that they feel that I am sharing who I am as a person with them and speaking and interacting with them in a respectful way. I think it is important for it to be clear who the adult in the room is; so,it does not mean that we are peers, but we are colleagues.

In the end, whatever cool factor I might have attributed to me,whether I believe it or not, needs to be reflected back on each student individually so that every person in the room believes that I think he or she is interesting and that I am interested, cool or not.

(photo by Dottie Mae, used under creative commons license)

So, I’ve been thinking about this great idea I found on WhatEdSaid’s blog. It’s ok, she won’t mind. She even said so on her initial post. Anyway, here’s how she ended her post:

But how about planning a one day ‘conference’ on a theme that’s relevant to everyone? Or a grade level ‘conference’ day as a provocation for a new unit of inquiry?  What do you think? Can you help me develop the idea further?

Then another teacher took the idea and ran with it. I read that post too. Then I got to thinking about how I like conferences and wouldn’t it be great to do this. I got my grade level team interested and we were off. Well, not off quickly, but it was towards the end of the year and we were knee-deep in projects. But, this Wednesday, day 11 of the school year with back to school night the next day, we did it. We had a conference for the 5th grade.

It was fantastic and exhausting!

Our topic was: Who owns history? There were 3 sessions times, each with a theme: misinterpretation, artifacts, and story. During each session time there were 3-4 options for students. On Monday we introduced the idea to the students and they registered online using this google form. On Tuesday we finalized the groups and logistics, oh and finished planning all our sessions. When students arrived on Wednesday they went to the “registration table” to sign in and get their personalized session schedules and name tags just like at a real conference.

There are 3 sections and 56 students in fifth grade this year. For each session students mixed and remixed as they moved around. Some sessions were bigger than others and all could have used more time, but there was enthusiasm to spare and good learning happening too. As we had planned and organized sessions, we made sure that the big ideas we wanted to get across under each theme could come out in each class.

My personal sessions were as follows:

  • In Session 1: Misinterpretations– who is the hero and who is lost?
  • In Session 2: Artifacts–Egyptian artifact role play. Where do the artifacts belong?
  • In Session 3: Story–How can buildings and plants tell a story?
So, in session 1 I read a great book called Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. In it the boy finds a penguin at his door, goes to great length to return it to the south pole only to discover that the penguin was not lost, just lonely. We talked about how artifacts are mute, like the penguin, and cannot tell us how they were used or how old they are. Instead we must make inferences, which are sometimes wrong. We then went back and reread the book taking turns to “speak” for the penguin as different points in the story. I also read The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich.  In this book there is another misunderstanding. The hermit crab, while using half of an action figure for a shell, is mistaken for a hero who saves the flounder from a lobster trap. In this case, the misunderstanding is never corrected. We talked about how there could be all sorts of information we might read or see in museums or books that could turn out to be incorrect.
In session 2 I guided the students in a role play activity. Using symbaloo (which I have written about here) I collected links to various news articles about Egyptian artifacts from the past 10 years. (You can link to an active page here.)Most were not too long and addressed issues ranging from calls for the return of Egyptian artifacts to Egypt, to concerns about looting and security in Egypt, to the money brought in by big traveling exhibits, and the money spent by museums to keep up their collections. Students took on one of 4 roles: US Museum director, European Egyptologist, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, or Egyptian citizen. Then each group used the webmix to read and collect information, form an option, and back it up. We came together at the end to share ideas and “discuss” the issue from a given point of view. There is a lot to think about on this topic. Students only got a taste of the issue, but we can come back to this when we study Egypt later in the year.
In session 3 I again read some picture books to get to the point. I shared this book first: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. It is new and not only beautiful, but has a lovely message. Grandpa Green is a gardener and as the story of his life is told the background is always of hedges and bushes cut into forms to illustrate the events. The final sentence says that although Grandpa Green is getting old and forgets things, “the important things the garden remembers for him.” At that point there is a double fold out page that shows the entire garden: a series of topiary scenes of his life. (At this point I try not to get weepy.) Students then had a chance to read one of two books. Angelo by David Macauley is about a plaster repairer in Italy. Angelo has never been a fan of pigeons as they do damage to his buildings, but finds an injured one who he nurses back to health and befriends. Angelo begins to slow down and just finishes his repair before passing away. When the scaffolding is removed the building is spectacular and looks new. However “only one thing truly was”–a nest that he has made out of plaster that says above it “per Sylvia, grazie, A.” (More potential for weeping here.) Here we see a building telling the story that the founders had in mind (stories of saints etc) and now having an additional story of Angelo and Sylvia added to it. Another grous read Tin Lizzie by Peter Spier . It is about a 1909 Model T Touring car and the families who live and work with it.

We ended with a quick gathering to share thoughts, show the students the evaluation form that we emailed to them to fill out, and to celebrate an exciting morning.

I was so exhilarated by the morning (that and a bit ragged). Once I go through the responses to the evaluation form I will share some highlights or lowlights as the case may be. I think the overall feeling of the morning was very positive. Next up, student led sessions, outside experts, TED talks, and new topics!

What new ideas have you heard or read about and then borrowed?

Class Visitors

Posted: September 18, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about what happens when visitors are in the classroom. On Wednesday I had visitors from outside the school.

Dr. Thomas Lickona from SUNY  Cortland’s Center for the 4th and 5th Rs came with a student of his from Japan. They were coming to look at the character education program at our school. Several years ago I wrote an article (it’s towards the end of the issue, you have to scroll down a few pages) for the newsletter that The Center puts out. What he was coming to see our class work on our class compact. This is a document that we create together that guides our actions. It is divided into two big categories: things we do so that students can to their best, most creative work, and things we do so that students can feel welcome, safe, and respected. Under each of these categories we have the following sub-categories: students will, students will not, teacher will, teachers will not. For the visual learners out there, this is what the blank document looks like:

Our visitors watched and listened while we reviewed some general behavior type stuff that we had already talked about and then as we worked on our compact. Our work was divided into two parts: the brainstorming part and the editing or trimming part.

I set up 8 stations around the room with one of the 8 sections of our compact at each station. Students worked in pairs or threes for 3-5 minutes. Then each group rotated to the next table, adding ideas to each list. We did this 3 or 4 times. Then we talked about how to edit down to a short, manageable, reasonable list. (Easier said than done, as it turned out.) Students rotated another few times working to edit each list. Finally we came together to write a draft of our shared document.

The point here is that it was not exactly a quiet activity. There was talking and moving and debating. This was all part of my plan. I am not really about passivity. I have no interest in standing in front of a bunch of people of any age whose brain waves are flat-lining. I am never sure if others will appreciate the liveliness of the discussion, the inside jokes that we are making, or the fact that students are not really still.

What I hope visitors see is students who are talking with each other about ideas, sharing opinions, disagreeing respectfully, changing their minds, keeping with a lesson for an extended period of time, and having a decent time in the process. Even though I spent some time giving Tom the background on what he would be seeing, it’s really hard to condense even a few days of preparation into a few minutes. He’s a pro, so I am fairly confident he got it.

I guess I have a somewhat biased opinion, but I like other people to be as impressed by my students as I am.


Posted: September 10, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

So, I’ve been thinking about why I did not write any posts over the summer. It’s not like I didn’t do lots of education related stuff I could have written about. Also, I am not exactly out of old ideas that I never fleshed out into blog posts. So, here is my very weak start at catching up, while of course continuing on with new things this year.

One of the things I did over the summer was to go to the ISTE conference in Philadelphia. I will try to write about the big, serious ideas later. But, for now I thought I would post this picture of me with Moby from Brain Pop. I think this is the only picture I have of myself with a celebrity.

You just never know who you will meet at these events!