Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Need to share it? Scoop it!

If you are like me, you have seen the incredibly addictive potential of Pinterest. It allows users to create different pinboards of interests, anything from home decor ideas to planning a wedding and viewing art, then "pin" links and images from the web onto a visually-appealing and easy-to-navigate board. So why am I talking about Pinterest?

I have recently discovered a similar tool, Scoop.it, that is formatted similarly to Pinterest, but it shares information, articles and sources instead of craft ideas or recipes. The posts are then organized into "magazines" instead of pinboards and the site even suggests similar sources of interest. While there is a paid subscription service available on Scoop.it, the free edition allows users to store up to five topic magazines.

You can train your students to use Scoop.it to do research and set up accounts for each student, or you can use it as a way to share your own magazines with students. Just like Twitter, Pinterest and other familiar social sharing sites, users can "follow" other users and get updates about their posts and topics. Your students can follow you and you may just find some other educators out there with similar interests to follow yourself!

Your magazines are user-friendly snippets with images instead of just lists of links. They function similar to Pinterest pinboards so some students may need less instruction on how to use them.

Image is from Seth Dixon's board entitled "History and Social Studies Education" for the Rhode Island College.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Breaking News!

Our textbook is pretty brief when it comes to describing the conquistadors and the tragic end of the Aztec and Inca empires. I wanted my students to have an opportunity to do more research and describe the events of the conquests in more detail. I decided to have them retell the story while also flexing their expository writing muscles.

With the newspaper template provided, I asked each small group to create a newspaper-like account of the events of the conquest, including pictures and some "direct quotes." (Clearly they would need to take some creative liberties here.) I gave them a checklist and grading rubric to follow and let them write.

When they were finished, we proofread the documents and printed them on 11" x 17" paper. Just for fun, we used teabags to "age" the paper to make an eye-catching display in the hallway.

I always love to get the kids writing about history, but opening up a blank word processing document can be daunting and unexciting for the kids. Writing is an important part of our interdisciplinary curriculum and I am always looking for new ways for them to express themselves in words.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Flipping on NPR!

As some of you may already be aware, I had the pleasure of presenting to a group of enthusiastic teachers a few weeks ago about the "flipped classroom" model. A few of my former colleagues and I were invited to give a presentation to teachers from cooperating schools in the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools on the basic tenets  of flipping, as well as some use-right-away strategies for integrating it into classrooms.

Imagine my surprise this afternoon to hear a story about flipped teaching during NPR's All Things Considered. Just like so many other technological innovations of the last two decades, the idea of flipping -- which was almost completely unknown just two or three years ago -- is gaining enough traction to be covered in a major news outlet!

So, to all you flippers out there, you are truly on the cutting edge of education, and people are really beginning to take notice!

Columbian Exchange Relay

It may be hard to believe, but before the massive exchange of goods and organisms during the post-Columbian era, many of the crops associated with certain areas simply were not there. Simply put,
"before the Columbian Exchange, there were no oranges in Florida, no bananas in Ecuador, no paprika in Hungary, no tomatoes in Italy, no potatoes in Ireland, no coffee in Columbia, no pineapples in Hawaii, no rubber trees in Africa, no cattle in Texas, no donkeys in Mexico, no chili peppers in Thailand or India, and no chocolate in Switzerland."[1]
In the Columbian Exchange, European explorers and settlers brought livestock, plants and goods to support their lifestyles, to trade with others and to set up farming operations conducive to the New World climate. Similarly, they brought back exotic new goods from the New World and later, farmed familiar products like sugarcane in a hospitable climate with slave labor for massive profits.

I wanted to present this cycle in a way that I knew the kids would remember, so I planned a relay activity. I did, however, also want to make sure to address the topic with the seriousness that it deserved, considering that slave labor and death from disease were tragic parts of this exchange. We discussed the exchange and read personal accounts in the day leading up to the relay, then performed the relay game only after we had studied and discussed it extensively.

At the beginning of the period, we watched a quick BrainPop video that summed up both the positive and negative effects of the centuries-long Columbian Exchange. We then found an empty hallway (or, if we were lucky, an empty room or gym) and set up the game.

I had two buckets, one labeled as the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa) and one as the New World (North and South America). One bucket was placed just a few feet from the starting line and the second bucket was about 20 feet away. I made two sets of cards for the activity -- each with about 10 products from the Old World that were brought to the Americas and about 10 products that were brought from the Americas back to the Old World. I color-coded the cards on construction paper and laminated them for durability.

I scattered the two sets of blue "Old World" cards on either side of the Old World bucket, then scattered the red "New World" cards around the New World bucket. In a relay style, each team had to send one person at a time to collect a blue card, bring it to the New World bucket while calling out what it pictured, then grab a red card, bring it back to the Old World bucket, then tag up and send a new team member. We ran the activity twice, each round lasting about 3-5 minutes.

After the relay, we returned to the classroom and filled in some quick notes about the goods, ideas, animals and diseases exchanged during the game. I was impressed with how many items the students could recall after playing the game!

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Game of Life

While studying Native American cultures, we focused on four geographic regions and one culture for each. As a culminating assignment, I decided to have the kids create a board game, based on the "Game of Life" showing real-life situations and events in the everyday life of the Iroquois, Cheyenne, Hopi and Kwakiutl.

Most of the kids in class were already familiar with the basic workings of the classic Milton Bradley board game, so adapting it to simplified rules worked well for our class. I provided the students with a game board template and we devoted the first day to labeling the spaces on the board with realistic events. Students also created types of currency specific to their culture and region to replace the fake money used in the game.

You can find several great game board templates here.

As far as a grading rubric, I required that students fill the spaces with accurate and appropriate facts and life events and that they decorate the background with authentic scenery and objects, create a directions sheet, and make currency bills based on traded objects.

Even though each group was working with the same template, each game was unique. The students created different rules, different currencies and different situations. One of primary goals in teaching Native American cultures was to ensure that the students understood the diversity of environments and cultures. Many people assign various stereotypes to American Indian cultures or combine aspects from different cultures into one inaccurate perception. With these games, however, there was no question that the experience of being Hopi, Iroquois, Kwakiutl or Cheyenne were very distinct and that their environments and ways of life were tremendously different.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


We have all heard the story of Columbus's voyage from the European perspective, but what would it have looked like to the Taino? There are countless written records of the Spanish experience from journals and other accounts, but little remains of the Taino. They were virtually wiped out within 50 years of Columbus's arrival and many of their crafts and artifacts were either lost, destroyed, or in the case of gold objects, melted down to add to the royal Spanish coffers.

As a result, it is impossible to know exactly what their experience was like. Jane Yolen, however, the famous  author of young adult novels like The Devil's Arithmetic and several picture books, has researched the Taino and created her interpretation of what this first encounter must have been like. In the picture book Encounter, Yolen describes Columbus's arrival in the perspective of a young Taino boy.

Just as the Spanish described the strange customs, attire and appearance of the "Indians," Yolen's narrator makes the same observations of the "parrot-like" appearance, "pale moon" skin and bushy beards of the soon-to-be conquerors.

While most discussions of Columbus's discovery/exploration/devastation of the so-called West Indies are now more nuanced and include conversations about slavery, illness, greed and racism, few yet consider the viewpoint of the Taino. I have found that this book strikes a chord with students of all ages and I often use it to begin our discussion of Columbus and New Spain.

Many students used to wonder why American Indians behaved in the ways that they did in welcoming the strangers and making unwise trades and treaties for seemingly useless objects. This book, however, captures the wonder, custom, religion and even some greedy desire on the side of the Taino and represents them not as naive and child-like as so many accounts do, but as victims with their own beliefs and agendas.

The story is short and relatively simple and makes for a good introductory read-aloud for students of all ages. The discussions that arise from the text and the widened perspective that results are much more complex and valuable. The kids really enjoy reading literature, particularly outside the usual material, so I highly recommend using books like this to expand the conversations in your classroom.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teaching Thanksgiving (with Meaning)

So it's almost Thanksgiving and you have one of those shortened weeks burdened with play practice and pressure to keep the homework load to a minimum. Several kids will miss class due to family travel and so you are looking for a low-stakes but meaningful activity to discuss Thanksgiving. The kids have been making paper pilgrim hats since they were in kindergarten, so what is there to do?

Here are a few ideas, some of which I will be trying with my students over the coming days:

Thanksgiving Placemats
The reality is that Thanksgiving day pretty much entirely revolves around the food. Why not bring the facts and meaningful conversation to the food?

Students can use either Microsoft Word or Publisher to design a placemat on 11" x 17" paper. They can include authentic pictures and facts, as well as thought-provoking discussion questions for conversation at the dinner table. Most  larger color laser printers will accommodate this size paper, so you can print a set of four placemats for each student. Finally, they can be made even more durable with a quick run through the laminator.

Two Thanksgivings
It just so happens that our study of Native American cultures perfectly aligned with the Thanksgiving holiday this year. I wanted to make sure we addressed the historical and cultural aspects of the holiday before launching into the five-day weekend.

In the past, I have written about using text-rendered poems as a tool for summarizing and capturing main ideas. I decided to have the students read two different perspectives of the Thanksgiving story and create a text-rendered poem of each. The catch was that each of the two groups were unknowingly reading two different stories. At the end of class, they presented their poems and discussed the differences between the stories. Both were a little extreme, one from a very positive, traditional perspective and the other from a very negative, more controversial perspective.

So what's the truth? Perhaps it's not possible to really know. There are certainly tragic elements to the story, but there is also that original unity of different cultures. We cannot know which message was truly in the hearts of those figures in history who promoted and promulgated the holiday, so I left it to the students. What will you celebrate when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner? What should you remember? How should you recognize the tragedy while also celebrating the message of thanks and unity?

- - - - - -
For our positive interpretation, I used History.com's Thanksgiving at Plymouth article from their website. For the less cheery perspective, I used Susan Bates's The Real Story of Thanksgiving. There are plenty of sources out there, however, so it is easy to find two stories that suit the ability levels and readiness of your group. Bates's story does include some violent descriptions, so teachers of younger readers may want to look for something more age appropriate.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ancient Ulama

Inspired by my reading of The Ball by John Fox, I decided that playing a round of the ancient Aztec game, ulama, would be a great way to start talking about Aztec society and culture. As Fox asserts in his book, ball games not only unify people in cultures all over the world, but their rules and play provide great insight into the cultures that created them.

Note: To read my previous post on John Fox's The Ball, click here.

Though the game has changed significantly over the centuries, ulama is a traditional ballgame that started with the ancient Aztecs and is still played in some regions of Mexico. The original rules are complex and the scoring system is difficult to master, but in our modified game, we played with rules similar to volleyball or tennis. The ulama court is generally a long, thin corridor marked with paint or chalk or, more traditionally, walled in with slanted stone walls.

The object of the game is to volley the ball back and forth, hopefully causing the other team to make an error. In our modified game, points were awarded for causing the other team to miss the ball in bounds. Traditionally, the game is played with a heavy nine-pound natural rubber ball, but we just used a soccer ball.

The real challenge in ulama, however, is hitting the ball. It is illegal in ulama to use one's hands or feet. Because the traditional ball is so heavy and dense, the Aztecs used their hips and upper thigh to hit the ball as it could have caused serious injury to arms and feet.

To prepare for our round of ulama, we read a brief handout in class and watched the minute-long video from ESPN embedded below. I then explained our modified rules, grabbed my whistle and headed out to the playing fields.

It was really difficult to get used to using only hips to hit the ball, but once they got the hang of it, the kids had a blast! Make the rules work for you and your group, grab a soccer ball and immediately grab the kids attention to start learning about Mesoamerican cultures!

Be Part of the Techie Movement!

As a small, independent school, we are members of the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools, or PAIS. This year, a few colleagues and I decided to launch an online web 2.0 tools boot camp in conjunction with the PAIS. We are certainly not the first to think of this boot camp idea, but I absolutely love the fact that anyone can start their own!

The basic idea is to share free, simple web 2.0 tools with others, then for all members to share their experiences via a wiki or a website. For our boot camp, we decided to create a free Google site that allowed users to comment on the individual pages. We also wanted the tools to be approachable for all levels of comfort with technology and the pacing to fit a busy teacher's schedule.

Our site features one web tool or idea per month and teachers may take the entire month to experiment with the tool. We then ask that they comment and leave advice, feedback and experiences about how the tool worked in their classrooms. Each month, we send out an email blast reminding users of the new tool and guiding them to the website for further instructions.

Below is a partial screenshot of the site. Each month has a page dedicated to a particular web tool or method for teachers to explore.

The specific site for each tool provides directions and links. Participants range from K-12, so their feedback is valuable for using tools for various age levels, subjects and abilities. At the bottom of each page is a field for leaving comments with questions and feedback.

There are a few things that I find really exciting about these boot camp type programs. First of all, my colleagues and I have been able to actively communicate and collaborate with teachers all over the state. There are over 130 members in our program and it sounds like members are even sharing their findings with other non-members at their respective schools. Second, it was relatively easy for us to set up a free Google site and share it with dozens of people. Lastly, because of the self-paced, yet guided nature of the site, teachers are finding that it fits into their schedules as busy professionals.

For security reasons, our site is secured to members only. So why am I sharing this on my blog? Because anyone can do it and share their nifty tips and tricks with the world and get a whole lot back in return. Our monthly boot camp originally started as a collaborative site just within our school, but it has expanded to include the entire PAIS. You can begin your own boot camp for sharing tech ideas in your own school, community or district, too! Start a free site, invite some people to share (long distance works just great, too) and start collaborating with other enthusiastic teachers on the web. It doesn't even have to be about tech tools - it can be science ideas, literacy websites, or math games. The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Understanding the Bering Strait Land Bridge

How did thousands upon thousands of people migrate to North America and South America from Asia? And how did this land bridge disappear?

In class this week, we created a simulation of the Bering Strait Land Bridge and how it disappeared after the last Ice Age. Even though many students had already heard about the land bridge and were familiar with the concept, they weren't visualizing exactly how the land bridge ceased to exist after the last Ice Age. Some thought it washed away, others thought it sunk, and yet others were still picturing a "bridge" in their minds.

To prepare for this project, I borrowed a bunch of cookie sheets from another department of the school and sketched a map in color of the Beringia area. There were several maps available on the web, but I wanted something a little more specific to our needs. I scanned the sketch into the computer, then printed color copies as needed. I laminated the maps so that they would hold up to the clay that would be applied later.

On the first day of the assignment, students were given a lump of air-dry clay, the laminated map, a few popsicle sticks and a cookie sheet to create their model. I instructed them to make the green areas of the map thicker and the brown areas thinner. They used the sticks to contour the edges of the land..

I always have students maintain record sheets of their labs, demonstrations and projects so that they may look back at them later. With any leftover time after completing the models, they began sketching their work on the record sheet and reading the accompanying information.

We stacked the cookie sheets to dry overnight so they would be ready for the next day's simulation. To prepare for day two, I filled one bucket with some warm water and another bucket with some ice. We are fortunate enough to have an ice machine in our fitness room and cafeteria, but you can also purchase bagged ice if necessary. You may also want another empty bucket available for disposal of water and ice after the demonstration.

Students poured "ocean" water onto their models until water surrounded all landmasses, but did not cover the land bridge. We then placed piles of ice to model glaciers in the Arctic region. We placed the trays in the warmest part of the room near the heater, an area the kids dubbed the "climate change zone." Students completed some of their record sheets while I circulated the room and left the "glaciers" to melt over the heater.

While filling in the record sheets, students periodically checked on their models and watched as the water slowly encroached on the land bridge, eventually submerging it completely. The ice did not fully melt, but we discussed that this was accurate, since there are still large amounts of water locked in ancient glaciers to this day.

The project might have gotten a little messy, but there is just no substitute for kinesthetically feeling and seeing the process take place. With just a few minutes of cleanup and a table wipe-down, our classroom was back to its neat-and-orderly self and we had a better understanding of how the world's landscape could change due to a slight change in temperature.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Great Seal

Most of my middle school social studies students studied civics and government last year, and we will be jumping into early American history this year. As a quick connector activity between these two subjects, our first assignment of the year showed each student's interpretation of the American culture and identity.

To begin, we brainstormed some defining ideas of "Americanism." I prompted them by asking them questions like What is the American identity? What makes us different from other countries? What are some of the American ideals of which we are all proud? As usual, the students came up with some great, insightful ideas, many of which I had not considered. A quick example of our brainstorming sheet is shown below:

Taking this discussion further, the students were given the opportunity to create their own Great Seal of the United States. I held off on showing them the official seal until after the assignment was completed.

I handed out a sheet with several common symbols used in flags, icons, and American popular and historical culture. I included images like the scales of justice, the Masonic pyramid and the olive branch.

I handed out some poster-sized paper that was printed with a circle template for the students to design their own seal. My only parameters were that the seal  include at least a few symbols from the sheet or other sources and that each symbol thoughtfully represented some part of the American identity. I also gave them a list of common Latin phrases and mottos and asked them to choose one of these, as well.

The right side of the poster is left blank at this point. Later on, we will add an image of the real Official Seal of the United States and analyze its symbolism according to the Founding Fathers' design.

The students created their own symbolic seals that they felt represented the ideals and identity of the American people. Below is an example from a student who chose to emphasize the enduring nature of the United States and contrast war with peace.

Once all students have completed their own seals, I printed color copies of the real seal. I printed them to the same dimensions of the circles on the poster. After reading a little about the seal design and its symbolism in our textbook, we pasted the official seal onto the poster and labeled it in the same way that we had labeled our own designs.

This was a really fun, relaxed, yet meaningful way to begin the school year for us. I actually got to know many of the new students better based on their interpretations of the assignment and some really great discussions arose at the tables.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Some Changes

For those who are not already aware, there are some changes coming to this blog... and my teaching career. Through the past four years, I have had the pleasure of teaching sixth grade reading, math and science. This year, I will be following last year's sixth graders up to the seventh grade and rejoining more former students in the eighth grade. Not only that, but I will be teaching social studies!

As much as it saddens me to leave the other subjects behind, particularly the science, I am looking forward to the new challenge of teaching history. After all, history has been my passion since I was a youngster and I came to this teaching profession with a degree in History and African & African-American Studies from college. I never thought that I would be a science teacher, much less fall totally in love with it, but this new position is what I had always planned to do.

Over the next few weeks as teachers all over my school and the country are getting to know a new class of students, I will have the pleasure (and advantage?) of working with students whom I already know well. We had such a wonderful year last year, I am truly optimistic that we can continue with the momentum we had and jump right into American history. 

I discovered, developed and honed many ways to make science engaging, hands-on and super-fun over the last four years and my biggest challenge and greatest opportunity this year will be to do the same for social studies. 

For all of you out there who follow my blog, or even if you are just stumbling across the site today, you can expect for my entries to transition more towards American history. I will continue to post general ideas and resources for educational technology and insight, but the lesson-specific posts and pictures of activities will be pertaining to American history from now on. Thanks and good luck this September to my fellow educators!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dipping My Toes in the Edmodo Pool

How can you share videos, assignments, links and other online materials quickly and easily with students all in one place? With Edmodo, of course!

Several of my colleagues have been experimenting with this Facebook-like interface for networking, but I have only jumped on board this summer. Because the functions are often so similar to the ubiquitous Facebook, students often instinctively understand how to use it. It may seem gimmicky to some, but to me it is looking more and more like a streamlined way to communicate with students and network with teachers.

When you begin with Edmodo, you create a profile with your basic information and school location. You can connect with other teachers much like "friending" on Facebook. Also essential, you can create and join groups with other teachers and students. For example, I created a group for each of my classes and as they begin, I will give the access codes to students to join the group. I also joined a group of teachers involved in flipped classroom when a colleague sent me that access code.

As most teachers will tell you, the planning and the instruction are the fun parts of teaching. By far, the low point of the day is the stack of grading that never seems to go away. While there is no replacement for hands-on teacher assessment, there is certainly a place for "quick and dirty" assessments, particularly with homework assignments. Not only does Edmodo allow you to send assignments virtually to students, there are also quiz functions that self-grade. If even one assignment per week was graded electronically, it would certainly put a significant dent in my grading stack!

As I get more comfortable with Edmodo and its functions, expect to see lots more posts about its role in our classroom. Until then, the first-day-of-school homework assignment will be a quick Edmodo poll!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"Not the Same"

The "Back to School Sale" commercials are in full effect on TV, so I figured it was time to blow the summertime cobwebs off this blog and write another post.

What is it like to be "not the same?" And what does it feel like to find out?

As teachers, we are looking at the different ability levels in our room as an instructor. We are thinking about how to teach the kids to their strengths and reach them in their weaknesses. Not only do I teach many students with different learning styles, but a little girl with Down syndrome is a huge part of my life. Despite these interactions, I really don't know what it feels like.

National Public Radio's Chicago-based show This American Life recently ran a show entitled "Special Ed." As with every episode of TAL, there are several vignettes featured and the first one in this particular show interviewed students about the moment when they realized they were different. The rest of the show is great, as usual, but just those first five minutes are worth a listen.

It should be pretty apparent at this point that I am a proponent of reflective teaching, but this segment made me reflect on my teaching through the eyes of my students, as well.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Googling for all it's worth...

Unlike my students, I remember the first time I had ever heard of the web phenomenon of "Google" and when I was a student, it was only a search engine. With the lofty goal of "organiz(ing) the world’s information and mak(ing) it universally accessible and useful," Google has become so much more for this generation of students. 

My question for you is this: Are you using Google for all it's worth? 

I have two separate Google accounts, one of which many people do not realize is available. I have a traditional Google account linked to my Gmail address that I use for this blog, a Google + account, and various other personal uses. I also have an account without email privileges that is linked to my school domain email address. Many of my fellow educators did not even realize that this was possible until the Technology Department at our school started setting them up for interested parties. With this login, I can create all sorts of resources linked to my school address and with all of the resources that come with it.

Here are some things to consider trying with your Google login:

Google hosts free websites. If you ever considered running a class website, Google is a really easy way to jump in and try things out. Each Google website is free and has available templates for less experienced users. These sites are also seamlessly linked to your other Google resources. Once a teacher or student is logged in with their account, they can leave comments, download resources or even edit the site itself if you grant permissions to them.

Google hosts free blogs. Blogger is Google's blog-hosting site and it is totally free. It is also linked to all other Google resources, so once you have logged into your site or Gmail, you are also logged in for Blogger. Depending on the comfort level of the user, a beginner can set up a full template with little customization and simply enter text, or more experienced users can add art, gadgets and HTML code for a fully personalized look and functionality.

Google is great for sharing. Whether you upload documents for sharing through Google Docs or you create a class network in Google +, there is no easier way to compile all the resources needed for collaborative teaching with students and colleagues. Instead of sending students to various sites for viewing pictures, videos, documents and other resources, connecting sites and networks through Google takes away much of the legwork.

Google makes basic functions easy and interconnected. Through your Gmail or regular Google account, you can set up calendars, task lists, events and reminders. This may seem like something elementary that is offered by many email providers, but again, the key with Google is the interconnected nature of the functions. Google is also designed to be very compatible with mobile devices, particularly Android devices. This means that events, calendars and reminders from your Google account can come through your smartphone and several apps, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Google hangouts connect students. With Google's video chat product, students can connect anytime, anywhere. Particularly in schools like ours where students are often geographically separated, it makes collaboration much easier. Students can also hold their meetings in an environment that is conducive to the assignment and with their materials readily available rather than at a library table or in the classroom.

The cloud is the way of the future. Everyone has experienced that crippling fear of losing a document, disc, thumb drive, etc. With cloud computing, documents, music files, pictures, and presentations can be stored in huge allotments of memory space through Google. When files are backed up on the cloud, they are available to users on any internet-connected computer and are safely stored on Google servers.

Most of us have Google accounts already, so make sure that you are using it to its fullest potential!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Some Web Tools to Try

Between working diligently on our upcoming PAIS Tech Boot Camp website and following my blogs and Twitter feeds, I have come across quite a few new web tools that are worth a look. You may be surprised at the variety of uses for some of these sites!

1. Slide.ly

Slide.ly allows users to create quick, user-friendly video slideshows from still pictures. One of the benefits of the site is that the videos are designed to be easily shared on the web. There are many ways to create a video slideshow, but few are as easy to create, embed and share than Slide.ly.

2. TweetDeck

TweetDeck is a service provided by Twitter that organizes feeds, surfs multiple accounts and schedules tweets, among other capabilities. If you find that you have more than one Twitter handle or if you just want to sort your feed into different categories, TweetDeck simplifies the process and sorts tweets into one easy-to-navigate screen. Finally, you can prewrite tweets and schedule their release over time. 

3. Prezi

Sure, PowerPoints are a great way to present information to a group. If you are skilled with it, you can even add animations, video clips and sound. Prezi is a web service that creates more dynamic presentations without traditional slides. The basic service is free, but for additional server space and privacy capabilities, users must upgrade to paid service.

4. EasyBib

If there is one thing more difficult than researching a topic and writing a paper about it, it's navigating all the citation styles and rules to create a bibliography.  EasyBib is a web-based service that allows students to create movable and sortable notecards based on their research, then it automatically generates a bibliography based on citation information entered one time. It has tons of capabilities, but it is often worth a try just for the citations and notecards alone.

5. Screenr

Getting excited about the flipped classroom trend? One of the most expensive and time-intensive parts of learning to flip is purchasing and mastering the Camtasia Studio software. As much as I love the software and its capabilities, first-time flippers can experiment with a free online tool called Screenr. There are some limitations to Screenr, but it's perfect for new and occasional flippers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Student Blogging

As the year winds down here and we teachers are counting down to our long-awaited break, there are many meetings and workshops.  Today was also the day for our Personalized Professional Development groups to share their findings and present their ideas to the faculty.  One of the presentations today described projects in all three divisions - lower, middle and upper school - to introduce students to blogging.

Since blogging is obviously of particular interest to me, I thought it was worthwhile to share some ideas for student blogging.  The observation across the board from teachers of children of all ages was that students loved to see their work published online.  After listening to the presentation of my colleagues and reflecting on the idea, I have listed the following benefits of blog-published student writing:

1.  Students can share their work with anyone.

When their work is published online, it can be easily viewed by friends and family anywhere in the world.  You can even link to student work on websites, social networking tools or even with QR codes, as mentioned in a previous post.  It can also be easily included in a digital portfolio of work that spans a student's entire education.  On several occasions, I have had to move the giant plastic bins of work that my mom saved over the years and, let me tell you, a digital portfolio is a good idea...

2.  Students can made editions and changes over time.

When it comes to digital writing and publishing, there really is no such thing as a final draft.  Blog entries are a great way to add and modify information over time, particularly with research or reflective journal writing.

3.  Other students and readers can comment and interact.

Throughout my high school and college careers, my written work was generally viewed only by me and my teacher/professor.  The only feedback I ever received on my ideas was from the individual who graded it.  Professors were just beginning to experiment with online forums and closed network sites when I was in college.  The potential, however, for collaboration and exchange of ideas with blogging is exciting, particularly for students who struggle with writing.  In a truly collaborative environment, students can discuss with others and tease out ideas before committing them to a draft.

4.  Students can be constantly connected with their work.

There is no knowing when the best ideas will strike you.  As we move into an age with smart phones and other internet-connected devices, students are more likely to have their mobile device with them at all times than their notebooks and computers.  With simple list-making, calendar and blogging apps, students can track ideas, manage their time and merge changes with more ease. 

5.  It's worth a try.

Particularly with reading and writing, it is worth trying many different methods, genres and types of experiences to see which one "sticks."  We have all seen reluctant readers finally connect with some kind of text, and blog writing could be the kind of writing that really reaches a reluctant writer.  It won't work for everyone, but it's worth a shot.  Setting up a custom blog for your class is free and easy, so give it a whirl! 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Oh, so that's how Twitter works...

My newest education/technology/science/teacher obsession is Twitter.  I announced a few days ago that I had finally joined the social networking site and that I was still trying to figure out its role in my online networking.  My realization over the past few weeks has been this:  Facebook is for keeping up with people you know, Twitter is for keeping up with people you don't.

Since joining Twitter, I have found dozens of like-minded educators that are just looking to learn and share.  I have been exhilarated to see my posts retweeted by NPR's Fresh Air and Science WoRx.  I have even had a few shout-outs from educators all over the country who are discovering me amongst the hashtags and checking out this blog. 

If you are a teacher blogger or if you are just looking to gather new ideas, it is really worthwhile to hop onto Twitter and connect with some educators.  Just to share my enthusiasm, I thought I would post some hashtag and handle shout-outs for anyone interested, as well as some of my gloriously exciting retweets: 

A warm welcome from Science WoRx, an online resource for science education:

It was a little silly how excited I was when this happened:

Some awesome Twitter users to follow:

@nprfreshair  (NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross)
@scienceworx  (website for teachers to connect with real scientists)
@edtweeps (a feed about educational technology)
@ScienceChannel (a feed for cable TV channel)
@21stCenturyTch (online community for 21st century tech educators)
@daveandcori (a feed by educational technology blogger David Andrade)
@edutopia (website dedicated to teachers and "what works in education")
@WoodlyndeSpence (me!!)

Some handy hashtags to check out:

#edtech (educational technology)
#teachers (no explanation needed...)
#flipclass (posts related to flipped classroom teaching)
#summerreading (see what other teachers are reading this summer)
#edchat (teachers who chat through Twitter on a regular basis)
#PAISTechies (new hashtag we created for our upcoming PAIS Tech Boot Camp)
#iste12 (International Society for Technology in Education; their big conference in San Diego is right around the corner, so they have been posting quite a bit lately)

Get out there and enjoy!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Le 6 Juin 1944

Today marks the 68th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy.  To honor the occasion, I thought I would share a few of my own personal photographs and reflections, as well as some excellent web sources for teaching.

Back in 2009, my husband and I went on a cruise of the Baltic Sea and English Channel for our honeymoon.  Along the way, we stopped in Cherbourg, France and went on a tour of several WWII sites.  Needless to say, the experience was sobering, but incredibly moving and showed the unity between the Allied nations that persists to this day.

At Utah Beach as we visited the monuments, I was immediately reminded of my high school French teacher.  Aside from his enthusiasm for all things French, he taught the language through historical and cultural lessons that I remember to this day.  He always spoke to us in French and most of the idioms and phrases that I recall were because of this practice.  He always referred to D-Day by the date in French, le six juin mille neuf-cent quarante-quatre, and that date is still my frame of reference for remembering calendar dates in French. 

I took this picture of the monument in front of the Visitors' Center for my French teacher:

Paradoxically, of all the places I have visited in my life, Utah Beach was one of the most beautiful despite its history.  There were a handful of people combing the beach for shells and sitting on blankets just looking out over the water.  Just as always happens, people and nature had reclaimed the site, but there was still a level of unspoken respect for what had occurred there.  People were few and far between on the beach itself, and those who were there were engaged not in sunbathing or swimming, but more quiet and contemplative activities.

Unlike many American battlefields that I have visited, there were very few cameras and binoculars and no guided tours or gift shops.  It seemed that at this particular beach, the monuments were erected and the beaches maintained so that visitors could reflect in their own quiet way.  Perhaps as time passes it will become more like the Gettysburg and Valley Forge sites that I have visited, but it seems like maybe WWII is still too young, too close.

We visited Sainte-Mere-Eglise next, the site of one of the lesser known stories of D-Day.  Technically the first town liberated from Nazi control by Allied forces, Sainte-Mere-Eglise flies both the American flag and the French flag in front of public buildings, businesses and homes.  The Airborne Museum in the center of town pays tribute to the parachuters who were able to defeat German forces despite heavy losses.  American soldier John Steele, who hung the church steeple caught in his parachute and open to German fire for over two hours, has become a local hero and icon.  Today, a white parachute hangs in the same spot in remembrance.

It could be the distraction of other important news events that occurred today, but I was surprised by how infrequently the D-Day anniversary was mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter feeds today.  By retelling these personal stories and exploring some of the resources below, I would be proud if my students also remembered the date and events of D-Day later on.  Even if they remember the date in English...

PBS D-Day Film and Teacher Resources

National WWII Museum D-Day Site and Resources

D-Day Primary Sources from the National Archives

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"There must be something in books..."

"There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there.  You don't stay for nothing."  - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Earlier this morning, Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles passed away in Los Angeles at 91.  Aside from his obvious significance as the author of one of the classic American novels, Bradbury's work was of particular importance to me and my class this year.

A few weeks ago, our class completed a unit of short stories.  I had several short stories that had been used before by other teachers, but I decided that I really wanted to explore some stories by more famous authors and I felt my students were up to the challenge.  By pure coincidence, I came across Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, the famous cautionary tale about the butterfly effect.  Something about the story grabbed my attention and I just had a feeling that the kids would like it.

As we read through the first few pages, the kids were silent.  We had to stop a page or two before the ending and the kids lost it...

We can't stop!  It's almost over!  I need to find out what happens!

I wish this wasn't a short story - I wish it was a whole book!

They finished the story at home and were buzzing the next day talking about what they had read.  We have read several great books this year, but this was the most enthusiastic response by far.  In class, students then wrote their own short stories about traveling back in time, changing one tiny detail, and how it affected the future.  The stories that they created were awesome.

Because they enjoyed the story so much, I told them about the author and that his most famous book was called Fahrenheit 451.  I told them that they were probably a little too young for it now, but that many students read it in high school literature classes.  Just as they were visibly excited in anticipation of Laurie Halse Anderson's sequel to Forge coming in the fall, they were actually looking forward to a future literary experience.  As an avid reader and educator, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing pure "book joy" in a student's eyes.

Whether or not you or your students have or will connect with a Bradbury story the way that we did in our little class, the message about literature is clear.  No matter which book or story reaches you the way this one did for us, "there must be something in books..."

Monday, June 4, 2012

World Wonders Project

Field trips are great, but some are just plain impossible.  The new World Wonders Project from Google uses its street-level satellite imaging technology to bring real and interactive photographs of world wonders into your classroom. 

Each site can be moved and manipulated just like their street-view satellite maps, but the images are presented in a software frame that also links up with videos and text about the site.  Below is an image of the user-friendly software featuring their resources for Stonehenge.

On the right-side toolbar, teachers and students can access videos, information and even 3D models of the site and place it on a map of surrounding terrain.  There are also special links and resources for teachers on the Education tab in the upper-right corner. 

I have only started to play with this software and Google is still working on adding more natural and historic sites to the database.  There is so much potential, however, for kids to see the world right from your classroom, so check it out!

No time to read blogs?

Maybe you can make time to listen to them!  Teaching Blog Addict (TBA) has launched its own radio station through blogtalkradio.com!

TBA is a collaborative blog written by several teachers in the blogosphere.  Most of their posts feature early elementary level strategies, but I find that it is still worth a look most days.  They post very frequently and even offer some digital freebies from time to time.

Their blog radio station features several recorded episodes that can be accessed any time.  Check it out!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Now on Twitter...

Up until recently, I did not understand the appeal of Twitter and to a certain extent, I still don't.  It seemed the same as a Facebook status update and I use Facebook just plenty.  I still don't have any interest in following celebrities or my friends on Twitter, but wow, is it awesome for education!

Now that I am excitedly planning our new Tech Boot Camp initiative with a few colleagues (post and announcement coming soon), we created a hashtag for the project on Twitter.  It was finally time - I had to sign up.  I decided to create an account just for my educational purposes and post a few test tweets about the project. 

When you start your Twitter account, it asks you to start by following a few other users and that opened the floodgates for me.  I knew that many interesting organizations were on Twitter, but I hadn't realized just how many and how useful the information would be.  Within a few hours, I was following dozens of educational foundations, teacher bloggers, technology sites, science resources and other organizations.

Each day when I check my feed, I have hundreds of tweets about projects, links, resources and ideas from educators and techies from all over the country.  I even had a national education foundation follow me and check out this blog! 

If you're new to the whole Twitter phenomenon like me or if you have resisted joining altogether, I highly recommend that you start a professional account for educational resources.  If you are like me, you are not at all interested in following movie stars or reality TV personalities, but there is just too much good stuff out there to miss for teachers!  Try it out!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


This one is for all my website-makers and blog-posters...  The online service Embedit.in allows you to embed all sorts of documents, websites and file types into your sites and blogs. 

The Embedit service allows you to choose from any of your files, then change the appearance of the file through their customization window, shown below.

In this window, teachers can also write on the document, add call-outs and create settings for the functionality of the document.  You can allow or disallow downloading and printing of the file and make some privacy selections. 

Finally, you just copy some code and, voila!  The document is now embedded into the site with better visibility and functionality than old snipping and attaching techniques. 

I have embedded a quick sample below just to show how it works:

Math Rules (!) Flipbooks

Anytime there are lots of rules to remember for a particular math concept, flipbooks can be really helpful.  Flipbooks allow students to review the rules and use them while completing work.  They are also much more accessible to students with learning differences rather than flipping through pages of notes.

Every time we cover the rules for adding and subtracting integers, many of our students are confused and have trouble mentally organizing the steps and deciding which procedure to follow.  To help practice this process and get organized about which steps to follow, we created these rule flipbooks.  My templates are shown below.

(Note:  I made these on 11" x 17" paper, but it can work perfectly well on regular letter size paper.)

Students cut out each of the strips above, then glue them into a pre-made book.  To make the books, simply fold two sheets of paper in the same size in half lengthwise, then staple along the fold.  Once the strips are glued in, cut along the lines in between the boxes on each strip.  When the flipbook is complete, students can flip up each tab with a series of questions about the problem, thus guiding them through the steps for solving. 

Below are some pictures of the flipbook in use:

Flipbooks are great any time a student can answer a series of questions about some concept, particularly when managing complex multi-step processes.  Play around with flipbooks and please post your great ideas in the comments area for this post!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Word Clouds

A few months ago, I posted about Wordle and some of its uses in education.  Within a few days of creating that post, I walked down the hallways of my own school and saw Wordle-like word clouds in the shapes of flowers, hearts, even the USA.  I had to find out how to do that myself.

There are several word cloud generators out there, but lately I have been experimenting with Tagxedo.  This generator allows you to make word clouds of websites, news stories, Twitter feeds and even web searches, then choose a shape for the cloud from tons of templates. 

For created shaped clouds and using web sources, Tagxedo is much better than Wordle.  If you intend to copy and paste text, however, Wordle is the better choice.  Tagxedo currently does not have a field for entering text. 

The United States Constitution

There are functions in Tagxedo for respinning, fonts, colors, shapes and even omitting words.  Play with all of the functions and see what awesome images you can create.  It's fun!

Electronic Binders

Just a few years ago, if you had peered into my closets, you would have seen stacks and stacks of binders.  Back then, the most logical way to organize and maintain my materials was to keep paper copies marked with notes and comments.  I always had electronic copies, as well, but the sequence of the papers worked for me and made sense.

About two years ago, I started saving things electronically in my files only.  It relieved some of the clutter and I even found ways to leave myself notes and tips on the documents themselves.  I have recently started using Dropbox, as well. 

Dropbox is awesome for pure storage.  It allows you to access documents from any internet connected computer, which is a huge plus.  Just like saving to the school's server, however, it is difficult to sort the items with any particular order or to mix file types.

It seems, however, that the only way a binder can truly be replaced is with a LiveBinder.  LiveBinders is a free service website that allows you to create electronic binders with any sequence.  Your binders can also include websites and other types of material that would be incompatible with traditional files. 

There are tons of resources out there like Dropbox and LiveBinder that allow you to store and access files electronically.  So, go ahead!  This summer, clean out those closets and get rid of all that clutter!  And next year, save a tree by saving your documents online instead of all that printing!

Fun with QR Codes

QR codes are everywhere and chances are, your students have the means and the know-how to use them.  As I said in my BYOT post, technology is here and you can either embrace it in the classroom, or expend a lot of energy swimming against the current!  QR codes are a great way to cut out the confusion of finding and managing materials while also using students tablets and mobile devices in a useful, meaningful way.

For those who are new to QR codes, it is a scannable image that contains alphanumeric information.  Your mobile phone or tablet device reads the information and understands it as either a web URL, calendar event, plain text, address or link to media, then takes you directly to that site.  For students, it's a great way to guide them to a website or document without copying lengthy addresses from another source.

For example, this is a QR code for this blog.  If you scan it with a mobile device, it will take you directly to this blog with no typing or copying required.

There are countless sites on the web that generate the codes for free.  Once you have the code, you can insert it into documents, posters, business cards and websites.  For our purposes, we created poetry Glogs featuring our favorite poems.  Because Glogs are best viewed online, we showcased them to the school community online.  Each student received a QR coded link to their Glog and we made flyers and cards to share with others.  This way, parents and other students can see the Glogs without actually walking past a bulletin board display.

If you have used QR codes in your classroom, or if you have ideas for other ways to use them, please leave a comment below!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

After yesterday's analysis of Langston Hughes's Mother to Son and Edip Cansever's The Table, we read another all-time favorite and life metaphor - Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.  The students immediately picked up on the metaphor for life's choices, so we began to reflect on the choices that others have made. 

Each student was given a diagram of two paths in the woods, then a prompt about a character from literature or history.  They described the two choices that this individual faced at some point, then analyzed the choice they ultimately made. 

For each character/figure, the students answered the following questions:

What were the two choices?  Choice #1?  Choice #2?

Which choice did they make?  (Draw an arrow on the path.)

Did he/she chose the "road less traveled?"

Would you make the same choice if you were in his/her position?

Later on, students drew a model of their lives as a path, featuring twists, turns, bumps and forks in the road.  I just love seeing them thinking about abstract concepts and metaphors!

You Just Got Pi'ed!

This activity is obviously related to circles, but it could also be a fun one for Pi Day celebrations.  It requires a little preparation, though. 

In the days leading up to the activity, ask students to bring in some kind of round treat, such as Oreos, doughnuts, bagel chips, cucumber slices, etc.  Make up a few plates of different-sized treats, then print out copies of the secret "pi'ed" poem, shown below.  

Throughout the day, students must stealthfully and anonymously place the treats into the classrooms of other teachers.  Depending on your school policies, you may want to preempt this with an email or a list of willing participants.  After each class finds the circumference of their treats, they are allowed to eat them as long as they promise to pay it forward! 

Textbooks of the Future

At our school, we are well on our way to making lessons and readings more tech savvy.  Each teacher maintains a website and all of our course documents are downloadable from these sites.  What remains, however, are the textbooks. 

We have some online subscriptions to some of our books, but the online versions are often just PDFs of the original text.  This helps with the problem of heavy backpacks, but does little to enhance the format of the text itself. 

More and more publication companies are embracing Kindles, Nooks and iPads as a means of reading their material.  Not only does this compile all of a student's texts onto one tiny reader/tablet, but it allows for functions that would be impossible for a paper textbook.  If you are not yet convinced, check out this demo of iBooks textbooks for iPad.

With these new formats, videos and demonstrations can be embedded into the text in place of still photos.  Many of the books also have applications for taking notes, making notecards and generating study quizzes. 

At the moment, we have a few iPads to share amongst the faculty and each student has a netbook.  We are not yet equipped for a full transition over to eTextbooks, but I am excited to see how this takes off in the future!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No Crystal Stair

The best part about teaching poetry to my sixth grade reading group is sharing my favorite poems with them.  Long ago when we initially planned this unit, we felt that it was important to begin sharing famous and more meaningful poems now that our students have moved on to middle school.  One of the poems we chose to feature was Langston Hughes's Mother to Son.

In the famous poem, the mother narrator describes her life as a metaphorical staircase.  She describes "tacks" and "splinters" along the way, but she continues "a-climbin' on."  Given the emphasis on figurative language in fifth and sixth grade curricula, we decided to really take this metaphor and run with it. 

First, we have students reflect on their background knowledge pre-Civil Rights Movement United States.  I asked them to brainstorm some ideas about what those tacks and splinters might have been in the mother's life, as well as the victories and "turned corners."  Once they have brainstormed, they organize their thoughts onto a poster of a staircase. 

Finally, students will write about their own "stair" as a homework assignment. 

Earlier this week, we read another poem featuring a life metaphor, Edip Cansever's The Table.  After reading both poems, we also created a Venn diagram comparing the metaphors for life in both poems - a table and a staircase.  More than anything, comparing these two poems and their tone really got the students to start thinking metaphorically and to think critically about the abstract meaning of poetry.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Moreganize It!

If there is one thing I really love about the internet, it's free stuff.  I heard about the Moreganize site from a colleague and I can't wait to check it out.

With the advent of GoogleDocs and wikis, schools are heading more and more towards collaborative creation and online communication.  Moreganize allows you to set up a free account, then it offers several tools for communicating in a group.

Using Moreganize, you can conduct surveys, anonymous opinion polls, or create a shareable to do list or schedule that is open to others.  In my mind, the applications for this service are countless, but may be best suited for the students themselves. 

Given that ours is a private school, the population of students draws from all over the Philadelphia area.  It can be difficult for students to get together for group projects outside of school.  With Moreganize, groups could work together on a to do list or survey each other for ideas. 

Recently, all teachers at our school had to complete reflective essays based on feedback from student surveys.  We are even surveying students to create our groups for an upcoming amusement park field trip.  Maybe next year, we can generate this type of data electronically with a service like Moreganize!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's a Phone, It's a Mouse, It's Mobile Mouse Pro!

Imagine this scene for a moment.  You have a classroom equipped with a SMARTBoard and a tablet laptop.  You are trying to use as much technology as possible and as seamlessly as possible.  If you are like me, however, you move around while you speak to the kids and you are constantly circulating the room. 
If you want to control the whiteboard, you must either be standing next to it or the computer.  If you do all of your controlling with the SMARTBoard, you will spend half of the time with your back to the kids.  If you use the computer, you are stuck behind your desk (or wherever the AV hook-up is.)

Admittedly, this is a pretty minor problem and I am certainly happy to have all of this technology at all, but what if the solution was really simple and really affordable?

As I have mentioned before, my husband and I were lucky enough to acquire a free iPad recently and I have been experimenting with it quite a bit.  While reading an article about the best iPad and iPhone apps for education, my jaw dropped when I read about Mobile Mouse Pro.

The downloadable app for iPad, iPhone and Android devices allows you to control virtually any media device like a remote control.  Instead of running sprints back and forth between the SMARTBoard and the laptop, I immediately imagined walking around the room as I like to do, but with an iPad in hand that is quickly and easily operating the board. 

After watching the video above, I am definitely experimenting with this one over the summer!  If I can walk around the room and maintain contact and engagement with the students, it's definitely worth a $2.99 investment...

Big Museum, Big Ideas

The Smithsonian Institute consists of nineteen museums, 168 affiliates, two magazine publications, nine research centers and its own police force.  Needless to say, its a dream field trip for teachers everywhere, but its not accessible to everyone.

Thankfully, the Smithsonian runs a website with hundreds of resources on countless topics related to the sciences, nature, culture and history.  Each individual museum has its own website packed with videos, lessons and resources for teachers. 

If you are like me, it may have never occurred to you to check out the website of a museum that you have no intention of visiting.  The Smithsonian sites, however, can be incredibly helpful even without a trip to D.C.!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cognition and "The Ball"

If you are planning to attend a dinner party and want an interesting conversation starter or if you are just looking for a good read, just tune into your local NPR station.  As you may have noticed, several posts and much inspiration has sprung from interesting stories I heard on Philadelphia's public radio station, WHYY.

Today's post and inspiration are no exception.  While listening to Marketplace on my way home from school, I heard an interview with John Fox, author of the new book The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game.  Through historical narratives and personal anecdotes, Fox describes the cultural significance of play and games, as well as the cognitive importance of such physical activity.

According to recent research, even tuning into a ball game on TV excites particular neurons in the brain and may have positive effects on cognition.  Even better, these neurons are five times more stimulated when a person physically participates in sport.  There are also countless social and health benefits for developing minds in playing both organized and disorganized active games.

This generation of children are participating in these kinds of physical activities and pick-up ball games less and less and many studies show this may be to their detriment both in overall health and cognition.  Fox even discusses the seemingly innate nature in all mammals to play, particularly with the universal plaything for which the book is named - the ball. 

I haven't yet read this book, but it is downloading onto my Kindle as I type this.  It sounds like a great read, but I am particularly interested in the research about play and the social, emotional and cognitive development of children's minds.  Check it out!

SMART Exchange

One of the reasons that I started this blog was to be able to participate in the online community of teachers sharing great ideas.  In my first few years of teaching, I often found inspiration and resources on websites and blogs of other teachers.  I didn't want to just "take," so I decided last year to start sharing what worked for me in my classes.

This is precisely the idea behind SMART Technology's SMART Exchange.  All over the nation, classrooms are equipped with interactive whiteboards and related technologies and many teachers are intimidated by these devices.  I freely admit that in my first few years of student and career teaching, I had only seen a SMARTBoard one time in graduate school and I stared at it as if it were some kind of ghostly apparition.  I was dumbfounded, yet intrigued. 

When I began my current position, I was somewhat reluctant to embrace the SMARTBoard in my own classroom.  I quietly observed while our Metacognition teacher zipped around in the SMART Notebook software with text boxes, interactive questions and timers.  I experimented with some of these function on my own laptop and slowly built up my confidence.

As I walk through our building, however, it seems that many of us (myself included) are still using the SMARTBoard primarily as a way to project Word documents, webpages, videos and animations to the class, but little else.  During our school-wide professional development activities, teachers are consistently asking for more training on how to use them. 

Enter SMART Exchange.  SMART Technologies, makers of the SMARTBoard and the accompanying Notebook software and document cameras, maintain a site for teachers to share their own Notebook creations and interactive activities.  There are SMARTBoard-specific lessons using the Notebook software that are available for free download.  It is a free, one-time sign-up and the site automatically sends updates via email.

While it is convenient and helpful to find lessons on the site, I found that the sample lessons were actually better for teaching me how to use the software.  Go ahead and download one lesson like I did.  Explore the functions in the sample.  There are embedded timers, click-and-drag word banks for fill-in-the-blank questions, and jump-to tools for skipping slides. 

Here are some samples of just what you can do with Notebook:

Below is a slide from a presentation about Newton's first law of motion.  The "x" mark and the check can be clicked and dragged to the boxes next to each statement.  Once the students have finished responding, another button reveals the correct answers.

In this drag-and-drop activity, the words in the word bank can be moved and placed on the correct blank.  This slide also has a function for checking the answers, as well as an embedded timer.

The answers to the questions below have been typed in by the teacher, but they are covered with the paint tool.  When a student responds, he or she can use the erase function to clear the paint and reveal the correct response.

If you experiment with these templates and master the Notebook software, I think it also important to give back to online community that supported you.  The beauty of these lessons is that they are interactive, engaging, paperless and they can be saved and shared.  No matter where you are on your teaching journey, you have some unique and meaningful experience to share, so jump into the digital age and get your ideas out there!