Sunday, November 4, 2012

App for That #10: The Land of Me

App: The Land of Me for the iPad

Cost: Free

Grade Level:Kindergarten to Grade 2

What it does:    This app was one I saw recommend on Jen Deyenberg's blog.  It is in the same vein as a choose your own adventure story, where the reader chooses several elements of the story, such as who the main character is, what the story is about and what type of ending it has.  Then with simple chalk like animations and words, Grandmother Olive, the turtle, narrates the story. 

How's the App: This is a really good app for early elementary students.  Each story has a rhyming rhythm to it that children love.  They are in control of parts of the story, and the fact that they can be changed means the reader can read the story multiple times and have it be fresh each time.  The animations are cute and the text is underneath so students can follow along.  The possible draw back of this app is that all the characters voices have British accents so it may be difficult for some students to understand the story, though in a world where many students have already watched one or more Harry Potter movies, this might not be a challenge at all.  The stories are fairly short, so this app may not hold the readers attention for very long.

What it could be used for: This app allows students to listen to a story being read to them.  It can also help students begin to understand how details can change a story.  A teacher could ask them to try the same story with three different endings and see what changes.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

App for That #9: Jungle Coins

App: Jungle Coins for the iPad

Cost: 2.99 US plus 0.99 for the Canadian Currency upgrade

Grade Level: Grade 2 - Grade 3

What it does: Jungle Coins is an app that allows students to solve problems using a variety of coins.  Students can sort coins, count the amount of coins they have, compare to groups of coins or give correct change based on a number problem.

How's the App:This app is everything Learning Money with Leo is not.  Every time you click on of the the coins it gives you that coins value.  Coins also flip each time you hit them, so students are able to see both sides of the coin.  Written directions can be clicked and read to the player.  When comparing two groups of coins, you can click on each of the symbols (< = >) and the app will tell you what they mean.  In the count the money activity, students can re-order the coins to group them for easier counting, and when they select an answer it is read back to them.  In each activity the player can select a new problem if they one they have is too difficult or easy.  Coins are referred to both by their value and their name so students get exposure to both.  What I really like is that you can set the level, and each level adds a new type of coin into the mix, starting at level one with pennies and nickles and going all the way to level 5 which involves all coins.  In addition there is a level 6 which can be edited to only use the coins the player (or teacher) selects.

What it could be used for: Having students learn about greater than, less than.  Allowing students to learn about coins and their values and sort them.

Rating: 4 out of 5

App for That #8: My Story

App:My Story for the iPad

Cost: 1.99 US

Grade Level:Kindergarten to grade 5

What it does: My Story allows the user to create a story by drawing it.  They can also upload photos and either leave them as is or draw over them.  Once a student has created a page, they can add text and/or record their voice to tell their story.  When they are finished their book, they can read it in My Books, or in iBooks on your computer, or it can be e-mailed to others to read or embedded in a blog.  

How's the App: I really like this app because it differentiates story making.  It allows students with a variety of strengths to use the app in a way that suits them best.  If a student prefers writing over drawing, they can use photographs rather than drawings in the story.  Students who are reluctant writers but still have a story to tell can draw their pictures and record their text, rather than writing it.  Students at all levels can read each others books in a way that suits them, if you have pictures, text and recording within a book.  My Story also offers options for students when they are drawing such as colour, line thickness and shape.  There are some options without it becoming overwhelming.  This is an app that I will definitely use with my students.

What it could be used for: Having students create stories that can be shared with others in the class, or with those from other classes.

Rating: 4 out of 5

App for That #7: Learning Money with Leo

App: Learning Money with Leo by Royal Bank of Canada for the iPad

Cost: free

Grade Level: Kindergarten to Grade 2

What it does: Learning Money with Leo is an app that helps students understand the concept and value of money...or at least that's what the app claims to do.  The currency used is Canadian, so this is specific to residents of Canada.

How's the App: Learning Money with Leo is interactive, provides students with fun activities to do involving money.  It caters, in some ways, to young learners as most of the directions are voiced-over rather than written.  But upon further examination, I end up unsure what age this app is for, and where the learning occurs.  The match up game is easy to use, however the words on the left hand side would be difficult for younger learners to read and for some reason this is the only place where the app will not read words for you.  The activities such as Spot the Difference, My Sticker Book and even the Read Along Story are fun, but other than a passing mention of money, such as coins in the picture, there is no actual learning about money.  The Gather the Coins activity has actual coins in it, and there is a running tally of how much you have collected, but again the coins seem to be a secondary element and have little influence on the player.  In Solve the Coin students move the iPad to help a coin go into the matching coin box, but the coin is never identified, so it is really just about matching a picture that happens to be a coin.  The activity where students may actually learn about money in any meaningful way is Sort the Coin, because at least when the student touches a coin, it tells the player how much that coin is worth, but even this activity is very basic and the game actually shows you where to put the coin by flashing the piggy bank, so I do wonder how much the child is learning.  All in all I would not call this an educational app, though that is the category it is under.  I feel this is one of those cases where having students explore actual money and practice purchasing things in real life is far more helpful than an app.

What it could be used for: Exposing students to coins and their value, in a very limited way.  You could use the read along story for language arts.

Rating: 1 out of 5

App for That #6: iMovie

App: iMovie for iPad

Cost: $4:99 US

Grade Level: Grade 3 - beyond, or with teacher assistance

What it does: iMovie allows you to import video clips or photographs and create a movie, complete with titles, music, and voice overs.  There is also the option to make a movie trailer.

How's the App: The iMovie app was much easier to learn how to use than GarageBand, but there are limited features in this app as well.  When adding videos or photos, it is easy to edit them, cutting them down to what you want.  What I don't like about this app is that the way you transition from one scene to the next is limited, as is how and where you can add text.  Coming from a background using Movie Maker for my PC, I get a bit frustrated by these limitations.  In this case the app is limiting, and depending on the movie I am trying to create, I may just use my computer instead.  I do however really like the trailer making portion of the app.  It is fairly formulaic, with limited options so for students in grade 3 - 5, it is a guided format to creating a very slick looking product.

What it could be used for: Students could use it to create a movie to explain their understand of a concept or to teach others about it.  Using the movie trailer selection, students could create a trailer for a book they are reading as a different spin on "writing" a book report or review.  It can also be used to create a slide show complete with music and/or a voice over.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Saturday, November 3, 2012

App for That #5: Twitter

App: Twitter for the iPad

Cost: Free

Grade Level: Teachers (or maybe supervised with your students if your division allows it)

What it does: Twitter is an online social networking site.  I have created many connections with teachers and have several professional learning networks that have sprung from Twitter.  If you want to learn more about it, see my post from a previous class here.

How's the App:  Terrible to Fantastic - see below.

Even though I love Twitter, if you had asked me last week what I thought of the iPad Twitter app, I would have said it was a disaster.  It was difficult to navigate, didn't offer all the options that the computer based version did, and every time you clicked on a link or a tweet it would open in a separate page of section.  It was terrible.

BUT, yesterday I finally got around to updating my apps, and I am now convinced that I should always update my apps as soon as a new version is available.  The new and improved Twitter app is a dream.  My options are simpler as far as navigation, and now much much more what I expect from the Twitter format.  Now when I click on a post, it enlarges it in the same window and I can still see other messages.  If I click on a link it takes me to a whole new page (not a cascading page as it did before) and there is an obvious home button that takes me back to where I was before.  With this great update, I am more incline to choose my iPad over my computer when catching up with my tweeps.

What it could be used for:Networking with other teachers.  Getting and sharing ideas for lessons, classroom management strategies and general support.  Providing another way to connect with the community.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (previously 2 out of 5)

App for That #4: Skitch

App: Skitch
On iPad and other i devices, also available for Android devices.
A screenshot if Skitch on my iPad

Cost: Free

Grade Level: Kindergarten - Grade 5

What it does: Skitch is an app that allows you to label and type text right over a picture, map, webpage or screen shot, to make your point more clear.

How's the App:  I love this app, in particular because of its simplicity and ease of use for early years students.  You can either take a photo or screen cature from your iPad, upload a photo, website image or map, or start with a blank canvas.  Once you have your photo in, you can draw an arrow, create a box or circle around a portion of the photo or draw on it.  There is the option to have the text, arrow or drawing be one of 6 colours, so there are some options, but not an overwhelming amount.  The most interesting feature I found was the blur button, which allows you to blur a section of the photo.  This is great for privacy as students can use a photo of themselves, or their classmates and blur out the faces to make them anonymous.  The one draw back is that in order to save your Skitch diagrams, you must also download Evernote, but that program is also free and useful, so it wasn't a big deal for me.
A sample of what I did with Skitch in under 10 minutes

What it could be used for: Students could use this to show their understanding of a topic through labeling a photograph.  It is a different way to explain their learning to someone else in a visual way.  You could ask students to find photos to represent a specific topic, patterns for example, and once students have taken the photo, they could open it in Skitch and label the pattern to explain their thinking.  As a teacher, Skitch allows me to take screen shots on my iPad, which I can then use to create tutorials about a program, or a slides shows in which I want to highlight a certain aspect of each slide.

Rating: 5 out of 5

App for That #3: Garage Band

App: GarageBand for iPad

Cost: $4:99 US

Grade Level: grade 5 - beyond, or teacher directed

What it does: GarageBand is a music creating program, that allows you to use their pre-selected instruments, your voice, recorded music and some live instruments to create music and/or podcasts.

How's the App:  This app has a steep learning curve, but once you have played around with it a few times it gets easier.  This is definitely not an app I would have my grade 2 students use independently, but I may have them record their voices on it, and do the editing after school.  As a former pianist, I love that if I want to add a piano sound that I can select a keyboard and the keys respond not only my touch, but also to how hard I press.  If I had used GarageBand a lot prior to getting the app, I am sure it would have been more intuitive to me from the start.  That being said, if you are not afraid of pressing various buttons just to see what they do, then you can figure it out fairly quickly.  Of the music production programs I have seen, GarageBand seems the easiest to understand, and provides samples of various genres and instruments, so that even if you don't read music or play an instrument, you can still create beautiful music.  Incidentally all the podcasts created for my mobile learning course were created with GarageBand.

What it could be used for: This could be used to allow students to create their own podcasts, or for teachers to assist students in doing so.  It could be used in a music production class to create on original or remix a popular song.  If students are creating a video, they could use it to create a song for background to their movie (and I believe that iMovie allows you to drop the song from Garage Band right into its program).

Rating: 4 out of 5

App for That #2: The Heart and the Bottle

App: The Heart and the Bottle - story app for iPad

Cost: 5.99

Grade Level: Kindergarten to grade 3

What it does: The Heart and the Bottle is a children's story written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  It is about a little girl who gets hurt and hides her heart in a bottle so she will never be hurt again.  This is a book that my students love, and so I wanted to see if the material was enhanced with this app.

How's the app: All in all the app works alright, but not great.  There is an option to have the story read to you, which is great, and the music fits the story.  The app also offers hidden animation and activities throughout its pages that can be discovered.  There is also a hint button to help those with less patience.  The idea behind each of these hidden activities is nice, however the app itself is glitchy and often there is a delay with the animation.  Sometimes the animation and the sound don't match making it more frustrating than fun for little fingers.  I would have to say that this isn't an app I would recommend to others based on the glitches, and it does make hesitant to purchase other book apps.

What it could be used for:  Drawing in reluctant readers, or allowing beginning readers to enjoy a book that would be difficult for them to read on their own.

Rating: 2 out of 5

App for That #1: Voice Thread

App: Voicethread for iPad

Cost: Free

Grade Level: 2rade 2 - University

What it does: Last year I explored Voicethread on my PC as part of my technical knowledge component (you can see my review of it here).  It is a great tool, as it allows you to add photos, video, text, and voice recordings together.  Others can then watch your Voicethread and add their thoughts about each slide either through video, text or voice recording.  This allows the finished product to becomes an interactive conversation.  Also, as you are recording your comments, you can draw on the screen with your mouse to highlight a section, and it will become part of the recording.

How's the App:  The app itself is great.  I really like the PC version, but I love the app for iPad, as it makes the program that much more user friendly.  To high light or circle a particular area of the picture or video while recording your comment, you simple write with your finger or a stylus, right onto the screen, which allows for much more control than using a mouse.  If I want to add a photograph to my Voicethread, I can choose from the library on my iPad or I can take a picture with the device and immediately have it show up in the program.  This allows my early year's students the ability to take photos and put them on their Voicethreads without the intermediate step of having me upload them from a digital camera.  Previously on the computer version, I have had to be present to help my students record their voices.  The app version is very simple, with only one button to press, so students could easily do this independently.

As with most programs that are turned into apps, there are some features that are not available on the app version.  With Voicethread this is not a big deal, because once I have saved my Voicethread on my iPad, it is available on my computer when I go online and log in.  At this point I can add and alter it in the ways the app will not let me, such as adding a web address at the bottom of the screen, or changing the comment icon to a different picture.

What it could be used for: There are many options...anything thing that you've previously done using Photostory can be done on Voicethread.  You could have students illustrate and then narrate their own stories.  They could use it to write on and verbally explain their thinking about a math problem.  It could be used to collaborate with another classroom in another place and share their opinions, views and questions on a topic.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Great Friend Debate

My thoughts on a debate that occurred on the program Q, on CBC radio, on December 27th, 2010:

We're Connected But Are We Communicating?

Tech Thoughts #3 - My thoughts on Sherri Turkle's TEDtalk:

Sherri's Original TEDtalk:

TEDxUIUC - Sherry Turkle - Along Together. (2011) Retrieved OCtober 15, 2012 from

Monday, October 29, 2012

What should we be assessing?

Tech Thoughts #2 - Assessment & 21st Skills

Below is the video that inspired today's Tech Thoughts:

The future of Assessment [Interview]. (2012) Retrieved October 28, 2012, from

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Medium is the Message?!?

The recording below is my reflection on a Youtube video I watched on Marshall McLuhan that helped understand his "message" a little clearer.

Here is the Marshall Mcluhan Video that I watched:

Marshall Mcluhan Full lecture: The medium is the message - 1977 part 1 v 3[Interview]. (1977) Retrieved September  17, 2012, from

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Thoughts on a Talk by Rapt author Winifred Gallager

This week as one of the assignments in my Mobile Learning course, we were asked to check out a video by Rapt author Winifred Gallager.  I listened to the video, as I often do, while making my lunches on Sunday evening.  As soon as I realized that her talk was on multitasking and focus, I set up my iPad to record what was happening.  Here is some of that footage as well as my thoughts on the video.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ramps - Simple and Specific

I was looking for a game or simulator to link with our science study on position and motion.   Something that would connect to some of the experiments we had done on incline planes and ramps and I came across this gem.

Ramps is a game created by Tyler Sticka as part of a class assignment in his last year of college.  It is a simple enough concept.  A ball falls down a tube and you need to use the available ramp or ramps to get the ball into the tube on opposite corner of the screen.  The player can change the position and the angle of the ramp.  Each level provides a new challenge and my students have discovered that some additional obstacles appear in the higher levels.  As the levels progress it becomes clear, as well, that sometimes it is how the ball ricochets off of another object that helps you win the round.  

As first glance this seems like a cute little application that can lead to some discussion about slant and slope.  I certainly thought it would be a onetime activity that my students would enjoy and then forget, but I was quite mistaken.  The game has been linked to our blog since November and it is still the number one choice of activities to do during free time in the computer lab.  I realized that there was more than just exploration of ramps going on.  The ramps vary in size and number depending on the level and each level requires the use of problem solving skills.  If the first attempt doesn't work, how can I change the ramp slightly?  Do I need to change the position or the incline of the ramp, or both?  I could see students considering these issues, I could hear them working out the answers.

The second and probably more surprising result of students playing this game is that it became a group activity.  Using the computer moved from solitary to social as students assisted each other when they got stuck, describe how they passed a particularly challenging level and challenged each other to beat their top level.  This tool is an example of extending students understanding on a topic and having them apply it to an online simulation.


Twitter is a free social networking site that allows its members to write short messages known as Tweets that others can read.  I first signed up for twitter about six months ago, but had no real idea how to use it.  I had heard mentions of it being used in education, as a means for teachers to connect with their students and keep them informed or share interesting sites.  As an early years teacher most of my students don't have their own cellphones or Twitter accounts, so I wasn't sure if it could be useful to me.  That is, until I explored it in more depth recently and realized it could be a useful professional tool.

There are hundreds of teachers, consultants and educational organizations to be found on Twitter.  I started by adding a few teachers I knew locally, then added a few more that they seemed to be following, added a few organizations and in no time I realized I had created my own personal learning network (PLN).  Through Twitter, I have found links to activities I can use in the classroom, read Tweets that make me think about my own teaching practices, connected with classrooms interested in sharing their learning with my class and discovered an online conference, that I then viewed live.  I have shared links with teachers seeking help with a topic and asked for assistance with my own planning.  Through Twitter I have broadened my teaching support network and can now ask many sources about a topic, rather than only those I have met face to face. 

The only drawback to Twitter that I have found so far, is that with access to that many people, it can becoming overwhelming to sift through all the tweets that can come through in a day.  In the beginning I added almost every teacher I came across that tweeted something interesting, but soon was overwhelmed with a lot of irrelevant information.  I am learning to follow only those I think will forward my learning and challenge my thinking.  Rather than follow every educational organization out there, I follow a few and check on the others semi-regularly.  By being judicious with who I follow I find I can catch more interesting tweets when I am skimming through the days catch.

There is another part to Twitter that I have yet to explore fully; the education chat nights.  Groups such as #D5chat, which consists of teachers who are looking to gain and share information about The Daily 5, meet once a week on Twitter, on a certain day, at a certain time, to discuss a predetermined topic in more detail.  It allows those interested in the topic to have a more concentrated conversation, usually in the span on an hour, and share their thinking.  This is one part of Twitter I look forward to exploring in the coming weeks.


Storybird is a website where budding authors can, tell their stories, using pre-created illustrations.  The website is free to access and will store your work on its server.  A student logs onto the site and chooses a story art theme.  Themes are created by artists commissioned by the site to create a series of thematic works of art.  All the pictures in a single story art theme are drawn in the same style and were created around a specific topic.  

There is no cost to join and create, however if you wish to download or print your creations there are fees involved.  As a teacher, I can sign up my students with their own passwords which allows them, and me, to access their stories.  These stories can only be seen by my class and I, unless I choose to imbed them in our blog or buy the book from the site.

For grade two students this is an exciting project.  It allows students to focus on what they are writing, while having great illustrations to go with their ideas.  On the flip side, because the story art themes each have a single concept they focus on, students who don't have an idea to start with can choose their art work first and then build a story from the pieces they choose.  Another advantage comes from the fact that the stories can be embedded right into our blog, it creates a larger audience for the student's work.

Below is a sample story that I created to show my students what a story on Storybird can look like.

Super short story. on Storybird

Vocabulary Spelling City

Vocabularyspellingcity is a website where students can work on their personal spelling lists in a variety of manners.  There is a free portion of the website which allows students to input their words and begin playing right away.  A premium version also exists at a cost of $49.99 per year for a class of 25, but as a supplement to classroom spelling activities, the free version will suffice.

Once the words are inputted, students can use those words for a spelling test, to go over the spelling of the word with a computerized instructor or to play a variety of games.  The spelling test feature will say the word to the student and then read the word in a sentence.  The spelling instructor does a similar task, but also spells the word for the student.  The best use of the website though, is the games that students can play.  Once the words are inputted they can play a version of hang mouse, where they must figure out which of their spelling words is hidden and how to spell it before the cat wakes up.  Another popular choice is Audio Word Match, a version of memory that uses the students spelling words and reads them aloud when they flip a card, a great way to connect the list to reading. 

While I have never signed up for the teacher account there is one available that I may try in the future.  It allows teachers to save spelling lists to a personal home page for students to access.  This may alleviate the frustration that some students experience when trying to use the keyboard.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Pinterest is an online pin board, a virtual bulletin board that allows you to keep track of websites and ideas that interest you.  I first saw a link to this site from on of the teachers I am following on Twitter, and I instantly became intrigued.  You can explore Pinterest without signing up, look at others pages, or search for specific topics.  Instead of signing up to join, you sign up for an invitation to join.  I did just that through the site and three days later had not received an invitation.  After looking into it further I discovered that, for now, Pinterest is promoting itself through friends inviting friends to join.  I believe that this is to ensure that it is used by the general public and not by those looking to sell their products.  Digging into it more I discovered a Facebook page where you can request an invitation from someone who already has an account.  I tried this method and received an invitation in about 5 minutes.

I like Pinterest because I can organize my education links to blogs, lesson plans and professional readings into different pages with an accompanying picture.  I am a visual learner, so I sometimes find it hard to remember what the links in my favorites are connect to.  Sometimes it's a story, or a lesson or just a picture of a classroom set up that I like.  Pinterest has a picture for each link which can jog my memory as to its significance.  I can also create different pages for different subjects which, as an organizer, I really like.  I also appreciate that I can see a pinned site on another person's Pinterest board and immediate link it to my own page.  My only complaint is that in order to add it to your pinboard, Pinterest has to scan the site and find a picture it can connect to it.  This is not always the case so not all my links can go here.  This is not a tool that every teacher needs, but I find it a good way to organize most of my online resources.

If you are looking for more other ways to use Pinterest as an educator, check out this online post.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Answer Garden

AnswerGarden is a free poll tool that allows viewers to write in their own answers.  You are not required to sign up, though you can include your e-mail address with the poll and the site will e-mail you a link to your poll.  You can embed your poll in various other online tools such as Blogger, Twitter and Wordpress.

This tool could be used as part of our blog to get feedback from our readers on a question we are wondering about.  The questions would have to be worded so that answers could be given in one or two words, as the maximum number of characters allowed is 40.  Similar to Wordle, each time the same answer is given, the word gets larger, so it is a great visual to show the most popular responses.  When visiting our blog my students could use it to provide feedback on a topic we are exploring.  While the number of characters is limiting, AnswerGarden is a very simple tool to use and add to our class' online presence. 

Please feel free to answer the question below and see how simple AnswerGarden is to use as a responder.

What technologies are you using in your classroom?... at


Weblogs, more commonly known as blogs, are web journals created by individuals to voice opinions, share ideas, or journal experiences.  Several different companies provide blogging services that include different design options, privacy settings and widgets (additional gadgets you can add to your blog to provide links, track visitors and make lists, among other things).  One of the most user friendly blogging host sites is Blogger, which is what I am using for this blog, as well as my classroom blog.  There are also more education focused publishing sites such as Kidblogs and Edublogs.  I chose Blogger because it was quick to set up and edit, and did not require each of my students to have their own passwords.

Why Blog?
There are as many different reasons for blogging as there are people who blog.  The first step is to decide on your purpose for blogging.  Do you want to communicate with parents?  Would you prefer to share reflections on your teaching practices and look for advice from other teachers?  Are you looking to provide opportunities to connect with other classrooms?  Is having students share their learning, or have a presence online your reason for blogging?  Your blog can reflect one or several of these focuses and do so in either simple text or with the addition of photos, weblinks, videos and podcasts.

When I started my own exploration into the world of blogging this past summer, what first struck me was how many teachers were already blogging with their classes and had been for many years already.  Kathy Cassidy is a grade one teacher who has been blogging both professionally and with her class for over 10 years.  From reading blogs like hers I realized that I wanted my own class blog to be a hub of my students' online experience in our classroom.

Over the past 5 months it has become apparent that my blog is multipurpose.  The reason I wanted to start the blog at the beginning was that my school connected website was difficult to edit and even more difficult for students to access. I was looking for a tool that would allow my students to feel like the space we created online was theirs too.  Our blog extends beyond the classroom as well.  I know students who will explore the learning activities after school or on the weekends. Our blog is now where my students go to find links that I want them to explore and it is the first place they look when we get to our computer lab.  It is the place we post pictures of our activities, write about what's happened in the classroom, and have galleries for our art work.

A place where we could share our learning with others soon became a second purpose of our blog.  With the addition of some widgets that allowed me to post due dates for forms and book orders parents could check the blog for these dates.  Google calendar is easily attached so that important dates are always available and up to date.  It also offers families a window into what is happening in our classroom.  Some parents also approached me during student led conferences and let me know that we they checked the blog often and could get a sense of what was happening in class even when their child said "nothing" in response to what they were doing during the school day.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends from coast to coast have been able to see what were are doing, not to mention other teachers and classrooms around the world.

One of the hidden benefits that I hadn't truly considered when starting a classroom blog was the conversations that might occur about writing through our weekly blog posts.  Every Friday, at least, we sit down and create a class blog post.  Student's have the opportunity to share something about the week while I act as scribe with a wireless keyboard and mouse (two of the best inventions out there I have to say).  What started off as simple say and write has now become an instant conversation about mechanics of writing, sentence flow and adding details.  Frequently, before I am even finished writing a dictated sentence, one or more students will have their hand up to point out a word I have spelled incorrectly or debate whether or not the sentence makes sense.  I could have these conversations while writing on paper but the fact that the students know that this is going to be available for others to read seems to making the editing process more immediate.

If you are considering blogging with your own classroom, I highly recommend checking with your school division's technology department before making your class blog public, as many of them have very specific rules about sharing information online.  Mine states that students in photographs and videos cannot be identified by name to protect student's privacy, a guideline I strongly agree with.  Once you have some safety guidelines set and have had a conversation with your classroom, then you are ready to get blogging.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Global Monster Project

The Global Monster Project is a website that connects classrooms across the world to create a collaborative, cross curricular event.  It's inventor, Terry Smith has been organizing and orchestrating the project annually, for over 10 years.  The project works well because teachers can make it as simple or complex as they want, though participants should be warned that even the simple end of the scale involves finding a space in your classroom to house an 8 foot creature. 

My students' monster
Terry has dreamed up a project that even in its basic form touches on several curricular outcomes in several subject areas.  Once I signed up for the project and picked the body part we, as a class, were going to describe, we brainstormed a description of the appendage (English Language Arts - descriptive writing).  Each of the 42 other participants in the 2011 project had their own body parts or accessories to describe.  All 42 descriptions were posted and my students chose which body part they wanted to work on.  In small groups and using the descriptors given students had to created their body parts working both with in their own group, and with groups with adjoining parts (Social Studies - working in a group, respecting all group members opinions and more) (Science - the design process).  This included measuring (Math - measurement), cutting, and decorating their own parts using materials brought from home and shared.  Once we were done our monster, we uploaded a photo and at a later date all students vote on their favorite monster from the other classroom creations.  Here was this year's winner.

We could have stopped our participation at making our own monster and voting on the others, but the beauty of Terry's Global Monster Project is becomes not website you go visit once or a project that stops once the students have voted, it is the jumping off point for so much more.   Adding your class twitter account, blog, class e-mail and/or Skype account to the site is encouraged and teachers make use of it.  Through this project my students visited other classroom blogs, getting a sense of how other classes blog, making comments on what they liked.  They Skyped with two other classrooms learning while learning about asking good questions and comparing our city and school day to theirs.  Finally our class gained a penpal class in England who we continue to keep in contact with.  We will be sending our English penpals a care package later this year, including items based on what we learn about symbols of Canada.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I can tell that a technology has made it to the far reaches of main stream culture when my mother, who is sometimes tech challenged, says "Oh isn't that old news now, isn't everyone doing it".  Which is just what she said about Skype when we talked this evening.  It is true that Skype has been around for a while, relative to how fast programs and technology are coming out these days.  Skype has been around and lasted long to become it's own verb "I am Skyping with my friends", "We are going to Skype tomorrow".  Skype is to video chat, what Ski-Doo is to snow mobile.  The possibilities that this tool can offer in classrooms however is still being explored, and chatting with Grandma who lives 100 kilometers away, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Skype in its purest form is simply connecting with others.  Making a phone call could garner the same information as a video chat session, but there is something very engaging about being able to see the people you are talking to.  Using Skype can allow students to connect with someone that lives hundreds or thousands of miles away with the click of a button.  Students can connect with peers in other classes, authors, experts, or classmates who are away on vacation or sick leave.  In all honesty of the information students get through Skype conversations could probably be found in books; but asking someone who is an expert can be so much more engaging.

Probably the most obvious subject enhanced by using Skype is social studies.  Studying the Arctic? Skype with people who actually live there.  Learning about differences and similarities between communities?  Share what you know about your city with a school in a rural community hundreds of miles away.  Teaching my students the difference between rural and urban, takes on more significance when they know this is something they will be asked by their Skype buddies.  There is an eagerness to learn it because they can see a purpose for it.  Video-chatting with other classrooms also provides a great platform for discussing physical geography and exploring maps.  As my students connect with other classes, suddenly the map on the wall has more relevance.  It is not just a 2D picture filled with different colours and place names.  They begin to see that it represents real places, where people they have met actually live.  There is even a phenomenon that has come about among tech savvy teachers called Mystery Skype, where students receive a Skype call from another person or class in a unknown location.  Through clues and questions they try and determine the caller's location.  Mrs. Avery's Classroom Blog has a great example of the variety of skills students use in solving the mystery.

The beauty of Skype is that it can be multipurpose and different kinds of learning are often happening simultaneously.  It can be used to find an audience with which students can share their learning, as tool that allows classes in multiple locations to come together and learn, or a way to connect with experts that students can learn from.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

BBC Schools Science Clips


 BBC School Science Clips is a free interactive website.  It covers topics with in a variety of clusters from the elementary science curriculum, grades 1 to 5.  The site provides students with the opportunity to participate in virtual experiments and manipulate models.  Topics are categorized by age group, and each age group has six activities that cover various outcomes.  The activities can be used as an introduction to a topic, or as way to allow students to explore concepts that have already been discussed in the classroom.

Visually this site is definitely attractive to students.  Though the graphics are simplistic, the addition of some animation seems to thrill my class.  The experiments in Science Clips are often ones that would be time consuming or unsafe to try in our classrooms, even as a demonstration.   Here students are able to independently explore and manipulate objects, test materials, and heat and cool solids to observe how they change.  When students are given the option of exploring the site on their own, is it not surprising that many of them gravitated towards the lesson on Characteristics of Materials.  Even when it's “only” virtual, many of them enjoyed being able to make glass shatter, sound effects and all, when testing its strength.

The site is pleasing to look at, easy to navigate and provides enough interaction to sustain engagement, but the thing I enjoy about this site are the little extras.  The instructions and questions for each activity are thoughtfully worded providing students more exposure to scientific language.  But the reason why I will come back to this site more than once in a year is because of the audio support.  Each instruction, and both the questions and answers in the quizzes, have audio links that will read the question to the student.   That means that the activities are accessible students, regardless of reading ability.  When students are on this site, I can circulate and see all students interacting with the website, rather than some staring at their screens waiting for me to get there so I can read the text to them. The only potential drawback to this site that I have seen is that because this is a British-born website, some of the terminology may be unfamiliar to Canadian students.  For example a green lolly on the website is a green lollipop and since the picture doesn't make that apparent, a brief moment of pre-teaching is requires.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's a Rotary Phone?

If the much loved 80's movie E.T. (1) were to get a remake today one of the first challenges would be searching for a new and equally iconic phrase to replace the outdated "E.T. phone home."(1)  The phrase simply wouldn't fly with today's kids.  I can just imagine taking my 7 year old nephew to see the original and having him say "Can't his just add his location to his Facebook status" or "Gee, that alien really needs to upgrade his finger".  The idea that an a advanced race of beings would use something as passe as a phone, and an archaic land line to boot, would seem more farfetched then the idea of this creature being lured by a tasty, candy coated chocolate.

I will admit that the idea may seem farfetched but the reality is that my students live in the world of fast paced, ever changing, technology.  Yes, kids still explore outside, enjoy building with lego and can use their vivid imaginations to pretend a rock sticking out of the dirt is really the tip of a giant dinosaur bone.  But there has been a shift.  Many of my student return to school after the weekend talking about Facebook or the latest YouTube video.  When reading a book is it common for a child to make a connection to something she has experienced in her video game.  Many kids associate 3D with movies before they have ever heard of 3D shapes.  They live in a world where information and advancements are coming faster and faster.

As an educator I am looking for ways to use the internet in my classroom to enhance lessons, share ideas and create connections, while teaching my students responsible use of technology.  So here I go exploring the net for useful applications and sharing my growing pains in exploring new programs.

1. E. T., the Extra-terrestrial. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore and Peter Coyote. Swank, 1982. DVD.