Sunday, May 3, 2015

Once Upon a Tweet - #1uponatweet

It is time for our 3rd annual #1uponatweet!  Starting on Monday, May 4th, 2015 we will be creating a story with fellow authors from around the world.  Come join us to connect and create with others outside your classroom walls.  

Everyone is welcome to join, there is no grade or age level restrictions.  Young, old, short, tall, students, teachers, parents, etc. are all encouraged to add to the story and follow along with #1uponatweet 

#1uponatweet is a hashtag you can follow on Twitter.  We encourage everyone to add to the story in a kid appropriate manner (no inappropriate language, etc.). 

Search the hashtag to see what the latest tweet is and add to the story.  Use your classroom Twitter account or your personal one just add the #1uponatweet to the end of your tweet to have it link to the story.  

My class will start the story on Monday, May 4th.  Look for the first tweet by noon.  Search the hashtag #1uponatweet and be sure to click on "All" not "Top" to get the latest tweets for the story (see picture below).  I have found that the best way to keep the story moving forward in one direction is to pick a special time of day and try to stick to tweeting at that time.  Of course we know that things happen and the best made plans are meant to be ditched. :-) 
*You do not have to tweet everyday.

This is a great way to teach students about different story elements and genres.  My favorite part of all of this is when students connect with other students and really take ownership of their writing.  They look forward to seeing how the story is coming along each day and can't wait to add their twist to it.  I see them really start to use their imagination and creativity with this story.

There are lots of ways to do this in your classroom.  Here are just a few ideas...

#1 The Good Old Fashion: The teacher calls on students and then scribes what they are saying to create the tweet.
#2 The Democratic Process: Students give their ideas for the next line in the story and then they all vote on the one they want.
 #3 Fake Tweeting: Each student writes their fake tweet on a piece of paper (make sure it is only 127 characters) and then one is chosen to really tweet out.  
#4 Flare for the Dramatics: Use Twitter's new video feature to have students act out the next part of the story.
#5 The Vincent van Gogh: Draw the next scene and tweet the picture to the hashtag. 

Please, please, please feel free to be creative and share your part of the story any way you would like.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Paperless Assessments

It is that time of year again where we are all assessing our students in some way or another (well, that could really be any time of the year in elementary).  In First Grade we have so many little assessments that the amount of paper and the time it takes to complete the assessments can be overwhelming.  How can we do all this testing in an efficient and environmentally friendly way?  Read on...

I'm sure most lower elementary teachers would agree that because young students lack strong reading and writing skills we don't always get a true sense of what they know if we ask them to use those two skills.  For this reason I like to use videos to assess my students; videos allow students to explain what they know without the writing tripping them up or slowing them down.  This is not to say that you couldn't have students write out a script if writing is needed for the assessment.  Helpful hint: earbuds with a microphone are great to hear the students better and they help to cut out background noise when

Here is an example of a student explaining a map that she made with her team.  I am assessing wether or not the students understand map features and the directions: north, east, south and west.

This video was made in the Explain Everything app.  If you haven't used this app I suggest you take a look at it.  It is a great K-12 app that really can do it all, record your screen and voice, annotate, narrate, import and export almost anything.  My students and I use this app for a lot of paperless assessments.  

Students used this assessment to show that they understand the life cycle of an animal.  I took a picture of the worksheet and imported it into Explain Everything.  The top half of the worksheet is cropped and locked into place so students can't move it.  Then the different stages of the life cycle are cropped and added.  Students can move these pieces into the correct order.  I exported this assessment to the class Dropbox account for students to pull down to their iPads.  After completing the assessment they save it as a picture to their camera roll with the touch of 2 buttons.  Students could also record their voices describing the thought process and then save the movie to their camera roll. 

The same process described above was done here as well.  A picture of the worksheet was taken, uploaded into Explain Everything, locked into place and then saved to Dropbox for the students.  Once students have pushed down then digital assessment they simply circle the correct answer(s) and save it to their camera roll.

When students are done with their assessment I collect them electronically through a shared folder in Google Drive.  There are two ways that you can go about setting up a shared folder in Google Drive with your students; you can share a folder with them or they can share a folder with you.  Either way it works the same, age and ability may play a factor in deciding which way to do it.  The first thing you will need, no matter which way you decide to tackle this, is a Gmail Account for every student.  This will create an email for each student and will be how you share the folder with them.  Our school has given every student, K-12, an email address from the moment they enter our district (of course not everyone uses them right away).  I would suggest you talk to your Tech Department (or person) before starting this process.  

Each student has their own folder that I shared with them.
Here is a student folder with a video explaining a math problem, animal lifecycle assessment and the needs of an animal assessment. 
Another possibility for collecting paperless assessments, that doesn't require Google Accounts to be set up, would be Dropbox.  Dropbox is a storage service that lets you store anything (photos, videos, documents, etc.) and then access it from anywhere on any device.  Signing up for a Dropbox account is free and easy.  Once you have created an account you can sign in on every student iPad (you'll only have to sign in once).  From here you can create a file for each student to upload their assessments to or a file for each assessment to have students upload to.  

This is a screenshot from the Dropbox website.  The 4th folder down is a folder that students pushed the assessments down from.

**WARNING: Once students have access to the class Dropbox account they can delete and add to it.  You will have access to deleted files on the website.  :-)

Whatever you choose, however you choose to do it don't underestimate what your students can do.  First graders are very capable of importing and exporting, uploading and downloading.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Diary of a Teacher #4: A Strong Finish

Producing a final product to share out after conducting a week or more inquiry based unit can be...exhausting. :-) So maybe we don't need a grand finally?  Here a few ways that elementary students can share what they learn.

#1 Tweet! Tweet!

  • Tweet out a fact that you have learned after researching your topic. Don't forget to attach your first name only.  Have students write their tweet on paper first to work on grammar or go straight for the tweet.  My student have the Twitter app on their iPads and tweet from our classroom account.
  • Have a Twitter "fact off" with another classroom to see who can tweet out more facts on a topic.
  • This is a great way to also get your wonders out there for people to help answer.

#2 Alter-ego


  • Students can write out a script and record their own voice for 30 sec in the free version of this app.  In the paid version you get 90 sec and/or you can type out what you want the avatar to say (you also have more options all around for the paid version but we stick with the free).   A lot of the time students like to pretend they are a reporter when they write out script.  We found a great picture for the background.  After you have the video complete have students post it to a  blogs (we use KidBlog), Twitter or Facebook and let the world learn!  
#3 Puppet Pals

Double Click on the movie to listen to Chelsey tell you about reindeer.

  • Students love this app!  There is a great free version but the full school package is worth the money.  Before Christmas we were learning about reindeer and I wanted a fun way to wrap up the learning.  When I saw that Puppet Pals had a reindeer as a puppet it just made sense!  I made a Blendspace filled with reindeer videos for students to watch and write notes on.  We read books (in pairs and alone) and searched the web for information as well.  I always try to have a word bank available for students to use when they are searching the web.  It is the only way they will have a chance to get good results from their search.  Before recording our videos I asked to students to find 4 of the most interesting things they learned about reindeer.  This was done to keep students focused and the videos at a manageable length.  We had a lesson on rehearsing what you are going to say before you record the video as well.  After watching the videos I can see that my next lesson will have to be on how to make a video that won't lead to motion sickness.  When we finished all videos were posted to our blogs

#4 Explain Everything

Double click on the movie to learn about spiders from Damien
  • Explain Everything is a great app to well, explain everything.  My students were learning about spiders (through an iTunesU course) at the beginning of the year and I wanted them to work with this app more so we tried a simple project.  After developing our wonders, learning how to watch movies to gain information, conducting some "web" research and a bit of good old fashion reading we were ready to share what we knew about spiders.  This inquiry lead to us  talking about the difference between facts and opinions.  A lot of my students wanted to put what they thought they knew (or heard from an older sibling) or how they felt about something into their writing.  This is not a bad thing but just not right for non-fiction writing.  So we spent  time talking about finding information that is reliable and can be taken as fact.  When we made our videos students told their audience 3 facts and 1 opinion on spiders.  It was a lot of fun!
#5 Popplet


Popplet lite will help any age student organize the information they learn.  In 1st grade completing a web like this one above is enough to share out.  Students can fill each box with pictures, drawings or text. This inquiry unit was on the Winter Olympics last year.  Students picked a sport in the Olympics  to research.  I created the main topics that I wanted them to research (how many people are on a team, what type of uniforms do they wear, what type of equipment do they use, what do they do, etc.).  From here you can take a screen shot or download the image to your camera roll.  Print it off to take home, blog about it, tweet it, you name it!  Just publish! :-)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Diary of a Teacher: #3 Developing a Good Question...and Finding the Answer

I've always thought children were naturally curious and so therefore inquiry based learning would be a great fit for my first graders.  It turns out that young students are curious but lack the life experience to really develop good questions that will lead to some great inquiry.  In short, we have to teach students how to wonder.  This is where the fun begins!

To really hook students in deep I like to teach inquiry skills using animals.  Young students tend to have a somewhat large knowledge base on animals and there a lot of resources/material out there for elementary students to use.   At this time of the year such animals as bats and spiders are pretty popular.  This past Monday students in my class watched a time laps video of a spider spinning a web on Wonderopolis.  Just this one video was enough to get them all talking about our creepy crawly friends.  We also will do a modern day KWL chart on where students can put down what they think they know about spiders (great time to talk about fact and opinion).  Check out our Padlet wall on Spiders.

The next thing I like to do is have students move between different stations where they can explore the topic we are wondering about (I mentioned doing this with maps in the last post I made).

Station 1: iBooks
Great non-fiction books that can be read to the beginning reader.

Station 2: The "old-fashion" book
I clean out the public library and school library of every spider book I can get my hands on.  Our school library has worked hard to have a selection of beginning reader books.  Students love looking at the pictures if the books are too hard to read.  I try to get a volunteer during these stations to help read books to students.  

The table was full of books awesome spider books
Station 3: Question Modeling
This is where the magic happens!  I take a group of students and show them a video or something hands on (for spiders I had two spiders to let them look at).  Then I start to wonder out loud for the students to hear my thoughts. I let them know that we aren't trying to come up with an answer right then and there, just questions.  Younger students like to try to make up answers or give their opinions.  No pressure to answer questions, we are just talking and wondering together.  This is why I became a teacher.
These girls are just full of wonder!
After stations we all come together and help each other come up with some questions.  I put as many questions on Twitter (later in the year students will put their own tweets out) as I can before we head for lunch.  When they collaborate with others in the room they feed off of each other.

The next day students work in pairs to come up with a question.  They then write it on at sticky note and place it on a piece of chart paper that says "I Wonder...".  My intent for this activity is two fold; students will create questions for research and it will help those that are "stuck" to find a question to answer.  After the questions are posted I have students try to find answers to their questions.  Prior to all this we have talked about how to search on the internet and have set up a "research" folder on our iPads (, Twitter, Time for Kids, Wonderopolis, National Geographic for Kids).  I have showed students how to search for videos or pictures (ex: spider, videos) and how to have the iPad read text to you (settings, general, accessibility, speech, speak selection). We also create a Word Wall of words they will need to spell correctly to search successfully.

After students can find answers to their questions or other interesting facts we start taking notes on all the new facts we've learned.  Students can write or draw the facts out.

The last piece is to share out what they have learned.  For now we are just posting a fact or two on our KidBlog site.  In the future we will turn it into a book, Keynote or Explain Everything video.

**Please contact me with questions, comments or ideas.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Diary of a Teacher: #2 Developing Inquiry in the Elementary Classroom

Have you ever had a day where everything goes wrong and nothing comes easy?  Well that seems to be the beginning of this school year for the last month.  Skipping over the boring details, things have started to fall into place now so let the blogging begin. :-)

When we think back to our own school days most of the time what remember are the projects.  It could have been the classic egg drop project or something much more unique.  Maybe it was a project you poured your heart into on your own or one where you learned the meaning of team work with a group of your peers.  Whatever the case may be you connected to and remembered these projects in a much different way than everyday learning.  Why?  Projects often leave a much greater opportunity for choice and voice in a students learning.  Students connect deeper with the material because they invest the time into learning about what interest them in a way that works best for them.  Call it Project Based Learning or Inquiry Based Learning, the name is not important.  It is the results that count.

Come along with me and my quest to change the way I teach and my students learn.  To be clear, I  teach first grade so I'm not going to abandon everything I do so we do projects all day (that does sound like fun though).  My goal is to take as many of the Science and Social Studies standards, as I can, and create inquiry based projects.  While at the same time weaving reading and writing throughout to strength those skills.  I will keep my station time (Daily 5) and 90 minutes of math (this is a post for another day) as is.

Here is where I'm starting....

Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels have created this great resource for anyone K-12, who is looking to implement any type of inquiry based learning.  I highly recommend you purchase "Comprehension & Collaboration" as a guide.

One of the first things I do in my classroom to help support this style of learning is to build a community of caring and teamwork.  We talk a lot about what it means to work together and what it takes to be successful as a team.  Such things as patience, consideration, understanding are put out there for students to learn about.  We do easy team building activities such as completing a puzzle in a group without talking and working together as a class to color a mural.  Young students need a lot of practice at working and learning together.

The next thing we work on are the inquiry skills.  Students aren't born knowing how to ask a good question and many don't even have enough experience in life to know what to wonder about.  Daniel  and Harvey's book has great ideas and activities to get students thinking of the "what if" and "how does that work" type of questions.  Even something as simple as watching a video for information vs. watching a movie for pleasure is a learned skill.  They have filled their book with great lessons that can easily be modeled and practiced in whole group.

I work on the skills needed to learn in an inquiry/project based classroom as we work through different projects and standards.  So lets get started...

We were studying maps for our social studies standards.
1 – G1.0.1 Construct simple maps of the classroom to demonstrate aerial perspective.
1 – G1.0.3 Use personal directions (left, right, front, back) to describe the relative location of significant places in the school environment.
1 – G1.0.4 Distinguish between landmasses and bodies of water using maps and globes.
1 – G2.0.1 Distinguish between physical (e.g., clouds, trees, weather) and human (e.g., buildings, playgrounds, sidewalks) characteristics of places.

I always like to start projects with some kind of hook to get students really interested.  If I can make it hands-on I will because young students connect deeper to things they can touch.  In the picture below students are looking at Google Earth, a topographical map of the USA, Globes, giant floor maps and different types of maps I've collected along the way (map of our town, a ski resort, bus route map, etc.).  Students loved it and couldn't wait to learn more!  

Next we started to learn about where we were on a map.  I created a collection of videos students could watch after they completed their morning work.  If you haven't checked out you are missing out!  It is a great way to share resources with your students and colleagues.  Here is the link to my "lesson" on maps.  After students have free choice to watch any of the videos we watch the video "My Map Movie Digital Story" together and I model how to watch a movie for information.  I stop and point out important facts in the video and then show how we can rewind to watch parts again if needed.  (In the next lesson we will watch the movie and practice taking notes.)

We also read the book "Me on the Map" to help explain all the different layers of where we are from (USA, Michigan, Boyne City, etc).  I found a mini book that students could make to fit themselves.  On the last page students try to make an ariel map of their didn't go as well as expected.  My students just didn't get the ariel view thing.  So another project was developed and we created our own maps with 2D and 3D objects.
Students worked in teams of 4 and hand to communicate with their group to explain their ideas.  They all had to compromise and work together to create their map.  Once they were done I helped them each take a picture standing over the map to show an ariel view.  
Students had roads, buildings, stores, ponds, a compass rose, etc. to their maps.  Once they had their picture they put it into the Explain Everything app and recorded an explanation of their map.  Checkout Chelsey's recording of what is on her map.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Diary of a Teacher : #1 Flipping Multiply Yourself!

I think everyone would agree that the world of education is changing in many ways.  Technology has played a huge part in this change.  What teachers and students are capable of doing in (and out of) the classroom is radically changing due to this technology.  As teachers it is our responsibility to embrace this change for the sake of our students' future.  This series is documenting the attempt to make these  changes.

#1 Flipping Instruction Inside the Classroom: first attempt 

After attending the MACUL conference in Detroit flipping instruction within the classroom seemed like the answer to so many problems; I needed 5 more of me, I wasn't differentiating like I wanted, math was boring, students didn't have any choice on how to learn, etc.   Here are the first steps...

Students were divided into 3 groups.  These groups are mixed and not tracked by ability.  Originally they were tracked but it was difficult to help all of the students that were struggling in one group.  It seems easier to spread out the students that will need extra support.  For each math unit/chapter, student groups can be formed from the results of a pre-test.

The stations are as follows: 
  • iPad: math apps and/or IXL 
  • Math Games: hands on math games that can be played with partners or alone.  
  • Teacher: Videos created by the teacher and posted on Educreations.  
Students are either given free choice within the different math folders or they are given certain standards to work on in IXL.  We have divided our math apps into 3 different folders: 
Math 1 - math facts
Math 2 - other (fractions, time, etc). 
Math 3 - number sense

Math Games
These are hands on games that students can play with a partner or alone.  Everything from Addition War to HotDot pens to pattern blocks.  Check out the Math Centers and Games on Kids Count by Shari Sloane for some great games.

The teacher station is where the flipping within the classroom starts.  Each student gets their own personal teacher and lesson to watch as they work to complete a worksheet.  There are many different ways to get the videos students but the point is is that students are able to watch, and re-watch, the lesson.  Some lessons can complete the entire worksheet with the student and others just complete half of it so that students can try some problems independently.  During these stations the teacher is now able to pull students to work in small groups.  This allows for students to get the attention they need in order for mastery to take place.

Helpful Hint: Keep the video short and don't worry if you make a mistake while recording, just keep going.  

This video was done on Educreations.  It is as simple as taking a photo of the worksheet and then putting it into the app.  Educreations allows you to record your voice and any writing you do on top of the picture.  Students can then retrieve this video from your class website (e.g. Edmodo).  I have my students all logged into my Educreation account and they just watch the lesson from the app itself.  ExplainEverything, Screenchomp or Camtasia are other apps or programs that could be used to record lessons.

What's Next...
Because this is a work in progress the next step would be to record all the lessons for each unit and allow students to move through them at their own pace.  I envision students completing the unit and then taking a test to show mastery.  This will allow them to move at their own pace within each unit.

Helpful Resources:

Monday, May 5, 2014

We Can Write the Rainbow! 1st Grade Color Poems

In honor of Poetry Month, we spent the last week of April writing Color Poems. 

The lesson is introduced by listening to "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong. While the music is playing, students are looking at the pictures in this beautiful book written by George David Weiss:
Click HERE to find it on Amazon.
After being inspired by Mr. Armstrong, students use their Story Buddy app to create their own "Colors of the Rainbow" book. They create six color pages: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. They work with their friends to make lists for each page. 
Students choose one color from their Story Buddy book to create a "Color" graphic organizer using their Popplet app. First, we make one as a class using the color black (See below). We discuss how important it is to be descriptive.
Students use the Popplet they created on Tuesday and write their color poem using paper and pencil. As much as we love using our iPads, this is a great opportunity for students to work on neat handwriting, spacing, capital letters and end marks. 
As students are finishing their poems, they hand them in to me and I type them with the font they have picked out (Getting to pick a font from my computer excited them more than anything!) After it's printed, they get to illustrate their poems. 
The beauty of this project when they finish one poem, they can start on another with a different color.

Students use the Audioboo app to record themselves reading their poems. Then they can tweet it on our class account.  Click HERE to visit our class Twitter account.
We also hung the students poems in the hallway with a QR Code of their Audioboo recording.