A Little More Time on the Clock, Please

The first week of school for the 2015-2016 year is now in the history books. It was an AMAZING, (and to be quite frank, exhausting) week.  Students were excited to see the changes to the lab for this year.  (See that post here.) They came to understand those changes will only work out if we can meet the three goals we have in the computer lab.


We talked about what it means to use technology RESPONSIBLY, which entails treating the equipment like you worked a summer job and saved your money to buy it, then lent it to a friend.  How you want that friend to treat your prized possession is how you should treat the school equipment.  We also discussed the other side of the coin, being a responsible digital citizen.  That ultimately means, “Think BEFORE you post.”  Once you have hit the send button, you have lost control of that post or tweet or message.   We talked about what the word “collaborate” means and what it would look like to work together RESPECTFULLY.    Then we discussed what Behave RELIABLY means.  Students understand I have to be able to trust they are going to leave things the way they found them to be fair to the next group of students coming in the lab.

Students then divided themselves into six groups to work at stations making their own fidgets.


In previous years, I have made fidgets for all my 3rd-5th grade students to keep in their headphone bags.  It gives them something to squeeze (provides movement) while they are sitting on the floor to get instructions for the day’s assignment. My plan this year was to provide the supplies and let them figure out the steps to create their fidget.  Each table had a QR code that linked to a Youtube video showing the process.

I did not tell students they had to watch the video, but it was available if they chose to.  I totally agree that students learn by doing.  I totally agree that students need to develop the important skills of collaborating and problem solving.  The brick wall we hit this week was LACK OF TIME!  Students need TIME to figure things out.  As long as our classrooms are driven by schedules, lack of time will be a major roadblock in giving our students all the necessary tools they need to be self-reliant thinkers.

If you do not believe me, just watch this:

What Does it Mean, to Matter?

After watching the video, ask yourself these questions:

What advice was given to Rick’s dad, Dick, concerning the limitations of his son?
If Dick had taken that advice, what would be the reality for Rick and what message would he have received?
What did Rick tell his Dad after the first 5k they ran together?
What do you think Rick experienced in that race that made him feel that way?
Compare yourself to Rick. How are you different? How are you the same?
Compare yourself to his Dad, Rick. How are you the same? How are you different?

The theme of the video was TOGETHER. Dick was the body, Rick was the heart.

So I am asking my students, what does it mean, to matter? What are ways you can consciously, intentionally provide the experience Rick has when he is running with his Dad to others you are blessed to have in your life? What are ways others can relate to you that would send the message to you that YOU MATTER?

Students will get the password to post their response to the padlet wall below.


A Change of Focus

Although this will be my 11th year teaching in this position at this school, this year has a different “feel” to me.  There are some major changes I am making in my classroom set-up, and in my own heart and mind.  Due to the inspiration I have received from my Twitter PLN, (folks like Angela Maiers, Terri Eichholtz, Joy Kirr, Brian Aspinall, William Chamberlin, Paul Solarz, and Kirsten Wilson, just to name a few), I have decided to let go of traditional tables and chairs in the computer lab and create spaces for student choice. The back of the room is now a designated Maker Production space where students will have 30 minutes of lab time to “play” with an ever growing variety of tools, both digital and physical.  They will have choices of where to complete their technology assignments, albeit a ball chair or sitting on the floor with their computer on a low coffee table.  Our theme for this year is Hollywood, so I added some theme-related elements to my classroom.

IMG_7121 IMG_7122 IMG_7123 IMG_7131 IMG_7132 IMG_7133 IMG_7149 IMG_7150

The biggest change has come about in my heart.  Our district was fortunate to have Angela Maiers bring our convocation this year with the You Matter Manifesto.  She reminded us that being noticed and feeling valuable is not a matter of ideology, but biology.  It is a need of every human being, for we were created for significance!  Although I believe every staff person in our district understands that, it is also part of the human condition to allow that realization to be overshadowed by the stresses brought about by “covering the material.” My prayer for myself and every other staff member is that we are able to keep that perspective in focus EVERY DAY, for EVERY STUDENT.


4th Grade Famous People Project

My fourth graders ended the year learning about thirty people that contributed to Texas in one way or another. I attempted this project two years ago and became frustrated with the results because of time constraints.  This year I built in extra time so students could actually “play” with the information they created.  First, I put students in groups randomly by using Classtools.net roulette wheel.  I LOVE this tool!  I use it often because it is so easy to customize.  To group students, I created a wheel with five sections of six colors: red, blue, yellow, green, orange and purple.  Students would spin the wheel to get their color, then I would remove that section from the wheel. To determine what famous person that group would research, I created another wheel with the names of the 30 famous people.  One person from each group would spin.  I would then remove that name from the wheel until all the groups had chosen.  Students would then meet in their groups to designate jobs: researcher, script writer, actor/actress, videographer, qr code maker, and poster maker.  The researcher would print off the data collection sheet and fill it in.  The script writer would take the filled in data collection sheet and write a four to six sentence script in first person.  The actor/actress would practice the script and then have someone record just their mouth using an ipod touch.  Once recorded, the student would get the completed video uploaded to my Youtube channel.  The qr code maker would print out the qr code to the youtube video. The poster maker would make a 2×2 poster of the face of the famous person.  The posters were taped to the wall outside the computer lab, and the qr code was taped to the bottom of the poster.  Then the real fun began.

Students were handed a 3×3 grid where they chose eight of the famous people from the list projected on the screen.  One name was already filled in on their card, so that almost all of the names were covered.  Students would take the ipod touch (I have 13 of them) and scan the code for the person pre-written on their bingo card.  Once all students had scanned their one code, we played bingo.  You can access the document here. I would read off the information of a famous person and then take 3 guesses to who it might be.  If they had the person written on their card, they covered that spot with a marker.

All of the information students needed to complete their jobs were placed on a webmix in Symbaloo.  The webmix is embedded below along with pictures of students involved in the activity.



Innovative Invention Convention

Mrs. Brantley and I accompanied eleven fourth and fifth grade G/T students to the Region 7 ESC in Kilgore last Wednesday to compete in the Innovation Invention Convention.  We invite you to enjoy these scenes from the event with us:


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Becoming a Math Wizard

It is that time of year when the 3rd graders have completed their Digital Citizenship project training, assessment, and activities and are ready to move on to something else.  I emailed the third grade teachers before the Spring break and asked for their input.  From the responses, it appears 3rd graders need additional support in understanding area and perimeter. While scouring the web for ideas, I came across this tweet from Terri Eichholz.

Terri Eichholz Tweet


The Pinterest link went to a TEDx talk by Brian Aspinall, a teacher in Ontario.  In his talk, he mentions several web based applications he and his students have developed. One of those is Clipkwik.  Clipkwik is a web based application that is a google custom search engine.  It will search twelve kid friendly websites for videos related to the topic you are searching.  By searching for area and perimeter, I was able to find this video that may help the 3rd graders get a better grasp of the meaning of area and perimeter and how to calculate them.

Students will also be introduced to Prodigy. Prodigy is a fairly new web based gaming platform for elementary students. The game is geared to the specific math needs of each individual student. Teachers can create classrooms on the site to enroll students. Once student names are entered, Prodigy will send an email with unique usernames and passwords for students to log in.  Prodigy will also send parent letters that contain the student log in information so students can access the website at home. I was first introduced to Prodigy by looking through episodes of Dragon’s Den on Youtube to find student entrepreneur examples to use with the 4th graders. On the episode that originally aired in 2012, the founders of Prodigy pitched their idea to the Dragons, but were not successful in getting funded.  Weeks later I came across Prodigy being mentioned through one of the blogs I follow.  After initially registering for the site, I wondered if this was the same website that I had come across while watching Dragon’s Den. A simple Google search confirmed my thoughts. The creators of this product were college students at the time they built the website.

Wonder Weeks

I came across a graphic created by Amy Mayer on Twitter the other day, and it explains better than I could why there is so much buzz in education circles about Genius Hour, Passion Projects, and 20% Time.  Below is an copy of the graphic, used with permission from Amy:

Student Choice Continuum (new updated) (3)

As teachers, we all strive to insure total engagement from our students. According to Amy’s graphic, the best motivator of student engagement is self-directed learning. A quick look at Twitter and educational blogs will tell you there are plenty of educators who are shifting the focus of their instruction toward this model and sharing a ton of resources along the way.  This LiveBinder created by Joy Kirr is just one example.  While attending the TCEA Convention in Austin, I sat in on a session by Kirsten Wilson called “The Why of Genius Hour” that helped me formulate what I wanted to do. You can find additional resources by joining the conversation on Twitter using  hashtags like #geniushour, #20time, and #passionproject.

The journey will inevitably cause one to cross paths with educators like Will Richardson, who champions the cause that we have to stop talking about “better” when it comes to education and test scores, and start talking about “different.”

I am ready now to do my part to put this education model to the test with my 5th graders.  Beginning this week, they will be totally engaged (hopefully) in Wonder Weeks.  I chose the title Wonder Weeks instead of Passion Project, 20% Time, or Genius Hour because I wanted to narrow the focus for this project since it is my first try at it. Some teachers focus the student directed learning toward something the student is passionate about or something that will right a wrong or change the world. I wanted to start with something that students could engage with easier. For this project, students will be allowed to research anything they are curious about; hence the name Wonder. I struggled with how to introduce this concept to my 5th graders. There are a host of great videos available that inspire and demonstrate students using the inquiry method to do great things, but they just were not the right fit for what I was trying to accomplish. Then I came across this gem from Joy Kirr’s LiveBinder:

Ways To Wonder – Wonderopolis from Wonderopolis on Vimeo.

I wanted a place to curate students responses so I could not only hold them accountable on a weekly basis, but also to allow me to help them find resources.  I explored possibilities with Trello, Padlet, Google Forms, and Popplet. After having some issues with the Popplet site and through a series of emails to their support team, I was finally able to create an account and log in.  I have to say that this is a wonderful tool!  I created student accounts for each computer I have in the lab.  Students are assigned a particular computer at the beginning of the year.  I use this same method for students to access Voki and Animoto.  Students use the log in for their specific computer. I was easily able to create a mindmap with the information I needed from each student.  I then shared the popplet with those 28 accounts. Students will log in with their computer account and contribute to the mindmap, that way I have a visual of all students in the same space. They will also be able to comment on each other’s popples.  I think that is AMAZING! Here is what it looks like:

Popplet Example

I am still experiencing log in problems from time to time, so I have created a back up plan if students cannot access Popplet. Students will be able to access a Google Form by logging in to Edmodo.

I Wonder Google Form

I also wanted a place where students could reflect weekly on their learning. Since all students have their own blog through Edublogs, that is the method they will use. Students will create a new page on their blog called “I Wonder” and spend the last 5-10 minutes of class each week creating a reflective post on how they spent their time.

The proposed timeline for completing this project is as follows:
March 16 – Apr 3 Research
Apr 6 – May 1 Work on Presentation
May 4 – May 22 Presentations

Through this activity, students will learn to formulate a question, research to get information to answer that question, and share what they have learned.

Students will have access to this growing webmix of resources:


Each week I will be introducing students to presentation ideas and tools.

Google Search Lessons

For the past several weeks the fifth graders have been learning about how the Google search engine works and ways to make their searches more meaningful.  Students were placed in groups and given two strategies to learn and then present to the rest of their class.  There were twelve strategies in all.  The videos they accessed were from Dan Russell’s MOOC course called Power Searching with Google.  I stumbled across the course a few summers ago and completed the six week course.  In the course, demonstrations on how Google works, why word order matters, searching by image, color, specific file type, using operators like OR and AND, putting information in quotation marks, using Google as a calculator, and Google maps were all included. I knew the information in the course would benefit my intermediate students, so last year students watched the videos uploaded in Edmodo and then answered a question.  This year I decided they needed a more “hands-on” approach.  Students had about three weeks to meet in their groups, study the videos they were assigned, and prepare a way to showcase it to the class.  Last week students gave their presentations.  The rest of the class evaluated the presentations using a Google Form they accessed from Edmodo.  The page they accessed them from looks like this:

Google Search Evaluations


and the form looks like this:

GS Evaluation Form

Since I have five different classes that come to the lab, and each class had twelve strategies, I had to create small groups in Edmodo to keep the evaluation forms separated by homeroom.  I was pleasantly surprised how quick and easy it was to create the form, grab the embed code, and post it in Edmodo. Now that presentations are over, students will be able to see how their classmates evaluated their presentation.  From the Google Form response page in my Google Drive, I simply shared the GS documents pertaining to the students in that group with them.  They will log in to their gmail account (GAFE) and be able to see how their classmates rated them.  Students will compose a short post on their blog reflecting on this activity.