Day 30 Developing Better Writers

Thanks to my great colleague, Danita, for passing along this link to a December 3rd BBC News article entitled, "Children Who Use Technology Are 'Better Writers'". My favorite quote from the article states, "The more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills." I couldn't agree more, and am seeing it in our classroom as we pilot the 1:1 initiative this year.

In an effort to prepare my kids for two upcoming events at the end of this week, we are once again, very busy! The kids are getting ready to take the second of the state's formal writing assessments. This one must relate to content information they have learned. The fourth grade team chose to focus on Roanoke Island, the Mystery of the Lost Colony. As we were watching a short video and reading an article about the Lost Colony together, they were given the choice to take notes in their notebooks, or on their netbooks using a Word document. All but 1 chose the computer! They will be able to use these notes as they pilot the writing test for the first time on their netbooks. I am anxious to see the results!

Also, we are preparing to enjoy a theatrical presentation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" this Friday. I decided to use this week to study the story as our literacy work. I was fortunate enough to find this wonderful unit written by Kim Meyer from South Carolina. It has some wonderful activities to go along with the story, including creating an old English village reminiscent of that in which Dickens lived. We've begun collecting our cereal boxes which will turn into a decorated village! I'm currently selecting some sites with illustrations for the kids to go by, so look for picture of our village to appear soon!
[caption id="attachment_290" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Reading, Writing, Speaking!"]Reading, Writing, Speaking![/caption]

Day 24 - Minor Details

There are several things in our classroom that have made the 1:1 situation run more smoothly and efficiently. Although on this blog I have spoken mostly about software and web 2.0 merging with the curriculum, these five minor details have added a great deal of instructional time (not to mention CALM) to our day!

#1: Tables - We started the year with 22 desks. However in preparation for the netbooks, I decided to exchange the desks for four long tables. This has really helped my kids collaborate more easily, gain an identity (the table groups include the Shark Sandbar, Barnacle Bay, Jellyfish Junction, and Stingray Station), and have plenty of room for notebooks/textbooks alongside their netbooks.
[caption id="attachment_280" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Tables at the Cove"]Tables at the Cove[/caption]

#2: Chair Bags - These organizational miracles have helped for two reasons. Our classroom is in a mobile unit (we call them "Learning Cottages") so there is absolutely no storage! In addition, due to losing the storage provided by the desks, we needed a place to keep our "stuff". We decided all textbooks would be stored on a few bookcases we have in the room (which works out because we use them only for occasional support) and we sent home many notebooks that would not be needed now that we have our netbooks! We purchased the chair bags from a wonderful company called Happi-Nappi. They are made of very sturdy denim with extremely durable, reinforced seams. They have one large pocket for our clipboards, notebooks, and larger items, as well as two small pockets for our pencils/pens and little necessities!
[caption id="attachment_281" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="The Cove\'s Chair Bags"]The Cove's Chair Bags[/caption]

#3: 15 foot long surge protectors - We started with an old laptop cart that was not being used. Thanks to our technology director, we were able to get several long extension surge protectors to replace it. This has been beneficial for several reasons. Storing the netbooks in a cart adds a lot of wear and tear on the computers and cords. Now, they stack nicely on our tables at the end of the day and I take about 3 minutes (literally) to bring the cords (already plugged into the surge protectors) to the computers. We call them our Octopus Arms! It has also added learning time to our classroom. I unplug the arms every morning before the kids get in the room, store them close to the various outlets, and the kids are able to get right into their work! Much less chaos and chance for accidents when the charged netbooks are already on the tables!
[caption id="attachment_282" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="One Octopus Arm!"]One Octopus Arm![/caption]

#4: Sharing bins - Prior to getting these dollar store storage bins, kids were always getting up to get supplies (borrowing pencils, getting crayons, sharpening their pencils, etc.) which takes longer than you might think in an elementary classroom! These bins have become community sharing boxes. They are each marked with the group name (Sharks, Barnacles, Jellyfish, and Stingrays). Each group decided early on they would pool their individual storehouses of materials and share with each other! How wonderful!! They've even taken pride in making sure their bin is more organized than other groups'.
[caption id="attachment_283" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="The Sharks\' Sharing Bin"]The Sharks' Sharing Bin[/caption]

#5: Clipboards - The tables I purchased for the classroom are not smooth on the surface (lesson learned!). They have minute grooves and bumps. The kids hate writing directly on top of them. In addition, we participate in a program called Clipboard Math (we call ours Pirate Ship Math) in which there are 6 posters around the room which house math problems that are changed several times throughout the week. The kids' clipboards (which I purchased at the Dollar Store as well) play three roles. They create a smooth surface on which write, they make working while moving about the room very easy, and they organize the loose papers that are needed on a daily basis (spelling list, Tic-Tac-Toe Spelling, Pirate Ship Math template, etc.). We have almost no papers being lost since we put these to use. And, they fit nicely into our chair bags!
[caption id="attachment_284" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Colorful Clipboards"]Colorful Clipboards[/caption]

So, although these things may seem minor to the outsider looking in, they are crucial elements of our classroom's efficiency and time on task throughout the day! Something to consider...

Day 24 - Reading Workshop

As many of you know, I've been struggling to feel comfortable with my language arts program this year. I think I'm finally getting to a point where I'm using strategies that match my beliefs about what is important in a literacy program while still preparing my kids for the all-important End of Grade test.
I am very thankful for Laura Candler's newsletters and wonderful site. Having used Accelerated Reader as the backbone of her reading program (just as we do at my school), this year she has given it up for other foundational experiences for her kids. Her transition has been perfect timing for me, since I have never really loved AR either!
After reading about her use of Reader's Workshop, and exploring other wonderful sites like that of Mandy Gregory which also provide support for using Reader's Workshop, I decided to give it a try!
Today I taught my first mini-lesson (using the picture book The Rough-Faced Girl by Rafe Martin) on WOW pages. My kids were so engaged and excited to use their sticky notes to find their own WOW pages, I was amazed!
Tomorrow we will work on using the notes from our WOW stickies to write some reactions on our reading wiki pages.
Between our Comprehension Krill, Spelling Tic-Tac-Toe, Literature Circle Groups, and the Reader's Workshop mini-lessons, I am hoping all the great ingredients are coming together for a powerful literacy program!

Day 23 - Our 1st Skype

Some things happen for a reason! I had been wanting to download Skype onto our netbooks for quite some time, but hadn't had the minute to do it (it literally takes just about that long). So when my Principal came to me today (at 11:00) asking if my kids would like to Skype with a gathering at the Cental Office in about an hour, I hesitantly said, "Sure, we'll do it!" The last day before any holiday is a little stressful, but what the heck!

So I quickly downloaded Skype onto one of our mini HP's (and our IT savior, Donna, came to help us out! Thank you!). My students had not actually written any Thanksgiving stories, but we sure had been doing a lot of research on the 1st Thanksgiving! I chose one of the students I knew I could count on in a pinch to not freak out, and sure enough she even found a perfect Thanksgiving story to read from the Internet (Thank you, Jordyn!). We tweaked it a bit, she practiced it over lunch, and at 12:30 the Skype call went flawlessly! The netbook's video was perfect and the sound was loud enough for all the students in the room to enjoy!

Thanks to Mrs. Johnson for thinking of us, and allowing us to join the festivities downtown, and now world.... here we come!
Skype anyone?
[caption id="attachment_273" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Skype at the Cove!"]Skype at the Cove![/caption]

Day 22 - The Real Thanksgiving

Last week another teacher and I were talking about a graduate class she had taken in which they talked about the stereotypes we teach children in traditional schooling related to the early Native Americans, Colonists, and the first Thanksgiving. Since my class has been studying the early North Carolina tribes, we had also been talking about stereotyping Native Americans. We've had some wonderful discussions, many about the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears.

How wonderful to be checking out some old bookmarks blogged by super-teacher Kelly Hines this weekend! One of the sites she had added to her social bookmarking site was "You Are the Historian - Investigating the First Thanksgiving". My kids spent a good part of this morning working through the site, which is very kid-friendly and interesting (many parts are read aloud, which was great for my struggling readers!). They were instructed to put some of the interesting "truths" about the first Thanksgiving onto a few PowerPoint slides which we will pull together as a class presentation and post to our website. They were very engaged, which allowed me to meet with our new Literature Circle groups for some fantastic book conversations! More on our new Lit. Circle groups in a future post! And make sure you check back to view our PowerPoint!
[caption id="attachment_269" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="You Are the Historian - Investigating the First Thanksgiving"]You Are the Historian - Investigating the First Thanksgiving[/caption]

Day 20 Lovin' Edmodo

Can I just say how much I love Edmodo? I used it some last year with my 6th graders, and just introduced it to my 4th graders! One of their first comments was "Mrs. C. we get to use Facebook?" LOL! This tool, if you haven't used it already, is so easy to set up with a class, and fanastically simple to use!

I recently started a morning warm-up program called our daily Comprehension Krill. Since we are the Cove, stickin' with the ocean theme again! So, each day the kids are sent to a short reading comprehension article or story with some multiple choice questions that focus on a particular comprehension skill. (Found a great site through NC State for this here) According to our 1st quarterly assessment results my kids could use an ocean-load of work on understanding supporting details!

Edmodo to the rescue! I send them the link to the day's passage using their link tool and they return their answers to me in a short "note". It is simple to grade and so organized, I can whip through their responses in no time, and we can go over commonly missed questions right away! And they love the fact that it looks like Facebook! Very cool!
KrillFromAboveWater Daily Comprehension Krill!

Day 16 Spelling Tic-Tac-Toe Tech Style!

So we've been having these great workshops on how best to differentiate in our classrooms, spurred mostly by the administration's focus on classroom teachers working with small groups throughout the day rather than teaching to the "whole". Although this comes naturally to K-3 teachers, for those of us teaching 4th and up that's not necessarily the case, even though it makes so much sense!

Well, one of our last presenters shared the wonderful strategy of using a tic-tac-toe board with choices of assignments to meet certain academic goals. Yes, this strategy has been around for years and years, and I had used it eons ago, but just like going to the grocery store, you get into ruts in teaching and find yourself doing the same old things - often forgetting other great tools!

Given our 1:1 situation, I decided to create a tic-tac-toe for our spelling program to include technology activities. You can check it out on our Cove Spelling Page HERE. This week was our first stab at it. The kids were so involved! Most of the skills were fairly new, including the part about uploading most of their artifacts the spelling page of their wiki (you can check it out HERE). So it took a little longer to get things done than it will once they get used to the actual technology skills. I had some quick learners who became my experts for others, which was wonderful!

Now, I know there are pros and cons to sharing grades publicly, but I decided to grade their components right on the wiki so they could have immediate feedback. They loved being able to open their page and see their grades. And since we're using the wiki as a digital portfolio, their parents can see the grades right away as well.

Well, today was the big end of week test. Just so you know, last week my class scored an average of a 79.8 on the 20 word test. Nothing to phone home about! I don't think many of them glanced at their lists or the "old" practice activities more than the 5 minutes it took them to mindlessly get them done. This week was different! They were engaged with their spelling words every day. The difference shows up in the scores! Our average for this week? Are you sitting down? A whopping 93.9! Eleven of my 19 kids scored a 100 on the test. Proud? Yes, I was proud, but they were even more proud! Proud that they learned some new technology skills, proud that they completed some more interesting tasks, and proud that they knew the words (easily!) come Friday!

A great way to end the week!
Photo Credit: Refrigerator Letters from

Day 14 Cool Little Tool for Letter Writing

I know letter writing is becoming less and less important in this age of email, texting, and Twitter. However, my school was visited by a wonderful group called Colonial Camp last Friday. My colleague, Melissa, had written a fantastic Bright Ideas grant which was awarded and allowed us to bring the field trip to our campus (huge tent, outdoor fire, artifacts, musket firing, and some Colonial gentlemen too)!
[caption id="attachment_253" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Colonial Gentlemen Telling Us About Colonial Life"]Colonial Gentlemen Telling Us About Colonial Life[/caption]

We learned all about Colonial life through hands-on centers, including quill and ink writing, candle making, war painting, and colonial gaming! It was, well, a blast! The kids loved it!

I thought it only fitting that they write the Colonial Camp folks a letter of thanks. A cool component of the ReadWriteThink website allowed us to walk through this process using an organized fill-in-the-blank template. When they were finished, my kids knew the parts of a friendly letter, and printed out a beautifully typed and bordered letter they were so proud of! I'll mail all 19 letters out tomorrow via snail mail!

Next time your kids need to write a friendly or business letter, I highly suggest this site to help them keep their ideas and "parts" organized!
[caption id="attachment_254" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Making Beeswax Candles"]Making Beeswax Candles[/caption]

Day 12 Rhythm at the Cove!

Today was such fun! For the blog post, I had the kids visit a cool new site I learned about from one of my Twitter PLN buddies called Incredibox. It is an engaging site which turns out to be very addictive (Don't believe me? Just try it!). It allows you to create rhythms by dragging and dropping various components onto animated characters. As soon as I played with it, I knew I had to share it with my kids!

But, how to integrate it into our curriculum? Well, we'd been discussing using support and reasons for answers you give, so I designed our daily blog post to incorporate these skills and the fun site. Here's the post (make sure you check out their comments - some of them are priceless!), and click here to see what happened:

Rhythm at the Cove

My favorite comment comes from David, "...this music is like a butterfly lifting you on to the sky of puffy music clods [clouds] of rhythem and beats." Wow!
butterfly cloud
Photo Credit: Robyn Hooz's photostream via Flickr

Day 11 Blog Comments and Email

Every day, to get us warmed up, my kids comment on our blog post of the day. Today I embedded a link to the National Geographic Kids site where short articles are posted about really cool topics. I need to thank Brian Crosby who has an awesome wiki and blog (which you need to follow if you don't already) called Learning is Messy. I have gotten many ideas from Brian's 1:1 work in his own classroom.
Well, the kids LOVED reading the articles, and using our new rubric for assessing blog comments, they were engaged in wonderful work this morning. Check out some of their comments here.
In getting used to our new email program I recently had the kids send me an email letting me know whether they liked fiction or non-fiction books more. Here are a few of their responses:

Dear Ms.Collazo,
I like nonfiction books because I like the facts in the book. I learn new stuff every time I read a new book I imagine stuff in the book I feel like the happiest kid on earth when I read nonfiction books. Nonfiction books make me feel like i'm the smartest kid on the earth. Nonfiction is great I would love to read them all the time. I hope everybody will like to read nonfiction books just like me?

Dear mrs.Collazo I like nonfiction books better than I like fiction because they give more information and they are true.They teach you about things you never knew like some bats eat about 500 to 600 bugs each year and they can be as big as your thumb. I never knew that until I read the book.

And, my favorite:

My favorite is fiction. Because non-fiction is hard to make notes with and because you have to remember all the real things that happened to the person. Fiction its easy because there are crazy monsters and you can remember what happens in the story because it is so funny. And you can picture it in your head while reading and taking the test because all the animals talking you can remember all of it, its just fun you get so in to the book that you don't want to stop. Like the fiction books i have in the middle of the class i be in the book and then mrs.Collazo tell me to put the book up but she always be happy to see me read. I've read about 13 fiction books this year i just peak a book that i like and i read it at home and at school.

Teaching is so much fun!
Photo Credit: samie.shake's photostream via Flickr

Day 8 - Poetry Slammin' on the Clams

A few weeks ago, at the bottom of a vocabulary activity that came from our basal series, my students were asked to use several of their vocab words in a poem. Although I wasn't surprised they couldn't construct a poem very well, I was amazed at their inability to remember ever reading or hearing poems. I'm sure they did in the earlier grades, but it obviously hadn't made much of an impression.

Today we read a few poems about basketball from our basal. They were written by Charles R. Smith, Jr. and they contain lots of color, various sized fonts, and the placement of the words on the page stress the rhythms of the poems. After talking about how the poems made us feel, just looking at the word on the page, we took turns reading them out loud. The first few kids read with monotone voices, as if they were the most boring words they'd ever encountered! I then told them what a poetry slam was. They looked at me with raised eyebrows and a few snickers. So I took the plunge and read one of the poems in the funkiest, hip-hop, basketball-playin' style I could! They LOVED it! My only regret is that I didn't start the video camera rolling right then! Every hand in the room went up. They wanted to give a shot at slamming the poems! We laughed and clapped - it was great!

So, to incorporate our Clams, while the excitement was palpable in the room, we brainstormed things we thought we could write neat poems about. The kids brainstormed and sketched out their ideas the old fashioned way (with paper and pencil), and then opened up Smart Notebook on their Clams. I thought this application would be the easiest tool to use because you can write in many different colors and sizes, AND easily make your word boxes slanted, vertical, or flow in any other direction. It would also allow the kids to draw an image or insert a photograph to accompany their poetry.

What occurred over the next hour was amazing! Splashes of color, words in caps for emphasis, shapes made out of words, hand-drawn pictures, and even some photos (which we learned how to properly credit) filled their screens! Tomorrow we'll finish them and I'll post a link so you can be as amazed as I am!

Who knew poetry could be such fun?! Maybe we'll even hold a Cove Poetry Slam and post our video! Stay tuned!
[caption id="attachment_240" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Poetry Slam at the Cove!"]Poetry Slam at the Cove![/caption]
Photo Credit: Jefferson College Library's photostream via Flickr

Day 7 Ignoring the Inner Critic

Any teacher reading this blog knows what I mean when I say I am constantly feeling inadequate in what I'm doing in my classroom. We tend to read blogs of great teachers doing great things and think, "man, and what have my kids done this week?".

I have especially felt this way over the past week and a half. Although we have the laptops now, we have had to take up several HOURS completing quarterly multiple choice assessments in math and reading, as well as a pencil and paper "on-demand" writing assessment (which, by the way, we will have to assess and file on our own time).

Anyway, I kept thinking, wow, my kids and I haven't accomplished very much since we've gotten the laptops. But then, as I watched them working today I began to make a list of the foundational skills they have learned. Although these skills by themselves don't produce a wonderful, awe-inspiring project, they are necessary as the foundation of what we will be doing over the next 3 quarters.

Here's my list. My kids can now:
1. Open and create a document in Microsoft Word
2. Open and create a presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint
3. Open and create a product using Microsoft Publisher
4. Login to their school email
5. Send an email to someone in our district contact list
6. Attach a document to an email
7. Save to the common folder on our server
8. Save to their Home folder on our server
9. Open something I've saved to the common folder
10. Effectively use our class wiki to find today's jobs, homework assignments, and today's blog post
11. Comment on a blog post
12. Comment on someone else's comment on the blog post
13. Login to Google Docs
14. Submit a form using Google Docs
15. Use the Cove Studies links on our class wiki to spend free time wisely
16. Print documents to our classroom printer (which is not set as the default printer at this time)
17. Toggle between two or more open tabs to complete an assignment
18. Attain their certificate in Internet safety and print it for our wall of fame

That's 18 different skills they didn't know seven days ago, so I guess that's pretty good! I realized how impressive they're really working when 10 teachers came to my room today for an RSS workshop. Yikes! We teachers don't learn half as fast as our kids! Love ya, teachers!
kids sign
Photo Credit: KingdomCatHearts' photostream via Flickr

Day 5 - Biggest Lesson Learned So Far

Time is the enemy! There are so many things I'd like the kids to do using our laptops, but I've got to pull back a little. It takes them much longer to complete tasks than I plan. Much of this is getting used to the technology and using it various ways. For example today they were to complete their grammar exercises in a Word document and attach it to an email to me. Well, in getting it ready as an attachment, they had to first save it to their "Home Folder" (my documents). Yes, there were easier ways to do this (including using google docs which could have just been shared with me or saving to the common folder where I could get their assignment), but I wanted them to practice creating an attachment to an email. So.... what would normally be a brief exercise turned into a major accomplishment when completed.
I have to really work on the time factor when planning my activities!
time running out
Photo Credit: Ben Sutherland's photostream via Flickr

Day 4 - Recess vs Name Tags

Technology not motivational? Yeah, right!
Because I will be registering my students on many Web 2.0 sites this year, I asked them to each make up a "Cove Name". This is a made up user name they will use on these sites to add one more bit of protection. They all chose a name (unfortunately "Playboy Bunny" and "Kurt Busch" had to pick again! Oi!) Well, two of my motivated students thought that many of their classmates might forget their Cove names, so name badges should be created! These two entrepreneurs asked to stay in from recess to create the badges. By the time I came in with the others, they had them created, printed, and cut up "to be laminated"! The story doesn't end here. This weekend I got an email from one of them through our new Gaggle email accounts. This what he wrote:

"Mrs.Collazo we do need clips or anyting we can attach the id's.That would be god.Follow up and thats it."

[caption id="attachment_226" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Name Badges at the Cove? Cool idea!"]Name Badges at the Cove? Cool idea![/caption]
Photo Credit: jjreade's photostream via Flickr

How Quickly Things Change!

Today's funny story came when I announced to the kids that we would have to put our Clams aside and take the county's quarterly reading assessment. This assessment basically is made up of a lengthy booklet of reading passages with multiple choice questions, and a bubble sheet. So I told the kids to clear everything but their pencils from the table. An audible GASP was heard, and one brave student complained, "You mean we have to use our pencils?" How quickly they make the transition. One bit of good news is that our county has given us permission to pilot the state-wide writing test on our laptops! Should be interesting!

I've come to realize that early societal training has our kids very dependent on having the teacher spoon-feed them everything. And God forbid they actually read directions to figure something out! For some I think it is a long-entrenched fear of being wrong (sad). For others it's pure laziness (maybe not politically correct to say, but often true). I told the kids one of our main goals this year is for each of them to become independent learners/problem solvers - to own their own learning.

So today I had the kids use a sign template in Microsoft Publisher. They were told they were being hired by a new zoo to create signs for the exhibits of "wild creatures" coming to the zoo. The "wild creatures" of course, were the ones they created yesterday at the Build Your Wild Self site. The only directions (you can see them here under the Oct. 21st Science section) were provided for them on a half sheet of paper (step by painstaking step, might I add!).

I made a huge deal about being so excited to see who could figure out this job on their own, or by asking those around them to help them out. By golly (as my Grandpa used to say) they did it! They worked together (after some initial whining that it was too hard) to help each other figure it out! The only assistance I would give was to tell them which step they should refocus on. Before we knew it, it was time for specials and the time spent saving to the common folder was half of what it was yesterday! They are quick learners! Stay tuned for the link to visit our zoo! And might I warn you, keep your fingers out of the cages!
[caption id="attachment_222" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Yikes!"]Yikes![/caption]
Photo Credit: ingelisesoerensen' s photostream via Flickr

Day 2 Where the Wild Things Are!

Today was another building block day (and a day to work out a few more glitches)! We started the day learning about blogs and what it means to comment on someone's blog post. Every morning to get us settled, the kids will be replying to a post on our class blog. Today's was about the field trip we took yesterday. Although you wouldn't know it from the spelling in their comments, they actually asked for dictionaries! (Hey, I was just impressed that they asked!) Tomorrow we'll look at the rubric I will use to assess the comments (mainly looking for addressing the prompt, including detail, and using capitalization, punctuation, and other grammar items we're working on). We'll also take a look at some of the comments and talk about them together! The kids really enjoyed this!

Then we looked at "Today's Jobs" - a new section I've added to our wiki mainly to keep ME organized! It includes all of our activities for the day including any links we'll be using (hopefully a time-saver).

We spent the majority of our language arts time visiting Disney's Surf Swell Island to begin to learn and apply Internet safety. The kids kept some hand written notes as they traveled through the site for an activity we'll do tomorrow as a follow-up.

Math time went very well again. We spent most of our time working together at the Smartboard reviewing telling time (which they continue to struggle with - can't the world just go with digital clocks?!). They enjoyed the interactive practice and then really loved opening their Clams to try some independent practice at two cool sites!

Finally, our day finished on a very fun note! Thanks to a tweet from my PLN last night, I found out about the New York Zoos and Aquarium's "Build Yourself Wild" site! Although ultra fun, it also goes right along with our unit (and field trip) on animal adaptations. The kids created themselves as unique wild critters. The really cool part will come tomorrow. At the bottom of their picture, the site provides facts about the body parts they chose and what adaptation they are used for in "real life". We will use the pictures and facts as a springboard for a narrative writing assignment.

By the looks of things, we're a pretty wild group!
[caption id="attachment_218" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="The asked for dictionaries?"]The asked for dictionaries?[/caption]

Day 1: Like they were born with them in their hands!

Well, today was our first day with our Clams! The kids were so excited and I have to admit, I was a bit nervous.

We began with the basics like how to carry them, how to open them, how to start them up, and then... it was like a rocket took off! I don't know why I thought they might have trouble with the smaller screen size, or why I thought they'd struggle with the mouse pad with divided mouse buttons! It was as if they had held these little gems in their hands all their lives!
[caption id="attachment_212" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Happy with Clams!"]Happy with Clams![/caption]

Remembering all the advice of my PLN, I just let them PLAY! They tried out Google Earth to see how it would look on their little screens. "Cool - look there's my house!" They took an AR test sitting at their own seat - wow what a luxury (not something I would have picked during "play" time, but who am I to say what's fun?!). They got on Funbrain and headed straight for Poptropica (Great mouse pad practice I tried to convince myself!). Some went straight to their Home folders on the school server to work more on a Powerpoint they had started in computer lab. "Awesome, we can work on it here when we have extra time!"
[caption id="attachment_213" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Filling in a Google Form Quiz"]Filling in a Google Form Quiz[/caption]

A whole new world opened up! Then, my happiest moment! We tried our first Google Form! We had just finished reading Sign of the Beaver last Friday, and I decided to create a Google form with some open response assessment questions. I embedded the "test" on our class website, showed them where it was, and they were off! They typed and typed and typed! I had to finally put a time limit on the task, or they'd still be here adding more! And then, gasp!, when I told them that when they hit the "submit" button their answers would go straight to my computer? "Cool, Mrs. C! Wait until you read my answers!" Not something I typically heard when they were finishing up paper and pencil assessments.
[caption id="attachment_214" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Don\'t want to stop!"]Don't want to stop![/caption]

Math class was wonderful! I had created a Smartboard lesson (on our website in the math section) to introduce and go over the coordinate grid and ordered pairs. The kids had fun coming up to move "Little Sally" around the grid, naming the coordinates as we went. Then, without a second of delay, they opened their Clams, went to our class site (which will be the hub of all of our activities) and practiced using their new coordinate grid knowledge to play "Whack the Mole", and "Billy Bug and his Grub". Was it fun? You bet! Were they learning? Absolutely! Did they know it was math class? I doubt it!

The Clams Are HERE!

Hard to believe, THE DREAM, my hope for a 1:1 initiative actually comes true tomorrow! The Clams are in my room charging as I type. No, Clam is not some fancy acronym. Since my students, parents, and I refer to my classroom as Collazo Cove, I figured calling them clams would be appropriate. I mean, after all, they open like one, right? Plus it will be fun for the kids to use that term when referring to their brand-spanking new HP 1101 netbooks!
[caption id="attachment_205" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="HP 1101 Mini"]HP 1101 Mini[/caption]

I would be remiss if I didn't thank Mr. Moore, my principal, for allowing me to come back home to Ingram and his faith in my dream; Mrs. Johnson, our county technology director, for her continued support as I've begged for this project over the past 6 years; my superintendent, Dr. Moss, for meeting with me to hear my ideas and then making the plan work; and finally to my great friend and colleague, Danita Russell (one of the best Instructional Tech Facilitators you'll ever meet) for taking my phone calls at all hours and continually keeping me grounded! Here's to proving what kids can do when you give them the tools!

So, the adventure starts tomorrow! My goal is to blog (at least a few sentences) every day about what we are doing in our room as we incorporate our netbooks into our learning. Hope you'll join us often for the ride!

Eating Raspberries While Trying To Be Patient...

It's hard to believe mid-quarter progress reports go out next week!  I am loving each day with my 4th graders.  They are doing some amazing things with our old Writers as we (I, because they don't even know yet) wait patiently for the Central Office to order our netbooks...

Three of our Luna moth caterpillars have survived and today "Fatty" decided to encase himself (?) in a chrysalis!  Every 5 minutes some of us had to check him out!  And we wait patiently for our netbooks...

We couldn't wait to get to Brainstorm Beach yesterday.  Brainstorm Beach is our group circle area which is created using  the backs of two book shelves spaced about 7 feet apart (complete with the Terrific Kid beach chair).  Several weeks ago my wonderful husband nailed white shower board to both backs so the kids could use wipe off markers to "brainstorm" and share ideas.  Anyway, we finished Hatchet while holding our breath to find out if Brian would get rescued!  That is one of my favorite parts of the day (and the kids too, I think).  We shared raspberries there the other day 'cause Brian had eaten some in the book, and many of my kids had never tried them before!  Did I mention I love teaching this age group?  And we wait patiently for the Central Office to order our netbooks...

kid with raspberries

Photo Credit:

Writers and a great new video

Okay, so while we're waiting for our netbooks, I've been using my cart of Writers (which I've had for 5 years and still absolutely LOVE!) as an intro - an appetizer if you'd like!  They have ADORED them!  As always happens when my kids use the Writers, their writing is more detailed, and includes, GULP, most capital letters, punctuation, and complete sentences!

[caption id="attachment_198" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="The Writer"]The Writer[/caption]

I let them take them home last night for the first time ever (used to guard them like a hawk, but I've gotten treatment in preparation for our 1:1 over the last few years!)  They were so excited they'd be able to finish their work!  4th graders!  I love it!  And, winning a bet with my husband, every one of them returned to class today with them in their protective cases.  They still don't know what's coming in a few weeks!  I can hardly stand it.

Catching up on blog reading tonight, I came across this video on Scott McLeod's blog.  Couldn't agree more!  Bring on the netbooks and new ways of teaching!

I Need My Teachers to Learn

Traveling with Lewis and Clark

Wow!  So we are already at the end of our second week in school, and I am just now sitting down long enough to blog!  So much for my resolution to blog every day.  Maybe it's because we are still anxiously awaiting our netbooks.  I keep thinking, when we really get started with our wonderful 1:1 adventure, THEN, I'll blog every day.  We'll see!

Several things happened during our first days together that made me chuckle with anticipation.  The kids and their families don't know yet that we will all become pioneers for our county in an exciting 1:1 pilot program.  In an effort to get to know my kids I had them fill in the traditional "interest inventory".  One question was, "If you could wish for 3 things what would they be?"  Eight out of my 19 students listed having their own laptop!  Of all the wishes in the world, that is one of the top three!!  Also in the first days, I read the book Miss Nelson is Missing.  I then had the kids design their "ultimate classroom"!  Of course there were the suggestions of flat screen TVs on every wall, hot tub in the middle of the room, roller coaster right outside the back door, and then..... laptops for each kid!  Yippie!  They are going to be so excited when they find out their dreams are coming true this year!

Anyway, onto the topic of this post!  We read a story out of the basal reader together called, "Lewis and Clark and Me", which the kids LOVED!  They thought it was so interesting to hear the story from the dog, Seaman's, point of view!  Found some great Google Earth interactive tours we took together, but the thing they liked the most was traveling with Lewis and Clark at this National Geographic site -

Would be fun to have them design one like this... maybe when we get our laptops!


Image Credit:

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When Not on the Baseball Field...

Took this picture yesterday in our livingroom.  My 15 year old son who is either on the baseball field or watching the pros play baseball, would love to become a sports writer.  He had started a Braves baseball blog using my laptop (which serves as our home computer) up until his 15th birthday.  My oldest son, AJ,  got a great little (old!) S-10 pickup for his 15th birthday two years ago, but we decided to get Carlos a netbook when he turned 15.  Had to force him to take driver's ed, so we knew a new car/truck was not top priority for him.  However, the laptop has been a perfect investment.  He started a new blog and has been avidly posting!  Check out his blog if you have a minute (especially if you're a Braves fan)!  I know he'd enjoy reading any comments you'd like to leave!

Carlos getting updates from ESPN on his cell phone and blogging!

Great Reads on my Summer List!

One of the reasons I LOVE summer is that I finally get some time to read the great books I keep hearing about!  I know I have officially gone over the edge of teacher geek-dom as I continually push away the perfect no-brain-needed beach novel, for the research-based educational read!  My family just roll their eyes at this point!  Although, I have promised my 15 year old son (also a lover of books) that I would go back and read The Half Blood Prince before the movie comes out next month.  I had skipped it to read the concluding novel in the series cause I couldn't wait to find out how J.K. Rowling ended the journey!

Here are some of the super books I've read so far this summer (along with my grade for them!):

1. Why Don't Students Like School? by Cognitive Scientist Daniel T. Willingham.

Thanks to Scott McLeod and Castle's book club, I joined, purchased, and devoured!  It makes so much sense to tie what we plan and do in the classroom with the way our students' brains work.  This book is a fantastic down-to-earth summary of the most recent cognitive research and how it can be applied to our work with students.  I had many "wow, really?" moments while reading this book.  I'm working on creating some new posts to let you know about those moments!  A+

2. What Great Teachers Do Differently - 14 Things That Matter Most by Todd Whitaker

Assigned to be read this summer by our administration, this is a book that aims at pointing out the 14 things that the author has observed great teachers doing.  It is an easy read with some common sense reminders of what we should be doing as caring, effective educators.  Nothing Earth-shattering.  C

3.  Not Much Just Chillin' - the Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers by Linda Perlstein

This is a fantastic book written by a researcher who lived among the middle schoolers about which she writes.  It is a wonderful view of how middle school looks and feels from the students', teachers', and parents' points of view.  The thing I like most about this book is that Ms. Perlstein combines the real-life experiences of middle schoolers with current brain research to support WHY they think and act the way they do.  If you ask me, this should be the book assigned by all middle school administrators for their staff members to read!  Very eye-opening!  A+

Okay, now on to Harry Potter!  I have until July 15th!

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  • The IHMC CmapTools program empowers users to construct, navigate, share and criticize knowledge models represented as concept maps. It allows users to, among many other features, construct their Cmaps in their personal computer, share them on servers (CmapServers) anywhere on the Internet, link their Cmaps to other Cmaps on servers, automatically create web pages of their concept maps on servers, edit their maps synchronously (at the same time) with other users on the Internet, and search the web for information relevant to a concept map.

    tags: mindmap, conceptmapping

  • Great paper on brain research and the importance of incorporating Concept mapping into lesson plans.

    tags: conceptmapping, mindmap

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Advice Please!

First of all, thank you for reading this blog post!  I have just scheduled a meeting with our Superintendent for next week to discuss the 1:1 pilot I've been dreaming of for six years now.  The project, entitled, "The STELLAR Project (Sharing Technology with Everyone using Laptops for Learning, Accountability, and Relevance)" has been growing at

I need your help! In a county where test scores are high priority (as they are in most these days), what are the top things you would communicate to the Superintendent about 1:1 in the short time you've been given?  If you have never commented on my blog, I beg you to add at least one thing this time!  Thanks!

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Smart Tools on Laptops

A neat thing happened the other day during a math remediation session with my students.  We had the laptop cart and were working on some problems similar to those they struggled with on the first administration of the End of Grade Test.  (Sadly, they must take it again, all 5 or so hours of it, but that's another post)

We have used the Smartboard daily in my classroom this year.  We are lucky to have both a mounted board and projector, so the kids are used to coming up and solving problems with the Smart Tools.  However, we had never used the Smart Tools with the laptops (DUH, Mrs. C.).

One of my wonderful students who struggles so  greatly with math decided she would just open her Smart Tools over her problem and be able to draw directly onto the online coordinate grid.  She also used the highlighter tool to highlight words in the problem.

Using Smart Tools on a laptop

I know this sounds simplistic, but I just had never thought of the kids individually using the overlay included in the Smart Tools!  She shared what she was doing, and what a difference it made to the others who struggle moving from pencil and paper to working out math problems on the computer screen.  I was so proud, I had to tell you about it!  Baby steps, but aren't our students brilliant?

Using Smart Tools on Laptop

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Want a Wake-Up Call?

Dr. Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant provided a recent link to this heart-stopping post. Or at least I felt myself catching my breath while reading it. All the while shedding a tear for my own sons who would shout AMEN!

Please take a few minutes and read the inspiring words of this student.

Photo Credit via Flicker: Report Card 1944

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Chatting to Differentiate

I love it!  I was talking with my teaching partner today about needing professional development in the area of differentiating effectively for today's kids.  When I was in school grouping and differentiating meant two groups were sent off to work on a time-consuming worksheet so the teacher had time to work face to face with another small group.  And we would rotate, rotate, rotate.  This is no longer appropriate (I'm not sure it was then either!) with our kids.  So, I struggle with how best to work with my sixth graders and effectively differentiate and work with smaller groups, especially in the area of math.

Then, voila!  As is the norm these days, I read a post tonight addressing this very issue!  Again, one of my favorite bloggers at Teach Paperless, posts how he used a chat to differentiate a Latin grammar lesson:
I see Web 2.0 chats as having great potential for handling authentic differentiated instruction and I see best practices in a chat-enhanced classroom as having great potential for addressing issues of multi-sensory learning. The projected chat has all the benefits of being both visual and textural, and because we are talking about the material the entire time, the students are also using auditory and analytical skills. Not to mention the interpersonal skills necessary to take part in such a program.

How cool!  Side note:  His kids are part of a 1:1 initiative!!  You can do this kind of effective teaching when your kids EACH have the tools with them all day!

Flickr Credit: A Puzzle of Paint

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Thank goodness for my ITF!

Okay, first this post is a pleading request for our administrators and central office leaders to continue to fund and support our Instructional Technology Facilitators, or at least mine! : )  Today I was out with my son who fractured the growth plate in his left ankle.  Btw, I have his x-rays on a CD given to us by the doctor!  Very cool stuff, took a screen shot and emailed it to his curious grandparents!

Anyway, so I'm at home (the last day before Memorial Day weekend and the end of End of Grade Test week - a substitute's nightmare!) and I luckily have a wonderful partner who had reserved the laptop cart, but allowed me to use it for my kids today.  So I assign a Jog-the-Web assignment for my kids with some built in pieces they need to either email me using Gaggle or submit using their Edmodo accounts.  Well, my second block (I lovingly refer to them as my "helpless hand-raisers" because they still fear to tread and solve problems on their own - previous conditioning that incorrect answers will be punished??) has many questions.  My WONDERFUL Instructional Tech Facilitator and great friend, Danita,  checks in on them, realizes the problem, and sets up a Skype, using her laptop, between me and the kids!

Wow, it was fantastic!!  I could answer their questions, guide them with the directions, let them know how much I wished I was there, and they even talked to my son about his ankle and wished him well.  So a BIG shout-out to Danita, my wonderful substitute who kept things under control even when I left plans involving laptops, my school system for allowing us to use Skype, and to my kids for working hard while I was out.

It sure is nice to blog about something positive!  Tearing down the classroom walls one brick at a time!

Photo Credit: xjpxpyro's photostream