Monday, February 18, 2013

PixnTell in the Third Grade - Guest Post

Digital Storytelling is a great way to explain and/or assess a new concept with students. When I taught 3rd grade, we used the PixnTell app to explain daily procedures. I split my students into teams of two or three and had them complete a digital story explaining how to do a certain classroom procedure. This was a classroom management strategy, along with a great way to introduce new students to our classroom. I didn’t give a lot of directions with this assignment because I knew the students would be explicit and focused on our objective for this activity. Students completed the digital stories and uploaded them to our classroom website, individual student blogs, and shared them with parents during conference time. All of my students took full credit for their final product and were very proud to show off the digital classroom procedures they created using the iPad. Some of the videos that students created were: lining up for lunch, tieing shoes, iPad responsibilities, and washing hands. The video embedded below was created by Kaylyn and Kylie about washing hands at school during the flu season.

I feel that this app could be used throughout K-12 education. I can see students creating “how to” videos in science labs, shop classes, or just around the school building by explaining general student responsibilities. Believing in your students can be a great teaching tool along with giving certain responsibilities to them will help create a safe and respectful place to learn. I can’t speak for all students, but the 3rd graders I worked with loved to be on camera. Digital storytelling apps like PixnTell can also be an engaging way to help share a new math concept or create new endings to a favorite book. I highly encourage you to start using digital storytelling apps with your lessons and in your classroom.

About the Guest Blogger
My name is Kelly Rexine and I currently work for EduTech. EduTech is a company affiliated with ITD and the State of North Dakota. My professional title is Information Technology Specialist for the west central part of ND. I work with educators around the state to help integrate technology into their current curriculum. I love learning about new ways that students can become more engaged in the classroom. Before my current position, I taught 3rd grade for the past three years. Please contact me with any questions or resources. I am always willing to share and learn with educators to increase student achievement.

Kelly Rexine
K-12 Educational IT Specialist
Phone: 701.595.0343
Twitter: @mrrexine

Using Photo Scavenger Hunts in the Classroom

As a Technology Resource Specialist, it is my job to provide the faculty at my school with new, relevant options for technology integration in their own classrooms. Recently, what I have been most excited about sharing with my colleagues is a relatively simple and often overlooked idea: using student smartphones for photo scavenger hunts.

I think that there is a preconception about scavenger hunts being juvenile and lacking the capacity for academic rigor. I myself truly believe that when used well, photo scavenger hunts can be engaging ways to get students out of their seats while providing opportunities for higher-order thinking. After all, if designed correctly, a photo scavenger hunt requires students to not only be familiar with the concepts, but be able to find examples of the concepts in real life.

Plus, this is not an activity that it is only applicable to fine arts classrooms. To the contrary, teachers at my school have been able to use scavenger hunts in all types of classrooms - all it takes is a little creativity in structuring the task list! Check out some examples of task lists for photo scavenger hunts below, broken down by subject area:



  • Find pictures that describe vocabulary words 
  • Find pictures that communicate a major theme (love, hubris, etc.) 
  • Find examples of literary terms (hyperbole, etc.)
  • Find pictures of different types of angles
  •  Find geometrical shapes 
  • Find perpendicular and parallel lines

As you can see, there are ways to use scavenger hunts in any subject or grade level. The key to making them successful, however, is to have a clear objective for the assignment. For example, with the math example of finding geometrical shapes, the objective is to assess whether students can recognize and name specific shapes. Thus, when the instructor presents it to the class, he or she can emphasize that students need to not only find the different shapes, but be able to name which shape it is when they present it to the class. In this way, hunts can be customized for each lesson and classroom.

As I have explained to my colleagues, these scavenger hunts are relatively easy to set up. Just provide students with a list of required items, set clear expectations, group them into teams, and release them into the school. As with any hands-on activity, I have seen that students are excited to get out of their chairs during class and are especially excited to be able to use their phones. If your students do not have smartphones or phones with a camera feature, pair them up with someone who does, as you only need one camera per team. Plus, check to see if your school has cameras available for your students to use.

Of course, as with any other scenario, students should be monitored as they roam the school, and be given a time limit for completing their tasks. At the end, it is crucial that they are provided with time to upload photos from their phone to the teacher, so that the instructor is available to help with any technical questions. Be sure to wrap-up the activity with an opportunity for discussion, and allow students to share their best captures with the other teams.

About the Guest Blogger
Aditi Rao is a Technology Resource Specialist and Graphic Design instructor in Houston, Texas. For more ideas and resources on educational technology you can check out her blog, TeachBytes, and follow her on Twitter @teachbytes.

How to Teach Fourth Grade: Technology in Today's Classroom

This is a guest post from Barry Mernin.
When Free Technology for Teachers founder, Richard Byrne, sent a shout out for guest bloggers, I needed to reply. Byrne is an amazing resource in my 4th grade classroom and I’ve sent more than a few colleagues his way.

For me, Educational Technology has changed everything. I am constantly striving to improve a bit each day. Ed Tech helps me go forward in my career. I'm pretty convinced that education rituals will continue to radically change in the next five years or so. Specifically, online or distance learning will grow exponentially, I believe. Master teacher-leaders will be compensated well, I imagine.

Hopefully, this will shift schools' leadership arrangement. Perhaps, excellent teachers will bypass the political firestorms and create online versions of "schools" on their own. That said, most teachers are still confined to brick and mortar institutions.

The following is a body of thought upon my current practices with educational technology. Everything that I  highlight  is being used currently in my classroom. I want to share what I am using right now to exemplify that Ed Tech is constantly evolving and the fact that today's master teacher needs to constantly evolve, as well. is used for my reflections of learning. I use a visualizer to so that students can see their thoughts published on a giant screen. This tool really helps with developing a community of learners and gives hesitant speakers a voice.
Garageband: Garageband is used primarily for my podcast interviews. Soon my children will be creating book trailers.
Instagram: Used to promote exemplar thinking in my classroom. I instantly send photos of student work to teacher friends around the planet.
Twitter: Simply, the best professional development for educators.
Wordpress: An amazing tool. Its software actually improves my writing by highlighting my passive verbs and complex expressions.
Brainpop: The kids love the animated videos. I love that each is habitually excellent and end with a touch of humor.
Evernote: Great cloud device for saving URLs of note. Very user-friendly.
Confer: I am hoping to use this soon along with Dragon Dictation to save conversation notes with my student readers and writers.
iPhone: Incredible for documenting evidence of learning.
Keynote and Keynote Remote: Stylish, easy to make presentations. I embed exemplar writings and student thinking. I routinely embed excellence using iPhone videos.
Skype: Great for connecting with experts. I have used them also for connecting with students that have moved overseas.
Stickies: I currently have over thirty "virtual stickies" reminding me of things to do.
Bamboo Web Tablet: Used for creating online tutorials in mathematics. Helps to increase the math conversations outside of the classroom.
Smartboard Notebook: Simplifies my day-to-day math lessons. Smartboard took me a very long time to master. I had given up on Smartboard a numerous amount of times.
Excel: Used to organize my blizzard of Everyday Math Assessment data.
Google search (safety mode) Teach the kids to use advanced search only and to search smartly.
Pages: Not as easy to use as WordDocuments but it helps me create a more stylish document.
Google Drive: My students love the fact that they can collaborate online using GD. I hope to use this as my primary teaching tool for Writers' Workshop. Sadly, no more anchor charts will be posted in my classroom. Student and teacher thinking will be documented and posted primarily on line thanks to the good people of Google.
Screencastomatic: Super easy, free tool that helps me create online tutorials.
WolframAlpha: An unbelievable resource that is perhaps, over my students' heads. Still, I try to promote this site whenever possible.
Citationmachine: Helps my kids learn the habit of citing research at a very early age. I am hearing Easybib is a pretty good resource as well.
Google Alerts: Great for staying updated on trends in education. I currently receive news from around the world regarding start up online education companies. I use this site for they have a children's poem of the day. I hyperlink a poem each day and my students analyze a new poem each day after daily devotions.
Google Sites: Easy access to homework announcements and storing PDFs for students to have access to HW. No more excuses need for forgotten homework, although I normally do not care if students choose to avoid homework worksheets.
Polleverywhere: Teacher friendly site that makes for a quick resource bank of student thoughts.
Google forms: Outstanding data gathering tool for the classroom.
Gmail: I send useful hyperlinks easily using my student Gmail addresses.
Google presentations: Does not work as well as Keynote but is great for the kids can collaborate outside of the classroom. Students love its usefulness.
YouTube and Vimeo: I regularly show relevant Bill Nye the Science Guy on Friday afternoons before holidays. Inspirational and thoughtful talks that keep me hopeful.

I welcome your comments, thoughts and help in allowing me to grow as a fourth grade teacher. Feel free to contact me @ or check out my blog,

Take care, have fun and good luck!

Using teacher inquiry to integrate thinking, collaboration, differentiation AND e-learning

This is a guest post from Claire Amos. 

In 2011 I wrote a post entitled Using Teaching as inquiry to guide an elearning action plan, looking at how the inquiry cycle enables teachers to integrate e-learning in such a way that it focuses on the student needs over the e-learning tool itself. In 2012 I revised this model. The inquiry cycle continues to inform the elearning action plan, but this time with a focus on how thinking skills can be developed, using collaborative practices and differentiation, and how this can be supported through the integration of ICT in and beyond the classroom.

To aid the teacher in this enquiry, the following question frame has been developed. The teacher may to choose to this over a short period, semester or even over the course of a school year.

Stage One: Focussing Inquiry
What aspect of ‘thinking’ do I want to focus on?
Which class/group of students do I want focus on?
Thinking might include: 
  • divergent thinking 
  • creative thinking 
  • critical literacy 
  • digital literacy 
  • information literacy skills 
  • questioning skills 
Stage Two: Teaching and Learning Inquiry
What strategies (evidence-based) are most likely to help my students learn this?
In this teaching inquiry, the teacher uses evidence from research and from their own past practice and that of colleagues to plan teaching and learning opportunities aimed at achieving the outcomes prioritized in the focusing inquiry.
What are the collaborative and differentiation strategies that will best support thinking?
  • differentiation e.g. RAFT activities, tiered activities, student choice etc 
  • collaboration - co-construction of text, bus stop activities etc 
What are the specific ICT tools (or combination of ICT tools) and/or strategies that will best support the aspect of effective pedagogy I am focusing on:
  • Moodle - which specific resources and/or activities 
  • Google Apps 
  • Other tools and software 
Stage Three: Teaching and learning
Teaching and Learning takes place - ICT Strategies are implemented into the classroom
i.e A Google Site and Google Docs are used in and beyond the classroom to support differentiation and/or collaboration and learning activities that support specific aspects of thinking and developing key competencies.

Stage Four: Learning Inquiry
What happened as a result of the teaching, and what are the implications for future teaching?
In this learning inquiry, the teacher investigates the success of the teaching in terms of the prioritised outcomes, using a range of assessment approaches. They do this both while learning activities are in progress and also as longer-term sequences or units of work come to an end. They then analyse and interpret the information to consider what they should do next. i.e Have you increased/improved your pedagogy and developed strategies that support collaboration and differentiation through the use of specific ICT tools and strategies? Have you raised levels of thinking? How? Why? Why not?

Claire Amos is an establishing Deputy Principal at Hobsonville Point Secondary School in Auckland, New Zealand. She writes a blog called Teaching and eLearning and is also on Twitter.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Programming is not just for Programmers - Guest Post

One of the big elephants (and there are lots) in education is the misuse of technology. We can do so much better. Take for instance the role of creativity. There is a general consensus that creating is a good thing for kids. From Sir Ken Robinson to Yong Zhao, it seems everyone thinks getting our kids and country to be more creative will do wonders. I agree and yet, I think we are still setting the bar way too low when it comes to creating with technology.

Like most people, I enjoy uploading some images, choosing a song, and letting Animoto “create” a video for me. But lets not pretend I am creating anything. Animoto is the creator. And yet, educators (myself included) have convinced ourselves that this is the type of creativity which will get our students thinking at a higher level. We can do so much better.

Now, take Scratch, a free programming platform from MIT. In the “old days” programming was viewed by many as a nerdy domain, where few people could even comprehend what code (if they cared enough to inquire) was. I was one of the these people. To me coding was as Greek as well....Greek. But alas...I have finally seen the light with Scratch.

Scratch gets kids to think. And that is after all, what we want in school. Here are some quotes which happen regularly in my Scratch class:
  • One student to another- “can you help me with this variable?” 
  • Another wonders aloud, “are my coordinates right?” 
  • A student asks the teacher “can I work on my project at home?” 
  • A student stays behind after dismissal, saying “he just needs to fix one thing” 
My Superintendent does a great job of asking all of us to focus on “minds on teaching.” This is what Scratch does. Kids are working with their “minds on” and creating stories, games, and animations. Take a look at this example from two gr 4 students at my school.

Scratch Project

What type of thinking was involved in this project? Critical thinking, creativity, systems thinking, planning and (get ready for this.....) heavy doses of failing. Failing is a regular part of Scratch, but kids quickly think of how they can learn from their failures. Who doesn’t like to hear that?

But wait... isn't programming for future programmers? I once thought this his too. But Mitch Resnick, creator of the Scratch program, reminded me that when we teach students to write we don’t expect them to become professional authors. Scratch isn't for future programmers. Lets get kids thinking and creating with Scratch and worry about their jobs later.

Rob Ackerman is the principal of the Lane Elementary School in Bedford, MA. Twitter: @Akee123