10 Days: An Emotional Roller Coaster

Ten days ago I started school.  I met my 33 first graders for the first time.  I set routines, learned about my students, met their parents, established a workshop model…now I am on strike.  The emotional highs and lows of the past 10 days have made me feel like my life is a crazy made-for-TV movie.  I’ve learned that it’s hard to wipe you’re tears when you’re holding a sign advocating for low class size. I’ll never forget what it felt like to stand on the picket line beside my former students and realize they’ve blossomed into young adults–ones who take action and stand up for themselves and others.  I’ve held hands with my colleagues knowing that no matter what anyone says, what we do every day truly matters.  And so, words can hardly express the past 10 days. Enjoy the photo essay.

Posted in Back To School, Classroom Environment, Interesting, Politics, Self Reflection | 15 Comments

What’s on Your Flipboard?

I’ve been using Flipboard on my iPad for some time.  I love the way that it lays out text from different websites.  This year we’ve loaded the free Flipboard app onto student devices and we’ll be starting the year with the following sites for some wonderful online reading experiences.  Students have access to iPads during independent reading time and we also plan on setting aside some special time for just browsing through Flipboard, reading, and responding.

Posted in 2.0 Tools, Active Literacy, Apps for Education, iPad, Reader's Workshop | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Beautiful, Beautiful Books

I’ve been meaning to post these pictures ever since last spring.  I took them at a great independent children’s book store in Wisconsin called the Book Look.  It’s basically teacher heaven.  So sit back and enjoy my photo essay.

Posted in Reader's Workshop | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Classroom Jobs for the 21st Century Classroom

I’ve never been good at class jobs.  I always forget to rotate them.  But the students love having jobs (most of them anyway) and truthfully it’s helpful to have them take care of the little things.  In the 21st century classroom there is potential for new and exciting jobs.  Here are a few that I’ve added to my list over the last few years.

  • Technology Team: Although I expect every student in the room to become adept at handling technology responsibly, there are times when I need a few experts to take care of something.  I train these students on how to properly clean, store, and manage a large amount of devices.  I also train them on how to sync iPads so that if we start a lesson and someone didn’t get something I don’t have to stop teaching.  The technology team is one of the most coveted jobs on the list and students take it very seriously.  Without my tech team I would never have been able to ensure that 30 iPads were properly stored, charging, and locked up every night.  Another benefit is that I don’t have to worry when I’m not around.  Students are capable enough to educate any substitute teachers, assist them with use, and monitor to ensure classroom rules are being followed.
  • Homework Blogger: For years parents asked for homework to be posted on the class website and for years I said no.  It’s not that I was opposed to it, the truth is I just don’t remember.  I already write the homework on the board every day and students are expected to copy it down in their agenda.  I’m a busy lady, I don’t like doing things twice.  But the students liked the idea.  Their reasoning was that if they were absent or forgot they would have a place to look.  Some of them also complained of parents not trusting them or believing them. (I really don’t give that much homework)  So, I said fine but YOU have to do it.  So, I put the login for the blog on one student’s iPad and then train them on how to type in the homework each day.  I check in once and awhile to ensure that they are on the “up and up,” but I’ve never had an issue.  Students and parents are happy with this small piece of communication and I’m happy because I don’t have to manage it.  When jobs switch I hand pick a new blogger and have the previous student train them.
  • Class Archivist: This is a new one that I’m going to do this year.  I’ve been toying with the idea of using a site like Shuttercal for this purpose for awhile.  Each day the archivist posts a picture that best represents the learning we did that day and writes a short caption about it.  Parents, families, and students can have a timeline of learning over the year.  Students might photograph the cover of a new read aloud, a science experiment in progress, a valuable anchor chart, or a special guest.  I’ll run it the same as I do for the blog, logging in one student at a time, and have them upload the photos using the Shuttercal app.  I haven’t decided what the privacy settings/guidelines will be yet.  For about $3 a month you can password protect the calendar so I may take that route if students want to post photos of kids working.  Otherwise we’ll keep it to inanimate representations of our learning.
Posted in Classroom Management, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Best Practice for Math App Games in the Classroom

One of the most common questions I get is “What math games are you using?”  Certainly there are some math app games that are far superior to others as they relate to learning.  But a more important question is HOW are we using them.  Let me tell you a little story.

When I first started with the ipads in my class I thought that if I found games that were valuable and educational that would be enough.  I spent hours sifting through the app store and websites finding the “best” apps.  These games not only taught and reinforced skills but asked students to apply math skills and critical thinking.

Cut to me looking over the shoulder of one of my most capable math students as she plays one of these educational games.  Watch as my shoulders slump and I put my hand to my head and realize that she is playing the game on the easiest possible setting so that she can accumulate the most amount of points and brag to her friends.  As Homer Simpson would say, Doh!

This is one of the reasons computers will NEVER replace teachers.  Students need teachers to push their thinking and help them make connections.  The truth is most of them will play at the easiest level, won’t think of this as part of their learning time but as a break, and worst of all, probably won’t transfer the skills out of the game.  So HOW do we get them to do all of these things?  Well here is a list I’ve come up with based on my experiences in the classroom. (No fancy research in this post folks, just good old fashioned teacher thinking.)  If you have more please feel free to leave a comment!

  • Establish the tone from the start:  When we game it’s to learn.  Set the expectation that students are to learn something, apply something they’ve learned, or find the connection with the other learning that’s been going on in class.  Does this mean that you can never give kids a five minute “break.”  I truthfully don’t know.  It probably depends on you and your students.  But if they automatically stop thinking when those apps are on their ipad then we shoot ourselves in the foot.
  • Provide Clear Parameters: Apps with multiple settings are great because you can differentiate for students.  If one group is ready to move on to division while another is still mastering multiplication there’s an app for that.  But, you need to give students the direction for how to adjust the settings to suit their needs.  First of all, they may not know what their needs are. (Although you would hope they would if we’re doing enough reflection in mathematics.) I have frequently seen students choosing settings that are too hard or too easy.  Second, we need to still guide them and monitor that they are practicing at the correct level and challenge them as soon as they are ready.
  • Set high expectations:  Do you play Angry Birds?  My husband will reply a level until he gets three stars before he moves on to the next level.  This is what our students need to be doing.  Sometimes games have low standards for what “passes.”  Those are not my standards.  Students need to strive for excellence and the highest achievement possible in these types of apps. Then they need to reflect on the difference between the levels of achievement and the changes they made to get to the highest level of achievement, which brings me to my next point…
  • Be Present: Game time does not mean break time for the teacher.  While students are working you need to be walking around monitoring all of the things above and pushing their thinking with questioning.  Sometimes I even pull students for a quick small group lesson based on something I’m seeing them do, or do a quick table lesson or demonstration.  When I talk with them I ask them; What strategies are you using to solve these problems?  Is this game challenging you?  Where do you see a connection between this game and the other mathematical work we’ve been doing in class?
  • Provide Structure:  If you can’t be present, i.e. you need this time to work with a small group, then you need to give the students some kind of guidance, purpose, structure, or accountability piece.  Hopefully, if you’ve done all of the above, students do take this time seriously and enjoy being challenged to use their critical thinking skills.  It doesn’t hurt to be clear about what you want them to get out of this time (your objective) and then ask them to reflect on the learning they did after.  I often use a quick google form to check in on what each kid was doing that day or get some feedback on where they are at with a particular skill.
  • Push for Transfer:  At the end of the day, the students need to be able to transfer their learning.  I frequently push them to draw connections between games and class work, ask them to reflect on strategies they use, and help them draw connections between the game work and class work.  It can happen, but it may not happen naturally.  Our students need us to help them transfer their learning and make connections between experiences.
  • Minimize Collaboration: This is sort of a controversial statement for me.  I love when students collaborate and help each other.  But what I’ve noticed with the math games that are really challenging (like more puzzle based games) is that, inevitably there are a few students who are excellent at this type of thinking.  The other students begin to rely on these few to help them get past difficult levels and, as a result, doubt their own ability to persevere and solve the challenge.  If you have experts, that’s great, coach them on how to give hints or talk about the strategies they use to solve these challenging problems.  They can be experts as long as they are teaching others how to be more successful not just giving them the solutions.
  • Minimize Competition:  Depending on your students’ developmental level the need to compete may be strong.  Some students love to compete and it actually drives them to excellence.  But if the focus is competition or trying to get your name on a high score board then students will be focused on that and not on the learning.  I’m sure some people might disagree and if you’ve used this in your classroom with great success please share it, but overall I think competition places a focus on winning and not learning and that doesn’t sit right with me at all.
  • Don’t make it an early finisher activity:  This is kind of obvious.  If you ask a student whether they’d rather finish up some practice problems from their book or play a game on the iPad….do I even have to say it?  One of the first things I learned as a teacher was never make the “next thing” more fun than the thing you are doing right now.  Kids will rush to get through work and slower workers will begin to feel left out and resent their peers.  That’s not to say that you can never do it, but if it seems like the daily focus is finishing quickly to get a reward then finishing quickly becomes the focus, not learning.


photo credit: N04/5941825600/”>Inpsire via photo pin cc

Posted in Apps for Education, iPad, Math, Technology | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

We’ve Been on Blogcation…

You may have noticed that we haven’t been around.  Somewhere around the end of last school year things got C-R-A-Z-Y in Chicago.  Kristin and I have spent this summer traveling for fun and for work.  We recently had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of teacher in Hawaii on launching a schoolwide iPad program.  (Life’s hard, I know)  We’ve also been writing away as we are working on a project with Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.  Our goal?  Share ways to use technology meaningfully!  And in other news I, Katie, am expecting a little literacy spark!  Yes, that’s right a baby is on the way.  Boy, does growing a person take a lot out of you.

So it’s been a busy summer.  But, the air is getting that end of summer smell, I’m starting to crave apple pie, and pending an agreement on our new contract we will be back to school in a few short weeks.  That means the blogging is back on!  We’ve got technology, literacy, writing, inquiry, and more in store.  We’ll also be having some guest posts by my fabulous teaching partner Michelle Nash on the Common Core. (A hot topic to be sure.)

While you’re waiting for your posts you might want to check out some of my Pinterest boards.

Amazing classroom libraries!

Tons of great anchor charts

Some just plain cute or practical ideas!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How do we effectively use technology?

In our classroom, first grade students use the iPad and Web 2.0 tools to build comprehension, expand audience and interact with the world!  Our goal has been to go beyond substitutional interactions with the device and seek tools that modify, transform and redefine teaching and learning.

On any given day you’ll see students respond to text using a variety of tools.  During a read aloud students may sit on the rug and respond by drawing their visual image with a drawing app.  Or maybe they will jot their questions about a text on a Google spreadsheet or participate in a backchannel discussion on Edmodo.  At the end of the read aloud, first graders will save their work on the iPad and email a sample to the teacher.  These emailed work samples are used to plan for future lessons and document a child’s thinking and learning over time.


You’ll also see students write for an authentic audience.  Each child hosts his or her own blog where they post book recommendations, learning reflections, questions they’d like answered and information about their inquiry projects.  Students read and post comments on the blogs of their classmates, as well as reply to their 5th grade big buddies.  Our first grade bloggers have followers around the world ranging from parents, extended family, visitors to our classroom and other schools.  Our bloggers are also published authors who compose and illustrate fiction and nonfiction eBooks.


The six and seven-year-olds at our school are recording artists and movie producers.  They compose and record songs that teach a concept or reflect their new learning. This multimodal response helps students summarize and synthesize an idea or skill and teaches others as the musical component makes information easy to remember.  Similarly, our student producers use iMovie to create book trailers, app reviews and inquiry movies.  They lay video, voice and musical tracks to develop movies that teach others. We share these movies with the world on our classroom website and our Vimeo channel.


First graders engage in a variety of digital communities.  We share our learning and ask questions on Wonderopolis, we produce book reviews for various websites and Skype our favorite authors.  Students share their learning with families in our Tweets From the Rug series on Twitter.


Each day students use their iPad in conjunction with other tools—crayons, books, markers, chart paper and paint.  In our classroom, the iPad serves as one tool that is available for learning, but we use our resources flexibly throughout the school day.  The technology we have available has transformed students’ access to information and interactions with the global community.  First graders in this classroom will be prepared for the digital future that lies ahead.

Posted in 2.0 Tools, Active Literacy, Back To School, iPad, Technology, Videos | Leave a comment

When Things Go Wrong: How Do You React?

I had a long day yesterday, so I decided to do something nice for myself and got to a yoga class between school and the marathon meeting that I had to attend last night.  Although I go to yoga at the studio by my house semi-often I thought I would try out the studio that is right by my school.  So, after having looked up the schedule I schlepped through the unseasonably hot weather.

Unfortunately the schedule I had looked at was wrong.  There was a class at 4:30 the girl informed me but it was not a level 1 yoga class it was a super heated yoga sculpt.   I made the decision to just try it.  When things don’t go our way sometimes we just have to go with the flow.

The minute I entered the room I knew it was going to be rough 60 minutes.  I grabbed the lightest weights I could find, laid down my mat, and breathed into the heat of the room beads of sweat already forming.  “Why oh why did I only have a salad for lunch?” I thought as I lay there.

The beginning wasn’t so hard but it quickly accelerated.  The teacher looked at me with a mix of apprehension and curiosity, as if wondering when exactly I might pass out or give up.  I did neither.  I ignored the well sculpted girls near me whose hair seemed to flow from their long pony tails perfectly as mine began to frizz to epic proportions.  I ignored the fact that I had packed the ugliest pants I own to wear that day.  The ones that showed every bump and ripple.   I ignored the teacher’s tough look and squelched my thoughts that perhaps she could give me just a little encouragement, I could encourage myself.  I drank water when I needed it and rested when I needed it.  I won’t lie and say that I didn’t seriously consider getting up and walking out a few times.  But I didn’t.  I made it to the end.  Sometimes we have to persevere!

Things don’t always go as planned.  It’s how we react to it that matters.

You can read other Slice of Life stories at Two Writing Teachers!


Posted in Slice of Life | Tagged | 7 Comments

We are bloggers!

Currently, each student in my class hosts a blog on Kidblogs.org.  Kidblogs is a safe and easy blogging site for students.  There are various settings that allow the teacher to manage visibility and access. Each child enters his or her blog with a password.  Students can write blogs, read the posts of their peers and respond with comments.

Originally, I thought that we would use these blogs like we traditionally used Reader’s Notebooks–as a place to discuss our reading history, habits and strategies.  As my students developed their skills in blogging, I saw how the blogs could be a repository for all our thinking.  Now, students use their blogs to post book reviews, respond to text, share  new learning in inquiry projects and ask questions of our blogging community.

My students love to blog and truly view themselves as members of a global blogging community.  In the past few months we’ve received comments and feedback from around the world.  As I thought about all that my students have done with blogs, I wanted to make sure they understood the purpose of blogging.  So, I asked them to reflect on why we blog.

A few responses:

“When you blog, you tell about your work and what you do at school.”

“The reason you blog is so you can share your learning around the Earth.  It’s also very interesting!”

“If you live in another country you could blog, only it would have to be in a different language.”

“You blog in order to learn from other people.”

“A blog is a way you tell friends where they can get info and how to share it.”

“Blogging is sharing information with others!”

These responses showed me that my students do indeed, understand why we blog!  They know that we blog to share information and to learn from others.  They also know that their blogs are a forum for self-expression.  Through blogging they have learned that their thinking and learning matters. They recognize themselves as active agents in a digital  world.  I hope that their current understanding of blogging lays a solid foundation for future explorations in technology.

It’s an exciting time to be a young learner…onward, bloggers!

Posted in 2.0 Tools, Book Reviews, Collaboration, iPad, Reader's Workshop, Research Workshop, Technology, Writer's Workshop | Leave a comment

Regie Routman at IRA 2012

Last Monday I had the great fortune to get to see Regie Routman speak at the IRA conference.  I love Regie’s books, they were some of the very first professional books I ever read.  I was proud to see her presenting from her iPad for the first time and reflective when she showed the perfect “tea house tree house” that was built for her grandchildren. (A full imagination/reading zone and technology free place.)  It was a good reminder that in our techno-centric lives we need to remember to explicitly teach kids how to unplug as well.

I was also really happy to hear her take on the common core.  I feel a lot better about putting these standards in perspective after listening to her, Steph Harvey, and Anne Goudvis.  Districts are clamoring to buy any shiny packaged thing that has the words common core on it.  We need to pull back from that stance and think about what good teaching looks like first.

Regie is now on Facebook and you can find resources on her facebook page.

Posted in Professional Books, Professional Development | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vote and Spread the Word!

Five of our students, with guidance from the fabulous Todd Strother, created this amazing video for the Adobe Youth Voices competition.  They are now one of twenty finalists in the international competition.  I am wowed by their sophistication and creativity.  Four of these girls were in my fifth grade class years ago and I am so proud of their growth and work.  This is an amazing use of stop motion video!  Follow the link and “like” them on Facebook to vote for their work.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Why you should have attended Poetry Olio last night

The IRA convention has been full of amazing people, ideas, and exchange of thought. But the learning doesn’t end at 5:45! Last night we had the opportunity to attend our first ever Poetry Olio, a poetry slam like event featuring poets of all walks of life. This event, organized by author-educators Sarah Holbrook and Michael Salinger is one of the best kept secrets of IRA.

Yesterday morning Regie Routman talked about the importance of letting life inspire teaching. Well I can’t think of a more inspirational life event than this. I even took the plunge and read an original poem of my own. I was floored at how supportive the community was and I’m even thinking of working on a poetry book now. (Thanks to author Janet Wong’s advice.)

So next year at IRA make sure you seek out the Olio, you won’t regret it! You’ll probably even have a little fun

Posted in Conference Presentations | Tagged | 3 Comments


It’s here!  The 57th Annual International Reading Association convention in Chicago, IL.  Things have been so busy lately it really just crept up on us.  But now that it’s here I’m really excited.  I have yet to pour through the fantastically large program to see what I will be catching on Monday and Tuesday.  I think that’s going to require a bigger cup of coffee!

Tuesday morning I’ll be presenting with Kristin and Carolyn Skibba, ADE and tech coordinator, on technology and literacy.  You can see the official description on our conference presentation page.

Our goal is to present a lot of the work that we’ve been doing this year, open up some dialogue on thoughtful uses of technology in literacy instruction, and share some ideas that we think are pretty neat.  If you’re in Chicago please join us 9:00 am on Tuesday morning.

If not you can follow updates on Twitter.  The official hashtag is #IRA2012.

Posted in Conference Presentations | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Did You Use Technology Today?


my students started their first ever ebook read on their ipads.  They set up a color coding system for thinking notes, important vocabulary, and items to bring to discussion circles.

a student who was absent watched the math lessons from yesterday and was able to catch up in 10 minutes.

students worked out mixed number addition problems using a virtual manipulative app and then took a quick check-in quiz via google forms so that I could track their progress before they moved on to their final assessment, a recording on a whiteboard app that lets me hear their thinking as they solve the problem and narrate.

They read different articles about Ancient Greece and then blogged about what they learned and what they thought of it.

They used Google earth to study the topography of the Mediterranean and Europe.

How did you and your students use technology as a learning tool today?

Posted in Apps for Education, Collaboration, iPad, Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

QR Codes and Anchor Charts in Math

A while back I wrote a post about two great resources for math instructional videos.  I enjoy exposing kids to these instructional videos because it gives them the opportunity to hear other teachers and students explain things.  After much hemming and hawing I’ve found a way to easily and quickly make and integrate my own videos into my classroom.  Although I’ve recently been using Explain Everything I’ve found that the Show Me app actually works better for my math videos.  Essentially it’s the simplest solution with the least amount of time investment on my part.

After a lesson I will do a quick 2-3 minute review video on Show Me.  I then upload this video my Show Me account.  It’s a very simple interface, extremely easy to use, and all you have to do is make a free account.  Using a QR code generator I make a QR code that links directly to the video and then tape it to the anchor chart.  Bam!  Automatic interactive anchor charts.

Because I have limited space, as I take anchor charts down I take the QR code and put it with a title on a board of topics and QR codes.  Even though the chart may be down or buried under other charts students can still access the review learning by just scanning the code with their iPad.  The other benefit is that they can access my Show Me videos from home so if they forget how to do something they can hear me explain it again.

I haven’t tried this with longer lessons but I think for a simple, fast, and effective way to capture snapshots of our teaching to share with students Show Me is a great solution.  You can keep videos private (only those with the link can access) or publish your work to share with other teachers and students around the globe.  Plus it’s free!

Posted in Apps for Education, iPad, Math | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Way to Help Kids Compose Music?

I love David Warlick’s Video-a-Day blog.  He always finds the most amazing and USEFUL videos.  As I was watching this one below it struck me as a particularly useful tool for teaching kids how to better compose music on Garage band.  Visually speaking it mirrors what they see as they work and I think it would really help them break free from the concept that every instrument needs to play all time, beginning to end, as loud as it can.

Posted in Interesting, Technology, Videos | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Midpoint Inquiry Check in 1st grade

As you may know from Katie’s posts, we are up to our elbows in inquiry circles across the school!  On Friday we will have our once-a-year, doors-wide-open inquiry celebration for grades PK-8.  Get ready…

Currently, I have 10 inquiry circles up and running around Ancient China.  Each circle has 3 students, with the exception of 1 group that has 4, since I have 31 students.  I’ve got kids studying the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Buddhism, education, emperors, marital arts, Terra Cotta Warriors, the zodiac, Silk Road, and food.  There is a lot going on in our classroom!

We’ve asked questions, done research, had minilessons on collaboration and made our work plans. Last Thursday we started to take our thinking public with projects.  Today,  with only a few days left to work, I had my students complete a midpoint “check-in” to assess how it was going.

Using Google forms, I surveyed my students and asked them to complete the following information:

1. Name

2. Topic (Shown as the first column below)

3.Supplies/Materials needed

4.How it was going with their collaboration (on a scale of 1-5)

5. How much work they still had to do (on a scale of 1-5)

6. Which jobs they’ve completed (check all that apply)

7. Are there any issues or concerns you’d like me to know about?

Here are the results:

Google forms provided me with a lot of information in a quick, at-a-glance format.  I was impressed with the detail and nuggets of information my students provided.  From this data collection, I was able to take the information and plan how I would support each group in the coming days.  I even accessed it after school at the craft store to see what I needed to purchase for my students!

Each child completed this form on their iPad.  Once again, I see kids who are inspired to write more when presented with a digital format.  I’ve had my students do midpoint check-ins previously on paper and with pencil; I’ve never received this much information with earlier status checks. I’m thrilled with my students’ ease of interaction and use of digital tools.  I remember what a challenge it was for them to navigate the screen and send an email in October…just look at them now!  Experts at the Google form!

Looking closely at these 2 entries, I can see that both students are confident in their topic and project choice.  The first entry explains that she is “doing a life-size Emperor Chi and he was China’s first emperor.” The child has 2 simple requests (using nice manners)–silk and paint.  Her group’s collaboration is going “so-so,” getting 3/5 points and her work is almost done.  She wasn’t quite sure if there was anything I needed to know about, “Well, I don’t really know if we’re ok…is that fine?” This comment shows me that she is self-monitoring her progress and work flow and is looking for reassurance that she is on track.  Tomorrow I will check-in with her group on their collaboration and let her know that she is on target for completing the project.

The latter entry again provides detail about the silk road project and materials they need to accomplish their work.  This group is having great collaboration (5/5) and his inquiry circle is half way done with the project.  He shows his enthusiasm by announcing in uppercase letters, “WE ARE DOING GREAT!”  Tomorrow I plan to provide the materials requested and encourage them to journey on with their project.

This Google form provides valuable self-assessment information as students monitor their work and collaboration.  This will aide me in completing their inquiry circle rubrics after this cycle ends.

I can’t wait for my students to take their thinking public on Friday!  They are ready to show their thinking and learning.  Get ready Explore More!  Here we come!

Posted in 2.0 Tools, Active Literacy, Assessment, Collaboration, Inquiry, iPad, Technology | Leave a comment

Going Public With Learning

This post is part of my series of posts that chronicle a two and half week inquiry project from start to finish.  Here are some other posts in this series.

Explore More: Explaining what it is and the background of the project.

Going Deeper with Questioning: Sparking students’  curiosity using images.

Collaboration: Supporting students’ work in small groups.

Focusing on Process (not just product): Helping students reflect and document the learning process.

Keeping Kids Organized During Inquiry: One way to help students learn about time management and organize their group work.

I usually put off any discussion of final products until the students have had a chance to research and get to know their topics.  Most students will put the cart before the horse on projects and think about what they want to make first.  This can derail their research pretty quick.  I also try to teach students to pick ways to go public that suit the topic or issue they are covering.  This year we gave them a chart that listed a variety of ways they might share information and that described what each way is good for. You’ll have to excuse the typos as I was finishing this on my 20 minute lunch one day!

Each group had a thoughtful conversation about what products they would create for their Presentation. It was a lot easier for them to collaborate around this issue because they were thinking about what would be best for the project and their learning not what each of them personally wanted to do.



Posted in Active Literacy, Collaboration, Inquiry, Research Workshop | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Keeping Kids Organized During Inquiry

This post is part of my series of posts that chronicle a two and half week inquiry project from start to finish.  Here are some other posts in this series.

Explore More: Explaining what it is and the background of the project.

Going Deeper with Questioning: Sparking students’  curiosity using images.

Collaboration: Supporting students’ work in small groups.

Focusing on Process (not just product): Helping students reflect and document the learning process.

Helping students organize themselves and learn time management skills is an essential part of the inquiry process.  This year we gave each group a small report cover filled with essential documents to help them through the process.  It’s very important that students learn these management skills and that we support them in doing so.

Here are the books for the groups that I am managing this year. I've written a brief reminder note on a post-it to each group after reviewing their work for the past few days.

Each “book” starts with a wonder page.  When student groups initially met their first task was to brainstorm a list of questions both big and small.  They add to their page as more questions arise.  This is a great way to give them a daily reminder of the real purpose of their work.  To inquire into topics and questions that THEY find interesting.

This is an example of one group's initial wonder page

We also include a planning calendar for the duration of the inquiry.  This is a great way to teach students how to work on time management skill and helps them collaborate more efficiently.  I ask students to reflect on their calendar periodically during the course of the project to see if their predictions for time allotment were correct.  This helps them to build those skills for their next inquiry.  I model how to fill out these calendars at the beginning of the year.  Because we usually do inquiry work in two or two and half week segments students are used to the pace that they need to work at to get things accomplished.

An example of how one group decided they might spend their time. I love that they have included a day to practice!

As I wrote about in my last post, reflection is a big piece of our work this year.  We spend the last 5-7 minutes of every class reflecting on the day.  This has been really instrumental in helping the students develop their metacognition of the process.  It’s also a great tool for me to do a quick check on any issues or frustrations the groups might have.

Here's an example of one group's reflection form for the day. They've included a fact that hey found shocking as their learning for the day. Certainly they learned more than this, but the goal is to get them to discuss what they learned and decide as a team what to put on the sheet. Clearly this group had a great day collaborating. Not all groups will. This feedback is essential information so that we can inform our teaching for both whole and small group lessons the next day.

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Focusing on Process (not just product)

This post is part of my series of posts that chronicle a two and half week inquiry project from start to finish.  Here are some other posts in this series.

Explore More: Explaining what it is and the background of the project.

Going Deeper with Questioning: Sparking students’  curiosity using images.

Collaboration: Supporting students’ work in small groups.

Explore More is a big event that coincides with grandparents day at our school.  It’s easy to feel pressured to focus on the product when you know there will be a live audience.  We really wanted students to think about their process this year and be really thoughtful about the journey they took with their topic.  So, I invented something I’m calling an Inquiry Story.  Yup, that’s right I just went ahead and invented it.  At least I’m pretty sure I did, I haven’t seen any other ones out there.

Anyway, in preparation to create this inquiry story students spend the last 5 minutes of class filling out a reflection form and gathering their artifacts for the day.  These artifacts can be a wide range of things.  Here are some suggestions we gave students.

Next week students will work as a team to put together and narrate their inquiry story in iMovie.  This will be shared on our presentation day so that our visitors can see the process of learning as well as the final product.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

photo credit: markchadwickart via photopin cc

Posted in Active Literacy, Classroom Management, Collaboration, Inquiry, iPad, Research Workshop, Technology | Tagged , | 2 Comments