Back to School!


My stomach was in a knot as I pulled the big box of diapers out of the back of the car.  M smiled happily at me as I undid the belts of her carseat.  Today would be her first day of day care.  I thought briefly about how there would be many first days for her to come.  First days of kindergarten, then high school, then college.  This one seemed particularly hard but I knew there would be harder ones to come.

I buried my face in her neck and kissed her chubby cheeks as we walked up to the door.  The daycare owner was there to greet us and I was calmed by a little boy running up to give her a huge hug.  She took the bag and diapers from me and we entered.  I tried to slow this moment down, but as with any moment that you want to go slowly, time seems to speed up.  Soon I was handing my baby over.

“Ok, well I’m just going to go.”

As I surveyed my classroom I began to feel overwhelmed at the amount of work to do.  Bit by bit, book by book I put my teaching self back together again.  I thought of her frequently as I puttered around the room making lists.  I checked the clock counting the minutes as I wordlessly shuffled items about.  And when the bell rang at the end of the day I went skipping to my car, like a child again, so excited to be going home.

Posted in Slice of Life | Tagged | 7 Comments

Coming Out of Hibernation with #SHC13 Think Tank!

Those of you that have had a baby will understand when I say that I’ve been in hibernation.  It’s not that I’ve been sleeping my days away, in fact I get less sleep now than I ever have.  My hibernation has consisted of an all consuming obsession with my little girl and watching her grow and learn every day.  As much as that is a very worthy use of my days I think it’s about time that I rejoin the world and remember some of the things that make me ME and not just Mom.  Luckily I was pulled from my hibernation in the most lovely way when I had the pleasure of spending my weekend with these ladies!

BPJRPxxCQAEHCc6What better way to reinvigorate, reintroduce, and renew my passion for teaching than to sit at a table with a group of brilliant women who believe in good practice and changing the profession?  It was a learning packed weekend to be sure.  If you’d like to see the tweets just look for the #SHC13 Hashtag on Twitter where we tried to share our learning.  (Believe me I couldn’t tweet fast enough to capture it all!)

Our morning began with a Twitter introduction for our colleagues who weren’t yet exploring this tool.  We engaged in some great discussion about the power of sharing our learning with the world, accessing learning, connecting with peers, and how we might use twitter in our work as staff developers and teachers.  Then we watched a clip from the DVD that comes with our new book Connecting Comprehension and Technology.  (You know I can’t pass up an opportunity to promote this.  It’s not that I’m trying to get you to buy my book, I really really believe in the value of the work that’s in it and I think (I really hope) it’s going to be the tool that teachers need to connect technology with good practice in the classroom!)  9780325047034Every time I watch this DVD segment I think three things. 1) My students are so amazing!  2) They get amazing because they’ve had great teachers year after year that believe in their ability to take charge of their own learning. 3) My colleagues are brilliant. 4) I know I said there was only 3 but really there is 4, dang was I pregnant!

Once our morning got going we dug into some really meaty topics with Stephanie Harvey like the Common Core, text complexity, and other hot topic issues in education.  These are some of the quotes that stuck with me.

These are literally just a few of the amazing take aways from this brief morning session led by Stephanie Harvey.

We now break for a short commercial.


We had lunch from an American Indian Eatery called Tocabe.

If you are ever in Denver you will do yourself a great disservice if you don’t eat at this place.  It’s amazing.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

Our afternoon was action packed.  Kristen and I shared our new book Connecting Comprehension and Technology with the group.  As always our focus was on the transformative power of technology and how it must be grounded in good practice and pedagogy!

Then we were treated to a great presentation on reasoning and argument by Lynette Emmons.  She really emphasized that argument needs to be tied to authentic questions and thinking generated by students.  How can you learn to be a good arguer if you never get the chance to really argue?  Another of her points that stuck with me is that we weren’t brought up to read with claim, evidence, and reasoning in mind so, as teachers, we must really peel back the layers of our own learning so that we can teach it to students.

As if this wasn’t enough for our first day we had an amazing Finale from Anne Goudvis on supporting ELL learners in the classroom.  Anne always has a great perspective on how we can really ensure that our ELL students get the most out of their instructional time.  She shared the power of previewing lessons to help those students be successful in the whole group as well as ways to support their efforts with visuals in the classroom.  I’ve also really been dwelling on something she mentioned which is that ELL students need HIGH CHALLENGE and HIGH SUPPORT to be successful.  Without one they are either engaged in work that’s too hard without the needed support to be successful or work that is too easy and mindless.

We wrapped up our weekend listening to Angel Schroden, author of the staff development book for the Comprehension Toolkit, talk about coaching.  I have to say that since I haven’t really done much coaching this was such an interesting topic to me.  I would have loved to listen to this amazing gal talk more about the ways that we can really support and inspire teachers to be the best that they can be and impact their students in positive ways.

So in all this what do I take away?  What is most important?

  • Professional renewal is so essential to our minds and hearts as teachers.  Whether it be through book study, conferences, online groups, or professional development in the classroom.  Teachers need to keep learning.
  • Keep the current “hot topic” in perspective.  We know what good practice is and we can’t abandon it every time something new comes down the pipe.  As teachers we must be well read and able to look at things from a well read perspective.
  • Students should be at the forefront of our mind at all times.
  • You can never get enough time when smart people are at the table!
Posted in Active Literacy, Collaboration, Conference Presentations, Inquiry, iPad, Professional Development, Reader's Workshop, Self Reflection, Strategy Instruction, Teacher as Readers, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Connecting Comprehension and Technology

You may have noticed our lack of posts lately.  There are two good reasons for that.  1) Mini Literacyspark has been keeping Katie very busy.  2) We’ve been writing a book. 

Whaaaaaat!?  Yes, it’s true.  We’ve strayed out of the online format into an actual paper book.  (We still like those too.)  It’s very exciting and feels very official.  But beyond that we hope that it will be a good resource for teachers who love good pedagogy and want to use technology in meaningful ways.  Here’s the link if you’re interested.

What we wanted to do was to share how we marry reading comprehension skills with technology use.  Students collaborate, discuss, write, listen, record, read….notice it’s the students doing all the work!  The teacher is the guide on the side and co-learner, taking time to model, learn with students, and coach them into becoming thoughtful readers and communicators on the internet.  

If you’re heading to IRA this weekend and want to know more you can catch Kristin presenting with Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. 


I’ll be home with this little peanut.


Posted in Active Literacy, Classroom Management, Conference Presentations, iPad, Professional Books, Professional Development, Reader's Workshop, Research Workshop, Strategy Instruction, Teacher as Readers, Technology | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Taking Time To Write


The Slice of Life challenge is hosted at

I will be blogging my slices on my writing blog Coffee Fueled Musings.

Every year I participate in the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.  This is a writing challenge that takes place every March.  The goal is to write every day for an entire month.  Some years I have been successful and other not so much.  This has been one of my busiest years yet!  Writing a book and having a baby has sort of wiped out my down time. (And a lot of my blogging time)  But I thought to myself, hey…if you’re busy then you must be doing something worth writing about! So I’ll be taking the slicing challenge yet again this year.

What I’ve always loved about the genre of Slice of Life is that it lend a sense of importance to our every day lives.  In a time of faster, better, bigger…it’s important to teach our students to stop and reflect on the little things.  So many times we hear the refrain, I have nothing to write about.  Of course, our students think that only big things are worthwhile topics.  (Hence, the million and one memoirs I get about going to Wisconsin Dells every year.)  But the truth is there is more meaning in a tiny slice of their every day life than there is an any big vacation or trip.  When we model lending importance to those daily moments we show our students how they too can find the meaning in their day to day life.  Stacey and Ruth have some great resources for using Slice of Life with your students up on their blog and I highly suggest you check them out!

Posted in Writer's Workshop | Tagged | 1 Comment! So amazing I can’t imagine life without it!!

Yay! I love you,! You’re amazing!

I heard about a few months ago on #1stchat (a weekly conversation about 1st grade on Twitter every Sunday at 7:00 CST).  I believe the amazing Karen Lireman  tipped me off to it and since then, life hasn’t been the same.

croak-it is a free website that allows the user to record 30 second audio clips.  The audio recording is then uploaded to a personalized website and available to anyone who has the link.  The developers created the site for users to  “Push. Speak. Share.” and the simplicity is amazing.  Even more unbelievable is that also has a FREE app available for iPhone and Android!

So what does this mean for education?

In my class, I’ve loaded each iPad with the app.  It’s so easy for students to capture audio recordings as they simply push the white circle to start and stop their 1

Once they stop the recording they’re directed to the sharing screen…

photo 2 …and then email the link to me or copy it to embed in another location.  As the teacher, I can share their Croak via Twitter so our followers can get a snapshot of what we’re learning.

Because each recording has a personalized web address, it eliminates a lot of the “middleman” work I use to have to do as the teacher finding a home for students’ audio recordings.  Previously, I loaded audio recordings to my classroom website or a dummy audio recording storage space for students to access via the web. Now, their audio recordings already have a “web home” so I can quickly and directly link to it.

This has dramatically enhanced our use of QR codes in the classroom.  Before, it was cumbersome to create a site for the audio, publish it, and then link a QR to the site. Now, I simply drop the link into the QR site and viola! We have a QR that links to audio.

This is tremendously helpful for differentiating instruction. When I want to provide verbal directions for students on an assessment or increase access to an article that may be too challenging for some students to decode, I create an audio file using and link that to a QR code students can scan.

We’re also using them to create book talks.  Students use to create a short audio book reviews.  They email me the link to their Croak and then I create a QR code for the link (below, an example from


I print out the QR code and students attach the code to the book they’re recommending.  When students shop for a book during independent reading, they can scan the QR and hear the book recommendation their peer created using  Book reviews created by students, for students are empowering for my young readers as they are excited to hear what books their peers suggest.  As early childhood educators have long known, students are capable of comprehending and telling much more than what they may be able to express in writing; this is evident as we depart from the traditional book review and provide opportunities for creating these audio book talks.  These audio book reviews create energy for reading and a book “buzz” for what’s hot right now in 1st grade.  In addition, they help readers find “just right” text and foster independence as kids have tools and strategies for locating the perfect read.

IMG_1641Scan the QR below to listen to a student book review:

Book review Pippi Longstocking

As you can tell, I’m very excited about and suggest you check it out! It’s versatile and can be used across the curriculum as something students can create or as a tool teachers can use to differentiate and support student learning.  I think of new ways to use it almost every week and am thrilled to have it as a tool in my classroom.  So go ahead,!

Posted in 2.0 Tools, Active Literacy, Apps for Education, Book Reviews, iPad, Reader's Workshop, Technology | 4 Comments

We’ve been busy…

Hi Friends!

Happy 2013! This post in an apology for not being present on the blog for the past few months and a public commitment to make my practice more visible in the coming days.

This has been a challenging year for Katie and I.  As many of you know, our school year kicked off with a teachers strike in the Chicago Public Schools. It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life and so many of you supported us with comments on the blog, tweets and emails.  A few of our followers even showed up on the streets in solidarity! We are extremely grateful for your thoughts and well-wishes.  Thank for being there for us and thank goodness that is all over!

After a bumpy start we bounced back to school with a flourish! But, despite the call for smaller classes, I have 33 students this year. Like all first graders you may know, they are smart, curious, eager to learn and possess tremendous joy for life.  It is my largest class to date and it’s been an endeavor to meet their needs as individuals and as a community.  I admit, at times I’ve sacrificed this blog to differentiate lessons for students, archive student work or assess student learning.

Katie and I have also been writing our first book which will be published by Heinemann and available this spring.  It was a tremendous learning experience and we are very pleased with the outcome! We can hardly wait to share this resource!  It was a privilege to collaborate with Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis and to see our writing through the eyes of the exceptional Tina Miller–we are in awe of these ladies and feel blessed to work with them.

Finally, Katie is expecting and will become an amazing mommy in about 21 days! She is healthy and holding up well as she enters the final weeks of pregnancy.  I’ve been impressed with her sense of humor and entertained by her commentary throughout this journey. I’ve tried to be a support friend by providing snacks, a baby shower and manicures when needed. Needless to say, we are both anxiously awaiting the arrival of Baby M!

Looking ahead, we’re excited to learn together and from all of you as we enter a new year. We’ll continue to share our practice at conferences around the country and via the blog. I’m trying lots of new things in my classroom and am energized by teachers and students I’ve collaborated with around the world.  So check back as many new posts will be coming soon (I promise)!

Posted in Back To School, Conference Presentations, Interesting, Professional Books, Professional Development, Self Reflection, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What can #Twitter do for your students? Read our #HurricaneSandy adventure!

Two weeks ago one of my students visited NYC and got stuck as Hurricane Sandy rolled in.  Luckily, his family was able to take shelter at a friend’s house in Brooklyn.  On Monday morning, I projected our classroom Twitter account on the Apple TV and suggested we tweet our classmate to see if he was ok.


He responded much to the joy of my six and seven year-olds.


After connecting with he and his mom via Twitter, I asked if they could update us throughout the day.  The family was generous with their time and tweeted frequent weather reports and photos from the storm.


As our day continued, my class used The Weather Channel app to learn more about Hurricane Sandy.  We looked at radar maps and talked about the timing of the storm and how it would fall on a full moon when tides are at their highest which would cause flooding in many areas (a nice connection to our current solar system inquiry).

 After seeing photos and short video clips on The Weather Channel, my class had lots of questions. Here are few they tweeted to their classmate:


My student in NYC took the role of Hurricane Sandy reporter very seriously and answered all the questions his friends posted.


In class, at least once every hour, students asked, “Did we get any new tweets?”  I sent an email to our staff and invited other classrooms to learn along with us via Twitter. Soon, our 1st grade friend was sharing his storm experiences with our school.

 The following day our Hurricane Sandy reporter continued to update us in the aftermath of the storm.  He walked around Brooklyn and shot various short videos that he posted to Twitter explaining some of the damage and storm clean-up measures.  Back in class, my students felt knowledgeable about the storm and were excited to learn more.  It also became an outlet for kids to connect with their classmate, since he would miss several days of school.

As the week progressed we continued to get updates from our reporter.  Checking in with Twitter became an opportunity to connect with our friend who would end up being out of school all week.  Throughout the week I watched my students—both near and far—share their learning and use social media to connect and collaborate.  Hurricane Sandy provided us an authentic opportunity to thoughtfully use social media in the classroom.

 Here are a few take-aways:

 My students were empowered to be part of a learning network that was for students, by students.  So often, young children only have access to information that is filtered through an adult channel. While oftentimes that is appropriate, kids also need the model of other children as information providers.  By watching a peer research, report and field questions, student now have a “mentor” experience for what it looks like and sounds like to be an information sharer.  As Peter H. Johnston shared in Choice Words (2004) kids need to visualize themselves as a “can do” kid.  When young learners internalize the belief that “I’m the kind of kid who works as a reporter. I’m the kind of kid who asks good questions. I’m the kind of kid who ________,” they experience the success, feedback and confidence that inspires them to make additional attempts in the future. Over time, this repetitive process produces kids who desire to think, learn, share and are inspired to do it again and again. My students were thrilled to see their classmate work as a reporter and now believe that any first grade student can do this important work.

For the first time,  students saw Twitter as a place to ask questions, conduct research and gather new information.  Previously we had only used it to tell others about our learning. Now, students see Twitter as a tool for learning.  I spend a lot of time in first grade teaching my students where they can go to find answers to their questions; now they can add school-supervised Twitter to their list of resources.


Connecting with a classmate via Twitter allowed students to emotionally process the storm.  Their peer told about his safety plan and how residents were told to prepare for the storm.  My students were able to see that unusual things–like superstorms–do happen, but that adults around the country prepare for these events and have a plan for when they occur. Watching their peer’s video tweets and seeing NYC clean up and get back to normal was therapeutic for all  involved.


After tweeting and blogging to our reporter, my class now sees social media as an effective tool for connecting with others.  In addition to our classroom tweets, each day students commented on his Kidblog.  Students posted comments to see how he was doing or to ask for an update on the hurricane.  As a result of this collaborative learning experience, my kids now think like connected learners.  This was apparent Friday afternoon as we said goodbye to a student who was moving.  As students sat on the rug and said goodbye and good luck to their friend, one girl said,  “Make sure to tweet us ok?  And send some of those video tweets so we can learn about your new house and your new school.” Another child chimed in, “And leave lots of comments on our blog!” 

YES! I cheered silently in my head as I saw my students think like connected, empowered learners.  This is why we do this!  I am very grateful to my student and his family for engaging in this authentic learning experience.  Together, we have provided students a foundational experience for using social media in the classroom. I can’t wait to see what we learn next!




Do you have a classroom Twitter account?  We’d love to connect with you! Follow us @Burley106

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Honoring the PLN

It’s been an unusual start to the school year. I have my largest class ever. I went on strike.  It’s the middle of October, but only the 26th day of school.  Things feel a little weird.

In times like this, it’s easy to lose focus or become frustrated.  When reflecting on how I’ve been able to navigate this alternate universe, I realized my professional network has sustained me during this challenging time.   I’m so grateful for my many dedicated colleagues from a variety of PLN’s who have kept me going.  I know it is their support, enthusiasm, optimism and innovation that has inspired me to “keep on keepin’ on.” Thank you PLN!  What would I do without you?

As a new teacher, my learning network was small and focused on colleagues in my building.  I didn’t have access to many outside professional development opportunities. I looked to veteran teachers for advice and expertise and I tried new teaching strategies in the safety of my classroom.  Nowadays, my learning network is easy to access and endless!  I learn from teachers who have made their practice and pedagogy transparent through blogs, websites and Twitter.  I’m trying new lessons and inviting feedback  from educators that I’ve never met face-to-face.  It’s a whole new ballgame and we all have an amazing opportunity to join the learning.

Just this week I’ve learned from and been inspired by…

  • The wonderful teachers of #1stchat!  Via Twitter I collaborate with 1st grade teachers around the world every Sunday at 7:00 CST.  We discuss a new topic every week ranging from reading workshop to inquiry.  It’s amazing how much you can learn in 140 characters!  At the end of each session we swap book titles or new tech tools we’re using with our students. I get fabulous ideas each week. Every grade has some type of grade level chat throughout the week.  Join Twitter and search #(grade level)chat to learn more.
  • The Chicago Public Schools iPad Project–wow!  I’ve been blessed to meet outstanding educators from across the city who are teaching jaw-dropping technology (among other things!).  Last night I spent an hour on Google hangout with teachers from NTA developing a PBL experience that is cross-school and cross-grades.  Our students will collaboratively question, research and share information via blog, twitter and Edmodo.  How could I not be excited by an idea like that?
  • My outstanding colleagues at school!  I work with the most amazing people.  Though we have less time to collaborate than ever before, I rely on them at a moments notice to help me think critically about my students’ needs, analyze work samples and plan rigorous curriculum.  They are thoughtful, experienced educators and well-versed in best practice instruction. They are available at 6:30 AM, 6:30 PM and practically any hour of the day via text message.  We collaborate digitally almost every day, but the face-to-face interactions are most meaningful. With just a look they inspire.

PLN’s can motivate and excite any teacher. We all need a support team and joining a PLN or expanding your network can provide countless opportunities for learning.  We need to recognize what a tremendous resource we are for ourselves and others.  Are you already a member of a PLN? If so, take a moment to honor them!  Do you know a fabulous network that others could benefit from?  Spread the word and start the conversation now.

Take time to celebrate the PLN!

Posted in 2.0 Tools, Back To School, Collaboration, Professional Development, Technology | Leave a comment

Back to the Beginning

Even though it’s October it still feels very much like the beginning of the year.  One of  the first thoughts that many teachers have about their students is “they look so little!”  It’s true.  Those tall confident students that left us have gone on to be “little” to next year’s teacher and we have our own new crop of “little” people to educate.  This becomes even more pronounced in a technology classroom.  Everything takes longer, typing, starting, opening, finding, searching.  Whatever it is they need time to figure it out.  Patience is key.  So what can we do?

  • Remember to go slow: after all many of our students are experiencing some of these technology tools for the first time.  Even if they have devices at home they probably don’t use them for much more than playing games or surfing the internet.
  • Find your specialists: there will be some students who do know how to do things or pick them up very quickly.  Start sending kids their way to address minor issues and questions.  Have them teach a quick lesson to the class on some basics.
  • Create lots of visuals: Anchor charts for technology are just as important as they are in every other subject.  These visual reminders help students to know what to do and to start developing a sense of independence.
  • Be realistic:  Things will take more time.  They just will.  You have to go slow to go fast later.  It’s okay.
  • Build from the ground up:  When I have students learning a new app I use it a few times in either the same subject or across subjects within a week.  Their first “project” or experience is filled with play and experimentation.  As we gather examples from the class I start to show student work and we tease out elements or things the class has done that we like and want to emulate.
Posted in Back To School, Classroom Management, iPad, Technology | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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!

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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 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.

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