Ode to My College-aged Daughter

It can't be that time.
I'm not ready yet.
I thought the years
Would pass slower than that.

It seems I just held you
In my arms the first time.
Beaming with joy
And a tear in my eye.

Now you've grown into
The fine young woman you are.
I certainly couldn't be
More prouder by far.

In the blink of an eye
Those years have passed.
Cherished memories now
That will always last.

It's hard to let go
And watch you take flight
On a path all your own
On this journey called life.

God bless
Love you lots
& P.S. --- text your mom!

Testing Out Apps for School

I am in the process of trying to find high quality apps for school that are useful yet inexpensive. I'm going to post a little review of each app and a sample product if possible/applicable.

TypeDrawing ($2.99): This app lets you draw with words. You can type in your own words or use symbols from a menu. You can change font colors and font, or you can make them random. You can adjust the size of the font manually or you can set the size to be determined by drawing speed. I like that you can import a photo and draw over it and then make the photo transparent, so you don't see that it was ever there. That's what I did for this sample self-portrait...

Wordfoto ($1.99): This app lets you upload a photo and then recreate it using words. You can choose from a preselected list of words or you can enter in words of your own choosing. Here's a sample...

Colorsplash ($1.99): This app lets you upload a photo which is then changed to black and white. Then you get to paint the color back into just the parts that you want colorful. Here's a sample:

Halftone ($0.99): This app lets you upload a photo and turn it into a comic/cartoon type photo. Here's a couple of samples:

Handfont ($3.99): This app lets you write on the screen to set up a font with your very own handwriting. Here's a sample:
If you have suggestions for other free or inexpensive Apps, please leave a comment to tell me about it. Thanks!

A New Venture Into Mobile Learning

I'm in the middle of a new venture at school. We are the proud new owners of an iPad cart with 30 iPads for students to use. It has been a process setting them up. Before beginning the process of setting up the iPads, I did some research online and came across some helpful resources including: iPad deployment: Backup/restore deployment strategy and steps and http://help.apple.com/configurator/mac/1.0/.

Here are some things that I have learned are important.

  1. Set up an email account dedicated to the maintenance of the iPads. You will need this to create an Apple ID to sync the ipads with iTunes. 
  2. Set up an email account dedicated to the maintenance of the volume purchase plan if you intend to purchase apps from the iTunes store. In order to apply to purchase apps through the volume purchase plan, you'll need this email address to create yet another Apple ID.
  3. Download Configurator on an Apple machine that can be dedicated to syncing the iPads. This doesn't mean that the machine can't be used for other purposes.
  4. Wait to label each iPad/iPad case until AFTER you set them up initially. When syncing the first time, the iPads are NOT numbered according to the slot they are in on the cart. I didn't know this until after I had already labeled each iPad and wrote the corresponding number on the case. This meant that, after the initial setup, I had to take all of the covers off, put them on the correct iPad, and put them back in numerical order.

I'm sure there are other things that I will be learning as I keep working through this process. I'll update this post with other tips and ideas that seem important as I come across them.

Communication 101

***Here is my entry for the 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups, Week 56. If you want to know more about this visit Julia's Place.***

I was foolishly underthe impression that there are some basic fundamentals of good communication. Ifyou wish to get your message across, you must simply follow these steps:
Use eye contact.
Be direct and to thepoint.
Speak clearly.
Being clear is essentialto good communication.

Ha! No one told me thesebasic fundamentals don’t apply to communication with a spouse or a teenager. Nomatter how clear my thoughts seems to me, the messages leaving my lips getcompletely jumbled up before they reach the ears of the intended recipient. Isthere a Communication (with family members) 101 course? Sign me up!

Summer Camp

The campers sat together. The flames, casting eery shadows, jumped and crackled in the breeze. All of them were on edge after the terrible news they had received. Every little noise caused their hearts to race. Tracy was really missing. Everyone thought she had gone to her cabin to be alone, but when she didn't show up for dinner they began to worry. There was no sign of her anywhere around camp. She was the fifth camper to go missing in just over a week. The campers looked around the fire at each other wondering who would be next.

Relief at Long Last

One look around the neighborhood was all it took to see the toll high temperatures and lack of rain had taken on the landscape. Despite best efforts, the lush green grass had become dry and brittle. Beautiful gardens dried up. So when the first rumble was heard in the distance, people started to emerge from their air-conditioned sanctuaries to witness the first drops of rain in weeks. The drops quickly turned into sheets of rain. Puddles began to form and in the blink of an eye the rain turned the road into a river. Young and old alike danced in the rain and squealed with delight. Relief!

This is my second attempt at the 100 word challenge for grown-ups. If you'd like to give it a try, check it out here...100WCGU.

Unfortunate Timing

Prince William was missing his wife terribly. He hated it when they were apart for any length of time and decided to give her a call to see what she was doing. As he dialed her number, he flipped on the television to see how Murray was doing at Wimbledon. He was horrified to see that Murray was just about to serve for the championship when a cell phone rang loudly in the crowd causing him to fault. He was even more horrified to see the camera pan over to the Royal Box where everyone was watching as Katherine tried frantically to silence her phone.

Creative Writing Fun

If you are looking for a way to get your students excited about creative writing, you should check out the 100 Word Challenge (for older students--grade 4 and up) or the 5 sentence challenge (grade 3 and under). Both of these projects were started by Julia Skinner, a former Headteacher of a primary school in England. How does it work? Students find out what the weekly prompt is and then write in their blog either 100 words in response or 5 sentences depending upon their age and ability. The great part is that students get feedback on their writing through comments on their blog post from other students and teachers around the world. Some students are also chosen to be featured in the showcase the next week.Another great aspect of these projects is that your students will also be able to read the work of other students and comment on it. I found this was a bit challenging for some of my students. They wanted to just write generic statements that didn't really offer any useful information. It took some practice to learn how to write good, useful comments.I also think that not only does the 100 Word Challenge and the 5 Sentence Challenge give all students a chance to practice their creative writing, it gives those students who already have a passion for writing a forum to shine.I give the 100WC and the 5SC two thumbs up and a 5 star rating. Check it out for yourself!

PowerPoint - Just One Tool in the Toolbox

Five years ago, I was teaching students all the ins and outs of creating a PowerPoint presentation. We talked about how to use a PowerPoint as a visual aid without having it take over the show. We also talked in great detail about how much text should go on a slide. Much of what they learned seemed to be a bit pointless at the time because they rarely got a chance to use it outside of the Computer Lab. Over the last five years, the students have become PowerPoint experts. They can almost create a slideshow with their eyes closed and their hands tied behind their back!

Five years ago, many of the teachers these same students worked with had little experience with or knowledge of PowerPoint yet and didn't include it in their lessons very often. It took these teachers some time to learn more about the program and to become comfortable with its use. I am noticing that now these teachers are using PowerPoint a lot. It has become their tool of choice. Ironically, the students they are using these PowerPoints with now are already at the "been there, done that" stage. They are ready to move on and add some new tools to their toolbox. The challenge is going to be moving the teachers forward along with the students.

PowerPoint is a great piece of software and has its pros and cons. It can be an effective tool if used correctly and if not over-used. There are so many other tools out there that students could be using to create a final project or to display their knowledge of a particular topic. The number of tools grows every day. It isn't going to be possible for me to teach the ins and outs of all these different sites and programs. My goal at this point is to teach students how to analyze a website, how to problem solve, and how to teach themselves to use new sites and programs. Many students already do these things: i.e. when they are trying to figure out how to play a new video game or how to use the latest social networking website. It's second nature to them. It's not second nature for a large number of teachers.

It may require teachers to get outside their comfort zone, but I think it is crucial that we all start adding some new tools to our toolbox. Teachers often think they need to be an expert at something before they feel comfortable asking students to try it. We've got to see that as an outdated way of thinking. We can share all that we know about our area of expertise (math, science, social studies, reading, etc...) and then give students the option to show you what they've learned about that topic using whatever tool works best for them. Provide the class with the list of things on which you will be assessing them, and then give them the freedom to choose a way of demonstrating those things.

Students, because they have become experts at creating PowerPoints, may need to be nudged out of their comfort zone as well. Perhaps on some assessments, students will have to be told that they need to use a new tool - something other than PowerPoint. It might be helpful to talk with students about some of the different tools available and how they can be used in different subject areas. Create signs to post around the room as a reference.

The benefits of this approach are two-fold. The students will take more ownership of their learning if they are given some choice in how they can present it. The teacher and the rest of the class will have a variety of projects to see/listen to instead of sitting through 30 PowerPoints all on the same exact topic which can be a bit boring!

How many tools do you have in your toolbox?

Get Your Head in the Cloud...

...or at least get your bookmarks, documents, photos, videos, and so on... in the Cloud. It was the BEST thing I did starting back in 2005 when I signed up for a Delicious account. (I won't be telling my fellow tech gurus anything new in this post, but I hope to share some useful information here with those who are just starting to explore the potential that the web holds.)

What is "the Cloud", you ask? The phrase refers to resources and applications that are Internet-based and are accessible from basically any device that can go online. So, putting your bookmarks, documents, videos and such in the Cloud means that you have stored them in a place that allows you to gain access to them from any computer or other device that has Internet access.

Saving things online is simple, gives you flexibility, helps with organization, and can even provide opportunities for collaboration.

SIMPLE - Getting started is as simple as finding a site that meets your needs and signing up for an account. Many sites offer free accounts which sometimes offer limited options. Once you have an account, you can begin uploading items to it. This is also usually a very simple process. If you know how to download pictures from your digital camera or how to add an attachment to an email, you should be able to figure out how to upload items to the Cloud.

FLEXIBLE - Having your items in the Cloud offers you the flexibility of going almost anywhere and still having access to them. When you get to work and realize that you've left your removable drive at home, you don't have to worry if you have everything saved online too.

ORGANIZED - Many of the storage sites also let you tag your resources. Tagging provides a way of organizing similar to a database. When you are searching for a particular topic, you can search through your resources by the tags you've created. For example, I have tagged all of my online bookmarks by grade level and by subject among other things. If I am looking for a third grade math site, I just have to select those tags.

COLLABORATION - Once you have your resources in the Cloud, you are sometimes able to grant others access to them so that you can collaborate. Several people can be working simultaneously on a document, slide show, or spreadsheet and don't even have to be in the same room, same city, or even the same continent for that matter! Check out this Google Doc for an example. Add a "Hello" while you're there, so you can see how easy it is to collaborate.

Check some of these sites out:

Some online bookmarking/collection sites are Delicious, Diigo, Reddit, Clipmarks, Digg, Livebinders.

Store your videos online at Vimeo, YouTube, Viddler, Dailymotion.

Places to keep your documents online include GoogleDocs, Dropbox, Box.Net, FilesAnywhere, 4Shared.

Some online photo albums are Photobucket, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Flickr, Picasa.

Participate! Collaborate! Communicate!

There are so many great online projects you can become part of that allow you and your students to collaborate and communicate with other classes around the world. Over the last eight years, my students and I have participated in a variety of different projects. Collaborating in these projects has led to other opportunities for my students. We've been able to Skype and share VoiceThreads with other classes around the world.

One of the first online projects that I became a part of many years ago was a postcard exchange. I found someone who was recruiting a class from each state in the U.S. to join. (I have also participated in International Post Card Exchanges.) Each school creates enough postcards with information about their school, city, state, to send one to each of the other schools in the exchange. In return, your school will receive one postcard from each of the other schools too. This means you could potentially receive 49 postcards! What kid doesn't love to get something in the mail? I admit, even I get excited to see another postcard in my mailbox in the school office! Check out Mike Ryter's site to see all of the cards he's received in our postcard exchange this year: Mr. Ryter's 6th Grade Godwin Social Studies.

Our Postcard Sent to Mr. Ryter's Class

You may be asking how this postcard exchange can be used as a learning experience in the classroom. Here are some ideas. First, I teach a lesson on writing a friendly letter. This is important to do before writing our messages on the postcards. Then I teach a lesson on how to write an address on a piece of mail. It amazes me how many students don't know how to do this, but then how many of them have ever used snail mail before?! I even have my students draw the picture that we use on the front of the postcard using a paint program on the computer. When the postcards from other schools start arriving, you could practice map skills to find the location of the school on a U.S. map. I created a Google Map and marked each school as their postcard arrived (SEE BELOW). If the other schools list how many students are in their school or their class, you could use this information in math to graph/average/analyze. There are probably lots of other ways you could use this postcard exchange.

View U.S. Postcard Exchange in a larger map

Another site that I would recommend for online projects is jenuinetech.com run by Jennifer Wagner. Jen organizes many projects during the school year including O.R.E.O. stacking, Christmas Card exchanges, St. Patrick's Day graphing, and more. My students and I have participated in these projects for many years and it is always a lot of fun!

Every spring, I sign the students in grades 1-8 up to participate in World Math Day. This is a great, friendly competition of math facts between students of similar age/ability levels from around the world. Guaranteed to be more fun than doing flash cards at the supper table!

This year my students in grades 2-8 are learning the art of blogging using Kidblog. We have had several opportunities to collaborate with other students through our blogs. The 6th graders participated in Quadblogging last fall. The middle school students are currently participating in the 100 word challenge. Next week the 4th graders will be communicating with other 4th graders who are attending a Catholic school to share the fun activities they do for Catholic Schools Week. I wrote about the art of blogging in my previous post Writing + Audience = Blogging if you'd like to know more.

I am intrigued by these new projects in which I have not yet participated...the Global Read Aloud Project, Collaboreyes, and the Flat Classroom Project. Other sites where you might find project partners include: ePals, Global School House, AtoZTeacherStuff Forums.

Joining these projects brings the four corners of the world a little closer to your doorstep and allows your students to collaborate and communicate with students from all over the world. Give it a try!

Writing + Audience = Blogging

This year I created Kidblog accounts for all of the students in grades 2 through 8. I decided to have them practice writing by writing for an audience. This makes them a little more accountable, and it's more fun. Most of the students are having a really great time writing posts. At first, I gave them a topic for the week to get them started. We talked about the types of things they might consider writing about. I turned my whiteboard into a make-shift bulletin board where we put up words for blogging inspiration. I've just left them up there all year for a reference since I don't use the whiteboard to write on anyway. Eventually the students started gaining more confidence and began writing about things that interested them. I still have a topic each week for those reluctant writers.

After the students tackled the process of writing quality blog posts, we started discussing how to write comments on someone else's blog. I showed my students this video that Linda Yollis and her students put together to help explain what makes a good comment:

To give the students a chance to write for an audience beyond the walls of our little school, I signed the middle school students up to be part of a wonderful blogging project called Quadblogging. This was the creation of David Mitchell, a Deputy Headteacher of a primary school in the UK. How does Quadblogging work? Four schools are assigned to work together. One of the schools' blogs is the focus the first week of the 4-week cycle. The other three schools read and comment on that blog for the week. Then the three other schools have their turn in the spotlight for a week. We were assigned to work with two UK schools and a school in New Zealand. The students were so excited to participate in this project! We were even able to Skype with two of the schools which just added another layer to the learning.

Another great blogging opportunity is coming up on February 29th...again the creative genius of David Mitchell with the help of Peter Ford and John Sutton. To recognize this special Leap Day that only comes around once every four years, they've created a site where people will be able to add a blog post of their own. It will be open to anyone, not just educators and students. For more information about this project, click the link below.


One of the bonuses about using a blogging site like Kidblog is that it acts as a portfolio of sorts as well. All of the students' posts are archived on their blog from the beginning of the year through the present. It is a great way to see how much the students' writing has improved over time. Writing is such an important life skill. Blogging is a great way to motivate students to practice their writing and to improve their writing skills because they know there is an audience reading what they have posted. Students are also motivated to write more by the comments that are left on their blog.

If you haven't started blogging with your students, you really should give it a try!

Flashcards - 21st Century Style

When it comes to studying math facts, vocabulary words, etc..., flashcards have always been a great tool to use. It got me thinking how can we take this concept and bring it into the 21st century? What would make it more interesting and exciting to students, so they would be more likely to use the flashcards?

The fourth and fifth grade students are busy learning the titles and authors of 40 different books for a reading competition. The past two weeks in Library I quizzed them on a few of the titles and authors and could see that they were not making any progress. Most of them still did not know the information. We're not using mobile devices here at school yet (hopefully this will be a possibility in the near future), so I downloaded a free flashcard app to my iPhone. Then I created a stack of cards with the titles and authors. When the fourth and fifth graders came to Library this week, we used the digital flashcards on my iPhone and all of a sudden it was much more fun and exciting to do! Many of the students have iPod touches and other devices at home, so I suggested they create their own flashcards to study with.

What can students do if they don't have a mobile learning device of their own? What if your school isn't allowing students to bring their mobile learning devices to school? In PowerPoint, students could create a slide with a vocabulary word, math fact, etc... The next slide could reveal the answer. Students could quiz themselves or work with a partner or group to study. The downside is that this requires you to be working at a computer.

Students could quiz each other from the comfort of their own homes using an online whiteboard site like Scriblink, Dabbleboard, Twiddla, or Scribblar.

Perhaps students could record themselves using a USB microphone stating the facts and answers. These could be uploaded to Audioboo, saved on the computer, or burned to a disc to be played back later.

If you and your students are using a site like Edmodo or Twiducate, the students could quiz each other by posting a message to the whole class or to another student in the class.

These are just some of the many ways to bring the idea of flashcards into the 21st century. No matter which of these approaches your students decide to use, they'll be ahead of the game just be taking the time create their study aid. It's really a win-win situation!


There are many important key combinations to know about when working on the computer. One of those key combinations that I teach to the youngest students (PreK, Kindy, First) right away at the beginning of the school year is ctrl+alt+del. They must use this tricky combination to log onto our school computers. The students practice pressing the keys on a keyboard that isn't connected to a computer before moving to their workstation to try on the real thing. I also stress that they make a V with the fingers on their left hand and use the pointer finger on their right hand to press the keys. I show this picture up on the wall as a reference:

Several years ago, I came across these cute USB hamster wheels at iwantoneofthose.com. I purchased 3 of them, we named them Control, Alt, and Delete, and they became our first Computer Lab pets. When they are turned on, they hamsters run in their wheel as the students type. The faster they type, the faster the hamsters run. Great incentive! Sadly, I don't believe they are available any longer.

The middle grades students (3rd, 4th, 5th) practice the all-important skills of cut, copy, and paste. There are multiple ways of accomplishing these tasks. Using the menus/ribbon, using the right-click menu, or using keyboard shortcuts. To help the students remember the keyboard shortcuts, we came up with little tricks. For example, the X in Ctrl+X for cut reminds us of a pair of scissors. The V in Ctrl+V for paste reminds us of the tip of a glue bottle. When I teach this lesson I wear this t-shirt:

I wanted to put posters on the walls of the Computer Lab that showed the keyboard shortcuts. As I looked around the room, I realized that the students would have a hard time seeing anything at eye level on the walls because the monitors got in the way. In order for the students to see them, I would need to put them really high on the wall. That looked ridiculous, so instead I pinned them to the ceiling tiles. What else are we going to put on the ceiling? Now all students have to do if they can't remember is simply look up!

Creating Displays with Student Photos

I have found that students love to see their photo on display in school and have tried to come up with some fun ways to create displays using a photo of each student in our school. To do this, I first take all of the their pictures with a digital camera during Computer class. If you have all of their school pictures on file somewhere you could use those too. Our students wear uniforms to school...either a red or a white polo shirt...so I was inspired to use the red and white of their shirts to create a U.S. flag with their photos. To really accentuate the red and white color, I had them stand in front of a piece of red or white paper depending on their shirt color. I printed out wallet size pictures. We have about 250 students. If you have a larger school, you could print thumbnails instead. My original plan was to create the stripes with the students' pictures and put the teachers' pictures on the stars. In the end, I just wrote the teachers' names on the stars. Once I had everything organized I recruited the help of some middle school students to actually construct the display. I created the U.S. flag during the last presidential election.

This past December I used the same red/white stripe idea and had the middle school students help me create giant candy canes. In the first example, I placed any extra photos around the flag on a piece of red bulletin board paper. With the candy cane display, the extra photos were placed on snowflakes that some of the students cut out.

These displays were a lot of fun to look at. If you create something like this, I suggest you put it up somewhere that students and parents can easily see it. Students love to look for their picture, and parents love to spot their son/daughter in the display.

What can YOU make out of a heart shape?

It won't be long before it's Valentine's Day! Time to start planning those Valentine activities now so you can put them on display for the big day. You could have your students make a picture on the computer. It's a great way to practice using the mouse, to learn how to use the tools in a drawing program like Kidpix, and to inspire creativity. What kind of picture do you suppose a first or second grade student could create if they started with a heart shape? Of course that would depend on which way the heart shape was facing. If it's a regular heart shape, you could create a bunny...

a butterfly or a ladybug...

If the heart is facing sideways, you could create a fish or maybe a spider...

If it's an upside down heart, you might turn it into a cat or a puppy dog...
First and second grade students have pretty good imaginations. With a little help from you, they can come up with some creative ways to turn a heart shape into something fun. What can YOU make out of a heart shape?