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 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 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 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?