Monday, January 28, 2013

ALA Midwinter

This morning I had the pleasure of watching the ALA Awards with 40 incredibly awesome young people. The fourth and fifth graders had recently Skyped with Katherine Applegate, so when The One and Only Ivan was announced as this year's Newbery winner, kids were pretty pumped. Not to mention, Ivan is kind of like a hometown hero in these parts, having spent the first part of his life at the B&I only a few miles down the road.

My students and I also spent a good chunk of time digging through the kid-books I picked up at the ALA Midwinter Conference exhibition hall this past weekend. Most of the books aren't even published yet, which was pretty exciting for a class full of avid readers! Here's what I picked up in two afternoons:

Among my favorite purchases was Wang's Cozy Classics (I picked up Moby Dick and Pride & Prejudice for some expecting friends of mine!). I love the feeling of simplicity in these books, even though 1) it's not easy to summarize a book in 8 words and 2) the characters made of felt probably took a heck of a long time to make.

I'm also looking forward to reading Platypus Police Squad by Jarrett Krosoczka, Sidekicked by John David Anderson, and P.S., Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia. Plus, I got so many cool new posters and fun new bookmarks to pass around! 

In addition to good books, there was good company! I spent Saturday night hanging out with Nerdy Book Club folks. What a fantastic bunch of people! It was wonderful getting to meet so many Twitter friends face-to-face and talk about great books.  

And, I also got to meet Tom Angleberger! This picture made me a rock-star in the eyes of my students today. 

What a great couple of days it has been! Being around so many fantastic books and enthusiastic people has been completely energizing (which, I'm sure, is a sign I must be an introverted extrovert...), and just the kick-in-the-pants I needed to motivate myself to finish my report cards. I can't wait to start reading!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Going Google

Earlier this month I became a Google Apps for Education Qualified Individual. With this certification I feel more equipped to lead professional development in my district, as well as implement Google tools more effectively with my students and colleagues.

Google Apps is a fairly new endeavor for my district, and I was fortunate to be a part of their pilot program last Spring. Some were skeptical in allowing access to my elementary-aged students, but they proved to many that the Google Suite could be a powerful learning tool, despite their age. Apps not only allowed students to improve their technology skills, but it increased academic performance and communication among my students, all while building confidence and classroom community that extended beyond school walls. Since then, I've been a huge proponent of Google Apps in the elementary classroom.

Educational technology is a huge part of my life as an educator, but something I rarely discuss here in this space. Thanks to Shannon's, prodding, I'd like to share how I introduce Apps in my classroom.


I spend a great deal of time talking with parents and students about Google Apps and what it can do for our classroom. I discuss security features and concerns with parents, and routinely model how easily it can be integrated into our class work with students. I also have a parent info sheet with resources I've gathered to hand out at Open House. 

Secondly, students and I sit down and get real about the realities of using digital tools. Basically, my spiel goes like this: "Access to Apps is a privilege. It must be earned. It can be taken away." This is a great time to revisit the Acceptable Use Policy they signed the first week of school. I really love the Piano and Laylee picture book series from ISTE, as they explain really complicated (but important!) topics to kids in easy-to-understand language and scenarios.

Work for it - G.O.O.G.L.E

I've created a Google acronym that walks students through various skills needed to be successful with the Apps suite. When the students can demonstrate competency in a particular area, the class earns a letter.

  • G - Go on the computer. This includes basic skills like can you log on and safely shut down the computer? Do you know where to access student files? Can you save files in the correct place? Who besides your teacher can you turn to if you have a question?

  • O - online safety. This is no doubt a critical component when teaching digital literacy. As a class, we create anchor charts, usage agreements, and role-play possible scenarios. I also help students create a safe password and print out three copies - one for them, one for their parent, and one for me.

  • O - Open Google Apps. It takes a while for kids to be comfortable with the sign-in and log-off process, so we practice it many, many times. I also introduce components of the Apps Suite kids can access, such as Calendar and Sites.

  • G - Got Email?  My first priority is teaching students to send an email and share a document. I start by having students write friendly letters on a paper screen-shot of the email browser, and then transfer their letters the digital email. This process ensures students see the relationship between paper and digital mediums, and helps them realize that they aren't just "texting" each other.  We set expectations for online communications. For example, I will not respond to students that use texting language. This is a great place to tie in author's purpose and audience. I've found that when we set priorities and expectations together, kids take it more seriously and hold each other accountable.

  • L - Learn about apps. I show them fun things they can do, such as give feedback to a friend on a writing piece, create a quiz to document data, create a website, and prepare a presentation with a friend. This biggest lesson here is to let students explore - they won't break it. 

  • E - Extend your Learning. We discuss multiple ways to use Google Apps that help make us more efficient and effective learners. I challenge students to complete an independent project or collaborate with a friend, either as part of home learning or as class work.  

The Up-Keep

Once every two weeks (or as needed) we talk about issues that come up using technology during afternoon meeting or brainstorm new ways to use Google Apps. Most recently, a girl started using Calendar to schedule recess play dates, something I'd never have even dreamed about! Students also act as IT support for when issues arrise and I can't get it right away.

What do you find helpful in getting Google Apps set up in an elementary classroom? What are must-have conversations you have with students and features you emphasize first?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cookie Trouble

Before winter break, my students, along with two additional classes, created holiday art pieces to hang in a local grocery store. As a "thank you," the store liaison dropped off several bags of cookies and juice for us to enjoy. It happened to be right at the start of our math block and the beginning of a long Friday afternoon stretch with no specialists, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to scrap my previous plans and practice some applicable problem solving. 

Before I get on with this story, I'm going to back up a little. In my PLC, my partner and I have been learning more about teaching our students persistence when they are problem solving. We gained inspiration from this video and have been playing around with Problem of the Month. As a result, I've been more intentional in how I approach my instruction, paying careful attention to the the types of conversations I have with my students, as well as the tasks themselves. Even with all this, there's something about Friday afternoons that just don't get along with my problem solving plans.  Perhaps students are tired at the end of a long week. Or maybe they feel intimidated by the task at hand.  Either way, I've experienced enough trying math lessons on a Friday afternoon to know it usually doesn't end well. So when the cookies arrived, I knew it could go either way. 

I chose to proceed, and here's what happened:

First, we determined possible questions to be solved. They unanimously settled on finding out the number of cookies each student would receive. 

Next, teams noted known information that would help them solve the problem - the number of bags of cookies (6), the number of cookies in each bag (18), and how many people needed cookies given a handful of kids with food allergies and a snacky teacher with a sweet-tooth (25 - 3 + 1). 

Then, students got to work figuring out the task. Inspired by their sugary reward, groups knew they had to collaborate and communicate effectively. I visited with each group, coaching as needed. I was proud that all groups realized this was a multi-step problem utilizing many mathematical skills we had been practicing in class. As students figured out the total number of cookies (108). They then had to determine how many cookies each student would receive. Kids continued to work together and discuss possible strategies and next steps, still fired up by their end prize. Using a variety of interesting strategies, groups calculated that each person would get 4 cookies and there would be 16 remainders. Early finishers were encouraged to keep sharing the remaining cookies, working now with fractional parts. 

Finally, after 45 minutes of group work, I called everyone back together to debrief.  I joked that we had just experienced The Best Friday Problem Solving EVER, praising them for their persistence and collaboration. Students felt good, too, knowing they had applied their math skills correctly and had worked well with their teams. They genuinely had a great time problem solving and we celebrated that. As a reward, they'd get their 4.5 cookies at the end of the day. 

No less than five minutes later, a student teacher from one of the other participating classrooms enters my room looking for her class' share of the cookies and juice. It turns out that I had made a major miscalculation. I assumed the store liaison had visited the other teachers, too. The six bags of cookies were to be shared among three classrooms, not just one

I laughed and my students groaned. The Universe had just handed us the punchline to a Friday afternoon joke. You mean we did all that work for NOTHING?! Are we going to have to start over?!  You mean we don't get four cookies?! I should have known it was too good to be true for a Friday afternoon!   

Thursday, January 3, 2013

One Little Word

My word for 2013 is realize.

Realize has many meanings:
  • to grasp or understand clearly
  • to make real
  • to bring vividly to the mind
  • to obtain as a profit or income for oneself by trade, labor, or investment

This coming year I hope to realize potential - of others and of myself.

I hope to realize ideas - both big and small, individual and collective.

I hope to realize my goals - remembering that the first step in the right direction is usually the one that's most difficult.

I hope to realize truths about myself and others - accepting that there are things I just can't change, but can learn from nonetheless.

I hope to realize that I can't do it all - and that's perfectly okay.

Ultimately, I love this word because it's a verb - a call to action, so to speak. It's something that can be done alone or with others, and can have both tangible and intangible results. It's also something that isn't necessarily known outright, requiring experience, reflection, and comprehension - it makes you think. Realizing takes time and hard work, but it also takes gumption, imagination, determination, trust, and patience. 

I'm excited to see where realize will take me and what influence it will have on my life over the next 12 months. What's your word for 2013?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


I've decided to tackle the #EduGood photo project for 2013 inspired by Krissy Venosdale. I will attempt to take 365 photos over the course of the year to celebrate all the good in education. It's got my 3 C's written all over it: creativity, collaboration, and connection.

You can find a link to my Tumblr page in the header up top, or you can click here.