Beginnings 2015

Welcome (or welcome back) to my blog!

Every year I try to frame my year of blogging in such a way to provide focus for me, but to also be helpful to others. This year’s focus is going to be on resources. I have found that following some of the fantastic speakers I have seen talk about technology, education, leadership, and life, share a wealth of resources with the Twitter world.  I have been a consumer on Twitter for a while, but have made a commitment to also being a producer this year. As I come across things I think might be useful, I will post them here. Follow me on Twitter at @slemon21.

Additionally, I will be embarking upon a Google journey with the roll out of Google Classroom to my sixth graders and the management involved with having a Google Classroom Site and a Google Website. This past summer I partook in the Google Education Training (Level 1) – I would highly recommend it. Click here for more information. I found much of it to be review, as I have been using Google for years, but also came away with some wonderful shortcuts and ideas for using Google products that I had never thought of before. For example, did you know you can embed your plans right into Google Calendar? If you are out, all you have to do is print your agenda and add a few more details for your substitute!

I launched my classroom this year inspired by a keynote that Jennie Magiera gave at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities conference this past summer. She focused on “Moonshot Thinking” and the idea of doing something innovative and BIG – REALLY BIG  – outside your comfort zone big. The video she had us watched transfixed the audience. Which is exactly what it did with my 6th graders.

I had my students think about words or phrases that resonated with them throughout the video and then have them commit to their own “Moonshot Thinking” for this year. I would love to change my students’ thinking from grade oriented to more of a growth mindset. I am hoping that this kickoff will head us in the right direction.

Some great resources that I have found recently:

Bloom’s Taxonomy Posters for teachers – (by Teach Thought Staff) or food for thought for kids in a project-based learning environment.

Updates for Google Calendar within Google Classroom. I haven’t explored this, but it looks great.

10 Good Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms Add-Ons for Teachers. Free Technology for Teachers by Richard Byrne


Several Great Resources! PBL Learning, Informal Assessments, Logic and More!

Over the past month or so I have been collecting several links to resources that I have been referring to that are helpful in a variety of ways. Please browse below for some great links to help you be more efficient, engage learners, and manage your classroom community.

5 Fantastic, Fast, Formative Assessments Tools: engaging, fun and informative for teaching and learning. Some you may already know – Socrative and Kahoot, some may be new to you – Zaption and Backchanneling and Plicker (which sounds really cool!)

53 Ways To Check For Understanding: in case your tool box only had 20 ways, this is a great reminder of ways to check to make sure kids are with you. Some I hadn’t considered – advertisements, talk show panel, intrigue journals, and muddy moments. (Caution – if viewing this on your school network, it may not let you see the whole list. May need to view at home for all 53!)

A Dictionary For 21st Century Teachers: Learning Models and Technology: I learned a few for myself. One of my favorites? Cognitive Apprenticeship! Bet you’re doing it already, but it sounds really sophisticated!

55 Best Free Apps for the iPad: WOW! There are some really good ones!

28 Apps For Challenge-Based Learning Projects: What I like about this article is that the apps are divided into the steps of the process and which apps are best for which stages of a challenge. (Steps: finding and launching a challenge, from challenge to solutions, analyzing data, solution implementation, and sharing results)

10 Free Apps To Build Logic Skills: Get those 21st Century skills honed with these free apps that help kids problem-solve.

Google and some other really cool resources!

As promised, I want to spend some time addressing Google as a great workflow resource.

If your district has Google IDs for each student and teacher, there are a multitude of options for you to manage your classroom workflow in a paperless environment. Not only are students creating documents that they store in their own Google Drive (basically creating and online portfolio of sorts), but your students can share links with you and make your life easier than clicking on a bunch of folders only to then click on a bunch of files to see student work.

Below you will find four different resources that are really worth looking at carefully – particularly “The Paperless Classroom” because it walks you through how to create forms for turning in work, turn-in folders with students, providing comments on student work, grading and more.

Google Docs: Which Workflow Works for You?” is an excellent article by Catlin Tucker, a woman I have seen present at different conferences. She is very knowledgeable, fun, and has a very informative approach. In this article, she outlines 5 different ways workflow works in the Google environment. What’s nice is she evaluates each one and speaks to why you might use one way or another and some of the pitfalls. This is the one to begin with because it provides a great overview. The following three then go into a bit more detail and provides ideas of how you can utilize what is available to you through Google Apps.

32 Ways to Use Google Apps is a fantastic resource for teachers who are embracing the Google Suite of apps with their students. It is in slideshow form, but along the way during the presentation, it challenges the reader to try different activities – in a beginner, intermediate, and advanced format.

32 Ways to Use Google Apps in the Classroom Webinar in video format. (For those of you who would rather watch a video!)

The Paperless Classroom with Google Docs is a soup to nuts manual for how to create everything with students starting with naming files and creating folders. If you are beginning to use Google Apps and want to put a system in place for ease of use, this is for you!

A few nuggets of really great resources:

From Edutopia (a Twitter feed I follow which every once and a while has fantastic resources) 40 Student Reflection Questions. What I really like about it from an educator’s point of view is that the questions are divided into four categories: Backward-Looking, Inward-Looking, Outward-Looking, Forward-Looking.

Another great resource for organizing teaching tools, from Te@chThought. This post called, “25 Teaching Tools for the Digital Classroom” addresses many different resources that a classroom teacher can use. (25 in fact!) However, these great tools are broken down into different categories: Organization, Project-Based Learning, Classroom management, Presentations, and assessments.

And one more, from Edutopia, “Resources for Using iPads in Grades 3-5” dividing their article by: Favorite Apps, Best Practices, and Engaging Activities. What is great about this article is that it sends you off into different directions to people in iPad education who are experts in their field. GREAT resources!!! Enjoy!

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

After a short hiatus, my blog has returned.

I left things off getting ready to talk about Google and work flow. However, I have collected a number of sites and blog posts I would like to share in this entry before moving on to Google.

Future Proof Your Learning Environment: I really like this article because it gets away from content-specific apps and considers the most important aspects of engaging students in learning. There is a list of 10 skills kids should be able to navigate – regardless of the apps. I am beginning to learn through my own experiences that apps come and go, but core skills DO NOT. Check out this blog for more details.

Haiku Deck is Now Able to Handle Data! Haiku Deck is one of my favorite creationary apps, and they have just rolled out several “Presentation Inspirations,” including this one showing how to integrate data into your Haiku Deck creation. Here’s to all those math and science teachers who are looking for a visual, easy way to have kids show their learning! Thanks, Haiku Deck!

Design Thinking With iPads: This is an area I would like to explore more with my students. I am drawn to the idea of asking the big question: How might we design/change what and for whom in order to change something? I feel like this process lends itself well to the world of science problem-solving and even social studies (reflection on history), but less in my units in the language and literacy realm. The graphic below illustrates the entire process:


2 Teachers Have 9 Thoughts as iPad Turns 5: I really like this reflection as the iPads are now 5 years old! It is difficult to imagine a world without these incredible devices…yet only 5 years ago they didn’t exist! WOW! My favorite? #9:

  • iPad 4 Schools PosterRichard: “iPads are still the most popular, flexible and successful device in education.”Whether it is the USA buying iPads in their millions or reports showing 86% of New Zealand schools have students using iPads, there is still a worldwide understanding that they are the easiest to integrate into classrooms. Educators around the world are often found discussing the benefits of active learning which the iPad continues to allow for in  a way that laptops / Chromebooks don’t, keeping students rooted to one spot.Read: Why I still recommend the iPad for schools

Best Practices: Google Drive as a Museum of Artifacts

If you are in a situation where your students have Google accounts, you are very fortunate. Our students in Natick have a Google account from the time they arrive as Kindergartners until they graduate. The email capability is turned off until 8th grade, when they are 13.

BUT, having a Google account does not just mean email. There is a whole suite of Google software that can be accessed, not to mention YouTube and a few others affiliated with Google. It used to be that when you signed into Google, you had access to your drive, making documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. Now that Google is so big, they have taken each component and made their own app – for example, you can’t create in Google Drive any more, you use their app called Docs. You want to make a Google presentation? Not in Drive, you make it in Slides. Spreadsheets are the same, but they are now called Sheets.

What does this mean? Your “Google Drive” where you went for everything, is now just the place where your work is stored. This has been a transition for my students. I explain it to them like this – Google Drive is like your locker, it is where you store your work. You go to your locker to get your work, but you bring it to the classroom to work on it – you open it in Docs, or Slides, or Sheets. They seem to get it. There are still some quirky things to work out, but for the most part, kids understand and ask classmates to help them out.

Back to Drive – it is the place where all artifacts can be stored. Most apps now allow you to share the work with a link, or make it a pdf that can be uploaded to be stored in Drive. What is great about this, is that if you set up a folder that student shave shared with you, these artifacts are also available to you!

Next week I will explain the wonders of the Google Form. It will revolutionize your concept of students turning in electronic work.

Best practices: Workflow – Take 1

Ah, workflow. What is it? Exactly as it sounds… the flow of work. In other words, the work that gets produced on the iPad might need to get to somewhere else for grading, storage, sharing, etc… These waters get very murky very quickly, so I am going to try to keep this simple for this post and get a bit more in-depth in my next few posts.

When you are going to use an app with your students for producing something: writing, recording, pictures, presentations, etc… the app will have already decided for you the ways in which the work can flow… be shared or gotten off the device to be placed somewhere else. Back in the day, (boy that sounds funny!) I used to have my students email me everything. That way it would conveniently appear in my inbox and I was good to go. Well, when I had 48 fifth graders, that was a bit cumbersome, but manageable. With 96 students in sixth grade – this was not a viable option.

Now, when your students want to get their work off a device, they look for the two universal signs:

basic-upload-icon export-256

The first, is the most common now – called the upload icon. The second is called the export file icon. Both of these are your work ticket off your device!

What is super cool about how apps are made these days is if you tap on either of these icons, all of the applicable apps that you have on your device for viewing this item elsewhere pop up. So, the end game is to know where you want your work to go (I mean flow… hee, hee, hee.)

My students use their Google Drive for storage of many things. This is where I recommend work to flow if at all possible. Sometimes that means a file just goes there and can’t be read there, but can be downloaded onto another device at home for example and viewed. Most often, Google is compatible with just about any app. Their work stays with them and becomes artifacts from their year with you.

In closing, as you begin to experiment in your classroom with work, have a good idea where you want that work to end up. Be the test student for yourself and work through the work flow before you have students do it. A few years ago, I would have told you to have all 14 steps typed out a written for students…reject this urge if you have it! One software update later and your directions are out the window. Kids pick things up very quickly. I use the “train the trainer” model. I show the first student who is ready and then they show the next person. Then you have two people in the room facilitating workflow.. then four, etc… and yes, you can have those steps written down for yourself for that day so you aren’t flustered. (But chances are the student already knows how to do it and can show you!)

Next time, we’ll talk about making the most out of Google forms and links.

Best Pratices: Taking Stock. Time to Reflect

Periodically, it is a good idea to stop and look back. I really think this applies to many aspects of life, not just technology in education. Remember what your classroom was like without technology. Is it different now that technology is around? Is it part of your landscape? Have you established routines with your students that work? Did you tackle that first project with kids? How did it turn out?

Even more importantly, ask the kids for feedback. Their input not only values their opinions, but might provide you with some interesting insights about your classroom. When I was first beginning, I had kids write the newsletter home to families about our projects. Their enthusiasm was obvious, and more than I could ever convey in a newsletter to parents. Any way to involve the students in reflecting upon your journey is rooted in making your classroom even more interactive. I found that the enthusiasm from my kids made me want to design even more experiences with technology.

Do yourself a favor. Pat yourself on the back for getting started. Include your kids in some reflection. Use their excitement to motivate yourself to find your next project to create.

Coming? Workflow is up next.

Best Practices: Go Fishing!

While a serene afternoon or early morning on the lake would probably reduce your blood pressure and stress, I was not thinking about that kind of fishing. You have to decide what is a particular interest to you and continue to learn. It is your own professional development and can sometimes be the most interesting, stimulating, and rewarding learning that you’ll ever do.

So begin by asking yourself what aspect of teaching and learning excites and interests you. You might want to jot down a list. If you could go to a conference, what would an ideal conference be for you? Reading at the elementary level? Infusing critical thinking skills into the classroom setting? Technology integration? Classroom techniques for increasing student learning?

Perhaps there are conferences out there that can serve you well where you attend and walk away totally motivated to try new things and share with your colleagues. There are costs involved, permission to be granted, and accountability when you return (not to mention the sub plans.) What if I told you that ideal professional development is literally at your finger tips today?!

Seek out people who are passionate about the same topics in teaching that get you jazzed. For example, my passion has become technology in the classroom, particularly iPads. I follow several EdTech Teachers on Twitter, and I have signed up for some blogs that send me emails when new blog posts are published. Much like this blog. This way, I don’t have to check other sites constantly, it arrives at my fingertips with no effort. I can choose to read them or discard them depending on subject, topic, or my current workload.

A few gems that have come my way recently…

iPad Apps 4 School by Richard Byrne “iOS 8 Tips and Tricks For Teachers and Students“.

iPad Apps 4 School by Richard Byrne “5 Ways Teachers Can Use Their iPad Professionally“.

Forwarded from Grace Magley – great resource! Connected Educator Starter Kit.

10 Tips for Becoming a Connected Educator

Enjoy! If you have a great resource – please share by commenting below.

Best Practices: The First Project: The Lesson Plan Outline

So, I’m hoping by now you have delved into your new world of iPad use and have gotten familiar with how to use it and your students have done the same.

Now it’s time to approach that first big project. As with any project I begin in my classroom community, I do a test run of the technology first, have an exemplar to share with the children that is not a replica of what I want them to create, and I have my classroom iPad protocols in place.

Generally, the following is how I roll out a new project, usually lasting about 5-6 45min. periods.

Day 1: Show the end product – this generates enthusiasm and buzz, as well as begin to introduce how to use the app. On this first day, it is important for students to get their fingers wet with some of the basic tools the app has to offer. Nothing set in stone, but to mess around a bit and discover some things. If you are teaching the younger grades, set them off to a task that you want them to be able to do independently later.

Day 2: Plan the project – students need time to plan and you can bank on the fact that they have been thinking about it since you introduced it yesterday! Have some kind of planning sheet for students to flesh out ideas before jumping directly into the the project. This will save time and make students work more efficiently. There may be time during the second portion of this day to have kids get started – if this is the case, be sure you and the kids know how to save their project (if needed). Many apps automatically save, but don’t get burned! Check it out ahead of time.

Day 3 & 4: Work on project – this is the core of work time for students. You become available for incidentals, like internet connectivity problems, “how do I…” questions, and sitting with those groups that might need a little bit more guidance.

Day 5: Wrapping up the project, checking work, saving – this is a very important day that shouldn’t get cut short. If your project is too big, add another day to make sure this day gets into the lesson plans. This is where students check for spelling, grammatically correct language, check back to make sure the parameters of the assignment were followed, and saving their work. The saving work can include work flow – how to get the project off a device and into another place. I will cover this is a future blog.

Day 6: Sharing projects and reflection – the last day is sometimes more exciting than the energy generated on that first day because students have done their creating and now get to share their creation with others. I like to share out to the whole class in an informal sharing session where students can say a few words before their project stands for itself. They also can answer questions from other students after their project has been shared.

Teacher Reflection: There is no time like the present – please, please, please, review your project just as your students have finished it while it is still very fresh in your mind! Write yourself some notes, alter the planning sheet, change the steps of your tasks if they are better served in a different order. But whatever you do, do it now. YOU WILL NOW REMEMBER THESE GEMS FOR NEXT YEAR — BELIEVE ME! Of you have embarked upon this journey with a colleague, sit down for just 10 minutes and process what went well and what needs tweaking. If you make notes now, you can change later.

Go forth and project away!

Best Practices: Basic Skills, Workflow Beginning

There are some basic skills you want kids to know how to do which will make their iPad use more independent down the road. These skills can be introduced just like you would introduce a new reading strategy or a writing min-lesson. Model the skill, have the students practice with a buddy or in a small group, and then when they feel comfortable, trying it on their own.

Here are three basic skills that will pay off in the long run.

Taking a picture. If kids are able to use the camera on the iPad, your eyesight can be extended beyond what your regular eyes are capable of accomplishing! If you are not available – for example are working with a small group of students, and a student has a learning discovery, they can document it by taking a picture. You don’t get interrupted, and they have a picture of their success (not to mention an artifact for a portfolio). Show the students where the camera is located on the iPad. Show how to take a picture and look for the focus box, take the picture and then show them where to find the picture in the camera roll. Advanced: train them to email the picture to you!

Take a video recording. This is very similar to the scenario with the picture, but the video allows kids to explain while recording. This is a two-person activity, so kids would need a buddy. NOTE: you want kids to make videos that are SHORT in length; keep videos to 30 seconds or less if possible. This makes getting the video off the iPad easier for you. Again, this can capture evidence of learning that you are unable to see because you are with other students. If this is something that interests you and you want to know more, please email me and I’ll get you started.

Get an image of the web and onto the iPad. This is a skill that has proven quite essential to my students! Most kids are pretty adept at “Googling” images. It is also likely that they are well-versed in copying an image from the web to paste into a  document – typically on a laptop. The copy-paste command is great for the laptop world, but not as efficient for iPad use. To use a picture in most apps on the iPad, kids need to tap and hold on the image they want to save. A command box with several options will appear and “save image” is the one to select. This will save the image to the camera roll. Many apps have access to pictures in the camera roll and students can select images as needed.

When introducing these basic skills to your students, ask your audience if there are any out there who already know how to do these tasks. This is a fantastic opportunity to highlight a student for outside knowledge that can be brought to your classroom community.