Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Giving Voices to Stars

In case you missed in my myriad of tweets every Monday Night and Tuesday morning for the past few months, my former student, Matt McAndrew, has been a contestant on NBC's The Voice. Every Monday at school has been, "Matt McAndrew Monday!" and every Tuesday, students take out their phones as part of their Do Now to Vote for Matt. I am over the moon and so enthralled with Matt's performances.

I can't stop listening to Matt's duet with Adam Levine, "Lost Stars" nor reflecting on this whole crazy Matt McAndrew & The Voice craziness. Playing this video for my students today in room 5-1, I pointed at the spot where Matt used to sit in class and pointed at the screen showing Matt singing with Adam Levine. 

I am in awe and humbled as an educator. I cannot predict what my students will become. And sometimes, on a rare occasion, there is a glimmer where I can see the girl or "boy caught up in dreams and fantasies reaching for someone" he/she will be. But never would I have predicted what Matt has accomplished the past few months. Now, that doesn't mean I didn't believe he could do it... that means I didn't see it coming. I didn't recognize the glimmer or "lost star" back in 2005; I was too caught up then in the assignments & grades & rigor of education.

Thank you, Matt, for this gift of sharing your talent with all of us, for reminding me to look for the glimmer and the "lost stars". All I can do is be a teacher on a daily basis who will give students the skills and support to do whatever they want to do whenever they find their calling. No test score or homework assignment will ever determine the worth of the students in class. Thank you to all the Southern Regional High School (and everywhere in the world) teachers who shine for our students.

Regardless of tonight's outcome, Matt McAndrew is a star.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Connecting with Authors via Social Media

While many will vilify social media and focus only on the posts where folks are acting inappropriately or unprofessionally, social media is very powerful tool for connecting regular ol' folks like you and me with experts in a field.  I use Facebook to share photos of my girls with family who live elsewhere and to keep up to date on what some of my favorite authors are up to.  I've had a guest post by author MJ Fletcher, and I've written before about connecting with Shakespearean actor/director and author David Blixt via Facebook and this week I had the opportunity to converse briefly with Diana Gabaldon.

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is at the top of my must-read list if you like historical fiction/sci-fi/fantasy/timetravel books. Her work is really knows no bounds of genre, and it so wonderfully well researched and written. Much to the delight of her fans, Gabaldon's novels have recently been turned in to a TV show on the Starz network sparking a whole series of blogs and websites dedicated to all things Outlandish which Gabaldon frequently shares the links to such sites via Facebook. One such site, Outlander Anatomy, is a fascinating read about the science of anatomy using the characters and events in the TV series as inspiration for the posts.  Gabaldon also shares excerpts from her novels and current projects, and she will even share HOW she writes.

As an English teacher, I deconstruct and analyze texts with my students, and often I am (and every English teacher out there is) accused of close reading too far into the text. My students will question, "How do you KNOW that Poe is using irony in "Cask of Amontillado?"  "How do you KNOW Shakespeare intended to invert the gender roles in the balcony scene of Romeo & Juliet?" My defense often involves supporting my opinion with proof from the text and, if available from the author, researched explanations. We also have a discussion about who creates meaning in texts: the writer or the reader? The answer is both.

I also use literature as a means for modeling writing for students.  We examine the techniques used by acclaimed authors and students attempt to use the same technique in their own writing. We examine Richard Peck's use of literary devices and motif in "Priscilla and the Wimps," Poe's use of narration, verbal irony and dialogue in "Cask of Amontillado," and Richard Connell's use of ellipsis and characterization in "The Most Dangerous Game". We analyze each author's style, diction, sentence structure, and I challenge students to attempt using these same techniques in our Create a Hero project. The students draft a profile of a hero they create, map out the storyline following Joseph Campbell's monomyth/hero's journey, and write a scene as if ripped from the pages of a larger novel. Students are now sharing their scenes and talking about the choices they made in crafting the story. So not only have we discussed how an author writes, but the students take on the role as authors and showcase how/why they wrote the scene they way they did.

Thanks to Facebook and the power of social media, I can share with students an example of how one author crafts a story and makes intentional choices when writing.  Take a look at these screenshots of Diana Gabaldon sharing an excerpt from her novel, Written in My Own Heart's Blood, complete with annotations explaining the scene. The original post is much, much longer, so you will have to go to Facebook to read the rest.

And if I didn't think Diana Gabaldon sharing her work was cool enough, she also REPLIED to my comments on her post validating how I teach writing through literature. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

PBL & Flipped Learning at Home using Rainbow Looms

My daughters are 8 and 6 years old and they have gotten into the Rainbow Loom craze.  In the melee of doing laundry and catching up on stuff during our November break, I realized that flipped, project based learning was going on in my own home. My girls are intrinsically motivated to create their bracelets and often refer to YouTube videos for how to create them. Through the process, my daughters are practicing counting skills, recognizing and following patterns, hand-eye coordination, and organizational skills.  My girls are also demonstrating search and evaluation skills as they scour YouTube for videos that work well for them to follow, and (thank heavens) interpersonal skills as they work together.

This got me wondering about how the Rainbow Loom craze could be brought into the classroom. Not only could students work on all of the skills (and more) that I mention above, but they also could practice writing skills creating how-to manuals and digital literacy skills by creating their own video tutorials. I would love to read/hear/see if/how folks are incorporating Rainbow Looms into their classes.

I just snapped pictures of my girls, and my 6 year old first-grade daughter counting her pink bands and laying them out in pairs, declaring, "I'm counting by twos!"

Look closely for the pairs of pink bands laid out on the carpet and don't mind Charlie's photobomb.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Flipped Learning Podcast: Tools for Assessment

I had a great conversation with Troy Cockrum and Joan Brown about tech tools for assessment on the Flipped Learning Network's Podcast. I look at edtech as a vehicle for learning and a way to leverage the workload for teachers.

Check out the conversation:

Friday, October 31, 2014

In the Teacher's Lounge: Using Edmodo to Teach Digital Literacy

I had the pleasure on Tuesday last week to give a webinar on how I use Edmodo to teach my students digital literacy skills and help prepare them for digital assessments.  My students piloted the PARCC last Spring and it became clear that knowing how to effectively navigate through a website will impact student scores on the Common Core assessment.  Not only are my students being assessed on reading and writing literacy skills, but they are also being evaluated on understanding how to navigate and use a website.

Watch the webinar to see what I do and how I do it.

Here is a copy of my Google Slides so that you can access the resources linked in the presentation. There are lots of Easter eggs hidden in the slides, so use your digital literacy skills and explore!

Interested in crowd-sourcing a catalog of digital tools that target specific skills? Add your favorite tools here!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#ECET2NOLA Starting

I can't stop thinking about the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching & Teachers conference that I attended last weekend. I keep thinking about the notions of leadership and being a change agent as I reflect on how I got to attend such an inspiring event.

I'd like to say it started on the plane on the way to New Orleans and #ECET2NOLA, but it started before that.  It started before we were at the gate waiting to board the plane. It started before the invitation to #ECET2NOLA. It even started before #NJPAECET2 where we met face to face after months of planning and prepping for the regional conference. I keep thinking (read: obsessing) about how I got to this point, and I realized after lengthy discussions and quick interactions with others, I've been asking the wrong question all along.

It is not about "when" or "where;"  it is about "who."

Every moments begins with someone that incites it. I keep thinking about how ECET2 as an organization got started. What was the chain of interactions; what was the inciting incident? I need to do some research.  And as I've been desconstructing and mulling all of this over while walking through the halls of my school with my thoughts being interrupted by greetings from present and former students, I realized that the inciting incident begins with the smallest of gestures.  What starts the interaction between two people that leads to more interactions that eventually escalates and expands into a conference? It is one word, "Hi." It is the courage to say one word, "Hi."

PD on a Plane

At the gate, seven of us make introductions and realize that we have been brought together by one person who had the courage to say hi to us on Twitter, at TeachMeetNJ, at NJPAECET2... Barry.  One might think there would be awkwardness or that tap-dance of give-take getting to know one another, but it was so natural and energizing. 

Fast forward to the embarking on the plane, finding seats, scrambling for overhead space, and then begins the hat dance of "will you trade seats with me?"  Moving so a husband and wife can sit closer together, I end up 5 rows back in an aisle seat next to a young woman in the window seat and across the aisle from two others in our #ECET2NOLA party. Our conversations at the gate spill over to the aisle of the plane. The three of us, Scott C., Ryan, and myself, chat about educational issues until I hear from the window seat, "Excuse me, I overhear you are teachers.... I am a teacher, too..."

What was scheduled to be a three hour flight becomes a three hour mini-conference on the plane. From a keynote address in the aisles to break out sessions about flipping and being an administrator, we talked about best practices and how to problem solve specific classroom issues. Christina, my window seat companion, thanked us profusely about how helpful the conversation was was for figuring out how to increase student engagement and ensure students are performing in her class. She even went on to say, "Thank you so much. You have no idea what you have done for me."  I replied, "Yes, I do know because someone did the same for me years ago."

Saying HI Matters

In year 12 of my teaching career four years ago, I experienced a crisis. Struggling with being a wife, mom, coach, and teacher, I was lacking a sense of community and a way to manage it all. I needed a new way of doing things and people that would lift me up. Poking around on Twitter and local conferences, I connected with Cheryl, Andrew, Karl, and Liz.  Without these people, I would not be where I am today.  I am grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward with Christina. 

The courage to say HI and engage in a conversation opens a door to a space that was not known prior. We can't get to new places if we aren't willing to start the process. And starting the process begins with the most simplest gesture of making a connection to someone else: make eye contact and say hi.

When I build relationships with new classes each year, I make sure I learn my students' names as fast as I can, and then outside of the classroom, I make sure that during the change of class that I say hi to my students in the hall.  Not only does it give me practice recognizing their names and faces in various contexts, but saying HI in the halls lets my students know in the simplest terms that I care about them and see them as people. When I first start saying Hi in the halls, I was the one to say HI first and some students would try to walk past me and not make eye contact. I will lean towards them or step in their way so they are forced to look up, see my smiling face and hear me say hi. And when I say hi, I am energetic and exuberant, showing my happiness at having "run into" the students in the hall. Now two months into the school year, both former and "new" students are saying hi to me first before I say hi to them. They know I care because I say HI, and I know they care because they say HI to me. 

If you want to elevate yourself or your students, start with saying HI. 

It isn't about when it started.
It isn't about where it started.

It is about WHO started it.

Be the person who starts the chain reaction.  Be the person who says HI to colleagues and students in the hall.  Be the person who joins a community of educators. Be the person recognizes the greatest in others.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#ECET2NOLA I see what you did there....

I see what you did there....

On the plane, chatting with folks around you around.  Keynoting in the aisles and igniting learning in others who are struggling.  But did you see, that you gave me a chance to pay it forward?

In the session, tying Seinfeld to blogging...."Seinfeld is not a show about nothing and your blog is not a blog about nothing."

It is not about me it is about YOU.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Yes, you can get out of your comfort zone.

While on vacation this week on Mount Desert Island in Maine, I had the opportunity to unplug and focus on family in a setting that has stunning scenery and vast opportunities for exploration.  I also realized that there is a whole heck of a lot of the world that I'm missing when at home.  We marveled at all the stars we could see every night from our rental house.  Every night at home in NJ, I could watch Orion rising over the trees out my front door, but with all of the light pollution, it is impossible to see anything besides the brightest stars. Here in Maine, I got a crick in my neck staring at the Milky Way and was literally seeing spots in front of my eyes trying to count all the stars I could see. It was dizzying.

And this got me thinking: the same stars and Milky Way are over my head at home and in Maine, but I've lost sight of them at home.  While it isn't necessarily my fault-- I can't control the streetlights and shopping plazas-- I've forgotten that all of those stars actually exist. I've let, to be cliche, the wool be pulled over my eyes.  What other things am I no longer seeing because I've gotten comfortable with others controlling my view?

We can't see or experience anything new when in our comfort zones. The daily landscape of home and work becomes mundane and, again to be cliche, it is easy to take things for granted.  This week, I stood in awe of the cliffs and crashing surf. I was swept away by the views of mountains and ocean converging. I could stand on the shore and gaze for hours at the bobbing lobster buoys and my daughters exploring the tidal pools in the rocks. And how did I get to this point? I had to drive 12 hours --literally out of my comfort zone-- with the family packed in our Yukon.

Hiking Higher

Exploring Acadia National Park, we took our daughters along the coastal trails of Ship Harbor and Great Head and up to the south summit of the Bubble Mountains. My husband and I, sans the girls, went up the Beehive and to the south summit of Mount Champlain.  While the Beehive is shorter in comparison to all of the other mountains in Acadia, it is one of the most difficult hikes: vertical, exposed, climbers pull themselves up via iron rungs secured in the rock face. Only the Precipice trail is harder.  I'm proud to say I've hiked both multiple times, but that was years ago.

I've gotten complacent and comfortable at home-- as my waistline will attest--and managing being a mom and career woman has kept me with my feet firmly planted on the ground.... although usually running from one thing to another.  But when my husband suggested we take a hike up Beehive, I had a moment of panic. Could I handle this kind of stress? Could I handle clinging to the mountainside? I've surmounted professional tasks with ease, but the Beehive? It has been 6 years since I last climbed it, and so much has changed in 6 years.

I had a choice: I could let me fears and uncertainty rule my actions or I could embrace the opportunity.  Here I was hiking with my husband, and I couldn't remember the last time we took the time to do something together without the kids. I knew without a doubt that as long as I had my husband with me, I could face my fear of heights (actually falling from those heights is my fear), and be rewarded with stunning vistas and a sense of accomplishment.  Whether it was holding my hand across the iron walk or giving me words of encouragement as I pulled myself up the rungs, we reaffirmed our commitment to one another. We are a team whether climbing mountains in Acadia or tackling the mountain of laundry at home.

But it was this challenge that reminded me that even though 6 years have gone by and it has been 12 years that my husband and I have been together, total time is just as important as the small moments of time where we can be pushed beyond our comfort zone. And missing recognizing those opportunities can be detrimental. It is like that old saying found on many locker room walls: Pain is temporary; Pride is forever. Who knows what you might never realize about yourself if you don't push yourself to do something new?

This coming school year I am faced with a difficult schedule of traveling across the building to different classrooms, and while I don't want vacation to end, I know that I can meet this challenge. And while I'm hiking between buildings between classes, don't think I won't visualize being on an Acadia trail.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hiking Acadia

Spending the last week of summer on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, we've done quite a bit of hiking in Acadia National Park.  While the paper map we got at the Entrance Station to the park has been our most useful quick guide, being the techie that I am, I wondered what I could find for tools online.

All Trails partnered with National Geographic can be found online, in the Chrome Web store, and in the mobile markets. Search for trails and keep a trail journal, this is a useful resource for hiking. I really like that I can search for trails and filter by difficulty and other

MapMyHike is an app that will track your route, and much like MapMyRun, track your activity.

Cell service is spotty on the island, so I wonder how well these apps will work. I've been able to follow our progress on the roads via GPS and Google Maps, but being on a trail is being off the Google Map.

When on the trail, I've been documenting the hike with my cell phone and GoPro camera.  Thank heavens for digital photography because I would be spending a fortune on film --or at least not taking as many pictures. I've been uploading all the pictures to Google+ in a folder. I think this is the modern version of the vacation slides. Take a look at all 400+ pictures I've taken from the first two days of our trip by clicking on the link or view the preview below.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to Use an iPad for Academic Use

One of my students, Matt D., created a presentation on how to use an iPad for academic use based on his experiences last year.  We are a BYOD district, but still being rooted in paper, our paperless skills are still emerging.  Part of the delay is that it takes time to figure out an effective workflow with new technology. Well, Matt has taken the guess work out of using an iPad in a BYOD classroom. As a pioneer among his classmates, Matt made it his mission to be paperless in my classroom last year, and this year, he is making sure that others can do it, too.

Take a look at Matt's presentation.  We welcome any feedback and please share how YOU and your students use a paperless workflow. Also, keep an eye out for other posts that showcase the paperless workflow for other devices.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Driving over Tukey's Bridge

This summer I spent time with family and wrote content for titles that will appear in Curriculet's premium store.  One such title was the young adult novel Delirium by Lauren Oliver where love is considered a disease in a dystopian future. 

I greatly enjoyed working on creating questions, quizzes, and annotations for a young adult title, applying all that I've learned from teaching canonical texts like A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Romeo & Juliet, Young Adult literature should have a place in the academic classroom.  Young adult literature is the bait and hook for reading.  Dr. Jung Kim from Lewis University makes the case here for young adult literature in the classroom. There are also some examples of canonical and young adult pairings. In creating the curriculet layer for Delirium, I examined the text just as I would with a canonical text: narration, structure, diction, plot, setting, etc.  

While the syntax of Delirium is not difficult, I targeted Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.9 in the creation of the questions and annotations: Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work.  Through out the novel, author Lauren Oliver makes allusions to Romeo & Juliet and sets the story in Portland, Maine. While author Lauren Oliver doesn't exactly copy the story of Romeo & Juliet, she does emphasize similar themes and conflicts: forbidden love, man versus society, and personal growth. The main character, Lena, begins to question the restrictive society in which she lives as she develops a relationship with another character, Alex. Not only can I have students make connections between Delirium and Romeo & Juliet, but also to 1984 and any other text where a character realizes that the world in which he/she has lived is not as it seems. If I want my students to be independent and analytic thinkers, I need them to have opportunities to do so by giving them texts that connect to them FIRST and then using the young adult text as a bridge to understand and connect with the canonical texts. 

I applaud Curriculet for working to evolve reading in the digital era and making ALL texts more accessible for readers.  Renting publisher-controlled digital texts for my classroom will be much more budget-friendly than asking my supervisor to purchase class-set paperback copies-- and I don't have to worry about collecting and replacing paperback copies over time. While I could send students to the library to check out individual copies of the book, I would not have enough books for the whole class to read, and even though I could have students choose their own books for independent reading,  what I want is to have students reading more of the same books together.

So back to Tukey's Bridge.... Delirium is set in Portland, Maine, and Oliver continually references real locations found in the city, in addition to adapting them to suit the vision of the dystopic future. The statue of the Governor that Lena and Hana run past in Delirium is really Our Ladies of Victories statue in Monument Square. This connection provides opportunity to discuss how societies memorialize heroes and students can explore the monuments in their hometowns. In addition, if students traveled to locations mentioned in the text, they can walk in the shoes of characters. 

As my family traveled to Maine for a week-long summer vacation in Bar Harbor, following 295 North through Portland, we drove over Tukey's Bridge and past Back Cove.  I craned my next to spot the Promenade and envisioned Lena swimming with Alex on East End Beach. I had a moment of double vision as we rocketed along at 70 miles per hour, I imagined that we were really travelling in to the Wilds.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#Flipclass Workflow: Differentiated Instruction

Chatting this morning with Stacy Dawes on Voxer in the #ELA Flip group, we were discussing ways in which we can differentiate and diversify our instruction for students, especially those who are ESL/ELL immersed in mainstream classes.  Thinking about how to use technology to differentiate instruction in the flipped ELA classroom, we came up with the following ideas:

  • In your main Edmodo class, create small groups in which the students are leveled, then post tailored assignments to each of the small groups.  If all students are working with the same content, they will not know that they are receiving different versions of the same assessment or activity. Resources to assist that particular group of students can also be posted. Students can be in multiple small groups, but they can only see the content posted to the groups they are members of. 
  • Use Curriculet to differentiate reading instruction. Much like Edmodo, in Curriculet, teachers can create multiple versions of layered annotations, quizzes, and questions for texts and all versions are saved in the teacher library. Teachers can assign canonical texts or upload documents from their files or the web into Curriculet's interface meeting both literature and informational text reading standards. To manage assigning the texts to the students, I recommend creating reading groups by level instead of traditional classes.  Managing classes in Curriculet is very easy and students can be in multiple classes from multiple teachers at the same time.  So rather than having a Period 2 class in Curriculet, name your Curriculet classes to differentiate the reading level. For example, Level I, Level II, or Reading Group A, Reading Group B, etc. Assign the the particular custom curriculet to the particular group and track student performance.
  • Newela could also be used to differentiate informational text reading instruction since articles can be adjusted to meet student lexile levels. Newsela is an excellent resource for differentiating current event articles. Where as Curriculet anchors the text with the question and quizzes being adjusted, Newsela enables the text itself to be adjusted to meet student reading ability.  Students also take quizzes to assess their reading comprehension. 

As far as classtime is concerned, students could complete differentiated instructional tasks on asynchronous working days or at home.  Teaching 9th graders, I do not give them free reign, but instead give them small chunks to work asynchronously, usually about 2-3 days at a time.  We will start a task in class and then homework becomes whatever the students need to finish.  If they were productive during classtime, then homework can be avoided.

While the above ideas are focused on ELA instruction, they could also be applied to all subject areas.  What ideas do you have for using technology to differentiate instruction?  Share

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#Flipclass Workflow

With the start of the new school year looming, a favorite topic of discussion among #flipclass teachers is workflow.  Rookies want to know how to make flipping work with class procedures, and veterans are always tweaking what they do. Edmodo, Curriculet, and Google Drive are essential to productive workflow in my class.

Essentially, this is what I do:

  • Organize students into classes on Edmodo with all resources, agendas, links to edtech tools, assignments, and quizzes are completed in Edmodo.
  • Students go to Curriculet for reading texts.
  • Students use Google Docs for typing up essays and other assignments.


Edmodo is my online classroom space. Everything that I do face to face with students is also completed via Edmodo.  From posting the daily agenda to taking quizzes to connecting with others, everything is done in Edmodo as you can see from the list below and public folder of classroom examples.  

I create a main classroom group for each level I teach because I want to promote the online PLN experience.  So all of my Honors 9 students are in one group regardless of period and all of my English 12 students are in another group. Students interact with others that they may see in class or merely pass in the the hall. When I name my groups I always use the following naming convention:  School Year & Level.  For example, 2013-14 English 9 or 2014-15 Honors English 9. 

  • The daily agenda is posted as a Note with any attachments needed. I always date it and put a heading in all caps as well as a numbered list of activities for the day. I type up my lesson plans in a Google Calendar which is posted on my class website, and merely copy/paste from my plans to create the daily agenda.  Click here to see a sample.
  • All work is turned in via Edmodo Assignments.  Whether it is a final project or an online activity or a photo of a paper worksheet, students turn in their work on Edmodo because the assignment is automatically added to Edmodo's gradebook or Progress area which keeps a spreadsheet record of all assignments assigned to that group. This spreadsheet is my working gradebook and replaces the students' three-ring binder. Students still keep a notebook using any method they choose, but I no longer have to do paper-notebook checks.  When parents, counselors, or administrators have a question about a student's performance, I have a record of the student's work at my fingertips.  I can also see the student's performance in relation to other classmates. I transfer by hand scores to my district's gradebook as applicable.
  • Preparing for digital assessments, students complete quick Edmodo Snapshot assignments. Snapshot provides students with standards-aligned assessments for math and ELA. I can quickly choose the standards I want to assess and assign the questions to my students.  Edmodo takes care of the rest from selecting the passage to writing the questions. I set the due date and track student progress, assigning later Snapshots to address deficiencies. Snapshot will be a weekly automatic assignment for my students in the coming school year. 
  • Students access Edmodo apps for automated tasks or projects. The No Red Ink Edmodo app is added to my Edmodo groups so that I can quickly assign students grammar tasks without having the students log in to another site or make more work for me.  Students also have access to other apps such as Powtoon, Pixton, Audioboo, and Dogo News for other online projects. I often ask my student to "Show Me" what they know using any online tool. 
  • Students communicate and peer review in Edmodo small groups.  I break up each main classroom group into smaller sub groups.  I just go right down the roster and select students in alphabetical order.  The small groups then becomes a place to share work that is turned in or complete online small group tasks.  I may ask students to find a resource about parallel structure and post it to their small group or have them share copies of essays for peer review.  By posting in small groups, we are keeping the main classroom page relatively clean.
  • Students are added to other main groups throughout the year. I will create other Edmodo groups for collaborating with others or delivering content in an asynchronous manner. When collaborating with other teachers and students across the country or globe, I (or the collaborating teacher) will create a new main group to which we add our students for sharing their work or completing collaborative tasks.  I'm excited to try out a Writer's Corner group with California teacher Beth Oing and Maine teacher Natalee Stotz.  This group will be an informal space for students to share whatever they are writing for peer review and feedback.  For delivering content in an asynchronous manner, I will create a separate group for each unit.  Check out this post on how I gamified The Odyssey using Edmodo. 


Curriculet is my go-to tool for reading instruction.  From uploading my own documents or articles found on the web to reading canonical texts to preparing students for PARCC assessment, Curriculet is essential to tracking my students' reading progress online. I've successfully flipped reading Romeo and Juliet and A Tale of Two Cities with my students. We've also read Great Expectations, Pygmalion, and current event articles related to the Great Depression and The Olympics. With Curriculet's premium library of contemporary texts being released this Fall, I'm excited to get my students reading more.

To use Curriculet, I create classes and give my students the classroom code.  I'm not worried about my students having too many log ins because they click on the "Sign in with Google" button since we are a Google Apps for Education school. Their Google credentials can be used to create and sign into a Curriculet account.  I assign an entire text to my classes and post a reminder in Edmodo for students to access Curriculet.  The students read the text at home or in school on smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, or computers, answering questions and quizzes embedded in the text to check their understanding.  To see the student view, watch this quick video.

I use Curriculet's data analytics for formative assessment-- my students are allowed to make mistakes without too much penalty.  I take a look at their time on task and their accuracy for answering the questions and quizzes and give the students' a holistic score in my gradebook.  Using the OSU rubric, students receive Outstanding (100%) if they completed the task in an average amount of time and with an accuracy rate over 88%.  Students receive a score of Satisfactory (88%) if their accuracy was in the range of 78-87%, and Unsatisfactory (75%) if they completed the reading too quickly (ie. they clicked through the questions instead of reading) and scored below 78% on questions and quizzes. All summative assessments are completed in Edmodo as either an Edmodo Assignment or Edmodo Quiz. I allow students to have Curriculet open in another browser window while completing the summative assessments.

To see behind the scenes in my Curriculet account, view this video.

Curriculet is also available as an app in Edmodo, but since many of my students have smartphones as part of my district's BYOD initiative and Edmodo apps are only accessible on computers and iPads, I do not utilize the Edmodo app version of Curriculet at this time. For elementary schools or 1:1 iPad districts, I would recommend accessing Curriculet through Edmodo.

Google Drive

Google Docs has replaced Microsoft Word in my classroom. While I still access files I created in Word or PowerPoint, my students primarily create documents and slides using Google Apps.  We will have access to Microsoft 365 this year, but the simplicity and versatility of Google Apps have won my students over.  I needed a word processing option for students on smartphones and Google Drive fulfills the need. Students can complete notes, Do Now activities, quick writes or other journal writing on their smartphones through the Google Drive apps. 

We are a Google Apps for Education school, so the workflow is seamless. Students have accounts already created through school, so getting started is easy. Even though student Google Docs are shared with me, I still have my students turn in the link to their document in an Edmodo assignment.  Again, I keep a record of all things in Edmodo.  I'm excited to see what Google Classroom will do in terms of streamlining sharing documents with students, but in the meantime, this is how I used Google Drive with my students.

  • For assignments, I used Autocrat and Google Forms to deliver individual documents to students. Learn more by reading these posts: A Gaggle of Google Docs and Creating Certificates with Autocrat.
  • Daily directions, assignments, or Do Now activities are on Google Slides with the link to each presentation posted in Edmodo. Information is nicely chunked on each slide and it is easier for students to read than a lengthy Google Doc assignment.

Instructional Design

Edmodo is the hub of my classroom with Curriculet and Google Apps forming the spokes of our wheel of learning.  

The daily schedule may vary, but essentially I follow this routine in our 43 minute class periods:
  • 5 mins. Do Now Activity and review of answers-- as students walk into class they get started
  • 3 mins. recap of objectives and timeline
  • 25 mins. asynchronous activities or group work
  • 5 mins. wrap up 

This is my general plan per week:
  • Tuesday: introduce a new concept
  • Wednesday thru Thursday: work asynchronously or in groups applying the new concepts
  • Friday: whole class teacher-led activity reviewing and synthesizing  the material
  • Monday: assessment on the previous week's content

Last year I was 1:1 with the Chromebook cart on Mondays, so I liked having students take Edmodo quizzes or finish up individual digital work on Mondays because we had guaranteed access.  Sometimes I could get the cart mid-week, but it was never a guarantee as I shared the cart with four other teachers (each teacher taking a different day). So our mid to end of week activities featured BYOD, paper, and face to face tasks. While I do not let technology drive the learning in my class, technology is a vehicle for learning so our access to technology does factor in to our schedule.

I'm interested to read what others are doing with their students. So please reply with your questions, comments about #flipclass workflow methods.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Class Dojo: New Features for School-Wide Use

ClassDojo teachers can now collaborate to improve student skills and behaviors, and with  ClassDojo’s  newest  features,  students  build  important skills  across  all  of  their classes and grade levels. 

ClassDojo  —  the  popular  behavior  and  skills  development  app  used  by  millions  of teachers around the  world  —  today  released  a  new  set  of  features  aimed  at  teachers eager  to work together on the application. Teachers across 180 countries already use ClassDojo daily to give feedback to students for important behaviors and skills like curiosity, participation, and grit. Until now,  teachers  could  only encourage  students  in  their  own  classes.  With  this  new  set  of collaboration  features,  teachers  within a  school  can  safely  connect  with  each  other,  give feedback within each other’s classes or for specific students, and even review student reports from other classes.

Over  the  course  of  2014,  ClassDojo  has  launched  multiple  features  which  strengthen relationships between  teachers,  parents  and  students.  As  research  shows,  students  learn important behaviors and skills faster when there is strong alignment and encouragement from all their teachers, peers and parents. Just as ClassDojo Messaging strengthens the parent-­teacher  relationship, Shared Classes and Shared Students creates stronger teacher-­teacher networks within schools:

  • Shared Classes lets multiple educators teach the same class. This feature is especially useful for elementary school teachers, teaching assistants, and any situation where an entire class is taught by multiple teachers. 
  • Shared Students enables teachers in the same school to share students across different classes  and view  their  student  reports.  Individual  students  can  now  move  between different  teachers  and classes,  but  still  build on their progress  over time. This  makes ClassDojo  much more feasible for older grades, allowing teachers to better understand how  their students are performing in other classes very quickly. 

Indeed, the company says this has been middle school and high school teachers’ greatest request. These two features have been beta-­tested for some time ahead of today’s widespread release.

As  they  are  already  well ­received  by  early  testers,  the  company  expects  to  roll  out  many enhancements  in  the  coming  months,  ultimately  leading  to  easier  sharing  and  collaboration between teachers in the same school.

“The launch of Shared Classes and Shared Students is a huge moment for our teachers,” said Sam Chaudhary, CEO and co­founder of ClassDojo. “So far, millions of teachers have enjoyed using ClassDojo individually within their  classrooms, and though it’s been effective, we believe teachers working together can unleash greater power from the platform. With [this] launch, for the first time, teachers are able to easily use ClassDojo together across their whole school or grade  level.  Teachers  have  a  simple,  no­hassle,  school­wide  system  they  can  use  to  help students build  skills and behaviors, students get more consistency across the school day, and parents finally get a unified view of what’s happening at school.”

Shared  Classes  and  Shared  Students  are  available  now, and teachers  can access  them by
signing up for a free account at www.classdojo.com.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

More GoPro: Surfing & Stalking Hummingbirds

I'm not stating anything new here when I say that the more I use my GoPro Hero 3 camera, the more I love it. From taking it to the beach to capturing images in my own backyard, I'm impressed with the quality and versatility.  So far, there are only two accessories that I have invested in for the GoPro: the floaty backdoor and the handlebar mount.

Being new to the GoPro, I did not want to spend money frivously on accessories and instead researched accessories that would be the most versatile.  The floaty backdoor was purchased out of necessity: I did not want to lose the camera when filming in open-water. Poking around, I found the cheapest price on Amazon. Wanting a way to secure the camera to a pole, I chose the handlebar mount because it gave me the most options for customizing: I could attach the camera to my bike handlebars, a long pool pole, or any other bar that measured 0.75" to 1.4". Adapters were also included for a secure fit.  Again, I found the best price on Amazon. If you have any recommendations for mounts for the GoPro please share! 


To capture the video of me learning to surf, my husband stood in the ocean at a close but reasonable distance, holding the camera with the floaty backdoor attached. I've quickly realized that in order to catch great shots, the camera must be close to the action (duh!). I'm thinking about purchasing the surfboard mount for the GoPro, but, one, we are using my brother's fiberglass board for now and two, I'm concerned about the adhesive on our foam surfboard that my girls use. I also need to do some more research on the surfboard mount before purchasing.  If you have used it, please let me know! 

Stalking Hummingbirds

To capture the hummingbird pictures, I used the handlebar mount and secured the camera to the pole holding the feeder.  I then used the wifi network on the camera and the GoPro app on my phone to sit inside and wait for the hummingbirds to appear, capturing shots as the birds flew in and out of the frame.  While the videos are remarkable, I'm really intrigued by the still shots that capture how fast the hummingbird's wings move. For the most part, the birds ignored the camera, but at one point, the female hummingbird investigated the camera. The next pet-projects on my list are putting in the camera in the fishpond and harnessing the camera on my dogs. Any tips or tricks are greatly appreciated! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#ISTE2014 A Special Post for a Few **Spaeztle** Friends

While at #ISTE2014, I attended the TechSmith party at De Biergarten in Atlanta, GA. It was thoroughly enjoyable chatting with Twitter & FlipCon folks face to face over some GOOD German food. There was Foosball and even pictures with our heads atop German attired folks (Here are some pictures from Kristin D.) We chatted about FlipCon vs ISTE, general ed tech issues, the value of open-source internet, and at one point with Brian Bennett, a very important topic: how to make homemade Spaetzle (Brian Bennett & Aaron Sams make sure you read the post script).

ISTE, while a mind-blowing event in itself, can be overwhelming, and I found the small TechSmith gathering a hospitable, intimate affair.  It was so nice to enjoy the company of like-minded folks over food and drinks without having to shout over the gaggle of the throng and the cacophony of a DJ. It was so interesting to see how small pockets were sewn into the fabric of ISTE-- the Blogger's cafe and Welcome lounge being two such spaces where people collected in the conference center in addition to other small events like drinks with Class Dojo, dinner with Edmodo, and TechSmith's reception. And while I value the ways companies show their appreciation for their users, I greatly appreciate the smaller communal events more so than a big blow-out bash because in the end it isn't the product or technology that matters-- it is the COMMUNITY of PEOPLE that make an event worth attending or a product worth using.

P.S. Speaking of Spaetzle....

Back at home this week I had a hankering for Spaetzle, and as promised for Brian and Aaron, here is my homemade Spaetzle recipe and a video of the process (Sorry for the flipped camera half way through. I forgot which way I was holding my phone, but hey, you get the idea-- and rather apropos since that is how we all met!)

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg (add more as suited to taste)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk

  1. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Stir in eggs and milk.
  3. Use a Spaetzle maker or colander (too difficult with slotted spoon) to drop the batter--about 1-2 large spoonfuls at a time-- into a pot of boiling water.
  4. The batter will rise to the top and after about 1 minute or so (but not longer than 2), scoop out the Spaetzle into a bowl with a bit of butter. 
  5. Cover the bowl with a cloth and continue to drop the batter into the pot. Repeat steps 3 & 4 until all batter is gone.
  6. Serve.  
I usually make my great-grandma's meatballs and sauce to have over the Spaetzle in the winter. It is a red sauce, but not the same marinara sauce that you would have with spaghetti. Very hearty & comforting on a cold day. Come for a visit and I'll make it for you in person!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

New Summer Toy: GoPro Hero 3

My husband surprised me for my birthday with a very COOL present: the GoPro Hero 3 Black edition camera.  I'm very excited to play with it this summer and later throughout the school year and swim season. Keep checking back for new posts on using the GoPro Camera as I learn more tips/tricks.

Since I did not get the GoPro remote, I downloaded the GoPro app for my Samsung Galaxy SIII phone which serves as a remote, connecting to the camera's wifi network. This is great for simple remote-controlling  of the camera: turning it on, starting.stopping record, and previewing what is being captured.  I haven't tested how far the phone and camera can be separated, and it can still have a signal when on the surface of a pool, but the phone app immediately lost the signal when the camera was placed further underwater.  Even though the phone lost the signal, the camera continued to record, as seen in the video below. You can also spot me on the pool deck playing with the app while my daughters and nieces play with the camera in the pool.

The next video showcases my youngest daughter underwater. I am very impressed with underwater filming capabilities and I can't wait to capture my winter swimmers' strokes from an underwater vantage point.

For both videos, I compiled the footage in Windows Movie Maker, trimming the clips as needed. With my daughter's guidance, we also picked out a song to use as the soundtrack for her featured film.

I haven't yet purchased a slew of attachments and accessories for the GoPro camera itself.  I will gladly accept recommendations for mounts and tricks/tips on filming. Please share what you know and check back as I share what I have learned.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

#ISTE2014 Use Twitter & Voxer when Travel Plans Go Awry

My #ISTE2014 trip with Liz and Kyle Calderwood and Michelle Wendt was supposed to begin in Atlantic City with a flight on Spirit Airlines to Atlanta, Georgia, but after a cancelled flight and an unexpected roadtrip, we eventually reached our destination, 12 hours after our expected arrival time.

There are two tech tools that were essential for transforming this ordeal into an adventure: Twitter and Voxer.  Using our smartphones, our group made a concerted effort to devise a new flight plan, all which would not have been accomplished had we not been able to use real-time communication.

Using Twitter, I shared our plight of a flight with my PLN, documenting the experiencing and encouraging Spirit Airlines to notice the issue. Even my #FlipCon14 buddy, Ken Bauer, who lives in Mexico made sure to make some noise. While many businesses use Twitter to blast out deals and connect with customers, it is evident that Twitter is a one-way street with Spirit Airlines. We received absolutely no replies from the Spirit Airlines Twitter account.

Plane Problems:

Humorous Shenanigans from the PLN:

Twitter also provided an avenue for adding humor to the situation. My buddies in elsewhere in the country provided me with comic relief with their sad-faced pictures. Knowing that I wasn't alone helped me stay objective and not react emotionally to the situation. When my frustration level would reach atomic level, my PLN made me laugh and stay focused on problem-solving the situation. Can you stay mad looking at these faces???  Thank you Jason & Steve!


Voxer is a walk-talkie app that allows for quick, realtime communication.  I know quite a few educators are using Voxer as a podcast tool for group chats with participants sharing philosophical ideas in a group conversation, but in this situation we were focused on practical applications. Our group relied on Voxer to keep all members in the know as we talked to Spirit ticket folks, located baggage, and made alternative travel arrangements.

Kyle was on the phone talking directly to Spirit Airlines.  Liz was in line at the Spirit ticket counter making arrangements with one of the employees-- Patty was amazing calm and professional the entire time despite facing an angry and impatient mob. Michelle and I were running from the gate to the ticket and baggage areas, all the while making sure our adopted travel partner, Amy B. was involved in our plans. Without Voxer, we would not have been able to coordinate and would have wasted valuable time and energy running back and forth through the airport. With Voxer, we stayed focused on solving the problem and making new travel arrangements with each person doing his/her part.

Serendipity is something that can be found in any situation, no matter how dire. Sitting near us at the gate as we learned about the delayed plane was Amy B., a first-time solo flyer and recent high school graduate who was visiting friends in NJ and now trying to make her way home. Not knowing what to do once the flight was cancelled, Amy followed me as we made our way from the gate to the Spirit ticket area. Our group quickly adopted her and made it our mission to get Amy home.

As a mother, I can only hope that if my daughters were in a similar situation, that they would find caring folks to help.  So often the news is filled with horror stories, but I know that there are good folks out there who do the right thing for strangers.  I wish the news would promote the positive instead of always sensationalizing the negative-- but that is a post for another day.  Amy stayed in contact texting with her mom in Georgia and her mom followed us via Twitter.  Modern communication systems and social media provided transparency to our travels, reassuring a nervous mother that her daughter was in good hands as we left Atlantic City to catch a flight out of Philly.

Roadtrip Tweets:

At the Airport AGAIN

Amy's Angels

After arriving at Atlanta, a very grateful and relieved mother met us and transported us each to our prospective hotels.  Amy's mom dubbed us "Amy's Angels" through out the trip. While her mom may say we were heaven sent, I'd like to think we were just doing what we, as teachers and good human beings, naturally do: take care of each other.